Professional placement report

Section 1: About the organisation

Sydney Uni FIsher Library
Sydney Uni Fisher Library (c) 2019 Marika Simon

The University of Sydney Library is an academic library supporting one of the leading universities in Australia. Their mission is to “inspire a love of learning in order to advance the potential in everyone” (University of Sydney Library, n.d., p. 1). The library seeks to fulfil this mission in a way that expresses its values of inspiration, collaboration, integrity, respect and curiosity (University of Sydney Library, n.d., p. 2). While their chief users are the 77,000 university students, faculty, and other staff, they also serve the wider community.

The library provides users with access to information sources both physical and digital (University of Sydney Library, n.d., p.1), without which their scholarship would be impossible. In 2019, this resource provision included enabling access to 19 million ebooks and journals and the loan of 471,000 physical items. If the library did not exist, the university would lack the resources necessary for research and for teaching and learning at the tertiary level.

The library also provides safe space in which users can interact with the information resources accessed through the library and other sources. The changing nature of university study, with more emphasis on independent online learning and less on lecture theatre experiences may create a greater need for students to find learning spaces outside of traditional classrooms (University of Sydney staff, October 3, 2019, personal communication). The library provides twelve facilities, seven of which are staffed, all of which provide study space. Facilitating this role is one of the main tasks for the Learning Spaces division where I did my professional placement.

Finally, the library provides assistance in locating and using information resources effectively (University of Sydney Library, n.d., p. 1). Trained library staff are able to help users navigate the wealth of information resources effectively and efficiently. They can also provide instruction in matters related to academic integrity. These resources are essential to the proper functioning of a university and without the library, these would need to be provided through another department.

The library, as a place for the collection of, access to and instruction in effective and ethical use of information resources is essential to the function of the university. The University of Sydney’ is ranked third in Australia and forty-second globally in overall university rankings and is rated first in Australia for graduate employability (University of Sydney, n.d.), without the support of the library this reputation and perhaps the university itself would not be able to be maintained.

Section 2: Theory into practice

I enjoyed ETL500, Introduction to Educational Research, but found it hard to imagine how to undertake research in my role as a primary school teacher librarian (TL). Increasingly in schools and school libraries, there is a call to evidence-based practice, making research part of the role of information professional, such as the TL. Participating in the user experience (UX) interviews and data analysis during my practicum helped create a vision for how I can incorporate action research into my TL practice.

One of the projects in process at Learning Spaces is a renovation of the Level 2 library space at the Conservatorium of Music. Some minor redesign was done to the whole library as a result of studies done in 2016, but no major expenditure on furnishings or space redesign was done at that time. The Conservatorium of Music library is a space shared by University of Sydney and the Conservatorium High School. Of the study space on the two levels, Level 1 is mostly used by the high school and Level 2 by the university. Therefore, plans were underway to build on the 2016 investigations in order to renovate the Level 2 study space to cater for different types of study required by the university student users.

"The Con"
A beautiful spot for a bit of work – “The Con” (c) 2019 Marika Simon

The 2016 report was a mixed methods study (Bryman, 2015, p. 635) that combined quantitative measures such as occupancy and usage statistics with qualitative measures such as UX interviews. This explanatory sequential design gave the team a way to both identify issues with quantitative investigation and then attempt to explain the reasons for these issues through qualitative analysis (Bryman, 2015, p. 640). The quantitative measures were used to identify the level of utilisation of different study areas on Level 2 of the Conservatorium library. UX interviews were then undertaken to provide qualitative evidence regarding why some areas were more or less favoured for study. These interviews were then analysed by recording their dominant concepts and then using these concepts to identify major themes relevant to study space selection (Bryman, 2015, p. 391) via the creation of an affinity diagram (Weprin, 2016). Some minor changes in furniture configuration were implemented as a result of that study. Due to more pressing priorities at the time, further progress on this project was delayed.

While the changes made as a result of the 2016 study seemed to be successful, staff felt that more could be done to provide differentiation of space qualities for different types of studying. Working on the premise that study needs and space preferences were likely to differ based on the course level and type, a new UX interview questionnaire was developed that also captured demographic information such as course level, course topic, and year of study. During my placement, I had the opportunity to observe and conduct interviews using this questionnaire. Implementing UX interviewing was a valuable experience and it helped me to realise firsthand some of the challenges with this research method, such as: eliciting rich information without leading the interviewee, selecting and evaluating a sample of a reasonable size that is representative of the larger population, and approaching interviewees on a cold-call basis. This led me to a deeper appreciation for the need to describe the research process and the epistemological and ontological biases of the researcher when presenting findings (Bryman, 2015, p. 389).

Prep for affinity diagram
Getting ready to code themes for the affinity diagram (c) 2019 Marika Simon

After conducting 22 interviews over the course of sessions on two days, my supervisor and I coded the interview data by writing concepts from the questionnaire responses onto post-it notes with different colours representing different course level/topic combinations. These were then arranged in thematic groups to create an affinity diagram (Weprin, 2016). The original plan was to then use the patterns that emerged from that diagram to create different study “personas” (Dam & Siangh, 2019) based on the course levels/topics. However, when the diagram was analysed, no clear course-based patterns emerged. Therefore, we agreed to use the data to develop thematic statements to represent a more general study space “wish-list” supported by the UX data we had gathered.

This process led me to see how important conducting UX research is in the role of the information professional. Had the team simply gone with their original instinct and created “personas” for students from different courses to meet the needs that they assumed were there the changes were likely to be the wrong ones. By taking the time to gather and analyse user data, the team was able to better understand the actual needs of the users and can now create a plan to respond to actual needs and preferences rather than assumed ones.

This inspired me to incorporate UX information in the redesign of my school library. Prior to meeting with the school rebuild planning team, I had students in my library classes complete a sheet where they wrote or drew how they prefer to do four different library tasks and to draw and label a picture of their “dream library”. I entered the concepts from these responses into a spreadsheet which I have provided to the planning team, as well as using the information in our meeting.

Affinity diagram for the Con project
Affinity diagram for redesign project for “The Con” Library Level 2 (c) 2019 Marika Simon

Section 3: Critical analysis

I found great value in the placement because it included a combination of presentation, observation and hands-on experience. My supervisor commented on my abilty to “do work well under instruction and independently” (Sanfilippo, M., 2019, personal communication), which was made possible through this teaching and learning model. I feel that this combination of learning modes optimised my learning through this experience.

The University of Sydney Libraries is a vast organisation, very different from my usual work environment of a small primary school library. My placement was in the Learning Spaces division, but the placement program was designed to give me an overview of a variety of service areas in the wider organisation in addition to deeper exposure to the Learning Spaces area. It was interesting and useful to receive a presentation from the quality and compliance officer and to be given a tour of the returns room with a discussion of different practices relevant to collection development and maintenance. However, the morning of receiving a frontline services orientation presentation followed by shadowing a staff member at the information/circulation desk and being given the opportunity to fulfil patron queries was the best of my departmental learning experiences. The opportunity to combine the theoretical information with practical application gave me a more complete learning experience. I feel that I could now share a shift on frontline services successfully (though still on a trainee basis), whereas I would feel the need of further instruction and experience before undertaking a task in the other departments mentioned above.

In my main placement area of Learning Spaces, my supervisor also followed the present/instruct, shadow, practical application model. After giving me an overview of the department’s remit, he generously let me shadow him and showed me the variety of tasks that came under the heading of his daily business as usual (BAU) work. For instance, Learning Spaces is responsible for furnishings and signage in the library spaces. My supervisor showed me various emails and proposals in the pipeline for these items. He allowed me to observe and participate in communications via email and speaker phone with vendors. Finally, he passed on to me a proposal for purchasing a vinyl cutter that would support the signage creation needs of Learning Spaces as well as be a resource for library users in the library makerspace, ThinkSpace. The proposal listed seven potential vinyl cutters and I was asked to evaluate them and contribute to a discussion to propose a preferred unit for purchase. I researched the units online and through discussion with vendors and presented my findings in discussion with my supervisor and the manager of ThinkSpace. My recommendations were agreed with and the model I recommended has been ordered for the library. This combination of instruction, observation, and practical observation allowed me to perform a meaningful task for the library and effectively learn a process for evaluating and ordering materials that I have been able to implement in my school in the intervening weeks when I was given the opportunity by my principal to choose and order some flexible seating and lap desks for the library.

I was given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the work of the University of Sydney Library through the vinyl cutter purchase, my user experience interviewing and analysis for the Conservatorium of Music library, and a shelving improvement project in the Fisher Library Curriculum collection. As noted by my supervisor in his report, these experiences allowed me to develop across all three of my placement goals. While these experiences were appealing and valuable in themselves, they were even more valuable in contributing to my confidence as a member of the information services profession.

As the sole TL, and lead information services professional at my school, it can be difficult to judge my competence as part of the larger profession. Having the opportunity to learn from and work alongside other information professionals on my placement and the positive feedback received from my supervisor has given me confidence in my competence in the field. This confidence will serve me well as I continue to learn and develop in my particular role as TL in my small government primary school.


Bryman, A. (2015). Social Research Methods. Oxford University Press: Oxford. Retrieved via ProQuest.

Dam, R., & Siang, T. (2019). Personas – A simple introduction. In Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from

University of Sydney. (n.d.). Our world rankings. Retrieved from

University of Sydney Library. (n.d.). Customer service charter: University library. Retrieved November 22, 2019 from

Weprin, M. (November 13, 2016). Design thinking methods: Affinity diagrams [Blog post]. In UXDICT.IO. Retrieved from

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