10 Jan 2017

Trading Places

Guest post by Tamsin Reilly, Library Assistant, Queen's University Belfast Library

Queen’s University Belfast (@LibraryatQUB and @QUBMedicalLib) library assistants Tamsin Reilly and Faith Blair take a trip to County Kildare to spend the day with their counterparts in Maynooth University.

Faith and I are both library assistants in Queen’s libraries, but we work in different branches; I work in the Biomedical Library, a relatively small library off the main site, and Faith is part of the Borrower Services team in the main branch, the McClay Library. We both jumped at the chance to put ourselves forward for a job swap with our Maynooth colleagues, and were lucky enough to have our names drawn. In preparation we organised dates, made travel arrangements and chatted via email with our soon to be hosts Bernie and Trish. Faith and I were to head down to Maynooth first, and host Bernie and Trish back in Belfast the following week.

The morning of the 1st of December was an early one for Faith and I; after emailing back and forth over a couple of weeks, we were finally on our way to meet Bernie and Trish and to see the library in which they work. They were extremely helpful in giving us travel tips and Bernie made sure to send us a handy weather report for the morning of our trip. It was a bracing winter’s day that greeted us in Dublin and Maynooth and we were attired accordingly. Thanks Bernie!

Bernie and Trish met us off the train and we walked the short distance to the university campus, which features a stunning mix of old and new architecture and includes buildings belonging to St Patrick’s College, the National Seminary for Ireland. Our ultimate destination was the library and by the time we reached it we were all firm friends and gasping for a cup of coffee. We certainly weren’t at a loss for anything to say; if anything we had to cut short a lot of chatting in order to stick to the schedule. But, by the time we had finished our coffee we had got each other up to speed on our respective roles in Queen’s and Maynooth, and Faith and I were eager to experience what being a Library Assistant in Maynooth was all about.

The library building is extremely impressive, very modern with lots of light and a great deal of space being used in myriad ways. It was interesting to see how the library had organised its entrance and reception: there is a lot of space dedicated to leisure and computer use, as well as a display space between the building entrance and the security gates for entry into the library proper. I thought it was very effective to have a place where students could mill about and create a bit of a hubbub without worrying about disturbing those who wanted to do some quiet study. We got further insight into how interlibrary loans are done in Maynooth, with Bernie taking us through the processes and procedures she undertakes every day. It was particularly gratifying as until our visit, Maynooth was just another university on the long list of institutions putting through requests for material to Queen’s. Now, however, when any correspondence comes through from Maynooth we immediately think of Bernie and Trish, their hard work and their peerless hospitality!

It was fantastic to see how they do things in Maynooth, and to notice the similarities and differences between the two libraries. One key difference was how the Borrower Services desk is organised: they have short shifts that are covered by staff who work on both the Admissions desk and the Borrower Services desk, whereas in McClay library staff are on a rota for an hour at a time to cover Reception (our version of Admissions) and the BS Desk, with main duties, in areas such as interlibrary loans and inter-branch requests, being undertaken in the back office. Many of the issues facing library staff were the same, such as how to engage students more actively with the library and the need to continually assess and revise procedures and services to ensure we are providing the best and most appropriate library service possible.

We were given a wonderful tour of the Russell Library, a reference and research library that holds Maynooth’s pre-1850 materials. The reading room, designed by Augustus Welby Pugin, is absolutely magnificent and steeped in a fascinating history that our tour guide Susan imparted to us with great flair and passion. She piqued our interest and obliged us by answering our many questions.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was the chance to speak with Trish and Bernie at length and to get an insight into their roles and their approach to working in the library environment, and to consider it all in the context of our own workplace. It was wonderful to be able to share experiences, thoughts and ideas with colleagues, and ultimately to make new and valued friends in the wider library world.


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