Tuesday, 29 May 2012


I recently completed the Preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector (PTLLS) course which is a foundation teacher training course for teaching post-16 learners and runs for ten weeks as an evening class at my college. I knew a few other librarians who had done it and found it useful, and although I've learnt a lot on the job from my colleagues about teaching skills I really wanted to do something to bring it all together. Teaching isn't the sole focus of my job, but I've always felt a bit of a fraud standing up in front of groups and trying to teach them something with no formal background in teaching skills, particularly as teacher training is one of my subject areas!* The course is aimed at anyone who teaches or trains adults (or wants to) and we had a mixture of new FE tutors, an IT trainer, a medical army trainer, beauty therapists and people who hadn't taught at all, so there was always a wide variety of contributions and experiences.  

The course covers things like schemes of work and session plans, equality and diversity, learning theories, engagement and motivation and assessment. You have to give a thirty minute 'microteach' session to the rest of your class and you build up a portfolio of assignments as you go along to hand in at the end (with lots of evaluation and reflection, of course). At each stage you're required to relate the theory to your own context and make it quite specific which was challenging in some areas where we don't traditionally have as much involvement, like assessment for example. It made me think hard about all of the areas needed for successful teaching and learning and where I could do more. I loved taking part in everyone else's microteaches where we looked at everything from massage and welding to VAT and gothic literature! The course was good for giving me the fundamental skills and understanding needed for teaching, and now the onus is really on me to put it all into practice. It was a lot of work to squeeze into a short space of time, and it was quite tiring doing an evening class as well as my normal late night and studying at weekends again, but I enjoyed it and I would recommend it to others who feel they need support in this area.

PTLLS is also one of the courses I'm responsible for, so it was great to see it all from a student's point of view (including having a library induction from one of my colleagues). In particular it emphasised something which I was already aware of, namely how difficult it can be for many people to get to grips with the usernames and passwords they need to log on to things, and how to access those things when they're at home. The library's online presence with links to all our resources and all of our information is on the college Sharepoint site, which we call the Portal, and students use their normal computer network username and password to access this and their email account. Then there's Moodle where the tutor puts course information, which they log in to separately. The network password expires every six weeks and has to be changed, but Moodle stays the same. Then there's an Athens username and passowrd for library databases, which is different again. I can completely understand how some students get in a muddle and frustrated by what appears quite complicated, particularly those who are less familiar with computers. There's been some interesting posts on the ARLG Jiscmail list recently about integrating library resources in Moodle and it's something I looked at in my dissertation too, and there's probably a whole other blog post in there, but it's just something that being properly amongst other students really brought home to me. Being on a short course doesn't help, but it's an issue for students at every level.  

*It used to absolutely terrify me doing sessions for the part-time in-service PGCE cohort who were all already tutors at the college. Knowing something is definitely not the same as being able to teach it to someone else!

Monday, 21 May 2012

London LibTeachMeet

I attended my first TeachMeet at UCL last week. I'd read about others before and they sounded great, so I was excited when I saw that one was being held not too far away and signed up as an 'enthusiastic audience member'. There were nine speakers who all spoke for either two or five minutes about methods they had used to support diverse learners, with some chatting and cake thrown in. All the speakers were great, but a few in particular stood out for me.  

Adam Edwards explained that less confident speakers like international students find reading English easier than speaking it, and got us playing a game he uses to teach them about library resources. We were split into groups and given sets of coloured cards with the names of different resources (like book, journal, newspaper), descriptions of each resource and what they're good for, and we had to match them up. I thought this game was a great idea and could definitely see it working with a variety of students to get them thinking about the range of resources they might need to use. I like that it's hands-on and practical which I want to include more of in sessions.  

Suzanne Rushe got us up and about by demonstrating an activity she uses with customer service staff to help them empathise with international students for whom the UK is culturally very different. Imagining that we were at an interplanetary conference, we were given cards with an explanation of the traditional form of greeting on our planet. We then had to move around the room attempting to greet other delegates and find those from the same planet. It was genuinely awkward to try and greet someone who didn’t know what you were trying to do (make eye contact, shake hands and laugh loudly for me) and was trying to do something different (such as bow), and everyone agreed afterwards that it made them feel isolated until they found a fellow alien. I thought this was an excellent activity and very effective (and it made for a lot of silly looking librarians). Suzanne combines the activity with more information on cultural differences.  

Alison Chojna spoke about the skills days they have been running at London South Bank University. LSBU have a diverse range of students with a high percentage of mature and part-time learners who have often not used academic libraries before. They had run workshops in the past but found them difficult to timetable for part-time students, so have now moved to a monthly all day (including after 5pm) drop-in skills day. Students don’t book for this but drop in at any time and stay as long as they like. They are given workbooks to work through at their own pace such as on referencing and literature searching with exercises and activities. They have found that students like having the paper workbooks to take away, although they are costly to print. Three staff are timetabled at a time on a rota basis to give individual help where necessary, but they encourage students to work independently. We recently began offering weekly drop-in sessions to try and offer a combined session with IT services and a study skills tutor and want to try and improve them for next year. I really like the idea of the workbooks where students are given something structured to work through. Alison was very inspiring and I feel we could put some of her ideas into practice.  

I really liked the structure of the evening and thought it was brilliantly organised. It was good fun and I liked that it was informal and relaxed, and the tea and cake was a great addition! I feel like I've come away with some real inspiration for improving my own practice. Follow up information should be going up on the website soon. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

CPD23, attempt 2

It's been a while! I've registered for the 2012 round of cpd23 to carry on from where I left off last time. I was writing my dissertation for my MA and just felt that I really wanted to focus on that (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!). I was enjoying the programme but wasn't really giving it as much attention as it required, so decided to leave it for the time being. You only write your dissertation once, after all. Then it was the start of term, we launched into a new year, and the later it got the harder it was to start blogging again. So I think it's a great idea for cpd23 to get another round as I appreciated the community aspect of it.

My next thing starts in mid-July, but I'll keep an eye on what's going on and hopefully write a few posts in the meantime. Since last time I've passed my MA, got engaged, done a short teaching course, and started thinking more about chartership, amongst other things, so there's a few blog posts in there I reckon.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Thing 11: mentoring

I don't have a formal mentor, and I don't really have an informal one either. I do seek a lot of advice from my line manager, which is possibly a little too close to home to be a truly effective mentor relationship, but I certainly respect her and really appreciate her support at this early point of my career. She's great at helping me make sense of random ideas and generally helping me with stuff I don't have experience in. I think she appreciates my enthusiasm for things, so it works well. As I've mentioned, I'd like to start the chartership process after I graduate, and I know there's formal mentoring within that. I've looked at the list in the past and there was one locally, but we'll see what happens nearer the time.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thing 10: routes into librarianship, or how I was always going to be a librarian

Considering this thing has made me realise that I've been working in libraries now for over ten years, which makes me feel pretty old! For six of those years it was a part-time job, for one it was temporary, but it's only really the last three that I could call a career choice. I actually intended not to work in libraries!

So how did I get here? When I was young both my parents worked in public libraries, my dad as a children's librarian and my mum as a library assistant, which is how they met, fell in love and had me. (I won a fancy dress competition dressed as a book, courtesy of my dad, when I was very small, and no, I don't have a photo to hand!) When I turned 16 I looked for an indoor part-time job after doing a paper round for a year, and started as a peak-relief assistant in my local branch library where my mum was working. I was a big library user as a child and teenager, also volunteering in my school library, and liked the idea of seeing behind the scenes, I think. I started working in different branches as well and worked evenings, weekends and holidays throughout sixth form, virtually full-time for half of my gap year, and during all my university holidays, sometimes in three different branches in one day depending on what hours were available! All for the money really.

I think I did always love it, and I got to do a lot of different stuff, but when I was thinking about what to do with my BA in English I just wanted to do something different from my parents, to make my own way in the world a bit. I was keen on the idea of publishing, and did a short course and got a few weeks' work experience, but nothing came of any of the graduate traineeships or jobs I applied for. My dad spotted my current job in an academic library, which was maternity cover at the time, in the local paper and suggested I apply. I was incredibly lucky to get it, and it wasn't long before I knew that I really did love working in libraries and was desperate to stay. I'd always liked helping people find the information they needed, which I get to do more of now, and generally trying to make sense of the world we're living in.

I got to stay, on the condition that I did my MA part-time, which I'm just coming to the end of. I'll write another post about that when I've finished though. I was a little worried when I started that I wouldn't have as much experience as people who had done a graduate traineeship, or at least not the same experiences, but that turned out to be ok as everyone could share what they knew and bring different ideas to the table. I plan to stay put for a bit now, partly because otherwise I have to pay back the money my employer put towards my course fees, but mainly because I think there's still more to learn and lots more I can do in my current position, and I'm really happy doing what I'm doing. I do want to charter though as I think it looks like a good challenge, and possibly do the PTLLS course (but no more degrees!)

It wasn't mentioned in the cpd23 post for thing 10, but if you haven't come across it before the Library Routes wiki is a great collection of blog posts on how people came to be in libraries - their roots and routes.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Thing 9: Evernote

I haven't used Evernote before and have been having a play. I do like the idea of storing images with the notes - the look of a webpage might stick in my mind more than just a title or some text by itself, so it's good to have both. Plus the web can be so changeable, so it's a nice idea to have something saved permanently (assuming the permanence of Evernote itself, that is, which I suppose could disappear any day). I've played around with Diigo in the past, but I didn't actually end up using it much, even though I like the idea of it. One to revisit perhaps, and compare with Evernote. I've also recently started using Read it Later to save articles I want to come back to at a later date (funnily enough), which I quite like too.

I also like the way you can group notes together to keep multiple sources together according to a theme or event. The sync worked perfectly between the desktop version, web version, and the iphone app which I downloaded, and the web clipper extension for Firefox did what it was supposed to on my test notes. All pretty easy. I'll be playing around with this more I think to see how it could work for me. It appeals to my desire to organise stuff and remind myself of things to do (again to aid the worsening memory).

Monday, 1 August 2011

Thing 8: Google Calendar

I use my Outlook calendar to organise myself at work and, combined with the tasks feature, I wouldn't be very organised without it. I've used it since I started working here and definitely wouldn't go back to a paper one. It's brilliant for a visual representation of what each day holds, and I use colour coding for different types of things, so I can easily see when I have meetings, or am on the enquiry desk, or am at a different site, or whatever it is. I have it side by side with a shared calendar where we book in sessions or inductions in the teaching area, so all members of staff can see who needs it when and what's going on. We have a third shared calendar showing when staff are off which is really useful too.

So far, Google Calendar seems to do much of the same stuff, with options for reminders and adding descriptions, and much more no doubt that I could spend many hours fiddling with (you can't put a price on good organisation!) I can't see myself using it as my main work calendar though, because I'd just be duplicating everything from Outlook which I need to use to able to respond to invites etc.

I still use a little paper diary for personal stuff, totally contradicting everything I've just said! I might put something personal on my work calendar if I need to remind myself to go to the dentist after work or something, but generally I use them independently. I can see Google Calendar being useful as a mainly personal calendar potentially, particularly if I can use it on my phone which I haven't investigated yet. I find the iphone calendar a bit clunky which is why I've still stuck to paper, but I desperately need reminding of things because I have an appalling memory. If I forget to look in my diary, which is quite likely, I'm screwed! Switching to something like Google Calendar would mean not buying a pretty new diary annually in Paperchase though, which would be sad.

This year's Paperchase diary of choice

I can't see myself sharing my calendar with friends generally, but I can see the use of it for particular periods of time, like a trip involving several people, as suggested by Growth of a Librarian. I do like the idea of using it for library events. My library possibly doesn't have enough to warrant it, but it's a nice idea. Linking it to an LMS sounds complicated, and we've only just started using email for overdue books. I think as all our members are required to check their college email anyway that will probably do for now. I think it's definitely something I will play around with more though to explore all its potential.