I always thought: When I grow up, I’ll know what I want to be. However – even though I started feeling more or less grown up over the course of my studies – there were so many different things I found interesting that I never really thought: This is exactly what I want to do. On the contrary, in almost every student assistant job and internship I found something I liked about the work and what I really thought was: Wouldn’t it be nice if I could pick the best parts for myself and combine them?
After my studies in English philology and linguistics I wanted to gain some more experience abroad before entering the working world so I started looking for internships online. I finally found the Oxford University Language Centre’s advertisement for a “Library Trainee (with some clerical duties)” on erasmusintern.org. At first I thought: Well, I’m not eligible anyway since I’m not a library school student – but working in a library actually is on my list of interests, as is language learning and teaching, as is university administration. I even have previous experience of working in a lending library from an internship at a library in France and, having recently finished my Master’s thesis, I’m also quite familiar with the customer perspective on libraries. The internship thus seemed to tick a lot of boxes on my personal list of interests – and thus seemed like a possible answer to my above-mentioned question. I was therefore all the more excited when I received the good news that I had been selected for the internship!
I had never expected work in a library to be boring but some people might think so, so I would like to make it clear anyway: It’s not. The 11 ½ weeks I’ve been here now serve to prove that. The tasks I had/got to do at the library and the Language Centre in general amounted to the considerably long list summarised below:
First and foremost I assisted the librarian, Lucile Deslignères, with the daily tasks in the library such as processing new items for circulation and (re-)shelving library material. I was also in charge of the library during Lucile’s lunch hour and while she was away on a business trip.
Other common tasks were helping readers and tutors find material in the library and on SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online), giving library tours, and registering new readers on the database (ALEPH). I really enjoyed this part of the job where I got to interact with people and help make their work easier.
However, I equally liked assisting with administrative work including usage statistics and finance-related tasks. I also updated the database of past final examinations at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages in physical form (printed and as recordings on CD) and online (available on WebLearn, the university’s virtual learning environment), and read the text for the recording of the 2017 German listening comprehension task. I also carried out some research tasks such as looking for new language learning material (e.g. German films on DVD) and compiling a link list with information about languages for the Language Centre’s language resources online. In addition, I checked that all CALL (computer-assisted language learning) material in the library works and that the database is up-to-date.
Apart from directly library-related work, I also moderated the Language Centre’s Language Exchange Network online, i.e. checking and approving/denying entries in the online forums (if necessary, contacting users about incomplete entries) and writing posts in the network (e.g. useful links). In addition, I transferred all physical entries (on paper slips) from the old Language Exchange board to WebLearn (with the help from two work placement students) and worked together with the Educational Technology Advisor (Christina Hell) on how to maintain and improve the network.
During my first week at the Language Centre, I also got to accompany the Departmental Administrator (Christine Mitchell) to an information fair and helped inform potential students about the Language Centre’s offers.
In order to learn a bit more about the work done at the Language Centre, I got to do some work shadowing as some members of staff kindly explained to me what they’re working with: the Courses Administrator & Communications Officer (Charlotte Manning), the Administrative & Finance Assistant (Avalon Floyd), and the IT Officer (Martin Hurajt).
Finally, I got to attend an OLIS (Integrated Library System of the University of Oxford) staff training and Lucile kindly arranged for me to visit two other libraries in Oxford. I also took part in a weekly Communication Skills class at the Language Centre and sat in on German language classes taught by different tutors.
Of course, not all of these tasks were mentioned in the role description for the internship in such detail. It stated, however, which knowledge, skills and competences I was supposed to acquire. While compiling the list of my tasks, I mentally ticked off these points and can now confirm that I definitively obtained a good working knowledge of a higher education specialist library and broadened my understanding of the administrative functions of a university department.
Speaking of lists and ticking boxes, I said at the beginning of this text that I would like my future job to tick as many boxes on my list of interests as possible. Now that I know how varied the work of a librarian can be, I really feel that this is an actual possibility for me. At the same time, the internship has likewise strengthened my interest in higher education administration. The plan is thus as follows: I will try to work my way sideways into librarianship (since I still haven’t studied library and information science at university), top up my student assistant-experience of university administration – and then eventually find the job combining both fields! I’m therefore convinced that my internship here in Oxford has been an important step on my personal career ladder and I’m grateful for having been given this opportunity!
Last but not least, I would like to thank the above mentioned people and everyone else at the Oxford University Language Centre, in particular, of course, Lucile, for the help, support, and kindness I encountered during my internship and for passing on their knowledge and experience!
Lina Sophie Spinger, Michaelmas Term 2017