Archive for November, 2009

This morning I came across the wonderful story of possibly the smallest library in the country on the When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Librarian blog, a Somerset village community have adopted the old village phone box and transformed it into a lending library.  It’s extremely simple too, people donate unwanted books, DVDs and CDs to the phone box and then borrow anything that takes their fancy.

Sounds like a fantastic way for the community to maintain some sort of library service within the village (the mobile library service was cancelled a few months ago)  and also preserve a classic symbol of Britishness in the process.  Small rural village communities are often cut off from many public services and for those without transport visiting a library can be difficult.  In the wake of the recession, have come increased budget cuts and financial pressure for local authorities and the needs of certain communities can be neglected.   I wonder if the public phone box library might spark a trend amongst similar rural communities across the country where library services are being cut and people are left without?

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In the recent post about noise levels in libraries, much of the discussion has focused on what libraries are for. The consensus seems to be that libraries are for the readers: they are institutions intended to facilitate the research conducted by a varied demographic. In such a conception, customer care is the first and highest priority of the staff. That such a view should be unchallenged is demonstrative of the fact that nearly all of the trainees spend most (in some cases, all) of their time either dealing directly with customers (answering enquiries, lending material etc.) or helping to render the library a more reader-friendly environment (for instance, changing shelfmarks and labels or opening and updating Facebook pages).

The problem is, however, that this view does not represent the full gamut of librarianship. In some instances, the reader and their purposes have to be subordinated to other priorities. Dealing with rare or antiquarian books is one of those instances. Here the books themselves are the most important thing: their care is the Librarian’s objective. Indeed, the book itself assumes an entirely different character in the job of the Rare Books Librarian. No longer is the book secondary to the knowledge it contains but instead becomes an object of value in its own right, regardless of its specific contents and their use to the reader. Books become cultural artifacts, as opposed to tools in the quest for knowledge. Libraries become museums, dedicated to the careful storage and preservation of the book. Bibliography, conservation and literary history become the key areas of study for the librarian, rather than information management and customer service.

So too do relations with the reader shift, becoming far more troubled: they adopt some aspects of being a struggle for control. The reader wishes to use the book for his or her particular purposes but the Rare Books Librarian has to defend the book from any usage that may damage it or render it liable to theft. So the kind of reader permitted to view the book needs to be restricted to only the most trusted, the most qualified, the most experienced. Even those who meet such stringent criteria need to conduct their research in a place specified by the Librarian: it cannot be dispatched to other libraries or other reading places.  If possible, the item should be handled by the reader only when being supervised by a qualified member of staff. The things that such reader can do with the book must also be severely curtailed: photocopying, scanning or photographing the material is forbidden. The needs of the individual researcher are thus pushed into a subsidiary position: the librarian exists not to indulge the whims of the reader but to defend the book from harm and preserve it for posterity.  It is no surprise, therefore, that some patrons become frustrated with what they perceive as the contumacious behaviour of the staff handling the rare books they need to continue their research. However, they need to understand that, where antiquarian books are concerned, the customer is not always right nor even very important to the entire process.  In an age of consumerism and egoism, such unflattering principles can be difficult to accept but it is ultimately for their own good: if such books are not preserved and kept safe, they may not survive to see another century. They will be lost to future researchers.

One of the tasks that I was given earlier this week demonstrate these principles splendidly. I was asked to move several hundred pre-1800 books from the Nicolson classification scheme to the protected area on J-Floor of the New Bodleian Stack in preparation for their reclassification. Why was this done? As is well known, the New Bodleian Library is going to be demolished and rebuilt. Those books on J-Floor will remain under the direct supervision of Special Collections. However, books in the Nicolson classification scheme will be removed, photocopied and sent to the Social Science Library where they could ultimately be lent out.  This is bad enough for the 27,000 pre-1900 items present but it would be utterly disastrous for the 700 pre-1800 Nicolson books. They would not receive the proper care nor could access to them be regulated. Theft and intentional damage would become far easier. Thus it is necessary to move them and reclassify them so that they do receive the protection they require.

Of course, it is not always possible to defend the books: the outside world will inevitably find a way to invade the closed  and orderly edifices we erect and maintain. This was proved to me earlier on Tuesday when we had a leak reported in K-Floor that had been caused by the heavy rains. The water was dripping in an area where many pre-1900 books were stored. The entire Room 206 team were dispatched to remove those books that were in harm’s way and place them in a safer and, hopefully, drier area of K-Floor. Some books unfortunately were wet enough to warrant a speedy dispatch to the conservation team but most were unharmed.

That we cannot always win should not discourage the Rare Books Librarian from maintaining his or her focus on caring for the book: as Brecht once said “Those who try may fail but those who do not try have already failed.” This is one area of librarianship where the reader must be held resolutely at arm’s length: their satisfaction is not the ultimately objective of this kind of library work.

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I was interested to see a link in this week’s Outline [OULS staff newsletter] to the following article:


Should libraries be places for quiet study or should they offer opportunities for interaction and more informal work?

Personally, I think there should be a mixture, but I appreciate this approach can’t be adopted in every library. Fundamentally, though, it comes back to the question of what libraries are for. This is question with as many different answers as there are library users – and the issue has been complicated further by the increased use of computer and online resources by students (for work purposes and otherwise).

What do you think?

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As I think most you know, the three trainees at the Bodleian move around throughout the year, thus having the opportunity to experience lots of different aspects of library life. I have started my placement in Reader Services. As a trainee you are a ‘peripatetic’ team member, so you are trained to work in all four of the main reading rooms (Lower Reserve, Upper Reserve, Lower Camera and Upper Camera) in the Old Bodleian library. In a normal week I’ll spend time in at least three of these reading rooms and often also on the Main Enquiry Desk. Throughout the day we get three breaks; one in the morning, one at lunchtime and another in the afternoon. Lots of staff spend their breaks in the common room or in the staff canteen which is called Duke Hungry’s!

My favourite part of my placement so far has been the time I’ve spent on the Main Desk. I really enjoy the variety of questions I get asked and get a great feeling of satisfaction when I can help a reader, especially if they’ve been having trouble with something for a little while. However, I still find some enquiries tricky and I am constantly thinking on my feet to try and think of ways to solve problems or answer questions. The ladies who work there full time have been incredibly helpful and slowly I feel as though I’m finding my way through the vast address book of contacts- at least if I’m familiar with this then I know who to pass my difficult enquiries onto!

This Tuesday I spent half my time in the Lower Reading Room and half the day in the Upper Reading room. The Lower Reading Room specialises in Classics and Patristic theology, both heavily used collections. Duties on Tuesday included receiving deliveries from the stack, shelving stack books, answering reader queries, taking staff-mediated photocopying orders and shelving new journals after recording them in our hand catalogue. Lots of our stack material is currently stored in Cheshire so there are often queries to follow up about this material and journal ordering can also be quite confusing for new readers (and often for me too!)

The Upper Reading houses graduate English and History collections and is a very busy reading room. Deliveries are often very large and can be quite complicated due to the nature of material requested (periodicals, large items, antiquarian material, multi-part volumes). Again, I spent most of my time answering queries, which sometimes involved phone calls to the stack. I always feel like I’ve had my daily exercise quota when I’m working in Upper so it’s nice to be able to go home and have a relaxing evening!

Although I enjoy the variety of working in lots of different places and it has provided a great opportunity to get to know lots of readers and staff, I sometimes miss being able to get to know readers well and I always have to remember to complete any tasks I’ve started or let regular staff members know of any queries they may need to follow up when I’m not there. It is interesting, because although most of us spend some time on the desk, I have had a whole three months exclusively in this role.

I think I will miss the reader interaction and the ‘people side’ of things a bit when I first move to a ‘behind the scenes’ role but I am looking forward to experiencing different aspects of library life.

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People have been talking about ‘day-in-the-life’ blog posts to give everyone a better idea of the different kinds of work we all do and I thought I’d kick things off. For those that don’t know, I’m the trainee for the futureArch project and I’m  going down the archiving,  rather than librarian route. From what I’ve heard from some of the other trainees, my job is quite different, so hopefully people will find this quite interesting. I think the big difference is that I’m only in a reading room dealing with enquiries and visitors one morning a week and the rest of the time I’m in an office and only have to talk to my colleagues!

So anyway, here is a typical Thursday: I’m based in Osney but on Thursday mornings I go over to the Logic School in the Bodleian Quad as I’m being taught how to use EAD, the cataloguing programme. I’ve been given a small collection of Victorian letters to catalogue first, which thankfully is a pretty standard collection. EAD is pretty simple to use, once you get used to all the little quirks and rules, like when inserting the scope/content you have to also insert a paragraph element within it before you can start writing. If you don’t, EAD has a bit of a tantrum and starts highlighting everything in red. It’s also very fussy about punctuation and where you can and cannot have a comma. The hardest part (but also the most fun)  is trying to read the signatures of all the correspondents and work out who they are so I can list them in the catalogue – there’s a lot of variation in the standard of handwriting. Thankfully most of them are famous enough to be in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or as a last resort, wikipedia. It can be frustrating (one letter was signed ‘H.H.’) but it’s very rewarding when you finally work out who they are (for anyone interested H.H. turned out to be Hugh Haweis).

I finish at the Bodleian at 1pm and get back over to Osney (for which I love the minibus). In the afternoon I get on with my ongoing struggle with the CD imaging programme. The futureArch project is looking at born-digital archives (computer files, emails, MP3s etc.) and trying to develop an infrastructure for preserving and archiving these. CD imaging is a form of forensic imaging whereby a programme examines a disk to see what’s there without disturbing any of the metadata. For instance, we don’t want to change the last modified date, so we can’t just open all the files normally to see what’s there, besides which not all files are compatible with PCs. The programme also harvests and creates other metadata, like MD5 hash values. These are unique identifiers, so you can easily see if a file actually is a duplicate, or just looks the same. The programme can also retrieve deleted files (though not always intact), but this brings up a whole set of issues over the morality of archiving files the owner doesn’t realise we have. The imager also produces a copy of all the files, which eventually will be preserved in our secure server. This means we’re not reliant on computers still having CD drives in fifty years time to be able to view the files – just look at Amstrads: a lot of disks still exist, but if you haven’t got the computer they’re pretty much useless and the data on them is lost.

Anyway, I have a set of disks to image and we have a robotic loader, so in theory I should be able to pile them up and set the loader to put each one in the machine, image it, take it out and put the next one in, but of course technology is never that simple! Most of the time the loader seems to get confused and tries to remove the disk without first opening the disk drive and then decides to sulk and stop working. It also can’t seem to work out when it’s run out of disks and will bring up an error message and again stop working. I was getting a bit worried I’d pressed the wrong button or something, but my manager assures me other people who use it also complain about it being temperamental. Maybe it just doesn’t like being left in a room by itself.

When I get too annoyed with the loader, or just need a break I move on to one of my other tasks, which is sorting out one of the boxed collections. It’s in one of the cages across the hall and when it was archived nobody properly went through it, so I get the exciting job of going through the boxes and removing any staples and paperclips left in there and removing papers from metal ring binders and folders and putting then into plain card ones. A lot of the metal has started to rust and it’s quite dirty work, but it makes a change to do something manual that doesn’t require much brain power and it gets me away from the computer screen for a while. I normally spend the afternoon alternating between the imaging and the box sorting and then comes home time!

There are other jobs I do on different days of the week, but that’s a pretty typical Thursday. It’d be great to hear what other people get up to and compare it.

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Amy’s post about induction procedure and policy made me realise that I don’t really know how induction works in other libraries so I thought I’d share my experience of the Bodleian Law Library approach;

Apparently law students have a lot of serious essay writing to do before term even properly starts so a good library induction is essential.  I ended up being quite heavily involved in inductions at the law library, for both postgraduate induction week and undergraduate induction week, mainly because I volunteered myself as it sounded like lots of fun!  At the law library undergraduate inductions are a quite a big event. We  held induction sessions during 0th week for each college and these were followed by hands on classes and lectures in 1st week.  Not only was there a library tour during 0th week inductions but a quiz and class in our IT suite  intended to educate the students about using library resources and start their first essays.   The quiz required students to work in pairs, using the print resources in the library to answer the questions. So not only did it help the students to find the key areas of the library for their course but also introduced them to the different resources available. For the first question we gave them the task of finding the title and author of a book by looking for a shelfmark.  Another question involved using the law reports, we gave a citation and they had to find the party names.  Before induction week I tested the quiz to make sure it all worked, I was an obvious candidate as I had about the same level of knowledge of the library resources as a fresher! It was a brilliant task for me to do though as it helped me learn the basics of finding cases and statutes as well as textbooks and journals. I had to ask for help at one point when Halsbury’s Statutes seemed impossible to locate but apart from that I got all the answers right! It seems like a very effective way to make the new students actively learn about using the library from the very beginning of their time here.  A library tour is good but probably not as effective as getting them to go off and find things for themselves.  Of course the tour guides were on hand during the quiz to point people in the right direction and answer any questions, which of course there were many because the library resources can be quite confusing if you are new.  Finding books was a pretty straightforward and hassle free task because by the time you reach university most people have been to a library and looked for a book.  But a law reading list can look very scary once you reach citations for legislation and law reports, understandably this was the point students became stuck.

A citation can look like this: Pepper v Hart [1993] AC 593

Walk into a library with this on your reading list and trying to find it must be a very daunting task.  I can tell you that it is because it took me a while to figure out what all the numbers and letters mean.   So by including tasks like finding a case in a law report as an activity during the induction means that students are at least familiar with the basics of where to look and how to begin interpreting the citation when they start the course.  The skills needed to navigated law library resources are followed through with the Legal Research Skills Programme (LRSP), a compulsory part of first year for undergraduates, which aims to teach students how to find material on their reading list.

I like to think that the law library induction programme helped this years freshers make a start on those first week assignments and made the world of legal resources a little less intimidating! I haven’t had any queries about where to find cases cited on reading lists so I guess the quiz alongside the LRSP must have worked well.

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On Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st October 2009, NHS Evidence held their ‘Specialist Collections Quarterly Meeting’ in Manchester. My supervisor (Senior Information Specialist – Shona Kirtley), the women’s health specialist collection clinical lead (Stephen Kennedy) and myself went representing our collection. The aim of such meetings is to discuss and review the progress of the NHS Evidence specialist collections, as well as considering future roles and developments; and discuss the success of NHS Evidence as a whole. I also got to meet up with many of the other specialist collections information specialists and finally put some faces to names!

I found the experience really interesting, and although a lot of what was discussed went over my head a little bit (either I have not yet come across it, or have just started to!); the whole event was rewarding and I’m really glad I got the chance to go.

From a ‘Graduate Library Trainee’ point of view, I appreciate my own role within NHS Evidence a bit more and am coming to understand the implications of working in a healthcare library can have…

…In organising research, evidence and information on particular topics (be it cancer, cardiovascular medicine, or women’s health) and placing such information in a ‘specialist collection’, I am helping (albeit in a distant and indirect way) a consultant or medical professional get the information they need.

Hopefully in the next few months I will have the chance to get some work experience in the Cairns Library which will build on skills I am learning in the medical library environment; and allow me to get a feel for a different type of healthcare library.


NHS Evidence – Women’s Health: http://www.library.nhs.uk/WOMENSHEALTH/

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Library Inductions…

Last Friday morning, my supervisor arranged for me to attend the ‘Induction Working Party’ held at the SSL. After a slightly nippy and overcast walk from the Bodleian we arrived for the meeting and were greeted by Alice and Susan staffing the desk! It was so interesting to step into a library which is feels very modern and therefore worlds away from my usual working surroundings in the Bodleian…

Because of timetabling constraints I could not be that involved in the induction process at the Bod, so I was really pleased to have the opportunity to attend a working party designed to evaluate induction policies and more specifically to evaluate this year’s induction. The committee has representatives from several OULS libraries, the Admissions office and College libraries.  I am particularly interested in user education and it is an area of library work I am hoping to get involved in through my trainee project.

One of the main difficulties of a Working Party of this kind is that it covers all libraries in Oxford; colleges, faculties, big libraries, small libraries, each serving a different number of students, with different sorts of needs and interests. Much of the meeting was therefore inevitably taken up discussing the remit of such a group. Although I was encouraged by the progress made and enjoyed the session, the meeting also highlighted how difficult it is to make university wide decisions even on what seem fairly small matters.

One thing I definitely took away from the session was the need to keep talking about induction policy and practice in order to try and appreciate the variety of libraries in Oxford. So… I would be interested to know how many of us were involved in inductions and if you were, was there anything you thought worked particularly well or other things which perhaps needed improving? Also,  we spent a lot of time discussing the undergraduate user education database- if any of you have nay thoughts about it then it would be great to hear them!

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NHS Evidence (provided by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE) was launched in April 2009 with the aim to provide “easy access to high quality clinical and non-clinical information about health and social care”; and also provide access to 34 specialist collections which cover a wide range of medical conditions and topics. The specialist collections (SC’s) were formerly part of the National Library for Health.

Each SC is a web based collection of linked resources, and makes sure to include the best available evidence in that particular speciality. Collections are maintained by information specialists, a clinical lead (who is a senior practitioner in the field of the SC) and input from a national reference group (representatives from relevant professional organisations, institutions and charities in the field of women’s health who offer guidance in the development of the collection). In the women’s health SC we also have a team of clinical fellows who are responsible for one area of the collection, and offer advice from a clinical viewpoint.

One of the most important (and clinically useful) roles of the SC’s is to produce an ‘Annual Evidence Update’ (AEU) on different subjects within their collection. At the moment, the women’s health SC produces five (with the aim to publish a new ‘Diabetes and Pregnancy’ AEU next year) in the areas of ‘Antenatal care’, ‘Heavy Menstrual Bleeding’, ‘Endometriosis’, ‘Urinary Incontinence’ (held jointly with the kidney diseases and male urogenital SC) and ‘Dysmenorrhoea’. The purpose of AEU’s is to provide a concise overview of new research and evidence that has been published over the last twelve months, and provide summaries and references. Each AEU can take weeks (if not, months) to prepare. In depth search strategies need to be written to catch all possible evidence; results need to be filtered down to a manageable number and of high quality; clinical fellows and medical students need to be organised to write the summaries for each chapter of the AEU; and lastly, editing and finalising of the whole project. It can take a lot of time!

For an example, please see our latest AEU which was ‘Antenatal and Pregnancy Care’ published in September.

The AEU is a good example of the specialist nature of medical librarianship and information management, and goes to show that there are plenty of avenues in the field of library and information management; not just the traditional concept of books!

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Lone Librarian…

The Women’s Health specialist collection is exactly that – specialist, and with the risk of being unknown. As a drawback, more work is required to get more users, and get the collection recognised. One way many of the collections do this is exhibit at various conferences/meetings. On Friday 6th November, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) held their ‘Academic Association of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (AAOG) Annual Meeting’. We had an exhibition stand booked, so that we could inform people in the field (clinicians, researchers or students) about the collection, and try and get more people subscribed to our monthly e-mail newsletter.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, my supervisor could not attend with me; but, seeing as it was an excellent marketing opportunity for the collection, I went down to London on my own as a representative of the Women’s Health collection (struggling with my laptop and a banner stand which turned out to be ridiculously awkward and heavy!) I thought it was ironic that I had been nervous the week before at the prospect of half an hour manning the stand by myself whilst my supervisor had a meeting during lunch…never mind the whole day!

After getting the 6.15am bus to London, I got to the RCOG just after 8.00am, where I proceeded to set up my stand. I had an ‘NHS Evidence’ banner stand to place beside the desk, and had taken my laptop with me so I could show people ‘round the library’. My contact time with potential users was restricted to the registration period (9.00-9.30am), morning break (10.25-10.45am) and lunch (12.30-1.45pm). There was a mixture of clinicians, researchers and academics in the field of women’s health attending, and I hoped to at least bring attention to the collection.

As it was, not many people came up to talk to me, but I did get some more subscribers to the newsletter! One aspect I had been worrying about was if people asked questions I couldn’t answer. I’d imagine that’s a general concern for all library trainees, and most people will probably bumble by! I especially felt out of my depth with the possibility that people might ask medically-based questions about the collection (rather than the simple question of how to use it and what else can you do with it!) Luckily, the only question tending that way was whether we included a certain topic, which I knew we did (but also showed the person how to find that subject on the topic tree; akin to another trainee showing a user where the medical books are!)

I really enjoyed the whole day; especially explaining the benefits and advantages to using the collection and what else we do (other than housing a vast amount of medical evidence). I liken it to giving a library tour – showing a user the general layout, what subjects are included, answering any questions, and (always!) hoping to promote the library and gain more members.

Digital libraries may be the way forward in the future, but there will always be the traditional aim of a library…

…to help promote learning!

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