Wednesday, 29 January 2014

How to prepare for Library School MA interviews: ... UCL (Part 1)

Yesterday I left work early, caught the train to London, had the world’s tastiest lunch-to-go from Wasabi Bento (Chicken Yakisoba… it was absolutely bloody divine) and arrived 35 minutes early for my interview at UCL’s Department of Information Studies.

 As I arrived so early, I had a brief meander round UCL’s Bloomsbury campus and once I found the department, got chatting to some of the post-grad students on the Publishing course, all of whom were really friendly and made me feel at home from the word go. 

I was surprised, but pleasantly so, at how small the department is – it looks really too small in size considering that it offers five taught Masters courses in Library and Information Studies, Archiving, Publishing, Digital Humanities and Information Science. But it does mean that everybody seemed to know each other, and the department felt really intimate, friendly and relaxed. Cue lots of people spilling out of the common room and eating lunch on the floor before classes started for the afternoon. My English department at uni consisted of four loooooong corridors of offices piled on top of each other, while seminars were in a variety of buildings across campus. And as for a common room...? Don't be daft!

I was also pleasantly surprised by how nervous I wasn't... I always prep a lot for interviews, as it doesn't hurt to be prepared, but one of the downsides of that is that I have a mental ticklist about 3 miles long in my head, of all the things I should mention. Said ticklist tends to make me quite nervous before interviews.

But, although I prepared well for my interview, I didn't feel anxious about it at all. I had a heard a lot of positive things about how informal and friendly UCL's interviews had been for previous students, who are now librarians working in Cambridge, and in a Library School workshop we had a few months back, Vanda Broughton of UCL said along the lines of: if there's one thing you take away, remember it's not a job interview. So I went in knowing a few things I wanted to say but remaining calm. Which was a nice (albeit alien) feeling!

My preparation before my interview consisted of:

1) Reading through the module descriptions. At UCL you take six core modules: Cat & Class, Collection Management and Preservation, Information Sources and Retrieval, Management , Principles of Computing and IT,  and Professional Awareness... and then the dissertation. But on top of that you can also pick two optional modules in areas that interest you. Out of the 9 available, I managed to create a 'short-list' (haha)... of six! I am still unsure whether it's best to completely dedicate yourself to one sector (as for the competitive rare books market, you need all the experience you can get!) or to split myself more evenly and take some more digital/knowledge management type courses that will enable me to work in broader information sectors outside libraries alone. I managed to narrow it down to four after much re-reading on the train: Advanced Preservation, Digital Resources in the Humanities, Historical Bibliography and Creation & Capture (an archival module about record management). This was probably the most important section of my preparation, as most of the interview centred around my interests and career plans and how I was planning to develop them at UCL.

2) Rereading my personal statement. As I wrote this at the beginning of November, I thought it'd be a good idea to go over what I'd written and refresh my memory. As always there was the obligatory cringe-worthy sentences ("Did I really write that?") but - seeing as the interviewers had it in front of them - it's a pretty good indicator of where they will steer the conversation. For instance, I wrote about the formal RDA and AACR2 training I'd been to at the UL, which Anne Welsh asked me more about because cataloguing is her area of expertise.

 3) Updating and printing off a copy of my training log. We are encouraged at Newnham to keep a spreadsheet of all the training we've been to or had in-house. I also find it useful as a place to record visits I've been on... so conferences, lectures, and trips to other cities organised through the traineeships; those organised of my own accord, such as Library Camp, British Library exhibitions and Festival of Ideas talks; and day-to-day/one-off tasks and responsibilities I carry out in my job. Having a list of all the different things you do - cataloguing, enquiries, purchase orders, book requests, displays, rare books, the dreaded shelving - really makes you realise just how much you do as a graduate trainee. My list is at least 40 items long, and that's just tasks in our library!
       I thought this would be a really useful thing to whack out in the middle of the interview (and look really impressive!) but I never got round to it - but it was certainly a useful exercise anyway, because it helped me to analyse all the different aspects of my job and consolidate them in my head.

4) Reading around current issues. My current project at the moment, when I have 10 free minutes at work, is to create a library 'glossary'. As someone who's only worked in libraries for 2 and a half years, and only in a more professional capacity in the last 6 months, there seem to be a LOT of buzz-words in the profession which keep passing me by. The library blogging community is so helpful for quickly getting an overview of current trends and issues, and for understanding terms such as open access, service provision, metadata etc., as well as current special collections exhibitions. It's a cliched one but being able to talk about the wider library community, outside Cambridge (or your own city) just shows enthusiasm for you, if nothing else.

5) Remembering to smile! Even if I'm nervous for an interview and believe me (I was terrified for my graduate trainee interviews) I think the worst mistake you can make is look scared, or worse, bored. I'm not saying you can't be serious in an interview, as for job interviews in particular you want to look professional, but you can be down-to-earth and serious about what you do without coming across as Eeyore's long lost cousin. Even if I'm trembling inside, I always go into an interview beaming from ear to ear and forcing myself to be outgoing. And it works! Not only do first impressions mean a lot, but if I look happy and confident, it makes me believe in my ability more and I actually feel confident and passionate as a result.

The interview itself was more like a passionate chat over coffee (minus the coffee) than anything I've ever experienced before! I was interviewed by Anne Welsh and Lucy Gildersleeves, and rather than being structured as strict questions and answers -  interviewers talk, I talk -  the conversation just flowed into different topics, covering everything from rare books to cataloguing to working in the corporate sector.

I have decided to split this post into two because it's quite long already, and I'd like to dedicate a whole post to my experience of the interview itself, because it might help anyone who has yet to interview this year (2014) or would like to study there in the future. So I will link that post below (when I get round to writing it)!

Overall, I actually really enjoyed the experience - I came out feeling positive and happy with how it had gone, and it was definitely the least stressful 'interview' I've ever had!

Meriel x

1 comment:

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