TALENT & Library Taboo

I recently completed a 15 credit unit through the University Teaching Academy at MMU. The Teaching and Learning Essentials for New Teachers (TALENT) unit is designed for academic staff at an early stage in their career – associate lecturers, graduate teachers, librarians, and higher education professionals with a role in supporting learning. TALENT can be taken as an optional 15 credit unit on the Master of Arts in Higher Education programme. Successful completion of the unit gives me professional recognition, as well as 15 level 7 academic credits. The unit maps to the UK professional standards framework (PSF), a globally recognised framework for benchmarking success within HE education. This means I am now an Associate Fellow of Advance HE (AFHEA). Sounds fancy!

TALENT comprised of two workshops: 3Ps (Planning, Preparation and Purpose) and Microteaching. Here is some of what we covered in the sessions:

  • Theory and practice related to experiential learning
  • Theory and practice related to reflection and professionalism
  • The how and why of teaching observation
  • The process of session planning and assessment for learning
  • Ideas around what is effective teaching
  • Plan, prepare and deliver two 15-minute microteach sessions to a small group of peers

The assessment for the unit was an essay covering three aspects:

  • A summary of my professional activities linked to teaching and learning
  • A reflective commentary on my learning from the microteaching and peer observation experience
  • An annotated bibliography (my favourite bit)

As an academic librarian, I teach people to develop low level, routine information skills, such as how to navigate our library website. I also need to impart higher level, generic skills such as constructing search strategies, source evaluation and critical reading. Most library sessions are delivered in “one-off” workshops which can appear to have little relevance to the curriculum and can be quite boring. The format of library teaching makes constructive alignment and assessment particularly difficult and as a result, I have felt pressured to cram extra content into my sessions to ensure I tell the students everything they need to know because I may not see them again. But this does not really work…

The TALENT unit has forced me to think hard about my own practice. This unit introduced some of the key concepts of teaching such as constructively aligned learning objectives, which until recently, and despite being aware of their importance, I have overlooked in my practice. Sometimes I wouldn’t even include any learning objectives 😱 I would simply demonstrate resources and wonder why everyone looked bored.

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via GIPHY

 Experiential learning is based on the idea that people learn best through experiences. Activities that require learners to do stuff engages higher order thinking and improves the learning experience. In my microteach, I wanted to move away from my usual didactic methods, so I adopted an active learning approach. Inspired by the library games master, Andrew Walsh, I developed a game for my microteach; Library Taboo!

Games in teaching encourage memory formation, improve communication and teamwork skills, boost creativity, and they make for a more enjoyable learning experience. There is so much evidence for this out there. The game is still in the beta stages and I need to tweak it but I based the game on a combination of Taboo and the forehead detective/ the sticky head game. Hope Hasbro don’t sue me…

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Image credit: Amazon

The purpose of my game was to explore the many different services on offer from the library and this tied directly to the intended learning outcome (ILO) for the session. The game is flexible depending on the learner group i.e. new students, third years or academic staff. Here is what a game card looked like:

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Not very pleasing on the eye, I know. This was printed on A4 paper and folded in half. This is the side of the card you hold up to your forehead and show your teammates. They have to explain “subject librarian” to you without saying “subject librarian”.

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This is the content on the inside of the game card. It provides more details and context on the service.

For those unfamilar with games, I set aside a demo card and showed them how the game should be played. Here are the Library Taboo game instructions:

  • Who was the last person to borrow a book from a library? Congratulations, you get to go first. Pick up a game card from the pile
  • Without looking at the inside of the card hold it up to your forehead so your team can see the word​
  • Your team must work together to describe the library service displayed on your game card without saying the name of the service ​
  • You have three guesses. Which library service are they describing?
  • ​Take turns to play the cards run out.

I need to seriously condense the amount of text and redesign the game cards so they actually look like snazzy game cards. I want them to the be size of a standard playing card. Any tips on what I should use to design the cards? The game activity lasted five minutes so I only included six playing cards covering the following services:

  • Academic journals
  • Info skills workshops
  • Subject guides
  • Library Search
  • Reading Lists
  • Subject Librarian

At the end of the game, participants chose one service and moved onto a second task to explore the service in more detail – hence why the information on the inside of the playing card is quite important. One participant did not know the service that was being described (Info Skills Workshops) so they were unable to guess it. But this does not actually matter because of the information on the flip side of the card. If they didn’t know the service before, they know now! This is also why you only have three guesses – failing is an inherent “risk” of the game and this is why games are fun to play. You can fail in a safe environment and it is totally fine. In fact, failure is expected. What is the point in a game that everyone successfully completes first time round?

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via GIPHY

To address the misunderstanding further, I could provide a short summary of the library services (a standard library presentation) and the game could be used as an assessment activity instead. Or I could focus on Info Skills workshops a little more in my session after the game if people don’t know what they are. If I was delivering this activity to a large group, I would not be able to listen to each game as it was being played, but I could ask for some feedback at the end of the activity and address any knowledge gaps then. I am getting ahead of myself though, I would need to make several game packs and so far, this is an activity for small groups.

The game version I used in my microteach was aimed at academic staff, but it could easily be adapted to work with students and the focus could be on specific source types such as databases instead. There are so many possibilities with this game! I could make it more difficult for final year students or postgraduates by making the game more like Taboo i.e. there are a list of words that you cannot say when describing the service, instead of just not being able to say the name of the service. This game could be a short starter activity, or it could be the basis of an entire workshop. I could even use QR codes linking to the library website instead of summarising the service on the card.

The observation feedback I received confirmed that the game made my microteach exciting, engaging and enabled a “potentially dry subject to be brought to life”. A win for me! There may be similar library games out there so I am not going to take credit for the idea. I’d love to know about them so I can iron out the issues with my game. Likewise, if anyone would like to use the idea and develop it further, please do so – I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The completion of this unit has enabled me to fully appreciate the need for alignment in my teaching. If a teaching session is unsuccessful, we should not blame ourselves, the student or the teaching tool; we should blame the lack of alignment. I will keep this in mind and carefully plan my teaching in future. To further develop my practice, I set the following SMART goals:

  • Develop my Library Taboo game
  • Develop ten learning outcomes to use in my teaching
  • Engage in peer observation and collect feedback twice in 2020/21.

I finished this course fired up and ready to enter the classroom a new woman but COVID has put all face-to-face teaching on hold for now. On the flip side, I now have extra time to plan my teaching for the new academic year and to further develop the Library Taboo game. Every cloud eh!

Stay safe and play games! ✌️

Mindful colouring or mindless colouring?

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Once reserved as an activity solely to be enjoyed by kids, ‘mindful colouring’ has emerged as an adult-only version of ‘colouring in’ to help us to switch off and relax. Vanry (2019) charts the interesting history of the colouring book craze which has been described as a flash trend. Colouring books formed part of a small and niche market which had existed for years among smaller publishing houses, but their popularity suddenly skyrocketed in 2015 with the sale of 12 million colouring books but their popularity quickly dipped again. Why the boom? Who knows, but apparently the colouring book craze is over anyway … but I say nope, not true! It was only the other day I bought by best friend this incredible Jason Momoa colouring book.

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Who doesn’t need a lawn momoa in their life. Am I right? Image credits: Amazon

Coloring books are a beautiful present to receive and I have four. I’d flick through and admire the illustrations, maybe dip in and out a few times but then they just sat on my shelf looking pretty. Since COVID-19 forced us into lockdown, I have found reading and concentrating on TV and films difficult for reasons I cannot explain. I just feel restless most of the time. I am bored but I also don’t want to watch TV and I just don’t know what to do with myself. So, I dug the colouring books out and I am hooked! They have been a wonderful analog escape for me.

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I have been spending more time than ever on my phone or on my laptop with home working. The colouring book illustrator Johanna Basford explains why colouring is the perfect way to switch off; “social media, smart phones, rolling news—all these things make us constantly connected to the world, never really focusing on something for an extended period… Colouring gave people an accessible way to be creative and treat themselves to some digital detox time” (Vanry, 2019).

Colouring in has also helped me to feel like I am being creative and artistic but in an easy and accessible way. I am not very confident with drawing or painting and I wouldn’t describe myself as overly creative anyway, so colouring gives me an outlet to create without the pressure of producing a masterpiece. The work has already been done for me by wonderful illustrators and artists so I can just fill in the lines and finish it off for them. Everyone has a different approach when tackling a design and they all end up unique and beautiful. Just take a look at some of these incredible pieces on the Millie Marotta gallery.

Colouring books often come with the claim that they can help with anxiety, reduce stress and aid in mindfulness practice. Rising concern for emotional and psychological health is leading many people to fill their leisure time with alternative activities that have a healthy spin and do not involve screens and smartphones (Mintel, 2020). Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Headspace define mindfulness as “the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them”. With mental health being in the spotlight, publishers and retailers that sell products as beneficial in this respect stand to benefit. But do colouring books really boost mindfulness?

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Geometric shapes are one of my faves.

I decided to use the MMU Library Search tool to look for some academic literature. There is evidence that art and creativity can boost mental well-being and art therapy is a tried and tested treatment for lots of mental health problems. But there has been little empirical investigation specifically into the mindfulness claims made by colouring book publishers and advocates.

Dresler and Perera (2019) reported on the experiences of 15 women who engaged in colouring. They found that the process increased their capacity for concentration and colouring in allowed the women to take the “time to practice self-reflection, self-awareness and self-care” which boosted their physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

Conversely, Mantzios and Giannou (2018) found that free drawing and mandala colouring as a standalone activity do not have an impact on mindfulness or anxiety. They tested this further in a second experiment that involved one group doing unguided mandala colouring and another group doing mindfulness-guided colouring with a practitioner who guided them through mindfulness breathing techniques applied to the colouring activity. They found the anxiety levels were reduced in the guided colouring group but there were no overall changes to mindfulness. So essentially, mindlessly colouring in may not actually improve mindfulness. So drinking wine, bopping to music and colouring in doesn’t count then? *damn!*

You would need to actively engage in mindfulness practices to see the benefits. In mindfulness training, you need to keep awareness focused on whatever is present, without fixating on any particular part of that experience, or engaging in any secondary processing.  The good news though is technically, you could transform any experience into a mindful one, including colouring or even just doing the washing up (Hanley, 2015). But without putting in the effort to mindfully complete the task, the experience can become mindless, fixated, and avoidant. This is where accurate instructions and guidance comes in (Mantzios and Giannou, 2018).

It is unlikely that colouring books are a mindfulness miracle and my dip into the academic literature did not provide a clear answer (does it ever tho?) but there is certainly scope for further research. Ultimately, I think good mental health and achieving a state of mindfulness is not something you can just acquire through a colouring book. Perhaps promoting them as ‘mindfulness’ colouring books is misleading. Good health generally takes work and mental health is no different. There are no quick fixes and we are all a work-in-progress. Books are great and provide tools and knowledge, but we must actively engage with these tools to benefit from them. For me, mindful colouring probably is more mindless colouring and that’s okay because I enjoy it.

I am wanting to engage further in mindfulness practice but I don’t think I will be doing it through colouring. The frontman of my favourite band has started a new mindfulness podcast with guided meditations which I am enjoying. I think doing some research, finding the right tools and setting aside some time to actively “do mindfulness” is an approach that will work best for me. Any tips or resources you can share would be greatly appreciated. Here’s my favourite flowery piece to finish this blog post with.

Stay safe and switch off 🌼

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References

Dresler, E. & Perera, P. (2019) ‘Doing mindful colouring: just a leisure activity or something more?’ Leisure Studies. 38(6), pp. 862-874.

Grady, C. (2017) ‘The coloring book trend is dead. Happy National Coloring Book Day!’ Vox. Available at https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/8/2/16084162/coloring-book-trend-dead-happy-national-coloring-book-day

Halzack, S. (2016). The Big Business Behind the Adult Coloring Book Craze. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/the-big-business-behind-the-adult-coloring-book-craze/2016/03/09/ccf241bc-da62-11e5-891a-4ed04f4213e8_story.html?utm_term=.fdd7fbec6cff

Hanley, A.W., Warner, A.R., Dehili, V.M., Canto, A.I. & Garland, E.L. (2015), ‘Washing Dishes to Wash the Dishes: Brief Instruction in an Informal Mindfulness Practice’. Mindfulness, 6(5), pp. 1095-1103.

Mantzios, M. & Giannou, K. (2018) ‘When Did Coloring Books Become Mindful? Exploring the Effectiveness of a Novel Method of Mindfulness-Guided Instructions for Coloring Books to Increase Mindfulness and Decrease Anxiety’. Frontiers in psychology. pp. 56.

Mintel (2020) Hobbies and interests – UK – February 2020. [Online] https://academic.mintel.com/homepages/guest/

Rowe, A. (2018) ‘If The Adult Coloring Book Craze Is Dead, It Needs A Postmortem’. Forbes. Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/2018/05/31/if-the-adult-coloring-book-craze-is-dead-it-needs-a-postmortem/#5e1736ee7dae

Vanry, N. (2019). What happened to the adult colouring books? Charting the boom and bust. Available at https://bookriot.com/2019/11/06/adult-coloring-books-trend/

 

Human Librarian

The concept of the Human Library is simple: 

  • People are published as open books and are loaned out to readers. 
  • It’s an opportunity to challenge stereotypes.
  • The event provides a safe space to ask questions about difficult issues and allows people to have an open dialogue.
The Human Library started off in Denmark in 2000 and has grown into a hugely popular concept operating in over 70 countries. In a world full of judgement, human books are breaking down stereotypes, one reading at a time. It’s a celebration of diversity and is a wonderful alternative to the dry equality and inclusion training that too often the norm.


Human Library. Do not reuse.

There was no way I wasn’t going to get involved with this event when it was announced that Manchester Metropolitan University Library would be hosting a Human Library. The concept is fascinating and I knew it would be a great experience so I signed up to be a human librarian to support the event.


The role of the librarian in the Human Library is multifaceted:

  • Take care of the books. This involved keeping an eye on them during their readings and being close if they need to catch your eye in case the reading does not go so well (rare).
  • To collect them for readings and to support them before/ after their readings.
  • We were there to make sure our volunteers were safe and happy to continue. We kept an eye on them and encouraged breaks when necessary. 
  • We facilitated the loans to the readers. We signed people up for readings, made reader reservations and managed the human books. We also supported with standard event logistics e.g. giving directions, putting up posters etc. 
  • To explain the concept to readers/ potential readers and provide reader guidelines in a non-threatening way. We stick with the book/ library metaphor throughout e.g. “Our books are in mint condition, please keep them that way” I.e. treat these people with respect.
It was so much more than just a great experience. I see myself as an accepting, open-minded person normally but this event left me feeling refreshed and more open-minded than ever. I’ve been a walking ball of positivity since yesterday. When I was walking home to catch the train, I felt myself looking at people differently, wondering what their book titles would be and thinking how amazing it would be to hear their stories. 

 

I had a chance for a quick chat with some of the books but I didn’t get the opportunity to read any of them but I really wanted to. They were all volunteers and had taken time from their day to talk about their experiences. It must have been exhausting for them to talk about themselves for 4 hours. On top of that, they were talking about tough, lived experiences and I really do admire them for volunteering. AMAZING humans! If hope there is an opportunity to attend another Human Library locally soon and hopefully we will host one again next year.

Please check out the Human Library website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Librarianing update

I’ve been in my new job nearly 3 months and the new term is well underway. I am starting to feel settled in my new role and I am really enjoying it. My role is varied and interesting and it’s so nice to be working with a huge team of library workers. I have worked with someone, in a library, who once uttered the forbidden phrase: “they don’t need the library, everything is online”. So, it is so nice to be working with people who are all on the same page…

Here’s a brief overview of the stuff I’ve doing over the past few months:

  • I have so far delivered 18 welcome talks to new and returning fashion students. These vary from 10 mins – 1 hour. I have also started to deliver Info Skills teaching sessions and I have loads more booked in. I have some upcoming visual research workshops, a session covering a research briefing from Missguided and on Monday, I will be teaching students how to use Mintel to search for market reports. I am trying to experiment with playful learning and I facilitated a “speed databasing” exercise which went well. Learning about databases isn’t the most exciting so this at least makes it a little bit more entertaining. I still can’t believe it’s my job to teach a lecture theatre/ seminar room full of university students!
  • I am developing my subject knowledge every day. I’ve signed up to lots of trade publications and mailing lists to keep up to date with the fashion, retail and textiles industries. I have started spending money, buying books and curating reading lists. Getting paid to buy books is FUN!

  • I have also joined a critical reading group and the MMU bibliophiles book club. Having the opportunity to engage with academics and colleagues from across the university is so nice. It’s challenging and stimulating – everything I could want from a place of work.
  • I have joined the referencing team. I deliver workshops and online support to students on how to cite and reference materials for their assignments. This is actually more interesting than it sounds and is really testing my knowledge. Precision is key!
  • I have joined the library’s social media team. I post on the library’s Instagram page and contribute to the overall social media strategy (I get paid to play on IG basically).

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Give us a follow @mmulibrary

  • I have also joined the copyright team which is a little bit scary. I will be advising staff and students on copyright issues, including what academics can include in their teaching resources. I’ll also be delivering training to library staff and we’ll be launching a copyright awareness campaign next year. Even though it’s scary, it is really interesting and challenging. I’ve been paying more attention to copyright news and copyright in the beauty and fashion industries is actually fascinating. I came across The Fashion Law which is super interesting. The legality of make-up dupes and Instagram photos is my jam. Here’s some coverage of the latest James Charles Vs Wet N Wild scandal.
  • I am also on the Equality and Diversity team. We deal with enquiries from students with disabilities and work to ensure we are offering an inclusive environment where all students can make full use of our facilities and services. We are also working to ensure our collections are diverse and representative. As an ally, being in this team enables me to do my bit to make a difference for our students. We’re putting together a library guide to signpost the Library’s collections featuring authors, writers and content relating to the many different and diverse communities and identities across the University and beyond. We are working to challenge the whitewashing of the curriculum and will be advising academics on how to create diverse and representative reading lists.
  • I’ve joined Wakelet! I am using this to promote resources in a visual way. I need to figure out how I can get students and staff to look at it…

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  • I work in the customer service team on the help desk in a supervisory role which is also terrifying. It’s great working in a team with hard-working, experienced and knowledgeable people. Over the Summer, the info desk has been very quiet! The start of term has been crazy, as is expected, but its been nice having the library full of people and being asked questions.

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We get lots of training on how to improve the user experience

  • For new students, starting university is scary and confusing and it has been a privilege helping them during this exciting time in their academic lives. We gave away over 1,500 copies of Behind closed doors by Miriam Halahmy to welcome new students to the University. The author also came to visit on Wednesday and she signed my book! We had pizza, celebrated fiction and spent the afternoon talking about books! If this isn’t the dream job, I don’t know what is..?

However, it’s not all cardigans and rainbows. It’s been insanely busy and no matter how much I prepare, I still feel unprepared and anxious. I’ve had teaching sessions cancelled and changed at the last minute and I turned up to deliver a lecture to find there was no IT equipment in the room. I’ve also come down with the dreaded fresher’s flu…

But I have been welcomed by the team and I feel incredibly lucky to go to a job everyday that is stimulating, interesting, varied and enjoyable! Plus, there are tasty treats in the staff room every other day. Literally.

I’m here to stay.

Thanks for reading 🙂 

5 minutes with Amy

5 minutes with is a regular weekly feature on the intranet at work where you can find out more about your colleagues.

After enjoying reading some previous 5 minutes with, I thought I’d submit one as a way of putting myself out there and introducing myself to as many colleagues as possible. If people from the department I support see my face, it gives me a good start when it comes to academic liaison.

Thought I’d share my 5 minutes with’ segment from the MMU staff intranet for your entertainment.

Just me on the intranet chilling next to the VC

Name, role and department:

Amy, Assistant Librarian (Manchester Fashion Institute), All Saints Library.

How long have you been at Manchester Met:

Just under one month.

Favourite thing about the University:

The Library of course. Staff and students have free access to more than a million books, journals and electronic resources.

I am also really enjoying the MCRMetMoves initiative. The prospect of free goodies for upping my activity levels is exciting. I am currently 400 points away from a free aluminium water bottle.

A typical working day:

I am still quite new to my role but I have been working in academic libraries for almost 5 years. Working in a library is extremely interesting and varied. I have access to thousands of resources and it is my job to help people navigate the internet and our huge collections.

There are two main aspects to my role. I am the subject librarian for the Manchester Fashion Institute so I help to select and promote books, journals and electronic resources to support teaching and learning. I liaise with academic colleagues to ensure our library collections our relevant and up-to-date and I help to curate their electronic reading lists. I also deliver 1-2-1s and undertake teaching as part of my role, which helps library users to develop their information and independent learning skills.

The second aspect of my role involves working on the library helpdesk supporting users with a huge range of enquiries. Having welcomed 958,150 library users through our doors last year, I get to meet many wonderful and interesting people.

What is your ideal weekend:

Camping in the sunshine.

If I have to stay at home then it is a cosy night in with my partner. I would get out of the house on Saturday, so something fun like a long walk or a day trip, preferably to a theme park. In an ideal world, I will have a roast dinner and do absolutely nothing every Sunday.

Interesting fact about you:

I have 21 tattoos. My latest tattoo is a black dot work piece depicting an open book with moons, stars and flowers floating magically out of the pages. I got this tattoo to commemorate completing my Master’s degree in Librarianship.

What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment:

I am currently reading Pet Semetary by Stephen King and Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. I am trying to read 40 books this year as part of my Goodreads challenge.

I am currently re-watching Breaking Bad and I have just finished listening to the Chernobyl podcast having completed the mini-series. If you watch any TV show this year, watch Chernobyl.

Favourite place in the region:

The Arcade Club in Bury. It is the largest video game and pinball arcade in the UK and it is so much fun. They have a bar and serve food too.

Person you would most like to meet- past or present, real or fictional:

Sir Ian McKellen. He is a national treasure. I would ask him if he could attend our meeting as Gandalf so I can meet a real and fictional hero at the same time.

What items would you take on a desert island and why:

A bottle of spiced rum and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.


I’m a whole bag of cringe and I’m cool with it.

P.s. I’m loving the new job. Going to do a blog post on it soon 👍

Third time’s a charm

I have been working as a Learning Facilitator (fancy name for librarian) at a Sixth Form College since October 2015. I worked part-time for a while and then moved onto a full-time, term time only contract.

This job has taught me so much about being a librarian. I started the job at the same time as my MA in Librarianship. It was the first job I applied for after completing my Graduate Traineeship and I was so lucky to bag a professional position before I was actually qualified. It really was perfect because it was relatively close to home and it was part-time which allowed me to work and study. The great thing about this role was that I was able to put theory into practice and really learn about libraries in a supportive environment. I had an amazing line manager who supported me as a new professional. She gave me the freedom and guidance required to try new ideas and to develop my skills.

Some highlights from my time as an FE librarian:

  • Receiving a special award from the HE & Skills department for supporting the needs of their students. I genuinely feel that I am valued by this department and their students. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been thanked for just doing my job with cards and flowers. I love working with HE students!

  • Writing the library documentation/ representing the Library at the recent HE partnership re-validation panel. Sounds boring but it was a big deal for me. I wrote a huge document detailing how the Library supports staff and students who are studying for courses validated by our partner university.
  • Becoming an administrator for Canvas/ being responsible for the Library Management System. Trailing and implementing a new VLE, delivering training to staff & students and being an admin for Canvas and Heritage has been a huge learning curve and really developed my technical knowledge and my ability to answer queries remotely.

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  • Representing the Library on the Equality & Diversity Committee. I have loved promoting resources to support BAME and LGBT+ students. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderful kids who are not afraid to be true to themselves and represent their community. I have authored two reports detailing how the Library promotes Equality & Diversity (something library staff had not done before) which forms part of the overall E & D report for the College. We are now a Stonewall School Champion which is amazing. I love buying and promoting books to students that help them to own and celebrate their identities.

 

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  • Increasing the number of information literacy sessions delivered annually. In 2016-17, we delivered 41 sessions to 643 students with four Learning Facilitators. In 2017-18 we delivered 83 sessions to 1100 students with three Learning Facilitators. This year we have so far delivered 84 sessions to 1296 students with just two Learning Facilitators. I am very proud of the Discover @Asfclibrary Info Lit workshops that we have developed and I absolutely love teaching info skills! Next year we are FINALLY going to become more embedded in the College curriculum.
  • Being recommended for and completing the Leadership Development Programme
  • Running the Excelsior Award for the first time. The Excelsior Award is the only nationwide book award for comic books and graphic novels and aims to encourage kids to read and it also raises the profile of comic books. They deserve a place in all schools, colleges and libraries. I worked my butt off putting this display together and entered us for the ‘Nuff Said Award which is given to the library with the best Excelsior display.

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  • Making friends and developing relationships with colleagues that will last a life-time. I’ve had the privilege of working with some lovely librarians and teachers. My colleague Penny has been especially wonderful. She has been a mentor and a role model for me these past three+ years. She will always listen to my complaints and predicaments, both professional and personal. Plus, she is an AMAZING librarian! She knows everything!
  • Making a difference even for one student makes it all worth it!

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Some challenges I’ve encountered:

  • Increasing workload. We have fewer team members, we have more students than ever, we have lost library space, we are delivering more info literacy skills training sessions, and we now look after the College’s VLE. On top of this we have less money. I know decreasing budgets are common across the entire public sector and I could go on and on… but I won’t. FE is a rewarding but challenging sector in this respect!
  • Lack of engagement. Some departments and students do not engage with the Library. There are groups of users who do not engage with libraries in all sectors but this does not make it any less frustrating. It’s really difficult to determine why they don’t engage, especially when we are shouting from the rooftops about how we can help them.
  • Student behaviour. I researched behaviour management for dissertation as it was the most challenging aspect of my role. It is still a struggle for me and the team. As a result we decided to make the Library a silent study space which has been VERY difficult to implement. We are everything librarians shouldn’t be –  we are constantly nagging students to stop talking. The other room which is a Learning Commons style room is the bane of my existence. I get virtually no library/ research enquiries. It’s basically PC/ printer issues or I am having to deal with challenging behaviour/ students who are just using the space to socialise. I hate to say it but on some days the negative experiences have outweighed the positive.

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Moving on…

I always said once I graduated, I’d start looking for a new job. My graduation coupled with the challenges listed above, prompted me to officially start my job search a few months ago.

I applied for about six different jobs including a few in the health sector. I consider myself very lucky to have been invited to attend three interviews. As far as job hunting goes, I was mentally prepared to be in it for the long haul. You have to spend time looking for jobs (far and few between in this sector and there are even fewer in the North West!). You then have to spend hours applying for each job; crafting your CV, cover letters and applications accordingly. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to interview, it takes time and effort to prepare. The act of preparing for, attending and calming down after interviews is stressful and draining! Being able to reflect positively and demonstrate resilience when being turned down is the icing on the cake (this is the least appetising cake ever by the way).

Interview 1

I shared a blog post a while back about my first interview post-graduation. *Spoiler alert* it was my worst interview experience to date!

Interview 2

I realised during/ after these two interviews that I was applying for jobs that were probably above me… I was paying too much attention to the salary. Realistically, I did not have the experience or the skills required to do the job (interview 1) or I had some of the skills and experience, but not enough (interview 2). I was desperate to find jobs to apply for so I was going off the advice someone once gave me; if you meet two thirds of the criteria on a job spec, go for it! You might get lucky, you might fail. You win regardless. You either have a new job or you walk away with an enhanced CV and valuable interview experience.

Interview 2 was like a dream compared to interview 1. They were so nice, professional and friendly. They explained everything clearly, they really put me at ease and there were no nasty surprises like there were in interview 1.

During my reflections after interview 2, I knew I could have done better. I definitely wasn’t clear enough with some of my answers and I rushed through them. I now remember seeing their written notes and on one occasion, the box was only half full. The hiring manager offered to give me some feedback when they gave me the bad news.

I am so thankful that I got the feedback. She was actually amazing – she took 25 minutes out of her busy day to call me and go through each question with me. Here is some of the feedback she gave which was specific to the questions but I’ve highlighted the advice which is transferable to most library interview questions:

  • Do not be disheartened, encouraged me to continue applying in HE. She said it was a good starter interview for the sector. I should be happy with my performance and be proud of myself.
  • I gave a solid, thoughtful interview. I am appointable, I have transferable skills and good experience. It was obvious I had done my research and that I wanted to role and I showed an awareness which they liked.
  • Always link my experiences and knowledge back to the job spec and role and drill down more on my experience and skills (e.g. organisation, supervisory etc) and how they relate to the job. Be specific!
  • Don’t be scared to be theoretical – How do we motivate staff? Take them aside, communicate, what is the problem? What can I do to help? Offer well-being support and help, anything within the organisation on hand to help? Do they need training? Are they bored? Do they need stretching? Explain the steps 1-2-1s, escalations to manager, being visible and accessible.
  • Bigger context would have helped, e.g. mailing lists, colleagues at other institutions using the same suppliers, service level agreements – evidence of what is going wrong and the impacts on the service, internal colleagues and communication – letting them know what’s going on, escalate to someone higher if need be.

Interview 3

This was one of those moments where the perfect job vacancy pops up. I did not have to convince myself that I could maybe do everything listed on the job spec – I could do everything listed on the job spec, I want to do everything on the job spec plus it’s close enough to home. I’ve been wanting to work in HE since starting my career in libraries and my partner works there too which is a bonus!

I was so pleased when I was invited for an interview. I used the feedback from interview 2 and I did a lot more preparation. During some practice interviews, my partner fed back to me that I was rushing through some of the questions – a problem I encountered in interview 2.

During interview 3, I was very conscious to make sure I talked and talked until I literally had nothing left to say. I tried to notice how much they had written down. If their notes were overflowing the note box, I took this as a good sign. I smiled a lot and I was honest about my experiences. I kept the job spec in mind. I asked them four questions based on my research of the organisation at the end and I left feeling like we had a really nice conversation. I felt like I had done that “building rapport” thing that all of the interview prep websites tell you about!

As you’ve probably guessed by the title of this blog, I got the job!

I am going to be working at Manchester Metropolitan University as an Assistant Librarian and I’ll be looking after staff/students on fashion programmes. I am beyond excited to move into HE and to be working in the city again. Commuting on the train isn’t my fave but it will give me so much more time to read and listen to podcasts (priorities, right?). I am hoping to begin CILIP Chartership when I get settled. I am also hoping to have more money to put towards our house deposit. I am excited to start exploring art librarianship and learn all about fashion. I’ve found a sweet Fashion, Textiles & Costume Librarians blog to get me started. Finally, I can’t wait to meet new friends and colleagues. If the MMU Library Twitter account is anything to go by, they seem like a good bunch.

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I am really proud of myself and I am excited to get started. I am super thankful for my time at ASFC, for the colleagues who have supported me and for the advice and words of encouragement from my mum, my mates and my partner.

Anyone would think I’ve won an Oscar or something…

I am no expert but I’d be more than happy to give some tips and advice based on my job hunting experience.
I’ve found Natasha Chowdory’s blog especially helpful during my job hunt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Book Night: The Hate U Give

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World Book Night is a celebration of reading and books that takes place on 23 April every year. WBN celebrates the power of books and the difference that reading makes to people’s lives. WBN is run by mega amazing Reading Agency, a national charity that tackles life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. 

Free books are given out across the UK with a focus on reaching those who don’t regularly read, and are gifted through organisations including prisons, libraries, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters.

For the first time this year, they are also giving away a free eBook! There are a limited number of downloads of the bestselling Turtles All the Way Down by John Green available. Anyone can apply to receive a copy through an online survey; just fill in the survey before midnight on Monday 8 April.

Apply to receive an audio download on 23 April here.

My colleague entered the bid to receive free books from the Reading Agency to give away to our students on WBN and we were successful! We are very excited to be giving away 160 copies of Angie Thomas’ bestselling novel The Hate U Give.

Books have arrived

The Hate U Give is such a good YA novel. I recently read it and really enjoyed it. It’s funny, powerful. gripping and real. The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It follows Starr, a 16 year old girl who is the sole witness to her best friend’s murder at the hands of a white police officer. The novel shows the unjust reality of life for many people. Themes of race, poverty, drugs, gun violence, police brutality, love, friendship and community permeate the pages.

It was recently adapted into a film but I really recommend you read the book first.

Starr’s journey through grief, anger and resentment ends with her eventually finding her voice and being brave enough to use it even when society wishes to keep her quiet. It is inspiring to be reminded that even though the world is a shit show, we all have a voice. We all need to speak up and use it when we witness the injustices of the world!

I can’t wait to gift this book to students and talk about the issues raised in the novel.

Reading is power!

Leadership Development Programme

This is probably going to be long and boring… You have been forewarned.

I like to use my blog as a means of professional reflection and to give folks an insight into my job and career. I would like to reflect on something that from the outset seems quite boring but it is actually very exciting and kind of a big deal for me. I really value my own CPD and jump at all opportunities. So when my manager put my name forward for a leadership course “because he sees me as a future leader in the profession”, I was pleasantly surprised and excited.

After qualifying as a Librarian, I am obviously wanting to progress in my career and I would very much like to make a difference and a contribution in the field. Therefore, I am very open to the prospect of leading a team and managing a library – hence my last blog post

The course I was nominated for operates through the Pennine Education Partnership which consists of four colleges from the local area. Colleges can choose to send colleagues at differing management levels ranging from senior leaders to aspiring leaders. Usually they will send new heads of departments and managers onto the course. As a member of support staff, I feel quite lucky to have been sent on this course as it ain’t cheap!

In this post, I will be reflecting on the stuff I’ve learnt on the course so far. This is essentially a write up of my notes. But I figured I may as well share them because these notes might help people who are thinking about leadership & management too.

The programme aims:

  • Develop knowledge and understanding of excellent leadership
  • To build confidence and self-esteem
  • To provide opportunities for participants to learn from the experience of others
  • To develop coaching and mentoring skills
  • To enable aspiring leaders to gain experience in managing change and performance
  • To allow participants to reflect on leadership and their ambitions
  • It involve a Quality Improvement Project (QIP) to benefit participants and their colleges

I have completed two modules so far.

Module 1

Personal effectiveness

We completed a personal badge. It’s one of those activities that makes you feel really awkward when asked to do it but it does actually force you to really take a look at yourself… and the results are hilarious.

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Delve into my inner psyche… My personal badge.

Emotional intelligence

  • This is the topic that resonated with me most as I can be a worrier and I can also get quite stressed (situations and people piss me off – not afraid to say it). Shitty people and shitty situations will always exist professionally and personally but I’d like to handle them better. I want to become the zen master of my own emotions.  It’s a work-in-progress…
  • Emotion intelligence according to Daniel Goleman has four aspects;
  1. Self-awareness – emotional self-awareness, knowing your strengths and your weaknesses (truly knowing yourself)
  2. Social awareness – empathy, organisational awareness (having an awareness of what’s going on around you)
  3. Self management – emotional self-control, positivity, adaptability (not losing your shit)
  4. Relationship management – influence, coaching & mentoring, conflict management, leadership, teamwork (keeping friends and not getting fired…)
  • We then thought about values and motives – it’s really hard to pin these down or maybe I am just a woolly person..? We completed a motive profile and apparently mine is the “achievement motive” which means “meeting or exceeding a standard of excellence and/or improving one’s performance”. This seems fair enough actually… In my personal life I like to improve and set myself challenges. For example, I am always trying to improve my go-to recipes and my workout PBs.

Leadership styles and behaviours

  • We then looked at leadership styles. In my last interview they asked me what kind of leader am I… The honest answer was I have no actual idea. Didn’t say that of course…
  • We did some leadership questionnaires which apparently tell you your leadership style. According to Hersey and Blanchard I am a “coaching” leader. Coaching leaders “clearly define roles and tasks, but seek input and suggestions too”. I like to think that this is the kind of leader I am because I really do value the ideas and skills of the people around me. I do not work in isolation.
  • We did another questionnaire to find out our colour. We considered the leadership behaviours we exhibit at work and rate them on a 1-5 scale. Behaviours included competitiveness, sociability, encouraging, deliberate, sharing, strong-willed, formal etc. Apparently I’m yellow. I’m definitely hasty, enthusiastic and flamboyant so they might be onto something…

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Module 2

Working effectively with others

  • Self-confidence & self-esteem – your reputation with yourself. We talked about the self directed change model where 80% of the time, you work on building your strengths. You only work on your weaknesses 20% of the time. This interested me because I am probably not alone in being overly self-critical. We should all be tooting our own horns a lot more. 
  • I considered the positive things people say about me, how well I can take praise and the things I am good at. I learnt not to become a victim or have a “why me”/ “this isn’t fair” mentality which I definitely have sometimes… I need to continue using failure as an opportunity to learn and remember that I matter, the team matters and the Library matters.
  • Assertiveness (not to be confused with aggression or manipulation). Think about how you want a conversation to playout and always remain calm. This tied in greatly with your ability to manage your own emotions. 10 ways to be assertive:
  1. Be decisive
  2. Take responsibility
  3. Say NO when you need to
  4. Actively listen
  5. Communicate clearly
  6. Say YES when you need to
  7. Ask for what you want – I live by this anyway. If you don’ ask, you don’t get!
  8. Follow your intuition
  9. Take a chance
  10. Stand up for yourself – ALWAYS!
  • Resilience – learning from setbacks, ask yourself what you could have done better. Not letting the shit grind you down! Optimism. I can easily get sucked into negative talk and thinking cycles so this is an area I am working hard on. In our resilience self-assessment, I scored 65 which = “resilient, but could improve more”. Insightful. Choose your battles carefully and just always remember to consider the wider context of your life and work and the home lives of others. There’s more to life than what’s going down in the office. Thinking like this makes it easier to worry less.

Delegation and empowerment

  • Empowerment is delegation done properly – give responsibilities to people and do not interfere. I am not fully there yet with this as my partner will know full well. When he’s cooking dinner, I just cannot help interfering! I like to make sure things are done right. I do just need to let go and trust in his ability – he is a perfectly good cook.
  • Managers do not have to experts all of time – we work with talented, competent individuals and we should trust them. If they can’t do something, help them to be able to do it. Or find them something that they can do.
  • To effectively delegate you need to clearly communicate the job you are asking someone to do, specify outcomes, specify a timescale, provide support, give them ownership of the task and the freedom to do things differently and to even fail.
  • Effective delegation creates win-wins for all involved.

Managing performance

  • Capability and conduct – “can’t do it” VS “won’t do it”.
  • Characteristics of a “stuck” departments/ colleagues – depressed colleagues, stress, lethargy, negative talk, underperformance .
  • Helping a “stuck” dept or colleague – be observant, informal 1-2-1s, free up workload, offer to delegate, empower and support them.
  • Managing upwards – can be scary dealing with senior leadership and managers. Understand their leadership style, think about the desired outcome of the conversation, provide evidence, be realistic, be confident, show diplomacy and flexibility and always be professional.
  • Work relationships are two-way! NOT just top down and you should never be made to feel inferior by your “superiors”. As much as our managers are responsible for us, we also need to take responsibility for how we are “line-managed”

Climate and culture

  • So important. Can impact greatly on motivation, performance, productivity, happiness, well-being and staff retention.
  • Climate = “how it feels right now”, people’s feelings and impressions of what it’s like to work in a particular place
  • Culture = “the way we do things around here”, habits, unspoken rules and values
  • Climate/culture = 70% leader/managers attitude. Not sure how this figure came about but it’s a scary statistic. Managers can make work life a living hell but on the flipside, they can also make work extremely enjoyable and can make employees feel happy, valued and important.

Difficult conversations & situations

  • We did some role-playing activities where we acted out difficult conversations/ situations and attempted to deal with them. In my hypothetical situation, I was a teacher by day and a strippergram by night. You can imagine the difficulty of this conversation…
  • Be honest and brave but don’t demoralise – try to re-motivate and encourage self-awareness
  • Be supportive and open to change but don’t over-promise. Don’t take over, empower them. Get to know them as a person.

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Module 3 – to be completed

  • Understanding ethos
  • Vision and mission
  • Authentic and ethical leadership
  • Strategic awareness and thinking
  • Building outstanding teams
  • Reflection on career progression

QIP

As a new addition to my role last year, I became an administrator for our new learning management system, Canvas. As part of the course we are asked to do a quality improvement project and I am going to be looking at support services, communication & marketing with a special focus on Canvas.

What do I want to know? ​

  • What communication tools are students most receptive to? ​
  • Current awareness of Canvas?​
  • How can Canvas be used as a communication/ marketing tool for support services?

My manager put a word in for me and managed to bag me a slot at a heads of department and senior leadership away day today. The College principle, four members of SLT and over 10 support managers were at the away day. Delivering a presentation to a room full of “seniors” was a little bit terrifying! To be the authority on a topic and to advise colleagues feels really good.

I felt like a “real professional” – whatever that even means. I am getting better and better every time I deliver a lesson, a talk or a presentation and even though I still get nervous initially, I now that I can do it. And I enjoy it! It was a really valuable experience for me as a Librarian and as a future leader.

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#proudpoutmoment

If you read this, I salute you and love you.

 

First interview in 3+ years: some reflections

I recently attended an interview at a local College for a Library Manager position and I’ve been meaning to reflect on the experience for some time. It was an ambitious step up from where I am now in my career, I admit it. BUT I don’t see anything wrong with aiming high and it would have been a good next step.

My boyfriend was honest with me and he had some reservations about the job;
1. Management is hard.
2. I have little management experience.

Fair reservations to have and I appreciated the honesty but I still went for it and he supported my decision. I’ve had my fair share of job interviews and most of them have gone well (apart from the time I went to an interview for an account manager position at a logistics company… I don’t even know what logistics is/are?)

I spent a hell of a lot of time preparing my application. I worked on it over the course of a working week and I worked on it solidly over a weekend. By now I am pretty strong when it comes to writing job applications but I was still pleasantly surprised when they invited me for an interview.

I haven’t had a job interview in over 3 years now and I was nervous! I am pretty sure I could manage a Library… but I did have some doubts about my ability to do the people management bit… people are amazing, but also hard work and I would be responsible for 10 of them. I prepped hard – I spent a whole evening with my mum and boyfriend who were so supportive it’s unreal! They took me through mock interviews and gave me useful feedback. I got in touch with colleagues to ask for advice and information about the role and they were more than happy to help.

The interview went OK. I had to prepare a 10 minute presentation but they did not tell me what it was on until I got to the interview. I had 20 minutes to prepare it. They asked me what my top 3 priorities as Library Manager would be if I was successful. I presented it and then had a 1-hour interview with a panel of 3. I could have answered some things better but I was satisfied with my effort. After my interview, I was told that I would meet the team and go for a tour of the College. I thought I could relax… I was wrong!

The “meet the team” bit was actually a second, surprise interview which I was not prepared for at all. There were four team members who I would potentially be managing waiting for me in a little room. They had pieces of paper with additional questions on for me. Upon reflection, I probably should have talked more about myself, my experiences etc., but in the moment, I thought I would make it more about them. Literally, all I said was my name and that I currently worked in a College….. I’d like to know more about who you all are and your job roles… Something along those lines.

I left feeling like I was in over my head. The idea of management and the concept of it, I’m cool with. Coming face to face with the people I’d be responsible for scared me. I know how big of a responsibility it is. A manager can directly impact on how much you love or hate your job. I am probably not ready to manage such a big team and it’s fair that I did not get the job. What is not fair, is the College making zero effort to tell me this. I still haven’t heard back from them… After being told they would be in touch between 24/28 hours, I phoned after about a week to follow up and all I got was “sorry, thought I’d sent the regret emails. I will send something in writing”. Still nothing…

I spent at least 10 hours preparing, I took time off work, I lost sleep because of interview anxiety in the days leading up to it. I was serious about it. Am I naive to be a little bit hurt by their actions? I was tempted to name and shame but I’m finally over it – job hunting is hard, some places just suck at communication and I am not going to take it personally. All I can say is that if this is the way the organisation behaves towards potential employees, I dread to think how they treat their staff. In a way, I think I dodged a bullet. On a positive note;

  • I’ve gained valuable interview experience.
  • I’ve reflected on my skills and my abilities – I know my strengths and weaknesses.
  • My CV is up-to-date.
  • I have an amazing support network – thank you to my colleagues, friends and family for supporting me.
  • I had a morning off work.
  • I am still in the market for the “perfect job” and this certainly wasn’t “the one”.
  • I am excited for the future

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

If The Shoe Fits!

I just can’t even… what is happening!?

Leon's Library Blog

There’s been a bit of a Twitter storm over Government plans, partnering with the National Literacy Trust, to encourage language development and literacy using, of all places, Clarks shoe shops, with staff apparently being “…asked to engage children in conversation to improve language skills, as part of a government attempt to tackle “concerning” rates of early literacy.”

Now, as always, this is not the full story and is in fact part of a wider government initiative to involve businesses to support children’s early learning in the home environment, which includes bookswaps in supermarkets as well as special training for staff in shoe shops.

The inclusion of Clarks, KPMG, and Penguin Random House in the partnership with the NLT seems a perfectly natural fit (pun intended!) given that they all have links with the NLT Board of Trustees. Whether KMPG and Clarks are appropriate organisations to support such a scheme…

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