Liberal Arts and Sciences Cadbury Research Library Internship

By Zoe Emery (year 3 Liberal Arts and Sciences)

pic 127There is something incredibly exciting about handling first-editions of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, as well as Queen Victoria’s personal diary, the Mingana collection (a group of Middle Eastern manuscripts dating from as early as the 6th century), ancient Egyptian papyri, Neville Chamberlain’s copy of Mein Kampf and a letter describing his first impressions of Hitler. I got to do all of this and more as part of my four week internship with the Cadbury Research Library.

For me, one of the best things you can get out of a job is variation. As part of my role here, I, along with two other interns, was not only involved in cataloguing archives, but also helped to create an exhibition on travel diaries in the Main Library and on Flickr, helped conserve a number of documents, taught a group of school children and created several Vox Pop videos to encourage students to use the CRL and its fantastic resources.

Furthermore, we received a series of in depth tours by members of staff, module-choicesshowing us the ins and outs of their different roles as archivists, librarians and conservators. From a personal point of view, it was fascinating to see how the Research Library worked behind the scenes, from the perspective of an employee on a day to day basis. My cataloguing project focused on Bridget Stevenson, a woman who worked for the Save the Children Fund, in German refugee camps from 1948-1962. Steph, an early modern History PhD student, looked at 20th century records of the Women’s Amateur Athletics Association, and Katherine, who just graduated with an English Literature degree, worked on University of Birmingham Medical Society.

Liberal Arts and Sciences is a degree that encourages you to step outside your boundaries, explore different subjects and broaden your wider interests. Having taken modules in Geology, Psychology, Spanish and French over the past two years, my subject choices did not naturally lend themselves towards applying for an internship typically based around History and Literature. However, internships like this allow you to test the waters. Moreover, there are an extensive variety of resources in the collection including Science, Medicine, Art, Sport, Archaeology, Anthropology and Politics, making this internship genuinely interesting to anyone from any walk of life.

Untitled-6Irrelevant of subject, the skills that I have learnt here will be invaluable in the wider working world. Throughout the past four weeks, I have developed my ability to work as part of a team, and as an individual in a professional environment, as well as time management, organisation and the ability to work to a deadline. We also learnt more specific skills including Photoshop, IT, research and conservation.

I can honestly say that I have taken so much away from this experience and have thoroughly enjoyed working with an incredibly lovely and welcoming team.

Our Flickr exhibition on travel diaries –

To read about the job of an archivist –

To see upcoming exhibition dates (Noel Coward & Transatlantic Style and Toc H. archive) –

The Quran in Birmingham:

A day in the life of a Liberal Arts and Sciences Administrator

lib arts & sciences 08I joined the team in October 2013, when Liberal Arts and Sciences at Birmingham was in its infancy.  When I say I joined the team, at that point it was only me, the Dean (Professor Cillian Ryan), and an academic lead from each of the Colleges.  In the space of two years the project has grown exponentially: we now have two further professional services staff (an Operations Manager, and a Programme Administrator), in addition to an expanding academic team, and of course four times as many students!  My hope is that this growth in our team shows in the quality and breadth of professional service that we deliver; not only through organising and putting together each students’ suite of modules and academic plan, but also reaching further into the student experience with a variety of cultural activities, social events and beyond.

My days consist of a variety of different projects, punctuated by student enquiries, meetings, phone-calls and all of the day-to-day ‘business as usual’ tasks (if there is such a thing as business as usual within LANS!)  Thankfully at this point in the year I have moved on from the complexities of putting together 75 bespoke timetables, which is a relief for me, and I daresay for all those around me as well!

One of the main projects that I work on within my role is improving student experience.  Student feedback and experience is at the heart of everything that we do within LANS, and we are always looking for ways to improve and excel in the service that we deliver.  In terms of my role this means a variety of things.  I’m involved in gathering feedback, whether from our informal house feedback lunches, personal tutee lunches or SSCs, and putting it together into a coherent structure, and then helping the programme respond to that feedback; for example, I spent a reasonable chunk of my summer remodelling our Canvas pages into the thing of beauty that they are today (!).  I also lead on all welfare issues within the programme, complex as they are with all the different schools that each student is involved with, and play a key role in the face-to-face delivery of welfare support to individual students.  Another area of responsibility, which greatly enriches the LAS student experience, is helping to plan and organise the wealth of events and trips that we run on a yearly basis.

Although life in academic administration can be stressful and trying at times, it’s also an extremely varied job, and I greatly enjoy the mixture of people and paperwork that it entails.  It’s also a real privilege to work with such a bright and (generally) enthusiastic group of students, and feel that in a small way I’ve helped them to achieve their best.  It almost makes all that timetabling worthwhile…

Ruth German, November 2015

Documentary work in a learning environment: leaving a legacy? By Dr Julie Gilson

lib arts & sciences 52For many years I’ve taught a final year module on Asia in a fairly conventional way; lecture, seminars, two essays and one exam. Feedback in recent years suggested that students were learning substantive information for the topics of their essays, but were given little chance to develop broader ideas and had no opportunity to discuss at length their findings with other group members. So in January 2015 I jettisoned one essay and the exam, replacing them with a self-reflection paper and a six-minute group documentary. And what I found in my first pilot year was that this kind of ‘legacy learning’ enabled my students to reflect more deeply on the subject and their own learning skills, and to situate their time and experiences at university within their broader life goals and expectations.

Legacy learning refers to the act of creating an archive or artefact for the benefit of posterity; collating, collecting and creating a virtual or tangible article for successive cohorts to utilise as a learning resource. It is also a tangible product that you as students may use to demonstrate your skills to prospective employers; something to take away with you from the process of learning. At the heart of the concept are two key factors: collaboration and the process of self-reflection. First, collaboration can come in many forms within the classroom; from one-off classroom team debates, to the long-term production of a piece of group work in a variety of forms. Various studies have shown how ‘peer learning’ within this collaborative environment can enhance a student’s ability to understand and articulate the problem in front of her, as well as to critique others within the group. The central focus of the object under development, in other words, forms the catalyst for deeper learning, social interaction, and closer self-reflection. Second, processes such as these can lead to informed and thoughtful deliberations on one’s behaviours and actions, and are believed to assist learners to become better at self-reflection, which leads subsequently to better academic achievement. Self reflection itself often comes in the form of a log, reviewing different theories of learning and applying them to the experience in question. It is, then, largely through the process of self-reflection that you can come to appreciate the fact that you have indeed created a legacy.

ST-RESba-010From my point of view as assessor, the six documentaries produced were of outstanding quality, and each group received a first-class grade. The six groups embraced the idea of collaboration in a number of ways, whilst applying different approaches: some divided tasks up immediately; others had a freer approach where tasks were not formally assigned. They had to learn to deal with the practical difficulties presented by the complicated timetables of different individuals and all groups agreed that a minimum number of face-to-face meetings was crucial. What was most striking to me was the fact that a number of students reflected not only on the module, but also on their time at university. They noted how beneficial it was to be offered the chance to work in a variety of settings, with different tasks drawing on different skills. In particular, they felt that they had gained a number of transferable skills needed to take their next steps into a post-university life. It was clear from their commitment to this project and their comments in their own reflection papers that most students felt as though they were engaged in a meaningful endeavour; that they would leave something for posterity; and that they would carry this piece of work into their job-seeking activities.

The process of learning within a university context often results in an ephemeral engagement with a text or project. Essays and exams can be quickly forgotten, along with their hastily memorised substantive content. Over the past few years, there has been a considerable amount of work to stagger deadlines, vary forms of assessment and to diversify the ways in which feedback is provided, and there has been a much greater emphasis on the inclusion of transferable skills within and across modules and programmes. The entire philosophy of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme is premised upon this wider acquisition of knowledge and skills, and as LAS students you should recognise and fully embrace the many opportunities you have to develop a genuinely transferable and diverse portfolio of skills and to take with you the legacies of your own student-rep-arealearning. Indeed, the making of a short documentary is built into the second year curriculum, alongside many opportunities for group work, filming, discussion and independent learning. I hope that as LAS students you will recognise these opportunities as a chance to create work of which you are immensely proud and which enables you to reflect on your growth as individual learners and thinkers. In my own view, in 2015 it is important for lecturers and students alike to embrace a diversity of learning experiences and to create a challenging classroom relevant to the worlds you will go on to inhabit.