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.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Some thoughts on the LIS MA

There's been a lot of discussion over the last few days about the merits or otherwise of required masters-level education in library studies for professional librarians. This discussion has inspired me to think in more detail about my impressions of my own LIS MA, and about LIS MAs in general.

I can't possibly cover all the various issues surrounding status, job roles, the level of academic study and attainment, and necessity that are being discussed, and I much that I have to say will fall into the realm of truism and platitude. First out of the box, there's the truism that LIS MAs, as with so much in life, are trying to be all things to all people. Curricula try to encompass a range of sectors, a range of skills, and a balance between practical and theoretical teaching that will never come close to matching any individual's career path. No-one's really arguing that an MA you should teach you everything you need to know for a given post, but rather, it seems to me, that it should equip you with the background knowledge and skill to be able to take on any given job as competently as possible. A more contentious issue is whether we need an MA (or other qualification) at all, or whether librarians' training should be achieved solely through on-the-job learning. On this point I'm going to side with those in favour of some sort of qualification: I think that it's important to have formal recognition that this is a professional job. Though I don't know what sort of qualification would truly best indicate this.

What's really caught my interest is the discussion of MA content, and how it does, or doesn't prepare students for real work. A couple of years after graduating, I've come to the following conclusiong about my own MA (I feel weirdly reticent about criticising it openly, so I'm not saying where it was, though it may well be obvious):

What I liked

  • In-depth tuition in cataloguing (AACR2) and classification (several main systems).
  • Writing a full Collection Development Policy for a particular collection as coursework.
  • A couple of the optional modules that fitted in with my particular, and somewhat academic, interests.

What I didn't like

  • The lack of detailed practical examples, particularly relating to e-resources management, staff management, legal issues, and LMS/cataloguing solutions.
  • The lack of meaningful discussions of modern profesisonal trends and arguments (I felt we were rather left to discover those for ourselves, which seemed a waste).

Andy Priestner has written an interesting and quite convincing post about the benefits of a really *practical* training at library school. Andy has a lot more experience than me, particularly in the business of recruiting staff (something I've never done), so I would probably do well not to ignore his conclusion that 'the Library MA just isn’t vocational enough and doesn’t sufficiently prepare those who complete it for the challenges of the posts they will take after it'. My experience of library school was that much of the coursework was intended to be 'practical', but that much of it didn't feel very useful. The CPD-writing example above was different because we did look in quite some depth at particular libraries' CPDs, and as many of them are available online, I spent a long time considering them before I wrote my own. This felt like useful work, because of the combination of background instruction and real-world application. Many of the other assignments felt far more detached from the real world, either because there was little impetus to connect them to current issues, or because very little theoretical (or, rather, technical) grounding was provided (my own 'education' in 'legal issues' springs vividly to mind here - I really felt that this was a topic where a couple of lectures from experts would have been really beneficial, rather than 45mins on general topics and a reading list).

My desire for theory and technical detail is quite possibly a feature of my rather cerebral learning style - until I understand the background to something you'll have a really hard time trying to get me to put it into practice. But equally, if we reduce librarianship to some stark terms - selection, description and organisation - and learn a little about them theory of how that's done , we'd be better able to embrace the 'modern world' in a timely and effective fashion. My library school education (and I only graduated in November 2008, so it wasn't long ago) gave me the feeling that the world of libraries was splitting in two - the good old sort, doing it how they always had; and the reckless new places using *gasp* widgets, and pictures in the catalogue, and tags, and who knows what. Now, this impression was likely at least 50% my own fear of the unknown, but I like to think that a really great course would have shaken that fear out of me my showing how nothing's fundamentally changed - we're just finding new ways to help people find out about stuff.

What I'm really arguing for here is the proper integration of theory and practice. I don't see any value in a qualification (be it BA, MA, postgraduate diploma or Girl in the Moon's advanced custard pie throwing certificate) that sets practical exercises that are mere hoop-jumping exercises that appear to meet the standards for a course because they are 'vocational'. This isn't what Andy, or anyone else, is looking for either, I'm sure.

What would I have liked from an MA?

A course that examined the fundamentals of library work, that examined how they apply in the modern world, that let us practise real-world skills, and that wasn't afraid to engage intelligently and rigorously with current debates.

I'm not quite that's what I got, but, I did learn a lot - some about libraries, some about me - and I gained the confidence (mis-placed or no) that I'm now 'qualified' and can set about building a bigger, brighter, library world (sorry - it's been a long day).

P.S. I wrote this quickly, and have barely scratched the surface. I'd love to hear other thoughts - so please harangue me!

Friday, 3 September 2010

"Thanks, courteous wall: Jove shield thee well for this!"

By some weird hanging-chad fluke or another, the Bloggers of Cam23 have voted me BOSSIEST BLOGGING LIBRARIAN BEST CAM23 PEER SUPPORT, for which I am very grateful. I don't know much, but I'm happy to share my meagre expertise, and please continue to ask me things if you think I know or can find the answer.
'Thank you*' by rustman on Flickr
'Thank you*' by rustman on Flickr