Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Cambridge Lib TeachMeet 2

I awaited TeachMeet with a sort of eager and uncertain anticipation.  The previous TeachMeet, just at the time when I arrived in Cambridge, had been a great success but I had never quite got to the bottom of what it was - I knew that there were techy tools, speakers' names drawn out of a hat and generally great enjoyment but, beyond that, I was in the dark.

Upon arriving at Schlumberger Research Centre for the TeachMeet we were given a lanyard (to my great delight since I have never had one) and a sheet of paper for 'librarian bingo.'  The latter really set the tone for the event.  The aim was to meet as many people as possible and get to know them by firing questions at them such as 'Do you knit?' and 'Do you support Bolton Wanderers?...and why?'  There was a very relaxed and casual atmosphere with librarians of all levels and from all kinds of backgrounds coming together in a social atmosphere. 

The talks themselves were split between 5 minute and 2 minute slots, which ensured that there was a lot of variety and liveliness in the presentations.  These all focused on 'techy tools or teaching tips'  but afforded time to explaining everything for those who were not familiar with terms or tools, which was great for me at least! 

There were ten separate talks and I'll not go into all of them here but I'll pick out a few that I found particularly interesting.  Liz Osman from Homerton discussed library posters and the importance of eye-catching graphics while, at times, also keeping it simple if that is what is required.  What made a lot of sense to me was the importance of pitching posters to the consumer, which will be different in every library.

Liz suggested keepcalm-o-matic which allows you to produce retro posters like this
Sarah Pavey from Box Hill School brought to us her essay puzzle concept.  She has made jigsaws as a means of teaching her IB sixth form students about writing essays and how to deal with the practical and emotional aspects involved.  (Becky and I had a go at the jigsaw in the break and it was addictive to see what the end product would turn out like!)

The presentations by Nicky Adkins and John Iona, both school librarians, were particularly interesting since we, as trainees, have not had any experience of school libraries.  My school library was, at the most, a glorified corridor with a few books and tables for working at so I was thrilled to see the extent to which librarians can (with a bit of coercion) and do get involved in classroom life in order to educate students and teachers alike on research techniques.

The techy tool that the most people are going to try out according to the exciting interactive poll thing at the end of the evening is TeuxDeux, which was lauded by Suzanne Paul of the Parker Library.  Indeed I have already set up my to-do list and it really is very simple to use.  It saves me carting about wee bits of paper with lists on them that I write at work for when I get home and always worry I will lose on the cycle home.

It was a great evening and a massive thank you goes to the organising committee, who did sterling work.  All that is left to say is that the librarian bingo ended with several people getting a full house and a tiebreaker of 'What is the most fascinating fact about yourself?' which resulted in my victory but probably the loss of any respect I had from my fellow librarians - hey ho, I'll console myself with my Easter egg prize!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Lindy and Library exodus to 'The Other Place'

As some of you will know, I have been Lindy Hopping since I came to Cambridge last August.  For the Oxbridge Boat Race this weekend, Oxford Lindy Hoppers, in tandem with the Cambridge Lindy Hoppers, organised the Boat Race Boogie weekend in Oxford.  We had a great weekend of dancing - we intrigued shoppers on Cornmarket (main shopping street), danced the night away to a live band as well as had some nice relaxed afternoon dancing with plenty of tea and cake.  We also had time to fit in a viewing of the boat race and have a go at our very own Oxbridge punt race.  (I was supporting Oxford, in case you were wondering).
Lindy Hopping on Cornmarket
Taking advantage of the fact that I and another of the trainees would be in Oxford Lindying, I organised to have tours of several libraries on the Monday and the other trainees came over in the morning.  The Cambridge trainees would not otherwise have had an opportunity to visit 'the Other Place' and I felt that some tours would give us an insight into how an equivalent institution functions.

Old Bodleian Entrance
We started off with a tour of the Old Bodleian, Duke Humfrey's Reading Room and Radcliffe Camera.  These were all familar to me from my university days but it was very interesting to hear from our guide about the current projects going on in the Bod, staffing and the new Swindon depository.  One of the main differences between the Bod and UL (apart from the slight difference in architecture!) was the approach to what is openly available to students on the shelves.  The Bod endeavours to have the most frequently used books on the shelves and the staff liaise with tutors and faculties in order that books are available for certain essay topics throughout term.  The majority of books, however, are in the stacks or off site and must be requested online.  The Bod operates a a couple of hours or next hour delivery service depending on the location of the items.  As a student, I never found this an issue and was more concerned with the closure of the library on Sundays.  Currently there is a pilot scheme in place for Sunday opening (to provide quiet study space during the building works) and hopefully this will continue after the intrusive building works are completed.  This system of splitting up the stock explains why I always feel like the UL has so many more books than the Bod - it is just that I haven't seen the stacks!

St John's College Old Library
Next up was a look round St John's College library, which was set in grassy surrounds and was very peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of St Giles.  The library was very grand and open with the students being able to walk past the Old Library in order to get to study spaces.  Indeed students could even request to work in the Old Library if they so wished.  There was a lot of art work dotted about the library as well as the odd relic such as a cannon ball that had been lodged in the wall of St John's during the civil war. 

We then moved on to my old college, Corpus, and I gave the trainees a tour of the library, which dates back to the founding of the college in 1517.  The main part of the library comprises original shelving with suchioned  pews that aren't quite wide enough to ensure that you don't fall off - a good way of keeping you awake when revising I can assure you!

The Corpus and Merton archivist then showed us the archives of both colleges along with some of the colleges' treasures such as a letter from Isaac Newton with a sketch of King's College Chapel with Halley's Comet passing over the top.  There was also a letter signed from King Henry VIII to Rome asking about the progress with the Pope concerning his divorce.  The archivist could dispel some rumours I had been told concerning land disputes between Merton, Corpus and Christ Church, which are propaogated by tour guides.  He was a real fount of knowledge and it was great to see some archives since this is an aspect of the informtaion services that our traineeships tend not to touch on.  

Memorial to Thomas Bodley in Merton Chapel - note the pillars made of stacks of books!
All in all it was a very successful day, made even more pleasant by the warm sunshine and welcoming atmosphere of the librarians, archivists and college porters alike.  I must say that I was, for probably the first time, sad to leave Oxford.

Happy Cambridge trainees at the pelican sundial in Corpus

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Enhanced Ebooks

The Arcadia Semiar series looks at the future role of academic libraries in the digital age and provides talks from leading professionals in a variety of areas several times a term.  Last night was the turn of Dr Max Whitby, who has far too long a CV to include here (needless to say, he is a highly qualified broadcaster, chemist and publisher to name but a few things into which he has dabbled).

The title of the seminar was 'Reinventing the Book' and, I must admit, I went with a sceptical outlook, expecting him to champion the ebook to the detriment of the traditional printed word.  I was, however, plesasantly corrected.  What happens to books in a digital environment?  This is a question which I have obviously considered before but Dr Whitby's approach to the answer was both inciteful and ingenious and is proving rather profitable. 

At this stage in the digital era ebooks are evolving, the role of the publisher is changing and creator/audience relationship is becoming ever closer.  It is diffiuclt to envision what the digital future holds although Whitby is rather adept at doing so when it comes to digital media - he was invlolved in 'Hyperland' (1990), a film documentary, written by Douglas Adams (an Old Johnian!) and featuring Tom Baker in a tutu guiding Adams in the world of Interactive Multimedia.  

One of his main outputs recently has been 'The Elements'.  This began as an attempt to collect a piece of every element and progressed quickly into display units and screens such as this one at the Philadelphia Chemical Heritage Centre. 
Element display tower
The project snowballed further when the iPad was released and 'The Elements' featured at the launch.  Whitby describes this as an electronic coffee table book that goes beyond the paper copy.  Each of the images rotates and the opening image of the periodic table is interactive with the catchy Tom Lehrer song (I remember my brother sending me this when I had to learn all of the elements for a Chemistry Quiz Team Final in London...didn't help me learn them but was fun all the same):

Front page of 'The Solar System'

The Elements', probably due to its unique design, educational value and graphics, has been incredibly successful on the iPad and has been followed by 'The Solar System' where you can make any planet the centre of the universe and play about with Jupiter's Red Spot.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this success would have a negative effect on the physical books sales.  Quite the opposite.  Book sales continue to grow (to the relief of the publishers) and this may well be because having an ebook is all fine and good but nothing can beat a nice shiny copy on the shelf.  It is possible, however, that the nature of this book is what has led to the maintenance of the physical sales.  The book itself is beautiful with double page spreads for each element in full colour.  I am not so sure that a fiction book would have quite the same success. 
Gold on the iPad

Whitby demonstrated 'The Solar System' and 'The Wasteland' by Eliot, which is due to launch in April.  The apps all have one thing in common - they bring a dry subject to a new digital audience.  Already existing information and material is taken and manipulated in order to create a new product.  These ebooks are not a simple copy of what you can buy in Heffers but provide the audience with something extra, which can only be experienced in the digital form.  It is in this way that our understanding will be deepened and this does not mean that physical books are outdated, they are merely being augmented with a new form of media.

Just to show how much of a hot topic this is at the moment, as I arrived home after the seminar, I heard 'Front Row' with Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4 on my landlady's radio.  The discussion centred round enhanced ebooks and yet more interesting points were raised particularly concerning fiction and children's literacy.  The point was raised that old-fashioned books involved natural engagaement with a text and allowed the reader to create images, characters and whole worlds in their mind.  With enhanced ebooks, however, with their accompanying audio etc. this individual interaction with a text is lost.  I felt something similar when the first Harry Potter film was released and the actors playing the main roles were not at all as I had imagined them - somewhat of a disappointment.  The personal relationship with a text can be lost when other media become involved.  Another valid point was that children are more and more engaged with digital media and so we have to take books to them in the forms that they are used to in order to up literacy and their interest in reading.  All valid points and clearly this topic is one for discussion!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Library design - a crash course

The most recent trainee trip took place on Tuesday and we were shown round Fitzwilliam and Murray Edwards College libraries.  The trainee trips are becoming more themed with this afternoon addressing the issue of library design and planning.  (This leaves me with the task of coming up with a suitably interesting theme and talk for the John's visit in April!)
Fitzwilliam Library entrance from Architects' website
So, this tour worked particularly well since we started with a tour of where the Fitzwilliam library used to be followed by a tour of the one year-old purpose-built library.  The difference between the two was staggering.  The librarian talked us through some of the issues she had faced during the building projects from the architects' unrealistic plans for student workspace to the colour scheme of the soft-furnishings.  Another issue, which I had never considered, was the variety of working environments required for students.  Some like to workk facing a wall, others like a view, others like to be able to see what is going in other parts of the library.  Fitzwilliam have some particularly amazing desks in the reading tower, which have wonderful views out across Cambridge - I would have loved to have worked somewhere like that at university!

Reader tower from Architects' website
This made me think a lot about aspects of libraries, of which the consumer may not be aware but subconsciously make a lot of difference to how the library is received.  It was heartening to see that, although the library has RFID and is self-issue, there is still an issue desk at the entrance which is manned constantly during staffed hours and the librarian makes a conscious effort to engage with the students.  The implementation of self-issue can sometimes be to the detriment of librarian-student relationships but here this was not the case.  I hope that when John's switches to self-issue in 2012 it will keep up the staff-student interaction.

The next visit on the tour was Murray Edwards College Library, which is in a Grade 2* listed building.  This had quite a different feel with its cavernous design and copious concrete.  The librarian here gave us the task of evaluating the library and coming up with what we thought was not welcoming or helpful to students and how we thought that it could be improved.  The college is planning a refurbishment of the library and it was very interesting to discuss in a group what we thought could be changed and how we could address the issues which arise with such changes.  I think that the alterations will make the impact of the library much better and provide a more natural flow round the library.

Main Library floors from Catalog
The afternoon was very helpful in getting us to think about aspects of librarianship which we normally take for granted and encourage us to 'think outside the box' about library design.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Librarianship into the Future award

This is a video addressing the issue of 'Why does the world need librarians?' and I am submitting it for consideration for the 'Librarianship into the Future' scholarship from the iSchool at Syracuse University.  

I am also going to use the video for promotional purposes on the St John's College website and Catalog.  I wanted to create a video that would challenge not only the stereotypes of librarians but also the futuristic ideas concerning libraries without human librarians.  We do need to move with the times and embrace technology but too much in the other direction could alienate students and leave them bereft of to-the-point answers and enquiry-specific insight.

Hopefully this video will serve its purpose at Syracuse as well as provide a discussion point among students and librarians alike concerning the combined forward momentum of the library sector and maintenance of good rapport with students.


Last Tuesday we (me, some trainees and some film guys from Anglia Ruskin) filmed a video which hopefully addresses the issue of 'Why does the world need librarians?'  Filming is something that I know little about but had to learn fast!  It was fascinating being behind the camera and directing the action - slightly more daunting having to perform in front of it!
'Hollywood film slate' from

The challenge was to think of ways to get across my points in a clear but concise manner as well as try to hold the attention of the viewer.  This is, of course, not something restricted to talking in front of a is something that we experience in our jobs every day.  The attention span of a frazzled student, I have discovered, is pretty brief.  There is only so much information about e-resources and journals that we can bombard students with at one time.  This is often where the freshers' tours of libraries fall down - I remember in my Freshers' week being talked at in the Philosophy faculty (still no idea why we were taken to the Philosophy faculty) for a good 3 hours about libraries and access to online resources.  Needless to say, not a lot went in and I had to revert to asking my college librarian at a later date instead!

Hopefully, my short video will engage the viewer and get the message across to students and people in general that librarians are not out-of-date stereotypes but modern, helpful professionals, who will never crash or malfunction like the online virtual ones can (or at least, less often)!

I'm putting the finishing touches to the video and it will be up here by tomorrow - don't let the anticipation kill you.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

International Hug a Librarian Day

As Facebook reliably informs me, today is the day when random strangers grab a librarian and hug them in gratitude for all their hard work and help over the past year.  What a lovely thought.  Not such a nice thought that I have advertised this fact in my library…I feel that a respectful distance is required between me and the freshers!

Coincidentally, today is also the day that I am filming the video which I intend to submit as a scholarship application to Syracuse University.  The title is ‘Why the world needs librarians’ and the whole process of sketching out ideas, getting hold of a cameraman, co-ordinating filming times and getting the right ‘shots’ of college has been fascinating.  I had been more at home behind the scenes until recently when I took part in the ADC Theatre Cambridge Contemporary Dance Show as part of the Lindy Hop act, ‘Shades of Swing.’  The unpolished tech rehearsal video is on YouTube. 

It was all great fun and quite an adrenalin rush.  I am finding, however, that filming a documentary video for a scholarship is far more daunting than dancing in a group (in the dark!). 

I am hoping that the video will not only serve my scholarship application but also be embedded in the college library website, the trainees’ website and even other colleges’ and faculties’ websites as a means of publicising libraries in Cambridge and the irreplaceable jobs done by librarians.  Even if I don’t get the scholarship, this has been a very educational learning curve and has encouraged me to think about other forms of media and methods of using them as a means of engaging with students.

Watch this space for an update on the filming and for the finished masterpiece!