21 Oct 2020

Reflections from a late-career librarian

Beach outside Freetown courtesy of author

Guest post from Helen Fallon Helen began her library career as a student shelver over 40 years ago. She is currently Deputy Librarian at Maynooth University. Her professional interests include libraries and access to information in the Global South, professional development, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and academic writing. 

James Barnett’s blog post The Accidental Librarian: Career Progression Advice for Early Career Librarians offers lots of useful advice. I’ve used his themes/topics as a framework for this blog post and added suggestions and additional themes, from my perspective as a late career librarian. 

To Qualify or Not to Qualify
James started working in libraries in 2008 and began studying part-time via distance learning for his library qualification in 2015. He notes the value of this work experience for his studies and the development of his awareness of the library profession and the higher education sector. I began working as a part-time student shelver at what is now Maynooth University (MU) in 1978. After graduating, I worked fulltime as a library assistant for one year in the Acquisitions section, before undertaking a fulltime postgraduate diploma in librarianship at University College Dublin (UCD). I worked in a branch of the University library in the evenings.  I graduated in 1982, 33 years before James. 

Vary Your Experience
James is now an Academic Liaison Librarian at Coventry University. He advises changing roles and gaining as much experience as possible in the early years. After qualifying in 1982, in an economically depressed Ireland, I worked for two years as an Assistant Librarian in health science libraries in Saudi Arabia, followed by a year in Bord na Mona (Irish Peat Authority), before I took up what was to be my first permanent post as a Subject Librarian in what is now Dublin City University (DCU) in January 1986. During the first ten years of my career at DCU, I made sideways moves and took on extra responsibilities to build up my work experience.  I also availed of a two-year career break, when I worked with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) lecturing in librarianship at the University of Sierra Leone.  I learned a lot from these experiences and am glad that I didn’t restrict myself to Health Sciences Librarianship, the sector where I first worked as librarian, much as I enjoyed the area. In 1996 I was promoted in DCU and took on the role of leading a team of 16. This experience helped me when I applied for the post of Deputy Librarian at Maynooth University in 2000. I’ve remained in that post for twenty years and it has been an ongoing learning experience.

University of Sierra Leone courtesy of author

Consult Job Descriptions of Roles You find interesting

James suggests consulting job descriptions of posts that you think are potentially interesting and identifying the qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience needed. As a Librarian who regularly interviews, I notice applicants frequently use a standard CV, rather than preparing a CV for a specific post. The process of looking at the requirements of the post and working out what in your work experience or education is relevant to each of the specified requirements, is in itself a useful exercise in identifying your strengths and your skills gaps. I suggest updating your CV every year, even if you are not applying for a post. If nothing has changed, apart from the date, consider why that might be and what you would like to learn in the coming year.

Embrace CPD Opportunities
James suggests getting involved in projects and activities at work, that are outside your regular day-to-day duties.  This is sound advice. In addition to learning new skills by working in cross sectional teams, you get to know your colleagues better and to learn from them.  If attending courses or conferences share the knowledge gained with others. The process of writing up key learning points soon after an event is a good discipline.  In addition to encouraging you to reflect on your learning, it offers a way of sharing your learning with others and this is very much in keeping with the spirit of librarianship.  There are CPD opportunities in reading library journals, in writing and in participating in events that don’t require extensive investment. An example that comes to mind is the Library Ireland Job Swap scheme. This takes place during Library Ireland Week in November each year.  MU Library staff have gone on one-day exchanges to local libraries and facilitated return visits. In addition to gaining new insights some have published about their experience (Gardiner, 2013; Finn et al, 2016).

Change is constant in the world of work and the library landscape has totally transformed since I began work as a student assistant 42 years ago.  The skillset required for librarians is now different to what it was then and there are new and emerging roles. Two articles by John Cox, Librarian at NUI Galway, are illuminating in that regard (Cox, J. 2016, Cox, J. 2017).   Consider asking more senior members of library staff questions like What skills do you think I need to develop in order to progress my career?

courtesy of author 

Get involved with your Professional Association
I’ve changed James’ title to “professional association” rather than CILIP and here I focus on the Library Association of Ireland (LAI).  This voluntary body represents all library sectors. Serving on an LAI committee, you can gain valuable skills, including minute taking, budget management, project and event planning and enhanced communication skills.  Being on a committee, and perhaps having a role such as secretary or Treasurer, will also look good on your CV.

The LAI now offers three  professional awards: Associate, Senior Associate and Fellow.  I undertook the Fellowship in 2010 and found it a really useful way to reflect on my career to date and to consider going forward and to publish an article on the topic (Burns & Fallon, 2012). The LAI also offers the Professional Knowledge Skills Base (PKSB), developed by CILIP, to help you identify skills gaps. Laura Connaughton’s article offers useful insights on the programme (Connaughton, 2016).

Beyond James’ six areas of advice, I would add the following, particularly for mid-career librarians.

Get experience managing people
This is key to advancing your library career. In the early stages, it may be quite basic management experience, such as managing work experience students or an ERASMUS or Transition Year placement. Grab those opportunities. If you can’t get the opportunity to manage people, take on the management of projects, particularly cross-sectional projects, where you get to co-ordinate and perhaps lead activities and deal with issues which will arise from time to time. 

Move out of your comfort zone, invite people for coffee/lunch. If you are in a University, meet with academic colleagues and ask about their teaching/research.  Get their opinions on matters of mutual concern, such as reading lists and information skills. In addition to being on committees within the Library, participate in committees relating to the wider organisation. Try to contribute something at every meeting, though this may be daunting at first. Committees are a great way to market the Library as well as increasing your visibility in the organisation.  Sometimes, if you are new to a committee, it can be useful to take on a very specific role, such as secretary/note taker.  I find that helps me learn quickly about what is going on.

Undertake Further Formal Qualifications
As you move further into your career think about what additional qualifications might be of benefit for career progression.  In 1996, I completed a part-time Master’s degree in Women’s Studies at UCD. I was able to align parts of the course with my work. My thesis was on gender and the internet, a timely topic as the internet was in its infancy. The department published the thesis as the book Wow: Women on the Web (Fallon, 1998.) Having the MA and the book enhanced my CV substantially and I believe helped me, in 1996, to progress to a more senior post in DCU. Later, in 2015, I completed a certificate in Adult & Community Education at MU.  This had a strong focus on group work and the adult learning principles of Paulo Freire. I run occasional world caf├ęs and other group activities and again was able to align my projects to my day-to-day work. My main presentation was on using social media effectively. 

Doing further formal education programmes can be a great learning experience. It also demonstrates to prospective employers that you are motivated and have the commitment and drive to complete a programme, and by thinking creatively you can generally align your learning with aspects of your work.  

Be Visible
In addition to being visible in your organisation, be visible nationally and if possible internationally. Be active in your professional body, present at conferences, have a social media presence, publish. As you progress through your career it is likely you will specialise in certain areas. Develop expertise and a reputation in those areas and keep up to date with new developments.

Ideally move library
I’m immensely grateful I have had the opportunity to work in a number of different libraries. The longest periods were twelve years in DCU and twenty years (so far) at Maynooth University. The former had its origins in the 1980s, the latter in 1796 and have very different cultures.

It’s Your Career!
Don’t forget that. Your Library can offer opportunities, both formal and informal, to help you learn and develop in your career, but ultimately it’s up to you to take ownership of your career development.

Finally, enjoy work. I feel enormously privileged to belong to such an interesting and transforming profession in a time, and in a part of the world, where there is so much opportunity.

Burns, Jane and Fallon, Helen (2012). The Fellowship of the Library Association of Ireland (FLAI): Reflections and Guidelines. An Leabharlann. The Irish Library, 21 (2). pp. 6-9
Connaughton, Laura (2016). Library Association of Ireland launches Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB). An Leabharlann. The Irish Library, 25 (2), pp. 34-35
Cox, J. (2016). Communicating New Library Roles to Enable Digital Scholarship: A Review Article.  New Review of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 22 (2-3), pp. 132-147
Cox, J. (2017). New Directions for Academic Libraries in Research Staffing: A Case Study at National University of Ireland Galway. New Review of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 23(2-3), pp. 110-124
Fallon, H. (1998 ). Women on the Web. Dublin: UCD
Gardiner, B. (2013)  Library Ireland Week Staff Exchange Scheme: Diary of an Exchange. An Leabharlann. The Irish Library, 22 (1). pp. 23-24
Finn, M. et al. (2016) The Library Ireland Week (LIW) job swop initiative Experiences from Maynooth University Library. Sconul Focus, 67. pp. 68-74

24 Jul 2020

From my home to yours: showing off our manuscript collections in a virtual world.

Guest Post by Sophie Evans, Royal Irish Academy Library


For many years, the Library has welcomed Readers and visitors into its beautiful hushed nineteenth-century Reading Room. Every morning, before the doors opened, staff would carefully place a manuscript in the display case. A daily task which never became mundane; it is always a joy and a privilege to handle such old precious books, sure isn’t that what most librarians dream of! Then the Covid crisis hit; the manuscripts were safely locked away and library staff were sent home, scattered across Dublin and beyond. So, as manuscripts, library and librarians are locked away, how would we show off our wonderful collections? More importantly, would people be interested in our collections during a global pandemic?


As the member of staff responsible for the Library’s social media accounts, it was up to me to invite people to visit and learn about our collections virtually. Granted, this isn’t the same as visiting and seeing the manuscript in person but it does allow us to engage with more people and provide more in-depth information. Also, in a display case, you can only see the pages which are open, online you can see however many pages you want. My plan, alone and holed up in my Dublin city apartment, was to look at a different manuscript each week in detail and present this on our Twitter and Instagram feeds. This could not be done without the Irish Script on Screen (ISOS) project, which for over 20 years have been digitising Irish manuscripts from across Europe. Almost a hundred Academy manuscripts are freely available to view on ISOS and the majority have detailed catalogue records included. This really is a wonderfully important resource for researchers and librarians. The importance of digitisation has become even more apparent in 2020 as we have been separated from our physical collections.


Along with the images and information from ISOS, I also took advantage of the Special Collections pages on our website. My colleague Dr Bernadette Cunningham has been very busy updating and writing new pages for our website, providing detailed information on many of our manuscripts and other collections. For additional information on manuscripts I used the Library’s publication ‘Treasures of the Academy’ and Tim O’Neill’s Book ‘The Irish Hand’, and various articles located via JSTOR. When posting on social media I try to make the information accessible, informative, visually interesting and fun and also to provide links to further reading and resources. Here are some examples of Twitter threads on some of our older manuscripts.


Leabhar Breac 

Book of Ui Maine 

Book of Lecan 

B ii 1 Astronomical and Medical tract 

The Lebor ha hUidre is my favourite manuscript and for this one I experimented with iMovie and dusted off my guitar! 


Engagement on our social media accounts has increased and the feedback has been encouraging. We have all had to adapt to a different way of working and living and connecting to each other. Maybe ancient manuscripts on a modern medium are a welcome distraction. I very much hope that we will be able to welcome visitors into the Reading Room soon but for now, as the Academy motto goes, we will endeavour.



Sophie Evans

Assistant Librarian

Royal Irish Academy


(Title in homage to Bruce Springsteen’s recent lockdown radio show, From My home to yours.)






Posted on Friday, July 24, 2020 | Categories:

4 Jun 2020

Supporting Integration and Diversity


Guest post by Helen O’Connor, Maynooth University Library

Staff at Maynooth University library attended a day long CDP programme on ‘Supporting Integration and Diversity’. There were three facilitators – Camilla Fitzsimons, Philomena Obasi and Veronica Akinborewa. All three are attached to the Department of Adult and Community Education at Maynooth University.

The aim of the workshop was to give an opportunity to think and talk about the impact of increased diversity across the Irish university sector. In recent years, there has been an increase in migrant students, some of whom are international students, and some who have moved to Ireland to work, or to seek asylum from another jurisdiction.   As well as an increase in migrant students, there is also greater diversity in terms of the Irish ethnicity which has contributed to a growing number of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) students on campus.

The workshop was held over two days to give all library staff an opportunity to attend.

There was 25 people in each group. Handouts were given out at the beginning of the workshop and staff were invited to introduce themselves and say something about their name. Staff were then divided into smaller groups to discuss a range of topics, using flip charts. Each group then gave a short presentation to the bigger group. I thought this was really good as it gave people time to think and discuss the different topics.

Conversation topics helped library staff to explore their own cultural identity, to consider the implications of working in intercultural settings, to understand the origins and impacts of racism and to reflect on our own beliefs and theories of interculturalism and diversity.

Evaluation forms were handed out at the end of the day and feedback was very positive.

A lot of people liked the group discussions and several found the session informative, people found the atmosphere relaxed and informal. People thought the facilitators were very clear and informative in their presentation.  

I discovered the word BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), I had not come across this term before. The University has students and staff from many different ethnic backgrounds and we in the library encounter these staff and students on a day to day basis. I think the workshop brought home to me that we are all the same and just because we might have different colour skin or speak a different language, we should treat each other the same. 

The University and the library have a lot in place for students from many different backgrounds.  Perhaps we could expand this and hold a celebration event for all of these groups for them to showcase their different cultures.

Signage is also something that could be broadened to be more inclusive.

One of the highlights of the day was the beautiful ethnic lunch which was enjoyed by everyone.

Below is a listing of some articles on diversity and multiculturalism that I’ve been working on with colleagues.  Hope you find it useful.

ACRL (2012) Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/diversity

ACRL (1990) Academic libraries and the culturally diverse student population


ALA (2013)   Ethnic and Racial Diversity in Academic and Research Libraries: Past, Present, and Future


CILIP (2017) Equalities and Diversity Action Plan


Groarke, Sarah (2019) Attracting and Retaining International Higher Education Students: Ireland. Dublin: ESRI.

C&RL (2007) Achieving racial and ethnic diversity among academic and research librarians


Fallon, Helen and Connaughton, Laura and Cosgrave, Edel (2020) Promoting a Culture of Equality: Diversity Training at Maynooth University Library. An Leabharlann. The Irish Library, 29 (1) Pages 20 - 27


Higher Education Authority (2018) Key Facts and Figures: Higher Education 2017/2018.

Higher Education Authority Key Facts and Figures: Higher Education 2016/2017.


Page 21

Higher Education Authority5 Key Facts and Figures: Higher Education 2015/2016.


Page 21

IFLA/UNESCO (2018) Multicultural Library Manifesto


HE4u2 (2017) Creating Intercultural Learning Environments: Guidelines for Staff within Higher Education Institutions.


HEA (2017)  National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019


Library Trends 2019.   Low Morale in Ethnic and Racial Minority Academic Librarians: An Experiential Study Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, Ione T. Damasco


Mannion, David & Thornley, Clare (2011) The Experience of Chinese students in Irish third level libraries: an investigation of current challenges and an analysis of possible solutions.  An Leabharlann: The Irish Library,  20 (2), pp. 19-27. https://researchrepository.ucd.ie/handle/10197/3607  

Mellon, Bernadette, Cullen, Marie, Fallon, Helen (2013)  Implementing an online training course in disability awareness for frontline staff - Experiences at National University of Ireland Maynooth. Sconul Focus, 58. pp. 27-31.


Mestre. L. (2010) Librarians Working with Diverse Populations: What impact does Cultural Competency Training have on their efforts? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(6), pp. 479-488

O’Connor, M. & Kerrigan, C. (2013) Cultural Revolution: Reflections on an exchange. An Leabharlann: The Irish Library, 22(2), pp. 11-19.

Parkinson, Orla (1994) Do Irish public libraries have a role in engaging the host society in integrating immigrants. An Leabharlann: The Irish Library, Vol. 20(1), pp. 14-18
http://www.libraryassociation.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/20_1_AnLeabharlann.pdf  Stokes, D. & Molly, J. (2019) The Innocents Abroad: The Experience of two Irish librarians teaching information literacy in China. An Leabharlann: The Irish Library, Vol. 28(2), pp. 4-10.  https://www.libraryassociation.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/An_Leabharlann_28-2_Full.pdf
UUK, NUS (2019) Black, Asian and Minority ethnic student attainment at UK Universities: Closing the gap
https://universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2019/bame-student-attainment-uk-universities-closing-the-gap.pdf  (accessed 9 March 2020)

14 May 2020

Migrating into the Freelance Consultancy Library Space

Guest post by Marie Jennings 

I was always drawn to the idea of becoming a freelance librarian. In my past career I was involved in a lot of projects including: 
  • Cataloguing several special collections at various heritage houses throughout Ireland with the OPW. 
  • I was part of a retrospective cataloguing project with the Houses of the Oireachtas. 
  • Cataloguing a pre-1800 collection for DCU of several thousand books. 
  • Assessing the cataloguing needs of the Franciscan book collection in UCD Special Collections. 
  • A large-scale project comprising a Pre-1900, Irish Studies and a Moral Theology collection for the Redemptorists. 

Having spent nearly twenty years working as a professional librarian on a diverse range of projects, I decided to fulfil a key personal and professional goal to work as a freelance librarian where the skills and experience that I have acquired to date could be utilised. 

Since becoming a freelancer in June of last year, I have already been involved in a lot of interesting projects including compiling a User Experience report and a languages toolkit for librarians in Dublin City Libraries, creating a reference library for the Redemptorists in Dundalk, cataloguing a special collection for the Dominican Order and developing a secondary school library for Manor House School in Dublin. 

Working freelance is a very fulfilling experience and has exposed me to very interesting projects. There are other enjoyable aspects to becoming a freelance librarian such as website design, liaising with your customers and the promotion of your services. 

Even though I have worked in the library and information sector for twenty years, I am passionate about CPD, which is particularly helpful as a freelance librarian as my skills are always relevant and up to date. I have recently completed a “Metadata Design and Implementation” course with the Library Juice Academy. Another course I’ve recently undertaken is “The History of the Book” with Trinity College Dublin. I found this course beneficial as I learned about new tools that are useful for cataloguers of rare books. I also undertook the “Rare Book Curatorship” course many years ago in UCD as part of my postgraduate studies and I have been fortunate to have catalogued large collections of antiquarian books. 

I was planning to have this article published in March to officially launch my website and services and then Covid-19 struck, and I had put these plans on hold. At the time of writing we are still in the midst of the pandemic and increasing numbers are working from home. I myself am currently working from home to finish a cataloguing project for the Dominicans. I decided to publish this article anyway as I offer remote services in addition to onsite services, so it is business as usual for me as a freelance librarian. 

I am delighted to join the freelance librarian space. This is a growing space within the library and information management community due to the constantly expanding skillset of the modern librarian. Please go to https://freelancelibrarianmj.com/ to see my newly launched website called The Freelance Librarian. If you have queries, please do get in touch. My email is mariejenningslibrarian@gmail.com. 

In the meantime I hope that you all keep safe and well.
Posted on Thursday, May 14, 2020 | Categories:

7 May 2020

From Bavaria to Munster – our internships at Boole Library, UCC

Guest post by Franziska Frank and Magadelena Rausch of the University of Applied Sciences of the Civil Service in Munich 

Courtesy of the authors
In October 2019 and March 2020 respectively, two students from the University of Applied Sciences of the Civil Service of Bavaria in Germany found their way to Ireland, to the Boole Library of the UCC, to be exact. And this is our story:

We study library and information management in Munich, this dual education is divided into theoretical terms spent at the University of Applied Sciences of the Civil Service in Munich and practical terms spent working at university libraries across Bavaria, Germany – Bayreuth and Bamberg for us respectively. During those practical terms it is also common to do additional internships, as we both did at Boole Library. Though one of us planned for four weeks initially, we both ended up doing an internship for three weeks in Cork, as the outbreak of COVID-19 unfortunately shortened one internship by one week.  
With the University of Applied Sciences of the Civil Service in Bavaria it has become quite a tradition for one student from each course to travel to Cork for an internship. Because our predecessors always gushed about their time in Ireland, we applied as well and were very happy when Boole Library accepted not only one student, but two this term!
Whether we arrived in October or March the welcome was warm and friendly. We were immediately welcomed and involved in the daily life of the library. Even though for us Germans with our many honorifics and extremely formal ways it took a little to fall into rhythm with the easy friendliness of our Irish colleague, we integrated easily thanks to their warm welcome. 
Courtesy of the authors

We spend our first weeks in the heart of the library one might say, in the archives and special collections and were amazed about the openness of both the staff and the department as German libraries tend to be quite restrictive with their older collections. As for me, Magdalena, I was very happy to work in special collections and archives especially because I felt like I could really be of help by categorizing and describing an inheritance of a German professor. I, Franziska, gained among other things an insight into the usage of special collections by working on statistics and learned about Irish history and feminism as I described archival collections. We’ve also been invited to join lectures not only of the library but of the whole university, so we were able to get to know and be part of the whole life of an Irish campus university.

After working in the older books department, we went on to visit the repository – the newer, digital books department as to say. But that is not all we saw, our Irish colleagues were so kind to take time to show us the entire library and campus as well, and introduced not only the Skill Centre and the Disability Support but also the recording studio and the VR lab. We learned about the plans for the future of the library, the digital shift, but we also kept in touch with the inheritance of an university as old (1848) as the University College of Cork. 

But all work and no play make Jack a dull boy and of course we also spent our time exploring Ireland. Blarney Castle, Cobh, Kinsale and Ballycotton are just a few examples of the amazing places and beautiful scenery we enjoyed during our stay!

Courtesy of the authors

All in all we can confidently say that we loved our stay. It was very interesting comparing the library systems of Germany and Ireland and we learned a lot, not only about the Irish libraries but also about Ireland as a whole.

We would very much like to thank everyone that made our time in Cork so memorable and encourage everyone to use this chance and go see the world of libraries in other counties.

We also invite our Irish colleagues to visit us in Germany one day!

Magdalena Rausch and Franziska Frank.