James Barnett case study

Academic Liaison Librarian, Coventry University
MPhil English Literature

What are your main work activities in your current role?

My role as an Academic Liaison Librarian at Coventry University is a varied one. Half of my time is spent providing subject support for the School of Economics, Finance and Accounting (EFA). In this capacity I work with the school to plan and deliver information literacy sessions to undergraduates and taught postgraduates. I also work with the school to identify the books, journals and databases that the library needs to purchase to best support their teaching activity. The other 50% of my time is spent co-ordinating the research support offered to faculty and university research centres by the Academic Liaison Team (as well as supporting a Research Centre myself). For this I work closely with the library’s Research and Scholarly Publications Team to ensure that we offer our postgraduate and academic researchers effective support in areas such as information seeking, reference management, open access and bibliometrics (to name but a few).

What route have you taken to your current role?

In many ways, I fell into a library career by accident. I started working for the University of Birmingham’s Library Services in 2008, shortly after completing my MPhil. I knew I didn’t want to pursue an academic career, but I also knew I would enjoy working in a Higher Education context. So that first library role was a part-time job I did while trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do next! Ultimately, I started working full-time for Library Services in 2010 and as I started to learn more about the variety of roles and activities that make up an academic library, and the difference they make to university communities, I realised a career in academic libraries was the right fit for me.

I professionally qualified by completing a distance learning MA in Library and Information Services Management in 2017, and moved on to my role at Coventry University shortly after that.

What do you find most enjoyable about your job and what do you find the most challenging about your job?

The most enjoyable part of my role is working directly with students to help improve their information literacy skills. It’s rewarding because not only are you teaching them the skills they need to find the best information for their university work, you are equipping them with the lifelong skills they need to be effective seekers and critical evaluators of information in their personal and professional lives.

Conversely, the biggest challenge is getting students and researchers fully aware of the range of support the library offers. I think academic libraries are often perceived as a space for study and the storage of books, which of course they are, but the services offered extend far beyond that. The challenge, then, is to be an effective advocate for these services so that when a member of the university requires support – be they a first year undergraduate researching their first assignment, or an academic researcher wanting support with open access - they know a librarian can help them.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

Time management is critical in medical communications. Often you can find yourself juggling 3-4 overlapping projects with various deadlines and levels of importance. If you do not manage your time effectively and efficiently you can struggle.

What advice would you give to a current PhD interested in working in academic librarianship?

The great thing about academic librarianship is that there are professional roles that require a range of different skills and suit different personalities, so there is potentially something for everyone. If you enjoy teaching students and liaising with academic colleagues, there are roles that suit that. If you like working on the frontline of customer support, there are roles that suit that. If you are strategically minded, or enjoy people management, there are roles that suit that. The trick is finding the one that is best for you.

Personally I think the best way of doing this is through the experience of academic library work itself. I worked in a variety of paraprofessional roles before deciding on the route I wanted to follow, and would advise anyone interested in academic library work to do the same because, ultimately, I think it has made me a more well-rounded practitioner.



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