Radical Library Camp: Bradford 2013

On Saturday I caught an early train from Sheffield to Bradford with a hangover for the first UK Radical Library Camp.  I armed myself with coffee and flapjack, and I was very glad I made the effort because it was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday: lots of lovely people to talk to, an excellent lunch and many new ideas to discuss.  I’m not sure how radical I am – I suppose it depends who you’re comparing me against – but I certainly liked what I read on the Wiki about creating a space “for those of us who identify ourselves in opposition to the marketisation of libraries, the commodification of information, and the increasing precarity of work in the information sector.”  So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the day.

Librarians for Social Change Journal

Librarians for Social Change Journal, 1982. Image mine.

Session 1: Critical Information Literacy and Social Media Awareness

The first session I went to was pitched by Lauren (@walkyouhome).  During the first part of the session we talked about critical information literacy, which was very interesting.  I was a bit disappointed by the information literacy component of my MA – it didn’t seem to either engage properly with the practical side of teaching information literacy or the theoretical side.  In fact, it was very much a case of “make a poster about where you see information literacy in your future career, working with a group of people who all have completely different future careers in mind…then make a blog about how your poster-making went.”

So anyway, critical information literacy discusses how we can use IL skills to encourage critical thinking, the questioning of authority and political agency.  For example, when we talk about IL teaching in schools, there is often mention of “trusted” sources.  “Don’t use Wikipedia, use a government website instead, as it’s more reliable” we might say.  From a critical information literacy perspective, we might then go on to question the possible biases of these seemingly authoritative sources.  For instance, rather than saying “use this because it’s in an academic journal,” we might look at who funds research, and the processes involved in selecting what appears in academic journals and what doesn’t.   Lauren’s PhD research sounds fascinating; talking to young people about how they form political opinions, and what information sources they use.  It was felt by the group that IL teaching should include critical thinking, in order to help people make their own political decisions.   It was also discussed whether librarians should attempt to be neutral; offering information about a range of political perspectives without asserting their own biases.  It seems that as it is impossible to be objective, it would be best for librarians, like teachers, to declare their biases – for instance: “I’m coming at this from a socialist feminist perspective, and this is how it affects how I use information.” If anyone wants to know more about critical information literacy, here’s a presentation given by Lauren at a previous event (with useful reading list at the end!)

The second half of the session moved onto talking about social media awareness and online hate speech.  I’ve just read “Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet,” by Laurie Penny, which I would recommend (it’s short and easy to read).  It’s about being a woman on the internet and how sexism functions in online environments.  In it, she argues passionately that people should stop treating the online environment as separate from “Real Life.”  This was one of the main themes of the group discussion.  As social media and the internet are so much part of our lives, there could be a role for librarians in talking to people (especially young people) about social media use.  It was pointed out that in a lot of schools, access to social media is completely blocked, which seems ridiculous, as people are bound to be using it at home, and issues of anonymity (or lack of anonymity), hate speech, cyber bullying and online sexism/racism/ableism/homophobia should be discussed openly.  This is partly so that people become aware that they can get into real (legal) trouble by posting online hate speech, but also hopefully so that people are able to find spaces where they feel safe online.

Session 2: A “Crisistunity” for Public Libraries?

The next session I went to was pitched by Dan (@DanPGrace), who has written a blog about his PhD on resilience and public libraries.  The ideas discussed in this session were thorny ones – is it enough to be fighting for the state to keep public libraries open?   Can we trust the state to serve communities, or does it only act in its own interests?  Is there a better way of running libraries, and can the current crisis in funding be seen as a “Crisis-tunity?”  A successful volunteer-run library in London was mentioned, which some people felt managed to be more vibrant and engaging than the previous council-run service .  I found it all very difficult, because my instinct is to support the public sector (even though I can see the problems with it).  I can’t help worrying that any attempt to turn to a more community-run model would only be playing into the hands of the current government who wants to promote its “big society” concept.  There was a suggestion that charities could run libraries, which I think isn’t really a way forward, partly because I have problems with the concept of charity (in that it only patches up the symptoms of societal inequality rather than attacking the causes), but also because a significant amount of effort would have to go into gaining funds rather than providing a good service.  There were lots of other people who disagreed with the idea as well.  However, I can definitely see why we should look critically at the way the state runs libraries.  It is one of those things that I end up tying myself in knots over and not coming to any good conclusions, but it was interesting to discuss, and I look forward to reading more of Dan’s blog.

People at Radical Library Camp discussing "Crisistunity"

You can just about spot me in this photo, trying to decide what I think and not succeeding. Attribution “Radical Library Camp” on Facebook.


Lunch was excellent. There was daal, and banana bread (two excellent foodstuffs), and also sherry.

Session 3: LGBTQ in libraries

After lunch, I went to the session hosted by Liz (@lgbtlibrarian).  As her name suggests, her PhD research is on the provision of LGBTQ materials in public libraries.  Another library camper had also just finished her MA Dissertation on the same topic but based in school libraries, so there were lots of things to talk about.  We discussed why although librarians in public and school libraries are fairly positive about supporting the LGBTQ community, in reality they often fall short.  Is it because they think it’s a niche concern and they have lots of other things to do, because they don’t have enough knowledge of what materials are available or because they are afraid of being challenged?  It was suggested that it could be a mixture of reasons.  We also discussed visibility of LGBTQ material, especially in schools.  On one hand, it’s important for the material to be visible so that LGBTQ people know it’s there.  On the other hand, the stigma still attached to queer sexualities means that at best people may feel uncomfortable about approaching a separate ‘section,” and at worst may face actual physical violence for doing so.  There is also the issue about LGBTQ fiction being seen as “other,” – if everything is stuffed in a separate section then many straight readers might miss out on novels featuring LGBTQ characters.  It was agreed that probably the best approach was promoting visibility through displays and posters, and discoverablilty through recommended-reading lists and the catalogue, but keeping collections integrated.   Quality of LGBTQ fiction was also discussed as being not just a librarianship issue, but also a publishing one.  Although as a teenager I appreciated the LGBT section at Sheffield Central Library, I remember being disappointed that once I’d got through “Tipping the Velvet,” all that was left was erotica for gay men!  As I looked into it more with the help of the internet, I found that there were quite a few novels with gay and lesbian characters.  However, when you get to the other letters in the acronym; B (bisexual) and T (transgender) there is a lot less material out there.  And as for I (intersex )and  A (asexual), it is difficult to find anything at all.    Librarians and publishers need to work together to make sure that there is more good quality fiction and non-fiction material to support these groups.

For the second part of the session, we moved on to discuss radical libraries and archives, and their role in creating a record of LGBTQ history, which has traditionally been obscured and marginalised.  We discussed the ethical considerations of creating this record – although it is very important to increase the visibility of queer history, it may not be helpful to “out” people through making photos and documents publicly available, especially online, when they and their families are still alive.  A suggestion was made that anything digitised and put online should have an option for people to identify themselves, and request for the image/document to be taken down.  On a related note, I went to an archive recently that respected radical feminist requests to keep certain documents/newsletters  (published in the 70s and 80s) “women only”.  Although this type of policing throws up issues surrounding trans* women that I wasn’t comfortable with, it is still an interesting reminder that the history recorded in radical archives can be seen as politically relevant today, especially if (as in this case) the original creators of the material are involved in preserving and managing the archive.

Pamphlets from "Gay's the Word" Bookshop

Pamphlets from “Gay’s the Word” Bookshop. Image Mine.

Session 4: Supporting the Information Needs of Activists

The final session I went to was about supporting the information needs of activist communities.  Although I’ve been involved in a few activist-y type groups, I’ve not been an “information professional” for very long and therefore haven’t had the same experience as some of the people there, who found they had become the “go-to” person for seeking information.  Reliable statistics, legal information and research about companies are just a few of the reasons that activists need good information skills (and good access to e-resources).  We discussed a US service called “Radical Reference,” which sounds really interesting.  Designed for activists and independent journalists, it allows people to ask a research question, which is then answered by a team of volunteer librarians.

We talked about some of the problems that running such a service would throw up.  The main one is the need for extremely dedicated volunteers – some of the enquiries posted on the site are very complicated.  For example, one query was from someone running a workshop for disabled activists looking for studies on how many prisoners are denied medication whilst incarcerated; another looking for analyses of politically motivated children’s picture books from the 80s!  If there were only a small group of volunteers, or a larger group of very casual volunteers, it would be easy for complicated queries to be left unanswered.  Some of the group members in this session commented that they already found it hard to support activist groups that they belonged to because research took up such a long time, especially when you had to juggle it with a full-time job.

A step further on from answering research questions is radical information literacy training.  Mirroring the librarian’s role in schools/hospitals/universities/companies, the aim here is not to answer reference questions, but to teach people how to find information for themselves.  An example of this could be a training session on how to research companies using free information sources (I’d quite like to go to such a session, as I definitely don’t think I have the skills to deliver it!)  Although everyone thought this was an exciting idea, it was decided that no one could commit to such a big project.  However, people thought that it would be useful to take small steps in this direction when supporting activists.  For example, if someone asks you to find information, rather than just giving them the answer, you also tell them how you found it.  As I said, I don’t find myself in this situation very often but perhaps I will in the future.

Session 5: Plenary

We all came together at the end, and talked about where we wanted to take “Radical Library Camp” in future.  As there were a lot of busy people in the room, it was decided that it didn’t matter if we didn’t start on any huge projects straight away.  As someone commented:

“Desultory’s fine if that’s all you’ve got!”

However, there was talk of reviving NORLA, the Network of Radical Libraries and Archives, which would be a really good idea.  There are so many great independent libraries and archives around and people don’t necessarily know about them.  It was also decided that we needed an online space where we could share resources.   Here’s a link to the facebook page and here’s the wiki  Hopefully they will continue to grow and become a useful resource.

There was also a lot of enthusiasm for another Radical Library Camp.  I look forward to it, as I had an excellent day all round, both at the event and at the drinks in the 1 in 12 Club afterwards (it has its own radical library!)

See you next time everyone 🙂

Banner with "What's Going on in the World Today?"

Here’s a banner I took on the “Don’t Attack Iraq” Protest 10 years ago. Still relevant today. Image mine.


Hack Library School Day in the Life: Tuesday

I’m back for the Tuesday installment of Hack Library School Day in the Life.

Before I start, just a quick note on some of the blogs and tweets from over the pond.  It’s really interesting to read what American library schoolers are up to, and the main difference relates to internships.  Library internships seem to be all the rage – perhaps it is compulsory to do a work placement during your masters?  I know a couple of UK schools also encourage them, but as far as I know they’re not an assessed part of the course, and in Sheffield they don’t feature at all.  You can’t get on the course unless you’ve done a year’s experience in a library, so I assume they think it’s not important to have a work placement, but I think a short, structured placement with an assessment to go with it would be a great idea.  It would give me a chance to try something completely new.  I’d like to get some practical experience with institutional repositories and metadata, for example, which isn’t taught on the course.  The downside of internships is that the longer ones encourage the culture of working for free in order to get your foot in the door.  I would hate to see libraries go down the route of publishing, culture & heritage and charities, which rely on interns instead of paid workers.  But a short, educational placement in a different sort of library would be great – I may look at organising myself one in the summer.

Anyway, Tuesday morning: another 11am start (much better than working full-time!)  My lecture today was from the module Library Services for Children and Young People.  It’s been a very interesting module so far, and has included a visit to Sheffield Children’s Libraries, a talk from a school librarian at an independent school and an entire lesson looking at the best picture books to promote diversity (check out And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising an egg, aww).  Today’s session was on ethical considerations in collection development, and was presented by Liz Chapman.  She’s a PhD student in the department, and is doing some great research into LGBT resources in public libraries – if you ever need a list of LGBT fiction for children and young people, she’s the one to turn to.  We discussed issues that didn’t really have a definitive answer today: how far should children’s right to intellectual freedom stretch? Should books have age-banding?  Should parents have the right to see what their child is borrowing?  What shouldn’t be included in a children’s collection?  Where should we shelve Jacqueline Wilson?  Liz told us that a lot of frontline library staff didn’t have training on ethical issues, and were poorly equipped for handling complaints or problems – it’s the responsibility of the organisation to have a clear policy and deliver appropriate training.

After lunch, I wandered fruitlessly round our two big university libraries and completely failed to find a computer, which was very irritating.  So I ended up returning to the iSchool to take notes from a hard-copy book on a hard-copy notepad.  So old fashioned.

Here is Sheffield iSchool in the sun!  Long may the sun last.

Sheffield iSchool

Sheffield iSchool in the sun. Photo by me.

I didn’t have a lecture in the afternoon so I worked on my assignment for Children’s Libraries, which is to design a school library, producing an annotated sketch plan and report.  So far, I’ve been reading up about different recommendations for library space for young people.  There’s lots of examples from America about public libraries that have gone for themed areas for young people, as well bean bags, reading towers, gaming areas and all kinds of other exciting things.  I think school libraries probably need to be a bit more toned down though!  Comfy seating still features heavily, and lots of flexibility and natural light.  The most interesting thing that I read was the idea that young people brought up in the age of key-word searching are not interested in learning about how to use a library classification system – tempting them to pick up a book is a lot more useful than trying to teach them “library skills.”  I wonder if people agree?  The book I was reading was a very good recent one –  Library Services for Children and Young People, by Carolyn Rankin and Avril Brock, published by Facet.

In the evening, I went to a meeting in the city centre about saving Sheffield Public Libraries.  Unfortunately, we have just heard that 14 out of our 27 branch libraries in Sheffield are under threat of closure because of cuts to council funding.  Public libraries are in a precarious position in the UK at the moment – the government is keen to save money by handing them over to groups of volunteers to run, meaning that paid staff members will lose their jobs.  Other groups all over the country are fighting against library closures too, as well as severe cuts to other council services.  At times it seems like a losing battle, but the meeting tonight was well attended.  We’ve got a Facebook page set up – odd acronym, I know – and managed to plan some ways to build the campaign before the next meeting in three weeks time.

No lectures tomorrow, so I’m hoping to make headway on this Children’s Libraries assignment before having coffee with my sister in the afternoon and going to an Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer gig. Yay!

Hack Library School Day in the Life: Monday

Hello people!  Emily from the UK here – I’m partway through a full time MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield.

Information Commons

Sheffield University Information Commons. Image attributed to daniel villar onrubia. Shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License.

That’s one of the university libraries here in Sheffield – the Information Commons, or IC for short.  I’m sitting in it and writing this now.  It’s very shiny, open 24 hours a day and has a café, which are plus points for me, but it’s also quite noisy and very difficult to find a computer in the daytime.

I’m taking part in the Hack Library School Day in the Life because I’ve never tried a Day in the Life blog before.  I’m only going to be a library student this year, so I won’t have the chance again, and I saw that the UK didn’t have a lot of representation in the list.  My natural nosiness means I’m looking forward to seeing what library school is like in the States!

Before we start on my incredibly exciting week, a little about me.  You might be aware that there are different ways to “do” library school in the UK, so not everyone studies full time – since the fees have gone up and funding has gone down it is a lot more popular for people to study part time or distance learning whilst working in a library.  However, I’m actually going the more traditional route of graduate traineeship (a paid year in an academic law library) followed by full time MA which lasts one year.  This obviously has pros and cons – it’ll get the masters out of the way quicker, and lets me concentrate on studying, but it’s not so easy to gather up work experience.  We’ll see what happens when it comes to applying to jobs in the summer!

I’m in my second term of the MA – having got three and a half modules completed in the autumn, I’m doing four and a half this semester.  The dissertation looms over the summer months, and I’ll be all handed in by the beginning of September (fingers crossed).  To get a bit of experience, I volunteer at a feminist archive in Leeds one day a week – happily this Friday should be an exciting one, as it’s International Women’s Day so we’re having an exhibition.  But not to jump ahead of myself, let’s start with…

MONDAY 4th March

Today started at 11am for me with the module Archives and Records Management.  I chose to take this optional module because I’m volunteering in an archive, and I was tempted by one of the assignments (think up a question and go and research it in an archive of your choice).  Although archiving is a separate discipline from librarianship, it’s been very interesting so far, and the records management part actually has a lot in common with information management, research data management and other more librarian-y topics.

The session today was in a computer lab, and was basically a chance for us to explore some online archives.  We looked at the National Archives, which is the official archive of the UK government.  Then we explored an eclectic collection of archives – including the Knitting Archive at the V&A, and the Science Fiction Hub at Liverpool University  . I also had a quick look at the Derbyshire Record Office, which is the local council archive for the area where I grew up.  I found the archive websites often to be confusing – it’s not always clear when items are digitised and when they aren’t.  Browsing the National Archives seemed to lead to dead ends where you either had to pay for downloading something, or a message appeared saying “the National Archives are not the best places to search for this.”  There is such an enormous amount of material out there that it’s really hard to know where to start exploring, and only a tiny portion of it has been digitised.

The second half of the session was held in the ilab, a room in the Information School which is used for information systems testing – it’s got a one way mirror, laptops that track your search behaviour and all kinds of snazzy things like that.  An undergrad student was evaluating “Discovery,” the new search interface for the National Archives, so we were helping her out with her research.  We  had to fill in a short survey, complete three tasks on the Discovery interface, and then fill in another questionnaire about our experiences.  It was interesting to see this kind of research in action, as we’d learnt about it in our module on “Information Retrieval” last semester.  The advanced search function on the Discovery system was quite easy to use, but there were loads of other tools that I didn’t think of using – maybe this makes me a bad information professional! I’ll have to have a play around with them afterwards.

After lunch it was the Library Management module.  Today’s session was a bit different from normal, as we have spent the last few weeks preparing for fake interviews.  We all submitted a CV and covering letter for a professional librarian’s post, and then split into groups to shortlist each other’s applications.  It helped me really look at the person spec for jobs, and realise the necessity of tailoring your CV and covering letter to every single job I apply for.  We picked out someone from the other group to interview, and they picked someone from our group (not me, which I have to say was a bit depressing – if I can’t even get a fake job, what are my chances with a real one?!).  But for the sake of the exercise, the people who weren’t interviewed probably had more fun as we got to be the interview panel.  We prepared questions and ran the session like a proper interview.  If anyone is interested, here are the questions we prepared for H’s interview.

  1. Can you give us an example of when you had to work in a team to complete a task to a deadline?
  2. Can you give us an example of when you used your initiative to provide excellent customer service in a busy environment?
  3. What action would you take if an undergraduate student approached you in the library and told you that they could not get access to an electronic database?
  4. You mentioned in your application that you work as a digital champion to adult learners. How do you feel that you could apply the skills developed in that role to an academic librarian position?
  5. The library is committed to providing equitable access to services for all students. Could you give an example of how you, as an academic librarian could improve access to services for distance learning students?
  6. How do you feel you have demonstrated your commitment to the information profession up till now, and how do you intend to continue if you get this role?

It was very interesting to be on the interviewing side of things, as I’ve always been the interviewee before.  It was a lot less stressful, I have to say, even if you did really want the candidate to do well.  I think it would be pretty hard to choose between good candidates though, as both H and P did so well that I would have struggled to choose between them!

Management over, I went to the IC to drink tea and do a bit more work.  I got a book called The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping out of the library, and read the first chapter to see if I could get any ideas for my archives essay.  It strikes me that archivists are a lot more theoretical than librarians – after months of learning about collection management, e-resources, search strategies, web 2.0, budgeting and supporting social inclusion in public libraries, I open the archives book and see

“Postmodernism is nothing new, and in fact some would argue that it is already over” (Lane & Hill, 2011, p.6)

It’s like being back reading literary and cultural studies again!  They’re even quoting Derrida. I’m not sure why there is such a difference between disciplines… I’ll have to find an archivist and ask them.

Finally, I set some time aside to write this blog. My plan now is to do a tiny bit of research for a “Save Public Libraries” meeting I have tomorrow (I need to look for details of other UK groups who have successfully fought local council cuts to libraries), and then to give up on libraries for the day and head home.

Looking forward to reading about everyone else’s day!  See you tomorrow.


Lane, V., & Hill, J. (2011). Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Situating the archive and archivists. In J. Hill (Ed.), The Future of Archives and Recordkeeping: a Reader (pp. 3-22). London: Facet.

Library Camp comes to Sheffield!


View of my home town of Sheffield
Image by Chris Downer & reused under CC License


Exciting times last Saturday as a mini Library Camp arrived in Sheffield (where I grew up, and now study).  Sheffield Hallam University was kind enough to provide the venue, and lots of people turned up bearing cake, ready to discuss all things library-related.  One of the discussions was on whether librarians blog too much… so I decided to prove the stereotype correct by recapping the sessions here.

Session 1: Community/ Volunteer-Run Libraries

I started off with my own session on Community Libraries and volunteers.  Having never proposed a session before, I was a bit worried that no one would turn up, but they did, so that was a relief!  There has been a lot of discussion online about the recent Arts Council England report (Learning from Experience) but not everyone in the group had heard of it, so Eevee and I spent a bit of time explaining what the main issues with it were.  We tried not to push a particular point of view, as we wanted to see what everyone thought.  There was a general consensus that volunteer-libraries wouldn’t improve the public library service, and people said they wouldn’t volunteer to run a small library that was under threat of closing.  We discussed whether there was an issue with data-protection in community libraries, especially with recent announcements from the Society of Chief Librarians about public libraries providing Books on Prescription for those with mental health problems, and more generally with community-run libraries having access to the library management system.  Some group members thought that there would be a problem with this, whereas others argued that with a bit of training volunteers would easily be able to manage it.  We then argued about volunteering in general in public libraries.  Personally I would be very wary about taking any volunteer role in a public library in this economic climate (with the exception of schemes such as the Summer Reading Challenge), as I believe it could easily be used as justification for further cuts.  I also think there is a danger in thinking “I can use a public library for work experience and then get a job in an academic library” because the deprofessionalisation of the public libraries could have a knock-on effect on other types of libraries (as well as showing a lack of support for public library staff).  We had an interesting discussion, and people argued with me in several respects:

  1. That academic libraries will never be in danger of being volunteer-run as the University has to provide a certain level of service to fee-paying students.
  2. I was being too idealistic, and you need to take work-experience where you can get it.

In respect to the second point, I admit that students have a Catch-22 situation at the moment with work experience: I have come to a compromise this year by volunteering in the Feminist Archive North in Leeds, which is volunteer-run and always has been.  A friend who came to the session is doing a short term placement at a public library in Manchester as part of her MSc, and that seems another, potentially less harmful way of going about it.

At the end of the day, everyone came away with their own ideas, but a few of the group members said they hadn’t considered the ethical implications of volunteering in public libraries before, so even if people disagreed with me, I’m glad it provoked something to think about!

Session 2: Are Librarians Self-Obsessed?

This was proposed by @shibshabs.  As I said, the fact that I’m currently blogging about it has made me laugh.  The main debate was about the flood of librarian blogs, tweets and unconferences that appear on a daily basis, and whether they actually do any good, or encourage a lot of pointless naval gazing!  An example was the recent #librarianstress hashtag, which was provoked by a very short article listing librarianship as one of the least stressful jobs.  It caused a lot of anger, followed by anger about people being angry, followed by anger about people being angry about being angry – to no really useful purpose.  It was suggested that librarians should probably just put all that energy into delivering a really good service.  However, it was also raised that the nature of the job; always having to explain what librarians do, challenging the notion that there are no libraries any more, living with job insecurity and threats of funding cuts, makes an outlet for reflection and frustration quite useful.  Everyone wondered whether other professions suffered from self-obsession quite as much – suggestions welcome!  We discussed the usefulness of the ‘day in the life’ style blogs as a way of promoting librarianship, and wondered whether anyone outside of the profession actually read them, or would be interested if they did.  Personally, I think they’re great for new professionals and people looking to pursue a career in librarianship as they give you a taste of loads of different sectors, but am not convinced that they would be widely read by anyone else.  I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise though.

The discussion then moved on to social media in particular, and there was quite a heated debate over whether it was necessary to be active on social media to advance your career.  I find Twitter really useful for getting information about conferences and events, as well as news and discussion (it was through Twitter that I got most of the information about the ACE report and SCL universal offers for public libraries).  I have read many interesting blogs, which I have to say aren’t all naval gazing; they’re often about an issue within librarianship, or the write-up of a conference that I can’t afford to go to.  I also know some really nice people through Twitter, and would like to one day meet them in real life.  That said, I’m not on Twitter all day everyday, and I also follow non-library stuff – feminist, queer & disability bloggers, museums & theatres, political bloggers, bands etc. so hopefully I don’t get too library-obsessed.  In the session it was suggested that there were some ways in which social networking could actively help you do a better job as an information professional, particularly for solo school librarians who don’t work in a team of colleagues, but most people thought that there were dedicated people doing excellent jobs without Twitter.  It was also pointed out that many of these people are in more senior positions, and therefore will be the ones sitting on interview panels.  I’m not sure whether we came to a consensus in the session, but my own personal view is that you should only use social media if you enjoy it.  Although you should probably have some understanding of how it works, if only because one day you might be asked to manage your library’s Twitter account.


Lunch was initially just going to be cake, but then @daveyp very kindly sponsored some Subway sandwiches for us all.  We also went to the Millenium Galleries café, where tea was only £1.  Bargain.  At lunchtime I chatted to some MMU students and we compared courses and finding-a-job panic.  Then we ate flapjack to calm down.

Session 3: Research Data Management

This was proposed by @libmichelle .  It was really interesting, as I didn’t know much about it, and there were a few people there who were very informed (thanks @pennyb for her input in particular). Research Data Management is an emerging field in librarianship, as researchers are being told more and more that they have to make their data available for both discovery and reuse.  When you think of how much research data is generated in UK universities, you can see what a big job it is to manage it all –not to mention that it comes in all different formats, and therefore is more complicated than managing journal articles.  It was questioned in the session whether it was the librarian’s job to get involved in RDM, and whether, considering the size of the task, it was feasible to ask an Academic Librarian to include this as part of their job description.  Problems seem to be that there is not enough funding dedicated to creating a really good infrastructure and providing the right kind of training to repository staff (academic librarians may not be able or willing to reskill).  Also, apparently researchers are often cautious about handing over the management of their data to information professionals, as we don’t have sufficient disciplinary knowledge to undertake the role.  I’m not sure why an information professional would have to have such a high level of disciplinary knowledge – surely they would be better off knowing about different formats of data, the importance of metadata, how to facilitate access and the ethical/legal issues surrounding data?  Then they could liaise with academics about what their needs were, and work from there.  I would be interested in hearing the researchers’ perspectives on this.  Despite the problems surrounding RDM, it seems that it will grow in importance, and librarians should seize the chance to get involved – several group members mentioned jobs advertised recently which involved liaising with academics about their data management.  It’s an area I’d really like to know more about, and am even considering possible dissertation topics thanks to that session (well, I’ve taken a book out of the IC called “Managing Research Data” so that counts as a start).

Session 4: Sustainability Literacy in Public Libraries

Another heated debate during the final session.  This one was based on the proposition that public libraries should be involved in teaching people about green issues: energy efficiency, recycling, liaising with other groups to provide bike maintenance sessions, tool libraries and all kinds of other good ideas.  I was interested in this as a friend studying for her PhD in energy use at UCL was trying to persuade me to do my MA dissertation on the way people used and sought for information about energy issues.  She was worried that people received a lot of misinformation as they didn’t know the right information sources to go to (and this had an impact on both the wider issue of climate change and people’s personal energy bills).  I’m not sure I am going to study this, but if anyone else wants to take it on it sounds like an interesting dissertation topic!  The public library seems like the ideal place to involve itself with this kind of education, and the session-leader told us that Sheffield Libraries were already taking some steps in this direction.  However, the problem seemed to be engaging the public – would people be willing to come to the library for this?  It was thought that there would be a problem with apathy.

The argument came when the conversation moved to suggestions that the public library ought to take a particular political standpoint (e.g. running sessions on left-wing activism, the Occupy Movement etc.).  The concern was raised about the value of a public library as a politically neutral space, and it was suggested that instead the library focussed on teaching people about the electoral process in a neutral way, so they could make informed decisions.  It ended up in a more general discussion about library ethics.  What would you do about a library patron who asked for times for an EDL march, for example?  Or a patron who asked for information about committing suicide?  These are not situations I’ve ever experienced so I felt I couldn’t contribute– I’ve never worked in a public library, and I can see that information professionals can never be completely neutral when answering questions.  Most of the group seemed to think that a public librarian should make every effort to be neutral, and to provide the information, perhaps alongside a discussion about the patron’s information needs.


We all went to the Sheffield Tap next to the station after the event was over.  There I got to meet some lovely people, some of whom I previously only knew through Twitter (@SaintEvelin, @LVCoombs and @sarahcchilds in particular).

I also had an interesting discussion about whether librarians from other sectors should defend public libraries.  It’s always good to have your views challenged, as I had always thought that cross-sectoral support for public libraries was a good thing – a lack of it leads to the situation that I described in the first session, where people think that it’s OK that public libraries are closing because they can get jobs in academic libraries.  The argument against this was that people who didn’t/weren’t prepared to work in public libraries shouldn’t be so prominent in either studying them academically (in the Sheffield iSchool for instance) or actively campaigning for them.  I can see how this argument is valid in that library researchers/campaigners should keep in mind that they should be in constant communication with public library workers, as they are the people who really understand the current situation.  Also, perhaps public library researchers should be taken from staff who have some experience in the sector rather than just enthusiastic library students who like the idea of the public library (although I stand by the view that it takes different skills/motivations to be an academic researcher than it does to be a public librarian).    And in an ideal world, those most vocal in support of public libraries would be the staff themselves.  However, in the real world, there are lots of reasons why this can’t happen, not least the pressure that public library workers get from the council not to campaign.  Also, some people just don’t have the time or energy to devote themselves to advocacy (families, illness, other commitments), and it seems as though there’s no strong union to support them.  In this case, support from other sectors (and also from the general public) is vital.  There are lots of library graduates who would love to work in public libraries, but I’m not one of them, simply because I don’t think my skills and experience would be best suited to it – I’d like to work with researchers/students preferably, although am open to most jobs!  However, as there are no shortage of people on my course who would make fantastic public and children’s librarians I am not really concerned about supporting them without actively seeking a public library career myself.  And leaving the profession aside, I would defend public libraries anyway as a vital service, just as I would oppose other cuts – children’s services and arts cuts as local examples.  I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this issue!

I hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as I did, and got back home safely from Sheffield, before the next bout of snow arrived!  My next Library Camp adventure will be to LibCamp London on March 2nd, where I have been faithfully promised that the librarians will get drunk afterwards… 😉


LibCamp UK 2012: Part 2

Here are the recaps of the after-lunch sessions…

Lunch was great, and topped up with additional and unnecessary cake, it was even better.  I think my favourite cakes are definitely the lemon based ones, and would choose them over chocolate any day.  At lunch time I had the chance to chat with a few people who had recently graduated from the course at Sheffield.  They had all found jobs, which was quite reassuring, although they warned that it was pretty tough and not everyone had managed to find something yet.  I took on board some useful advice about applying, and am not panicking yet!

Distasters in Libraries

The first post-lunch session was run by a former colleague, @Sonja_Kujansuu.  She’s thinking of doing her dissertation on water disasters in libraries and wanted to hear about everyone’s experiences, as there were a few leaks in the Law Library last year (although luckily nothing was damaged)!

There had been so much discussion about virtual/non-physical library spaces earlier in the day that it was interesting to be reminded that (some) libraries are still based in a physical space, and both the space and the hard-copy collections are still important.  The effect of floods and leaks on libraries can be devastating, although there are companies that specialize in freeze-drying flood-damaged books.  Cambridge has recently suffered unexpectedly severe flooding, and two Cambridge librarians were in the session, talking about the importance of disaster management plans and how their implementation doesn’t always go exactly as expected.  There was also another librarian from a very flood-prone area (I think his library was between a lake and a river!) so a flood-management policy was vital, and they knew exactly what to do in case of a disaster.  There was also a media librarian who was mid-writing a policy document for what to do in case of floods – especially important because in their archive there was a lot of unique material on tapes that might be lost forever if there was water damage.

A couple of decisions that had been made to combat flood damage: in the very flood-prone library, a decision had been made to move a lot of the stock onto a higher floor.  The media librarian was working on separation of assets – keeping two copies of the same bit of video in separate places so that if the worst came to the worst only one would be lost.  Another member of the group pointed out that general maintenance could reduce the risk of water damage, as something as simple as a leaking window could be very destructive if it wasn’t noticed.

Another worrying issue that was brought up was that although we probably think of water as harmless, flood-water can actually be pretty toxic, making it harmful for people as well as books.  One group member had got burns from a reaction from flood water and the printers ink in the books.  That led on to a warning that however much they want to help, you really shouldn’t let your readers try and save the books.

That said, it seemed that there had been some pretty positive reactions from readers noticing floods and pitching in to try and help.  One of the Cambridge floods had actually been noticed by readers, and they had conducted a makeshift rescue job for the books (I think it was out of hours) before a porter was notified.  And in a flood in Sheffield public library, the general public had been keen to help and had had to be turned away.  I think that’s quite uplifting because it shows how much people still care about the print collections, and about the library space.

The discussion went on to the wider effects of a mass flood-clean up on the library users.  At a time when libraries are having to work hard to be welcoming places for readers, it could be damaging if the library space is unable to be used for weeks at a time.  Loyal readers are likely to find somewhere else to go, and it could be hard to build up visitor numbers afterwards.  One of the Cambridge librarians was worried about this happening after her library was flooded.  The library whose stock was moved upstairs also had a suprising reaction from readers – apparently there were complaints that it “didn’t look like a library any more!”

Finally, we came to the importance of communication.  Having a flood-management plan neatly typed up and stuffed in a file, or saved at the bottom of a folder somewhere is all very well, but if it comes to the middle of the night and you’ve got porters and students trying to haphazardly save books, then it isn’t very useful.  We agreed that all disaster management plans should be circulated to all staff, including non-library staff in the building, such as porters, and that they should all be clear on what to do in an emergency.  Some people had even carried out flood-drills in their library, which struck me as very well prepared!

Because of the time limits in the session, we didn’t get round to talking in depth about any other kinds of library disasters but points that were touched on included books being stolen (in public libraries apparently DVDs are a target for that kind of thing), and IT disasters where records could be wiped clean.  It was a very interesting session overall, and I hope it gave Sonja lots of material for her dissertation.


I knew this would be a difficult session as the topic of volunteers in libraries is such a tricky one.  The session leader had had experience of using volunteers in libraries, and although she was against job replacement by volunteers, she was arguing that using volunteers to enhance your service (rather than replace paid work) could hugely benefit both the library and the lives of the volunteers themselves.  It sounded as though the volunteers she used often had health/mental health problems that meant that they couldn’t work, and the experience of volunteering had empowered them and made them more confident.

The discussion revolved round whether it is possible to draw a line between job replacement and this kind of supported volunteering.  I sadly came to the conclusion that in the current climate, the line is always blurred.  On one hand, you could say that a volunteer coming to help people use the computers in a public library is ‘enhancing the service’, but on the other hand that is a job that paid library assistants in academic libraries do.  And the more library services are taken on by willing and eager volunteers, the more the government (who actively want to cut paid roles) can say, “oh well, public libraries must have been overfunded before – look, all the services are still being provided and we don’t have to pay anyone.”  There was even the example of a librarian who had lost her job but had come in still to run a children’s session for free because she loved it – it’s obviously great that people are dedicated, but it was pointed out  that people’s dedication and enthusiasm may play into the government’s ‘big society’ hands and damage both the profession and library services in the long term.

We then moved onto some common misconceptions about volunteers:

1. They are free. They are NOT free – as well as all the admin/CRB checks etc. they also need support from paid staff if they are to provide the right level of service.

2. They will do the same work as paid staff.  They won’t – they are working for free, they don’t really have to do anything they don’t want to.  If they don’t want to engage with IT, or a particularly difficult customer, they don’t have to.

3. They can run a library.  Library staff are trained and experienced – a room full of books staffed by volunteers is not a library.  And what happens when their energy/motiviation/finances run out and their lives move on to other things? What happens to the public’s right to a library service? We discussed seeing Oxfam shops with signs on the door saying “Closed due to lack of volunteers,” and agreed that we need to fight against that happening to libraries.

Although I believe that volunteering can be empowering, and volunteer energy and enthusiasm can have a really positive impact on society , we are up against a government who actively wishes to cut the public sector in general and public libraries in particular. Public librarians are being openly advised to ‘consider volunteers’ as a political strategy to reduce the number of paid staff.  Now is perhaps not the right time to concentrate on the empowering nature of volunteering, or within a few years there will be no libraries left to provide properly supported volunteer placements.  We discussed whether now is the time to take a hard line on ‘no volunteers,’ even if it means the closure of smaller community or branch libraries, to show both the government and the general public that a publicly funded library services CANNOT be run by volunteers –  it needs to be run by trained professionals and have a decent amount of state funding.

[Just to say thank you to the leader of this session – it was bound to be controversial due to the topic and she made some balanced points from both sides of the ‘volunteers debate’]

Open Access

From open source to open access.  We started with the common misconception: “you’re a librarian, so you must be against open access.” You can see why people might think that – surely if everything was freely available online then there would be no need for libraries?  In actual fact, many librarians are fighting hard for open access, as it would mean a fairer and more equal access to resources without all the profits ending up in the pockets of the big journal publishers.  Open access, from what I gather, can be run on two main models – the Gold model, where authors themselves pay to publish in an open access journal, or the Green model, where authors deposit a copy of the article in an institutional repository (usually a final draft), and then publish the final article in a closed access journal as usual.  I don’t know much about the subject, but it was the general consensus that the Gold model wasn’t sustainable, as it just moves the cost of access from the library budget to the research budget.  Institutional repositories are still in their early stages, and there are a few problems with them – mainly because researchers in general are still desperate to publish in high impact peer-reviewed journals in order to further their careers.

We discussed whether by funding open-access publication instead of purchasing closed-access journal subscriptions, universities/libraries were actually spending less on their actual users and pretty much funding everyone else’s access to resources.  However, hopefully you could get to a point where putting up your open-access research would be so good for the institution that researchers would see an added value in doing it.  Also, it was pointed out that a lot of research is publicly funded, and therefore technically the general public have a right to see the finished results, rather than them being hidden away behind a (vastly expensive) pay wall.

We also talked about whether librarians should be curating the open access material that’s out there.  Librarians who work with this material believed that there was still a huge role for library staff to point their users in the right direction to get the right material and to evaluate it, even if the material didn’t belong to the library itself.  It also seemed that as institutional repositories got more popular there would be work for librarians there too.

That was the end of the day!  I didn’t win the raffle, which was sad, but we retired to the pub where it was lovely to catch up with people/meet new people before catching the train back up North.  Generally, I had a very positive and interesting day despite the undoubted fact that the profession is going through a very rough time.  It encouraged me to get involved more directly with library activism and advocacy, and am going to see if there’s anything going on in Sheffield at the moment.

On a last note, if there is anyone who blogged about the session about LGBT in Libraries I would love to read it, as I wish I had made it to that one!

Many thanks to the organisers, and I shall (hopefully) be back next year.

LibCamp UK 2012: Part 1

Yesterday I got up extremely early and headed down to Birmingham on the train for a day of discussion about libraries.  I had attended a smaller ‘unconference’ at Brunel University last year and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to seeing the main event.  I also had happy memories of lots of cake, which was further incentive to get up at 5am.  Libcamp UK 2012 was generally a very positive experience, and we discussed so many things that I thought I would recap them here so I didn’t forget.

Session 1: What is a Library for?

The first session of the day didn’t get off to an inspiring start.  It was led by a consultancy company called Red Quadrant. On further research, it seems that they specialise in ‘transforming’ services in the public sector, and public libraries in particular.  Obviously, people are a bit suspicious of that kind of thing in the current climate of cuts and privatisation of services, which is probably why the RQ guy didn’t really explain what it was that his company actually did – saying instead that he wanted to be ‘controversial’ and provoke a ‘heated debate.’  The thing is, it didn’t even seem controversial because he refused to actually say what his ideas about public libraries were!  He argued that we weren’t defining the value of libraries in the right way, and that was detrimental to the service.  This is obviously an important issue, because libraries are currently called upon to justify themselves much more in order to get extra funding/any funding at all.  Sadly, I’m not sure he had any good solutions (or if he did he wasn’t going to tell us).  All I picked up from it was that he wanted to reach out to users and be part of the community, which seemed a bit patronising as most switched-on public librarians are desperately trying to do this anyway, but with no money to do it with.

There were some interesting comments about the difficulty of quantifying the value of libraries, and a suggestion about the importance of ‘curation’ from a guy who was trying to start up a ‘tool library’ and wanted a librarian to run it (which sounded an interesting idea, although apparently he had had a hard time finding librarians that wanted to branch into tools!).  Someone spoke about how she was conducting interviews with library users to collect qualitative evidence about the value of libraries, which seemed a good idea.  We talked about ‘getting people through the doors’ of libraries, and a non-librarian said that he didn’t use public libraries himself, so it was hard to see the relevance of them.  I always think a big problem with public libraries is that the main users are not people with any economic and political clout – the elderly, the young, mothers and babies, the unemployed wanting help with jobhunting etc.  We didn’t really address that in the session, although there were some strong arguments about people having a right to a public library service.

In the end, we left without any clearer ideas for solutions, or quite what Red Quadrant would do as part of a public library ‘transformation.’  Here is a critical blog post I found about them, although further research is needed to find out exactly what their agenda is!

Oh, and at one point we had to assure a non-librarian that we were only writing on notepads because the wifi wasn’t working, and not because librarians were ‘all about books.’ I have to guiltily admit now that I prefer to scribble notes in a nice notebook and then type it up afterwards.

Session 2: Open Source Software

After filling up on cake (lovely chocolate and orange brownies), I went to a session on something I know very little about – open source software, run by @preater and @liz_jolly.  It was very illuminating, as I fear that had I been a university/ local authority/ organisation approached by my library systems folks and asked whether we could change the Library Management System to open-source, I would have come up with most of the worries and objections criticised here.

1. How would it be supported, and who is accountable for it if it goes wrong?

2. Would it be as reliable as a closed-source version from a familiar name (like Microsoft?)

3. Would our staff be good enough programmers to be able to make it work?

We heard from libcampers who are familiar with implementing open-source software, and had interesting  responses to all those questions.  It seems as though if you use open-source software you still have to pay a company to support and maintain it, but it’s more flexible as if you’re unhappy with them you can change to another company without changing the software.  Also, as programmers are working on open source software all over the world, it’s actually easier to get support if it goes wrong.

Some of the people in the session had implemented open source software in their own organisations, and knew of universities in Europe who had been using it for some time without any problems.  They argued that the reason why our universities/companies remained with closed-source software was that they are stuck in a cycle of purchasing from known vendors that no one has the motivation to break out of.

Although this isn’t something I know much about, I gather the advantages to open-source is that you can fiddle with it, personalise it without going through a provider, and it has an ethos of sharing and open access.  One of the only dangers seemed to be was that you had to reign in over-enthusiastic programmers in your institutions from changing it so much that only they know how to fix it!

The group agreed that the main motivator for an institution changing to open-source was an ‘open-source champion’ in management who was prepared to advocate for a change.  They discussed barriers to change, which surprisingly often came from the IT department.  I would have thought there would be some ‘open-source champions’ among IT departments, but understandably even people who run open-source in their homes are much more cautious when it comes to the workplace.  I can definitely understand institutions like the NHS wanting to play as safe as possible, especially when their systems deal with patient data.

Open source is something for me to read up about it, as I’ve always been a bit of a Windows girl as it is nice and familiar, and I’ve never had to do anything complicated enough to experience any problems with it – but I came away from the session encouraged to explore other options.

Session 3: Librarians without Libraries

Third session of the day was run by ex Law Library trainee @theatregrad, who works in a media archive at a television company.  The discussion was focused on how librarians in non-traditional library settings should promote themselves/ reach out to their users.  Can you call yourself a library when you’re only a phone number or an email address, rather than a physical space?  We heard from charity librarians who support users all over the country and even the world, and health librarians who take their laptops round to support their users ‘on the ground’ rather than expecting them to come into a physical library

It was agreed that not having a physical space actually had its advantages, in that you could go out to your users, but disadvantages in that it was hard to promote exactly what your service did.  The importance of ‘corridor advocacy’ was brought up – the scenario when you’re chatting by the water-cooler and casually bring up that you are the librarian and could probably help the person do his/her work better!  Librarians without libraries often relied on word-of-mouth recommendations to bring people to the service, and were much more active in attending workplace meetings just to show their faces and remind people of their existence.

This led on to a discussion about whether you should call a spade a spade, or in this case, a library a library – or whether you should go for the likes of ‘information centre’ or ‘learning resource centre.’  Apparently there’s a library service in Ireland that has re-branded all its libraries to learning resource centres, and has now realised people are attached to the word library, so are re-branding them all back again! It became clear that it was a matter of context, and using the terms that your users are most likely to understand.  In a corporate environment they might well understand ‘information officer’ better than librarian, and ‘library’ might suggest an old-fashioned physical space full of books that isn’t really relevant to the organisation.  In an educational environment however, it was suggested that students still say “I’m going to the library” even if it’s called something else (although at Sheffield, the Information Commons, or IC, seems to have successfully entered the student language).

Interestingly, it seemed as though many of the problems faced by librarians without libraries were actually fairly similar to librarians with libraries in terms of getting out and marketing services, and that having a physical space was no guarantee that your users would get the most out of your services.

So that brings us to LUNCH (clearly the most important part of the day).  I apologise if I’ve got anything wrong about open source software etc. – these are very new subjects for me!  I shall return with part 2 very soon…

Thing 10: Graduate traineeships, masters degrees and chartership

I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on traineeships and masters degrees.  I don’t know whether this means I’m just nosy and more interested in reading about people’s lives than I am about what they think about Google Calendar? It’s great to hear that there are so many different paths into the profession; traineeships straight after graduation, traineeships later on, library assistant jobs, MAs or MScs, full time masters, part time masters, distance learning, certification, chartership with and without a masters, traineeships at the same time as the masters, the permutations are endless!

Here are some of the most interesting Thing 10 posts I’ve chanced upon:

Emma has been doing a traineeship alongside a distance learning Masters programme.

As Jen is already working in an information role, she is going to do a traineeship as well as working towards certification with CILIP.

Katrina came into librarianship after a career change from publishing and is now working towards chartership.

Ruth has taken the traditional (although increasingly uncommon) route of a traineeship after graduation and then a full time MA.

Judy took a distance learning postgraduate diploma whilst working as a library assistant.

As Lorna works in legal librarianship, she has an HNC in legal studies as well as an MSc in Librarianship.

Sarah is an archivist so the qualifications are a little different, but with a similar route in.

It was interesting to read about Sheila Webber’s first library assistant job in the 70s, and the circulation system that went ‘kerplunk’.

However, there is also a worrying ‘darker’ undercurrent to Thing 10 posts – graduate trainee posts are being cut, MA fees are going up, MA funding is very scarce, library assistant posts are fairly low paid so doing a distance learning course plus working full time is a big decision to take.  Does this mean that loads of talented trainees and library assistants who would make great librarians will be priced out of doing the postgraduate qualification?  Is the postgraduate qualification even useful in terms of what you actually learn, or is it outdated and overpriced?  Does there need to be an overhaul of the system, so that there is more on the job learning in the style of certification and chartership rather than having to do the MA or MSc?  So many questions without real answers being discussed and debated at the moment. Siobhan, Jen, and Rosie talk a bit about the confusion surrounding postgraduate study in their Thing 10 posts.

But on to my own experience:

Graduate Traineeships

I am sad to say I’m coming to the end of my graduate traineeship at the Bodleian Law Library in Oxford.  We had our ‘Year in Review’ session yesterday with all the other trainees, and it seems as though the year has just flown by.  The traineeship has been a really positive experience for me – I’m lucky to have landed in a library with a supportive supervisor, lovely colleagues and lots of different things for me to do.   I’m based in the information resources department, which means I generally help out with cataloguing, serials and acquisitions, as well as spending time on the enquiry desk and joining in with any other projects they’ve got going on.  We’re very much occupied at the moment with a huge reclassification project, so it’s all hands on deck with reclassifying, labelling and reshelving, but that’s because it’s the long vacation – the time for getting things done when not so many students are around.  Earlier in the year I was working on anything from cataloguing and boxing a collection of government papers from commonwealth countries, writing a LibGuide on Swedish Law, taking part in a legal research course, making a massive spreadsheet of reading lists and going through the library web pages as part of a web page redesign project.  So I’ve come from knowing virtually nothing about how libraries function to knowing several notebooks-worth of things!

I would say that trainees do have to be prepared for the fact that some of the work will be repetitive and boring – after all, as a trainee you haven’t really developed any skills yet, and you are at the bottom of the library heap.  Everyone knows more about how the library works than you do, especially at the beginning.  My advice would be to be enthusiastic and friendly, and willing to take on lots of new tasks even if you find some of the day-to-day work a little dull.  Take advantage of any extra training offered, go to outside events organised by CILIP, or to an unconference – I found that it was the mixture of my day-to-day role plus all the extra stuff going on that made my trainee year a really useful and enjoyable experience.

Oxford trainees on a visit to the Bodleian book storage facility – the only time we got to wear lovely orange jackets.

I would recommend the Bod traineeships because of the training programme that goes along with them – on Wednesday afternoons we got to attend talks on subjects as varied as e-resources, special collections, conservation and subject consultants.  We visited a medical library, Oxford Brookes Library, the British Library, the University Archives, a tiny little library especially for conservators, and probably some other libraries that I’ve forgotten, to see how different they all are, and what different librararians’ roles involve.  We had training in presentation skills and customer service (although the customer care workshop was a little bit cringeworthy – we had to do role play, horror of horrors).  We got the chance to present on aspects of social media, and on the projects we’d been working on – see my write-up here for more info on that.  Oh, and we were encouraged to arrange tours of each other’s libraries around Oxford.  I’ve seen more libraries and eaten more biscuits this year than ever before in my life!

Photo from a trip to the Radcliffe Science Library

I feel very lucky to have been able to benefit from the Bodleian scheme, and I don’t think I would have had such a fun and interesting introduction to librarianship if I hadn’t done a traineeship.  That said, I had come from knowing nothing at all about librarianship, so if you were in a different position – say you had already worked as a library assistant for a few years – I can see why the traineeship wouldn’t be so useful.  They’re also usually less well paid than some library assistant posts, and you may have to be willing and able to move to a place where there are traineeships for just a year (bloggers in Scotland and Wales seem to be saying that there aren’t so many to be found there).  In the end, as for most things, it all depends on your circumstances – as the links above prove, there are lots of ways into the profession without doing a traineeship.

2011/12 Oxford Trainees. Taken from the trainee blog


Masters Degrees

I just got my ‘Welcome to the University of Sheffield’ pack through the post this morning – how exciting!  It seems like ages ago that I applied, and I’ve not really had time to think about it as there has been so much going on in Oxford, but in reality it’s only a couple of months till I start studying in Sheffield.  It won’t be a big move for me, as I grew up near, and went to sixth form in Sheffield, but it will be a bit of a shock to start studying again after a two year gap.  Hopefully I haven’t forgotten how to do it – I’ve taken a language qualification this year, to keep my studying hat on.

I should say that I realise that I am in an extremely fortunate position in that I got funding from the AHRC to study for the MA full time.  It wasn’t my plan at all to go to Sheffield – I applied on the off-chance and was really expecting to stay in Oxford and study the Aberystwyth course by distance learning.  This would have had its advantages – I would have been able to stay in the Oxford Libraries system, and gain more work experience by working full time – but with the funding I will be able to save a lot of money, and get the qualification done a bit quicker.  Plus the Sheffield course looks really interesting.  There are pros and cons either way, really – and despite my own ‘traditional’ route in, I would argue for some more options for entering the profession, as I’m sure the amount of funding available is only going to go down, and the fees are only going to go up.

I’m sure I’ll blog more about the course when I start.  For people thinking about Sheffield, another former Bodleian trainee, Ruth, has written about her first two terms at Sheffield here and here.


Let’s just get the MA over with first, and then try and get a job before thinking about Chartership.  One step at a time is the way to go!  I’ve heard on the grapevine that it’s a lot to do with reflective practice, so I’ll probably try and get better at that in the meantime.  I’m sure it’s something that I will want to do later on, although I can imagine that it might fall by the wayside if you end up in a job that doesn’t require it.  We’ll see…

I’ll leave you with an interesting thread from the LISNPN forums where graduate trainees in my year say what they’re going to do next in terms of working/studying.


Things 8 and 9: In which my mother gets an ipad before me and I experiment with Evernote.

Yes, it’s true.  Mother LibraryEms has purchased herself a shiny new ipad with a lovely purple cover, complete with astronomy app so that Father LibraryEms can take it outside and identify stars with it.  Cue jealousy from both me and my sister – how can this have happened, that the parentals have become more technologically advanced than us?  I know in the grand scheme of life not having an ipad is really not a big problem, so I am mostly being tongue-in-cheek whilst complaining about it – but it’s so SHINY.  Aaaaah.  Perhaps if I enter enough competitions I may win one.

I’m talking about ipads for Thing 8 and 9 because I think that you could only really get into these Things if you owned a tablet or a smartphone big and fast enough to access them on.  I technically have a smartphone, but it is absolutely tiny, the on/off/silent button has fallen off so I have to press it with a pair of tweezers/earring hook, the internet only works about 50% of the time, and on those rare times I can access Facebook it refuses to display anyone’s name and just mysteriously calls everyone ‘Facebook User’.  Although this provides many happy hours of ‘guess whose status it is’ whilst sitting on the bus, it does mean that I wouldn’t attempt to introduce it to Google calendar or Evernote.

Still, I have obediently loaded up both the Things onto my aging laptop, and am hoping that the poor thing will cope with the extra pressure.

Google Calendar

I already have a Google account, and regularly use it for Gmail and Google Reader, so I found that I already had a Calendar – I just haven’t ever entered anything into it.  I have now entered in events for the next few weeks – social ones, such as a friend’s wedding and a theatre trip, rather than work related ones.  We use Outlook calendar at work, and I prefer the interface to Google, plus we have our Outlook open all the time so that the notifications pop up regularly and remind us of meetings etc.  I use the Outlook calendar for everything, and find it very useful.  You can also access it online via webmail, so there wouldn’t be any use having Google Calendar as well.  My supervisor can just add things to all our calendars, so we don’t forget team meetings and other important events.

However, as my traineeship is coming to an end, I shall soon be leaving the happy world of Outlook calendar and will have to find a replacement as I probably won’t be working next year as I do my MA full time.  Hopefully Google Calendar will then prove to be useful, as I shall have to schedule in all my classes.  I shall have to experiment a bit with the notification times – how long before an event is best to have an email/pop up reminding you that something is going to happen?

I don’t think I would ever need to ‘share’ my personal calendar with others, but I can see the advantage to sharing if you worked in an organisation where everyone was using Google as a professional calendar.  It would be useful if you were a supervisor and wanted your team to know when you were going to be available to talk to them etc.

I have to admit, that I also am going to buy a pretty new diary for next year with my 20% discount from the Bodleian Shop, so unless I win that ipad I shall probably stick with pen and paper for the time being.



So, I’ve downloaded Evernote and set up a Webclipper in Google Chrome, which seems to work quite well.  To test it out, I’ve ‘clipped’ an article from the Guardian webpage about how the bestseller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is boosting readership in public libraries.

Screenprint of my first Evernote Web Clipping

I seem to have been inundated recently with ingenious tools to store webpages – from Delicious to Scoop.it! and Pocket, I now feel like there are too many choices, and am tempted to go back to my original tactic of copying and pasting links into a handy Word document or emailing myself a list of links.  I think I need to decide on one way of storing webpages and stick to it.  Evernote Web Clipper seems useful because it saves the webpage as a clipping, so that it will still be there even if the page itself is taken down or changed.  It also allows you to add tags and comments to the clipping, so you can annotate it with your own thoughts and sort it out to make it easily searchable later.  I can see that this will come in much more useful when I’m studying next year, so it’s good to practice now so I get the hang of it.

The syncing feature would sadly only be useful if I had a number of different devices to access it with, which I don’t, and I can see that if I had an ipad I would be able to use it to take notes in lectures and all kinds of other things.  All roads seem to be leading to me getting an ipad, don’t they?

In conclusion, I will probably put these two Things on hold until I start the MA, and then will crack them out again and try and use them to organise my chaotic research methods (when I was studying for my English MA I had hundreds of emails to myself saved as such illuminating things as ‘dissertation notes 45’ ).

And even if I can’t afford an ipad, I’m sure my phone is due for an upgrade at some point this year – I will definitely try and go for one with a bigger screen, a working on/off button and a more reliable internet connection!


From Russian maps to ipads: the 2012 Oxford trainee project showcase

A couple of weeks ago the Oxford trainees gathered for a day of presentations, a free lunch and an excellent variety of  biscuits.  The aim was to share what we had been working on over the year, as well as developing our presentation skills.  A fellow trainee has written the official blog post for our trainee blog, but I’m hoping that I will remember useful things about the day if I write about it myself too.  So without further ado, here are my summaries of all fifteen presentations!

*On a side note, we also managed to rescue a goldfish over lunch, so all in all a successful day*

Showcase Invitation

1. The History Faculty Library on the move

First up was the HFL trainee talking about the upcoming move of the entire history faculty library to the Radcliffe Camera (which is the famous building pictured above).  It’s a big event for many reasons, including the mixing of lending and non-lending collections in the central Bodleian.  The trainee project was to make a video introduction to the new history library using Captivate, which is going to be embedded in the website to introduce readers to the new building.  It’s going to be a big change for readers so lots of communication will definitely be necessary so that they don’t wander round lost and confused!

2. Tracking down mysterious Russian maps

Next to a college library project – and one that made me slightly jealous that I don’t work in a college library full of hidden treasures (don’t get me wrong, I love the Law Library, but there’s a noticeable lack of undiscovered chests full of enlightenment maps).  All Souls Library, however, did have a hidden chest full of enlightenment maps, and this trainee project was basically to locate them, which was easier said than done.  It was a library-based mystery, beginning with an obscure reference found in an eighteenth century college minutes book. The All Souls trainee and her colleagues hunted through lists and books for other mentions of the maps, were led up blind alleys of mis-recording, and finally stumbled upon them in a giant wooden press.  The moral of the tale is that we can’t rely on the computerised library catalogue for everything, and there are still uncatalogued treasures hidden away waiting to be found.

3. Reclassifying linguistics

Another college, and the first of the day’s reclassification based talks (there’s a lot of reclassifying going on in Oxford at the moment).  The St Hilda’s trainee was responsible for reclassifying their undergraduate collection of linguistics books, which had been hard to browse because their classification system wasn’t specific enough.  She took us through the process, which included researching other libraries’ ways of classifying linguistics, working out which scheme would fit their collection the best, and using online research to find the best shelfmark for the books.  In the end they looked much more organised, so hopefully the St Hilda’s readers will find the new system useful when they get back after the summer break!  This presentation was the only one that used Prezi (the rest of us stuck to PowerPoint), and I was very impressed.  I’ve found Prezi sometimes makes me feel a bit sick, but there wasn’t too much whizzing about and it worked really well.  Maybe something for me to try next time.

4. Cataloguing the architects’ plans of Nuffield College

There was a definite map and plan based theme in some of the talks, which made an interesting change from books.  Although the Nuffield College trainee project looked like very hard work (digging through the many thousands of architects’ plans for the college, which were kept in the basement, cataloguing them and storing them safely), it seemed a worthwhile thing to do, as they had already had an enquiry from a firm of architects about the plans.  The trainee was inputting metadata about the plans into a database, so that they would be easily searchable.   Some had a lot of information to put in the database, and some were just pencil sketch plans, with no title, date, name or place, so the trainee had to really work with what she had.  She dug up some interesting facts about the original college designs – apparently the architect initially wanted to give it a Middle Eastern air but college founder Lord Nuffield was having none of it!

5. The history of the EFL

I was sad to hear during this talk that the St Cross building, which houses both the English Faculty Library and the Law Library was voted the ugliest building in Oxford.  Here it is, in all its 1960s grade 2 listed glory…

St Cross Building. Photo by stevecadman and shared on flickr under a creative commons license.

Not too bad, right?

Anyway, the EFL trainee project was to make a pamphlet and an exhibition about the history of the library – she had to dig around in the archives, which are held in other parts of the university, to find material.  The EFL has been rehomed a few times since it was founded, including at one point in a cramped little attic with a beetle infestation, has had a series of prestigious alumni who have kindly donated books for the rare books room and had a committee at one point who were most concerned about where in the new building they should put the wine cupboard.  It’s amazing what anecdotes you can discover in archives, and it sounds like the pamphlet went down well with the students and with open day visitors.  At the end, we got to watch Hot Girls in the EFL, which was part of a musical put on by Oxford students (slightly sexist but quite amusing, and you get to see the library).

Developing the Jesubite collection.

If anyone didn’t know, a ‘Jesubite’ is a member or alumnus of Jesus College, Oxford.  I like to hear about what goes on in college libraries, because they’re quite unique, and totally different from the subject based university libraries.  The Jesus trainee was developing the Jesubite collection, material about, by, or donated by alumni of the college.  There were some interesting characters in the Jesus alumni, from T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) to the son of the founder of cremation in Britain (who was apparently a druid).  The trainee has been reclassifying the collection and writing a collection development policy – they don’t want everything to do with old members because of space constraints, but they hope to develop it in future.  She also did a survey of other college libraries and found that their old members’ collections were usually lending collections, so their collection is now available to be borrowed.

Making a LibGuide on apps for the social sciences.

We all got to pass round the shiny new Social Science Library ipad in this talk, and it increased my ipad envy.  The aim of the SSL ipad was so that library staff could become accustomed to new technology and would be able to help readers with it.  It’s a good idea, as I sometimes feel that I am falling behind in the knowledge of this kind of mobile technology, simply because I can’t really afford it – I’m still pretty laptop based, although if my phone’s in a good mood, it might occasionally allow me to check Facebook.  The SSL trainee had researched all kinds of apps that might be useful for social sciences students (referencing, databases, personal scanners etc.) and had created an online guide with some of the best one she’d discovered.  She had found the sheer number of apps available quite daunting, and it was difficult to tell which were actually any good, but having the ipad was definitely an advantage as she could play around and try them out.  The LibGuide will be live very soon.

Extreme reclassification : Moysing the Law Library

This was MY presentation!  I’d like to blog about this properly, so I won’t dwell on it now, but briefly it was about the long-running project in the Law Library to reclassify all the 90,000 monographs to the Moys classification scheme in order to make it easier for readers to browse by subject.  At the moment we’re elbow deep in monographs, spreadsheets and label remover in the library, so I’ll leave you with a photo of the Scottish law section all ready to be Moysed and put back on the shelf…

Scottish Law ready to be Moysed

Extracting and preserving the contents of Mini-DV cassettes

This presentation was a nice change from library based projects, as it was given by the FutureArch trainee , who works with the Bodleian digital archives.  She talked about the difficulty of preserving video – so much is stored on out-of-date equipment, it’s very fragile, copying it onto other systems might make it lose quality.  Mini-DV cassettes are little cassettes which were used mainly for home videoing, so lots of interesting archival material are stored on them, but you can’t really buy any new technology to play them, as they have been replaced so quickly by hard drives.  It was really interesting to learn about the challenges of preserving non-paper materials, as it’s not something you get to hear about very often, but it’s surely going to get more and more important as time goes on.

Reclassifying and dragging back

We’re back to reclassifying again here, this time a section of the Lower Reading Room at the main Bodleian which the trainee was trying to integrate with the rest of the collection and free up some shelf space.  It showed what a feat of organisation reclassification and book moving actually is.  His spreadsheet looked incredibly complicated and he explained how unforseen problems often cropped up – from not being able to find the record on the system and not being able to find the book at all, to the physical task of lugging the books around.

Library communications

The other trainee from the SSL had taken a different approach to the project – she had gone round visiting other libraries and seeing how they communicated with their readers.  Her presentation was a shortened version of a report that she had put together, which hopefully will come in useful when the libraries are looking at communication in the future.  She showed that each library had to focus on many different methods of communication, from signage in the library space to social media presence.  It was interesting to see the positive aspects of some of the Oxford libraries, as well as where they had room for improvement!

Fiedler online

The Taylor Slavonic trainee talked about turning ‘dusty stuff’ – in this case, letters written by Professor Fiedler, first professor of German at Oxford University – into an online resource.  He had been single handedly digitising the letters and building a very impressive database and website to show them off with.  Although there was sadly a lot of computer language talk that bypassed me a bit (really need to start learning it at some point), the concept made sense – putting a website and a database together so that people could search for the letters of Hermann Fiedler by name, location and subject matter, and see a digitised copy along with the record.  You can see the website (still under construction) here.

Law and order in the library

The last college library talk of the day was another overview of different libraries, this time focussing on library rules and regulations.  The St Hugh’s trainee had found some amusing rules from the 15th century, some of which were similar to our own (don’t deface the books), and some of which were probably not (don’t let women into the library).  Then she went on to talk about how library rules worked at Oxford and how students responded to them.  She has helpfully put an extended version of her slide show on her blog so you can read all about it for yourselves.

Producing online resources for for ArcGIS mapmaking software

More maps!  And some mapmaking software I had never heard of – hence the need to make resources for it.  The Radcliffe Science Library has just had this software installed on some of its computers, and it is really useful for anyone doing any kind of spatial analysis or mapmaking.  However, as the current resources for it are quite technical and jargon heavy, the RSL trainee produced some easy-to-read resources for the novice user.  This was a good example of librarians not just being about books – the RSL trainee’s experience of using the ArcGIS software during her science degree gave her the right expertise to write some really helpful guides for library users who didn’t know a lot about the software.  The RSL is one of the best libraries in Oxford for new technology, so it is always interesting to see what they are working on in this field.

Building a database to record the history of the Oxford Union

Last, but certainly not least, the Oxford Union library trainee talked about her crash course in database building, and the attempt to create a searchable database of information about the history of the Union itself.  The Oxford Union was founded in 1823 and as well as having a library and bar, is also famous for organising debates and speakers to entertain its members.  It’s also run by a committee, and union committee members are known for later becoming successful politicians/ other important folks.  So the Union library gets a lot of enquiries about past members, past debates, minutes of committee meetings, but up until now has had no way of searching for them.  We saw lots of complicated plans for the database which reminded me of another thing I should put on my ‘lists of things to learn how to do’ – build an Access database – and it looks like it will be a really valuable resource once it’s finished.  We were warned though, a database isn’t useful without a huge amount of data entry, so there’s a lot of work still left to go!

If anyone has got to the end of this post, well done!  It’s a bit of a lengthy post, but I thought it was worth including all the presentations as they were all quite different.  We all had a good (if nerve wracking) day, and many thanks to all supervisors and other library staff who came to see us.

Enthusiastic about Thing 7 (because real life networking always involves more cake)

I never really trusted the word ‘networking’, as I don’t like the idea of only making an effort with people if you can use them to further your own career.  However, I may be looking at it through rose-tinted spectacles but there really doesn’t seem to be too much of that involved with networking in the library world – from what I’ve seen, people are enthusiastic about meeting other information professionals, sharing their knowledge and expertise, and making connections in order to work together on interesting projects.  And I have to say that one of the best things about my graduate trainee year has been the chance to get involved with real life networks, attend events, and chat to other people working in libraries.

I would highly recommend any new trainees next year to try and get involved as much as possible with real life networks – not only have I learnt a lot about the profession and met some nice people, there is often plentiful tea and cake as well!

Cake! Photo courtesy of A.L. Nunn

I thought I would make a list of all the real life networking I’ve taken part in this year – hopefully it will help me remember, and perhaps give new trainees an idea of what to get involved with.

BIALL Graduate Open Day: I attended this event way back in October, when I hadn’t much of an idea of all the different possible library careers.  BIALL is the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians, and as my trainee placement has been in a Law Library, my work kindly paid for me to attend the open day (the cost was around £35 I think).  It was the first time I had been outside of the Oxford bubble, and it was great to meet trainees from law firms, inns of court, media libraries and health libraries.  We heard talks from more experienced law librarians, representatives from the Masters course at City University, self-employed librarians and people working in library recruitment.  We also got to visit the Wellcome Library, which specializes in the history of medicine and was really interesting.  We got the chance to chat to the speakers and the other attendees over lunch, and I found it useful to hear from people who had already started the MA, as well as trainees at the same stage as me.

LISNPN London Trainee Meet-up: Although I probably prefer real life meetings to online networking, I don’t think there would be so many opportunities for one without the other, and this trainee gathering is a good example of that.  It was organised through the trainee forum on the LIS New Professionals Network mentioned in Thing 6, and a couple of us from Oxford ended up adventuring into central London after work to meet some London-based trainees for food and drinks.  It was fantastic to meet enthusiastic trainees from different libraries – we talked about plans for MAs/jobs, the differences between traineeships and what it was like working in such varied libraries.  It’s something that I’d definitely recommend to any new Bodleian trainees, as it’s easy to start thinking that the Oxford libraries are the be all and end all, just because there are so many of them!

Libcamp Brunel: I didn’t get the chance to go to Library Camp 2011, as it was too soon after the start of my traineeship, but I heard good things about it from one of the other Bod trainees, so when I saw (via Twitter – again, the value of online networking!) that there was going to be a smaller version of Library Camp based at Brunel University in Uxbridge, I decided to go – encouraged further by the fact that it was free!  Libcamps are organised in an unconference format, which means they are participant driven and anyone can choose to pitch and present a session.  Here and here are blog posts about the event  from other participants, which go into detail about what happened on the day.  I attended some interesting sessions about information literacy, social media and next generation catalogues – I didn’t always feel qualified to contribute, as there were some much more experienced professionals there, but I learnt a lot through listening, and it was nice to talk to a mix of trainees and librarians.

Trainee visit to Oxford: Again organised through the LISNPN forums, this was going to be a small affair but ended up being a fairly large group of trainees descending on Oxford from such far flung locations as Cambridge, Sheffield and Leeds.  One of the other Oxford trainees organized the visit, and I agreed to show the group round the Law Library as part of their day.  Although the Law Library sadly isn’t the prettiest part of the Bodleian, I hope they enjoyed it – we almost got lost wandering around the maze of the secondary collection and we managed to dig out some Law Library treasures to show off, a tiny sixteenth century copy of the Magna Carta, one of the first maps of an African region and the  ‘illustrated police news,’ gaudily illustrated with unlikely and theatrical true crime.  We all met up in the pub in the evening and got to know some of the (exhausted) visiting trainees.

CILIP New Professionals Day 2012: I’ve already blogged at length about this, so I won’t go over it again – I really enjoyed it (and it’s free!), and would recommend next year’s to anyone.  Remember to book quickly though, as places were limited.

New Professionals at CILIPNPD12 (the side of my head is just visible). Photo courtesy of usernametaken10 on flickr under a Creative Commons License.

CPD23 Oxford Meet-up: In order to do something proactive for Thing 7, a fellow trainee organized a cpd23 meet-up in a pub in Oxford after work.  I enjoyed meeting a few other people following the CPD23 course in Oxford, and it was especially reassuring to find that they were behind with the programme as well!   The Library Bee and  Charlie’s 23 Things are two blogs from Oxford library staff and part time UWE students who I met at the meet-up.  It was interesting to hear about their experiences of library school, dissertation topics and how their careers have progressed after the traineeship – especially interested in Charlie’s job as an information specialist for the NHS, as it sounds quite different from traditional library work!

I’m going to leave the blog post here for now, but I shall return with ‘Thing 7’ part 2, as I realise I haven’t touched on joining professional networks like CILIP – so far, I’ve stuck with free networking opportunities!  But I finally got round to printing out the joining form for CILIP this week, so watch this space…