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Friday, 16 January 2015

13 - Karl Drinkwater, Aberystwyth University

Our latest post is from Karl Drinkwater, Psychology Librarian at Aberystwyth University.

I'm one of those people who came to Aberystwyth to do a qualification – in my case an MSc in Information and Library Studies – then stayed, because it was easier than trying to catch a train out of the town. That was over fifteen years ago and I have been working as a librarian at Aberystwyth University ever since. My areas of specialism include information literacy; multimedia (e.g. video and screencasting); social media; electronic resources; resource discovery systems; and I am the librarian for the psychology department. For a few years I worked as an e-learning technologist for JISC RSC Wales on a secondment, which is where I gained a lot of my technology skills. I’d recommend secondments and job-shares to anyone.


Going back many years: I started working in public libraries while doing my A levels, and volunteered in a university philosophy library for a while. Words and books have been a constant in my life. As an undergraduate I studied joint honours Classics and English (First Class), both amazing subjects for giving broad overviews of the context for our culture. It saddens me that few universities now teach classics as a separate subject, since it was so interesting to be able to study language, art, architecture, history, literature, drama, poetry, philosophy, all on one course. I specialised in ancient Greek language and culture, since all that Roman history and Latin language was too modern for me.

Professionally, I used to be a member of CILIP but after a few years came to the conclusion that their values didn’t match mine; the introduction of periodic re-evaluation for chartership led me to cancel my application and focus instead on training and qualifications which felt more relevant to my role. I am now a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (a peer-reviewed form of professional recognition), and in June 2011 I was the first non-academic recipient of the Aberystwyth University Learning and Teaching Fellowship Award. Over the years I’ve given lots of talks at conferences, and had library articles printed in journals, though I haven’t got time for so much of that now since I only work as a librarian two days a week.

When not working for Aberystwyth University I write fiction, in more than one genre. It depends on what mood I'm in as to whether a piece will contain soppy romance or stumpy zombies. I also love exercise (especially running and cycling); computer or board games; being in natural places; and music. I have been vegan for 23 years. I'll chat with you in Welsh if you speak slowly.


As all librarians know, there is no such thing as an average day. Nonetheless, here’s what I got up to recently.

9am: A chance to catch up with urgent emails. I’m thinking about next year’s teaching for psychology students and planning a progression: meet and greet at the start; library induction; a short talk about academic materials; seminars about finding resources; and maybe support drop-ins within the department. We've increased the amount of teaching we do, and in the first few months of the last academic year I taught over 1000 students across a number of departments, not including all those I saw at induction! Information literacy is a big part of what we do, teaching people how to find, evaluate and use information ethically. Work with resources and liaison with departments make up other chunks of my subject librarian work.

9.30am: a meeting to discuss the induction process for this year. I had suggested a change in format, involving a shorter presentation but more hands-on opportunities, and a fun library bingo card to complete after the session. The next job is probably working on a more attractive presentation (I always favour Prezi).

10.15am: I was on the rota for answering queries to our team email address that staff and students can use for asking questions. I also monitored the Ask A Librarian live chat tool. We keep an eye on these while getting on with other work.

11am: Work editing together video and a screencast about using electronic resources in our new Aber Academy multimedia lab. I’m in the group managing the space so have been making sure I am one of the first to use everything and help iron out any teething problems.

1pm: A shift on the Hugh Owen Library enquiry desk. Surprisingly busy due to our summer university and Welsh language courses. I tracked some books down, gave directions, gave research advice, but didn’t get to say "Shhhhh".


3pm: A dissertation student needed help with finding material so I headed over to the psychology department and we used a PC there. The research revolved around news sources covering a famous legal case. We played with date ranges and sources in Infotrac, but the breakthrough was in focusing on the names of the victim (different papers used different names, so we focused on just the surname – with a limited date range it meant we could do that without getting false hits). I also demonstrated another news source, Nexis, and we replicated the same searches to make sure nothing was missed from the major newspapers the student was focusing on. We looked at other issues too, including drawing the newspaper article word counts on a graph over time (the articles got smaller after the initial sensational coverage, so that by the time of the trial outcome it was almost a footnote: that is quite revealing about how the media works). Everyone's research is different, and it’s always fascinating to see the range of what people are investigating.

4.15pm: Dealt with reports on new psychology items in stock – some of the lecturers will be pleased to know their books have arrived – and made decisions on a donation of psychology books.

4.45pm: A module approval form to work on, primarily considering what additional resources would be needed in order for the module to run.

And then the sun shone over the sea, seagulls did swirl in the cerulean sky, and it was the glorious end to another libraryland day.

Librarians make a difference.

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