Tuesday, 31 January 2012

[Library Day in the Life Round 8] Day 2

Welcome to my second day of the Library Day in the Life Round 8 Saga.

**WARNING: many images of Otto**


I started off my day with a browse of Downton Abbeyonce courtesy of Helen and Ange from Cambridge - this is one of the many things I like about librarians - they all like similar things to me and aren't ashamed to share the slightly geeky things they find about them.

We have had snow
I did my usual e-mail, Google Reader, job sites search over breakfast and headed to work.  I have been continuing to research board and room rates from 1871 to the present day - prices went up extraordinarily fast during the 70s and it is really interesting to look at the figures in relation to historical events such as wars and see how that effected the pricing.

I polished up a trophy from 1957 that is going into an exhibition of the Chancellor's Office.  We have had the IT men in all morning since we are migrating our computer system from one server to another (no-one is entirely sure why) so we are all working at desks rather than computers - very unnerving.  It is shocking how dependant we have become.

I have also dealt with an e-mail from the lady organising the Syracuse Little Free Libraries Project asking the LIS students to give some more input before Friday - we are meeting about this tonight (i.e. keep reading) so I sent her a holding email.


Still at work but this afternoon I and a fellow student got to vacuum Otto (Syracuse University's mascot, Otto the Orange, for more see here)!  Having taken some advice from the Visual and Performing Arts' costume department, we had to attach some sort of filter to the vacuum head - we used a bit of Meg's porch screen material and duck tape.  Cleaning the costumes was quite easy and they look much brighter and fluffy!  My white T-shirt is now orange and fluffy too, unfortunately.  In accordance with the costume department's guidelines, we are airing the costumes for the next month - we have perched the three blobs throughout the stacks wherever there was space - the Special Collections Staff are going to get a fright when they go into the stacks!

Kendra getting to grips with the homemade lint roller
 (inspiration came from the rather bemused IT men who were STILL hanging about)

Just wait until SCRC stumble upon this!

Otto in the wild
I have spent the rest of the afternoon answering management talking points online and watching this week's video for comment - focusing on group decision making.


After a quick trip to the gym and dinner, I had some of the library team working on Syracuse Little Free Libraries round to discuss how to clarify the book list so that those who want to donate before the launch on Friday can do so (i.e. YOU).  We also needed to plan the poster for the launch - we are going to have a poster detailing how we came up with the books and an idea of the collection development policy.  We will also all be there to chat to interested parties and hobnob with the community and hopefully get everyone as excited about it as us so you have that to look forward on Day 5!

[Library Day in the Life Round 8] Day 1

I decided to have a go at posting for Library Day in the Life Round 8 since I have been aware of a couple of the previous rounds and have enjoyed reading people's posts - it is probably the nosy person in me.

So, a wee bit of an introduction.  I am a graduate MLIS student at Syracuse University and work as the Graduate Archives Assistant for the University.  What did I get up to today?

Campus in nicer climes


As usual I started my day by checking e-mails and my Google reader.  I went through some job adverts and decided that none of today's were suitable for me.  I had received an e-mail back from a librarian concerning a post I am applying for and so I got on with tailoring my CV and writing a cover letter for that position.  I also had a thorough check of Blackboard (our online class tool thing) and got myself up to date with discussions and assignments - I always approach this with dread, Blackboard is one form of communication that I always hope will have an empty inbox.  One of this week's online classes had the first part of the lecture up so I had a listen to it while making notes and flipping through my notes from the readings.

I put the e-mail wheels in motion for snagging myself an interview candidate for the interview assignment of my digitisation project and worked on preparing questions for him with fingers crossed that he would agree.

Blackboard by coo, on Flickr
If only Blackboard looked as pretty as this

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


I went into work and was immediately sent off on a delivery for the archives to University College with a student's records that they had asked for.  I got the loan form signed and returned it to where it belongs in the archives after squeezing past the three Otto costumes that are now out of their box and sitting rather deflated on the tables.  I hope no-one has noticed that I stroke them each time I pass.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my current project, which is to research and create a spreadsheet featuring enrolment numbers for freshmen, undergrads and grads, cost of room and board and number of graduates at commencement every year from 1871 to the present day.  This is a massive project and the data is by no means simple.  The figures, when we can find them in the several collections that we think may hold clues, have been compiled by various departments for various reasons and have included or excluded certain groups of students for all kinds of reasons - it is a minefield.  I never thought I would be sitting in the archives with calculator and a spreadsheet ticking off numbers!

If only it were this calculator!

I had my preservation of rare books class with Prof. Lavender.  He talked us through our new toolkits which we had to buy for class and included items such as paint brushes, scalpels, sand paper, needles etc.  We got to make an origami box using mylar (which is far less easy to work with than paper!).  We then used various kinds of rubber to remove various types of stains from various types of paper - it was great to get some hands on experience and have a legitimate reason to be playing with silly putty!

Map by hannah.rosen, on Flickr
America made out of silly putty

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  hannah.rosen 

After a game of squash I am back home and listening to the second part of my lecture accompanied by chocolate and peanut butter ice-cream.  I have fired off some e-mails regarding a job application in Australia and the interview for digitisation (the librarian agreed to be interviewed -  collective yay! please).

And that is pretty much my Monday.  Busy but not exactly productive on the school work front!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Archives are not for the fainthearted

My second semester is under way and I would like to spend a wee bit of time defending the archives.  I am well aware of the stereotype of archives as being dusty, usually underground, dimly lit corridors of boxes with seldom seen tweed-clad bespectacled archivists scurrying about avoiding the daylight and I would just like to say that that is pish-tosh.

I work in Syracuse University's Archives (on the top floor of Bird with some beautiful light fittings) and there is never a dull moment.  Yesterday we took delivery of the three recently decommissioned Otto the Orange costumes:

Voted top for March Madness Mascots
(for those of you who are not familiar with the importance of College mascots, I can tell you that they are apparently very important and there are even auditions to be Otto).

Another few examples:
  • Last week I was helping to deal with a new accession to the Pan Am Flight 103 collection from the father of one of the Syracuse University victims.  Included in this collection were bits of the plane, soil from the crash site and items of the victim's luggage that had survived relatively intact.   This was a very sobering experience and emphasised the important role that archives plays in preserving the history of events.
  • The SU archives are currently dealing with attorneys concerning the Bernie Fine child sexual abuse allegations and assisting them in their research into the Basketball team's history.  You cannot underestimate the pivotal role that archives play in an institution such as a university.
  • The mascot of the University used to be the Saltine Warrior but this was sidelined and a new mascot searched for to remove any racial links.  The archives has a very interesting article about the various college mascots and the eventual decision to go with Otto the Orange (originals called Clyde or Woody).  The archives holds memorabilia featuring the Saltine Warrior but does not use it for display or exhibition purposes in case it causes offence.
  • Staff from what I would call the Development Office of Syracuse were in the archives wanting images and information concerning university traditions that they could use as a means of engaging students and alumni with the present activities of the university.
1912 Kissing bench on the quad - the story has changed over time but, currently,
any couple who kiss on it will get married (previously, a co-ed had to kiss on
 it in order to graduate and marry or a co-ed had to be kissed on the bench
so that she did not become a spinster

A couple of articles have recently brought my attention to the delicacy of some of the materials within archives and the effect that they may have on those working there.  There are two men who claim that their work at the Boston College's Centre for Irish Study has endangered their lives (articles here and here) due to the IRA.  Also, in the podcast I was listening to last night about Lenin, my ears perked up at the mention of the archivists in charge of the Lenin archives in Russia.  Robert Service used newly released archives in the 1990s to write a more personal biography of the communist politician and, in this interview, gave some insight into the treatment of archives in Russia.  Before 1991, if you were an archivist in the Soviet Union, you had to swear an oath not to reveal anything in print or orally as to what you knew from those archives so there were always grounds for suspicion as to what they held.  The few archivists working with this collection were the only ones to know what it contained and held the key to the secrets of Lenin's past - who can say that that's a boring job?

Another exciting collection is the Andy Warhol Archive in Pittsburg, which we looked at in our cataloguing class.  The most intriguing part of this collection has to be the set of 612 containers, which Warhol filled and sealed over a 30 year time period in an attempt to control the masses of material that he dealt with on a day to day basis.  The website is a fantastic feat of classification and you can spend ages playing around with the time capsules and seeing how they relate to one another.  The archivists are still in the process of opening the time capsules and they hold a big party when they do and open it in front of the guests - no-one knows what could be inside: letters, photos, artwork, books, financial works etc. and the archivists are in a unique position to appreciate and experience Warhol's work at first-hand.

I hope that the above has dispelled some myths concerning archives.  I love working in them and that's not just because I am a bit odd.  They are not only a fascinating opportunity to glimpse our past and provide priceless links to those that have gone before but also often have a direct effect on where institutions are going, how they are funded and how people receive them.

For those of you in 614 looking for some satirical relief concerning library management look no further than here, a post by an academic librarian in Cambridge.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Alternative Careers: webinar on what and how

Yesterday I 'attended' my first webinar entitled 'Alternative Careers' and given by Bethan Ruddock, the Content Development Manager, Library and Archival Services, Mimas, University of Manchester, (UK).  A rather unlibrariany title you might think and that was the point - this webinar was aimed at familiarising library students with the concept of getting a job outside of a library and one that may not even know that it needs an information professional.

Microphone by mag3737, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

An 'alternative' post can be one that does not have 'librarian' in the title or is not in a library.  It may be in a different sector entirely, such as museums or the corporate sector.  It may not involve books or contact with users.  Sometimes the job advert itself will not mention information professionals or the need for a library degree and it is up to you to convince them that they need one.  With a degree from Library School you have a degree in finding things out and those sorts of skills can be applied to pretty much any job.  Bethan's advice was to seek out the sort of institution you want to work for and sell yourself to them as an information professional, showing them first why they need one and then why they need you in particular.

You don't have to go IN the library for a job...
just stand outside and take pictures

What I found most useful though, was the discussion of applications, identifying your strengths, where you would like to work and the sorts of things to say at interview.  I am having trouble at the moment identifying the sort of library path to go down when I leave SU and Bethan suggested listing everything you are good at and enjoy (library and non-library related) and see if there is a way to work those into a job.  She called this a 'skills audit' - I liked that.   Some more suggestions:
  • Talk in the vocabulary of the institution you are applying to, even if you don't think that the job title sounds good, you should inhabit that job role for the duration of the interview and get yourself on the wavelength of the panel.  
  • In applications, use concrete examples to prove your team leading capabilities etc. rather than waffling on about the concept itself.
  • If asked similar questions in an interview to the application form, use a different example so that you give them the maximum amount of information about yourself.
  • Examples you give in interviews and applications don't have to be work related - the panel want to know about you as a person too so if you have a great example from some other part of your life that demonstrates your point then go for it.
  • Use your application to convince them that they need an information professional.
  • Be explicit, not implicit - make the connections between your skills and their institution for them.
  • Get a feel for the institution before interview - do they have Twitter?  Do they blog?  Again, get on their wavelength.
  • Have a good online presence that showcases your professional capabilities.
  • Talk to vendors at conferences and find out how they got where they are and what it is like working for their companies - get their card and follow up if you think you would like to work there.  Get yourself known in the circles in which you want to be.
  • Use social media - a great source of information flow and knowledge management.

Our very own Syracuse iSchool was mentioned due to Mia's great article on non-library jobs for LIS students.  I did a mini-hurrah in my head.  This webinar, however, was not just about finding jobs that were not in a library but also ones that did not require an MLIS and gave some tips about how to go about finding them.  Apart from being in the right place at the right time and knowing all the right people, you can get a leg up by widening your job searches to include non-library terms such as 'communication', 'research', 'training', 'outreach' etc. - identify your skill areas and search according to them.  You may get a lot of irrelevant hits but there may be some gems hidden in there.  Identify where you would love to work and contact someone there, ask to shadow them or find out their career path - Bethan rightly pointed out that if you are genuinely interested in finding out then you tend to get a genuinely truthful answer.  An overwhelming message in the presentation was: don't be scared!  You can do no harm by applying for a job and you can reap so many benefits if you get it.

hidden jewel by arjunv, on Flickr
Hidden gems

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  arjunv 

So, this has left me with a lot of food for thought.  This was my first webinar and, if I am honest, I spent a fair bit of time wondering if the other attendees could see or hear me slurping my coffee in the comfort of my own home but it was a fantastic way to hear from a professional in the field, whom it will probably be a while before I hear in person and it has spurred me on to get applying!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The other Cambridge

While in Boston, Charlotte and I visited Harvard University for a day of meetings and tours.  It was handy that we had organised this in advance since the Harvard campus was closed to visitors due to the Occupy Harvard movement!

Occupy Harvard
First up was a tour of the Widener Library, which has holdings for the social sciences and humanities.  This impressive library has around three million volumes and miles of stacks, which are open to students for browsing.  There is a network of underground tunnels connecting various libraries, which left us feeling like we were in the middle of a maze.  There are around 90 libraries attached to the University with faculty libraries being as small as individual rooms in Widener or as big as the Langdell Law Library.  I particularly liked the option to rent out a carrell for the term - I would have appreciated that at uni when I was more than miffed if someone got into the library before me and sat at my desk.

Beautiful picture of a complete stranger outside the Widener
Next up was a well-orchestrated afternoon in the archives.  These are the oldest archives in the country and contain 50,000 linear feet of records with 20 members of staff.  There are around 40 archives and special collections at Harvard University for the various faculties but the University Archives focus on records management and the preservation of records relating to the life of the University.

The Archives works with faculty members to ensure that the course assignments use the primary sources from their collections.  This has been highly successful as has the similar project at the Syracuse University Research Centre but at Harvard it is not the archivists or special collections staff doing the teaching but the faculty staff who introduce students to the collections and encourage them to use them.

We had a tour of the stacks and introduced to some of the issues of archival storage.  The Archives stores much of their material in a warehouse, which has much better climate control and even has the surrounding trees cut down and trimmed so that, in the event of a storm, no trees will fall on the warehouse and potentially damage it.  Items are only sent to the warehouse when a full EAD finding aid has been created and there is a rigorous checking in and out system for items in transit to ensure that the location of items is known at all times and adequate climate conditions met as much as possible.

One member of staff is focused on ensuring that faculty members leave their papers to Harvard when they leave and this is an aspect of archives that I had not considered.  The University Archives are actively working to safeguard the future of the collections.  This member of staff is also in charge of collection management and made a very valid point when discussing records of the surrounding area.  If an archive is the only one in the vicinity then does it have an obligation to collect items related to the community?  The local history of Cambridge is inextricably linked to the history of Harvard and so their exhibitions incorporate this focus.

View from Longfellow bridge towards Boston
We got a sneak peak inside the vault which holds the most precious items of the collections such as the official Harvard crimson and valuable items such as J.F.K.'s dissertation.  Very exciting.  It was great to be able to discuss issues such as EAD, digitisation, social media (not embraced), budget, creating e-mail archives etc. with another University's Archives and it really hit home, having Charlotte on hand too, that archives and libraries really aren't that different across the pond.