This week Philippa explains how her teaching qualification has benefited her role in an academic library.
My name is Philippa Price and I am an Assistant Librarian at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Swansea Campus. My route to librarianship was a fairly common one, I think. I graduated with a non-vocational degree – in my case American Studies – and wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself! I read American Studies at Aberystwyth University and developed an interest in their Information and Library Studies programme when I took a few options from there as part of my modular undergraduate degree. After graduation, librarianship was always at the back of my mind as a possible career, but it was a few years before I took the plunge and enrolled on the full time Masters, also at Aberystwyth. After graduation, I found a job as a Senior Library Assistant on a mobile library service in Gloucestershire, which was fantastic, but not the professional job I was looking for. After a short time as Library Assistant in Swindon College, I gained my current position at UWTSD (then Swansea Institute of Higher Education).
In my current job, I’m based at the Townhill site and offer subject support to the staff and students on the education programmes here at Swansea. I have worked here since 2005, a fact that I find very hard to believe; it really doesn’t feel as though I’ve been here almost 10 years!
I haven’t been resting on my laurels all that time, though. As well as building and maintaining a good relationship with academics and students, I began the chartership process with CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) a couple of years after undertaking this role and achieved chartered status in 2009. More recently, continuing the development of my teaching skills which I committed to during chartership, I graduated last year with a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education and Training (PCET) here at UWTSD.
The PGCE was something I toyed with doing for a number of years, and I’m so glad I finally took the plunge. Library sessions with students are a big part of a subject librarian’s role and a significant part of my time is spent planning and delivering induction sessions and classes on accessing library databases and other online resources. I found the PGCE enormously helpful in allowing me both the time to reflect on my own teaching activities and the opportunity to share experience with teachers and trainers from other sectors. The PCET PGCE attracts people from all sorts of areas and I loved the fact that I was able to get to know teachers from universities, FE colleges, community education settings and work-based learning, all teaching a whole range of different subjects from accountancy to self-esteem.
As part of the course, we studied things like curriculum design, learning barriers/motivation, teaching strategies and the wider context of education. Some of these topics had more immediate relevance than others in my day-to-day job, but it was so beneficial to be able to think about education and teaching practices as a whole like this, rather than just my small part of it. This was especially helpful for me as an education librarian, of course! And as well as developing my knowledge of education as a discipline, I was able to use our library sources as a student, which gave me new insight into usability and most useful functions. At library sessions, I always try to share some of my experience with students so they can understand how and why particular resources or features can be helpful.
The course has more practical elements too. We had opportunities to play and experiment with applications which can be used to develop engaging electronic resources. We made screencasts, podcasts, videos, wikis and quizzes, all of which will stand me in good stead for my career in librarianship. We rarely get to spend more than a session here and there with our student groups, so being able to create online information sources is invaluable.
And of course there was the teaching! We taught short lessons to our peers, completed team teaching exercises and benefited from tutor and mentor observations of our normal teaching activities. All that sounds a bit daunting, and no one really looks forward to being observed, but it was actually a very positive experience. My peers, tutors and mentor were very supportive. The feedback process helped to recognise my strengths as well as the areas where I could develop further.
An unforeseen consequence of the PGCE led to me teaching on that very same programme after graduation! Last academic year saw me teach around 80 hours across a couple of modules of the course. Much of the teaching for the part-time programme goes on in the evening, so I was able to fit this in around my job in the library. It was certainly hard work, but well worth it! My experience as a part-time lecturer has been invaluable for my work as a librarian. The education staff here at UWTSD Swansea have always been supportive of the library and made me feel part of the team, but there can be no substitute for experiencing the academic administrative and teaching process first hand. I really feel as though it has given me a better insight to the library’s place in that process.
I’m very fortunate to work at a university which offers a teaching qualification such as the PCET PGCE, and fortunate to have line managers who supported me in undertaking that route. And of course, I was lucky enough to be able to gain some teaching experience on the same programme! Not all colleagues are in such a position, but I would certainly recommend any librarian consider partaking of some sort of teacher development, be that a PGCE or short teaching course or similar. Working with people to develop their skills is such a huge part of our jobs these days that it really does help to have some theory and knowledge of teaching and learning to support that kind of activity.