Instant Ideas and Collaboration
This month, with our theme coming up about studying to become a qualified librarian and what support we would like, our first feature article comes from some of those who teach a LIS qualification – Stephen Pinfield and Pam McKinney. Thanks very much for giving us an educator’s view!
We also have a second feature written by a recent LIS student about his experiences with his qualification and studies.
Join us for the chat on 3 March for Library Student SOS, 18:30 – 20:30 GMT, the March Agenda is now up to add your questions to. Open to everyone who has ever studied for a LIS qualification or hopes to!
Like many sectors, the job market for Library and Information graduates is challenging. There are many applicants for each job, sometimes in the hundreds, and we know from employers that the processes to weed out applicants can be ruthless. So how do we as Library educators ensure that our graduates write excellent applications and shine at interview? In our minds there are three aspects to the way we approach this at Sheffield: the support we can give through the curriculum; the targeted and generic careers support available from academics and the Careers Service; and helping students to engage with the profession and the development opportunities that are available.
Firstly, although our students still write essays, the majority of the assignments at the University of Sheffield Information School are not academic essays. We have yet to meet a librarian who has been asked to write an essay for their job! Rather, briefing papers, competitive intelligence reports, new designs for libraries , presentations, and web pages are much closer to the reality of professional writing and activity. By focusing on assignments that mirror professional activities we can really help our students develop a more professional mindset and capabilities.
For example, this year we introduced a new assignment, where students had to carry out a small piece of information literacy teaching and evaluate it. Other assessed presentations support students in preparing for interview situations and the ability to stand up in front of people and present interesting and informative material is a skill highly prized by employers.
We are also careful to keep the content taught on our programmes close to current practice through the use of invited speakers from across the profession, including those from outside the profession who our graduates may encounter, for example the architect who guests on the Public and Youth Libraries module.
Our modules encourage students to bring to bear their own professional experience and to reflect on their personal development. Students keep a reflective diary, encouraging them to become reflective practitioners who can go on to make a valuable contribution to the professional environment. All of this, quite apart from the specific professional skills we teach meeting CILIP’s best practice guidelines, means that the postgraduate courses we deliver help to produce rounded information professionals ready for the workplace.
Our students tell us the University Career Service is really helpful. The range of events, workshops and 1-2-1 support is great and if students make use of the services on offer they should feel they get very useful help for their applications and interviews. Careers also lend a hand with a practical recruitment exercise we do for the Librarianship students each year, including work on CVs, advice on putting together applications and tips for interviews. Support for taught postgraduate students in particular has seen a lot of development over recent years and we now have a dedicated suite of resources on the Virtual Learning Environment aimed at postgraduate students, and a new programme this year of 10 week funded placements for taught postgraduate students.
In addition, there are several part-time jobs in the University Library reserved for our students. It is also Pam McKinney’s role as the Careers Liaison Officer for the Information School to offer students ‘in-house’ careers support. This often means giving students feedback on their CVs and applications, and offering advice for those invited to interview. This is work she loves! She finds working 1-2-1 with students on this kind of thing really interesting, and enjoys making a difference to an individual’s chance of being offered the opportunity they desperately want.
Finally, it’s important for us as academics to be connected with the profession, which is why so many of us are active CILIP members and choose to attend professional conferences, publish in professional journals, and engage in practitioner social media channels. We hope this sends out the right signals to students.
We are always really keen to advertise professional development opportunities for students (on our active Facebook pages), and our students have been very successful in applying for conference bursaries. Students engage with the New Library Professional Network, attend teachmeets and actively seek out opportunities to be advocates for our profession.
We spoke to a student this morning who has been advocating information literacy with the outreach team here and is considering working with them to investigate the value of IL development to support schools for her dissertation. As a lot of this activity takes place outside the curriculum, often it is down to the individual student to seize the opportunity and run with it. But judging by the number of conference letters of recommendation we have been asked to write recently, this year’s students are not afraid to do just that!
Pam McKinney is a Lecturer and School Careers Liaison Officer (@ischoolpam)
Stephen Pinfield is Senior Lecturer and Programme Coordinator for MA Librarianship and MA Library and Information Services Management (Distance Learning) (@stephenpinfield)