26 Aug 2019

"Doing the Needful"

Language and cultural challenges in work at the Irish Social Science Data Archive

Highly Commended post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. This post is by Ali Cox, working as a Library Assistant within the Research Services Department of UCD Library.

“Dear Mr. Ali…” – so begins another email into the inbox of The Irish Social Science Data Archive (ISSDA). ISSDA is Ireland’s national quantitative data archive, and is based at UCD Library. From here we send out anonymised versions of datasets that have been deposited with us by bodies such as the Central Statistics Office. Although a national service, the datasets we provide access to have international appeal and every day we receive email applications from across the globe. Getting to communicate with people from such a diverse user group is fascinating, and learning about the research that is being carried out in various countries can often be enlightening. This international interaction does however, bring certain challenges and as ISSDA’s administrator my job is to respond to all of these emails to the best of my ability, and to communicate effectively with people whose first language may not be my own.

Although I am not of the male persuasion, I have become accustomed to being addressed as such through my work at ISSDA. "Dear/Respected Sir" are commonly received greetings - surprisingly sometimes from very Irish sounding names! More complimentary and interesting greetings have included “Dear Officer”, ”Dear Organiser”, “ Dear Respectful Professor”, “ Dear Respected Ali”, and my personal favourite - “ Dear Esteemed Commander Ali.”

Sometimes the language barrier can represent a significant challenge to successful communication and email threads can quickly escalate to 20+ replies back and forth as I try to explain what changes a user needs to make before we can accept their application. But ahhh the satisfaction I get when we finally understand each other and I can approve their data request! It truly amazes me how international an audience we have, with requests being received from nearly every continent (I’ve yet to hear from any intrepid researchers in Antartica), and even though most conversations remain brief and business-like, every now and again I can glean insights into other cultures – I have even had an offer of friendship, and a personal tour of the town of Chandigarh in North India should I ever be passing through.

Along with teaching me some much-needed patience, challenging interactions help me improve my ability to interact with people from different backgrounds – an essential skill for any information professional these days. Many times an email might sound to my mind curt and impolite and I need to remind myself that not only is much meaning lost through the medium of email, but differences in culture and language proficiency may also be at play. My job is to act professionally and courteously and to do what is needed to connect our users to the data they require. As our Indian users often say I must “do the needful” and that involves remaining conscious of my own cultural biases and letting my personal feelings take a backseat when something rubs me the wrong way. That I can communicate with researchers across the globe, in countries I will most likely never get to visit is truly remarkable, and I will happily navigate the challenges of international communication for the privilege.

To find out more about ISSDA and the work we do please get in touch or visit our website at www.ucd.ie/issda

19 Aug 2019

Health and Happiness: Wellbeing in Academic Libraries

Highly Commended post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. 
This post is by Emma Devlin, Queens University Belfast Library 

The McClay Library (Queen’s University Belfast, or QUB) is a busy place. The library’s average footfall works out at 10,000 a day, and our users are diverse – Queen’s is the 25th most international university in the world. Our readers, then, come from all walks of life, from all over the world. To cover the teaching and research needs of such a diverse group, the Library’s holdings include over 1.2 million titles.

Nevertheless, there is still room in the library to cover the broader aspects of university life. In November 2018, the McClay Library was granted funding from the Queen’s University Belfast Annual Fund to establish a Student Wellbeing Collection, which was officially launched in April 2019. This is a collection featuring materials chosen especially for their emphasis on health and happiness. The subjects covered by the collection span Diet and Eating to Sex and Sexuality, with a wide range of titles focused on mental health.

Our poster for the new Student Wellbeing Collection
As the extent to which poor mental health affects students becomes clear, the question of what services can be offered by higher education institutions has become increasingly important:

Around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness first experience symptoms before the age of 25. With widening access to higher education the student population is more closely reflecting the UK’s wider socioeconomic and demographic make-up, and a growing proportion of students would appear to be affected by mental illness…Universities should make the issue a strategic priority and adopt a ‘whole-university’ approach based on prevention and promotion, early intervention and low- level support, responding to risk and crisis management, and referral into specialist care. (Aronin & Smith, 2016)

QUB already has a robust Wellbeing Service, which offers students counselling sessions, the opportunity to speak to advisors, and emergency support. The library’s new collection acts as a compliment to this service. The non-academic focus of the collection – while the books cover topics relevant to student life, none of them are explicitly written for students – provides a dedicated and discrete space for students who may be reluctant to engage with the wider services on offer.

The Student Wellbeing Collection at Queen’s University Belfast (Photo: Emma Devlin)
 Similar collections have already been established in other academic institutions, some of which are part of the Reading Well programme, which “promotes the benefits of reading for health and wellbeing.” While QUB is unaffiliated with this programme, it is evidence of a growing trend among academic libraries to support this aspect of the student community. A comprehensive wellbeing service, such as that offered by Queen’s University Belfast, is only enhanced by offering a similar service.

In creating this collection, the Library goes beyond its function as a service offering material for academic use, and enhances the community feeling at the university. That is, a sense that we are there for students’ wellbeing as well as academically. We have always emphasised our approachability to students, and now that has been backed up by a concrete action. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and homesickness are common to new, and even postgraduate, students. I would hope that our collection can help to relieve those feelings, and establish a bridge between those students and the university community. I think this sentiment is best summed up by a quote from Small Pleasures (2016), a book which features in the new QUB Wellbeing Collection:

We’re haunted by the worry that no reasonable person could feel anything but derision or contempt for our problems. We fear to share them with our friends because we anticipate bewildered rejection. The book that understands is like an ideal parent or friend who makes it acceptable to suffer in the way we do. Our weirder sorrows – or enjoyments – are recast as valid parts of human experience, which can be met with sympathy and kindness. (p. 141).


Aronin, Scott & Matthew Smith, “One in four students suffer from mental health problems” YouGov (19 August 2016) Available at: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2016/08/09/quarter-britains-students-are-afflicted-mental-hea (Accessed: 18/4/2019)

chriskirklees “Not quite finished that book?”, Kirklees together (19 December 2018) Available at: https://kirkleestogether.co.uk/2018/12/19/not-quite-finished-that-book-our-libraries-are-stopping-fines-for-late-returns/ (Accessed: 18/4/2019).

The School of Life, “A Book that Understands You”, Small Pleasures: The School of Life, 2016

15 Aug 2019

CONUL Training & Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019

The winner is …

The 2019 CONUL Training & Development Library Assistant Award required entrants to submit a blog post on any library related topic.  Entrants could opt to blog about any aspect of their current work for example training activities they undertook; a development in their own library or an item in their library’s collection. The prize winners and other highly commended entries have now all been published on Libfocus. Congratulations to all the winners. And we hope the rest of you enjoy reading these excellent posts.

Award winners 2019:

1st Prize:  Dabbling with the demonic:  Creating embedded learning experiences in the library by Emma Doran, Maynooth University.

2nd Prize:
The challenge of student engagement: a sloth’s perspective by Susan Murphy, TU Dublin – Blanchardstown Campus.

3rd Prize:
A fantastic photographic find: Countess de Markievicz by Saoirse Reynolds, NLI.

4th Place:
On the Road: Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Travelling Exhibition by Louise Walsworth-Bell, Maynooth University

Highly Commended Entries:

“Doing the Needful” -Language and cultural challenges in work at the Irish Social Science Data Archive by Ali Cox, UCD.

Emergency Response: Learning from Disaster by Sarah Graham, Maynooth University.

Health and Happiness: Wellbeing in Academic Libraries by Emma Devlin, Queens University Belfast.

About CONUL Training & Development
CONUL Training & Development seeks to provide co-operative training and staff development opportunities, which are in support of CONUL’s strategic objectives. These opportunities are identified by staff in member libraries, the CONUL Board and CONUL Sub-Committees & Groups.