Friday, 3 October 2014

1 - Liz Chester, Coleg Sir Gâr

Welcome to 23 Llyfrgellydd, our first post is from Liz Chester who works at Coleg Sir Gâr a college of further and higher education based in Carmarthenshire.

As a student at Oxford Polytechnic in the 1980’s, working on my dissertation about a Victorian stained glass designer, I took root on a random floor of the Bodleian Library. Books moved up and down in dumb waiter style lifts and were distributed about the building to waiting readers like me.

This was my first ‘serious’ use of a library other than visits to the mobile that pulled up outside my rural junior school in the 1970s.
On graduation I was ‘drawn to’ and was somewhat keen to get through my interview for the post of Reading Room Assistant in the Library at the Ashmolean Museum. I wish I still had the job description - it might make a good reference point for how things have changed in library work since then. I was lucky enough to get the job –and what a lovely time I had – a small team, a strong hierarchy and yet great equality - all shelving together first thing in the morning – and much humour as we strived to meet the book and photocopying needs of university lecturers and post grad students.

A move to West Wales in 1988 - found me facing an interview panel of 7 - in the days when as a woman you could be asked if and when you planned to have children! Luckily I didn’t growl, got the job and moved into Further Ed. - my working home since.

My working life is varied, vivid, busy and an absolute joy. It necessitates (or has it created?) a bit of a butterfly brain moving from one topic to another; emails, phone calls, ordering, visiting classes, discussing technical issues with the IT department, working with learners to encourage appropriate behaviour in a space that offers a haven to HE learners, learners with mild to moderate learning disabilities, those studying plumbing, child care, carpentry and more.

My working day depends on the time of year – FE librarianship has seasonal variation in tasks!  Let’s take for example, September 30th 2014: We can start at about 3 am! I happened to be awake and it came to mind that our Level 1 Childcare group have been using the library so well since the start of term that it would good to deliver one of the college ‘Excellence’ cards to them. So, note to self for first action of the day and back to sleep!

As I arrive at work the following morning I open the door and a couple of learners follow me in – it’s 8.20 am. Check the diary for the activities ahead and say good morning to my colleague. We are still meeting and greeting as it is only a few weeks in from the start of term. First task is to write and deliver the ‘Excellence’ card, so a quick visit to the Childcare Department followed by letting the staff member who updates the library Twitter account know - as it would be nice for the group to have a mention there too.  My next task is to welcome back Level 3 plumbers, issuing ID cards and introducing them to an e-book that should help with their studies.  Then, back down the corridor to a class to talk e-resources, upstairs to work with HE learners to set up their access to online resources and back to base.

Some day to day activities run alongside the specific; helping newbies get into the swing of things with the self-serve and with the photocopier, regular telephone and email conversations throughout the day with my line manager and other colleagues about staffing, sickness cover and more (we are a multi campus college with sites throughout Carmarthenshire), reading mail, preparing reservations for learners to collect, keeping an eye on tidiness and general house- keeping.

About 2pm I received a request from a tutor for an e-book - place the order with our supplier – and was delighted to have the URL before the end of the day - one happy tutor! Also placing orders during the day to meet the needs of H.E. reading lists.

Getting close to 5pm and I’m assisting the IT technician to move 12 PCs that are in peril of water damage due to a leaking roof.  Then saying hello to our evening member of staff and spending some time with her working through how to add material to our LMS.  I will be staying on after 5 today as an evening induction is planned - it is important that part-time and evening groups get the same service as those who are with us for longer or during the day.  At 7pm – a happy group of mature Childcare learners arrive and I talk them through what we can offer. The last action of the day is to issue 4 children’s books to a computing class learner who has just started learning Welsh (the first language of a high proportion of our learners in Carmarthenshire). 7.35 pm is shut down systems, lock up and home!

If you are considering a career in Libraryland remember that in the F.E .library world it is imperative that you like people – and not just books! You may be selecting, buying and displaying your wares in the virtual or actual world - but if you don’t want to spend time with your service users showing and telling then it’s not the sector for you.

I love both the continuity and the change and there is plenty of both. The change in service users (you are only as relevant as you make yourself to your current users) and the change in the systems, the technology, the product and the educational setting. Getting between the user and the resource in a digital age is part of what we do. We are redefining our role and marketing to potential service users, users who are realising that library services walk alongside them on their learning journey and the positive impact working with us can make on their achievements.

With a degree in Art History and Anthropology and learning by doing for most of my working life - I came to a point a few years ago when I felt I needed to add some background knowledge to my practice. I opted for distance learning – with Aberystwyth University. What a joy, excellent packs of things to read and do – and a week of study school per year.  I felt supported, worked steadily (with some diversion activities and more cleaning than usual) and obtained an MSc Information and Library Studies - yowser! A nice bit of orange trim on my gown.

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