Documenting your learning

Used with permission - Guudmorning - FlickrThe tagline of my blog is ‘perspectives of a newbie to the library world’ and so today I thought I’d share with you something that I believe is useful for those new to the profession and maybe even for those who have been in the profession for awhile but want to keep track of their CPD.

I have just completed a Jobbridge internship and I am one of the lucky people who had a very positive experience and gained a lot from the 6 months I spent working as a library intern. One of the things I wanted to share about my experience that I think is useful for anyone starting out is the process of keeping a learning log.

As part of the internship we were required to have weekly meetings with our mentor and keep a note of everything we were learning in a monthly learning log. I found this process very helpful and rewarding and it will be something that I hope to continue into the next part of my career.

For the internship the learning log asked the following:

  1. What are the key skills/learning areas you developed this month?
  2. How will you be able to apply what you have learnt?
  3. What areas would you like to develop?

I found that this process was very rewarding for several reasons, the most important being that when it came to writing up my CV I had all the relevant experience and training already written down. This meant the CV was easier to compile and it was less likely that I would forget or omit anything important.

The section that required us to think about the ways we can apply what we learnt helped to identify transferable skills and aspects of the job that you might otherwise overlook. It also got me thinking creatively about how I could apply my skills in various roles and this will be extremely useful when it comes to answering interview questions.

I also enjoyed reflecting on the areas I wanted to develop because these sections make it easy for me to identify areas for CPD so that I can focus my learning in the areas I feel are important or interesting. Also, because I had a very supportive mentor I was allowed to develop my skills in areas that weren’t necessarily part of my original job spec (e.g. I received training in the use of CALM software and in how to catalogue to archival standards because I asked my mentor if this would be possible).

For those doing Jobbridge the LAI offers accreditation (see here) and this requires a 2 page reflective report. Having learning logs available to you will certainly help in writing up this type of report.

In fact, learning logs and keeping an up to date log of your CPD will be very useful should you wish to apply for Associateship or Fellowship of LAI further down the line.

I would encourage people interested in doing something like this to be quite reflective during the process rather than just listing very simple factual information. While it is useful to have a list of skills it is even more useful to put thought into how you can use these skills in different ways and perhaps evaluate your learning to acknowledge what was useful and what wasn’t, or perhaps how you could improve your learning. There is the possibility that this might help you to identify a useful MOOC or other course that will fill a gap in your knowledge.

CPD diagramFor those beginning an internship or CPD it might even be a good idea to write down what you think you will learn before you begin and compare this to the outcomes at the end.

As I have said I was very lucky with my internship and actually had another great internship experience before this one, both experiences were made great by fantastic mentors who were willing to provide me with training in areas I wanted. In other words it wasn’t a one way street.  By having a good idea from the outset about what you think you are going to gain from the internship this might give you more confidence to discuss your ideas and what you want to gain from the internship with the host organisation. The point of an internship should be to gain experience and to learn and if this isn’t happening for you then you should definitely consider other options.

I was delighted to see CPD certificates being given to attendees of the recent A&SL Annual Seminar and I think this will also help to encourage me to put together a file that keeps track of my learning and CPD. Keeping track of everything you do makes it easier to apply for jobs (and prep for interviews), be confident that you are keeping up to date, to be creative in your thinking and see patterns and trends that might be developing either in terms of your own interests or in terms of what is happening in the profession.

Digital Humanities

I have spoken previously about how technology is changing education and I have to say I think we are headed in a very exciting direction in relation to the humanities. Digital humanities is the study of how we can use computers and technology for arts and humanities research. It is a rapidly growing area and this is important for us as information professionals because there are gaps in this area that we are very capable of filling. Digital humanities is essentially all about engagement with information in a digital form. It is about allowing people to engage with a topic in a deeper way, creating visuals or stories that are interesting and interactive. Simon Tanner gave a very interesting talk on the subject at the A&SL Seminar in March, you can find it here. The talk was entitled, “To educate, enlighten and entertain – If you build it will they come and help?” I think this title outlines some of the important factors in digital humanities and why the area is so important for the future.

1. To educate – digital humanities provide us with the opportunity to educate in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Imagine a architecture enthusiast being able to view digital renderings of some of the world’s most famous buildings for example, perhaps a history buff being able to view the maps around the building to see how the town had changed or maybe an artist being able to study the frescos inside without them ever having to leave their seats by a laptop. These things are all possible within the digital arts and humanities scope.

2. To enlighten – Although many could say that this is similar to education, I can see this going further; perhaps explaining parts of the past that we may not have understood before, teaching us things about ourselves, allowing for insight into the future even. Read this article about Gettysburg for example where spatial humanities and technology have combined to allow us to understand the ‘why’ of the situation.

3. To entertain – The interest people have in their own histories has been well documented in recent years with exponential growth in the genealogy sector. As a personal hobby people are looking into the past to find information about themselves, their families and little nuggets of history that tug on the heart-strings or inspire them. Take a look at The Diary of Mary Martin, although entertaining may not exactly be the right word, the diary is fascinating, whether you are studying Irish soldier’s in the First World War, or the 1916 Rising, or whether you just happen upon it and are caught up in this extraordinary story.

The thing I especially love about this area is that allows people to learn things they may not even have thought about; it allows people to see things in places they’ll never visit and go back through history; maybe even be inspired to learn more, write, create art etc. I also like how there is so much scope for people and communities to get involved. Crowd-sourcing is a hot topic here and I think it provides us with an excellent opportunity because we can see from projects like the Bentham Project that people are interested in helping and getting involved.

So if people can get involved and do the crowd-sourcing part, what are the opportunities for us? Well, we need to do the digitization, we need to think about digital preservation, how do people find your project, do the items contain relevant metadata, how is the crowd-sourced information edited and verified? There are plenty of areas that need a trained information professional.

For those interested in this area in Ireland there are PhDs available in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth. See here for more info. There are many more opportunities worldwide.

Why I Love Libraries…..

Ok well, I’ve been working on my site and doing so much work for my course that I thought now would be a nice time to take a quick step back and reflect a little on my love of libraries.

There is a public library at home in Clonmel, Co Tipperary that embodies my entire childhood. I loved that place! I have loved books ever since I learned how to read, and that was probably before I could even talk properly. When I discovered that there was a building full of books that you could borrow, read and return in exchange for more books, well, it was like all my Christmases had come all at once. My memories of being a school-kid involve getting home from school and going to see my grand-parents and being brought to the library. The children’s section was right at the front, everything was in bright colours and the room smelt like books. (If you’re an avid book lover, you’ll understand!) I read as much as I could, my parents would find me with a torch under the covers when it was supposed to be lights out. I think I read every Roald Dahl book in the library, including short stories and the adult ones before I was 12. In fact, I think it was around that age that the librarians, who knew me very well, rang my parents to ask if I could have an adult card to take more, and much longer, books home.

In secondary school, we moved away from the town. I rarely went to the library; preferring instead to make do with the Christmas presents and trips to the book-store. I regret this now because when I went to college I was slightly scared or intimidated by the library. However, once I discovered the Boole Library, the love affair started all over again. Not only was I able to find books, and plenty of them, there was so much more to the library than I could have dreamed. In secondary school you are taught, I don’t believe learning things off to pass a test is really learning. I did very well at school but by the time I had gotten to Leaving Cert I was bored to tears. College and the library was like a complete parallel universe where I could learn and read and discover for myself.

I love libraries because they give us this amazing opportunity to discover what it is you need. Libraries are capable of showing you the world and everything in it. Librarians are like the tour guides (or at least they should be.) They should direct you where to go on the journey, keep everything in order to make it easier to navigate and be close by in case you get lost. With the Web and so much more technology there’s even more to discover and hopefully the library will remain the place of discovery. As a future librarian I am going to strive to make sure that wherever I end up is a place that helps and supports learning and guides people on their journey to whatever information it may be that they are searching for.