Library School – Dissertationing

I have officially finished library school! I posted my Masters dissertation off to Newcastle on September 5th in an embarrassingly large padded envelope, drawing a line under formal academic study for the time being. It’s a huge relief to be done and I’ve now had a few weeks to take stock and reflect on the whole process.

My initial thought is how much I have learned since starting the dissertation in January, both theory and practice. There’s nothing like an assignment to force you to read around the literature and see what other people are doing. I can now tell you all about hybrid and digital libraries, collection development, user studies, music library user studies and user format preference studies. I can tell you a little about mixed methods research methodologies and data analysis. This process has also greatly boosted my confidence in undertaking workplace research and was (I think) a successful first foray for me into quantitative and qualitative research. This type of research is becoming more and more important for librarians, especially in the academic sector, so having completed a meaty research study already is great.

My next thought is, I’ve now (well almost) got the piece of paper, was it worth it? And, possibly more importantly, will it help advance my career? This is an ongoing debate in librarianship, and now having done the course I think the piece of paper is valuable. As a seasoned library professional recently told me, work experience is crucial but librarians need to at some point study the theory of librarianship and information science. I tend to agree but on the other hand, it was very expensive and I feel this is a major barrier, especially when you can learn so many aspects of the work on the job. As far as career advancement goes, nearly every professional library job requires this degree so it’s great to be able to meet this criteria now. However this debate will continue to rage I’m sure.

A few random tips I jotted down along the way:

  • Plan, plan, plan. A multi-pronged study like mine involving various partners and institutions only worked because of good planning and project management. Of course the plan went out the window after I had collected all my data but my Gantt chart was crucial up to that point.
  • Listen to your supervisor, mine gave good advice and also was marking it so I had to swallow my pride at some points and take the suggestions on board.
  • Take good notes and record citations as you go, it might be relevant later. I found this out when facing a major research challenge and re-read my notes out of desperation only to find a potential solution in a paper I’d read during my lit review.

New, very useful apps:

  • Zotero – Absolute life saver this! It’s a reference management app, similar to EndNote but it’s free and more user friendly and doesn’t require logging into a Desktop Anywhere-type thing (a real hassle on Mac). You can download extensions for your browser and Word and save citations online with one click and then cite in your document. It even formats your bibliography for you!
  • Picktochart – I used this when I couldn’t get Excel to do charts how I wanted. It’s an infographic website, very easy to use and helps to makes your data more visually appealing through its in-built design, colour schemes, icons, etc.
  • I never found a good app solution for organising my research notes. Twitter friends suggested Scrivener and Evernote, but I stuck with my epic-ly long Word doc in the end because it would have taken to long to convert the notes retrospectively. Scrivener looked really good but was a bit pricey. I already use Evernote for my blog and other things.

The dissertation journey is not quite done as I’ll be presenting my research at the upcoming LISDIS (Library and Information Science Dissertations) conference in November and the IAML (UK & Irl) conference next April. Last but not least I graduate in December with my MA Information and Library Management – assuming I pass!

Library School – Thoughts on a Snowdonian slate mine and my dissertation

A short post as I briefly emerge from hibernating with my dissertation asking you, what do a Snowdonian slate mine and my dissertation have in common?

Last week we were volunteering at a summer camp in north Wales and I got to go on a “mine exploration” activity with the young people in a disused slate mine in Snowdonia. Having done what I thought was a similar activity a few years ago I was excited to go again because that trip was a blast. We did abseiling, climbing and I pretended I was in Harry Potter as we sailed across an underground lake. Last week I got a bit of a shock though as the activity was much more challenging, to the point where I was trying not to panic as we were told what we had to do next (“climb up this mountain of loose slate and try not to knock any down on the person behind, or misstep and take out all the people behind you”). Obviously I survived and a few bruises not withstanding enjoyed it in the end. So that’s the mine, now to the dissertation.

I’ve been writing bits and bobs of my dissertation this week because I’m still trying to finalize some analysis. It’s the boring stuff though. Chapter summaries and concluding sections that though tedious to write, make the document more readable and easier to understand. I’ve reached the point where it’s sheer willpower keeping me going and I was just thinking I got to the same point down the mine last week. Waiting to traverse across a slippery rock face with an 80 foot drop where the ledge runs out halfway, I literally told myself, “just do it, put one foot in front of the other, and go.” Now as I sit at my computer staring at a heading with no text, it’s the mental challenge rather than physical I have to overcome. I’m not motivated and the task is not particularly inspiring. So I tell myself, “just do it, put one proverbial foot in front of the other, and go.” Sit down. Type. Think a bit. Type some more.

And slowly but surely you get to the other side.

T-16 days to my deadline!

How do you stay motivated during an extended project? Drop me a comment below because I need all the tips I can get!

My Bookshelf – Spring 2016

Makers by Cory Doctorow
I’m becoming a bit of a Doctorow fan girl as you can see since there are two of his books in this list. This was an interesting though lengthy novel about two guys who make stuff (the “makers”) starting a bit of a work revolution with 3-D printers and other technology and the journalist who documents this. It’s not all ‘let’s take over the world!’ rather it charts the story over the decades and what happens when your dreams go sour. Worth a read purely for the ever interesting ideas that Doctorow comes up with.

Information Shouldn’t be Free by Cory Doctorow
Highly recommend this short book on copyright, intellectual property and digital technology aimed at your average Joe in the creative industries. Doctorow takes a dull, complex topic and explains it clearly with fascinating insights and examples. His key aim is working out how indies and the majors can successfully co-exist. Thankfully it’s not a work of imagination; concrete ideas are in abundance. If you want to make a living from your art, read this book.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
I picked this up because I’d read the excellent crime novel, The Dante Club by the same author. Sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations. The premise is a fan and contemporary of Edgar Allan Poe investigates his untimely death with the help of the real life inspiration for a Poe detective character. The first half of the novel is mainly spent sitting around in libraries reading newspapers (I’m only exaggerating slightly). It does pick up at the end, but the characters are not very well sketched and the first-person, plummy Victorian voice starts to grate.

A Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory
The tagline hooked me in on this one (darn those marketers!): ‘Decadence and deceit in Restoration London.’ My musicology dissertation was on this period, and I’m a sucker for any related material. Everyone is a bit confused about whether this is the first in the Thomas Chaloner series or not. Nonetheless it still made sense. Read on holiday, the gripping plot, interesting characters and spot on historicity kept the pages turning.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Tartt, an award winning author, comes recommended by many. She’s also a Mississippi native and many of her novels are set in the South so that was of interest to me. The Little Friend chronicles the fall out from the unsolved killing of a young boy in rural Mississippi. To her credit, Tartt brilliantly paints the Southern small town and her characters are vivid…but it’s all very dark. She uses themes of unintended consequences, chaos/order and characters’ fruitless pursuit of meaning, justification and redemption. At over 500 pages it’s long too (she publishes about a book a decade so they tend to be door stoppers). So by all means read her work but don’t expect a sunny day out.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I absolutely loved this book! I am a bit of space geek but this was so much fun and much better than the movie. Set during a future manned Mars mission where one astronaut gets stranded and has to figure out how to survive using his wits, mechanical engineer/botantist skills and a lot of duct tape. Very funny and apparently fairly accurate on the space science, highly recommend this one.

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
This was some emergency reading material picked up on our recent trip to the States and it was definitely good travel reading. Bowley, a NY Times journalist, chronicles (using extensive research) the disastrous August 2008 climbing season when 11 climbers died on K2 the second highest mountain on Earth.

The Lent Factor by Graham James
The premise of this book is a series 40 pen portraits of people who had influenced the author. It was interesting but I found the whole concept a bit pompous (writing about 40 people with you at the center…), especially when he writes about people I’d never heard of as if only hermits did not know these names.

Deep South travelogue – Food

Part two of my travelogue of our recent visit back to the States. For the first post on Southern culture click here. The Southern United States is renowned for its cuisine, and oh my goodness, we ate so much good food I don’t know where to start. I’ll just recap geographically.


Southern cookbook section at Lemuria Books (also worth a visit) in Jackson. Yes, there were about 12 shelves of cookbooks.

  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tío Javi’s (the rebranded Ninfa’s) serves some of the best Mexican food you can get this side of, well, Mexico. Our family has been eating there for decades. Now that we’re all Baton Rouge exiles, we have to make special pilgrimages for the tortillas and the fajita platters and the chips and salsa and queso dip…

CC’s Coffee House is the coffee shop outlet of storied Louisiana coffee company, Community Coffee (disclaimer- my dad used to work there so I’m a bit biased). Besides great coffee and pastries, a lot of the shops incorporate traditional Louisiana decor. When I was driving 1 hour each way for violin lessons in Baton Rouge, I used to stop at CC’s on the way home for a pick-me-up coffee.

  • Jackson, Mississippi

Two Sisters serves quintessential Southern home cooking, the “meat and three” (meat puts three sides). Buffet style, there was fried chicken, collard greens, stewed sweet potatoes, fried okra, biscuits, bread pudding with rum sauce, iced tea… plus a salad bar! A bunch of famous people have eaten there and the walls are covered with autographed photos. Funnily enough the only one I immediately remember was John McCain!

We were recommended Pig and Pint in the hip Fondren district and it was AMAZING. A barbecue and beer joint in a refurbished gas station, you can’t get much more American than that. We got barbecue nachos and ribs and I left thinking, “why is the first time I’ve  eaten barbecue nachos 2016?” The staff were really friendly too and the place was filled with all the trophies they’ve won for their barbecue (yes there are barbecue competitions).

Mexikale, one word, empanadas (Mexican version of Cornish pasties). Go there and eat them.

We went to Sugar’s Place in downtown Jackson for breakfast. Cheap and tasty and the grits were bringing back all my childhood memories.

Cups in Fondren looks great from a refurbishment but the coffee (student size, with a shot of hazelnut) tasted exactly the same as when I first ordered it in freshmen year. And it was still full of students and people enjoying the atmosphere and the coffee.

Helen Bell, 1st female state law librarian

Deep South travelogue – Culture

We were recently back in the USA and had an absolutely fabulous time traveling across four states. Great food, hospitality, shed loads of culture and history, consistently warm weather – the Deep South has a lot going for it in my view! We didn’t do too much tourist stuff but here a few cultural highlights from Jackson, Mississippi. Foodie highlights coming in another post.

I hadn’t planned on visiting any libraries, but two serendipitously appeared on our programme. And by programme, I mean laid-back mooching around Jackson during the second week of the trip. My dad took us around Jackson State University, a historically African American university where he lectures and we got a tour of their recently refurbished library. The ground floor was revamped to be what would be termed a ‘learning/information commons’ here. They’ve dubbed the space ‘digital intellectual commons’ and it was primarily flexible study areas and zero book stacks (those are upstairs), and also a makerspace and an A/V recording area. Since it was summer it was quiet, but apparently it’s a buzzy atmosphere in term time. I loved all the colourful furniture and though I prefer a quiet study space, it would be great for group work. (Sorry for my poor quality phone photos!)

My sister took us to visit the Carroll Gartin Justice building which houses the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Law Library. The building is a stunning, grandiose neo-Classical behemoth completed in 2006 (for better pictures click here). We took a peek in the beautiful courtrooms (I pretended I was in Law & Order) and we were given a tour of the State Law Library by the Librarian Stephen Parks. He defied all librarian stereotypes by being young, male and super friendly. The library is old school…I’m talking wooden desks, light gently filtering through big windows, brass sconces, and beautifully bound law books everywhere. The library serves all the State Courts, law school students and the general public. Stephen pointed out a framed photograph of a Victorian looking lady and said this was Helen D. Bell, the first female state librarian and, if I remember correctly, the first female state employee. The policy in the 1800s was that a man would be elected law librarian and then appoint a woman to actually do the job – until 1896 when Bell was elected in her own name. Way to go 19th century Mississippi feminists!

Another highlight was meeting Mr. Elbert Hilliard, living legend and director emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) where my sister works. I saw his signature on many a document when I was volunteering in the MDAH Collections department. And also I have to mention the wonderful Elizabeth Coleman, MDAH volunteers coordinator, and the reason for our visit that day who apparently has some aristocratic relations in the UK! I would love to stay in the family castle sometime, Elizabeth. Just saying.

We also got an aerial view of the two new museums that MDAH are currently building, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, opening in 2017 to celebrate the bicentennial of Mississippi’s statehood. Exciting times! I can’t wait to visit when they’re open!


My twin sister and I (can you tell who’s who??) in front of the Museum of Mississippi History (on the left with the columns) and Civil Rights Museum (on the right) linked with that glass bit.