Friday, 25 February 2011

Curious collections: what do we keep, and why?

Last night I spoke at the Seminar in the History of Material Texts in Cambridge as part of a session looking at 'curious' library collections and how we manage them.

The first half of the session was a chance to see the Radzinowicz Library's collection of 'banned' books: books that had either been banned under the Obscene Publications Act, or that had been submitted by members of the public who wished that they be banned. The contents of the collection (in brief, a lot of books about flagellation and sodomy; a few with raunchy pictures of women; and a fair number about marriage, reproductive health and birth control) are more or less as you'd expect. What really interested me about them was their provenance, or rather, how quickly information about provenance can be lost.

The books were donated to the Radzinowicz after the break-up of the old Home Office library at the time of the creation of the Ministry of Justice in the late 2000s. The collection that came to the Radzinowicz is not the complete (there's a thought that the 'best' books had already been whisked away, perhaps by staff), and there's apparently little documentation about the collection itself - no indication, for example, about which books were banned and which were submitted by the public, or when any book was accessioned. It's the contextual information of this kind that often really brings special and archival collections to life, and visiting the 'banned' books was a good lesson in the necessity of documenting institutional memory and knowledge about collections.

My talk took an overview of the challenges of managing a modern archival collection in a library context. The discussion afterwards centred particularly on the issue of retention - academics are horrified to hear that we might not like to keep every last scrap of paper, because of the potential that it might be useful or interesting *one day*. These slides don't really address that - but I'd be interested to hear thoughts about whether you think it's getting easier to 'keep everything' or whether the enormous volumes of electronic data now produced will need a more, and not less, ruthless attitude to appraisal and disposal in the future? 

Monday, 21 February 2011

Curiouser and curiouser

Photograph of a cat's nose and whiskers
Curiosity killed the cat?
On Thursday this week (24 February) I'm speaking at the Seminar in the History of Material Texts at the English Faculty.  It promises to be a really interesting seminar: it's a double bill on the theme of 'curious collections' starting with the chance to see the Radzinowicz (Institute of Criminology) Library's collection of banned books, followed by my thoughts on the challenges of managing the Hoyle collection.

All are welcome to the seminar, whether researchers or librarians or anyone else with an interest in the subject matter.  Proceedings start at 5.30pm at the Radzinowicz Library and then move over the the English Faculty for my paper.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Visual metaphors for libraries/librarians/information professionals

After the agonies of choosing images to use for my Ignite talk, and with a fairly whacky idea forming for an entry into the LISNPN library advocacy competition, I've had visual metaphors on my mind these last few days.
A scan of a human brain used to illustrate an article about librarianship
What can replace pictures of books?

What images can we use to illustrate and promote the work of the modern-day library and information world? Time was that a picture of a shelf of books, a card catalogue, or a set of library steps, would suffice to create in the viewer an impression of library-ness. But if we want to convey something of the multi-faceted nature of library work, of the focus on information evaluation and organization, of the myriad formats and sources used, how can that be done? Is there a single visual image that conveys the idea 'information'?

I'd be very interested to hear people's ideas. Do you think that we need something more than books? Can you do better than the Guardian's brain?  A few people have commented on the aptness of the yarn slides (10 and 11) in my 'Why Libraries are Great' slidedeck; is there a way to express that idea more succinctly?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Out of the echolib and into the fire

On Tuesday evening I spoke at Ignite London 4 about 'Why Libraries are Great'. The Ignite motto is 'enlighten us, but make it quick'; all speakers have to use the Ignite format of 20 slides or 15 seconds each, making presentations that are exactly 5 minutes long. So that they make sense without a speaker, I've added some extra slides and text to these:

There was a live audience of 300+ people, most of whom weren't (to my knowledge) librarians, and plenty of whom seemed to enjoy and understand what I was saying:

Since I uploaded my slides yesterday lunchtime they've been viewed 700+ times, and are currently featured on Slideshare's Education page.  Video of the speakers will be added to the Ignite website soon, and should reach a few more people.  So all in all, I think this counts as an echo chamber escape!

Ignite was a real blast. A big thank you to the organisers for choosing  me as one of the speakers, and for their hard work in making it run so smoothly.  Probably my two favourite presentations were Andrew Betts' 'How standards changed the world' (from Roman swords to time zones to aircraft to the magic of A4 paper) and Paul Clarke's 'Music is mostly about cheating' (the Pythagorean Comma lucidly explained in 5 minutes - magic!).  A special mention also to Maxwell Roberts' beautiful tube and metro maps.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Save Libraries: Cambridge Action

Two Save Libraries events are happening in Cambridge tomorrow:
Save our libraries day, Saturday 5 Febraury 2011

Both events are family-friendly ways of showing that we value libraries.  The flashmob is the brainchild of Emma Coonan, who's put together a list of resources, general and specific.

If you can't make it to either of those, remember that you can still show you support for libraries by:
  1. Going to your local library. If you're not already a member take some ID with your name and address on it so that you can join up. Borrow some books or CDs or DVDs, or read the newspapers and magazines, or use the PCs and/or wifi there.
  2. Visiting your library webpages and use the online resources - you can look things up in the OED, for example.
ETA: Here are two write-ups of the Cambridge event, by Andy Priestner and Annie Johnson.

    Wednesday, 2 February 2011

    News roundup, including savelibraries


    Campaigns to defend public libraries across the country against cuts are gathering strength, and this Saturday, 5th February, will see a day of action to show our support.  John Kirriemuir has written up a summary of what's what, including links to resources, so I won't repeat all of that here.  What you need to know is the following:
    Save our libraries day, Saturday 5 Febraury 2011

    1. Check this list to see if a library near you is having an event. If is is, go to it.
    2. If there's no event near you, go to your library anyway. If you're not already a member take some ID with your name and address on it so that you can join up. Borrow some books or CDs or DVDs, or read the newspapers and magazines, or use the PCs and/or wifi there.
    3. If you can't get to your library, visit its webpages and use the online resources - you can look things up in the OED, for example.
    4. If you're a Facebook user, show that you're taking part by RSVPing to this event. Then invite all your friends.
    5. If you're on Twitter, tweet a reason why libraries are important, using the #savelibraries hashtag.
    6. Pass this message on, using some of these posters to help you.

    Echo-chamber breakout

    Back last June, during Library Day in the Life 5, a post by Emma Cragg inspired me to think that the Library Day in the Life Project (which was started and is maintained by Bobbi L. Newman) could be used to advocate for libraries outside of the 'echo chamber'.  Emma and I teamed up, and wrote a pitch about 'what librarians really do' that we sent to The Guardian and to Radio 4.  Some time later, we heard back from The Guardian, who were interested in using the idea in their 'Behind the Job Title' series.  We wrote up an article about the various roles of, and skills needed by, a modern librarian, sent it off, and heard nothing for a while longer.  But lo, after Christmas we were asked for some revisions, which we supplied, and the article was published on Monday in GuardianCareers:

    'Beyond books: what it takes to be a 21st-century librarian'

    There was a little excitement in the comments and on Twitter in response to the decision to swap the picture of a brain for a picture of some stereotypically dressed female librarians carrying books on their heads and with their fingers on their lips in the international gesture for 'shh!'.  Comments from some upstanding librarians have now set that to rights, which is very pleasing indeed.

    At this point I have to say an enormous thank you to Emma. She did all the hard work with the article, including writing all the best bits, thinking up whom to use for case studies, and corresponding with the paper.  She's been a pleasure to work with, and is clearly pretty busy as she has another article out this week in the ORG (Open Rights Group) Zine also out this week!

    Also a thank you to Ned Potter for being so loudly pleased about the article.  He's chuffed to be mentioned in a Guardian article, and I'm chuffed that he liked it. Smiles all round.

    And finally...

    This isn't about libraries, but it is about making the world a better place. A friend of my has written a truly brilliant blog post. I've tried to summarise it, but I can't manage it. Just read it and be inspired to be a better person. Or something.