29 Nov 2022

Reflections on my past year as a Digital Learning Specialist in UCC Library


Guest post by Stephanie Chen. Stephanie is the Digital Learning Specialist in University College Cork Library where she explores ways to integrate new library technologies and spaces into the learning experience to support student engagement and success.

This past year (and a half), I’ve been working in a new role in University College Cork Library. When I say new role, I mean new role. Not only is this role new to me but it’s entirely new to the Library. Navigating into a newly created role can have its challenges – no handover, no previous documentation, no idea of what the role is supposed to be but within those challenges are opportunities. 

This role is also my first “professional” librarian role in a University (even though the word librarian doesn’t appear in the job title). Previously, I’ve worked as a solo Librarian in the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland shortly after graduating with my Masters in Information and Library Management from Dublin Business School. After moving to Cork, I worked as a Library Assistant in Cork Institute of Technology (now MTU) Library for just under a year before moving to UCC Library as a Library Assistant. 

After about 7 months in UCC Library, the role for a Digital Learning Specialist was advertised…in March 2020. I applied for the role but, due to obvious reasons, recruitment was paused for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t until a year later in April 2021 that I was invited to interview for the role, an interview that (spoiler alert!) I was successful in and so I started my role as the Digital Learning Specialist in UCC Library on May 1st, 2021. 

The Role Itself

What exactly does the role entail? Good question!

When I started my role, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t an equivalent anywhere else in Ireland. There were some overlaps with other roles, such as Eileen Kennedy, Library Digital Experience Developer in University of Galway and Marta Bustillo, Digital Learning Librarian in University College Dublin but there was no Digital Learning Specialist in any university library. 

The job description for the role stated: 

“…the Digital Learning Specialist will lead on the design, delivery and evaluation of offerings that showcase innovative new learning spaces within the library such as the Library recording Studio, the dedicated virtual reality lounge, the evolving library makerspace, and other technology-enhanced spaces in development. The Digital Learning Specialist will lead the library’s efforts in adopting new technologies and spaces for innovative pedagogy and will partner with colleagues within the library and elsewhere to make use of new technologies to visualize, consume and experience library collections and services. The Digital Learning Specialist will develop educational resources and outreach services for digital, information and new media literacies.

The Digital Learning Specialist will also grow the library’s presence within the University’s new virtual learning environment, Instructure’s Canvas platform, to deliver high-quality, impactful and engaging digital library services. The post holder will also work collaboratively across the library to develop online supports directed at academic staff and researchers.”

New learning spaces, new technologies, new resources and outreach services, new VLE. And all of this while COVID was still happening. 

I dove headfirst into the role and took advantage of it being a new role to try new things. Some of the projects I undertook include: 


Now that I’m a year (and a half) into the role, I’m trying to do something which I have a hard time doing and which I certainly don’t do enough of: reflecting. 

There were definitely challenges. As mentioned, this was an entirely new role and it was on me to make it my own. 

Variety is great but it can also mean having too much going on at the same time. Having to find and create your own work allows for a lot of autonomy but sometimes it’s nice to be told what to do. There were some days when I felt overwhelmed by my ever-growing to-do list and my own ambitions for what I wanted to do. 

I might have been overzealous in asking for student help – making sure they had work when I wasn’t even sure of the work I was supposed to be doing. I found a priority for me was to ensure they were okay and supported which meant there was less time for other things. 

I don’t have a technical background (my undergraduate degree is in Anthropology). All this new technology, all these new platforms and software – I had to learn about it myself. Luckily, for some things like 3D printing, I could defer to my fellow colleagues who had more experience. But this meant some days I felt like a fraud. How could I talk to someone about VR and how to use it in teaching and learning when I’m only just figuring it out myself? Getting past this idea that I must be the “expert” required a lot of unlearning my own way of thinking and my own approach to work – something I’m still working on. 

There was also a bit of self-doubt. Am I doing enough? Is what I’m doing okay? Am I on the right track? It could also be a little isolating at times – I had gone from working with a great group of colleagues on the Services Desk Team to pretty much working on my own. 

Plus, all the usuals that come with starting a new “professional” role: policies and procedures, more meetings, strategic planning, promoting yourself and your role, talking to people about what you do constantly. 


But the challenges pale in comparison to all the opportunities this role has allowed for. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of colleagues, both within the Library and in UCC. Elaine Harrington, Special Collections Librarian in UCC Library, and I worked closely on a number of projects with student help. Outside of the Library, I, along with the Library’s Learning and Teaching Team, was able to work with the Graduate Attributes Programme to develop content for their UCC Graduates Attributes & Values Compass. I helped develop two Pressbooks with Dr Briony Supple and Marnina Winkler. And I’ve worked with some amazing students – students who were involved in the Learning, Teaching & Assessment (LTA) Enhancement Fund 2021 summer project and my two student assistants for the 2021/2022 academic year.


I’ve had the opportunity to explore new things. New technologies, new platforms, new services that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. We’ve 3D scanned date stamps, created a virtual 360 tour of a part of Cork city, and created interactive learning objects using H5P. 

I’ve had the opportunity to attend conferences, such as LILAC: The Information Literacy Conference, Wikimedia+Libraries International Convention 2022, IFLA World Library and Information Congress, and meet people doing loads of interesting stuff. 

I get to try new things and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay because it’s all entirely new. Some things will work and some things won’t. 

Final Reflections

What’s next? 

As part of my interview for this role, I was asked to prepare a presentation on ‘Empowering students as co-creators of knowledge using emerging technologies in a physical and virtual UCC Library​.’ As part of the presentation, I weaved a hypothetical story of the Library helping to empower a student in UCC to have the experience and confidence in using technology. By engaging with technology available in the Library, such as the 3D printing or VR or the Library studio, this student would become digitally fluent and an independent and creative thinker. In line with UCC’s Graduate Attributes, they would be empowered to create and communicate knowledge. The Library would become an engaging, collaborative, and technology-rich physical and virtual space. This student could create a 3D model on one of the computers in the Library, experiment with it in the Library’s VR lounge and 3D printing it using the Library’s 3D printer. They could present on this process by recording a video using the Library Studio and editing it on a computer in the Library. That video could then be published online as an open educational resource for other students to learn from. 

Now that I feel I’ve found my feet a little, I’d like to start focusing on being more strategic with what I decide to do. I’d like to return to that “vision” I had of the Library supporting that hypothetical student and really focus on how I can make that happen. It won’t be an easy journey and I’m 100% sure I’ll make mistakes along the way and there’s still plenty for me to learn but if the last year (and a half) has taught me anything, it’s possible! 


All my achievements this past year (and a half) would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of my fellow UCC Library colleagues. In particular, Martin O’Connor has been a great resource in all things UCC Library and libraries in general and a fantastic sounding board. My line manager, Alan Carbery, has been nothing but supportive and encouraging every step of the way. I’m grateful to him for allowing me the autonomy to experiment and try new things.


22 Nov 2022

Library Outreach via Volunteering at Irish Secondary Schools

Ray at IFLA #WLIC2022

Guest post by Ray Gainford. Ray is a Library Assistant with Louth Library Service.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Junior Achievement Ireland and volunteering with a Transition Year class at a secondary school in County Louth. 

Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI) is a member of one of the world’s largest educational non-profit organisations, helping prepare young people for their futures by delivering hands-on, experiential learning in entrepreneurship, employability, financial literacy and the value of STEM. JAI was established in Ireland in 1996 and since then has built up a strong demand from schools throughout the country and created successful partnerships with 180 leading organisations.

An email was circulated to staff in Louth County Council asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering with JAI. Some colleagues of mine in Louth Library Service had previously volunteered with them and greatly enjoyed the experience, so I was very happy to put my name forward. 

I will admit that I was a bit nervous at the thought of teaching a class, but the training from JAI put me at ease. I first had a video call with a liaison officer at JAI named Elaine, which enabled me to get a clearer vision of what volunteering would entail. Elaine explained to me that JAI can find it more difficult to find volunteers willing to teach secondary school students, as people may feel nervous about teaching teenagers rather than younger children. There was an opening in their programme for a volunteer to teach the Career Success module to a Transition Year class at Coláiste Rís in Dundalk. Thinking of how helpful a module like this could have been to me when I was a Transition Year student many moons ago, I agreed to volunteer with this class. It was a full circle moment getting to teach a TY class myself!

Training was arranged for me soon after. It took place virtually with two facilitators from JAI, and a number of participants from various career paths. I was impressed with the variety of careers among the participants, as it showed the wide reach that JAI has. The training was excellent and boosted my confidence. We were given a chance to practice delivering some course content to the rest of the group, and received helpful feedback. Following the training, I received the content for the entire module, so I had plenty of time to familiarise myself with the various lesson plans and exercises. I also had to complete Garda Vetting in advance of the course. 

My classes with the Transition Year group went very well. Though I still had some nerves, the students were welcoming and well-behaved, and the teacher also stayed in the class at all times for support.  The module itself consisted of six weekly lessons, covering topics such as teamwork, communication, personal branding and interview skills. At the end of the module, I also held mock interviews with the students. I was really thrilled to see the students put all their learning from the past six weeks into action – it was such a fulfilling experience! 

We were encouraged to enhance the lessons with information from our own personal career paths, so I was able to show the students how realistic the course content was by relating it to real-life examples from my experience in librarianship. I was delighted to see that so many of the students were interested in what working in a public library is like. Some students told me afterwards that they enjoyed discovering more about careers in public service, as it wasn’t a career option that was immediately obvious to them. 

Volunteering with JAI benefitted both the students and Louth Library Service. The students received valuable knowledge about the world of work, and the library gained a class visit and new memberships from the students. This age group can be a difficult demographic to bring into the library, so it was fantastic to see this class so enthusiastic about their visit. It also helped the library service further identify the needs of young adults in libraries. 

Based on my work, Louth Library Service plans to build on the knowledge gained from this experience and provide further services to young adults and students. These include small steps, like increasing the amount of exam revision materials we have available in our library collection, to bigger projects such as furthering our outreach in DEIS schools in the locality and organising career guidance and CV clinics for students. 

I had such a great experience teaching this class, and was I eager to share what I had learned with other library staff. I submitted a poster proposal to present on this topic at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin this summer. I was delighted to be selected as a presenter as part of the event’s poster sessions, with my poster titled “Library Outreach in Irish Secondary Schools via Junior Achievement Ireland”. This granted me the opportunity to tell librarians from a wide range of countries about the experience, and gain inspiration from other libraries who may have conducted similar programmes in their own countries. 

Junior Achievement Ireland always welcomes new volunteers, and I highly recommend giving it a go! It’s a fantastic learning experience for both the students and volunteer. Further information can be found at www.jai.ie.

Photo courtesy of author