12 May 2014

Understanding and Managing Rare Books (University of Dundee) Course Report

In this guest post, Audrey Kinch from NUIM Library reflects on some of the positives and challenges of completing an online CPD course by distance-learning through the University of Dundee.

Guest post by Audrey Kinch (@Auds_Kinch), Special Collections, NUI Maynooth Library

I have been working as a Library Assistant at the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) for six years. Initially I was part of the desk team. I completed the NUI Maynooth ‘Return to Learning’ Fetac level 5 certificate course in 2012. The ‘Return to Learning’ course is a foundation course offered by the NUI Maynooth Adult Education department for people considering returning to learning, who have not studied in a formal way for a number of years. Topics covered included motivation and goals, reading skills, note taking and writing skills. The skills I developed on the ‘Return to Learning’ course gave me the confidence to consider doing further study and to think about how I would like my library career to develop.

In 2012 I took up the post of Library Assistant, the Russell Library and Special Collections. This was a very new and exciting area for me and I was keen to learn as much as possible about rare books. I attended a few short courses but a year into the job, I felt I would benefit from a more in-depth course. This report tells about the certificate course in rare books which I completed online over one semester from the University of Dundee in 2013/2014. I applied to the Centre for Archives and Information Studies (CAIS), University of Dundee for the online ‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ course in May 2013. I commenced the course on the 16th of September. The following report provides an overview of my experience.

The Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS):
CAIS is part of the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee. The centre offers short Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses and Masters and PhD programmes in Archives, Records Management, Information Rights and Digital Preservation. The courses are accredited by the Archives and Records Association in the UK and Ireland.

Single Courses for Continuing Professional Development (CPD):
CAIS provides distance-learning programmes and courses for information professionals and local historians. While many of the courses are at postgraduate level, some individual modules are available at non-graduate level as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses. These CPD courses deliver core skills and theories in particular areas and are available as online part-time courses. The module I undertook was “Understanding and Managing Rare Books” There was no requirement to travel to Dundee for the module.

Understanding and Managing Rare Books
This is a 15-week, single module of a postgraduate programme, which open to non-graduates. The module is written by librarians and is aimed at librarians, library assistants, archivists, museum curators, volunteers and other information professionals.

The module has four parts:
1. What is a Rare Book?
2. Cataloguing and Provenance
3. Collections Management
4. Access and Promotion

Items covered include the history of rare books, book production in the hand-press era, book bindings, cataloguing, bibliographical descriptions, managing collections, providing customer service, developing access and promotional policies. Students are provided with a reading list and also a study pack of chapters from selected books.

Expected Outcomes for Participants:
Upon completing the module students should:
  • be familiar with the definitions and issues surrounding rare books and their management
  • understand and be able to prepare detailed bibliographical descriptions of printed books
  • develop a knowledge of access issues, surrogates and remote access, awareness and exploitation of collections, exhibitions and displays and web presentation issues
  • understand and implement measures relating to collection management and collection development
My Continuing Professional Development Course Experience:
The NUI Maynooth Library supported my application to attend the course. The recommended study time for the course was 15 hours per week and some weeks required more study time to facilitate core reading and submission dates for tasks. I was allowed three hours per week study time during working hours, for the duration of the course (15 weeks). We had some of the recommended readings for the module in the Library and that was helpful. I found the course challenging, stimulating and informative. It provided me with formal training and knowledge in the area of rare books and early printed materials. The course also assisted me on a practical level as part of my role is delivering tours to groups in the Russell Library and this will aid me to deliver a more informed service to students and researchers. I also found that having already done the NUI Maynooth “Return to Learning” Course was very useful as a precursor to doing this course.

Course materials included a reading list and study pack. I was also able to contribute to an online discussion forum and submit tasks online to the tutor. I received ongoing support from the tutor and also received lots of documentation which I found very helpful for example guidance on how to write a report and how to write an essay and I also received a checklist for assignments and useful study tips. Four other library assistants and librarians from Ireland and the U.K. undertook the module with me.

Throughout the course we were required to submit seven assessed tasks on a bi-weekly basis. Some of the tasks were completed as individual assignments and others were submitted to the online discussion board. The tasks included an essay on the subject of the history of print, the design of a reading room leaflet with guidelines for readers, to describe bibliographical and hand bindings descriptions and to generate a theme with three sub-themes for an exhibition, choose relevant exhibits with design panels and labels. At the end of the course, I had to submit two final assignments. The first was an 1,800 word report on the key issues involved in managing a collection of 5,000 Seventeenth and Eighteenth century books and the second a 2,500 word essay entitled “Discuss if rare book librarians are required to have an understanding of the history of books as material objects including the processes by which they are created to carry out their duties effectively.” On completion of the course, I received a certificate from CAIS. If I were to pursue a Masters Degree from Dundee University in the future, the credits from this module would count towards the degree. The course results and certificate of completion were posted to me approximately eight weeks after completing the course.

‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ is a course of direct relevance for those working in Special Collections and particularly for anyone working with early printed books. I enjoyed the experience of distance learning. It gave me the flexibility of studying in different locations and to manage my study time. I followed the course material online and I also printed a PDF copy of each module. For the majority of the course, I applied the recommended 15 hours study time per week and if an unexpected situation arose, I made up the time over the following week. We were also encouraged to advise our tutors in advance if we had challenges meeting task deadlines or if we had any queries at all. I stayed in contact with my tutors during the course, in my experience they were always receptive to questions and constantly supportive throughout the module.

Special Collections Librarian Barbara McCormack thought this course was a wonderful opportunity: “The ‘Understanding and Managing Rare Books’ course at the University of Dundee is a fantastic introduction to rare book librarianship. It provides an excellent overview of the key concepts and standards involved in the management, preservation and processing of rare materials. The fact that the course is delivered online means that it does not impact on service cover, which is very important for a small team such as ours.”

CAIS Application Process and Contact Details:
Interested applicants are required to complete an application form and submit a 300 word personal statement. The cost (as of 2013) was €1,025.00.
E-mail: armtraining@dundee.ac.uk or
Web: http://www.dundee.ac.uk/cais/cais-contact.htm
The next CPD courses begin on the 12th May and 15th of September 2014.

Anyone interested in finding out more about my experiences should e-mail me at: audrey dot kinch [at] nuim.ie


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