I found the placement through social media (which is why I would recommend that PhD students give Twitter a try). Torsten Reimer, the Head of Research Services at the British Library, contacted me after seeing information about my doctoral research, and we worked out a placement that would be beneficial to both of us.
The British Library are currently working on exciting new projects to develop their support for open access. As a national library, they have a responsibility to provide access to resources not only to researchers, but to a range of different stakeholders outside the academy (for instance, charities, practitioners, small businesses, citizen researchers and patients). However, we only have limited understanding of how OA might benefit these groups – something I am exploring in my PhD. Therefore, the BL asked me to conduct a series of interviews with members of staff at medical charities, to find out their views on both OA and the British Library itself.
I was made to feel very welcome by the team at the BL, especially by Torsten and his colleague Matt Hunt, and had a great time whizzing around London on the tube visiting various medical charities. Thanks to all the enthusiastic participants who gave their time (and biscuits) so generously, I ended up with a huge amount of interview data to transcribe, and a lot of new ideas.
I also got the chance to attend a couple of events for PhD and placement students at the BL, including a ‘one minute thesis’ session, which meant that I was kept very busy.
I produced a report with recommendations for how the BL could support OA outside academia, which I hope will help them in their future work in this area. I am pleased to have been invited back in the new year to present my findings to BL staff, and talk to them some more about their projects. The placement really helped me develop my thinking on how to make my PhD research useful to libraries and other organisations, and will make an important contribution to my thesis.
On a less academic note, the staff canteen at the British Library was very good and cheap, and it was lovely being able to spend a month in central London, with so many galleries, theatres and things to do right on my doorstep. I would highly recommend the experience to other research students, especially if you are able to get financial support.