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November 26, 2012 / bethan

My first month – Ruth Jenkins, liaison librarian, University of Reading

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

From learning to teaching within weeks!  Ruth Jenkins tells us about taking on a post specially designed for new professionals: with teaching, information literacy and budget-holding responsibilities, but also with structured training and development opportunities.

Adjusting to the pressures and demands of a professional post has been a challenging experience. Starting a week before Fresher’s Week certainly added to the need to adapt quickly to my new role. I finished my Masters in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield in September, and started as a liaison librarian at the University of Reading later that month. It has been an intense and hectic first month, and one which has sped by.

My job title is Trainee Liaison Librarian, but in actuality I have full liaison librarian responsibilities – the ‘Trainee’ part refers to the professional development support and opportunities that are available and encouraged as part of my role. For example, there is a structured programme for chartership with CILIP that I am intending to embark on. I am liaison librarian for two large departments, Education and History, and my responsibilities include ordering materials, running training sessions, and providing individual help to students and staff. Once I’m a bit more settled I’ll also be taking on some cataloguing work for my subjects, and responsibilities as marketing assistant.

Before I began, I expected a significant part of the role to involve presenting training sessions, but I wasn’t prepared for leading these sessions so quickly. Delivering effective information skills sessions – and not just presenting, but actually teaching – has been one of the biggest learning curves. Having started at the beginning of the academic year, I’ve had to hit the ground running. In a way, this has been useful, as I’ve not actually had a chance to get too nervous about teaching – I’ve just had to get on with it! I’ve done so many now, in such a short time, that I’m starting to get the hang of it. I don’t think the nerves will ever disappear completely, though.

Information literacy was a new concept to me when I started my Masters in Librarianship. Now, it is an integral part of my responsibilities as a liaison librarian. Learning about information literacy at library school has really helped when I’m thinking about the intended outcomes of what I’m teaching, and has helped me plan effective sessions. My Masters has also given me confidence, both the content of the course, and from studying at postgraduate level. I used subject databases and advanced searching techniques myself, so I feel in a better position to advise others now. I developed my professional awareness during my MA, and this has helped me understand the changes and shifts taking place in academic libraries, and my place within them.

Working in a large library is also new to me. My past experience has been within smaller teams, so remembering who does what, and who to ask when I need help, is still taking some getting used to. I’ve also had to present myself with confidence, even if I don’t feel I know much more than the students. I led my first training session six days after I started, so I had to remind myself: I’m a qualified librarian, so even though I’m new, I still know more than them. Luckily a colleague kindly helped me out with that session, so I didn’t have to field too many questions to which I didn’t know the answer.

Budget management is also an important skill, and something which is new to me. Being responsible for large sums of money is quite daunting. As a new professional, this has been a step-up for me. Being in a decision-making capacity can be a bit scary, and is definitely taking some getting used to. I’ve also been getting my head around copyright licencing rules, the virtual learning environment Blackboard, the library management system, and of course all of the local practices at the Library.

The biggest challenge has been managing my time and workload. Organisation has been a crucial skill. As I started a week before term, there was a lot of urgent work. I’ve had to get to grips with my work so quickly because of this, but at the same time, I’m working slowly because I don’t know everything yet. Prioritising urgent tasks, and balancing the rest, has been difficult.

More positively, I’ve enjoyed the opportunities for one-on-one appointments with students. For example, I’ve helped an undergraduate student with researching her dissertation, which was rewarding. I also run drop-in ‘surgeries’ for Education students once a week, based at our other campus. The concept of embedded librarianship is a development in LIS that I’m interested in, so it’s exciting to have the opportunity to do it myself.

My first month has been a tough one. It’s strange to look back over this past month, because in some ways I still feel very new and like I haven’t achieved all that much. However, this is completely refuted when I look at everything I’ve done.

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