Masters’ pre-arrival: three dilemmas (and a potentially rogue apostrophe)

Hello! Time for a Masters’ pre-arrival project update? Please, and comment below, or email me, or phone, or whatever. Soz that it ended up being a bit long.

So far the project has mostly consisted of reading, thinking, wondering if there really is an apostrophe after the word Masters, and talking to people. I genuinely have had the most joyful conversations with members of the library community here in Cambridge, so an enormous ‘thank you’ if you’ve had the misfortune to be visited by me. (If I haven’t spoken to you yet, it’s not that I don’t care, please invite me to your library).

As you might expect, I’m hearing some enormously diverse views and as soon as David M’s FutureLib/Student Journey data starts to reach me I imagine it’ll diversify even further. The conversations have uncovered a variety of perspectives, concerns, biases, investments. But for the purpose of this blog post I want to focus on three of them. Three dilemmas. None are black-and-white – I’m thinking in terms of a spectrum, and what I’ve outlined below are definitely the extremes. But please, help me out with my internal struggles, have a read, and let me know where you stand.

1) Induction or not-induction

Man's hand holding out a compass on top of a hill, looking at a mountainous range in the background.The ‘pre-arrival’ element of the resource is pretty important. It’s aimed at people who are not yet in Cambridge. They haven’t had reading lists yet. They might not even have applied yet (okay yes wishful thinking whatever). The pre-arrival focus gives the resource some boundaries, and underlines the ongoing and desperate need for the context which post-arrival teaching, resources, and experiences can provide. But there are things that a pre-arrival resource could do to help students to orient themselves in the ways of Cambridge, and the ways of our libraries. So welcome to the first spectrum: induction or not-induction.

At one end of the spectrum, the resource contains an enormous amount of induction and orientation material. There are three types of library in Cambridge, and this is how to get printing credit, and iDiscover is a library catalogue, and this is what non-print legal deposit means, and so on. This is useful introductory information, armed with which, students might be able to navigate the library system better.

At the other end, there’s a real and specific focus on skills. At this end, iDiscover is not introduced as a library catalogue but singularly in the context of finding resources. The orientation information is incidental, not core. After all, this information is widely available elsewhere – sent out by colleges, departments, the Graduate Union, the Language Centre, and probably loads of other people too. Including it would dilute the purpose of the resource and it’s just a duplication of effort.

Over to you. Where do you stand on the issue?


2) Self-directed or tailored

A signpost against a mountainous backdrop. There are three yellow signs pointing in different directions but all of them are blank.

One of the major challenges presented by the creation of this resource is how you make something that can be used by complex and varied students addressing themselves to the study of complex and varied subjects. My (flawed) answer to this is to create a resource which isn’t linear, and which incorporates an element of choice – which allows the users of the resource to pick and choose what they require. But how much choice do we give them?

Again, think of this as a spectrum. At one end, we have an entirely self-directed resource. All options, all skills, are presented to the students equally, and they pick what they need. After all, self-direction is mentioned in no less than 38 entries in the course catalogue for Masters’ students, where it genuinely is cross-disciplinary: Sociology mentions it, and so does Mathematics, Medicine, Education, Physics, Philosophy and more. So let’s start ’em off right. Let’s give them the whole resource, with little guidance. Let’s let them decide what to view or read, or how much. Let’s not presume that we know better than they do about the skills that they need.

At the other end of the spectrum is a closely tailored resource (not quite personalised, sorry – we didn’t get that much funding!). At this end, students enter details about their course, or about themselves, and the resource gives them guidance as to the areas that would be most useful to them. Because surely an MPhil student in Public Health will need different stuff to an MPhil student in Modern British History? And that Public Health student is going to close the tab straight away if they find themselves on a page that looks entirely irrelevant to them, right?

What would you do?


3) Library or University

Two labradors facing each other, each holding and tugging on a rope toy.

This one’s related not to content but to the hosting, location, look-and-feel, and branding of the resource, and it sort of comes down to a decision between the university and the library. (Now, to be fair, this might well be a moot point: it might be that the resource ends up going wherever it ends up going and that’s the end of it but let’s continue to believe we have options…).

So come on then, join me on this spectrum. At one end, it’s a Library resource. It’s clearly branded as being created by and owned by the library community. It’s hosted on a library website – maybe the UL, maybe the gateway. It’s named in such a way that makes its connection to libraries unmistakeable and inalienable. Because it’s about information literacy and that’s what we do. Let’s own it.

And at the other end of the spectrum, the library community barely gets a look-in. It’s clearly a University resource, branded as such, hosted as such, named as such. The fact that it was created by us is an aside (by the time you’ve seen the final product this may be a blessing in disguise…). But the students don’t care who is responsible, and they don’t need to know. If it’s a university resource, it’ll have more weight, more authority. It might be easier to find, or easier to stumble across. It might be easier to get buy-in from admissions departments and other bits of the university if it isn’t a ‘library’ thing.

And again, where do you stand? How would you pitch it? Library or university? (or both?)

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far). And please let me know what you think. Comments below, or drop me an email. And invite me to visit!

Bye for now,

Helen M (EFL)

Image credits: all CC-0 from Pixabay, but thanks to the creators: StockSnaptrainer24, GregMontani

1 thought on “Masters’ pre-arrival: three dilemmas (and a potentially rogue apostrophe)

  1. John Clarke

    So I’m veering towards…

    1. Induction (I’m in the Induction/Orientation team so I would say this) but it really depends on how often this is likely to be taken up as the most reliable source. If the schools, departments, etc. don’t adopt this then duplication and, god forbid, conflicting information may only serve to confuse. This is the problem we have RIGHT NOW!
    2. Self-directed. Like you say, who are we to presume what they need from this? Any and all information we provide will be well-researched and eminently valuable.
    3. University. If merely for the fact that it will carry more heft. I can see it disappearing as a library resource and that would be criminal.

    …rather than the other option. To what degree we veer is obviously key, but know that I have history of sitting on the fence!


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