Can you give me a brief history of your career?
I trained as a librarian and I started my career working as a trainee librarian at Leeds University Library. Then I went to Cambridge and ran a Cambridge College Library for a few years, then I went to Oxford and ran a higher education college library and IT service for a couple of years. I worked in what’s now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and then the National Library of Scotland as a Director.
What did you study at University?
I studied English Literature at Durham University and then a Masters in Librarianship at Sheffield University.
What made you get into that?
I always wanted to be a librarian. I grew up surrounded by books, my parents’ house is full of books and so I read from a very young age. I just had that real interest in books. I started working in my local public library from when I was about fifteen because we had a thing at school called “community service” where you could go and work for half a day out of class, a bit like an apprenticeship.
How did you end up at UWS?
I came to UWS in 2008 as the university librarian, so I was responsible for all the libraries on all of the campuses. I was then given the opportunity to be a Campus Director, Director of Planning and I am now Head of External Engagement. It’s about building the presence of the university in the community and having a valuable impact on the community. What we’re really trying to achieve is that UWS transforms the lives of the people who live in the area we work in. It’s a big area because we cover nine local authorities plus we are in London now too. So the challenge is how we grow our presence, how do we become much more engaged with the community? It’s a fantastic thing to be doing, no two days are the same and you never know where you’re going to be from one day to the next. For me, it’s about always challenging yourself. I am still involved in libraries, I am the chair of the Scottish Library and Information Council, which is a government advisory body for libraries. I am still very committed to libraries as a service and as a social good.
Why did you choose to get involved with the Ayrshire College Foundation?
Well, it’s something I’m very proud of as I was one of the three founding trustees of the Ayrshire College Foundation. It came about through other non-executive work that I had done. The offer to be a trustee fitted so well with what I had been doing as I had a lot of experience of how colleges work and my day job includes being the liaison for colleges for the university. I already knew a lot about Ayrshire College and the people who worked there and it seemed like a natural fit. The chance to be in at the start of something, which doesn’t happen very often, was exciting.
Why do you think social media is important?
I was a fairly early adopter of Twitter. I think for me as a librarian, social media is very much an informational tool, so librarians tended to adopt it very quickly because we could share information. I think it is important as a communication medium as well as an information medium and I’ve used it professionally to disseminate useful information to students and colleagues. It helps people make connections with other people. As far as the Foundation is concerned, I think it’s about raising awareness of what the Foundation does. It’s not the type of organisation where there’s something happening every single day but it’s about raising awareness at the right times and amplifying what’s happening in other places too and as we build our following we can start to do that. It’s important that we can promote to people that they can apply for funds and that they can go to the website to find out more information.
What did you think of the Mission Discovery Project?
Mission Discovery is fabulous. The most important thing about the event is the level of inspiration it gives people. I particularly enjoyed the open event where astronaut Michael Foale spoke to over 300 people and hearing young kids in the audience saying, “I want to do that, I want to be an astronaut” you can build on that.
A lot of what Mission Discovery does is about raising ambition and raising aspiration and getting young people thinking about all the different things they can do. Realism comes in at some point – not everyone is going to be an astronaut, but the point that Michael was making through Mission Discovery was that we also need scientists, designers, IT specialists and people to run things on the ground. There’s a famous story about NASA in the sixties, that if you asked one of their cleaners, “what are you doing here?” they would say, “I’m working to put the man on the moon” because everyone in the organisation was pointed in that direction.
So what I think you’re doing is getting people excited about the possibilities of things they can achieve and that’s the great thing about space, there’s an amazing thing about any kind of exploration, that gets people excited and anything that has a child going home and saying, “I’ve seen what I want to do” and then finding out how to do it is good. It could be space, it could be other things and what we really need to do with the projects that we fund is get them to be part of that, getting people to believe that they can be anything they want to be.
What did you think of the work done to the Student Services areas in Ayr and Kilwinning?
I think they were really good projects, it’s important to have a good environment to work in and while it’s true that good learning doesn’t depend on being in a lovely building - because great teachers are the key to good learning - but there’s no denying that if you put people in a really good space, they will learn better and engage better. The buzz and the atmosphere you create around spaces is really important. I think it was important that the College had comparable spaces on all the campuses but also that the students had a space that was really inviting and really fitted with what they needed. I think that’s what’s been achieved and I think that the projects that are coming up will do the same thing for other areas.
What type of person or group can apply for funding from the Ayrshire College Foundation?
Any group that has a really exciting educational project that fits with what Ayrshire College are trying to do can apply for funding. We are aware that there are lots of really great community groups out there that want to develop educational activity in their areas and want to have an impact on young people that struggle for funding.
I would be really keen to see applications from groups with a great idea, that will support the development of people’s skills in Ayrshire and that will help the College to fulfil its mission. We want people to feel able to come to us with their projects so that we can help unlock some of those really small but beneficial projects. I would feel that would then really begin to have an impact beyond the walls of the College. The key is to think about how it fits with what the College is trying to do so that there is an overarching ethos. Fundamentally, we want to fund inspirational ideas.