Practicum Pause: an interview with Cheryl Bain

During the winter 2015 term, McGill Library & Archives welcomed several practicum students from the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS). The SIS website outlines the practicum experience as

a 3 credit academic elective course in which master’s-level students participate in field practice under the guidance of site supervisors. Students benefit from the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge base and learning in a real-world setting, while gaining experience and practicing professional skills. Site supervisors and their workplaces benefit from the energy, knowledge, and skills of an emerging information professional while providing students with a valuable mentorship experience in a real-world setting.

Library Matters took a practicum pause with these students to talk about their work at the McGill Library & Archives and how their experience may help to inform Library units as they move forward with related projects. Our second interview features Cheryl Bain. Cheryl’s practicum at the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering involved planning and conducting an evaluation of a science and engineering collection using WorldShare Collection Evaluation, interpreting e-book statistics and preparing/delivering a lecture to McGill Library staff on using the WorldShare Collection Evaluation platform.

Library Matters (LM): Tell readers a little about your practicum. What have you been working on?

Cheryl Bain (CB): Basically, my focus has been working with a statistical tool that McGill has access to, called WorldShare Collection Evaluation. First, I learned how to use the tool. I also had the opportunity to present the tool to McGill Library staff. I am now working on actually using the tool to evaluate the Physical Sciences and Engineering Collection. The Library has statistics on the circulation of materials, and using WorldShare we can now narrow things down and pick out stats for specific disciplines like chemistry, chemical engineering, or atmospheric sciences. With the tool, one can see how many items we have, what format they are in, etc. I restricted my research to print and electronic monographs. The goal is to compare subject/discipline specific library materials to enrollment statistics, such as how many students are enrolled in each major and how many students are enrolled in classes, as well as how many professors there are.

Electronic vs. Print Monographs Graph by Cheryl Bain

Excerpt of practicum findings. Courtesy of Cheryl Bain.

LM: So that you can make a proportional correlation?

CB: Exactly. For example, these statistics can help determine if we are buying too many computer science books, or that we are buying enough computer science books but there is an imbalance between electronic and print. Ideally, we would also be looking at the circulation of the e-books, but we cannot compare them directly the way the stats for “e” materials are currently formatted, so right now we are only looking at the print collection for circulation.

LM: Did you have to learn WorldShare before you could tackle the second part? If so, tell us about the process.

CB: Yes, I had never heard of WorldShare before I saw the practicum posting. It actually changed its name between the posting and my using it. It was quite interesting. I have a science background, so I am used to using statistics in a completely different context. It is interesting getting all this information in a library context, and also having to apply things from my background in a completely different way. Sometimes it has been very easy, other times it has been quite challenging. The margin of error for calculating the ordering of books was a challenge for example – how would you determine that? Someone could write a PhD thesis on that!

LM: How much time did it take you to learn WorldShare compared to analyzing the science collection?

CB: There was a lot of overlap. When I was learning to use the tool, I basically used it to look at the science material. There were some things involved with learning the tool that I am not using in the actual statistics that I will present, such as using WorldShare to compare institutions. One could compare the depth of McGill’s collection versus the depth of, say, UBC or UofT, but we are not focusing on that during this practicum.

LM: You presented the WorldShare tool to Library staff. How did it go? Were you able to give recommendations as to what could be improved in the tool?

CB: It went quite well. It was nice to have the opportunity to develop a presentation for librarians and staff members as a student-professional. I enjoy giving presentations – it forces me to think in other ways. The questions that I got make me think about things differently. I find these types of presentations very fruitful. There was one major recommendation that we emailed WorldShare. Right now to find out about circulation data, you would select all the books that were circulated 0 times, or all books were circulated more than 0 times. However, there is no easy way to know all the books that were circulated one to five times. That is a really easy piece of functionality – I was surprised to find it not included.

Practicum student Cheryl Bain at the Schulich Library. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Bain.

Practicum student Cheryl Bain at the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Bain.

LM: Overall, what did you take away from this experience? Was there a “Eureka!” moment?

CB: In terms of skills, I learned a lot. I learned how librarians actually work and think. Given my background in science, I have a very different skill set which explains some moments where things might have appeared perfectly obvious to me and were not to others. When I was writing the abstract for the talk, I had to rework my style from the purely factual, dry, scientific explanation of what is happening to something more appealing to someone who wishes to engage on a basis of professional curiosity but also personal interest. There were a couple of moments where I realized I was doing things in the wrong way. There were a couple other moments where I had to actively stop myself from breaking down absolutely every value, and basically re-assess what was important and what was not.

LM: Is there anything you wish you had known prior to starting the practicum?

CB: I wish I had known which statistics were important and which were not. However, this was all a learning experience. Even if I had known that certain values were not going to be useful, I would not have known it as deeply now. It is different knowing something as a result of experience as opposed to being told.

LM: Can you give readers an example of an interesting statistic that you uncovered in your research?

CB: The most interesting has been how the circulation patterns have been a little bit different when you compare the physical sciences and engineering to everything else. The books in physical sciences and engineering circulate a little bit more than the books for everything else. Roughly 51% of books of physical sciences in engineering have circulated between January 1, 2000 and November 18, 2014 whereas the University overall is at around 43%.  This is a big difference and begs the question: “why?” Are the physical science and engineering librarians simply weeding the books that do not circulate sooner? Is the proportion of items that are not allowed to circulate different, or is there something more fundamentally different in usage patterns going on there?

LM: What do you want to do next?

CB: I’ve been in school more or less continuously since kindergarten so the transition from student to whatever comes next is a major change and somewhat daunting. Eventually I hope to be working as an academic science librarian at one of Canada’s more prominent institutions. I’ve liked what I’ve been doing here, I’ve enjoyed seeing the interactions between my supervisors and users. I studied chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Alberta and was originally doing a PhD in chemistry here at McGill, however, part way through I realized that I enjoyed spending my time in the science library as opposed to the science lab. It’s been a great change.

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