The Sheffield Experience

I was delighted to be invited to speak to this year’s cohort of Graduate Trainees at the University of Oxford about applying to library school, specifically about my experiences studying at the University of Sheffield. I was one of three former-trainees reflecting on our library school experiences at different institutions, and we were joined by Stephen Pinfield, senior lecturer in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, who discussed the important factors to consider when choosing a course.

The Mappin Building. Sarah Grice, Flickr

The Mappin Building. Sarah Grice, Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

My own presentation was biased – I am distinctly pro-Sheffield, but I hope I was balanced enough to give the trainees a realistic idea of what studying there is like. I thought it might be useful to others to include some insights from my talk, as well as reflecting on how it went. Below is an edited version of my presentation. The pictures I’ve included are the ones I used as my slides.

The course

A wind tunnel we built in the Archives module, to dry out flooded books

A wind tunnel we built in the Archives module, to dry out flooded books

I was impressed with the range of modules, allowing me to choose a selection that was some stuff I knew I’d want or need for my career, as well as stuff that’s just interesting.

I did feel, once I was in my first job after the masters, there could’ve been more on teaching. It was covered a little bit, but I didn’t come out feeling fully prepared to take on that responsibility of teaching.

There was a lot of group work, which usually fills everyone with dread. The tasks themselves weren’t that bad (though sometimes felt a bit irrelevant), but inevitably once or twice you’ll get the odd person who doesn’t pull their weight. It can be difficult to fit group meetings with everyone’s schedules, especially if you have group where some are part-time or travelling in from elsewhere. That’s absolutely no one’s fault, it’s just something to be aware of.

Sheffield 10 milesInterview

I did have to have an interview, but it really wasn’t that bad. They gave me a free lunch (and I was encouraged to take cake home with me) – the lunch wasn’t the main reason I chose to go to Sheffield, but it definitely made a good impression – and the interview itself was more of a chat to see if I was right for the course and the course was right for me.

The university

Obviously your interaction with the university and the student union will vary if you’re part-time or traveling in, but since I was full-time I was able to enjoy being a student again. The student union is really impressive and regularly wins awards. And I couldn’t talk about the librarianship course and not mention the library. The infamous Information Commons, or IC – Super modern, bazillion floors, all kinds of work spaces for quiet study, comfy sofas, and everything in between. Open 24/7/365, you can eat in there, it even has showers. It’s an experience. Oh, and the building is bright turquoise. They are constructing another information commons, so I’m interested to see how that turns out. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the IC, but it was always rammed so obviously a lot of others are.

The view from Mam Tor in the Peak District

The view from Mam Tor in the Peak District

This was the gist of my talk. On the day I managed to forget to mention most of the negatives of my experience, but many were things mentioned by the other speakers anyway. I also spoke a bit quick. I think I’m out of practice now I don’t do so much training and presenting.

It was lovely to meet the trainees. I got a real hit of nostalgia, especially when I left them at a pub we used to frequent after training. I remember finding this session useful when I was a trainee, so I hope I was as useful to this year’s.

The end of library school, and the start of real life

On Monday morning I handed in my dissertation for my Librarianship Masters. It was a long time coming, but I got there in the end. My acknowledgements page does not do justice to the support my housemates gave me as I slowly went (more) insane. I think all that proof-reading nearly killed my boyfriend; I’m sure he never wants to read about libraries again.

Here she is, in all her glory (yes, a she):

I’ve been finished for about four days now, and I still wake up feeling like I’ve forgotten something, or worse panicking I made a mistake (most recently: Did the margins copy over to PDF?! Yes. Yes they did). I’m trying to enjoy my week off, since it’s probably my last break now before Christmas, but I’m finding it hard to adjust to having nothing to do!

I’ll be sad to move out of Sheffield. It’s been a lovely year, and my flat is a great spot to survive a zombie apocalypse. But I’m excited to start my new job, and move down south where I don’t sound quite so posh.

So I’m no longer a student, and am about to embark on real life and adulthood. I’m sure it will feel exactly the same, but more stressful.

#cpd23 Thing 10 – Routes into Librarianship

I think in many ways my route into librarianship has been fairly ‘textbook’; graduate traineeship, full-time library Masters, but actually the textbook route isn’t the most usual one.

There have already been some excellent posts about this, I particularly enjoyed reading Siobhan B’s and Jen Gallagher’s.

Graduate Traineeships

As an undergraduate, I had a bit of a panic about what to do when I grew up. My friends seemed to have vague ideas of what areas they wanted to go into; NGOs/charities, publishing, postgraduate study… but what about me? No idea!

But it was staring me in the face. I already worked at a library. I had worked for two years previous in a different library. And I loved it. I just didn’t know librarianship was a thing. After some internet research and a friendly chat with my subject librarian, I was ready to go! After many applications, and a few interviews, I was successful in getting a graduate trainee position (the one I really wanted too!), at the Bodleian Social Science Library at Oxford University.

The year was amazing. The SSL was a really lovely place to work, and Oxford was a lovely, if expensive, place to live. The trainee scheme also involved weekly training sessions, and there were about 18 or so of us; a ready-made network of colleagues and friends. I really feel my trainee year set me up fantastically for library school, but if I had decided against PG study, it was a great set of experiences and skills for working in a library or elsewhere.

Working on my Graduate Trainee project

I recommend graduate traineeships as a way into the profession, but I am well aware they are very competitive. It’s important to remember that, yes while they are a great path to becoming a librarian, they are not the only path. I’d say roughly half, or maybe not even that, of people on my course were trainees before starting the Masters.

Which leads me on to…

Masters degrees

I’ve blogged before about my Masters degree at Sheffield, and you can find my reviews of the course here and here.

I went straight into full-time study for my Librarianship degree, but a lot of my fellow trainees decided to do it part-time (or not do it at all). I think it all just depends on your own situation. I was successful in my application for AHRC funding, for which I am incredibly grateful, as it has allowed me to do the course in one year, and to move to Sheffield to do so.

Though, again, funding is very competitive, and I’m fairly sure the number of awards is reduced year on year. This, combined with ever increasing fees, I am sure will result in fewer people embarking on a library degree, or more choosing to combine part time study with employment.


This is definitely something I intend to do in my future. However, right now, my thoughts are turned to finding a job first, preferably a professional post. Once that’s sorted I can think about the rest!

Are we there yet? A review of the second term

This week is the final week of the taught part of the course. All the undergraduates are finishing up and getting ready to leave, but I’ve still got til September before I finish. From now until then, it’ll be a countdown to D-Day… Dissertation hand-in.

So here follows a review of the second term, I hope it isn’t too long for you. My review of the first term of teaching can be found here. I figured potential and upcoming students might find this particularly useful.

The modules…

Management for Library and Information Services

This module carried on over the two semesters. It was greatly improved this term, not least by moving to a different classroom – one where we weren’t having to fight computer screens and concrete pillars for a view of the front. The topics covered this term have included marketing and branding, communication in organisations, financial planning, and evaluating the social impact of services. Some of these also involved practical activities; with financial planning we worked out a budget from this year’s spending, using what seemed to me a very complicated spreadsheet! Some of the stuff was very clearly relevant, some of the others a bit too theoretical.

Assessment: 1. Literature Review; 2. Reflective Journal; 3. Service Quality Evaluation – group presentation & report

Research Methods and Dissertation Preparation

Having studied social sciences for five years before starting this course (A Levels in Sociology and Psychology, and undergraduate degree in Sociology), I was already fairly very familiar with a lot of the content of this module. However, that is not to say it isn’t useful, as many of my course mates are not from this kind of background – the majority have studied arts or humanities. It’s also good to have formal preparation for the dissertation project.

Assessment: 1. Initial dissertation proposal; 2. Critique of a previous dissertation; 3. Final dissertation proposal

Libraries, Information & Society II: Academic & Research Libraries

The emphasis is very heavily on the academic libraries side in this module, but there were some really fascinating sessions on a selection of special libraries. Lots of guest speakers also taught on this course, which helps shake things up a bit, and offers a chance to see potential career paths and find out about different areas of LIS.

Assessment: 1. Group presentation on Open Access; 2. Evidence-based briefing paper

Libraries, Information & Society II: Public Libraries

This is one of my smaller classes, and really benefited for it. Discussion was a lot easier in class, and it often felt more like a seminar. Again, there were many guest speakers on this module. However, unsurprisingly, things were often a bit doom-and-gloom, particularly when one speaker informed us of a wonderful project he’d worked on, then proceeded to tell us how there is no chance we’d ever get funding for something like that, and there are no jobs anyway. Perhaps not the best way to inspire future professionals…

Assessment: 3,000 word essay

Archives and Records Management

Another enjoyable module. An introduction to the basics of archives and records management, and quite evenly spread between the two. Best session? Rescuing poor drowned books by constructing a wind tunnel. We also were able to go on a couple of visits in Sheffield, including the city archives and university special collections.

Assessment: 1. 1,500 word essay; 2. Archival/Collections research project

The course overall…

Three negatives

  • Late hand in/feedback turnaround – Turnaround is meant to be two weeks, but for one particular assignment we waited approximately 6 weeks since handing in for feedback. We get penalised 5% for late submission, but the department have no penalisation for late return.
  • Deadlines – I know that time management is an important skill, but with six pieces of work due on the same day (and that’s in no way all of my deadlines this term!), the lecturers could cut us a little slack?
  • Theoretical focus – Some more practical application would be beneficial, perhaps through the organisation of placements, or shadowing.

Three positives

  • Wide range of module choice – Picking my modules was so hard, and I think everyone changed their mind at least once! Sheffield gives the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects, and explore your own interests.
  • Continuing professional development – The lecturers really encourage this. In particular, there is a Facebook group where staff and students post interesting opportunities and events, and these often get emailed round too. That’s how I found out about the SLA ECCA award, and I am sure others have benefitted from the staff’s enthusiasm about CPD.
  • Guest speakers – I said it a couple of times earlier in the post, but I really did enjoy these sessions. A wonderful mix of new professionals, often former students at the iSchool, and more established LIS professionals, whose expertise is obviously gratefully received.

Leadership and mentoring

A session on leadership and mentoring, as part of my Management module, has prompted me to reflect on what I see as a good leader, and on what I learnt and what I will do differently in future as a leader as a result of this session.


We learnt there are three broad styles of leadership;

  • Authoritarian/Autocratic: The focus of power is with the manager
  • Democratic: The focus of power is with the group. Leadership functions are shared within the group.
  • Laissez-faire: The manager observes things working well, and makes a conscious decision to pass the focus of power to the group. Doesn’t interfere unless necessary.

Many people in the class had experience of all these styles, and it was interesting to hear their anecdotes and examples.

As part of the preparation for this class, we were asked to watch the following TEDtalk, and reflect on the lessons about leadership it contains.


For me, the theme that struck me most was that these conductors are on a wide spectrum, from autocratic to laissez-faire, but each style is legitimate (though it obviously depends on the situation at hand).

Along with a discussion of the video, we also identified a leader we admire, and considered their personal qualities which we feel are the most significant in making them a good leader. Our team came up with the following as characteristics of a good leader:

  • Vision
  • Effectiveness
  • Supportive
  • Approachable
  • Communication


The second part of the class was a discussion with Christopher Cipkin, Arts and Humanities Team Manager at the University of Reading, about the benefits of mentoring.

Mentoring is not something I had previously given much thought. The only knowledge I had was that it is part of the chartership process, something I plan to do in the future. I was surprised to learn about how it can be used for other forms of professional development. The main benefit of mentoring, it seemed, was the formalisation of achieving goals; it provides an infrastructure of defined meetings and action points in which to achieve clearly defined goals, with the help and guidance of another person’s experiences and knowledge.

What have I learned? What will I do differently?

Leadership, in some form, will definitely feature in my future career, whether I like it or not! I tend to shy away from taking the lead of a group or team, but actually, it doesn’t have to be as scary as I think. I am going to try to improve my confidence in this area by taking on more leadership roles when I can.

Disaster strikes!

The past two sessions in the Archives and Records Management module have been concerned with preservation, conservation, and, this week, emergency planning and disaster management.

Last week we had Teresea Januszonok from the Sheffield Conservation Unit come to speak with us, and this week involved a tour of the records centre at the university with Records Manager Matthew Zawadski, where there has previously been some flood damage. On this tour we were able to see the space in which the university’s records are kept, and some of the problems and issues that they have encountered. A few years ago there was major flooding in Sheffield, and as newly set up in this building, the team did not have a disaster plan in place. Needless to say, they have one now! This visit was also a chance to find out from others on the course if they had experienced any flooding or similar emergencies in the libraries in which they have worked. One issue was that their library as Grade 1 listed, and as such there were often difficulties with the building in terms of the pipes and guttering. 

Planning for disaster recovery and salvage is important in avoiding escalation of the damage, by improving response time with a standard procedure to follow – reducing panicking and dithering time!

There are four stages;

  1. Raise the alarm
  2. Assess the incident and control it
  3. Containment
  4. Recovery
Wind tunnel

Our wind tunnel to dry water-soaked items

The second part of the session was a fun, messy practical concerned with the third and fourth of these stages, involving salvaging flooded materials, and building a wind tunnel in which to dry them. Although the items had only been in the water for a few hours, some of them were completely saturated. It was these we decided were too wet to dry in the wind tunnel, and were wrapped in bandages and bags for freezer storage. It was really surprising to see just how water-logged and degraded materials could become in such a short amount of time, which really rammed home the importance of disaster management planning and procedures, so one can stay calm and work effectively in such situations.

This practical session was refreshing, as a lot of the course often seems quite theoretical. It is something that is relevant to all libraries, archives, or records collections. It’s definitely one I will remember for when I am working professionally!

First Masters presentation

Yesterday was the first proper presentation I have had to do for my Masters. The topic was about Open Access from the point of view of academic researchers (each group were assigned a different POV). Although that’s an interesting topic, I’ll be reflecting on the presentation itself  in this post, and the preparation that went into it.

In terms of the presentation itself, all members of the group presented a section each. I was a bit dubious about this method at first, but it turned out that the other presentation groups had also done this, so we weren’t the odd ones out. My section was the final couple of slides on future trends and conclusions. I’m not sure if going last made me more or less nervous!

I have had some training on presentation skills and public speaking during my traineeship. Although it was a bit hit and miss, some of the techniques did help me control my nerves, keep my voice steady, and relax my body. You can read a full account of the session here at fellow ex-trainee Clare’s blog.

One of the things I remembered to do from this session was relaxing my face. Obviously it would look a bit strange to be gurning in front of my classmates, but I did make sure to rub my cheeks and swallow to relax my throat muscles.

I also tried to bear in mind some points about what I was actually saying. Practice, as they say, is key. It really was for me, and especially not just memorizing a script, but knowing the message you are trying to gt across. By relying on a fully written-out script, one can sometimes get hung up on saying things perfectly. However, spoken word sounds nothing like written English, and its important to be able to sound natural. I find using cue cards, rather than the whole thing written out, really helps me with this.

The presentation lasted approximately 20 minutes, and we invited questions once we had finished. It’s hard to prepare for questions beforehand, as obviously if you have spotted gaps in your coverage, you would amend that in your presentation. However, I feel we as a group fielded the questions well, and I really think our research and preparation showed in our responses. Especially that we could offer some references off the top of our head that might address a questioner’s issue.

So I do feel learning some relaxation skills and practice can really help with nerves (also remembering your nerves are something you control, don’t let them control you). If you can, try to identify areas your audience might question you on, and prepare some rough ideas for answers beforehand. If you can’t, knowing your subject well, and knowing more than what you have put into the presentation, can really help.