Saturday, 18 December 2010

Da boomting

The College in which I work runs a school liaison programme designed to promote participation in higher and further education.  The Schools Liaison Officer spends a lot of his time visiting schools all over the country to talk to the students about their post-16 and post-18 choices, and sometimes school groups (generally from schools within fairly easy reach of Cambridge) come to the College to see what Cambridge is really like.

When school groups come to the College they often come to the Old Library for a tour and a quick peek at some of our most interesting books.  These school groups are generally completely different to the groups we usually see in the Library.  Although we have plenty of school visits, both primary and secondary, these are usually from nearby schools, and, by definition, they come from schools that are actively seeking ways to enhance the classroom teaching with outside visits. 

The schools liaison visits are generally from inner city schools that might not be doing too well.  The groups are far more ethnically diverse than those we usually see in Cambridge, and the students often have had very little previous exposure to historical buildings and artefacts, or to the sort of cultural offer that we take for granted in Cambridge.

This disparity certainly makes the schools liaison visits a challenge for me.  I only see each group for a short period of time (usually 30-45minutes), so there's not much scope for getting to know the group, or to investigate different ways in which they might interpret or relate to the Old Library.  I'm always strongly aware that the (National-Trust-guide-style) spiel about the Library's age, origins, highlights, etc. would probably be utterly meaningless to them, so I try to spin out each session according to what they respond to.

Fortunately, I've never yet had a group that aren't interested in anything about the Library.  There's always something (or, usually, several things) that catches their attention, and so we talk about using the Library, or the use of Latin, or how books are made, or telescopes, or whatever else for the length of the session.  There has, I think, never been a visitor to the Library who wasn't impressed by our largest and smallest books, so we usually take a look at those, but the rest of the session is pretty form.

Free-form sessions are quite hard work, it's true.  You have to have a lot of information at your fingertips, and be prepared to explain it in new ways according to the base knowledge of whoever's asking.  But once you have mastered the information (and it's taken me a while to feel confident that I have), then it's great fun to be able to explore objects with which you're familiar in unexpected ways.  I really must find out roughly how many sheep it would have taken to make the parchment for our biggest book, for example!

The tour was cool. The big one [book] was great,
though the small one [book] was amazing.

Anyway, this is a rather rambly post that basically says that outreach to a group that you might initially think would be really hard work can actually be the most rewarding and enjoyable outreach that you do.  A group of north London teenagers whose slang seems quite incomprehensible to this Cambridge grad might seem intimidating, but when they leave a comment like this, it's impossible not to feel that it was very much worthwhile.

Thanks to various people on Twitter for their help interpreting slang that was, frankly, well beyond my area of expertise.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Christmas Biscuits (c) Katie Birkwood
Christmas Biscuits (c) Katie Birkwood
Calling all Cam23-ers (or others) reading who haven't already heard: banish your Thing withdrawal symptoms and mark the season of Advent with the brilliant Festive 24 Things devised and run by Damyanti and Jo.

It's a whistlestop tour, and not too demanding. So far we've looked at blogs, Twitter, Twtpoll (vote for your favourite Christmas food/drink), Delicious (share your festive links), Flickr (share your festive photos) and Prezi.

You can follow the 24 Things via @festive24things on Twitter, or by subscribing to the blog.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Brown bag lunch: 'Is the physical library redundant in the 21st century?'

At this month's Cambridge Librarians' networking/discussion 'brown bag' lunch, we took as our subject the BL/THES debate ''Is the physical library redundant in the 21st century?' held on 26 October, featuring Mary Beard, Clive Bloom, Sarah Porter, and Martin Lewis, and part of the BL Growing Knowledge project.  As well as a good summary blog post, there's a podcast, an archive of tweets, and some attendees' and participants' blog posts also available.
'Study, study, study' by pnoeric on Flickr
'Study, study, study' by pnoeric on Flickr

The topic - do we still need physical libraries - is enormously broad, and it's one that cuts to the heart of many current debates about the future of libraries (and gives me flashbacks to my very first LIS MA essay on 'the paperless library').  To be able to answer the question you need to be able to discern what the true purpose(s) and value(s) of libraries is(are).  This breadth of scope put me off listening to the podcast until the evening before the meeting, but, having braved it, I can report that I found it really interesting listening, and also a debate that wasn't so broad as to avoid all summarization.

There were several main strands that ran through each of the four speakers' pieces, and through the subsequent lengthy question session:
Physicality | Space for thinking and working | Librarians | E-stuff is great | Democratisation of knowledge | Money
We covered all of these in the brown bag discussion one way and another, and what follows is an attempt to synthesise all the various opinions and to discern my own.
'Library' by Stewart on Flickr
'Library' by Stewart on Flickr


Books are lovely objects and libraries are often lovely spaces (Mary Beard made a rather impassioned, nay passionate, defence of the library as a, quite literally, sexy space, though no-one at the Brown Bag went quite that far!).  Clive Bloom's assertion that you 'learn nothing more' by actually touching a book rather than reading it in e-form is clearly only true in some instances, and I strongly believe that special collections and book historical research are one of the major selling points for the continued existence of physical libraries.  Andy Priestner however reminded us to remember that the magic of serendipitous discovery in dusty tomes is something of a myth promulgated by academics who don't want anything ever to be weeded.

Space for thinking and working

Everyone at the Brown Bag seemed to agree that there's still demand for working space in libraries, and that in Cambridge there's still considerable demand for quiet study space.  We discussed the effectiveness of the Sheffield University Information Commons (it was great to have a recent Sheffield Graduate, one of this year's Graduate Trainee librarians) to give the student perspective of the IC - it seemed to be felt that it was a nice idea, but that it took a while for the 'policing' to make it an effective space.  Another interesting avenue of discussion centred on the 'cachĂ©' of the library space: two librarians noted that their users wanted to have non-traditional library spaces (such as IT training rooms and informal cafe-style spaces) inside the library, and not just near by.


Not all the speakers at the debate mentioned librarians, but those who did viewed them as a positive asset because of their knowledge and skills.  But we need to be marketing ourselves more so that people think of us as the 'person to ask' for help (the Judge Business School seem to be having great success with their information-service-in-the-common-room scheme).

E-stuff is great

There was general agreement at the lunch that e-resources are often brilliant, so far as they go, but that the idea that 'everything is online' was patently rubbish.  What with delays in availability of new editions of books in e-format, slow download speeds (a reader bugbear), difficulties with access and reliability, the simple fact that not nearly everything is available digitally yet, and the difficulty with, for example, browsing e-journals or e-books, mean that paper equivalents are still heavily used.  Martin Lewis said more than once that more needed to be done to inform readers that when they're using online journals and databases, they're using the library, as most don't realise that it's the library that provides the access.  It would be interesting to think further about how this could be done without making access slower or taking the user through extra, apparently unnecessary screens...

Democratisation of knowledge

This was a phrased used by Clive Bloom and Sarah Porter.  They suggested that libraries were intimidating, exclusive spaces, and that now 'everything's online' anyone could access whatever information they wanted. As I've already said, this is patently false - you can't get everything you might need with just an internet connection and free search tools.  I have more sympathy with the idea that a library can be an intimidating space, and that some users might prefer to be able to access its resources remotely.  But that fact doesn't invalidate the existence of a physical library or, more importantly, a physical librarian in it.


Quite a lot was said in the BL debate about the cost of physical storage, and the need for collaborative efforts (such as the UK Research Reserve) to manage the long-term retention of older material.  The distinction was drawn between 'elite' research libraries and general academic libraries, which will have different priorities for retention.  This isn't really news, although it's a good reminder that the general view of libraries amongst the public, students, and academics is that 'they (should) keep everything'.  If we recognise that that statement is false, that each library keeps what its users need, then the idea of collaborative retention programmes stops looking like the threat that at least one questioner seemed to view it as.  As I said at the top - central to the debate is the issue of 'what are libraries actually for' - and one answer to that is that each library is for someone, and therefor something different, and the top priority is to identify who and what.


So far as I have one, my conclusion is that, of course, libraries are hybrid spaces. People don't just use e-material or books; they use the best bits of both.  The title 'Is the physical library redundant' sets up a false dichotomy: the most important issue isn't 'phyical library' vs 'digital library' it's 'how do we ensure that our readers can meaningful access to as many of the resources that they need or want'.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Reach out!

Yesterday I attended the Historic Libraries Forum annual conference, 'Going Public: how Outreach Can Benefit Your Library'.  The programme included papers and case studies from a wide range of institutions using their special collections to 'reach out' in a wide variety of ways.  At least half my working time (and more of my working thought, I'd say) is dedicated to outreach, so I agree totally with the overarching message of the day -- that special collections/historic library outreach is vital because we have to demonstrate that special collections are a vital, and valuable, part of the library.  We need to show that we're not elitist, and that our doors are open.  By engaging with new audiences, or with current audiences in new ways, we improve the lives of those audiences, raise the profile of and improve the the image of our institution (and our own part of that institution), and we can also learn new things about our collections. 
'Reach Out!' by ~diP on Flickr
'Reach Out!' by ~diP on Flickr

Sheila Hingley started the day off with an account of the almost intimidatingly broad 'Education, Exhibitions, and Outreach' being done at Durham University Library Special Collections.  They're in the middle of a refurbishment programme which will create a dedicated, secure, exhibition space as well as an education room, a history of the book gallery, a gallery on the history of the university, and a cafe space.  The 'Treasures of Durham University' will open in January 2011 and will be desinged so that items can be replaced on a rolling programme, without having to continually re-write the whole exhibition.  The Heritage Collections have a dedicated Education Officer, initially funded through Heritage Lottery Fund money; a post common in museums, but as yet rare in libraries.  The schools offer is made through a website, 4schools, but there is also engagement with community groups, Durham Book Festival, local and family history events, and so on and so on and so on...

Mark Purcell spoke about raising the profile of the c. 170 historic libraries owned by the National Trust.  (A good proportion of these are now catalogued and available on Copac, which was a pleasant surprise to me.)  The task of managing these libraries is terribly complicated; each library is different, and came to the Trust as part of the property in which its housed.  Until recently there was very little idea as to how many libraries there were, let alone what was in them, although this has changed in recent years with a serious cataloguing effort.  One comment particularly stuck with me: Mark explained that in some properties, cataloguers worked in public view (and therefore enduring endless comments about 'medieval laptops'); although this wasn't necessarily a very convenient working arrangement for the cataloguers, it really helped to raise the profile of the library with staff and volunteers at the property, as well as the visitors.

The third talk that really made an impact on me was the last of the day.  Patti Collins spoke about work to utilise and promote the 'Treasures' of Manchester Central Library.  I found her talk really inspiring; she said that the special collections had at one point been viewed as elitist by the local council, and the Library had decided to overturn this view by making the special collections accessible to the public.  Patti pointed out that the books in a public library service belong 'to the people', and that the people should be able not just to see them, but to touch them.  The 'Treasures' programme has focussed on books with high visual appeal, to help overcome barriers of literacy and language, and they've held events for all ages and backgrounds in which visitors are allowed, invited, to handle the books themselves.
'1598' by Ian Sane on Flickr

This presentation prompted the (inevitable) discussion of access vs preservation, about which books were suitable to be handled, about the risks involved in letting people touch them, and about the requirement to preserve books for future scholars.  Concerns about damage and security are, of course, warranted, but it's all a matter of context.  In a public library, with books that aren't the only remaining copy of a text, I think it's superb to allow hands-on access.  In some academic settings, this might not be possible for one reason or another.  I think, however, that libraries should be looking seriously at developing handling collections of books, in the manner of museum handling collections.  Whether these would be replicas showing different binding structures, or 'real' books deemed to be sufficiently non-rare to allow handling, or a combination of the two, this would allow us to escape the endless, circling worries about damage, and move on to more productive topics such as 'how will we actually reach out, and who will we reach?'.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Passion, Persuasion and Persistence

Last Tuesday I went to an 'intensive session' organised by the CILIP East of England branch on the subject of word-of-mouth marketing in libraries.  Annie has already written-up a summary of the day, so I'll restrict myself here to a few thoughts about some of the issues raised.

The one sentence that stuck with me the most came from Jenny Salisbury's introduction to her presentation 'Frontline advocacy: making it happen':
It's not all about how the customer fits into our services but rather about what the customer needs and how we meet those needs.
Like much good advice, this statement seems at first glance to be almost redundantly self-evident.  But when you start to think about your day-to-day working life, can you honestly say that this is an attitude that's always maintained (another theme from the afternoon session was the difficulty of evaluating customer service levels: people might say, and indeed think, that they're giving excellent service, but that's not always how an objective observer might see it)?  When new staff join a service, does their induction focus mainly on *what* you do, or does it look at *why* you do it like that and what it is that users/readers/customers/members use you for?  How often to do hear someone expressing mild annoyance at a customer request that's above and beyond the standard service you offer, rather than view it as an opportunity to modify the service to include this sort of request?
'death metal monkeys' by brum d on Flickr
'death metal monkeys' by brum d on Flickr

This isn't intended as a criticism of any person or service in particular, but as an illustration of what hard work it is to keep service levels high.  To prevent the development and spread of bad habits, everyone needs to understand the reasons for the required standards of service, and new staff need to be thoroughly trained.

We also need to keep re-evaluating what it is that our customers need.  In academic libraries (certainly in Cambridge Colleges) it's easy to slip into mindset that we know what we're there for, and therefore not to think about developing new services, or new ways of delivering traditional services.  It's also tempting to think that 'they (the readers) should know/be able to work out how to do that', whether 'that' is using the catalogue/the photocopier/the printers, or finding a book on the shelf, or searching Jstor, or whatever.  This is an obviously silly attitude, and, while it's not always easy (or flattering), the best way to improve everyone's experience is to try to work out *why* they find it difficult, and then try to make it easier.

The main thread of the day is that people are naturally inclined to tell others about bad service much more readily, and that we need to make sure that we're giving them fuel for good word-of-mouth publicity.  This is clearly a laudible aim.  There was a subtext that this would also help as an advocacy, not just marketing, tool.  It's not necessarily the case that good customer service will make our customers into advocates for our service, although focussing service on the most important statekholders can at least raise the profile of the library, and may help make an impression on Those Who Make The Decisions.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Is this a plant sale, or is this art?

Today I visited Kettle's Yard gallery in Cambridge for the penultimate day of an exhibition of the art of American composer John Cage, 'Every Day is a Good Day'. It's been ages since I was last in Kettle's Yard, and that's a scandal - I always have a great time when I'm there, whatever the exhibition, and this visit was no different.  More about Cage in a bit, but first, I have to share what is probably one of the oddest things that has ever been said to me in a gallery (or anywhere else, for that matter):
'Take a pot plant. Listen to the plant.* Don't do what you want to do, do what the plant wants.  Find out where in the exhibition it wants to go, and put it there.'
'query' by jenny downing on Flickr
'query' by jenny downing on Flickr

Laid out on a table were a range of pot plants - some herbs, some succulents, some grassy, some bushy - looking for all the world like a stall at a church fete.  But these weren't for sale; they were all waiting for someone to take them, to listen to them, and to home them somewhere in the gallery.  And, true enough, the minimalist spaces of the gallery were bedecked with plants - some right next to paintings, some in the middle of spaces, some tucked into corners, some nestling in each other's foliage, some with notes attached explaining that their true home was half way up that wall or on the ceiling.

The plant-placing was organised by McCormack+Gent, artists in residence at Kettle's Yard for a few days in October and November (I think they said they'd be back in a fortnight).  It's part of their current project 'Dumb Fixity'.  As well as homing vegetation, participants were asked to 'debrief' by rating themselves, their plant, and the exhibition on a number of sliding scales such as 'listening....hearing', 'handled...managed' and 'emotional...logical'. I can't claim to quite understand what the artists' description of the project means, not being very good at art-speak, but I must admit that I really rather enjoyed the experience of wandering round the gallery, plant in hand, considering its spiky greenness in conjunction with Cage's abstract, and generally somewhat brownish, works.

Did my plant speak to me?  No.  Or, if it did, I didn't hear it.  But I did manage to convince myself that there were places in which it would be happier, and places in which it would be less happy.  I didn't, for example, feel satisfied placing it near my definite favourite pieces in the exhibition - they were in a quiet side room, and I honestly thought that my plant would prefer to be somewhere busier where it could listen to and watch passers by. What this says about me, I'm not sure.

'Silencers - Prepared piano' by svennevenn on Flickr
Cage also wrote music for prepared piano.
'Silencers - Prepared piano' by svennevenn on Flickr

The main exhibition showed over 100 drawings, etchings, prints and paintings by Cage (1912-1992), known best as the composer of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, and the sort of music in which a throw of the dice determines what you play.  He turned to the visual arts late in life, and the works displayed in this exhibition all date from his last 15 years.  They were apparently created using chance in a similar way to his compositions, although I didn't manage to find out anything about the mechanics of that, sadly.  The works were also hung in the gallery according to the operations of chance, and were rehung three times throughout the exhibition's run.  The pictures were all over the place - at floor level, near the ceiling, clustered together, and leaving large areas of empty wall - and they had no captions accompanying them, only numbers (these referred to a handlist detailing title, media, date, etc.).

As at the Sainsbury Collection, it was fun to look for links between nearby pieces.  Several of the works looked to me rather like sketched maps, which reminded to think about sending something to the Hand Drawn Map Association.  Number 87, 'Soul of One Foot for Collection of Ray Kass' (1989), looked like (and I assume probably was) a shoe print in black ink.  Number 51, 'Eninka' (1986), was made from 'Smoked and branded monotype printed on gampi paper chine collĂ©', a description that doesn't really do the brownish-rust coloured markings justice.

My runaway favourite was numbers 6 to 12, 'Seven Day Diary (Not Knowing)' (1978), all hung together in a row, inconveniently just a bit too high for me too get a good look. I've a soft spot for etchings, it's true, but these were lovely. The first one was black ink on paper, and the rest were increasingly embellished with various other media and other colours. You can see them in this picture - the run of seven in a row half-way up the near wall.  There wasn't a postcard of them, of course.  There never is...

So, in summary,  Kettle's Yard is great.  Go there.  Tomorrow if you can before the Cage exhibition closes (it's on tour, so you can also catch it later in Huddersfield, Glasgow and Bexhill on Sea).  Or a fortnight today if you want to play with plants.  Or just whenever you can.

*Fans of Doonesbury might, at this juncture, be thinking of Zonker Harris but I can assure you that it wasn't *that* kind of pot plant.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Five thousand un-findable objects (a librarian's whinge)

The BBC/British Museum series 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' (AHOW) came to an end recently. A significant part of the project was the public submission to the series website of objects with personal historical significance. Some of the these objects were showcased in short 'audience stories' features on the radio in the final weeks of the series. One of these features described a family story very similar to my own family story - a story that I've rarely, if ever, before heard mentioned in the media. It was surprisingly affecting to hear this tale one morning in the middle of the Today Programme, and I was moved to go an investigate the AHOW website to find out more about the object at the centre of the story.

There are lots of excellent features on the website - it was very easy to locate the page for the object in question as it was one of the week's featured items, and alongside a picture and some text was the recording that I'd heard on the radio. Website users can also log in and leave comments on each object, and some seem to be doing so.
Picture of the Flash-powered spiralling objects timeline

So far, so good. I found the object, and found out a bit about it. Then I got adventurous and thought I might look for other objects with similar stories. The 'Explore' section of the website comes in two flavours: a flash-powered spiralling timeline version, and a list version. I'll be linking to the basic list version because I'm not sure if everyone will be able to view the flash, and the lists are easier to work with anyway.

There are several things I don't like about these 'Explore' pages, and I like to think that this reaction is born from annoyance that a good website isn't more useful, and not just some boring librarianly desire for catalogues to be complex. My complaints are as follows:
These restrictions make it difficult to retrieve an object that you know is there, and they also make it very difficult to search for objects of a specific type (to see if there are any more from country x, for example). If you're interested in a single country, town, or region, you have to wade through tens or hundreds of results to find what you're looking for. There seem to be over 5,000 objects on the site (100+ pages in this list, each with 50 results on them), and that's quite a lot of wading.  This makes me sad. There's a treasure trove in there, but I just can't work out how anyone could investigate it well.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

I do it for the...

Today I went to a CILIP course on 'Moving into management' given by Beryl Morris of Hudson Rivers Training.  (Beryl's going to be at the CILIP East of England event on Tuesday 16th November - I thought she was a great course leader, so I'd encourage you to come along if you haven't already booked.)  I found it a really useful and productive day - quite different to the rather lacklustre and uninspiring management lectures I remember from library school.

A couple of things made a particular impression on me:

1) Right at the beginning of the day, Beryl commented that 'even if you don't have the official label of 'manager', you still have to manage relationships with people - colleagues, suppliers, customers, on so on'. I don't have to much management in my current role, but, yes, I do have to deal with people, and it's useful to have structured ways in which to think about how to do that better.

What motivates you...
2) One of the major themes of the course was motivation.  We did an exercise to investigate how different people's motivating factors are all different (take home message - get to know the people you're managing!).  Out of a list of 16 factors, only 'holidays/perks' wasn't chosen by anyone present as being in their top-four.

My top four were staff development and training, creative work, direction/clarity/structure, and recognition, and it was a honest surprise to find such a variation in a room of twenty people. So, dear reader what four would you choose? (Would you add something else entirely?)

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Thing tried out for real: library podcast

I am pleased and proud to announce that St John's College Library has just uploaded its first ever podcast, a recording of a talk given last week as part of the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
'MEGAphone' by estimmel on Flickr
'MEGAphone' by estimmel on Flickr

You can listen to, and download it, from here, or use the embedded version (just to prove that I can) below.  There's an accompanying gallery of images available too.

Download or listen in other formats

All comments gratefully received.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Librarian as Teacher: moment of revelation

So, I'm a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. It's nothing to be ashamed of (I tell myself): we all have our blind spots and occasionally take a while to cotton on to the most obvious of things. I've heard a lot about the Librarians as Teachers network over the last few months, and each time it came up I've thought, 'What a lovely thing. A shame it's not relevant to me'.
I've had a lightbulb moment... (Photo from morgueFile)

Not relevant, eh? I spent Tuesday running and helping to staff a public exhibition of literary rare books and manuscripts in the College Old Library. I spent the day answering questions about manuscript production, palaeography, language change, the book as object, architectural history, and so on, and so on, and so on. In the past I've run sessions at which families learned how to build their own model astrolabe. I've shown school groups a copy of Kepler's diagram of the heliocentric solar system and talked to them about cosmological theories.

Not relevant?

I don't know what I was thinking: I do library outreach for a living. If I worked in a museum, it would be called 'education', not 'outreach'. Maybe I'd have got the message more quickly then. It's not necessarily the 'teaching' that you might first think of a librarian doing: information literacy rarely features on my 'curriculum', but it's certainly teaching of a kind.

I've joined now. Better late than never, eh?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

On anonymity

I started this post hoping that it would be summary of last night's very interesting and enjoyable Cambridge Library Group discussion forum about the Cambridge 23 Things programme run during the summer. But the post had a mind of its own, and has morphed into one that I have been meaning to write almost since I started this blog, on the subject of anonymity online. This was one of the major topics discussed at the CLG meeting, but not the only one, and I'm sorry for not doing justice to other topics such as what we might do to carry on the cam23 learning momentum, the rate of Web 2.0 change, or evaluation skills for librarians. I'd be very happy if other attendees wanted to comment on those other aspects here or elsewhere, and, as ever, welcome comments from all comers on the contents of this post.

At the meeting some people expressed the opinion that they didn't like the number of anonymous blogs in Cam23, and that, by extension, they do not like people having 'anonymous' identities online.  This was an opinion that I've heard before, including during 23 Things, but it's one that's quite different to my own.

Thoughts personal

When I started this blog back in June this year, I made the deliberate decision to make it anonymous.  I did this for a number of reasons:
  • Because it would be easy to change my mind and attach my own name to the blog, but impossible to do that in reverse. Initial anonymity was a good hedging-my-bets option;
  • Because I felt that the blog started out as a place to reflect on Things, not a place to reflect about me. I didn't think that my opinions would be significant enough to librarianship or the world at large to warrant being traceable to me;
  • Because I wanted to make my mistakes in private. This is my first blog, and my first real foray into Web 2.0 as creator rather than consumer, and I thought that if I'd be more likely to experiment fruitfully if I thought no-one could identify me with my errors.

Thoughts general

There are a multitude of other reasons for remaining anonymous online, far more than those I cite above. Few of these seem to me truly troublesome, outside deliberate impersonation of others and attempts at fraud, although many may give those in positions of power and responsibility cause to think. If someone is blogging anonymously about a service which you suspect may be your own, I can understand that you might be interested to know who they are. But, equally, I can see why they wouldn't want you to know...

It's worth considering that there are many different kinds of 'not-using-your-own-name' on the internet - thus far I've been using 'anonymity' in an unhelpfully broad-brush sense:
  1. True anonymity in which there's no consistent identity and no trail: this might be posting comments as 'anonymous', without any identifying name or image.
  2. Complete pseudonimity, consistently applied. This might be someone with a clear online identity in one place or across several places, such that their views can be examined over time, though there's no way of working out who their offline persona is.
  3. Pseudonymous but identifiable to those in the know. A consistent identity with enough details relased that those nearby in the offline world can identify the person.
The next stage in this sliding scale, which is outside the realms of anonymity but still relevant is the use on an online moniker in association with a real name.

'Venetian Carnival Mask' by gnuckx on Flickr
'Venetian Carnival Mask' by gnuckx on Flickr
These formats are good for different things. Posting as 'anonymous' is no way to get your views listened to seriously - with no back story it's hard to evaluate the worth or possible motives of a comment. But the other variations all have their uses. A pseudonymous writer might not inspire confidence at first, but as an identity is built up over time their values, knowledge and biases can all be evaluated. Knowing someone's 'real name' might seem like an easy way to sidestep that process - surely then, especially if they're in your institution, you can use information about their job, interests, previous contact you've had with them, and so on, to interpret and understand what they write online. That's true, but it's also a very easy way to pre-judge what you think they're going to say. I really enjoyed the anonymity of much of Cam23, because it meant that I could read and be read on the worth of what was written and what I wrote. I didn't fall prey to thinking 'well, x works at the y library, so he/she would say that...', and I was hopefully saved from some of that myself. That sounds a bit paranoid, I know, but I wonder if it isn't also true, at least to some extent.

Having multiple identities isn't a new, web-based phenomenon. It's something most people do in most of their lives: one persona for work, one for home; one for friends, one for family; one for older relatives, one for younger siblings... the list goes on.

Thoughts personal, redux

These days, as you may have noticed, this blog isn't anonymous - my name, in all its distinctive-surnamed-glory, is up there in the profile information. So why the turnaround chez Girl in the Moon?
  • I wanted to participate in Library Day in the Life, and my job title and role is so distinctive that naming or describing it pretty much names me. So I included my name and job title on the Library Day in the Life wiki, and described my job and place of work here on the blog.
  • I got involved in organising the Cambridge Librarians TeachMeet through commenting on blogs as Girl in the Moon, but the organising, and the event, happened in the offline world. At that point it became silly not to associate Girl in the Moon with Katie, at least in TeachMeet spaces such as the wiki.
  • Once I'd done that, there was little point really maintaining the pretence over here. These days the blog has a more general professional development and reflective focus, and on Twitter I've got to know a range of librarians some of whom I meet at CILIP and LISNPN events. If I'm going to network with people then they will want to know my name so it might as well be available to them.
  • Ultimately, I feel more confident now, in my technical skill and in my opinions. I'm happy for people find this online me and associate it with the offline me they might already know. Social medai presences are said to be an important personal and professional marketing tool, and I'll be hunting for jobs soon, so every little helps.
  • Oh, and it's also just easier not to have to self-censor identifying information.

Final thoughts (and a new cat among the same pigeons)

At the CILIP New Professionals Day and the LISNPN meet-up that evening there was some discussion about the value of having one's own picture as an avatar. Clearly having a mugshot as an avatar makes it easier for people you've not met before to recognise you, but a comment was also made that it's good to be able to look online people in the face when communicating with them. Again, there seemed to be some hostility to people who have pictures of cats, fish, cartoons, or whatever else to represent them. Is it duplicitous not to reveal if you're fat or thin or blond or auburn or black or white or green? I'm not sure how much it impedes communication if your consistently used avatar is not actually *you*.

With my personal name online I wonder why I feel cagey about putting my face up there to match, but for the time being I'm staying a brown-ish book, not least because it's a tad more aesthetically appealing...
Bibliography of posts that have inspired this post:
Thing blogging, 'Batgirl and me, or, The disorder of multiple personalities'
The mongoose librarian, 'Who *was* that masked mongoose?'
Discovery, 'Identity Crisis'
Books make noise, 'The paranoid post - or why I enjoy Librarians as a community of pure spirits'
Phil Bradley, 'Yes, but what's your real name?'
Jack of Kent, 'On blogging pseudonyms'

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Back to school

Today I went on a visit to the Library of Harlington Upper School as a guest of the school librarian Jenny Horler. I hadn't been into a school library since I left school some ten years ago, so I was very interested to see Jenny's library, all the more so for having heard some of her thoughts about school to university transitions at last month's TeachMeet.
'School Room' by Rob Shenk on Flickr
'School Room' by Rob Shenk on Flickr

It's unwise, of course, to form an opinion on a sector based on a single example, but I'm probably on fairly safe ground when I say that school librarianship is noisy and busy.  I don't know what I was expecting, really: I'm sure my own school library wasn't nearly as quiet and peaceful as I vaguely remember it being, and I'm certainly not sure that the peace that I think I remember was the product of high levels of library use.  I don't necessarily think the levels of activity I saw were a bad thing, but, *boy* it does look like hard work!  And really, although we sometimes complain about undergrads being high maintenance, they have *nothing* on 1400 13 to 18 year olds all clamouring for printing, stationery supplies and the rest...

The library serves a lot of purposes, not all of which can easily co-exist.
  • As a place, it's used as:
    • a study space;
    • a social space;
    • a ‘safe haven’ (schools are tough places);
    • an extra teaching and form room;
    • as an extra IT room.
  • It's expected to provide physical and electronic resources to support:
    • general study and coursework across all subject areas;
    • higher-level research for Year 13 Extended Projects;
    • literacy and reading for pleasure for a range of ages, reading levels, and tastes.
  • The librarian has to be able to:
    • teach study, research, and critical thinking skills and techniques;
    • troubleshoot IT problems;
    • keep control of up to 60 pupils in the library at one time;
    • recommend resources to meet any of the needs listed above;
    • help with school work and university applications;
    • find time for the standard library work of ordering, processing, shelving, tidying and weeding books.
All libraries serve lots of purposes, of course - I'm not trying to say that school libraries are special in that regard. But I did notice in particular that in a school setting there seems to be a feeling that the library's there for *everyone* to use however and whenever they want it. That leaves the library feeling like a vibrant and vital place at the heart of the school, but it's clearly also difficult for the librarian to manage successfully.  At what point does 'vibrant'  make it impossible to work or teach in there?

My trip back to school was inspiring. It's great to see so many people coming through a library throughout the day, and to see the various ways (such as using Delicious for subject-specific lists of links) in which the librarian makes a difference to the pupils who use the library, whether that's by getting them hooked on reading, helping with writing personal statements, or just by providing a welcoming place to spend some time.  I just wish that I'd made better use of my school librarian back in the day...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Library Roots and Route

I have been meaning to write my own contribution to the Library Routes Project ever since I heard about it (which was, admittedly, only a couple of months ago).  I'd been putting it off because I wanted to have a proper read of some other people's (not least Emma's and Niamh's) before I committed my story to the screen. I have, however, received a request to write about my route into special collections work, so I'm forging ahead now, feeling somewhat under-prepared.
Photograph of a library building and a large treewith extensive roots.
'Library' by smastrong on Flickr


Yes, I was the child who spent a lot of her school days organising the books in the story area, and I'm the annoying adult who is forever jumping up from the dinner table to check dictionaries and encyclopedias for the answers to obscure queries.  But it took me a while to realise that librarianship was for me.

After a school career in which many subjects interested me, I took a BA in music with no fixed idea of what I would do with it afterwards (my only stipulations being that music teaching *wouldn't* be for me), and by the Christmas of my third year I was starting to feel really quite alarmed about the vagueness of my future.


For my BA I chose to study a few papers about the transcription of medieval music, which included consideration of the material texts through which the corpus is transmitted to us.  In plain English that means we occasionally got to look at real medieval manuscripts, and spent a good deal of time peering at photocopies of facsimiles of them.  I was hooked - palaeography enchanted me, transcription absorbed me, codicology fascinated me...

But how to get more of it?  One answer would have been a career in academia, but that seemed like a lot of hard work and rather an insecure way to earn a crust.  I decided instead that a career *looking after* these wonderful old tomes was a better choice of activity.  And, I reasoned, I like organising information, and I like finding things out for people, so maybe librarianship was a good choice for me.*

First steps

Having hit upon libraries I tried to get as much work experience as I could fit in around sitting my finals.  I volunteered at my local home library in the Christmas and Easter vacations, and after the exams finished I spent a week helping with the Faculty's annual stock check.  I applied for some graduate trainee positions in Cambridge, and was interviewed for some, but not selected for any.  I suspect a lack of experience and awareness of current library issues may not have helped my applications.

My first proper library job was as a book fetcher at the University Library.  Book fetchers collect readers' requests for closed-access materials and scurry around the behind-the-scenes maze to find it and bring it to the reading rooms.  It's not a glamorous job, it's not very well regarded by the other library staff, and it can be real hard physical work on the busy days fetching bound newspapers from the 1930s.  But working in a large library you do get to see, out of your peripheral vision at least, lots of different types of library work, and to learn how they all fit together.  I was lucky enough to be stationed in the manuscripts department for some of my term, which gave invaluable experience of handling rare material and of customer service helping readers interpret myraid catalogues and listings.

I applied to, and got a place on the MA course in Library and Information Studies at UCL, because it had historical bibliography and manuscripts modules, and because there was the option to study part-time, which I intended to do while continuing to work in Cambridge.

'library on route 66' by fabi_k on Flickr

Onwards and Upwards

In August 2006, after a year at the UL, and just about to start the MA course, I was appointed to a library assistant post for a collection of theological colleges in Cambridge. This role gave me experience of many different areas of library work including circulation, cataloguing and classification, user training, project work. There was also the opportunity to work on listing a small collection of early 19th-century letters held by one of the colleges.  Although relatively few institutions have dedicated special collections staff, very many do seem to have some special collections hidden away somewhere or other.


I hadn't intended to change jobs again until after I'd completed my MA, but in late 2007 I saw a job advertised that really appealed to me.  I nearly didn't apply: I thought it wanted skills and experience that I didn't yet have.  A friend scoffed when I suggested letting it pass, and so I crafted my CV and application to make the most of the special collections and project experience that I already had, and made by bid to become Hoyle Project Associate.  Wonder of wonders, my application was successful, and I was appointed as the person responsible for bring the Hoyle Project into being.  (The moral of this tale is to always have a go, even if you think you won't get it.)

The Hoyle Project is a Heritage-Lottery-funded, three-year project to catalogue and make accessible the papers of the astrophysicist and science-fiction author Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), which were given to the College in 2002.  The post requires archival cataloguing skills (using a locally-developed database), and a whole gamut of outreach, public engagement, communication, curatorial, imaginative, and project-management skills.  As part of the role, I have organised a number of public events, hands-on activities for families and schools, online exhibitions, and special interest group visits, all more and less explicitly linked to Fred Hoyle.  I've also helped with the day-today running of a historic library and reading room.  One of the joys has been uncovering items from elsewhere in the special collections that can be drawn together to illustrate particular topics (generally the history of astronomy), and also, hopefully, inspiring colleagues to continue with the library's programme of outreach work, including the subject areas I've been working in, after the end of the project.

It's a great job to have (I only wish it weren't fixed-term), and still, 30 months in, I'm so pleased to have it.  The only downside is that far more could be done than I'll ever have time for.


The Project is due to end at the end of March 2011, so I will soon be looking for a new post.  I'd definitely like, if possible, to stay in a special collections and/or outreach role, although I fear that there's no space for being fussy in the current climate.  In an effort to evaluate my skills, and to develop them further, I'm currently working towards Chartership.  As well as obtaining a further professional qualification, I hope that this will help the job hunt by improving my ability to analyse and match my skills to the requirements of advertised post, and just to have more experience to make me suitable for roles.


Five years ago I had very little idea where a career might take me.  I hoped that it would involve special collections in some way, but I was, frankly, scared of what the modern world might be bringing with it.  I would never have thought that I'd been working in outreach (sometime with school children, no less!), nevermind that I'd be enjoying it and looking to continue in the same area.  Now I can't imagine working in a special collections role that doesn't involve some element of outreach work.  What, after all, is the point of having lovely things if no-one ever gets to know of or see them?

*I'm also fond of sensible shoes, tweed, have short hair, look grumpy, wear glasses and like cardigans, but I'm trying to shy away from stereotypes here.

ETA 11 May 2012: You might also be interested in this slideshow, A Special Collections Career Path, and this prezi (or pdf), Special Collections Librarianship: A Brief Map of the Field.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Dragged kicking and screaming into the future...

I'm just back from the New Professionals Information Day (#npid2010) organised by the CILIP Membership Support Unit for people thinking about a LIS career, starting out in the sector, at library school, or recently graduated with their MA. The first thing I noticed was that suddenly I'm old. I graduated MA *two* whole years ago now, and a lot happens in just a few years when you're near the start of a career.

'Architecture - Futuro UFO' by watz on Flickr
'Architecture - Futuro UFO' by watz on Flickr
It was mentioned more than once during the day that no-longer-new professionals wished they'd had a day like this when starting out. I agree with that sentiment, but I'm really not sure how the me of 5 years ago (when I was just starting my first library job) would have received npid2010. Actually, I'm not event sure what the 2008-(just got an MA)-vintage, or even the start-of 2010-(should I get round to Chartership)-vintage would have thought.

The day was relentlessly forward looking, and, fundamentally, I'm a special collections aort-of person, and as such, have a tendency to want to retrench back to about 1650 when everything was much simpler... (cue consort of viols in a wistful mode). Not-so-long-ago Katie would have balked at being told that everyone (in the library) needs quite a bit of tech knowledge (Ned), that libraries aren't about books - they're about the information/knowledge held in them, and therefore about power (Phil), that there are academics crying out for 'embedded librarians' to help with impact ratings and article submission (Nicolas). I'm not sure I quite entered the library world naively believing that 'librarians spend their time just looking after shelves of books', but I've been too eager in the past to retreat to the position that 'special collections will always have nice tangible books-as-artefacts in them, so maybe I don't need to worry about the future too much'. That is a position that's easily maintained when cocooned at work fetching beautiful old books for scholarly readers.

But I am already working the future, helping to redefine how libraries do what they do: using the beauty, historical significance and human interest of our special collections to attract all sorts of people into the library, to offer them 'learning opportunities', and to demonstrate that the worth of the library is greater than its (undoubtedly significant) value to serious academics. To be fair, there's not a lot of techno-wizardry involved in that, so it doesn't look immediately 'modern'*. When Phil Bradley declaimed that this is the most exciting of times to be an information professional, rare books librarianship may not have been at the forefront of his mind, but that doesn't mean I can continue to hide myself away.  In fact, I don't really want to: brave new world, here I come!

P.S. I also enjoyed the LISNPN meet up in the evening. Thanks to WoodsieGirl for organising it.

P.P.S. Thanks to Phil Bradley for quoting "Libraries are brothels for the mind" in his keynote. I'll be using that in future...

* But I suspect that a lot of online, social media tools are as yet under-used for the promotion of special collections and the like. As I've written before, I really must find out what more adventurous institutions are doing with blogs, flickr, interactive catalogues and the like, and work out how I can get involved.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Round and round the gallery...

We interrupt your usual library programming to bring you art.
Figure of a walking hippopotamus
© Copyright Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Last week I visited the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA) which is part of the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Quite aside from being interesting professionally and as a potential inclusion in my Chartership portfolio, it was a really lovely day out. I’ve been to Norwich before but never ventured out to the UEA campus, and I’m glad I didn’t leave it any longer.

The SCVA is housed in a spectacular 1970s Norman-Foster-designed building. Although not a problem-free edifice for those who work there, the large open-plan grey-and-white space is surprisingly attractive and successful despite its superficial similarities with Stansted Airport. The public can visit for free the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, the UEA Collection of Abstract and Constructivist Art, Architecture and Design, and there’s a small charge for a changing programme of special exhibitions. The SCVA also houses the UEA departments of World Art Studies (including an extensive slide and photograph library) and Museology, the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (including its own library and individual allocated study spaces for MA and PhD students).

The Sainsbury Collection comprises modern art pieces by artists such as Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon, as well as art from across the globe by which many of the represented modern artists were inspired. It is displayed in a gallery space known as the 'Living Area', in the objects are arranged by broad geographical groupings, and in which textual interpretation is kept to a minimum. Visitors are invited to explore the galleries according to what catches their eye and their senses. This was described to me by a member of gallery staff as being a space in which visual communication is key.

I found this hands-off approach initially quite intimidating - I'm a gallery visitor who likes to have lots of text handy in case I 'need' it. I (think) that I like to be able to find out who/what/where/when anything is, and feel reluctant to start exploring if I can't find that out easily. However, when let loose in the gallery I found that my eye was drawn to individual pieces, and that from those I led myself to others, looking for connections between them. The acknowledged link between the modern and 'world' pieces encourages that approach - it invited the visitor to look for (potential) influences and visual relationships.

My eye -- as often in galleries -- was drawn to drawings, to simple lines, and (above all) to animal figures. I made a long list of my favourites in the hopes that I could link straight to their catalogue records, but alas that isn't possible*. But here are links to a couple that have special pages, and a few similar objects in other collections:
I had a fun and thought-provoking time exploring the gallery. These and other objects caused me to think back to other museum and gallery visits, to recall stories, poems and jokes ("erk, erk goes the hippopotamus!"), and to reflect on apparent similarities across times and cultures. But I was left feeling like maybe I should be taking something more than a perhaps childish delight in representations (realistic and not) of animals away from a visit to such an interesting and significant collection. Even with the assurances that I was to investigate the gallery in whichever way I liked, I still feel a little as if I needed explicit curatorial text to 'justify' whatever I found of interest. But I'm odd like that.

*For my future reference, at least, here are the object numbers of my favourites: 575b, 892, 377, 365, 337, 149, 150, 1029, 996, 124, 664a, 1136, 722, 1137, 68, 48, 306, 587, 57.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Facebook: some informal research

In July, prompted by cam23 discussions about Facebook, I posted a question on my Facebook status asking what people thought about libraries being on Facebook. The results were quite interesting; although most people were initially sniffy about Facebook being used by proper institutions like libraries, many came round to the idea that there's some value in library presence there. I presented the results of this survey at the inaugural Librarians' TeachMeet held yesterday on 27 September 2010, and both the presentation and the full survey text are reproduced below.

Here is the full text of the survey. Respondents' have been anonymised to protect the innocent.

Katie Birkwood

Friends - a question. Would you look for information about libraries (public or academic) on Facebook, and why/why not?


Facebook is for social enterprises, not business or educational. Personally, I hate it when companies etc use facebook. Twitter on the other hand....

Katie Birkwood

Thanks PB. Do you consider a library to be in the same bracket as a company in this instance then? (Am actually genuinely interested in this, so other people please answer too!) If you were still at uni, would you be against a uni/faculty/department presence, too?


I would just type it into Google or Wikipedia because facebook searches only ever bring up weird Americans and also facebook will then post library-related adverts on your page every time you log in.


Not by default...
I usually only really want either opening or catalogue information.
For the latter, I'd go direct to the institutional website.
For the former... unless I had evidence to the contrary I'd expect a library facebook site to be a relatively low priority in terms of keeping information current (such as revisions to opening hours for out-of-term or closures for re-decorating/stockchecks) and as most (especially most small) organisations seem to have trouble keeping all their public facing pages up to date I wouldn't rely on any info I found there.
On the other hand, for a library that was a small part of a larger organisation (whether that were a college, university, or county network of public libraries) a facebook page might be more readily and immediately edit-able by the staff on the ground, in which case it might turn out to be more current and thus more useful, and if I became aware that were the case I wouldn't have a problem with using facebook to look for information.
Until recently it wouldn't have occured to me that libraries might be on facebook (tho' when I think about it L' has been friends with N library for aaages). I guess if I were looking to use a public library as the sort of public space that might contain a CHaOS event I might have a look to see if it had a facebook presence, in which case I'd want to know if it looked friendly-and-helpful (and what the names of the helpful-and-friendliest looking people were) before calling/writing to them.
Sorry, stream of conciousness. Might have a more coherent set of thoughts another time.

Katie Birkwood

Stream-of-consciousness fine, and very interesting too, esp re: CHaOS. (Have you ever had an event at a library?)


Noo-oo.. we looked at one, once, I think, but the dates didn't work out (or they didn't have enough space, or they closed at lunchtime on a Saturday, or something). But it's a nice idea.

Katie Birkwood

It is a *very* nice idea. But logistics are such pesky things. (And, cos I have to ask - what proportion of your experiments are clean enough for library space?)


Most of them are non-messy, really... there are half-a-dozen of the ones we take on tour that aren't, I should think.
The messy ones just get discussed more because we have to spend more effort on thinking about where and when we can use them.
More of an issue would probably be power sockets (tho' I guess the modern computer-filled library has lots of those, too).


I think I would prefer to google and go direct to the libraries information page on the council / uni website , but I guess if you have events that you want to notify people about, a facebook group with event notices could be useful

Katie Birkwood

HS - not sure how many library adverts are circulating in Facebook land ;-) But interesting point, nevertheless (especially about quality of Facebook search)

HW - thanks.


I agree with most people up here in part :-) For general information such as 'where is my nearest library?', 'what are their opening times?' etc. I would just go straight to Google, I don't see Facebook as a reference tool at all, it's social for me. However, if I was already a member of my local library then I would be tempted to join a facebook group about it in order to recieve updates about events etc.


wonders if you can 'book' a library?


RE getting updates on "events" at libraries... isn't that an oxymoron?


is a oxymoron a stupid bovine?


I would become a fan of my department library if I was still at uni, to keep in touch with what was going on there. And if I didn't work it would be useful to know what was happening at my local library in London, but I hardly get there to borrow books let alone do anything else, so there wouldn't be much point at the moment. I like the Science Museum pages on Facebook, and it's not so different, and I've been to the British Library to see the exhibitions but not for research.


No TM, that's a Silly Cow!

Katie Birkwood

CB and RD - thanks for interesting comments.

PB - if you think events in libraries are an oxymoron, then you should go and visit your local library more! I bet they have lots of events, and there's bound to be something that F might enjoy either now, or in the near future. *dismounts from high horse*

TM - um, hi!


often tells his pupils to go to the library to do homework. Sadly most don't know where it is.

Katie Birkwood

>:-( That's pretty awful. But good on ya for telling them about it!


we have a new library in H - looks smart and often see people going in.


Do we actually need libraries anymore now that we have the Internet; namely Wikipedia? (feels a wrath of protests approaching...)


I decided to put my library on because I know that students are more likely to check facebook and see what we're up to via their news feed than go on our library website! It's also useful for updating students about things that we wouldn't necessarily put on our website (eg new electronic resources that the UL have bought that might be of interest to them). By posting updates every now and again, it also shows that we are being active, keeping abreast of the latest issues and actually doing work outside of term time (which I don't think the students are aware of!)
And also, I have to say, it is a bit of a marketing ploy. As we know, most people don't understand what it is we do with our days and so any avenues that we can take to publicise what we do with our time is a good thing in my opinion!


The way in which we perceive Facebook, in contrast to other potential sources of information, hinges to some extent on an subjective/objective distinction, in that we associate Facebook with people’s opinions and self-presentation, rather than with factual information deriving from a intellectual broader ambit. (When knowledge of this less-personal kind is cited, links to other sites are usually provided.) But when institutions, rather private individuals, come to acquire a ‘corporate’ presence, things begin to change, since the range of information which they can certify becomes much greater. A library knows its opening hours (or, say, its acquisitions policy) with the same reliability, one would hope, that a person knows their date of birth. What bearing do these considerations have, I wonder, on how users perceive Facebook? How ought their perceptions to take account of a resource which straddles the personal and the corporate? The site derives its name through an analogy between books and people. If a substantial sub-community of users were to focus their interest on libraries, then would there not be something which could be referred to as ‘Bookbook’?

Katie Birkwood

DR - Or would, perhaps, the overwhelming subjectivity, nay frivolity, of Facebook in fact undermine the library presence, leaving us not with a corner of Facebook that shall be forever Bookbook, but rather a corner of the metaphysical library that is no longer biblio- but rather sociographical?

PB - Yes, we do still need libraries.

CS - thanks. Do you get much reader interaction on facebook?


not a lot - readers 'like' the stuff we put on but that's about it. I think it'll be our library's foray into web 2.0 though - otherwise there'll be too many different interfaces to update and readers will get confused. I wouldn't bother with twitter, for example..


I want Bookbook!

Katie Birkwood

BOOKBOOK! It's really fun to say. bookbook bookbook bookbook. How long before the men in white coats turn up?


erm... not long... I've made the relevant phone-call ;-)

*Facebook discussion ends*

Offline discussion

I also asked three people in person what they thought about the same question - "would you look for library information on Facebook" - and here are my notes of their responses.

“KB: [asks the survey question]
D: No, because I associate it with social networking
KB: But you’re friends with the English Faculty library.
D: Yes, but I saw that more as a newsfeed… a way to be told news.
KB: You’d go to the library website for info, but might exprect English Faculty library facebook to send out news of changes, etc.
D: Yes
KB: Do you get emails from the library?
D: Yes, occasionally
KB: Do you expect to get different information from emails and Facebook?
D: Yes. I have both so that I find out about the whole range of what’s going on. Both more and less important/serious.”

"KB: [asks the survey question]
E: *looks perplexed* no. If I was looking for an archive I'd search for "archives UK" - if institutional, would look at the Uni or Council webpage.
KB: If a library you used had a Facebook presence would you...
E: No. But my uni does, and lots of my friends are friends of it - they have info about exam term extra desk space etc. Basically I'm to lazy to be friends with them."

"KB: [asks the survey question]
G: No. I don't think of it as somewhere for information, but for somewhere to find out about peoples' summer holidays. I think of Facebook as 'low brow'. Would look at the university website/the UL resources/the BL for information. Is there a central website for public libraries? No? There should be."

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Open Sesame

St John's College Library, one of 17 taking part.
Looking for something to do in Cambridge this weekend? Then why not visit some of the Departmental and Faculty libraries open to the public as part of Open Cambridge. 17 libraries are opening, completely free, for all or part of Friday 10th and Saturday September. Some are old, some new, some famous and some obscure. I can't pick my favourites to mention here - all are interesting and worth a visit!

This is the third Open Cambridge weekend to have been organised by the Community Affairs team in the University of Cambridge Office of External Affairs and Communications (what a mouthful!), and the second year to have an Open Libraries strand. Open Cambridge happens annually during National Heritage Open Days, and it's designed as an opportunity for local people to see inside University, College and city buildings to which access is usually closed.

Open Libraries is my baby.  It developed after I made an unsuccessful bid for 2009 Fund money from the University at the end of 2008.  The inspiration from the bid came from the success of opening St John's College library to the public for our first Hoyle Day in Autumn 2008, during which people asked 'so when are you open again?', and 'which other libraries are open?'. This brought about a light-bulb moment: why, I asked myself, aren't more of these fabulous places ever shown to the outside world.  So I consulted with some librarians, and made a bid for funding to publicise and run a day of public open-access (a 'Cambridge Open Libraries Trail') to some of Cambridge's 100 libraries, all of them interesting either for architecture or content or both, and supported it with statements of approval from a number of Cambridge librarians. 

That the bid wasn't successful was no bad thing. Making the bid brought the idea to the attention of the Community Affairs team who suggested that the idea could be incorporated Open Cambridge.  I took on the role of recruiting libraries to the event by contacting libraries directly via email lists, and not relying on the possibility that information sent to generic college or department contacts might filter through.  I felt that it might be useful to have a 'library' face encouraging participation (although I was very new on the scene and probably seen as an upstart with crazy new ideas), and so I also managed responses and gathered all the necessary information from participants to compile the Open Cambridge programme.  All the difficult work (taking tour bookings for those libraries who prefer to give tours instead of having open-access days, press and publicity, design and branding, and so on) was handled by the Community Affairs team.  This year I've taken my hands even further off the reins and my only input has been to advertise it firstly at librarians to encourage participants, and now to anyone who'll listen to encourage visitors.

The Libraries strand of Open Cambridge 2009 was a definite success.  Visitors commented on welcoming and friendly library staff, and that it was good to see inside libraries, that they enjoyed viewing special displays and exhibitions of library materials, and that they'd like to see more libraries in the future.  So we're trying to build on all of that this year.

Open Libraries is hopefully doing something to break out of the #echolib, both by showing the public that these libraries are all here, but also by gaining higher visibility and status within the University.  It might not look like much - 17 libraries opening for a few hours to the great unwashed - but in the context of the Cambridge library world, where change is too often measured over decades, I think it's no mean feat.  I hope that Open Libraries will continue in the years to come; maybe it will come to be seen as an integral part of the weekend, something that both the libraries and the public look forward to...

As this and other recent initiatives (cam23, camlibtm) have shown, just having a go and seeing what happens will often reap great rewards; there are people out there who are keen to try something new if they're given an outlet. TeachMeet co-conspirator Celine (@cjclib) said to me recently "am starting to realise you are the queen of "you may as well..." & making big success of it!".  Maybe she's right, I shouldn't like to say.  But I think maybe that "you may as well..." is likely to make a success of itself just as long as you give it a chance.

Open Libraries is happening only because of the work put in by staff at all the participating libraries, to whom I'd like to say a huge thank you. Thank you for taking a chance and doing something new. Thank you for putting in the extra work and time. May you have many visitors.