Through the Looking Glass: Changing Perspectives on Librarianship

Text by: Eugenia Kim

Back to school!

Back to school!

For many students in Hong Kong’s universities, the fall semester signals the arrival of new beginnings and discoveries. In my case, I had the privilege and joy of attending a workshop presented by none other than HKLC’s own Joanna Hare. Although Jo and I had been colleagues together for a year at the CityU Run Run Shaw Library, there were still a number of tips and tricks new to me that I had never considered using. In some ways, it was not that surprising. After all, I had trained to be a digital archivist, worked in data curation and digital humanities, and finished up in research support. Teaching postgraduate students how to make optimal use of library resources was therefore rarely at the top of my list of priorities.

Over the past few weeks, I have been mentally transitioning from being a hybrid information professional into a full-time PhD student. My department, the School of Creative Media, is extremely interdisciplinary and encompasses many specialties. In fact, my own research area includes dance, multimedia, digital humanities and medical humanities. I consider myself very lucky that we have someone as flexible and knowledgeable as Jo for our subject librarian, and I do foresee myself consulting her on a regular basis over the next three years.

This process of transition is also changing my own perceptions on mentorship and my time as an HKLC mentor this past spring. When I first met Alice Tang, I fretted a bit about how I could best help her in her journey to become a library professional. The best that I could do at the time was to pass on the information that my own previous mentors had given me and hope that it would serve her well in turn. In retrospect, however, what I could not provide for her was any insight into what a user might require from a library. So, if I could go back in time, these are a few things I might say based on my personal experience as a PhD student so far:

  • The UGC schools all require their PhD students to have a certain level of English and to submit all work in English. But there are still many students for whom there is a potential language barrier when it comes to effectively conducting research, presenting, etc.
  • Like our faculty advisors, we are all under tremendous pressure to produce original groundbreaking research within a short timeframe. Our priorities are in securing enough time, funding, and support to make this research happen. So library resources will only capture our attentions if marketed as a way to help us in this quest.
  • We have a wide range of backgrounds.  Some PhD students will struggle to define their research through their last year, others enter as seasoned veterans of academia.  Any flexibility and understanding that you can show by adjusting how you communicate with us will be greatly appreciated.
  • Presentation workshops are much needed as are other workshops on how to “package” our research for the right occasion. At my institution, all PhD students in all departments are required to attend a research seminar where we must present our work 1-2 times a year. Very little guidance is given on how to present, with the emphasis being on getting critiqued. I am fairly sure that we are not the only university in the world that does this.
  • PhD students are stuck in survival mode. Many are working part or full-time and some stay off-campus just to save money on commuting. So you may have to get creative in order to reach us. But we do need your help, we just usually don’t know it!

As I continue to learn more about being a library user, I imagine that my perceptions will still be shaped from having my time working in various information environments.  Certainly there will always be a soft spot for archives and research libraries in my heart, to the extent that I would not say no to working in one again. Nonetheless, I do relish getting to experience the other side of the looking glass (so to speak) and hope that maybe I can help identify ways for librarians and PhD students to communicate with each other more effectively.