Experiences, Essays and Enthusiasm: The story so far by Helen Kiely and Lorna Dawson

After their first month of studying Lorna Dawson and Helen Kiely got together to swap experiences of their MA programmes so far…

LD:  On the induction day I sat in a small cosy lecture room, with twenty something other new students and was asked “What do you like to read?” I know right? Rule number one of library interviews: Do not tell them you love books. Don’t admit you like reading anything at all – except emails. Up until this point I had assumed this rule would apply to library courses too …

If you ask a room full of budding library professionals what they read, let’s face it, it’s not going to stay silent for long. And that’s one of the things I didn’t expect from the course – to talk so much, and for me to talk so much. I’m usually quite quiet but because I’ve had a few years experience in different types of libraries, I’ve found that I actually have quite a lot of real life examples to share. It’s made me feel I’m doing the course at the right time because I can put the information into a professional context.

HK: Yes, I’ve really found that so many people on the course have diverse backgrounds, it’s really interesting to learn from their experiences and it’s nice to be able to have information of my own to contribute as well! My first impressions of the course were very intense- no sooner had I received the initial lectures and signed up to the first modules we were given a test essay to do and assigned additional group work to complete, as well as assignments deadlines for October, November, December and January  so I felt a bit intimidated about that.

LD: Essays already?! (Oh no!) What did the test essay involve?

HK: The test essay was only short- 1,000 words plus abstract and bibliography- but I admit I’m a stresser when it comes to deadlines and the word ‘test’ definitely put the fear of failure into me. Really, it’s an extremely good idea because it’s an opportunity for your personal tutor to see how well you can handle the style of writing and references before you start completing the larger pieces.

Is there anything of your course so far that has surprised or stuck with you?

HK: The thing I’ve found most interesting so far is the work we have started doing for our ethics presentation. There was a lot of interesting reading and my group have decided to work on the relationship between personal bias and information supply in relation to health and public libraries which is really fascinating to discuss.

LD: I didn’t expect to do so much imagining … actually, I think it’s one of the course’s real strengths. On Monday mornings we have a module called Information Organisations and Their Management. I genuinely thought we’d be taught a load of management theories and have to put them into practice … perhaps by managing my pen pot. It’s not been like that at all. My favourite thing to imagine so far has been how to set up a 24-hour enquiry service – because I know I’m not in a position to be setting one up right now but eventually I will be, and imagining has given me a safe environment to explore what will and won’t work.

HK: I think one thing that really struck me is how much communication there is between other students. The last distance learning course I did only had message board interaction and no group work element but this is a lot more interactive and from the start everyone has been really sociable and friendly. I had the first meeting with my group for an ethics project last Monday night, and we had a really good chat- it was good to share how we feel about different aspects of the course with one another- it felt a lot more like ‘really’ being at Uni.

There’s a lot of technology used on the course- we have lectures via a system called adobe connect which is really interesting because you can attend the lectures in real-time if you’re free on the Tuesday afternoons and you can log in with your webcam and microphone to participate in. The adobe connect sessions allow you to see the lecturer and interact by voice or a chat section, and the lecturer can also show you their presentation, share their computer screen or put up a whiteboard for you all to contribute to during the course of the lecture. We also have discussion boards on our online space and the lecturers often create google docs for us to all feed back on the readings on. There’s also a couple of google plus groups- I would’ve said I was quite technically literate before but this is a serious learning curve. On the upside it gives me a lot of ideas of things that we could maybe use in work as well in the future.

LD: Even though I’m going in for lecture, I’m finding that we do a lot of our group work through email and google docs as well. It’s a really good way to prepare for maybe working with health library staff at other sites within the network in the future.

After all that, I think the biggest surprise for me was where our lessons are actually held. I don’t think I was alone in assuming that I’d be spending the duration of the course in cosy lecture theatres trying not to nod off for the warmth. I had a shock the first proper Monday of lessons when I found myself sat for the entire day in a technology lab … Every Monday I walk past a room containing at least 5 3D printers and sit in another with plug sockets hanging down from the ceiling and the gentle lull of the Mancunian Way – there’s no nodding off for me!

Lorna Dawson and Helen Kiely

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