Focus on Alumni is our series of blog posts featuring or written by #citylis alumni. In this post, Nicola Beer, who graduated in 2011, writes about her career as a Learning and Teaching Librarian with the Open University.
Like many people, I came to a career in libraries almost by accident. I started working as a library assistant at a local branch library while I was in the last year of my undergrad and found, to my surprise, that I loved it. I knew that I wanted to take the next step and qualify so I worked my way through the list of CILIP accredited qualifications, very quickly deciding on the MSc Library Science course at City. I was drawn to the fact that it was a lot more forward-thinking than other programmes, with elective modules that allowed me to focus on the techy stuff that interested me. I still learnt about the all the ‘traditional’ library roles and skills (cataloguing comes to mind here!) but I also discovered things about the profession that surprised me and I realised my career could take any number of directions that I hadn’t anticipated.
I was fortunate to be able to convince the public library authority I was working for that I’d learnt enough to get a professional librarian post before I completed my MSc. I loved the role and learned a hell of a lot from it, but ultimately decided that I wanted to move to another sector where I would have more opportunity to pursue the new interests I’d discovered.
In the end, my dissertation was instrumental in helping me to make the move. I researched the use of social media in academic libraries, looking at the practices of a whole range of libraries and determining success based on the level of engagement they had with users. At the time, I found that The Open University was miles ahead of the game, so it seemed like fate when I saw a Learning and Teaching Librarian post advertised at The OU. I was able to go into the interview confident I knew at least a little about what the Library got up to and thankfully I got the job. I’m still here a couple of years later and now I spend my days working at a fairly unusual library, in that we are almost entirely an online library. This makes certain aspects of my job a bit trickier than usual. Digital and information literacy teaching has to be done via web conferencing, or purposefully written into modules. Many of our students are studying part-time and have full-time jobs, so we need to make sure they know it’s worth investing their time in using the Library and developing their information skills. We use pretty much any means we can to open up conversation with students, and as we don’t have the luxury of being able to talk with them face to face, we really have to be innovative. This gives me the opportunity to play around with new tools and experiment with ideas all the time, which I absolutely love and it ensures I’m always learning. I feel like I’ve been able to keep that sense of discovery I first found at #citylis and for that I’m extremely grateful.
I’m now ready to take on my next challenge and am hoping to start a PhD in Technology Enhanced Learning next year. I want to look at how libraries can create online spaces that encourage student-led communities and how this impacts on learning experience. It’s a topic that I never would have imagined when I started at #citylis, but which has undoubtedly been shaped by the broadness of the Masters programme and the way it encouraged me to look beyond my current experience.