This post is by #citylis alumnus Anthony Farthing, Library Assistant with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.
A dissertation can be a great opportunity to pursue an area of personal interest, although for those in a job while studying, the wishes or needs of an employer might be a priority when choosing a topic. While a workplace-based project doesn’t have to be less rewarding, combining personal preferences with professional practicalities seems to offer an appealing balance. That’s certainly what I hoped for as I undertook my Information Science MSc dissertation on the potential use of comics to train mental-health professionals.
When I started working as a part-time library assistant at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in March last year, I wanted to find a dissertation idea that would be enjoyable but also improve my knowledge in relation to my new job. The Trust is a specialist mental-health organisation that provides treatment and training, and this project helped orient me in the fields of psychology and social care, of which I knew little before working there. Previous to beginning the project, my interest in comics was best described as ‘lapsed’, but it had been renewed after seeing #citylis colleagues tweeting comics-related content. This dissertation seemed like a perfect way to combine the two worlds – and it meant I could spend time in comic shops in the name of academic research!
Before my project got underway, the only comic in the library’s collection was Couch Fiction by Philippa Perry and Junko Graat, however there were some illustrated books (an important difference according to my dissertation!). Finding material for the project was rewarding, both in terms of recalling lessons learned during #citylis sessions to help find a suitable methodological approach and also analysing the comics market for appropriate resources – the work produced or promoted by Ian Williams and MK Czerwiec and their Graphic Medicine website was especially helpful for the latter.
I added some comic books I owned to the library collection to test for demand among our users, then conducted two online surveys of the academic population at the Trust. I also arranged 20+ interviews with a variety of professionals, including tutors and clinicians at the Trust, publishers and creators in the wider comics industry and, of course, librarians. All this provided a lot of data to analyse and while my conclusions might not surprise a more seasoned library professional, I felt it gave me improved insight into the information behaviour of staff and students at the Trust, and also more awareness of the interface between production, publishing and provision.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of undertaking a work-based project was having the support of my managers and colleagues – this, combined with the advice of my City supervisor Ernesto Priego, helped keep me on track. At the end of the project, the Trust’s Head of Library and Information Services was persuaded that comics should become part of the Library’s collection policy and it was very satisfying to see my academic research help shape practice at my workplace. The collection has expanded to 22 items so far, and you can see them listed here – I’d love to know if you have any further recommendations for us…
Anthony is on Twitter @AnthonyFarthing.