Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Cambridge's other University

As part of the Cambridge graduate librarian traineeship, we have the opportunity to visit other libraries in the city (and further afield - we have previously visited Norwich Cathedral and Millennium Libraries and have an upcoming visit to the Guildhall and Institute of Chartered Accountants’ Libraries in London).
Yesterday the graduate trainees at Anglia Ruskin gave us a tour of the Cambridge campus (one of four campuses making up the whole of Anglia Ruskin University) and provided talks from members of staff at various steps on the librarianship ladder. 
Study zones guide

This was the first academic library, which I have visited outside of Oxbridge and I was surprised at the difference in staffing, layout, usage and facilities on offer to students in comparison to my college library at St John’s.  The ground floor at Anglia is dedicated to group study and was a bustling hive of activity with people everywhere, bags strewn across the floor and noisy chatting.  The library is organised into zones (group, quiet and silent) in the hope that all students can find an environment, which is suitable to their study needs.  This should work in theory but, as the trainees admitted, this is the second attempt at implementing such a scheme and it is easier to police on paper than in practice.

The vast size of the library and volume of people, who use it, mean that there is not as much of a community feel as there is in a college library.  Here we know most of the students and they all know each other and so (mostly) respect each other’s need for peace to study (the odd paper aeroplane with ‘Shut up’ written on it thrown at troublemakers is known to do the trick in some colleges).  At Anglia, however, there are greater problems with discipline, hiding of books and mistreatment of the library, which is something that I presume is more common than I had previously thought.

The main difference between the libraries, which I am used to frequenting, and Anglia, was the business attitude of the university and management to the library.  The trainees even have to ‘rove’ round the library wearing a sash emblazoned with ‘Here to Help.’  There was a definite commercial feel to the library with a focus on customer service, which more resembled a public than university library.  This seems incongruous in an academic atmosphere but, as it was pointed out, students will be paying up to £9,000 for the privilege of going to university and so can legitimately expect a service for their money.  Students are rapidly becoming customers and consumers and libraries have to adapt to such change.

Something which caught my attention was the difference in duties of the staff.  There is obviously a much bigger staff at Anglia and, it seems as a result, that the roles are less varied.  Take the graduate trainees, for example, they shadow librarians but do not handle enquiries nor do they catalogue (indeed, all of the books arrive at Anglia already catalogued and classified and stickered).  They do, however, deal with serials and inter-library loans but the variety in their work is minimal.  At John’s the trainee gets to do whatever they like (within reason!) since they can do work for anyone in the library and are free to chose on what to spend their time.  This suits me well since I like to be able to manage my own time and work on what really interests me.  It is only now that I realise how fortunate I am.


  1. Also noticed the couple in the group study area who looked like they were trying to break the record for world's longest kiss, another thing I never see at Newnham!

  2. Hi, I am the trainee at the Bodleian in Oxford and am really interested in your description of Anglia Ruskin. Working in a big library, I can see a lot of parallels - the jobs here are not varied either and, although I am allowed to answer enquiries, I have never catalogued anything and barely edit any holdings. It sounds lovely to be able to be in charge of your workload - my day revolves around book deliveries from the stacks (if on the reserves) or reader enquiries if I am on the main desk. It is a very interesting place to work, but very different to any other library I have ever worked in!

  3. That sounds interesting - I was wondering how the Oxford traineeships compared to the Cambridge ones. I was at Corpus, Oxford (and graduated on Saturday actually) so know the Bod etc. but from the other side of the issue desk! I've organised a trip for the Cambridge trainees to go to Oxford on the 28th March for various tours and one will be at the Bod so we'll find out more about it then!