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 – Cataloguing and Classification

I took this module last autumn, one of the last two of the PG Dip. For my general post about the course, go here.

This module was highly practical as you might imagine and I found it very difficult. Cataloguing and classification are generally considered core skills for information professionals, although their relevancy has been hotly debated (see references).

Cataloguing is the practice of recording standardized information about an item so that it can be searchable and findable. The field has recently undergone a big change with the introduction of a new international cataloguing standard, Resource, Description and Access, or RDA. Classification is the logical system for organising knowledge. A famous example of a classification scheme is the Dewey Decimal System. In short, cataloguing describes the items in a collection, while classification is concerned with the physical arrangement of the items.


Remember these?  Photo credit: Card catalogue by Book Finch (Flickr CC-BY 2.0).

So this module was some history and theory, but mainly was very task focused on actually cataloguing and classifying stuff. Cataloguing felt very much, for me at least, like referencing on steroids. I had to get to grips with MARC fields (coding that makes a catalogue record machine readable) but otherwise it made sense. I do feel that lots of catalogers doing unique cataloguing of the same objects in libraries all over the world is duplicated effort and a bit obsolete when collaboration is made so easy by the internet. The solution ‘cooperative cataloguing’ is becoming more widespread.

Learning about RDA was brilliant if a bit brain teasing at times (what’s the difference between expressions and manifestations again??). RDA was intended to move cataloguing into the digital world, where print formats are not dominant. It’s supposed to be a flexible framework that can cover all the new media and objects that we have now and the ones yet to be invented. One half of the module assessment was an essay with the set title ‘Resource Description and Access: Evolution, revolution or dead end?’ My opinion ended up mid-way between the first two and it was interesting to read around the subject because a lot of people have gotten up in arms about it – passionate commentators are always more riveting don’t you think? Though I still get confused with the relevant technical aspects like the semantic web and linked data, I came to the conclusion that generally RDA is a positive step forward.

Classifying was fun (everything in it’s place!) until it came to the other half of the module assessment which was a workbook of made-up titles to classify (and also cataloguing tasks). I was in a constant state of wondering whether what I thought was the correct classmark for “Pan-African nationalism” was actually what the tutor thought was the correct classmark. Classification really is an art more than a science. Different people can come up with different classmarks for the same item AND justify their reasoning.

So Cat and Class, the Marmite of librarianship – done!


Boydston, J.M.K. & Leysen, J.M. (2014) ‘ARL Cataloger Librarian Roles and Responsibilities Now and In the Future,’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 52(2), pp.229–250.

Cerbo, M.A. (2011) ‘Is There a Future for Library Catalogers?’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 49(4), pp.323–327.

Park, J.-r., Lu, C. and Marion, L. (2009) ‘Cataloging professionals in the digital environment: A content analysis of job descriptions,’ Journal for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 60 (4), pp. 844–857. doi: 10.1002/asi.21007

Library School – Research Methods module

Research Methods was the summer module and was in my opinion the weakest. It was certainly very student-led/flipped classroom/independent learning focused. It was intended to be a prep module for doing your dissertation and also to prepare for doing research in the real world, which is becoming more common for librarians. The entire module consisted of reading the textbook, then writing ‘optional’ posts on the discussion board and a literature review assignment that wasn’t really a literature review.

Thankfully the textbook was excellent (Research Methods in Information, 2nd edition by Alison J. Pickard). Very readable with lots of real-life examples, it covers the major components of planning and undertaking qualitative or quantitative research, and also mixed methods. I didn’t know what the difference was between qualitative and quantitative before reading this book, having mostly done historical research previously, so I had a lot to learn. I highly recommend the book and imagine I will be dipping into it a lot in the future during my dissertation.

The assignment was meant to be a “literature review,” but actually involved selecting a bunch of studies to critique and therefore was not particularly comprehensive, so hence the scare quotes. I did enjoy the process and to be fair it was a good way to cement your understanding of the various research methods. I chose the topic of evaluation of library services for my review. I chose studies with a broad range of research methods to critique. Some studies were very good and some the more you looked at them, the more things you noticed that were problematic. On the one hand, you felt bad for being super critical in the review, but on the other, that is what the tutor wants to see, so you have to make those critiques. Several of the studies were about the LibQUAL method of library evaluation which I find really interesting. It is a gap analysis survey instrument, where you are measuring the gap between users’ expectations and perceptions about the service quality of the library. Another interesting study (Botha et al., 2009) set out to measure the impact of the library service and how users engaged with the library during the research process. ‘Impact’ was defined in terms of the user being changed by the service. The idea was to show the actual benefits of the library service to the user rather than just that the library was effective or efficient or that users were satisfied.

[Some really cool space science this week as British astronaut Tim Peake completed a space walk including a selfie.]

Now onwards, and upwards – I attended the dissertation study school at Northumbria last week which provided a terrific jump start to my dissertation ideas. More to come.

Report on NLPN Summer Event

I attended the recent Manchester New Library Professional Network (NLPN) Summer Event held in July in Manchester. This was my first NLPN event and I was thrilled to finally be able to make one! In their usual innovative fashion, NLPN shook up the traditional conference format. The event featured two speakers and then presentations from members on topics of their own choice. The aim was to give members an outlet to get presentation experience and I think this idea was very well received.

The theme for the day was employability and interviews. The first speaker was David Stewart, the NHS Director of Health Libraries North West. He was fantastic, down to earth, current and incredibly funny (I particularly remember his impression of a “vellum stroker” librarian and demonstration of appropriate men’s tie length….). He also brought a wealth of experience as a senior figure in librarianship who’d done loads of interviews and shortlisting/interviewing. Some points that stood out from his talk were:

  • Think about yourself and your career. What kind of job or sector are interested in? Are you mobile? Are you ambitious? That last one really got me thinking!
  • Register to do CILIP Chartership, even if you’re not planning to start straight away, as this can make an impact on an employer.
  • Each application must be crafted, yes crafted, from the person specification. If you don’t meet all the criteria, say how this job will give you that experience.
  • When it comes to interviews, it’s all about planning and preparation. Visit the organisation before, both to show your face and to find out where you’re actually going to avoid getting flustered and lost on the day. Be early in case another candidate doesn’t show. Proper preparation means you arrive as confident and calm as possible.
  • The loo’s, yes the loo’s are an important part of the interview. It’s your own handy dressing room!
  • We brainstormed an extensive “interview pack” list of what to bring to your interview including umbrella, charged phone, make-up, interview letter, originals and copies of documents like qualifications and IDs…
  • Be yourself (and friendly and interested) in non-interview scenarios such as tours. Watch out for using “We” when you mean “I”. When asked if you’ve got any questions, your backup one should be to ask about professional development opportunities.

Next were the three presentations from NLPN members. Evelyn Webster, a law librarian at Pinsent Masons LLP, talked about the process of moving her library. The moving process seemed to offer many possibilities (chance to weed stock, planning/customising/optimising new space) but also some challenges (unpacking when you didn’t pack yourself, figuring out where things will go when you’re moving to smaller space). Next was Helen Gaffney and Nicola Grayson, from University of Manchester, who talked about building a new learning development service. This was a really interesting look at how librarians are making a positive impact on students by training them up on various learning essentials. Finally Emily Wheeler, a library student, gave an inspiring talk on how she set up a Library Society at Sheffield University. Not only was this an experience that benefitted the university and raised the profile of libraries amongst students, it also gave Emily evidence of soft skills employers are after such as teamwork and project management. A highlight of her experience was protesting against library closures in Sheffield and getting the Students’ Union to approve a policy statement supporting libraries.

The final presentation was from Neil Donohue, Learning and Teaching Services Manager at Leicester University, on the interview presentation. Having never done a formal interview presentation, this was a new one for me (I’ve done a short presentation on a book to children as part of an interview before). His talk was structured around the different questions you might be given to present about, keeping in mind that the panel is looking beyond your answer to what skills and attributes you’ll bring to the job:

  • Action Question- “If appointed what would you do in the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 12th months to engage more students and staff in the library?” Key things to include were your vision, realism and a plan.
  • Scenario Question- “Feedback from a lecturer: ‘The library has nothing to offer my students’. What strategies and types of information would you use to change this attitude?” Key points were advocacy, knowledge and practical examples.
  • Knowledge Question- “Do students need libraries in the digital age?” Key points were showing knowledge, understanding and advocacy.

Neil also talked about practical aspects of presenting like deciding your key messages, less is more when it comes to slides, practice out loud in front of someone, and ask to see the room in advance. Also before you spend 90 hours on your slides, check what the weighting is and balance your prep for interview, presentation, etc accordingly.

Getting out on a very wet Saturday morning for this was definitely worth it and I even got to see all the costumed Comic Con folks! Manchester Comic Con was the same day, kudos to the Gandalf I saw.

Check out the excellent Storify of the day here

New Librarianship MOOC Week 3 wrap up

I’ve been putting in some serious effort to finish the  New Librarianship Masterclass before the deadline. This post wraps up the Week 3 material. We have stepped back a bit from last week’s practical nuts and bolts such as competencies of librarians, how to lead, and asset management, and moved to a wider angle view of libraries generally: their mission, why we need them and the challenges and opportunities they face. Some thoughts:

  • Expect more than books. Lankes shows that the current book-centric attitude of many libraries and the drive for comprehensive collections is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the early 1900s, there was information scarcity (information was hard/expensive to get) therefore libraries sought to collect lots of material for members. This drive coincided with books becoming cheaper to publish, hence we got bigger collections and libraries were fast becoming ‘book warehouses’. However now, in a digital age with Wikipedia et. al in our pockets, we no longer have information scarcity but time and attention scarcity. So more information in the form of libraries amassing larger, more comprehensive collections is exactly the opposite of what we need! Not to mention problems of space and resources. This of courses leads to issues such as information literacy/research skills, credibility/reliability and the librarian as information curator.
  • Importance of a mission statement. Most organisations these days have mission statements. They’re great. They help you orient yourself around a central purpose that reflects your values. Lankes critiques some examples and winners include characteristics such as:  succinctness, clarity and delineates boundaries of the community. Mission statements should be thought of as an invitation to the community to join in and not to just say what you do (‘we provide access to a wide range of digital and print materials’).
  • The Why Libraries? module spells out several justifications for libraries. These were all great and included, for example, the library as a collective buying agent, centre of learning and safety net. Another that people on the discussion boards mentioned which wasn’t explicitly included in the coursework (though implicit throughout) was the library as a social space. People mentioned the importance of the library as a neutral, public space where individuals (perhaps without other social networks such as stay-at-home moms and retirees) could come and be social. Several school librarians said how important the library was for their students since many didn’t have a ‘third space’, i.e. somewhere safe and fun to hang out with their friends other than home and school. As I embark on school librarianship myself, I’m keen to see if/how the school library is being used this way.
  • Think of the library as a platform, not as a service or collection. This concept is integral to New Librarianship and reflects all the values espoused in Weeks 1-2. The main points were that the library is a place to share expertise, share facilities and share interests. Rather than librarians controlling everything and delivering all the training, the community is free to bring its own resources and expertise and use the library as a platform to better the community (with the facilitation of the librarians).
  • The Grand Challenge to librarians, according to Lankes, is ‘how to coordinate a knowledge infrastructure (technology, people, sources, permissions) to unlock the potential and passions of Society’. But I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself…

Note: Quotes are taken from R. David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011) and his course material for Syracuse University iSchool’s MOOC New Librarianship Master Class hosted on <>.