Early Career Conference Awards – Interview with Amy O’Donohoe

This is the first in a series of interviews with each of our Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winners for 2017. In these blog posts our winners will tell us more about why they applied for the award, and what they are looking forward to at the conference. The ECCA winners are sponsored by SLA Europe and SLA Divisions, and will be attending the 2017 SLA Conference & INFO-EXPO in Phoenix this June.

Our first interview is with Amy O’Donohoe. Amy is the Customer Care (Collections) Coordinator at Royal Holloway University. Her award is co-sponsored by the Academic Division.

Why did you pursue a LIS career?

I have always been interested in working with people, but I very much fell into libraries in my quest for work experience and ideas on careers while I was an undergraduate. I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer in my University special collection where I made up school packs, worked on the special collection library move, and learnt to catalogue the cult film archive collection. My time here was so varied and interesting, I decided to learn more about the profession, not knowing at the time just how far reaching and vital the work of information professionals is. As I gained more understanding of the profession as a whole, two major areas of interest developed for me in collection development and user engagement, both of which I have pursued and explored in detail over the past 5 years.

Can you tell us about your career so far?

My career in LIS thus far has been varied to say the least. I wanted to gain as much understanding about the profession as possible before finishing my undergraduate degree, and as such I started my career by volunteering and working in as many library and archives as I could. These included the Science Museum Archive, the Wiener Library, the Rochester Cathedral library, the National Archive, and a small village library in France.

My first full time position in a library was my graduate traineeship with the London Library. Here I was lucky to be given a truly varied programme which allowed me to work on book repairs, catalogue records, complete complex enquiry work, and perhaps most importantly to work with a diverse range of users in an extremely user centric environment. I then began working as assistant librarian at Hurstpierpoint College where I focused on increasing user engagement and reading levels across the school. During my time there I won the LILAC student award which was incredibly valuable in developing my understanding and practices in information literacy within schools, and definitely gave me the confidence to go for awards for which I wouldn’t necessarily have applied previously.

While working at the school I completed my MSc in Library and Information Studies with Robert Gordon University. In keeping with my interest in user engagement, I decided to use my thesis to combine my interest in libraries with my previous work and experience in the care system. My thesis looked at whether public libraries could be used to improve the life chances of children in care and care leavers. The chance to examine the experiences of this user group and their relationship with libraries has definitely had a lasting effect on how I approach and understand user engagement as a whole, and has certainly been factored into work undertaken in my current role.

Since graduating I’ve begun working with Royal Holloway University as the Customer Care Collections Coordinator. We are currently in the process of moving two libraries into one brand new build which is incredibly exciting to be a part of. I love that my job is so varied and gives me the opportunity to work on stock project and policies and directly with the user. Being a collections co-ordinator within the customer services team does seem unusual on the face of it, but having a user centric focus has definitely influenced my decisions and approaches in the stock aspect of my role.

Why did you decide to apply for an ECCA with the academic division?

I have been interested in pursuing a career in academic libraries for some time, and after starting my role as Customer Care Collection Coordinator at Royal Holloway University I knew that this was an area in which I wanted to grow and develop. Having worked in schools and with young people in a variety of settings I am acutely aware of the need for more specific support (particularly from those of disadvantaged backgrounds) in the transition to University. Developing this support, engaging the harder to reach users, and encouraging interest in academia through academic libraries is incredibly important to me, and is certainly an area which I intend to pursue and develop as my career in academic libraries progresses. Applying for the ECCA with the Academic Division therefore was a chance for me to gain more experience in the field, to get involved with and learn from other key players in academic libraries, and to learn more about how user engagement in academic libraries is approached by different organisations.

What are you most looking forward to about SLA 2017?

For me the most exciting thing about being able to attend SLA 2017 is the opportunity to get ideas and perspectives from librarians across the globe. I am a firm believer in sharing ideas to improve and develop services, and this seems like the ultimate chance to do just this.

I’m going out for a few extra days before and after the conference, so I’m also really looking forward to the chance to do some hiking in some of the nature reserves and to bask in the desert sun!

Which sessions/speakers on the programme are excited most about?

I’m actually not sure how I would pick between them! I’ve added around five sessions per time slot, and the idea of even picking between them is proving difficult. I have heard that the contributed paper sessions are good value for your time as you get a lot of information and perspectives from one session, so right now they seem to be standing out for me. I’m also excited to get along to some of the mindfulness activities in the morning – I have no idea what to expect, but I do love the idea of starting the day a bit more chilled out considering the amount of running around I expect to be doing!

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