Tag Archives: Birkbeck

A One To One With… Pete Williams of Birkbeck Libraries

Pete Williams is the Assistant Director for User Support, Academic Liaison and Collections across the Malet Street and Stratford Campuses of Birkbeck. Here, Pete explains some of the challenges faced to support students across the libraries:

Birkbeck Library provides three main things: collections (print and online); a space to study; and practical support to our users.

My advice to new students would be go to your library introductory talk but if you miss that, or need more help, you can always make an appointment with your Subject Librarian – the purpose of their job is to support you!

Our Subject Librarians meet with academic staff all the time but we’d really like to improve our communication with our students, either through the Student Union or through other channels including social media.

There is a Library Advisory Group, consisting of staff from each department, which meets twice a year usually in March and November. Its remit is to offer advice on library policy and to monitor our performance.

Birkbeck students studying in Stratford have full access to UEL’s Stratford Campus Library. They can borrow any of the books housed in that library and their Birkbeck ID card automatically lets them in through the turnstiles. We have dedicated members of library staff based out there and they work both in the UEL Library and also in the USS Building, where there is a study area with PCs called the Weston Learning Centre. Stratford-based Birkbeck students can also use all the Malet Street facilities.

Compared to taught postgraduate students, research students need a greater range of library materials as there is no reading list for a PhD. To really succeed, they also need to understand the wider information landscape by which I mean a greater knowledge of the information resources available and the different ways scholarly work is published and disseminated.

There are plenty of challenges but perhaps the main one is limited space. We are constantly balancing the need to provide an adequate number of study spaces with the fact that our collections are crammed into a relatively small amount of space. We realise that the Library is still becoming completely full up in the afternoons, and that this is a highly unsatisfactory situation, and we are currently exploring options for creating significantly more study spaces in summer 2017.

We’re currently reorganising the way we staff the Library at evenings and weekends to make sure students coming in at these times get as good a service as possible. We have a ‘back to the floor’ policy and all library staff (including the Director) work on the helpdesk at least once a week. In October, the library opened a new group study area.

Like all Birkbeck departments, we receive an annual budget which covers everything we do, including all the information resources (books, journals) we purchase. However, for more substantial one-off refurbishment work, such as the creation of the new group study area and the Accessibility Centre that happened this summer, we have to make a business case to Birkbeck’s Estates Committee for additional funding.

We hope to develop better links with the SU, but we are also trying out other methods, including focus groups, greater engagement through Twitter and Facebook and making sure we attend any student/staff forums in individual departments.

In February we will be conducting some ‘ethnographic’ research into how students use the library. In September 2016 we received about £4,000 from the Birkbeck Alumni Fund to do this. We will be employing Birkbeck students to help us, so look out for people with clipboards observing you when you use the Library!

For other upcoming developments, please take a look at our annual Operational Plan which lists in full the various projects we are currently engaged in.  Our mission is “to put students at the heart of everything we do”.

I think Birkbeck has a strong identity as London’s Evening University, which both its students and staff buy into.’

Images courtesy of Birkbeck Library and Wikimedia Commons

Returning to Study: Peaks and Valleys

I’ll be frank: the first year of my master’s degree was abysmal.

Having found myself with copious amounts of time on my hands (in the evenings, after work, when the kids had gone to bed, when I had only Facebook and its hundreds of photos and posts from people having better lives than me for company), I decided to ‘do something with my life’. I tried online dating for a bit, but I don’t think my Mr Right had signed up to the same website as me. Besides, I found no matter how strict I attempted to set my ‘requirements’ I kept getting fobbed off with my ultimate turn-offs.

Work was okay, but it wasn’t going anywhere. It was a ‘mum’s’ job that had been a real blessing when I first landed it, but was now growing old, stale, and very, very boring.

My love for the arts has always been such a constant that I don’t really distinguish it as something separate from myself. I wouldn’t list it as a hobby (a passion, maybe). It’s not just something I do; it’s something I am. And so, as I was still dabbling in community arts (setting up workshops, hanging out with creatives) and I believed I was good enough to be paid for my efforts, I decided that the MA in Arts Management and Policy was just what I needed.

Birkbeck was the obvious choice. It held classes in the evenings, or at the weekends, so I could still do everything else. It was central, it was a ‘proper’ uni with a reputable name (otherwise why bother?) and also, I was fortunate enough to get a bursary, so job done, I was in!

October arrived, and all my fears and anxieties about returning to study after almost 20 years were realised, in triplicate. Don’t get me wrong – I found the lectures stimulating; never being one to keep my mouth shut, I contributed well and expressed my opinions, so the 6-9pm graveyard shift was mostly bearable. But the combined shock of having to do research, write essays, and grapple with theory and subject matter (which often seemed to have little to do with the practicalities of the arts world today), whilst being very much in the minority amongst the other students, made me seriously question whether I had made the right decision.

There’s a reason those introductory sessions are called ‘core modules’: they shake you to your very core. Much whinging, debating and soul-searching took place over that first term, and I’m thankful to my friends who listened, encouraged and supported me through what was quite a stressful period. It was really touch and go at one point, but I held on, like some crazy rodeo rider, determined not to be shaken off.

And how glad I am that I stuck with it! I am now in my 2nd and final year, and with ‘only’ one more essay to go (plus a dissertation, but how hard could that be?), I feel as if I have reached the peak of a great, big mountain. Yes, from this vantage point, I can see there are a few more valleys to cross, but I also see the finishing line clearly within my sights.

I’d say to any of you struggling with readapting to life as a student: hang on and hold on! It may take a term for you to get into it; it may take a year; it may take the ‘right’ lecturer or module, but give it longer than you ordinarily would with new things to prove itself. If you do, you may just love it.

Yes, a master’s degree is a bit of an insanity/vanity project, there’s no promise of a job at the end of it, at least not in my chosen field, and it wreaks havoc with your social and family life (please, just forget about Christmas!). But you’ll get such an enormous sense of achievement when you get those essays done, and, if you truly relish learning and delving into your chosen subject, then those cursed papers could become the optimum time for unearthing reams of information that only ignite your fire further.