Preparing for my first conference paper

In January, I submitted my MA dissertation abstract to the i3 conference. I didn’t really expect much to come from it, but I thought it might be an interesting experience, and it was something to do with my dissertation, anyway. It took ages for them to reply, so I forgot all about it. Then, in March, I received an email telling me that I’d been accepted to present! I was very excited and jumped around the office for a bit, but then I didn’t hear anything for months and I almost forgot all about it again, getting caught up instead with chartership and work-related activities.

The conference programme was recently finalised, and it was a bit of a surprise to see my name there in black and white. I’ve now booked my accommodation and travel and registered for the conference, so it looks like it’s finally official. It seems like a bit of a shock, from my initial stab in the dark! My topic is ‘Representations of privacy in the context of care.data: conflicts of interest between government, newspaper and public discourses’.

Beautiful evening sky in Reading

Beautiful evening sky in Reading

Although I am comfortable with presenting to fellow librarians and students, I can’t help but feel that a conference paper is going to be a different kettle of fish altogether. I feel out of my depth – I’m not an expert in privacy studies, or in information behaviour, or social media interactions! What questions will they ask? Do I know my material well enough? I’m just a puny little MA student amongst the research postgraduates and established academics…

Luckily, the two anonymous reviewers of my abstract have provided some useful and constructive feedback, which I will apply to my presentation. I have also been looking up tips on presenting at conferences; there are lots of reassuring blog posts written by early career academics and professionals. I also have to do lots of reading to catch up on the way in which the field has evolved since I wrote my dissertation – July 2014 seems like a lifetime ago now! Time to get busy – I’m away for two weeks in June, so have to do most of the preparation in what’s left of this month…

University of Sheffield Library Society

Like many great ideas, the University of Sheffield Library Society was cooked up over a couple of beers in a pub. Emily Wheeler, the President and founder, was the main driving force behind the formation of the society, and put in many hours of hard work to get it off the ground. I was social secretary, but to be honest I didn’t do very much that was specific to my role. From our initial discussions in the University Arms, over the course of 7 months we managed to achieve quite a lot. Among some of the highlights are:

  • We attended two public demonstrations against cuts to public library services in Sheffield.
  • Two members of our society, Emily and Jayne, also attended local council meetings to question councillors about these cuts, and voice opposition from Sheffield’s student body.
  • We attended 4 meetings with local campaigners against public library cuts and coordinated our activities with them.
  • We successfully campaigned for the University of Sheffield Students’ Union to oppose cuts to public libraries as one of its official policies.
  • We have held 3 social events and 3 visits to libraries including the John Rylands and Learning Commons Libraries in Manchester, the York Minster Library and the Yorkshire Film Archive, and the University of Sheffield Special Collections.
  • From not existing at all at the start of the year, we finished the academic year with close to 20 members, and an enthusiastic new committee ready to take over the running of the society

All in all, a pretty good year! Here are some of the key things that I have taken away from this experience:

  • Political campaigning: local campaigners are wonderful. They fight so hard for the causes that they believe in and it was really inspiring to attend their meetings and demonstrations. In some instances, people really can make a difference through their actions. I was also really heartened to see how many people really cared about their local libraries, and were willing to spend their time defending them. However, I’ve also learned how difficult it can be to coordinate people in situations like this, where politics and different personalities often get in the way of the common good. This experience has inspired me to get involved more with local campaign groups and speak up more vocally for the issues that matter to me.
  • Organisational and teamworking skills: There were occasional issues with communication between committee members, but despite this we still managed to get a lot done through working together.
  • Marketing and communication skills: I designed the flyers for our social events and campaign activities, and set up the CMS for our society website. I also distributed leaflets at the Students’ Union, and promoted the society and its activities with a quick ‘elevator pitch’.
  • Just do it! All this wouldn’t have happened without Emily’s enthusiasm and determination. I’ve usually had more of a laid back attitude towards extracurricular activities, but the success of Library Society has shown that it is really worth it to get out there and just make things happen.

I’m really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve this year. Thanks Emily, for kicking it all off!

Library Society protestors in action!

Library Society protestors in action!

Managing the workload on the MA Librarianship course

I have to confess that one of the things that has taken me by surprise this year is the amount of work I’ve had to do! I already hold a postgraduate degree in Romantic/Victorian Studies from the University of St Andrews, where we had a leisurely 5 hours of seminars a week (though of course I spent a lot of my time doing independent study and reading, as well). I had not really anticipated the change in work culture that has come from moving disciplines, from the Arts and Humanities into the Social Sciences. As well as essays, I am producing presentations, reports, annotated bibliographies, reflective journals, literature reviews, and a digital library for my assessed coursework.

I have had 15 assignments to complete over the course of the year, of which 3 involve group work. This has been a new experience for me, as although I have worked in a team as a part of my library and orchestral work experiences, completing assignments and presentations collaboratively requires slightly different skills. These assignments tend to be more time-consuming and stressful than the individual ones, but they have been an excellent learning experience and one which I think I would have missed if I had chosen to do the Librarianship qualification via distance learning.

 Information Commons by Daniel Villar Onrubia on Flickr / CC-BY-NC-SA

Information Commons by Daniel Villar Onrubia on Flickr / CC-BY-NC-SA

I also have a part-time job working 15 hours a week as a Weekend Services Assistant at the University Library. I really appreciate the fact that I do have this opportunity for practical experience alongside the course, and the money is invaluable in helping me pay for my living expenses… but it has been tricky! I’ve managed to address this by doing some coursework when it is quiet on the service desk; reading articles, completing job applications and writing reflective journal entries are particularly good tasks for this as they can be easily interrupted. Tools like Mendeley, Dropbox and Google Drive have been absolutely indispensable in helping me keep my work organised and easily accessible.

Other things that have kept me busy are the Library Society and a Creative Media Course, which I will discuss in more detail soon! I’ve also been sitting on some additional classes, particularly from the Healthcare Information and Information Governance modules, because they are closely related to my dissertation topic.

New chapter!

That’s it, all the boxes are unpacked! Sheffield is officially my new home for the next year. It’s my fifth city in as many years, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know it well. I remember feeling just as nervous and excited when I first moved to Cambridge. The geeky gamer in me can’t help seeing this as a kind of pokemon evolution; read “TRAINEE evolved into LIS STUDENT!” below…

I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to secure a part-time job at the university library whilst studying full-time. Monday marks not only the first week of my new course, but also my first week of employment! I’m also learning to drive this year, so it’s going to be a pretty busy time… bring it on 😉

I chose Sheffield over UCL (my alma mater!) because the course was more clearly future-focused and demonstrated a stronger commitment towards employability. I also had a more positive experience in my communications with the department and its staff. Finally, the cost of living in London was really prohibitive and once I managed to secure the job in Sheffield, that really sealed the deal. Although UCL is a fantastic university, really close to my heart, and the Department of Information Studies is very highly regarded, the course there just didn’t seem right for me.

I’m hoping that the year ahead will be intellectually stimulating, helping me gain a more thorough and critical understanding of library and information management whilst also equipping me with the tools to advance my career in librarianship. Having been inspired by the BIALL and CLSIG Open Day event I attended earlier this year, I’m aiming for career in law or business librarianship when I graduate – but that feels a whole world away from where I am now!