Profile of a School Librarian

My name is Missy Cahill and I am an International School Librarian living in Changchun, China and working in the Changchun American International School.

What path did you take to get to your current role?

I started off working part time in UCD in their Health Sciences Library during my MLIS. After graduating I was lucky enough to get a job in Trinity in the John Stearne Medical Library where I worked part time {Mon – Fri 1-5pm} for 2 and half years before moving down to the main campus library for another 6 months. Whilst working part time, I volunteered in St. Andrews College, an IB (International Baccalaureate) school and established their primary school library. I worked in the mornings there for 6 months.

After 3 years in total of working for Trinity part time I was fed up of constantly being poor and having no disposable income. I had always wanted to work as a school librarian and had wanted to live abroad. During the summer of 2014 I applied half heartedly to a few international schools, thinking it was too late to be recruited. But low and behold I got an interview with a school in Beijing, Panama and Changchun {Where I currently live}. I wasn’t even going to do the interview for my current position, but my boyfriend convinced me to do. I ended up getting on really well with the Head of the School who interviewed me and the next day he offered me the position.

I accepted it on the August Bank Holiday Monday, told my family and on September 13th moved to China. During all my interviews, the thing they focused on was my 6 month work experience in St. Andrews, they weren’t interested in my experiences in working in Trinity or UCD. This I believe is what got my position.

"IMG_9142 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

IMG_9142 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Describe a typical day

My day starts at 7.50am when the school day begins. Throughout the day I’ll be teaching a number of classes with ages ranging from 3-18 years old. We are an IB school with students from over 30 different countries. I teach 22 classes a week in the library. The schedule varies from day to day. What I teach depends on what the students are learning in their classrooms. I primarily work with the Primary School but have classes with the other grades too. I’ve been teaching the students how to use the library, and now with my new technology how to conduct online research, I read stories etc. With my older students I bang on about referencing and citing. I think I have gotten it through to them how important it is to avoid plagiarism. I finish the day at 4.20pm.

What traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

Not sure if it is a ‘traditional library skill’ but good customer service. A smile goes a long long way. Being helpful and friendly to little people is very important. There is no room for scary old fashioned librarians.

I also wish I had cataloguing experience. There has been a few times where I’ve had to catalogue a book and I really don’t have the slightest idea how to do it from scratch. That’s been challenging and I’d like to try and find some course of guidance online for that.

What non-traditional library skills are important to have within your role?

Arts and crafts. Trying to come up with different and exciting ways to make the library visually appealing to students and visitors. I’m not very good at this, but Pinterest has been my saviour! The amount of posters I’ve had to make this year has been ridiculous but fun at the same time. I just wish I was more creative!

Teaching too! I’ve never taught anything in my life before. Its been a learning experience for sure, but I love it and am now going to get my teaching certificate online from the UK to help me further.

Are there any specific software packages or technologies you use on a regular basis within your role?

I really pushed for technology to be implemented. We had ancient Dells that no one used. I fought for 6 months to get 10 iPads and a Smart TV to be put into the library so I could teach. It was very difficult teaching 20 kids around one computer. The iPads are a fantastic resource to have. With my MYP (Middle Years Programme) students, we’ve used Adobe Voice for one project on Greek Figures, and now I’m starting a new project using the Stop Motion app on the iPad. The students, in groups are reading their selected book and then going to animate them in Stop Motion. I also got the school to purchase a subscription to EBSCO, which now makes information literacy classes so much easier! I’ll be teaching the new teachers in September how to use this.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

My predecessor wasn’t a very friendly fellow. In fact I heard he hated people coming into the library. What I love is when the teachers come up to me tell me how nice it is to be allowed to be in the library and how helpful me and my staff are. Also when parents of students come in and give me compliments about how much their children enjoy library time. I love anything that encourages and fosters a love of reading. This week we are celebrating Book Week in the primary school. We’re having a Character Parade, Spelling Bee, Book Bowl, Read your Way around the World, Open the Door to Reading {homerooms have to decorate their classroom door of their favourite book cover} and many more things. The students are so excited and so am I!

"Celebration of World Literature" by Pesky Librarians is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Celebration of World Literature” by Pesky Librarians is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Management and Internet Access.

Management is tricky because sometimes I feel like I have to fight for absolutely everything I want. For example, I wanted to hang an iPad wall mount onto the side of the bookcase. It was well received the idea, and the owners of the school were really excited by how 21st century it would look. I ordered the wall mounts, and when they arrived they were very heavy. Thus meaning a screw would have to go into the bookcase. I filled in another form asking if a screw could be screwed into place for hanging them up. I was denied. I was then told we’d have to find an alternative solution and to buy something that didn’t require screws. Its frustrating the amount of paperwork you have to fill in {but hey its China!} for simple things. If I want to request a pen, I fill in a request form. If I want to have someone repair my laptop I fill in a form. You get the picture, everything needs a form. Asking for permission gets constantly tiring, so I stop asking and just do it anyway!

Internet Access. It sucks. Everything is blocked. Teaching basic information literacy skills is virtually impossible. All teachers have their own personal VPN {Virtual Proxy Network} to access the western world. I wouldn’t be able to live without access to Netflix, Twitter and Google. I have to figure out my lessons by working around the lack of VPN. And trust me its incredibly difficult. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it or do my Info Lit classes any justice.

What are the career prospects within your area of librarianship?

I have the best job in the world. The world is literally my oyster. Working internationally as a school librarian can take me anywhere. Absolutely anywhere in the world. I’m the head librarian, so I can’t get any higher than that! One of the best things about working in an International school are the perks. My accommodation, a 2 bedroom beautifully decorated apartment, return flights annually, health care, visa provided, contract bonus are all fabulous perks. I have no bills to pay. I get collected in a bus for a 10 minute commute to work. But best of all are the school holidays. Twelve weeks a year are spent on vacation and trust me you need those 12 weeks. Working with kids is difficult! But living here in China means that travel is so easy and accessible. So far this year I’ve been to Beijing {twice}, Shanghai {thrice} & Vietnam. This summer I’ll be travelling South East Asia for 5 weeks, before a quick visit home for two weeks before school starts again.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a role in your genre of librarianship.

If you’re interested in working as a school librarian or as an international school librarian, you need to be willing to accept different cultures and different norms. Embrace challenges cause they occur almost daily. Get experience in your local school, even if they have no library, ask to set one up. All this experience is invaluable. Working abroad can be challenging and lonely. I personally don’t like the city I live in, its cold {its -25 in the winter which lasts 6 months of the year}, its dirty and the food is awful. Yet I’m making the most of it. I’m on a great salary, I save 80% of my salary each month. By the end of the school year I will have saved 15,000 Euros. I don’t think I could have managed to save that in 5 years living in Ireland. There is nothing to spend my salary on here. Eating out and the occasional drink is as exciting as it gets. It can also get lonely. Thankfully I’ve made some amazing friends here in my school and we are a little family unit. I think the best selling point is you get to see the world. I had never been to China before moving here, and I’ve seen only a fraction of it, but its been eye opening. The job opportunities are endless. And they can take you absolutely anywhere.

If you need or want to find out more information please feel free to contact me on twitter @missymoecahill

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