Laura joined Wolfson from Durham University Library in 2017, beginning as Information Skills Librarian and then Academic Skills Librarian shortly thereafter. The role – focusing entirely on developing the academic skills of Wolfson students – was the first of its kind in a Cambridge college.
Laura created the Wolfson College LibGuide, an academic and information skills resource with videos, step-by-step guides, and tips to support Wolfson students 24/7. With former Librarian and Fellow, Meg Westbury, Laura overhauled Wolfson’s programme of library workshops and created WolfWorks, a highly successful academic skills programme.
Following her appointment earlier this month, we caught up with Laura to ask her about her new role, find out what’s special about Wolfson College Library, and why the physical space of the library is still so important.
How will your new role as Librarian and Research Skills Specialist differ from your previous role?
It combines all the parts of my previous role that I loved – connecting with students, teaching, and communications as well as engaging again with the physical space and collections. In my previous role I was somewhat tucked away; now I’m in the Reading Room and I’ll get to see so many more students on a daily basis, learning about their use of the collection, and finding out what we can do to improve the service we offer.
What's it like taking over the Wolfson College Library during a new lockdown?
It’s been a challenging time for everyone. We’ve had to make some really tough decisions about restricting access to the Library in order to keep the Wolfson community safe. However, for now, we are so pleased to be able to remain open when many other college libraries have had to close. And for students unable to return to College, I feel we are well placed to offer online support. We learned a lot from previous lockdowns, though we are always keen to hear students’ ideas for what else we can offer. I will be sorry not be able to see everyone in the library this term, but I hope very much to connect with people through email, Zoom and Teams.
How have you had to support students, researchers and other library users during the lockdowns?
During the first lockdown we moved all our services online. The University Library and Faculty and Departmental libraries did an amazing job of providing a huge of amount of digital content, whilst we moved our training programme and enquiry services online. It was great to speak to people all over the world and find out about their individual experiences. We carried on those online services in Michaelmas Term and found that many students preferred to attend training online, even if resident in College. So I will be interested to see whether things change after lockdown or if some of our new ways of working will remain because they better meet students’ needs.
What's special about Wolfson library? And why is it such a great place for students and researchers to come to study?
Wolfson Library is known as one of the most welcoming libraries. We are not just about the collections – students like to study with us because we’re open 24/7, provide lumbar supports, ear plugs and books rests to make this a comfortable environment in which to work. We also recognise the importance of wellbeing; taking a break is really important and so we offer jigsaws for loan and craft tables at various points throughout the year. I am really interested to hear ideas for the library and how we can best meet your needs; students, do please get in touch!
How does a modern library provide support and value for students and researchers?
Libraries have always been about facilitating access to information. They provide that information in the form of print or online resources. To think of libraries as mere repositories would be to do them a disservice. They also aim to develop advanced skills to enable to students to identify what information they need; know how to access, store and retrieve it; to critically evaluate and interpret it; and to communicate that information in their written work. So libraries are as much about the interactions librarians have with students as they are about the collections.
How do you decide what to collect, why and how to keep it, though? It must be a gargantuan task!
The Wolfson Library collection is primarily there to support taught courses. So we have to be nimble to reflect changing curriculums. If a new paper is launched, we need to be ready to support that. As time goes on, some papers are retired and so we weed books that are no longer used. We also have to keep an eye on currency too, especially in Law and Medicine, and make sure that we have the most up to date editions. In addition, a large proportion of our stock is bought on student recommendation. This makes it highly relevant to the students at Wolfson, not just Cambridge students. If you can’t find what you are looking for, then please let us know!
What kind of challenges do libraries face from competing informational sources in the digital age, and how does it meet that challenge?
We are very privileged in this community to have access to so much information, but it can be overwhelming. The ease of accessing and searching Google Scholar, and other freely available databases, has to be balanced against the time it takes to evaluate the thousands, if not millions, of results. The library tries to mediate that content, providing access to peer-reviewed material through over 1000 academic databases. We then provide training on how best to search these resources so that students can target their searching and spend time engaging with the content. In the same way that libraries have traditionally selected relevant print resources, we try do the same with our e-collections.
Why is the physical space of a library still important?
A library is a key part of the college community. The physical space is there for quiet study. But also to connect students. That might sound paradoxical – how can you make contact when you’re keeping quiet? In addition to seeing familiar faces, there is something about the positive peer pressure of seeing other students at work that can help you concentrate. As not all our students are resident in College, we run virtual study sessions called Shut up and Write. They not as reproachful as they sound! Students get the chance to say hello and discuss their aims for the next hour, then we work silently. We all have a break (this is really important for productivity) and do it all again. I think this can really help provide the motivation we all need to stay focused, which can be especially tough when working remotely.
Visit our library webpage for more information about Wolfson College Library.