I thought I’d give an overall review of the first year of my Part-time (attending) Master’s in Librarianship. Warning: this is one long blog post!
Let’s start simple
2 Great Things from the Academic Year
– The content of the course!
– Industry Guest Speakers
2 Crappy Things from the Academic Year
– Group Work
Intro to the course and the university
From the beginning I didn’t get off to the best start with the course.
My original plan was to give up whatever job I had at the time, get a weekend job and study the course full time. My employer swooped in in August and confirmed I’d secured funding for the first year of the Masters studying part-time.
As I’d changed to part-time I was under the impression I would be given a part-time student timetable. This wasn’t the case. I had so many communication issues, long unhelpful phone calls, email after email trying to sort it all out and being given the wrong version of the timetable then an updated one. I was pretty much left on my own to figure out my timetable. I understand this probably leads to a more flexible course, but this really didn’t help me. I was attempting to sort out my timetable about 2 weeks before the course started. This was really stressful as my employer kept asking what time I’d need off and I had no idea! I also had no idea you could take more modules in your first year either, but the payment for the first year had already been arranged and I couldn’t change anything.
Overall a pretty crummy experience before I’d even started the course!
Next up Intro Week
My advice to any time poor people just skip most of this. I know if I was reading this before my Masters started I’d be all ‘No… but… what if I miss something?!’ I found most of Intro Week pretty invaluable and over-subscribed (lots of things all the students couldn’t even get to because there were too many students). I was given less than a week’s notice of what was going on. For those with jobs, with caring responsibilities, who don’t live in the city, might have accessibility issues – This. Is. Not. Enough. Notice.
Most valuable session: Anything concerning assessments, assignments, coursework, etc.
Worst session: Not really a session, but student registration (which I’m guessing is organised by the central admin team) was an absolute joke. It took me 5 hours to register. 3 of these hours were spent standing in the longest line outside on an unseasonably cold September day. I’d done everything I was supposed to in advance, but wasn’t fast tracked. Finance even told me they hadn’t received any documentation from me until I made them check their computer and there they were, my documents, received and approved. It was pretty disorganised. The university does this process every year. Is it this bad every year?
Definitely either register early or just leave it until the last minute.
Content – I really do think the course content for most of what I studied this year was really interesting and beneficial. This year I took Information Literacy, Management for Library and Information Services (this takes place in 1st and 2nd semester) and Academic and Workplace Library, Information and Knowledge Services.
I didn’t think I knew anything about Information Literacy before I started the course – I thought information literacy was just something qualified librarians did – but I found out I’d been doing information literacy in pretty much all of my library roles. Helping people find information and how to find it. I wish I’d already been in some kind of teaching role or knew more about this area before I’d started as I think it would have increased my understanding of this area of librarianship.
The Management module has been my least favourite. I didn’t find a lot of the material that stimulating or interesting. I think if anything it highlighted how awful management can be! There were some pretty awful ways of handling things in some of the texts. I tweeted about one a while ago which was about getting employees to accept change and one way of doing this is to purposefully make an employee’s current situation worse so they move with the changes. This sounds absolutely horrible. This module really did just make me think ‘Is this why everything is so terrible?!’
Academic and Workplace Library… has been my favourite module and I think that’s because the first few weeks were about Open Access and this directly related to my current job working with our repositories and research. These first few weeks filled in gaps in my knowledge and allowed me to ask questions. This module definitely helped me perform better in my job. Potentially the only thing I’d change would be maybe more variety in the guest speakers. All the speakers we had were amazing, but it felt very HE related – other sectors came in towards the end of the module, law librarians, librarians who work for banks, NHS librarians, but also there are so many different jobs in HE that it was probably beneficial to have so many speakers from this area.
Assignments– I was really worried about assignments after being out of education for a while. It was a small relief when I found out none of my word counts this year went over 2,000 words. After studying Art History every essay was 3,000 minimum! The essays I’ve done have been okay. I tried to take the Academic Writing module via distance because I couldn’t make the sessions. I didn’t keep up with these. The videos were long and I didn’t find them helpful. I know I should have dipped in more and found the sessions most useful to me, but honestly there was just so much work as it was I knew I couldn’t do everything.
My favourite assignment was the Annotated Bibliography I did for Information Literacy. I had a great tutor for this assignment and got to make it about something I was interested in. I posted it on my blog and you can read it here.
My least favourite assignment was probably the E-portfolio for Management. The e-portfolio was arranged in pebblepad (really hate this software – it just seems messy and didn’t work that well) and we were supposed to update this throughout the year. However, the briefing for this assignment was so unclear and missed out so much vital info. Some parts were mandatory and others optional, but these changed between the brief to what pebblepad said. We were supposed to use it to show how we’d grown over the year as managers / info professionals and there was a table we had to fill in with all the extra-curricular stuff we’d done that year. Again, I feel like this course is so structured towards full time students with no other commitments. I did manage to enter things into this table, but also I have a full time job, and I’m trying to do this Masters… do I have time for anything else? Not really. And when I have pushed myself I’ve burnt myself out. I think people doing the course full time who had the opportunity to get involved with different things and do internships, etc. this might have been great to give yourself some structure, but for me I wasn’t a fan.
Other assignments included a literature review, an OA essay, reflections, pretending to apply for a job with a CV and cover letter plus interviews (non assessed), and a briefing paper. So there is a lot of variety. There’s a lot of writing overall and not much else, but in terms of what you are writing there is variety! And for a lot of the work you can decide the topic in some cases or have a list to pick from. I think this is really important to help you engage with the work to tailor it to your interests and even what you want to do in your career.
I had group work for Information Literacy and the Management modules. I really don’t think the course takes into consideration part-time students and full-time students working together. And on top of that people who do live in Sheffield and people who don’t. The Information Literacy group work was a teaching exercise that I think went pretty well. We weren’t graded on the teaching though, just our reflection of the teaching. I mentioned how I lacked any formal in person teaching skills and would have liked to have had the opportunity to do that instead of the online training/teaching we made. My marker did not agree with this statement and told me I had learnt lots from this experience…. There’s a lot of reflecting to do on this course and I feel like you have to reflect positively and say how great everything is instead of being critical.
For the Management group work I think I was just unlucky. We had to conduct a Service Quality Evaluation project. No matter how hard we tried our group just couldn’t work together effectively. I think across the board communication was difficult, expectations were difficult and we were a mix of part-time and full-time and I don’t think people’s commitments were always taken into consideration. There was also a lot of data collection and analysis for this project. I’d never done either and still haven’t been taught. It was really difficult to try and manage all this with no guidance. I think other people really enjoyed this project and had groups they could work well in. From my point of view this project really drained me and left me with less confidence than I started with and generally left me feeling extremely unhappy. I think it would be good if tutors were more hands on and maybe checked in at a mid-point with each group.
Overall for the majority of group work in this course there were experiences I could have had which would have benefited me in a positive way and that I could have learnt from. In reality I found them draining and difficult. I have still learnt things, but it’s been a negative experience for the most part.
In short I’m not sure if doing the part-time course is the best way to study. I really wanted to do this as I wanted to attend and have the full benefit of being there, asking questions and being part of discussions. Also being there is cheaper than doing it distance (blog post here)! However, I feel there’s a distinct lack of support for anyone who isn’t doing the course full time with few commitments.
You are not coming into a well thought out part-time course with a set structure. This is partly to make it flexible for all, which I’m sure a lot of students appreciate, but you’re not really doing a part-time course. You’re tagging on to the full time course, their structure and their expectations.
There’s too much group work.
There’s a lot of reading, which has been enjoyable and interesting, but I don’t feel like I was taught how to successfully complete my assignments. The content shines through and if I could have just read and discussed I probably would have loved this course.
I also just want to mention with the creation of DILON I was eager to circulate this round the staff and students of the Information School. This course is extremely white. Not a surprise. The staff. The students. The guest speakers – who were all great, but as far as I’m aware the speakers I saw were all white. I raised this with a member of staff that I thought it was an issue that all the guest speakers that I had seen had been white. I think the course needs to think critically about what it does and maybe don’t just invite people you know, but look out there for the amazing diverse people that are there. They do exist.
If you’ve got to the end of this post – well done! What a slog. It was exhausting writing it. My aim with this blog post is definitely not to put anyone off the course, but I think people should know what they’re getting themselves into – especially if they aren’t the average Masters student. What I would say is do your research, speak to people (I’m always happy to answer any questions) and also prepare to be disappointed. Bleak I know, but this is monetised education. universities are ran like businesses, there aren’t caps on student numbers, there aren’t enough staff and I’m not just talking lecturers and academic staff, you aren’t going to be ‘taught’ how to write the best essay or conduct the best investigation.
I don’t know what any other courses are like (maybe there are worse ones! But also maybe there are better ones too? And CILIP accredit them right? There must be some level of quality control?) Sheffield University goes on and on about how great it is – you log onto the student area of the website and the first thing you see is:
‘A world-class university – a unique student experience’
I don’t feel I’ve seen this this year. I’m hoping next year will be better.