If there’s one place in the world a budding librarian should gather real experience, it’s amongst the historic bookshelves of the British Library.
A three-week internship with the reference librarian teams at the British Library can be summed up in two words for Master of Information Management student Kate Monypenny: daunting and valuable.
Daunting because she was thrown into a complex system that oversees a collection of more than 150 million items used by 16,000 people every day. Valuable because it provided validation of her abilities and was excellent preparation for her current role at the State Library of Victoria.
“I really tried to gain an understanding of how an institution so large and complex functions as a whole, with everyone working together to achieve organisational objectives and maintain a world-leading standard of information management,” Kate said.
“The biggest take-away was probably that the people who work there are really normal, friendly professionals who go about their day-to-day tasks and chip away at the piece of the organisational puzzle that is contained within their position description.
“Once you break such an impressive organisation down to that individual level you start to be able to imagine yourself holding one of those positions one day, and that's an exciting thought.”
Work placement is a compulsory part of the program that gives students insights into particular library environments and helps them learn real-world skills.
But it’s not a one-way street at the British Library. Staff there see the placement as a professional development opportunity and invite different experiences and perspectives into their workplace by asking visiting students to give a presentation about an interesting aspect of the library.
“While I was really excited to undertake the placement I also felt nervous, especially about the presentation,” Kate said.
“Applying for and going through with it helped show myself that I can make those leaps of faith, that I'll be fine, and probably have a great time as well.”
This self-belief gave Kate the courage to apply for the role of Digital Resources Graduate at State Library Victoria, which she landed.
For a lot of students like Kate, industry placement is a preview into the profession they are about to enter. It provides insights that go hand-in-hand with classroom learning, says Sue Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Master of Information Management.
“The whole course is designed to develop passion for the profession so they can sustain their career in it, introduce the concepts of good professional and organisational citizenship to sustain the profession itself, and provide the ability to work with practitioners and the professional associations so that when the students graduate they have already engaged with and entered the profession,” she said.
“We actively endorse RMIT's motto of "skilled hand, cultivated mind" by teaching the necessary skills and also acculturating the students into the profession - learning to do, and learning to be is how we think of it.”
Kate’s time at the British Library gave her a glimpse of the various roles and responsibilities required to run an institution of that size. Learning about staff dynamics and how to most effectively work with colleagues provided her with a head start at the State Library Victoria.
“Working in such a complex and busy organisation can be quite overwhelming sometimes,” she said.
“There's always so much going on and if you constantly think about the bigger picture, it can all seem insurmountable.
“If I ever feel unsettled by the enormity of all that must be done, I return to that thought about the staff at the British Library - we can each do as much as we can do and no one person can be across every single thing all the time. That's why we work in teams, filling all the gaps and ticking all the boxes as a group effort.”
Story: Kate Jones