Last month, we sat down with the excellent Eleri Kyffin, University of Westminster’s Academic Engagement and Development Manager, and this month we’re heading north of the Watford Gap to Derby to visit University of Derby’s Content Manager, Adam Robinson.
Boasting approximately 30,000 students, University of Derby is home to one of our Student Ambassador programmes and Chutney – the library dog – one of the coolest members of library staff we’ve come across…
As an integral force behind the Ambassador programme at Derby, we asked Adam how he came to be a librarian.
“I’m an accidental librarian, but I think increasingly a lot of us are.”
“I studied Film studies with Film and TV production. When I left university, I set up my own film company.”
Now you’re wondering how one might jump from their own film company to a library, which were my thoughts exactly.
“It was very unsteady work – you’d get a flurry of orders… but then there were dry periods.
“I kind of fell into libraries by just picking up a shelving job in the library at the University of Liverpool and I was just putting the books back on the shelf as they came in. It was just to have that regular pay check to support everything.”
For Adam, working in a library soon became more than a regular pay check.
“I became more invested in the library. I was engaging with students directly, doing some of the back-office duties and started covering for staff sickness.
“As I got more involved, eventually other roles in other departments within the library came up which seemed interesting or exciting… And before I knew it, I was developing a career and my focus was then very much on the library.”
Having worked his way through several roles in different libraries, I was curious to find out Adam’s favourite role.
“I have to say, when I think of all the roles I’ve done, my current role is my favourite because it involves so many different elements and it feels like I’m in a position now where I can really make a difference.”
Whilst we know Adam is breaking the librarian cliché of being a woman (did you know that 83% of librarians are women? Neither did we, but we do now!), I asked what cliches he did fall into.
“Obviously working in a library, I do love books; I’m quite passionate about my reading, so I’m a big nerd! I love all my science fiction and fantasy novels, so I think that qualifies me as falling into the cliché!”
I was keen to find out what role the library plays at the University of Derby. After speaking with several librarians, it’s clear to see that the library is simply a repository for books at some and at others it is more of a community hub for the students where they can get support, advice, and academic help.
“We have our students who will come into study and to read, so we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right resources and that we’re making them available in the most appropriate formats for them.
“You know, is it enough to just have print? The obvious lesson learned through the pandemic is we need to have greater digital provision and digital capabilities. Students need to be able to access the resources wherever they are and whenever they need them.”
“So, there’s that side of things, making sure we’ve got the content for students because it’s going to impact their learning journey. It’s going to impact how well they perform in their studies and their exams, and their general ability to widen their knowledge.
“And then there’s also the research elements. For our research staff and research postgraduates, they’re also reading and learning so that they can publish, so they can develop their careers within academia.
“So again, we have to make sure we’re providing opportunities for them to be able to get published in the journals and magazines they want to be published in. We have to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on those opportunities.”
Take a moment
It sounds like the library has an important role at the University of Derby, which comes with its challenges and tough times. When asked what Adam does when it’s been quite the day, Adam quite simply said:
“To be honest, one of the reoccurring things is just looking forward to a nice coffee.
“When there are stressful moments and it’s just one of those days with an awful lot going on, sometimes you just think, ‘OK, I’m going to go and make that hot cup of coffee.’
“I’m gonna go away, and just enjoy it. Just have a mindful moment taking in the flavour, the warmth, the sensation of it. Relax and take a deep breath.’”
That’s useful advice any of us can use when we’re having a day – take a few moments for yourself to rehydrate and practice a little mindfulness.
Last month, Eleri told us she found a fossilised kipper in one of the books returned to the University of Westminster’s library – has Adam come across any strange bookmarks in his time?
“Not in my current role – but previously I saw quite a few things, including a sandwich… and there would be times when books would come in completely shredded up.
“You know, basically students take them out. It’s rained, it’s soaked through their bag and it’s just a mass of pulp.”
Luckily, as a Kortext user, Adam doesn’t have to worry about the state books are returned in too much. Obviously, the digital bookmark tool is much better than a sandwich, but what elements of the Kortext platform does Adam find most useful?
“I think the accessibility support is really important. Some of the dynamic page layouts are helpful to students and I think being able to change the font in a book or change the background colour, being able to make notes and create groups and share those notes with peers are really cool features.”
“Probably for me, I think the key one is actually the analytics – for the academics more so than the student. I think what’s exciting about this is that if academics really engage with these analytics, they can properly understand how their students are engaging with their text, or not engaging, and they could use that as a really powerful tool to support students who may be falling behind. I think that’s fantastic. We have an opportunity here.
“We can work out why some students mightn’t be performing as well as they could; maybe it’s because they’re not doing the reading. We have the chance to intervene before it’s too late and say, ‘hey, I noticed you didn’t do the reading, are you struggling with it? How can I help you with that?’ And you can nip these problems in the bud.
“So for me, I think that could have a dramatic and very powerful effect on the learning journey. It could turn things around for someone who is struggling. I really like that element of it. If used correctly, that could be the most powerful tool.”
A library based wish
Nearing the end of our interview, I asked Adam what his one library-based wish would be, and no, he couldn’t wish for more library wishes. Instead, he wished for something I know a lot in the higher education sector would like:
“I’d like publishers to be more engaged with libraries and have more conversations so they can help us get the best access we can for our students and at an affordable price.”
Adam emphasised this by saying: “Making content available for everyone at a price we can afford to pay would be the dream really. Being able to make sure we can have everything that we need to provide for our students.”
Having worked with students for quite some years and seeing several cohorts through, I asked Adam what solid piece of advice he’d pass on to students.
“See your experience at university as being a journey. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about socially, or academically, whether it’s about the fun you can have, or whether it’s about your learning or whatever. It’s all a journey.
“Enjoy it and make the most of that journey because it will pass really quickly, so make the most of every moment… just see what’s out there. There’s so much on offer, you know, the University works so hard to make sure that the opportunities are available to you to try and help you and support you, so…grab it with both hands.
“It’s not often these opportunities come along in life, so if you’ve got an opportunity; grab it and go for it. Enjoy it!”
Playing him out of his interview, Adam requested anything by The Killers.
Well, he did say anything, so here it is!