Sheila Thomas – TWI (The Welding Institute)

Sheila ThomasHow did you first get into the information and library profession? While I was studying science subjects at university, my mother told me she had read about a new thing – “Information Science” – and thought it might suit me. I investigated and agreed with her. It looked like a way to make good use of skills across the arts/science divide and could let me keep in touch with the latest research without having to be in the laboratory as a chemist or out in the field as a geologist.

What qualifications did you take?  There were, at that time, just two MSc courses available – Sheffield required a science degree and two modern foreign languages while I only had one at that time, but City University wanted just a science degree so I enquired about studying there. However, a job came up close to home soon after graduation which looked like the job I would be seeking after gaining the MSc, and they were willing to take me right away, so I started work instead of continuing with studies, and learnt on the job. I gained membership of the Institute of Information Scientists on the basis of experience. That mutated into Chartered Membership of CILIP when the amalgamation of the LA and IIS took place.

During my career, I have also gained professional membership of The Welding Institute, and of the British Computer Society, where my particular interest is in the Information Retrieval Specialist Group.

What is your current job title? Principal Project Leader – Business Support, but I call myself Weldasearch Manager, as this seems to me to be more informative.

What does your job involve? The main tasks are maintenance of our bibliographic database and responding to requests for online searches from members of staff and members of the institute.

Weldasearch was started over forty years ago as a way of guiding staff to the specific content of journals and books held on the library shelves at TWI. These days, the aim is the same but we source material worldwide, not limiting ourselves to the library stock. We take published material on welding and allied processes (e.g. thermal cutting, brazing, soldering, thermal spraying) and the properties of things made using these techniques. Thus our interests range from the minute joints inside electronic devices and medical implants to the huge structures in power plants, offshore rigs and bridges. We abstract articles on metallurgy, manufacturing, mathematical modelling, testing and integrity of structures, failure analysis – the full life cycle of products from design and prototyping, through service and beyond.

Our keywording follows the International Institute of Welding’s Thesaurus of Welding Terms, and I represent the UK on the team that maintains this. This takes me off to meetings overseas a couple of times each year. Each member of the team is invited to make proposals for alterations to the existing thesaurus, and any new terms that might be added. We debate the suitability of these suggestions, trying to ensure we only add concepts that are proven to be useful. It is my job to make sure that any changes we agree fit into the existing structure and to handle any effects the changes have on the existing terms and structure.

Some of the most interesting searches I am asked to carry out are to support innovation projects, perhaps new applications for known processes, or a variant of an established technique, but occasionally something entirely new, such as the friction stir welding process – it was exciting to see how this went from laboratory trial to a widely-used industrial process (it turns up now in light-bodied railway carriages and Apple mobile devices, for example). Other types of search include reviews of published work to help staff support member companies to optimise their fabrication, and searches for studies on corrosion or fatigue, so designs in future can avoid such problems.

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? I start with email, which may involve some promotional mailings that I do for UKeiG (I am on the management committee). I then get to work on editing input from our freelance abstractors – checking that the abstracts reflect the content of the papers, meet House Style guidelines and that indexing is correct. We work from a wide range of foreign language publications, some of which include no English language abstract or captions. We have several freelance abstractors who help with these, but I may need to correct the English as well as checking the technical accuracy.

After lunch I check my RSS feeds and Table of Contents emails to identify new published articles that we need to obtain for abstracting. At the same time I am looking for significant news relevant to the sector I take care of for our current awareness service – plastics and composites. Around once a week I do the same scanning from hard copy journals, CDs, books etc. Then it is back to editing.

However, at any point I may need to talk to a client about a search and then do it, using our own database or any of the ones available to us through STN, ProQuestDiaolg or the general web. I may also be drawn into meetings e.g. about information service developments or the company’s websites (I was the Webmaster for 9 years).

What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? For my particular niche, in addition to good communication and customer focus, one needs patience, attention to detail, a good science background, a good degree of IT literacy and the ability to cope with a wide range of languages by one means or another.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? Find out about opportunities outside the traditional library sphere. A good starting point is CILIP, which is running a project on Information Management.

Make use of groups including UKeiG, International Society for Knowledge Organization (ISKO) and the British Computer Society.

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