A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Interview: Shona Thoma – UCD SILS student

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?Shona Thoma


In 2007 I graduated with an Arts degree in History of Art and English literature and started a part- time diploma in Youth and Community Work. I was pulled in two very different directions as I was passionate about my degree subjects, and loved my job in the University’s gallery, but I was also highly committed to the voluntary work I did with a group of disadvantaged teenage girls. As a recent graduate I spent a good deal of time looking at various job adverts; I saw one or two for library related positions and realised that there was great potential there for combining by skills and interests.

Since then I have held various positions and gained some very worthwhile experiences. I won’t lie – a lot of what I worked at after I first graduated was geared more towards my desire to get out and travel the world than pursuing my interest in the Information profession. Although everywhere I went I would tell people that I wanted to become a librarian, which for some reason was very entertaining in the backpacking world! As I searched for library-posts in New Zealand from internet cafes across Asia, it began to dawn on me that I was going to need a professional qualification to get where I wanted to be.

Becoming involved in the library and information profession took longer than I anticipated, but the route I took has led me to really appreciate the value of life-long learning which is central to so much of what I feel librarianship is about.

Can you tell us about your route onto your course?

As with most other MLIS programmes which are accredited, UCD [University College Dublin] School of Information and Library Studies requires incoming students to have done a minimum of six weeks work experience in a library environment. I was very lucky to obtain an internship in a County Council’s headquarters where they were instigating an information service for staff. I spent nine months taking in donations of materials from the Council’s various departments, weeding through them, classifying them and processing them so that staff across all sections could have better access. I also had responsibility for over-seeing a physical fit-out of the library space and the diverse work that involved! In addition, I had the opportunity to work with the County Archivist and gained a valuable insight into the daily activities involved in managing a significant historical archive, and also the records management for the Council.

Ideally, I would have liked to have taken the course part-time over two years alongside an information role. However, the internship came to an end just ahead of the starting date for the MLIS, and as I had been accepted onto the programme earlier in the summer, I took the plunge and returned to being a full-time student.

What advice would you give to new library and information professionals who are currently looking to begin studying in the library and information sector?

If you are not currently working in the field, try to gain some experience, even if it is not in the specific area you are interested in. The Information profession requires multiple transferable skills which you can carry with you into your studies or future career. It is not always easy to find the experience you need these days but if you can it will give you great insight into the smaller details of everyday librarianship and help you to think about the particular direction you would like to take. It may surprise you which part of the work you enjoy most!

As for the course – I have never enjoyed education so much! Before starting the course I was a bit apprehensive about the fact that we were required to choose a minimum of two modules from the ‘technology’ group. However I have surprised myself at how much I have taken to these subjects, and learning about the role that technology plays in today’s library environment is always rewarding. Many LIS courses encourage, or even require, students to keep a blog, so I would suggest that anyone thinking about studying in the library and information sector take a look at these useful records from the students, in addition to information provided by the Universities you are applying to.

At the SILS in UCD, practical and theoretical sides of the library and information sector are well balanced, enhanced by a diverse staff. These aspects are brought together particularly well in Management for Information Professionals, a module which was far more interesting, and relevant, than you would imagine upon reading the title! In that class we compared theoretical approaches to management with case studies, and reflected on them to draw out their significance to the Information profession.

You recently attended the New Professionals Day Ireland; what do you see as being the benefits of being in a network and what did you gain from the event?

At New Professionals Day Ireland I participated in workshops run by professionals currently working in LIS, which was extremely beneficial, as I felt it reflected the skills which they see as valuable to new professionals. The faculty in UCD’s SILS are great, and in fact some of them do currently work in the field too, but the more exposure to ‘real-life’ examples of how we can apply our skills the better. The fact that there are established professionals willing to support the New Professionals Network also demonstrates that we will be graduating into a very positive environment.

I am highly energetic and committed, and I have succeeded in previous roles by giving 110% to the job. As I have often worked as a teacher or youth leader, a lot of that has involved being able to make others feel comfortable, sometimes by resorting to singing ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ or taking part in dreadful Karaoke sessions. What I am trying to say is that the word ‘professional’ is sometimes quite intimidating for me as I see it as belonging to someone wise and mature, and in about five months I will have a Master’s degree, and I’m not sure if I am ready to be ‘professional’!! Being a part of a network of likeminded people can really help to build confidence and help you to realise that everyone is going through the same things, and that you are just as able to succeed as anyone else you encounter.

What would you like to see from the Manchester NLPN in the future?

It is great to see what the New Professionals Networks are organising to promote the Library and Information sphere. Continuing to bring people together for events is obviously key, and building on this through online communication has definitely been beneficial for me.

I think that as we are going through a rapidly changing and challenging time for the Information profession, it is crucial that new professionals are encouraged to promote and support each other, and to be advocates for the work we do. We are good at sharing information, particularly within the library community, but we need to help each other to make our services more visible to the public. This means there can never be too many workshops on improving our communication and marketing abilities, particularly those that facilitate the sharing of imaginative information and library promotion.



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This entry was posted on March 13, 2013 by in Interview and tagged , , , .

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