14 Jun 2022

Keeping Calm in the Face of Technological Calamity

Guest post by David Carlos RinehartDavid is a Library Assistant at Maynooth University Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department where he has worked on expanding the Library Treasures blog to include the audio and audio-visual mediums of Podcasts and YouTube videos. He is currently in the dissertation stage of completing an MSc in Library and Information Studies from Robert Gordon University which he is on track to finish by April 2023. You can find him  @DCRinehart on Twitter 

In conversation with Martin O’Connor’s Libfocus post Dodgy cursors, wonky links and alarming fire alarms...

Ok, the plenary is done, I gotta get up to the sixth floor and make sure everything is running smoothly for my presentation.



Trapped between people getting out of their seats and meandering to the doors of the Shannon Suite at the Strand Hotel in Limerick for CONUL 2022, I (im)patiently wait. Once I get out of my row of chairs, I push through the crowd as elegantly as I can (basically not sticking my hands out and knocking them out of the way with the power of my nerves which are vibrating as I’m first up for the parallel paper I’m presenting).

Elevators… Elevators… There they are. Perfect. Oh good, Marie, my friend, is standing at the front. I’m just going to go and stand by her, I do go first so I need to be at the front.

Ok the button is pushed, good deal. Now we wait.

Behind the glass pane I see the elevator weights rocket up and soon the first of the two elevators arrives. Unfortunately, it’s the elevator for who’s line I am not in. Well, we will just have to wait until the door shuts and we press the button and the other elevator will soon come.

The elevator door shuts.

Then

It opens

Shuts

Opens

SHUTS

OPENS

SHUTS OPENS SHUTS OPENS SHUTS OPENS!!!!

What is going on!? I have to get up there! The other elevator won’t come if this one doesn’t go up!

As those in the elevator try varying arrangements of their bodies inside the elevator, and the door keeps opening to mark their failed attempts, I look for a hotel employee.

There she is!

“Hi, can I please use the stairs, the elevators don’t seem to be working,” I say, trying to keep the edge out of my voice.

“Sorry, we don’t have stairs.”

Don’t have stairs? DON’T HAVE STAIRS!? Seriously!? That is totally and absolutely impossible!! “Oh, ok, I’ll just wait then. Thank you.”

“Here’s another elevator,” someone calls out.

Since I am presenting first, I am ushered over to it.

We stand in the elevator and press six. The light flicks on, and then flicks off. No movement.

Ok, this is a cosmic joke, right?

Wrong. Or, well, right actually. It does appear to be the case.

I press six again.

On

Off

Again

On

Off

Again

ON OFF ON OFF ON OFF ON OFF GAHHHHHHHHH

Ok, what is the highest floor we can go!?

5

On

OFF

4

On

OFF

3

2

1

A key card is required to access any floors above the lobby and we don’t check in for another 5 hours. Perfect.

0

On

Still on

Up we go.

Now I am in the lobby. I press the button to go up on the elevators that will actually take me up.

We see the elevator lowering through the glass pane.

And….

it just keeps on going down.

It’s gone down to the floor I had just been on. And guess what? When it comes to the lobby floor, IT IS FULL!

At this point my manners and shyness have completely drained and I ask someone to please just let me on because I have to present!

Of course they let me on. I really should have asked from the start. But it’s just the way I am, a bit too shy for all that.

Ok, up we go.

Sixth floor.

Success!!


I run down the hall to the Harris Suite and the chair of the session asks, “David?”

“Yes! It’s me! I’m so sorry!”

“No worries, we will get started now.”

I am introduced very kindly and I step up to the mic. My presentation is already open and it’s go time.

Wow very professional! I don’t even have to open it. Awesome!

“Hello, I’m David, thank you for attending…” blah blah blah

Next slide.

“I am going to show you a video clip…” so on and so forth.

Nothing. The embedded video does not work.

Well, ok, here we go again
.

“Sorry everyone, seems like I am having some technical difficulties. Just one second, sorry about that.”

What could it be.

(Troubleshooting mode initiated)

Maybe the internet isn’t on.

I exit out of the presentation and sure enough, not connected.

Ok quickly connect (which is not quick at all, in fact, excruciatingly slow).

Ok. Connected. Perfect. Let’s go.

“As I was saying…” blah blah blah

Video starts playing with no sound.

Bloody hell already!!!

“Sorry about that everyone, it seems we don’t have sound.”

GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The IT guy is right next to me and I ask him, “Do we have speakers in here?”

“No.”

“I really need speakers because one of the clips I have is a podcast and, well, I need speakers for that.”

“Alright, I’m going to go get them, you keep doing your presentation and I’ll be back before you are done.”

Thank goodness for a calm IT guy with solutions!

“You got it!”

And I run through the entire presentation and right at the last slide, the tech guy comes in with the speakers, hooks me up and I play the clips.

Not only that, but I end up winning an award for keeping it cool with great technical challenges, or as I like to call it, a technical calamity!

Yes, I can keep my cool externally, from years of experience performing in a band, but I hope that this little story shows you what is going on inside which is total freak out mode, but also quick troubleshooting and solutions mode, which all comes together for a successful presentation despite the various challenges that present themselves.



Photo credit: Alexandra Caccamo

4 Jun 2022

Enhancing Teaching & Learning Using Virtual and Immersive Technologies Seminar - Review


Guest post by David Leen, student in Sustainability Studies at UCC and student assistant at UCC Library with the Academic Services Team.

On February the 16th, UCC Library hosted a virtual seminar with speakers from Irish and American universities on the various ways VR technology can be used in teaching and learning. The event began with an introduction by Alan Carbery, Head of Academic Services in UCC Library, where he emphasized the importance of discussion between groups seeking to utilize these technologies for the benefit of students and researchers. 

I’ll now provide a summary on the speakers at the seminar, and the panel discussion at the end of the session. 

Dr. Orla Murphy

Dr. Murphy, an expert in digital humanities in UCC, has spent the past 20 years working with virtual reality software. Her PhD thesis focused on knowledge modeling, using older meshing software. Interestingly, Dr. Murphy’s presentation positioned virtual reality as a new evolution of the ‘information age’, recognising the importance of this in shifting the learning experience from the digital to the ‘real’. The technology gives an appreciation of space and size that is impossible to replicate in 2D. She highlighted the personal learning journeys that are possible using the technology, referencing a recent study which found the technology encouraged each student to accomplish the tasks set in unique ways. 

Stephanie Chen & Daniel Nowacki

The second presentation focused on UCC Library’s digital services, drawing attention to the Digital Environment Lounge. Stephanie gave a walkthrough of the space and Oculus Rift, and work done on Mozilla hubs (carried out by my colleague Cara and I), while detailing future plans for new Library spaces. She then handed the presentation over to Daniel Nowacki, a first-year student who has spent a lot of time in the Digital Environment Lounge. He gave two interesting examples where he and his friends used the equipment for learning and teaching opportunities. This presentation provided interesting examples of the practical uses of VR technology in UCC Library. 

Dr. Jerry Reen

Dr. Reen, a molecular and cellular biologist, focused on the work of his ELEVATE group, funded by the National Forum. Their work sought to enhance the student experience in visualizing the objects studied at the molecular level, using the example of a plasmid. The group sought to link and scaffold VR content with the module’s goals, not just tack it on as a gimmick. This presentation also highlighted a little-recognised aspect of VR teaching – most students have little experience with the technology, and require time to get used to it. 

Prof. Louise Rainsford

Prof. Rainsford works in the Radiography and Diagnostic Imaging department of the UCD School of Medicine. Her presentation detailed the various 2D and 3D training programmes which the University made available to their students to aid in the preparation for their placement periods. She specified that the technology was ‘embedded’ into the curriculum, ensuring each student became comfortable with the technology, with 72% of students more comfortable in a practical setting. She noted the use of VR to visualize radiation – usually invisible – as a fantastic tool to allow students to grasp the concept. 

Elise Gowen

Elise’s presentation was concerned with her efforts to create immersive experiences for students in a STEM library at Penn State University, highlighting the various programmes made available. The most interesting of these were a collection of virtual field trips for the Geosciences department, improving the educational experiences of distance learners and low-income students by making unique experiences available. She showed off programmes designed to replicate rock formations of interest, or immersive simulations of various phenomena. 

Megan Baird and Jamie Nelson

The speakers from the University of Illinois highlighted the work of their Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, focusing on their various outreach efforts and the novel uses which they have found for their technology. From e-sports to dress design, the presentation detailed the wide variety of uses for the systems once you have the interest and support of the student population. This talk led into a presentation from one such student.

Zade Bosco Lobo

Zade discussed the more student-focused elements of the University of Illinois’ offering, as the vice-president of their student-run VR Club. The university works to both embed VR technologies in their undergraduate programmes, and offers development courses in VR and game development. He also detailed the various research programmes ongoing at the university. However, the highlight of the talk was the VR Club itself. He went into detail describing the various initiatives of the club to encourage participation with the technology, from board games to the university’s esports teams. 

Dr. James Frazee and Dr. Sean Hauze

The presentation from San Diego State University detailed their work with their corporate partners to incorporate ‘Extended Reality’ technologies to each of the university’s colleges, 70 courses and 54 faculty. The university emphasized their focus on students as creators. A particularly interesting example was the use of HoloLens to train nurses. 

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion introduced some interesting themes. The impact of Covid on the rollout of educational technologies was considered, with most panelists agreeing that Covid has sped up this process. The use of training tools for medical education was highlighted in particular. 

When asked about the greatest inhibitors to VR as an educational tool, panelists considered a variety of reasons, from a misunderstanding of the nature of the technology to the educators’ own confidence in using the tech. They considered that more help should be directed at the educators as well as the students. 

Finally, open access to educational technology was considered by the panel. The importance of curated experiences for certain courses was emphasized. Panelists noted that repositories of educational programmes could be used to ensure their sustainability, but that these systems are less effective for previewing VR experiences. 

Conclusion

The seminar was a very interesting look at the development of educational technologies in a multi-national setting. The problems facing the institutions were addressed in a collaborative manner, and both the student and academic experiences were highlighted. 

The introduction, all of the presentations, and the panel discussion are available on YouTube.  


3 Jun 2022

A "She-Cession" in Academia: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Academic Publishing

 Guest post by Sinead Carey. This post was written as part of the MLIS Scholarly Communications module at UCD School of Information and Communication Studies.

For more than a decade, feminism has experienced a revival off the back of modern social movements. The world of scholarly communication is no exception, having experienced an explosion of interest in research surrounding gender inequalities, the gender pay gap and women in leadership. As time passed, those in the media began to brandish the growing gender diversity in academic publishing as an optimistic sign for the future.

And then the pandemic happened.

COVID-19 has had unprecedented ripple effects for the entire world, and certainly, this has trickled down to female scholars. Social isolation, remote work and the increased burden of home-schooling have all taken a toll, with many women with young children describing perceived 'penalties' they have faced in the workplace. In the past year, researchers have begun to call attention to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women in academia, with new gender gaps being identified in the areas of publishing and productivity.

Is this a temporary setback? Or will COVID-19 have long-lasting effects on the progression of women in academic publishing?

Image credit: photo by Luke Southern / Unsplash


One Step Forward...
Before the pandemic hit, women in academia saw (some) progress. According to the European Commission (2022), the number of women at bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels has been growing steadily in recent years. Women had also begun to join the workforce in higher numbers than men. From 2015 to 2018, women saw a 2.2% increase in workforce involvement compared to a 0.8% increase for men.

In Ireland, progress was slow but still visible. The first female president of an Irish University was appointed in 2020, with more following closely in her wake. Today, four of the seven Universities in Ireland are headed by female leaders. On top of this, a recent report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) showcases that more than half of lecturers in Ireland are female. It seemed that women were making strides across the field of academia.

But these figures tell only one side of the story.

Two Steps Back
The She Figures 2021 report indicates that women remain under-represented in research and innovation careers. Since 2003, this report has monitored "the progression of gender equality in research and innovation in the European Union and beyond". Figures show that women represent a mere one-third of researchers (33%), and at the highest level of academia, women possess around one-quarter of full professorship positions (26%). The report also emphasises an insidious experience that has worsened throughout the pandemic; due to competing obligations in the home, women in academia began to publish less and, therefore, received less funding. This meant they were less likely to be published in the future and subsequently less likely to receive further funding and be cited by others. The report suggests that this damaging occurrence represents a cycle that women may find difficult to come back from as life returns to normal.

And around and around it goes.

Image credit: photo by Micheile dot com / Unsplash
Women in academic publishing
Though the included research is indeed unsettling, the question still remains:

Has COVID-19 affected women in academic publishing?

 IT professor Cassidy Sugimoto believes it has, stating that 16% fewer women were lead authors for articles published on the preprint-platform medRxiv between December 2019 and April 2020. Fellow scholars Lundine et al. echo this sentiment in a more general sense:

"Bias and structural sexism affect women at every stage in the research and publishing cycle, cumulatively disadvantaging women and their advancement throughout their careers," said the authors. "Women are less visible as researchers and authors and thus less likely to be invited as peer reviewers and editors".

Research by Kim & Patterson (2021) argues that the pandemic enforces this both directly and indirectly by examining "1.8 million tweets from approximately 3,000 political scientists". This research suggests that increased familial obligations are placed primarily on women, causing a detriment to professional visibility, productivity and likelihood of being published. Pinho-Gomes et al. (2020) argue that this gendered disadvantage is also reflected in peer-reviewed publication rates. Their paper, which looks specifically at publications regarding COVID-19, found that women accounted for just one-third of authors who published since January 2020. It also found that female representation was lower again for first and last authorship positions.

Anecdotal evidence on social media further supports the idea that female academics have been more negatively affected by COVID-19 than men. However, it must be noted that much of the available data focuses on female scholars in the medical sciences, and it would be interesting to note whether such effects have taken hold within other specialities such as humanities and social sciences.

Certainly, it does not look good, and public discussion on social media has led to mass outrage and sensationalised debate.

Image credit: photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Gender Roles and the Pandemic
The impact of COVID-19 on women has been given many glib nicknames, from 'she-demic' to 'disaster patriarchy'. The most infamous of these is a term coined by American author and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, C. Nicole Mason, who said: "We should go ahead and call this a 'shecession.'" Though such terms often dramatise women's struggles, it is important to consider whether there is any merit to their claims.

The term "she-cession" was originally devised to represent the unemployment rates of women in comparison to men during COVID-19. However, as time went on, the meaning of the phrase began to morph and change. Today, it is used more flippantly to echo the dissatisfaction of many women regarding their perceived setbacks since COVID-19.

The most significant implication put forward by women is the return of traditional gender roles. With the closure of schools, day-care and other recreational supports, families were put in a difficult position of deciding how to take care of their children and maintain the household whilst also bringing in enough income. As men often hold higher-paying jobs, studies have shown that traditional gender roles were promoted, female academic productivity decreased, and pre-existing gender inequalities were exacerbated.

Canadian columnist Alison Hanes also highlights this pressure to take up traditional gender roles, saying: "There are so many measures of how gender inequality has worsened during the pandemic that it's difficult to keep track. But for me, it's calculated in stacks of dirty dishes." As Hanes aptly describes, the fortification of outdated gender norms has affected more women than the general public may be aware of and has filtered down to all fields of work in some way or another.

"It's like the virus seeped into the gender gaps that already existed in our society and cracked them wide open," said Hanes.

The Road to Post-Pandemic Recovery?
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women in academia compared to men. The European Commission declares that women are still acutely under-represented in research and academia despite the long history of scientific achievements. An EU-sponsored SUPERA project is now being touted as "the key to long-term institutional change". This project outlines a plan for audits of practices and procedures in an effort to address gender discriminatory shortfalls. Though it is beyond the remit of this author to comment on the validity of this project, it is undoubtedly positive to see initiatives targeting the pandemic's ripple effects.

Could this be the mark of a road to recovery?

A new article in the New York Times provides additional optimism. The article, by correspondent Claire Cain Miller, claims that recent studies have shown a particular group of women have avoided the so-called she-cession. College-educated American women with young children were shown to be more likely to work than before the pandemic. The cause of this is still being researched, but Miller states that it is likely because careers requiring college degrees are far more adaptable to working from home.

Despite Miller's insistence that a "she-cession" is not credible, she does maintain that women are "stretched thin", adding that American President Joe Biden has declared "there are nearly 1.2 million extremely qualified women who haven't returned to the work force". Whether the sensationalised term "she-cession" is warranted or not, it appears there is a consensus that action needs to be taken.

It is time to knit together the scattered articles that have shone a light on the impact of COVID-19 on women and open the conversation about the pressures of traditional gender roles that are still faced today. If this is not addressed at a core level, women in academic publishing may suffer consequences long after COVID-19 becomes a story in the history books.

As said by gender politics researcher Maria Bustelo "Only when academia and research include scholars with different backgrounds and identities will we be able to achieve results that are meaningful to everyone."

19 May 2022

The Library Treasures Podcast

Guest post by Alexandra Caccamo and David Rinehart.

 

 In 2015, the Maynooth University Library’s Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) Department started the LibraryTreasures blog on WordPress. We have continued to publish a new blog every month detailing treasures found in our collections in both the Russell Library and the John Paul II Special Collections and Archives. It was with the shock of the pandemic and a quick pivot towards presenting our service virtually that we began to think about other ways to reach new and existing audiences.

Historically, SC&A departments tended to be thought of as exclusive spaces for distinguished researchers and academics. Further, in some cases, what makes these collections ‘special’ is their antiquity, making the use of technology seem like a contradiction or an anachronism. However, the ideologies, philosophies, and strategies that drive many libraries, which include Special Collections and Archives departments, recognize these collections as important objects, stories, and perspectives for our culture. This is history which belongs to everyone. Thus, there is a drive to make these collections more discoverable and easier to access for all members of the local and global community. And so, the importance of technology and social media has become increasingly evident.

Back to the pandemic. With this increased focus on bringing Maynooth University’s collections to the people, and the physical service being put on hiatus, saw an opportunity to enhance and grow our digital skills. The Special Collections and Archives department then set out to expand our blog to include not only the visual medium of written work, but to the audio and audio-visual mediums of podcasts and YouTube videos as well.


We now have six Library Treasures videos and two episodes of our podcast available on our Library Treasures blog. The most recent two episodes were an interview with the incredible and talented academic from the MU Department of Early Irish, Dr. Elizabeth Boyle in two parts. Part 2 just launched on May 13th.

Dr. Boyle talked with us about a recent item of great historical significance which she helped us acquire. This incunable, Orosius’ Historiae Adversus Paganos or The Seven Books of History against the Pagans (1471), is the earliest print copy of Orosius in an Irish Library. It is also the first printed work to mention Ireland and its landscape and climate. Without going into too much detail, Orosius wrote in the 5th century about the God given right kings had for ruling. Orosius’ works shaped the belief monarchs have had about their divine rights and caused a paradigmatic shift in political discourse which has prevailed for over a millennium.


Follow us on Twitter: @SCA_MULibrary
Follow Elizabeth Boyle on Twitter: @thecelticist
Follow Alex Caccamo on Twitter: @accaccamo
Follow David Rinehart on Twitter: @DCRinehart

11 May 2022

How libraries can become more ASD-inclusive


Guest post by Aodhán Keegan, DCU Library

This article is a summary of the key points from my Capstone Project I conducted during my Masters in Library and Information Studies in UCD from 2020 to 2021. My research topic concerned the role of public and academic libraries as inclusive spaces for the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community. In this article, I will focus on how both public and academic librarians may appreciate ASD as an opportunity for professional growth instead of an obstacle, and how the library can function as an ASD-inclusive establishment.

Throughout my research, I consulted various articles that were oriented around how well librarians understood ASD, and how they could incorporate their knowledge into their professional practice. In one of these articles, a group of public librarians in Australia participated in an online autism awareness training session in 2020. Afterwards, they developed the confidence to support library users with ASD, as they were better informed about autism and the signs to look out for in an affected user (Paynter, Simpson, O’Leary et al, 2020).

Other articles suggested that public librarians should concentrate on their forms of communication with library users with ASD. Akin and MacKinney (2004) suggest scaffolding communication when interacting with children with ASD. This entails the librarian beginning by asking the user yes or no questions before proceeding to more nuanced questions regarding their information search. This method ensures that the child is not overwhelmed during their information search. It must also be acknowledged that the user(s) with ASD may act as aloof or disinterested in the library, but this should not be regarded as antisocial behaviour. It is merely their adaptation to the sensory stimuli of this environment.

The approach that academic librarians may adopt is vastly different to their public counterparts. This evolves around the consent of the student with ASD to be forthcoming about their information needs and their desired study space. In the articles I consulted, most academic librarians regarded these students to be ‘intellectually capable of pursuing higher level education’ as well as having the confidence to ask for help (Shea & Derry, 2019, p. 327). Hence, it is the imperative of the academic librarian to give the student with ASD the prerogative to navigate their options of using the library to suit their additional needs.

However, that is not to say the academic librarian adopts a passive role to the needs of students with ASD. Whenever a lecturer refers a student to them for support, they must regard them as individuals presenting with their own challenges. They must recognise that no two students on the spectrum have the same needs, thus an unbiased and non-judgmental manner must be adopted to support them. As stated previously, the student with ASD knows what they are seeking, and they are self-assured enough to realise and address this.

There is a general assumption that libraries are naturally safe havens for people with autism spectrum disorder due to their traditionally quiet environments. However, in a survey conducted by Lou-Ellen Kiely (2018, p. 42) on library attendance amongst people with ASD and their guardians in Ireland, forty-four percent never availed of their local library services, with eighteen percent complaining that their local library was unaccommodating to their sensory needs. To tackle this problematic gap, efforts have been made in America to promote public libraries as ASD-inclusive. Librarians have put up visual displays of ‘autism-friendly’ logos on the front doors of their workplace and have collaborated with other libraries to host weekly sensory programming for families.

For ASD students to experience a positive relationship with their academic library, school librarians may support secondary school students with ASD to develop their information seeking skills in advance of attending third-level education. In their research, Ennis-Cole and Smith (2011) surveyed school librarians who were teaching students with ASD to develop their assistive technology skills. To quote a surveyed librarian, ‘we can assist autistic students in the same ways we assist other students. We recommend materials. We teach selection. We model reading. We mentor’ (Ennis-Cole & Smith, 2011, p. 93).

As this article asserts, to support the ASD community, the public librarian must be astute to how they may respond to the sensory stimuli of the library environment. As many students with ASD are generally well developed both socially and intellectually, the academic librarian must cultivate a professional rapport with these students when supporting them in navigating the library. For both the public and academic sectors, advocacy for the ASD community in the public library environment and preparing prospective third-level students with ASD to develop their information seeking skills are two examples of solutions to combat the additional challenges people with ASD typically experience when accessing library services.

References
Akin, L. & MacKinney, D. (2004). Autism, Literacy, and Libraries: The 3 Rs = Routine, Repetition, and Redundancy. Children and Libraries, 2(2), 35–43. ISSN: 1542-9806

Ennis-Cole, D. & Smith, D., (2011). Assistive technology and autism: Expanding the technology leadership role of the school librarian. School Libraries Worldwide, 17(2), 86-98. ISSN: 1023-9391

Kiely, L. (2018). ‘The role of Irish Public Libraries in Assisting Users with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Benefits, Challenges and other Considerations’ (Masters Dissertation, Dublin Business School, Dublin). ISSN: 10788/3489

Paynter, J., Simpson, K., Wicks, R., Westerveld, M., O’Leary, K. & Hurley, A. (2020). Development of an Online Training Program for Public Library Staff to Deliver Autism Friendly Story Time Sessions. Journal Of The Australian Library And Information Association 2020, 69(4), 496–522. DOI: 10.1080/24750158.2020.1836949

Shea, G. & Derry, S. (2019). Academic Libraries and Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Do We Know? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 45(1), 326–331. DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2019.04.007

Making it work: doing a Virtual Work Placement during Covid-19

© True Media

Guest Post by Sinead Delaney Sinéad is a student of Library and Information Management. She has recently completed a work experience placement at the Glucksman Library.'

I am a Master’s student in Information and Library Management at Ulster University. The course is part-time and entirely remote. One of the conditions of the course is that I must work in a library setting as I study. This blog post and the poster I present at the CONUL Conference in May 2022 recount my experience of conducting a virtual work placement at UL. While the latter stages of my placement were in-person, I worked entirely remotely for the autumn semester of 2021 as the Covid-19 restrictions in place in September 2021 meant that only University staff and students were permitted in UL Library. 

When I enrolled on my course at Ulster University, I was working full-time, first at a HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in Laois, then at the library supply department in O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick city. I began my work experience in UL in September 2021, which meant my placement began during the pandemic. The Glucksman Library allowed me to conduct my placement virtually, and my academic supervisor also supported this. While doing my virtual work placement at the Glucksman Library I worked on projects for my supervisor, Michelle Breen and for Louise O’Shea, Librarian Administration. Below are some of the projects I worked on for UL Library.

Digital Skills Workshops

I attended UL’s 21 Digital Skills for Students workshops (online) and prepared a report on how I perceived them, being a postgraduate student myself. I reported my observations under the following headings so that the LevUL Up project team at UL could get qualitative feedback on the following:

  • Applicability, 
  • Volume of content, 
  • Pace,
  • Level of interaction, 
  • Level of understanding as measured by questions asked.

I also did a landscape check for Michelle, finding out the different types of classes that libraries in Ireland, the UK and the US offer to their students. Michelle will mention this in her talk at the CONUL Conference on ‘Taking a Lead in Digital Literacy’ 

Research Skills

When doing desk-based research for Michelle, and also for Louise O’Shea I was able to carry out research projects from start to finish and present my findings through a Powerpoint deck; a simulation of the type of assignment I might face in my course, and a taste of what it could be like to work at an academic library. For Louise, I looked at the Universities that have Makerspaces to see how common it was that these were managed by the University library. I also audited the University libraries to see what technology they loaned to students and reported my findings back to the librarians. This meant I learnt about what these sorts of spaces looked like and understood the types of equipment that were useful for libraries to lend. 

New skills for students

Michelle encouraged me to think like a student when attending the digital skils workshops but challenged me to think like a teaching librarian too when I presented my findings about the types of workshops presented in other libraries. I identified that there was nowhere really teaching reading skills so I prepared a PowerPoint presentation on critical reading skills aimed at postgraduates. I was able to apply principles I had come across in my studies, for example, ‘fitting-in’ reading and ‘analytical reading. I hope that UL will be able to make some use out of my work on this in the future in their workshops for students. 

Collection Development 

During my virtual work placement, I submitted a list of recommended new titles for the popular fiction section in UL’s Glucksman Library. To do this, I consulted best seller lists, compared what UL had already in stock and also used social media sites to come up with my list of books. 

SWOT Analysis 

I completed a SWOT analysis of the library as part of a college assignment and Michelle’s feedback to me on that was that it matched what an academic library would identify among its strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the current climate




Reflections on my virtual work placement

I am an alumnus of the University of Limerick and immediately felt a connection to the library when I began my work placement. Since January 2022 I have been able to actually come in to the library and that has highlighted for me the importance of being face-to-face with colleagues. The remote working part of my placement, while not ideal, meant that I was in a safe working environment and I didn’t really feel disconnected from the library team.

I had weekly virtual meetings with my supervisor, Michelle Breen, Head of Information Services during my placement. Often these were taken during my work break but I made it work.

Overall, my placement was a success. I received a great insight into library work and was able to make real contributions to the library. I had to manage my time carefully with a full-time job, a part-time internship, and a part-time Master’s. 

Where to next? 

My background before September 2021 was not in library science. I completed an undergraduate degree in Food Science and Health at the University of Limerick before completing the professional exams with Chartered Accountants Ireland. I found the skillset I had already developed applicable to the library sector. A methodical approach to tasks was invaluable, and being good at Microsoft Office, especially Excel, is very important. Being digitally literate is an essential part of working in a library and I was glad to be able to use Excel, Powerpoint and Canva during my placement. My course will take another 2 years and I look forward then, or before I complete it, to working in a library.  

I am grateful to the staff at the Glucksman Library in UL for welcoming me in to their team and especially grateful to Michelle Breen and the other managers in UL for being so flexible in their approach and accommodating me getting started through this work placement. 

Come and see my poster with Michelle at the CONUL Conference in Limerick.