Thursday, 29 December 2011

'Tis the Season...to see libraries in everything

This holiday I am doing a bit of travelling and thought that I would add a brief summary of things that I have noted of interest along my way.  I have liberally sprinkled the concoction with photos so feel free to dip in to whatever tickled your tastebuds (I'll start with an artsy one).

Outside MIT, 'other' Cambridge
Boston

Boston Public Library - One of the two BPLs I have visited, this was a wonderful find on our first day of exploring.  I was not prepared for the beauty of the courtyard and the painted murals on the staircases.  This is advertised as the ideal wedding location and I would have to agree.  The library even boasts a shiny corporate events catalogue...something that is a far cry from my local library back home.  But it is not all quaint, the modern section of the library has more computers, customers and classes than you can shake a stick at.  A nice touch was the library exhibition which had its base in the main McKim building with related cases throughout the Johnson building.



Harvard Bookstore, Cambridge - Paige M. Gutenborg is the Harvard printing press and he is responsible for the in store book printing.  It was fascinating to watch the workings of this big machine and chat to the member of staff in charge of running the printing.  I would also like to add that the website for the bookstore is great with an opportunity to 'shop our windows from home' with an interactive image of their shop front and the chance to read more about featured items - a great example of a book shop embracing the digital age (they also had QR codes on all of their 'recommended reading' labels).

Paige M. Gutenborg
JFK Library and Museum - We managed to wangle our way into the archives here since we are a) library students and b) foreign.  We had a most insightful discussion with one of the reference archivists about presidential libraries and how the JFK archives collaborate with the museum.  The collection development discussion was very interesting in that they don't really have a plan, which would explain some of the more random parts of their collection (such as the papers of Ernest Hemingway).  The museum was fascinating for people who both know little and much about JFK and Jackie O.

It's nice to know that JFK liked books - good to know


















(above are photographs of the museum (left) and the massive forum with archives on the first floor of the concave section (right))

New England Aquarium - I really liked the central tank which runs from the ground floor all the way up to the 3rd with windows onto the central ramp.  As a centre piece it was an excellent way of drawing attention and pulling all the other parts of the space together.  I am not suggesting that libraries install a massive fish tank featuring sharks and giant turtles but a central focal point does draw people together and give the space some cohesion.




















Museum of Fine Arts, Huntington Avenue - My favourite piece was 'The Clock' by Christian Marclay, which is a 24 hour film made up of clips from TV and film from all over the world, which feature time, whether that be clocks, watches, rushing, waiting etc.  It was incredibly addictive viewing and I would have happily sat there all day.  On a more relevant note, something that struck me from the excellent captions (I am quite picky about these but the ones at the MFA were just right) was the importance of provenance in cataloguing the pieces of art - something shared with rare books!

Gifted, Tremont Street - while in a cute wee shop on our street I saw and stealthily photographed this phrase and thought that it perfectly encapsulated what it will be like when we leave library school:


New York

Barnes and Noble, 5th Avenue - I am not sure if this is normal in Barnes and Noble (I have, in fact, only been in this one) but there were coloured lines on the ground leading to various parts of the store.  My Dad drew my attention to it since he had asked where the toilet was and had been directed to follow the blue line by a member of staff.  It was reminiscent of the subway system and I thought that it was a great, simple idea for libraries to segment their space and provide direction to users without complicated signage.  Sometimes people are embarrassed to ask for directions and this is a great visual method which can be mirrored in the colours of each section.  Also, if we want to be cheesy about it, the lines facilitate the 'journey' through the library to the ultimate goal of knowledge (apologies, I cringe as I write).


These are all of my interesting insights thus far...my brain is slowing down over the festive season!  I'll be back in the New Year with a post all about our day in Harvard!

Monday, 12 December 2011

A foreigner reflects

If I learned anything from the Cam23 2.0 and CPD23 programs, it is the importance of reflection!  Today I have my last class of my first semester as a grad student and I thought that this would be the perfect time to reflect on the whole thing thus far: class, studying, America, being 'foreign' etc.

On my trip to NYC
The Return to Studying

Having spent the last year in full time employment with free evenings and weekends not to mention a wage has resulted in some adjustment being required this term!  It hasn't been as bad as I thought.  What has been tricky is having a job on top of studies and I am in complete awe of those with full time work schedules who are also full-time students.  I doff my cap.  My work at the archives has been a great complement to my studies with group projects overlapping and archival exhibitions being discussed in class etc.

The return to studying has not meant the end of networking with those in the profession - far from it.  I began this when I was in Cambridge and was wondering how students would be treated at conferences or when they visited libraries - there is a very positive attitude towards students in library school (by those in the know...they are still ignorami about).  NYLA was a very interesting first major conference and I will definitely go to my next one with more of a game plan in order to get the most out of it!

Hard at work...
Class

The whole style of class is different to what I am used to but I actually enjoy the challenge of talking and holding discussion with a full class.  It is, of course, pretty daunting, but the ideas and opinions that are voiced allow for interesting conversations in a non-judgemental environment - how many more times will we be able to do that once we leave?

One of the sore points for, I think it is fair to say, me and the majority of my classmates, has been group work - I am keeping in mind the fact that we are going to have to take part in group work at all points of our careers and this is good practice for mediating and honing those management skills.

Something that has been a very pleasant surprise has been the positivity of staff and students despite the tough times ahead for libraries.  This course focuses on creating information professionals for the future, not necessarily for now so we do not focus the whole time on the day-to-day running of a library but on where the profession is going and where it will be 20 years down the line.  The day-to-day running can be learned on the job if you are a dedicated worker...what employers want are people who have looked beyond the here and now and are enthusiastic to help their institution go forward.

I have no 'Class' relevant photos so here is one of the marching band.

America


I am actually a tad shocked by my reaction to America - I rather like it.  In particular, the food is superb...I am not sure how much of my positive food experience has had to do with Ben but I am sure that I will miss diners when/if I leave here.


I have been welcomed with open arms here and am so thankful.  I settled in pretty much straightaway and, although I miss home (and Cambridge), I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.  This year is a fantastic opportunity and I am grabbing it with both hands (anyone who likes slightly cheesy mottos please click here).


This is a tad odd coming from a librarian, but I love my local library here.  Petit has a lovely staff and a monthly book club, which has been a great chance to meet different members of the community and read books that I would never have touched before.  Also, free DVDs - amazing.


America...where pets get ice-cream
Where next?

Tricky question
I am already thinking about my next move and it is a tough one.  With this qualification I will be able to go anywhere in the UK, USA, Australia and NZ.  That is a rather large range and my RSS feed of jobs is starting to scare me.  You can never start thinking about these things too soon and I am up for seeing more of the world.  The challenge of being a foreigner hasn't been too bad here though the red tape has been pretty annoying.  I am not sure I am up for moving lock stock and barrel again...it takes a fair bit of courage.  While it is nice being different, it would also be nice not to have to consider whether what you are saying will need explained or isn't funny because no-one has heard of Stephen Fry etc.  I keep saying that I will wait and see where I get a job...but I have to apply for them first.  This morning I created a Google mail label for 'Jobs'...and so the search begins.

No matter what happens, I have made 'awesome' friends here and this term would have been a tad on the dull side without these guys:

And yes, those are our usual clothes
And with that, I end the Fall Semester, 4 months down, 8 to go.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Library 'Meals on Wheels'

This week in class we were presenting our posters on the subject of what a library will look like in 2025.  This project was pretty interesting more in terms of trying to get 8 people with very different schedules to create and be able to discuss a finished product in a relatively short period of time at the end of term.  The key: divide and conquer.


The posters at the session had a strong central message - community.   This is probably because this is the main concept that has come out of 515.  There was a lot of interaction with posters, free food etc. etc.  For our key idea, please see Amy's post.

One interesting thing that was brought up in discussion afterwards was the idea of librarians going to people's homes to get the collection literally out and into the community.  Someone commented that this was asking for librarians to be attacked.  True, there is an issue when staff members go out into the community but this rang a bell with me.

When I was looking for volunteer opportunities at my local libraries (I did eventually volunteer in a branch and they didn't know what to do with me since they had never had a volunteer before...) I came across the homebound library services which councils in Scotland frequently run and are the library equivalent of 'Meals on Wheels'.  There are several such as in Moray, Clackmannanshire and Aberdeenshire (and yes, I picked specifically Scottish sounding ones).  I couldn't volunteer since I could't drive at the time but it sounded like a great opportunity to get out into the community, visit members who couldn't get to the library, find out what sort of books they wanted, help them with the library catalogue if they wished and deliver the services they required.  A small amount of time spent with someone in such a condition to bring them relevant and interesting material could make all the difference.

Now, I don't know if this is offered that often in America.  I have found a private company offering library facilities to the housebound but that is not the same as the council providing for those less capable of getting to their local library.  This builds on the concept of a Mobile Library or Book Mobile - again, I am not sure how popular they are here.  This article shows the Oswego Book Mobile (out of commission for 30 years) in action over summer for children to encourage them to read over their summer holidays.

Mobile libraries are pretty popular in Scotland along with mobile banks, which service people in rural communities, like my own.  It parks up at the local garden centre at its allotted time and allows those with no means of transport to carry out their financial transactions.  Perhaps this business model would not work in America where a larger proportion of people have cars.  I have just spent ages trying to find statistics (from authoritative sources, Jill) concerning the number of registered cars in Scotland and the US - not an easy task for the USA, I can tell you.  So, Scotland had 2.7 million registered vehicles last year, which is about 50% of the population while America had 254.4 million, which is almost 80% of the population.  Quite a difference.  I have also found that there is a very different mentality here towards driving.  In the UK, I am fortunate enough to have a car but barely used it day-to-day since I cycled everywhere - our cities are much easier to get round on foot or bike and the public transport between cities is excellent (don't start me on our 10 hour journey from New York to Syracuse a few weeks ago) so the need to drive is not as great.

So, I thought that I would bring your attention to these few library outreach activities that I know to be popular in Scotland and if there are similar ones in America then please let me know!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Ou est la bibliothèque?

I was waiting to write my blog post until after I had visited the Montreal Central Library...but alas, Montrealers apparently do not like libraries since 1 map, 1 tourist book, 1 Tomtom, 1 helpful security guard, 1 massive plan of area, 1 passer by, 2 Tim Hortons employees, and 4 library students could not locate it.  This is sad but in itself portrays a less than positive vibe concerning the approach to libraries.  There were not even any signs for the library in the streets surrounding it (I have since discovered its location and we were only a few blocks away being pointed in vastly different directions by our sources).  My conclusion, the bibliotheque ain't that popular in Montreal*...

...but QR codes are...

...as are dancing poodles.

A slight saving grace was this poster (below), which we saw while in Chinatown with the tag line 'le livre, machine a voyager dans le temps' - what a great way to put it.  The Salon du Livre de Montreal is an annual book festival including round table discussions, debates and public readings.


I also wanted to write a bit about a talk we had last week in 'Management and Preservation of Special Collections' from Lucy Mulroney, one of the SU Special Collections Research Centre's curators.  With a background in art history, Lucy has a different approach to the collection and her description of her job as getting to know the historical characters associated with the collections at SU made me think of special collections in a different way.

Another point that I found interesting was the relationship she drew between collection development policy and scholarly argument.  She rightly pointed out that the decisions surrounding collection development such as what to buy, what to deaccession etc. all come after extensive research and deliberation.  The librarians have to consider the collection as a whole, where items have their place, who else has bought/dealt with items in a similar manner, who are the main players in the market, who is the audience and then use all of these answers to develop a persuasive and scholarly researched case for action.  Librarians need to keep abreast of their field and new scholarly insights as well as keeping an eye on faculty and where their fields of research might lead the university.  Collection development is not just an administrative job.

Lucy sighted Julia Van Haaften of the New York Public Library and the changes she made to the classification of photographical history books, which increased the focus on these books for their artistic content rather than historical narrative (good article here).  Classification has a greater strength than mere organisation on a shelf.



This all ties in with the increasingly important role that SCRC plays in teaching students.  They can tailor their presentations and lectures to suit specific subject areas, drawing on all areas of the collections.  There have already been over 30 such lectures this term and the concept is proving a great success.  This gets students into the Research Centre and shows them how relevant these collections are to what they are studying...something that they would be unlikely to discover on their own.  This also directs collection development policy and gives the curators a good idea of what would be beneficial purchases.

So, I was pleasantly surprised by this insight and am glad that I now know a bit more about what happens on the other side of the 'divide' on the 6th floor between SCRC and Archives!

*apologies if this is vastly wrong