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!


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.

Confused by LinkedIn: Thing 6 (online networks)

A couple of weeks ago, the Bodleian trainees had a useful training session at the university careers centre.  As well as tips for writing CVs and practice interview questions, there was an introduction to LinkedIn – how best to use it, how to make sure you appeared in Google search results and why you shouldn’t link your Twitter account to it if you’re going to post inane comments about sandwiches.  Our careers adviser, who was very good, was a fan of LinkedIn, even if it was just in terms of having a professional CV floating around out there online.  She made the point that when you’re applying for jobs you have to fiddle around with your CV, removing and adding things in order to tailor it to the specific position you want.  The LinkedIn CV can be broader if you want it to be, listing everything you’ve done, as well as skills you have, groups you’re involved in and so on.  She wasn’t so keen on the actual social networking aspects of LinkedIn, although she advised us to use it to find other people online if we were jobhunting or trying to find someone to ask for work experience.

I came away from the session determined to create a LinkedIn account, especially with the added incentive of cpd23 Thing 6.  And I have indeed created one.  But so far I’m not very enthusiastic about it!  It may be that I haven’t quite grasped its full potential, but it just doesn’t seem as user friendly as some other networks.

1. It just doesn’t look very nice.  This may be fussy, but profiles on other networks are a lot more aesthetically pleasing – even my actual hard copy CV looks smarter than a LinkedIn profile.

2. I don’t understand the social code of LinkedIn when it comes to making connections.  Unlike Twitter, it seems to be that you are only supposed to ‘connect’ to people if you know them quite well, so therefore the only people I’ve felt comfortable about adding are my colleagues at the library, and a couple of fellow trainees I’ve got to know quite well at conferences.  Although they are lovely people, I’m not sure I really need to see their CVs, and if I want to talk to them I can always talk to them on Twitter (or in real life).  If anyone else knows the unwritten rules of connecting on LinkedIn, I would be pleased to hear them.

3. I find it a bit scary that LinkedIn knows so many ‘people I may know’, and therefore I imagine I (and my photo) am coming up on other people’s homepages too.  As this is the only time I’ve decided to use my real name, I am still slightly uneasy about it.

4. For some reason, it seems to be recommending jobs to me, but not ones that are actually useful.  There are plenty of other ways to find useful library and info jobs online – no, I don’t want to be a graduate trainee analyst or a call centre assistant, thank you.

Anyway, I have added a few of my colleagues, just to see what happens, and have joined the groups recommended in the cpd23 post.  Hopefully I can explore them in the next few days.  I’m not 100% convinced I will keep my profile, especially after the recent security breach, but I will give it another chance before I make a decision.

Onto friendlier networks… Twitter…

I’ve already written about Twitter in a previous post, and it’s probably my favourite online network at the moment.  I think this is partly because it’s the one network which has enough library and info people engaged with it to make it a valuable resource. It’s all very well to have forums, but they easily fall out of use if not enough people use them regularly.

I like the fact that on Twitter you definitely are allowed to follow people you don’t know, just because they look like interesting librarians, and it is even fine to start a conversation with those people.  I have heard about many things on Twitter that I wouldn’t have done otherwise – Libcamp Brunel, CILIP New Professionals Day, CPD23 itself – all things that have really enriched my graduate trainee experience and caused me to become more enthusiastic about librarianship.

I have even used Twitter usefully at work today, in order to search for what people are saying about replacements for the Meebo instant messaging widget, which has been bought out and discontinued by Google.  Searching for the #Meebo hashtag brought up comments and links to blogs and articles about other IM clients, and I got a couple of replies from other information professionals about their experiences with Meebo replacements, which I can usefully take back to my colleagues.

I have to say that not all of Twitter is useful – I have had to unfollow a few people who tweet a lot about their personal lives (this is OK on Facebook, but I find it odd to read so much about the lives of people I’ve never met).  But for the most part, I’d give Twitter the top marks for online networking, and will definitely continue to tweet for a while longer.

… and Facebook

Like most Thing 6 blogs I’ve read, I’ve decided to keep Facebook personal and private.  I really appreciate it – I’ve moved so many times that I’ve got friends scattered every which way, and I don’t think I’d keep up with them if I didn’t have Facebook.  I’ve had a look at the CILIP page, and other library pages, but I’m not going to use them for networking.

While we’re on Facebook though, I think this is a great example of a library page.  It’s St Hughs College Library in Oxford, and I think the use of photos and the new timeline format makes it look really smart and professional!

LISNPN and Librarians as Teachers

As a new graduate trainee in September, the staff development team at the Bodleian recommended that we checked out LIS New Professionals network, and I found the Graduate Trainees forum really interesting – it was the first time I’d heard what was happening in the world of libraries outside of Oxford, and I went to a trainee gathering in London organised through it, where I met a few people that I’m still in touch with, and have seen at other events.  There was also a really successful trainee trip to Oxford organised through LISNPN – I showed a large and enthusiastic group of visitors round the Law Library, and I think everyone enjoyed seeing the different Oxford libraries.

I haven’t been on LISNPN for a while, and it doesn’t seem to be hugely active, but I explored it a bit for Thing 6, and particularly like the downloadable resources.  Anonymous reviews of the MA courses are a really good idea, as well as other good advice.  There’s a new thread to discuss the future plans of this year’s cohort of trainees, which I’ve posted in, and am interested to hear other people’s experiences.  The jobs and placements section also sounds really useful.

Finally, my role at the moment doesn’t involve any teaching, but I know that it’s a skill that more and more academic librarians need, so I look forward to looking at Librarians as Teachers Network at a later date!

Next up – leaving the virtual world behind and meeting face to face…

Mirror mirror on the wall: exploring reflective practice (Thing 5)

Reflections in a sculpture at Chatsworth House

After pondering on the nature of the wonky reflections pictured above, I created a little diagram  which I think demonstrates how NOT to be a good reflective practitioner, or indeed, any kind of practitioner.  It stemmed from considering the art of reflective practice, and the bad habits that form from not reflecting enough, over-reflecting to the point of inactivity and reflecting in the wrong kind of way.   Although everything on the chart is exaggerated for effect (honestly), they are all tendencies I sometimes find myself veering towards when faced with a challenging task.

Bad habits caused by too little / too much reflection.

For me, becoming a good reflective practitioner would mean avoiding falling into that cycle as much as possible.  From reading the links that the cpd23 blog helpfully provided, the actual theory seems fairly simple:

Greenaway 1995

Reflective Practice and Me

Ideally, I should be reflecting on things I do, identifying what went well, and what didn’t go so well, and working out ways I could do better next time, and then using this new understanding to prepare for my next task.  Simple!  And hopefully an excellent way of not falling into the traps pictured above.

I have not carried out much formal reflective practice in the past – the closest I’ve come to it is filling in my annual review at the Law Library, which was useful in that it helped me to reflect on what I had achieved in my trainee year, and how I felt about it.  However, this involved a bit of mental gymnastics, as I had to dredge through my mind to review a whole year’s worth of work.  Some of the best advice about reflective practice seems to be to get your thoughts down in writing quickly so that you can remember clearly what happened and what your gut reaction to the event was.  Forcing myself to do this will be useful, as I often plan to write a diary entry or a blog post about something – a conference that I’ve attended, a talk that I’ve seen or a book that I’ve read – and never get round to it until a few months later, when my initial memories have faded and I don’t remember exactly how I felt at the time.

More good advice is that you should act on what you’ve reflected about.  Although running over events in your head or on a blog may be beneficial to you, it’s no good if you don’t try and apply what you’ve learnt next time you do a similar task.  I think that must be one of the hardest parts of reflective practice – I find it easy to waffle on about my thoughts, but changing my behaviour is another matter!

Reflective Practice at the University of Sheffield

Next year I am going to be studying for my MA Librarianship at the University of Sheffield.  From what I’ve heard, Sheffield is very hot on reflective practice, which scares me a little, as I’m not sure it should be something that ought to be given a grade, but other Sheffield students have said that they found it quite useful.  Here is a blog post by a tutor at Sheffield, all about teaching reflective practice.


The main problem I can see with reflective practice is quite simply lack of time.  When I write, I tend to write a lot – new ideas always occur to me half way through – and reflecting in writing on everything that I do at work would take up a great deal of time.  Although I’m only a trainee, I’ve heard a lot about CILIP Chartership, and one of the main difficulties seems to be fitting writing up reflective practice evidence into already busy work and home lives.  I suppose it’s probably best to be selective, and choose the things you think you can learn the most from.

Another problem would be that I wouldn’t want to reflect publicly on this blog about my paid work – it’s not particularly secret but it just seems quite unprofessional.  I would prefer to keep a private reflective practice diary for that, and use the blog to reflect on the wider profession.

Reflecting on CPD23 so far

Taking a few moments to think back over the last few weeks, I would say that I have got a lot out of the CPD23 course already.  I am already falling behind by a week, but I feel that as long as I keep myself to within a couple of weeks of where we’re up to I’m not in danger of giving up completely.  However, if I get too far behind I think I might lose motivation.  I am pleased with my blog as a personal record of my thoughts – with the added bonus of other people reading and commenting, and have enjoyed reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.  It has made me realise that there is always room for professional development, no matter what stage of your career you’re at, and has given me a valuable insight into what career options there are out there.  More practically, it has introduced me to useful web tools such as Storify, Scoop.it and Google Reader – and even little, simple things such as how to add a picture to a WordPress blog.  This week’s topic has encouraged me to write down some of the tasks I’m undertaking at work and as part of the graduate trainee scheme, both so I can reflect on them and to provide evidence for when I am writing job applications in future.

In terms of acting on my reflections, I will try and catch up with everyone else this week, and I will make the effort to comment on a few more posts (it’s always rewarding to get a comment).  I will continue to investigate the new online tools I’ve discovered, and I will start a private reflective journal to note down some of my feelings about the work I do at the Bodleian.  I’d also like to use this blog as a way of reflecting on any good training sessions/ events/ conferences that I am lucky enough to be able to go on.  Although I might not have time to reflect on absolutely everything, I hope that the attempt will be of some use.


In the interests of fiddling around with my newly-discovered web tools, I have created a Scoop.it page full of useful articles about reflective practice.  Some are very education based – teachers seem to have to do a lot of compulsory reflection – but are still interesting and relevant to librarianship.  Enjoy reflecting everybody!

Workhouse grub and the effects of tight lacing: Dickens and his World


Dickens and his World: Bodleian exhibition 2nd June-28th October

One of the best things about working in Oxford this year has been the free exhibitions that the Bodleian put on in their Exhibition Room.  First it was Treasures of the Bodleianwhere you could see items as diverse as Shakespeare’s First Folio, a handwritten draft of a Wilfred Owen poem and a fourteenth century bestiary filled with strange and wonderful creatures.  Next was Romance of the Middle Ages, which showcased manuscripts from the late Middle Ages (Sir Gawain, King Arthur etc.) and how they had influenced art and literature throughout history.  The exhibitions were fantastic – created with great care and very informative – and all free, to everyone.

So I was pleased to hear that the third exhibition of the year, Dickens and his World had opened this Saturday, and I went eagerly along to see it.

The Bodleian Exhibition Room has to be kept very dark – I assume to protect the books and manuscripts – so it took a while for my eyes to focus, but the exhibits themselves were well lit, and you could see and read everything perfectly well.  The exhibits were kept in a number of glass cases, and backed by information boards and blown up pictures.  Visitors could wander round as they liked, and there was a small counter where you could buy postcards and guides.

You would think that a Dickens exhibition could really only involve books, and there were a few cases of books – some early editions, some open to show illustrations by Phiz and some publications that are not well known in the Dickens canon.  One that amused me was The Village Coquettes, a comic operetta published in 1836, and which was placed open on a page where a young female character sings about how old people have forgotten the fun of flirtation!

However, books were definitely not the only things on show – for a start, Dickens’ works weren’t initially published in book form.  They came out in installments, leaving audiences with cliffhanger endings waiting for the next serial part. The Bodleian, as a legal deposit library, got all the serial parts.  Unfortunately, conscientious librarians at the time bound them all together, and the library had to end up buying back the front covers when they realised what historical value they would have!  They were on show in the exhibition with covers restored.

But the majority of exhibits had, in fact, come from the wonderful John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemerawhich collects historical ephemera such as theatre bills, adverts and leaflets.  It has been partly digitised and is available free in the UK to all higher ed institutions and public libraries.  Well worth a look if you have access!  Although designed to be ‘ephemeral’ in their very nature, preserved in this way such items give a fascinating insight into daily life.

In the exhibition, a whole wall of playbills showed us some very fast-and-loose nineteenth century adaptations of Dickens’ works – some apparently put on even before Dickens had finished the story!  Characters were plucked out of the novels and given their own star billing – the sad story of Little Em’ly (from David Copperfield) for instance, looked like it had received some rave reviews.

One of my favourite exhibits was a carefully constructed cardboard theatre.  I used to have a similar kind of one as a child, but this one was set up with the scene from Oliver Twist where Bill Sykes brutally murders Nancy – Victorian children were obviously quite hardy.  It is amazing how such items have been preserved in the library for all this time.

Many of the displays dealt with different aspects of Dickens’ world – the railways for instance, and the workhouse.  On show were the pamphlets published to advise workhouses how much food each inmate should be given (not much), and a terrible diatribe about the perils of putting unmarried mothers in the same room as ‘respectable’ women.   In the ‘Diversions of London’ case a leaflet advertised an ‘anatomical waxworks’ display, which proudly claimed to show such disgusting wonders as a waxwork undergoing a Cesarean section, and a waxwork demonstrating the ‘evil effects of Tight Lacing’.  Forerunners of the Channel 4 documentary methinks!

Of course, in a Dickens exhibition we can’t forget his actual writing – there were quotes from his novels to complement the items from the John Johnson Collection, and in the corner you could sit and listen with headphones to longer passages.

As a literature and history fan, and also as someone who would be really interested in working in special collections and library exhibitions in a future life, it has been great to see how the Bodleian exhibits its special collections, and I would recommend anyone in Oxford to go and take a look.

Thing 4: Twitter, RSS and Storify

I’m a little bit behind with CPD23 already, and I blame my own weak will and the weather for it.  An important discovery I’ve made is that the more sun we have, the less interest I have in social media of all forms.  Luckily (and this relates to Thing 4 – Twitter) it doesn’t actually matter if you miss out on a few days of Twitter – there will still be a lovely stream of information drifting by when you get back, and you can often catch up on the more important things through retweets and blog posts.  However, English weather has reasserted itself in full form, and as I’m trying at all costs to avoid any mention of our beloved monarch on her special day, here I am trying to catch up!


I’d heard of Twitter a long time before I decided to create an account for myself.  Like a lot of people, I couldn’t really see the point of it – not that I didn’t like to update people on the inane details of my life/ opinions on certain Daily Mail writers, but that was what Facebook was for.  It was only when I started investigating graduate traineeships that I realised how useful Twitter could be as a professional tool.  I joined in July last year, and tweeted my pleasure that Brighton and Hove Jubilee Library had opened a cafe (something I am still pleased about, even though I have moved away from Brighton – it is an awesome public library).  At that time, I was really only tweeting to an audience of one – my cousin Douglas, who is not a librarian but tweets very entertainingly about theatrical goings on.  Because of this, I found that I didn’t have much to tweet myself, but followed some of the recommendations I found on people’s library blogs (@theREALwikiman, @Philbradley etc) and some institutions and organisations (CILIP, the British Library).  I used Twitter as a useful source of library news, job adverts and conference recommendations.

Here is my Twitter profile now.  As you can see, I do tweet a little bit more now, and not always about libraries.  I do try and keep it less daily-life driven than my Facebook though!

Emily's Twitter

My beautiful profile!

I have managed to build up 128 followers, which seems like a fair amount, although some other library tweeters have a following of thousands!  I found the best way to find people to follow has been through attending conferences such as Libcamp Brunel and the more recent CILIP New Professionals Day.  I like the way you can search by the hashtag for an event and find who is attending, and what people are saying about it.  It’s also useful if you can’t actually make it to an event, but want to find out what’s going on anyway.

Here I was going to link to a really interesting blog post I read about the unwritten rules and societal codes of Twitter, but I’ve just spent ten minutes looking for it and I can’t find it anywhere, or remember who wrote it or where I first saw it!  I feel that this is actually a good lesson, as it shows I need to start saving interesting links and tweets somewhere I can easily put my hands on them.  I shall make that my task to take away from this week, but if any one else knows which post I mean, a link to it would be appreciated!  In the meantime, here is a useful Twitter advice post that I can remember.

From reading other people’s CPD23 blogs about Twitter, it is clear that the best advice is that you can’t possibly read all of the tweets all of the time.  And to be honest, you really don’t need to.  I would say that even the most high profile tweeters that I follow only devote about 50% of their time to useful library related things – there are a lot of conversations about lunch, about knitting, about running and generally normal human stuff that I don’t have to pay a huge amount of attention to (except if it’s nearly lunchtime, and then it makes me hungry).  That’s where I find hashtags and retweets really useful – if something is important, it will probably be retweeted, and if I want an overview of what people are saying about #cpd23 or #uklibchat or #cilipnpd12, I can just search the hashtag when I get back from work.

I’ve heard lots of people recommend Hootsuite and Tweetdeck as a good way of managing your Twitter feed, so I set up a Hootsuite account as part of my work for Thing 4.


A bewildering array of lists!

I set up different tabs reflecting my different interests – one for libraries, one for feminism/LGBT related news, and one about general cultural happenings.  The screenshot is the Libraries tab; I’ve organised some of the most informative library tweeters into one list and some institutions into another.  Then I’ve run searches for the hashtag #cpd23 and #uklibchat for the other two lists.  I think the hashtag generated ones work best – unfortunately, and through no fault of their own, my useful library tweeters all know each other and therefore all you really get on that list are conversations that they are having among themselves!

Hootsuite looks very impressive, and I like the idea of different lists.  However, for the moment I think I prefer the simplicity of the main Twitter feed – so many lists make me stressed!  I shall come back to it if I find Twitter getting too unwieldy in future though.


I have to admit that RSS was always a bit of a mystery to me, so I ignored it.  Happily, I’ve discovered that it’s actually simple and useful – I’ve set up a Google Reader account and used it to follow lots of blogs.  It’s great to have them all in one place and to be alerted whenever a new post comes up.  I don’t think I would be able to follow as many blogs if I didn’t use Google Reader.  It’s also useful to be able to sort the blogs you follow into groups – and I may have alphebetized them within the groups in a nerdy librarian way.


Storify is a new discovery for me, and I really like it!  I love the drag-and-drop simplicity of it, and I think it might be a useful way of saving all the tweets and blog posts about a specific topic, as well as creating pretty ‘stories’ for other people.  I particularly like the way you can add your own ‘narration’ in between the boxes you’ve pulled in from other social media platforms.

Annie created some excellent stories about the talks at CILIP New Professionals day, which summed up the talks and other people’s opinions of them.  Here is her Storify of Phil Bradley’s talk.   YiWen has also created an interesting Storify for her CPD23 post about the Glasgow Women’s Library – an institution I’d love to visit some day!

I don’t feel I really have anything particularly useful to make a story about yet, but as I wanted to get to grips with the tool, I made one about LibCamp Leeds – an event that I sadly couldn’t make it to, but which I read about on Twitter.  I hope I can look back at it and find it useful in future.  Here it is, for your general edification – my next task is to work out how to embed Storify in my blog, as I see some people have.  So much to learn!


I have just read an article in the paper about the new Wifi provision in some London tube stations, where the writer enthusiastically claimed that this was so you could ‘tweet your journey’ if you so wished.  Now, I may be missing something here, but one thing we surely don’t want to read are people’s tweets about their daily commutes!  Stick to libraries (and lunch) folks, and we’ll all be happy ;-).