Sunday, 30 October 2011

Shrink Wrapping and Coffee Drinking in the name of Libraries

511 Class

This week's class was held at Bird Library and focused on the special collections and conservation departments.  I am pretty familiar with the special collections due to my Management and Preservation of Special Collections class but the conservation lab was a new adventure.  One thing that really stood out for me was the shrink wrapping of the more old, delicate and rarely used books.  The shrink wrap has to be removed by a librarian before a reader can get their hands on the book and it is then sent back to conservation for re-wrapping when the user is finished with it.  This is not something I have ever heard of (UK librarians - do we do this?!) and it just generally seemed very odd.  I suppose it is a good way of conserving the books and there is no real loss of use apart from browsing becoming a bit of an issue.  As long as the catalogue record is detailed with contents etc. then there is no harm done.  A tally is kept of the number of times that a book comes back to be re-wrapped and if it seems to be a popular book then different conservation will be considered which would allow users more ready access.  Interesting.

Little Free Libraries

Now, I promised to keep you updated on the progress of the Little Free Libraries front.  This morning I and a couple of other interested parties took a trip to the Near West Side:

Red bordered area is the Near West Side
We went to 601 Tully, which is a "community based collaborative design/build project by an interdisciplinary design group of artists & architects who create sculptural spaces to address social needs" according to their flyer.  It has a coffee shop, community space, art gallery and classroom for use my the local school and other teaching groups.  The coffee, I will add, was superb and the best I have had since coming to the States.

The Blodgett High School is part of the Say Yes to Education scheme and this scheme has also sponsored the garden of 601 Tully, which has a herb garden and nods to the Latino culture of the district with planters (about a third of the population).  

601 Tully
601 Tully is next to the high school and on the central park making it an excellent location for a community building.  This is the sort of place that it would be great to locate our Little Free Libraries but, as Topher mentioned as we were wandering about, we don't want to saturate an area with development - perhaps there are other areas that would benefit more from one of these libraries.  It is up to the community contingent of the group to come up with suitable locations.  Really, our job as the library part is dependent on the location of the libraries and indeed their design so that the content is suitable.  It will be really interesting to see how this develops.

Something that caught out attention this morning was a leaflet for the MLAB: The Mobile Literacy Arts Bus, which was a collaborative effort of the 2007-2008 Social Sculpture class at SU (this is not related to the iSchool).  I had never heard of this and it looks like a great resource for the community - basically a 1984 recreational vehicle was gutted and kitted out to serve as a mobile classroom, digital photo lab, recording studio, gallery space and community centre.  It can be hired by individuals and institutions who require a physical and mobile space for creative purposes.  

It was great to see so much redevelopment happening in this area and that the Little Free Libraries are just one small part of the bigger picture.  Over the next few weeks we will be focusing on a collection development policy and thinking about what sort of books we want to start the libraries with and whether we want to run with a theme or let them evolve organically.


They have been found and duly sampled:

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Niggling notions

I decided to write a post on some things that keep cropping up and don't really belong anywhere on their own.  So I have given them a home in this rather mismatched post.

An OCD Nightmare by Diamond Geyser, on Flickr
Mismatched socks - I so want some

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Diamond Geyser 

In this week's 605 reading (Reference and Information Literacy Services) there is discussion on when and how to use the internet as a reference tool.  An interesting point raised is that, at the start of the twenty-first century, reference librarians viewed the internet as a tool that patrons can use themselves rather than as a bona fide reference tool (Ross and Nilsen, 2000).  As librarians we need to aid the use of the internet and facilitate understanding of it as thewikiman eloquently puts it and I have discussed previously.

In 616 (Information Resources: Organisation and Access) this week, apart from making me very nostalgic for Cambridge with LC cataloguing, we touched on the use of classification numbers in the digital world.  This is something I have already written about and about which I am genuinely in quite a quandary.  Our professor, an avid cataloguer, stated that classification numbers may become extinct.

dodo by kevinzim, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  kevinzim 

But do not fret, she also mentioned a solution.  Online items allow for several classifications and so several possible 'virtual shelves'.  There have been many times when I have come across a physical book that could fit in several locations and I have had to think long and hard about where I should put it to best suit the uses of the students.  In the virtual world, however, several classifications can be attributed to fully represent the subjects covered by the item.  However, I don't know why we can't just use subject headings for the purpose of searching?  Are classification numbers themselves still necessary?  Many in my class would say not based primarily on the rather arcane and illogical nature of the classification systems but I'm loathe to give on them so easily.

And I thought that I would add here in this rather bitty post the video that I and three of my classmates made for one of our classes to answer the question "You need a graduate degree to do that?" - it should give you a laugh.  It was fun to make and gets out point across in a concise and lighthearted manner.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Little Free Libraries - Brainstorming session

I've mentioned these libraries a couple of times now in my blog and I want to go into more detail here and outline what we discussed on Saturday at our first brainstorming session.

What are they?

You can find out all about them on their blog and in a post by Jaime, the PhD student in charge of the Syracuse leg.  We hope to set up 5 of these wee libraries in the Near West Side (area bounded by S West St, W Onondaga St, Delaware St, S Geddes St and W Fayette St) where there is no public library.

These libraries will be out in the open and contain around 15-20 books which can be removed and returned whenever people wish.  The tag line is 'Take a book.  Return a book' and the books can be on any subject and can be themed per library or a random selection.  They can appeal to all ages, be in any language and pictorial or verbose.

What did I think of the session?

I was really impressed by the enthusiasm of those involved in this initiative.  Present were members of the community, students from Visual and Preforming Arts faculty of SU and students from the iSchool.  Everyone was keen to get this project off the ground and it was fantastic to be surrounded by people with such positive attitudes - something that can be rare in the library world.

In all of the group sessions we were split up so that people from each contingent were split across groups.  This really showed the different backgrounds and we could all learn from each other - I knew nothing of the community, its diverse population, languages spoken, levels of literacy etc. nor how to go about considering how to build these libraries.  In turn, the iSchool students could talk about books, their significance (or non-significance), collection development and community engagement.

One of the recurring themes was how to get people with low literacy enthused about reading (note, I am not saying books).  A beautiful idea suggested from a literacy program was that a book be published with a photograph on one side of a page and a blank page next to it for people to write their interpretation of the image.  We do not need to fill these libraries with novels, we can add art books, children's books, magazines, travel guides...anything that might promote reading.  A good idea might be to include common cards in the items so that people can say why they did or did not enjoy it to promote discussion among readers.
 La Casita
Around a third of the community is Latino and one of our main objectives it to work with La Casita Cultural Centre in order to maintain and educate about the culture that people may have left behind in their home countries.  As a newcomer to this city I can appreciate the need for a sense of home and recognition of roots.

Tied to all of our discussions was the idea of 'what is a book?' and 'why do we like books?'  This was a particularly interesting discussion to have with non-librarians!  I was surprised by how much the gathered group held reading and books in hight esteem.  One lady, Mother Earth, commented that everyone is a book in themselves, we all have an oral history, we can all be read.  Some people are more readable than others and she is fascinated by each and every human since they all have a different story to tell.  This lead to a discussion of libraries 'lending out' people along with library cafe vouchers and encouraging conversation among the community - a really intriguing idea that I, along with my group, are going to investigate as part of a project into what the 2025 library will look like.

So, I have by no means touched on all the things we discussed but I have given a few tidbits of what I found interesting and thought provoking.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

[CPD23] Thing 23

I am rather sad to see the end of this program.  It has been invaluable to my move to the States and there are several points that I would like to make:

  • I have not started using many more tools than I already was or have had to start using at uni but I am a lot more confident in using them thanks to this program.  The support network of other librarians experimenting and blogging at the same time encouraged me to do the same.
  • The library routes/roots project has been fascinating and also reassuring since it shows that there are so many different ways into this profession that no choices we make in our traineeships or masters are wrong and we never completely close off opportunities for our future paths.
  • It has been surprising and indeed comforting to see the similarity in library experiences in all different countries.  I have been following several blogs from various backgrounds and it has been reassuring/heartening/encouraging to see that we all deal with similar issues and challenges.  This develops a real sense of community among librarians and breaks down geographical and culture barriers.  I am toying with the idea of moving on from the States after this year, not sure where yet (English speaking) but it is good to know that libraries are not that different from country to country.
  • I am taking the advice of the program and volunteering and going to as many conferences as I can lay my sticky wee mits on in the hope of networking, getting myself out there, and experiencing what Upstate New York and beyond has to offer.  If you don't go out and get it, it isn't going to come to you (my latest endeavour is the Little Free Libraries - an amazing and heartening project to provide small libraries in communities and improve literacy, you can find out more here and I am going to blog about it all as the project proceeds).
  • The success of the program for me can be seen in the fact that my co-students love the concept and one is even intending on doing the program over Christmas break.
All in all this has been a great, if at times time-consuming, program.  I am so grateful to Niamh for starting it and, as a small part of the organising committee, very proud of how successful it has proved to be.


None of my post-move posts would be complete without a wee mention of M&M's - my new find has been almond ones with whole almonds!  I only have the Pretzel ones to hunt down now.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How libraries can lead to murder...

This week I am not just going to focus on what we talked about in 511 but also on a couple of other things that have caught my attention.  (If you are bloodthirsty then skip the next paragraph)

Prof. Lankes discussed the 'reference interview', which comes up in 605 (Reference and Information Literacy Services) a lot.  I still have reservations about calling it an 'interview' since that might scare folk off but I suppose enquirers don't actually know that we term it such.  The point of the discussion in class was that we must ask open ended questions in order that patrons/members/whatever they are can enter into an open conversation with us and not feel that they are cornered.  Seth Godin, by coincidence on Tuesday, blogged about opening or closing conversations and this fitted in beautifully with what we were discussing.  It is not as easy as one might think.  I have been a tad scathing of the 605 textbook since it provides advice for librarians such as not to turn their backs when enquirers approach (I kid you not).  I had been of the opinion that this was all a bit on the obvious side but, reflecting on Seth's post, I see that there is a subtle difference to being socially adept and being a good reference interviewer.  

This is why you should never turn your back at the reference desk
Now something else that caught my attention and shocked me this week was the story of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.  In the early 1960s, these two young men took it upon themselves to make a point in their local library (Essex Road, Islington, London).  Orton is quoted in 1967 as saying 'Libraries might as well not exist; they’ve got endless shelves for rubbish and hardly any space for good books.’  It was with this attitude that the two men stole, defaced and returned 72 books.  They also retained many dust jackets with which to decorate their flat.  Their defacement of the books was done with subversive humour and a gallery of their work can be seen here.  They were finally caught after an elaborate sting operation when 'undercover librarians' were found to be turning up no evidence.

Queen’s Favourite by diamond geezer, on Flickr
Storm Drift by diamond geezer, on Flickr
Some of the doctored covers
The Three Faces of Eve by diamond geezer, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  all by  diamond geezer 

The pair were jailed for 6 months each and fined.  It was during their time in jail that the Orton broke free from Halliwell and found his true writer's voice.  Halliwell, on the other hand, became depressed and suicidal.  Not long after they were released, Halliwell bludgeoned Orton to death before committing suicide.  

All rather shocking.  

The reason that it has come to my attention now is that Islington Council is putting 40 of the 72 defaced dust jackets on show to the public.  I don't really know what to make of this tragic tale.  There are better ways to let your library know that their stock is not to your liking but obviously there was a lot more going on with these two young men than we know.  I just felt that it was an extreme case for the discussion of community and how we can gauge what they really want from their libraries and librarians.  

Sunday, 9 October 2011

[CPD23] Things 21 and 22

Be strong! (and wear tartan)
This week it is all about identifying your strengths, applying for jobs, interviews and volunteering.

Applying for Jobs

As a few folk have mentioned, keeping a list of what you have achieved and do in your day-to-day job is a really useful way of keeping your CV up to date and relevant.  I kept a list of conferences attended, tours, talks and tasks when I was at John's partly as a means of not forgetting anything interesting I had done but also as a tool for writing my CV when applying for Masters courses and jobs at uni.  I could skim through all of the projects I had been involved in at John's and pick out which ones would suit which job application and make sure that I never forgot anything.  I have started a similar one for my time at Syracuse.


My brother once told me that it doesn't matter if you have no job related experience for answering one of the annoying 'What are you strengths?  Why do you think that you are an organised person?' questions as long as you have an experience from your everyday life that you can pull on.  This not only shows a bit more about your character but also portrays your ability to think outside the box.  So, all those little 'projects' that you undergo in your life like moving house, revising for finals, organising an event, applying for a visa etc. can be used to show your organisational skills and ability to see a task through to fruition.  Obviously work related strengths are preferable but these everyday activities can also work in your favour as a wee filler.

Upon interviewing the head of archives at Oxford University Press, I discovered that the majority of his applicants did not supply a cover letter with their application, for whatever post.  This appalled me - it is such a simple thing to research the employer and alter your CV and cover letter to fit.  I know it takes a lot longer than posting off a general CV but if you don't put a bit of legwork in at this point then you won't get past the paper stage.  Also, I have realised that you should list what both sides will benefit from your employment since no employer is going to think that you are going to work there out of the goodness of your heart - they want to see some professional awareness and desire to progress.

To be honest, the thing that has always helped me in interviews is being personable.  The interview for my scholarship was very tough but I had a laugh and a joke with the panel and showed, basically, my natural side.  If interviewers don't like the normal you then, as Laura said, you are probably not suited to the role being offered.  Also, never answer a question that you have not properly understood, always ask for clarification!


I haven't done that much volunteering though I am getting much more into the mindset now.  I worked for a summer at my local public library for experience before I went to Cambridge.  This was an enlightening experience and is always at the back of my mind when I am in class and discussing public libraries.  The library was not forward thinking, it struggled with funding and was tired, all of which made working there difficult but made me more determined to make a seemed so wrong that such a crucial part of the community was pretty much being used as a glorified internet source.

lanark library by Ramsay2, on Flickr
Lovely Lanark Library
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Ramsay2 

Now that I am in Syracuse I am volunteering for things right, left and centre in order to get experience but, more importantly, get out here and discover what is going on and who people are.  I didn't realise at the time how lucky we were last year as trainees since introductions were handed to us on a plate and we didn't need to try that hard to be part of the Cambridge library community.  Here, however, it is a different matter (and the whole library system is, literally, foreign to me).  Once such volunteering opportunity was at the Onondaga Community College game night and this was our free snack table (please note the sign) and yes, those are candy corn M&M's:


I am going to be participating (indeed, volunteering) in an exciting new project called Little Free Libraries and will be posting about it soon!  Due to the lack of photos thus far I will add in pictures from apple picking today at Abbot Farm, Baldwinsville (I always think of Coronation Street when I hear that) and the amazing maze of corn, which turned out not to be that amazing but rather scary once someone brought 'Signs' up!

*I do note that I am still very new to this profession so my 'advice' may well be useless but it may be of use to those coming up through the ranks behind me!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

I am not studying for a "Masters in how to be a cheap ass buyer"

Is this all we are?
When people hear the term 'librarian' they think of all sorts, frankly, but a lot of them will think that we just buy books from lists given to us.

But what we were getting at in class was that librarians cannot stand by and be lectured at by others about what they should and should not be doing.  We should be actively finding out what our community wants and getting it for them.  It is easier said than done to canvas a whole community but there are some basic ways of finding out what your people want.  An excellent idea that Prof. Lankes brought up was having the normal 'book return bin' and then having a 'great book return bin' so that librarians could easily see what was being enjoyed and they could get more works like it.  This obviously has its complications such as the subjectivity of what a good book is and the breadth of people using libraries and those people who don't use the book bin but return books to the desk etc.  However, in theory this would be a great way of getting an idea of what your community is reading and enjoying.

We should not just be buyers, or consumers, we need to be somewhere in the middle and facilitate production and consumption.  We should provide facilities for the community to create for themselves.  This does involve a radical redefinition of our role but that is the only way that we are going to survive in this ever changing world.  Publishers, the music and ebook industry also need to change if they are either to combat piracy or use it to their advantage.

Librarian Stereotype
An interesting point that was raised was whether librarians should me the tastemakers of the community like iTunes and Amazon, who suggest new finds and similar items that you might like.  Should the libraries be striving to keep you at the cutting edge of culture?  This is something that I have thought about without any conclusion.  Prof. Lankes was of the opinion that if the community wants librarians to be the tastemakers (if we consider the negative stereotypes we have then perhaps not!) then we should be but if they do not then we should not provide that service.  This sounds ok but I am concerned that librarians end up doing whatever the community wants and that there is no coherence between services in different libraries.  Yes, every community is different and yes, services need to adapt to suit each circumstance but we do not want to do this to the detriment of library identity.  Do we?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

[CPD23] Thing 20

The Library Routes/Roots project was something that I heard of soon after my arrival in Cambridge and, as Jen points out, was a very useful tool for finding out how people got into the profession and it was reassuring that there are several different approaches to the profession.  As for my own roots/routes, I discussed these in a previous post for CPD23.

Rooted by AnyaLogic, on Flickr
Obligatory root image

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  AnyaLogic 

I am now ensconced in Syracuse and all is going according to plan.  I am making sure to select courses that cover several different aspects of librarianship, especially cataloguing since the librarians we have all interviewed were in agreement that a knowledge of cataloguing is integral.  Here, cataloguing from scratch is not done but the understanding of cataloguing is very useful.  As for my plans when I leave here, I am in a quandary.  There is nothing preventing me travelling further (that's right, the whole visa process/difficulty in getting a mobile/different education systems/unawareness of ceilidhs/lack of duvets has not put me off doing it all over again somewhere new) so who knows where I might be this time next year. I might well want to return to Cambridge since, as I experience more and more here, I realise just how fortunate I was when I was at John's.  BUT I must go where the jobs are so all the best laid plans may be scuppered!

Flags by RambergMediaImages, on Flickr
The world is our oyster

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  RambergMediaImages 

As for the Library Day in the Life project, I followed but did not participate when it ran last year.  It was interesting to see what my fellow graduate trainees were up to and other positions, with which I was not familiar.  The reason I did not contribute was that I thought others would find it pretty boring but I realise that they probably wouldn't...the grass is always greener.  It is a great way for prospective librarians to find out what we really do and for librarians to discover other positions within the profession that may be of interest to them.


Last night I was listening to BBC World Service* and an article came up on youth digital illiteracy with students in high school in London placing YouTube above the BBC and Government websites in an authority poll.  Students in Liverpool were no better.  This in itself is not that surprising but there was a discussion about digital literacy and how it is dreadful that schools are not providing education in this field.  There was not a mention of a librarian or information professional.  What?  The reporter was clearly not aware of school librarians and the work they do to educate pupils in use of the internet, how to conduct searches and rate the authority of websites and how they work with classes and class teachers to provide research information and tuition.

The article didn't really blame anyone for the shortcomings of the pupils but the discussion could definitely have been doing with a librarian's input.

On a lighter note, Peanut M&M's have now been discovered:
Strangely sexed-up M&M

*I am afraid that I can't link to it since iPlayer doesn't like America but it was on in the morning of Sunday October 2nd UK time.