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!

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Library School – Dissertation update

I thought doing an update about my dissertation might be timely since I’m approximately half-way through now. My title is “The Hybrid Music Conservatoire Library: A Mixed Methods Study of Leeds College of Music Library Users’ Format Preferences.” My aim is to investigate students’ resource format preferences at our library with the main outcome being making recommendations about any changes needed in what resources we buy/subscribe to (i.e. our collection development policy). Essentially I’m looking at what people say they want and what they actually use in terms of resource formats. This is why it’s a mixed methods approach since I’m combining qualitative (the former) and quantitative (the latter) methods.

I have just finished my fieldwork and am now into data analysis…a statement I never envisaged myself ever writing! This whole process of social science research has been completely new to me and I’ve found it a pretty steep learning curve. My other Masters dissertation was solely historical (and what I now know is termed) “desk” research. I read loads and did some original research using primary sources, but it was essentially a solo job of me working with my laptop and the sources. This time around though, I’m doing fieldwork with all that entails – getting permissions and consent, ethical considerations and checks, working with other people, relying on other people and external pressures/risks. It’s definitely been a challenge but I think it will stand me in good stead for the future since this type of research is being undertaken more and more by librarians today.

Data analysis is also a completely new skill and it hasn’t helped that there aren’t many examples in the literature of similar studies I can draw from – though that is also a good thing since my research is apparently fairly original!  I’m using Excel for the quantitative data and have yet to look at the qualitative but I think Survey Monkey does a lot of analysis for you. My main hang up is comparing print loans to online usage, a problem for which I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution since different things are counted. For example does one print book loan equal one e-book page view, or 10 e-book page views, or 1 session/log-in? How many online audio track plays equals 1 CD loan? I feel it’s an apples to oranges problem, so I’m planning to just broadly compare them.

Here are a few reflections on my dissertation process from this mid-way point:

  • Utilise your support structures. The main thing I’m learning is asking for help and support when I need it. Rather than stressing out because I feel out of my depth, I’m trying instead to get in touch with my supervisor or a colleague for advice. Seems like a no brainer, but I did have to be told to do this at one point – remember my independent working style mentioned earlier!
  • Planning is essential. We had to include a research plan/timetable as part of the research proposal. I did mine as a Gantt chart and it has proved really helpful both in terms of making sure everything gets done on time and also giving me peace of mind to know I haven’t forgotten something and that I’m really making progress. Planning has also been key to managing the project when I’ve been relying on other people for go ahead or decisions to be  made. The survey element of my research ended up being very problematic and I eventually developed two different options because external circumstances meant I wouldn’t know until the last minute which one would go ahead.
  • Spend time on your research aims and objectives at the beginning, and then revisit them regularly. This was advice they gave at the study school and it has been so right. I revised and fine-tuned my aims and objectives a lot at the beginning and now I have been going back to look at them regularly when I think “What am I doing again?” or “Why I am doing xyz?”. They’ve been a helpful touchstone for remembering the big goals and how I set out to achieve them when I get lost in the nitty gritty of fieldwork. I have yet to post them up somewhere visible, which was also recommended – if only I had a home office!

What was your dissertation/research experience like? Please share in the comments!

Library School – Dissertation Study School

Last month I visited Newcastle and Northumbria University for the first time since starting my course in September 2014! The occasion was a one-day study school for everyone carrying on to do the dissertation. A lot of people in my cohort have stopped with a PG diploma, but a handful are carrying on along with others who have taken up the option to come back within 5 years to get the Masters.

After a very early start, I arrived in Newcastle in a sublime blizzard that saw me arrive to the campus thoroughly cold and bedraggled after the 20 minute walk. The day was worth with it though. It was a mixture of presentations from lecturers, meeting with your supervisor and free time to visit the library, research etc. It was brilliant to meet people in person and put faces to email addresses. The talks were also useful in outlining the dissertation, what’s expected and what are the crucial things to consider right now and as you go along. It was a good jump start to the whole process.

My topic is the “hybrid music library,” using my library at Leeds College of Music as the case study. The term hybrid library is used to describe the state of flux where most libraries have a mix of print and digital resources. Though the term seems to have fallen out of fashion in the last decade, dovetailing with an increase in literature on digital libraries. My aims are to explore the characteristics of the hybrid music library and whether we are meeting the needs of our users in terms of resource formats, for example print books vs. e-books. A major objective is to be able to make recommendations for future collection development policy.

Currently working furiously on my research proposal and reading loads of literature. I’ve found some similar studies from US libraries but nothing yet closer to home or from conservatoire libraries. What resource formats do you prefer?