Monday 21 May 2012

Penumbra visit to Homerton Library

My second Penumbra placement was at Homerton College library. Although the college started out as a teacher training college it is now a full member of the University of Cambridge and is not to be confused with the Education Faculty.

My day started out with a tour of the library. Set in a light and airy building, it makes an attractive study space and is well used. The library is open 24 hours and the current exam term means it's very popular with revising students. I learnt that there are plans to refurbish the library over the coming months in order to keep it up to date, for example installing tables with integrated power sockets for laptops. One of the most interesting things about the library is its extensive children's literature collection. The library tries to keep up with the latest trends in children's and young adult literature and preserve these for future study. This struck a chord with me since it is similar to my work with the Tower Project. When material was received on legal deposit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was put in the tower if it was considered to have little or no academic value. Today these items are valued for those studying literature, children's literature and social history to name a few. By building a collection of today's children's literature, Homerton library is helping to ensure access to these resources for future generations. This collection isn't weeded meaning that it can be preserved for the future.

Next up was a session on blogging. The library maintains a successful blog which functions as a way to share news and general announcements with users. As well as the main news page, the blog contains a number of sub-pages with FAQs and a guide to the library. One of the things which most impressed me about the blog was its resources page. Not only does this provide links to commonly used library and information resources, it also provides guides to the local area and transport. This is an extremely handy thing to have on a library website, especially one with so many visiting scholars who may not know the local area. The library is the knowledge base of the university but it is all too often forgotten that this extends beyond teaching and research needs. If the library can provide information which people find useful then they are more likely to see it as a useful source of information. For example, if the library can give a student clear information on bus routes into town then they will see the library as a good source of information. The next time they need to do research for an essay, they are more likely to use the library since it provided them with valuable information before (albeit of a different sort!).

This was followed by a session on book selection. Homerton is independent in its books selection. Although it receives recommendations from staff and students, which it accommodates, it is able to chose the items which it thinks will best fit its remit. The system used for these items allows books to be bound etc. at the point of order which is an added bonus. At the UL we have an in-house bindery but I do appreciate that not everyone is lucky enough to have this facility! The staff at Homerton were very patient when explaining the book ordering process to me. I had never realised that it was this complex and it's given me a new appreciation for colleagues who do this as part of their jobs. Items are instantly available on the catalogue after ordering so that users can see exactly what the library holds. These basic records are updated as needed but this instant availability important for both the user and the library. If an item is on order this is shown on the record to prevent holds being placed on items which are not actually in stock yet.

My morning at Homerton was very informative and enjoyable and I want to say a huge thank you to the team for sharing their time with me. I apologise if this post doesn't go into as much detail as some of my others (I've left my notes at home and want to get the post out, so this is being done from memory!). I would encourage anyone in University of Cambridge libraries who is thinking about taking part in the Penumbra scheme to do it - it's a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. I've had a few people ask me questions about the scheme in the last week or so which is a really encouraging sign. I would also encourage any libraries thinking about offering a placement to do so, you can get as much out of it as the participants!

Picture credits: treyerice (Homerton College), Paul Watson (books)

Wednesday 16 May 2012

'Making CILIP Work for You' - a CILIP East of England Event

Last weekend I attended the CILIP East of England event 'Making CILIP Work for You' which was held in Cambridge. The afternoon featured talks on CILIP and social media by CILIP president Phil Bradley, feedback from the recent survey of CILIP East of England members and group discussions.

After outlining the structure of CILIP and his duties as president, Phil went on to talk about new developments within CILIP. He highlighted the need to make CILIP seem like less of a London centric organisation, a decision which is reflected in the fact that this years AGM will be held in Newcastle. This is something I hadn't really considered before. I live in Cambridge so it isn't that much of a hassle for me to get down to CILIP HQ in London, but I do appreciate that this would be difficult for others who live further away. There was general acknowledgement from around the room that this was a positive step.

The point was made that although at times CILIP is an organisation, it is made up of people and these people are the key to its success. The organisation is there to represent its members so it is vital for us to tell them how they could best do this. This is the aim of events such as this one and all members are encouraged to have their say. If people don't, then they can hardly complain that they aren't getting what they want! Events like this enable Phil to find out what members are doing in their libraries and then share this knowledge with other librarians who may find it useful, as well as putting it out into the wider world.

The second part of Phil's talk focused on social media in libraries. Since this is my current research topic my ears pricked up! Phil made an excellent point which I've seen mentioned a lot on Twitter lately. He argued that although there is resistance in some places to social media use in the workplace, as information professionals we should be able to argue that social media IS an information resource and therefore it's part of our job to know about it. This really stuck a chord with me and is an argument that I intend to pursue in the future. In addition to this, using social media shows that the library is involved and proactive when it comes to their users. Social media is where users are so this is where the library should be to. If not, then we're missing out something huge!

Phil is adamant that CILIP should be well represented on social media for these very reasons. His philosophy is "it's not a question of IF we get involved in social media but HOW we get involved" and he recommends that libraries think very carefully before deciding not to use it. Libraries have traditionally been the 'keepers' of information but we all know that this has changed. We still need to be the people that users come to for information and if social media is where the most useful information for their needs is then we need to know about it. Librarians and other information professionals need to aid users in finding quality content amongst the sheer amount of information available today. The goalposts haven't really changed, they have just moved a little bit to include new formats. With so much information present, someone needs to tell users which is the 'best' information to use - librarians.

The power of the individual on social media was also discussed. Phil pointed out that users often don't go to the webpage of the company anymore, they look at the social media of the individual who works for them. The company can actaully get authority from the individual instead of the other way around, which is an interesting shift. It also means that I might have to dust off my slightly neglected LinkedIn profile...

The main focus of the afternoon was small discussion groups which were held on various topics. I took part in the groups on advocacy and training. Live blogs from these groups and the others can be found on the CILIP East of England blog so I won't cover the same ground here. One issue that came up again and again in our advocacy group was the issue of volunteers in libraries and what is seen as the consequent 'de-skilling' of the profession. Whilst people praised the work that volunteers had contributed to libraries that they had worked in, there was a definite air of caution. This is something which seems to have been echoed on Twitter in recent days and I'll be interested to see what feedback comes from this. Another issue that was discussed was how CILIP could aid in small scale advocacy. The example used was social media and it was suggested that a sort of 'fact sheet' of reasons why libraries should be using it should be put together in order to aid individuals in putting their cases forward to their managers. This would be really useful and would certainly be applicable in many other similar situations.

We then moved on to discussing training and there was a definite discrepancy in training budgets across the libraries represented. Some had the freedom to attend pretty much what they wanted whilst others had to fight to attend even one training course. Whilst CILIP can't do much about the policies of individual employers, the East of England group are intending to try to fill a little of the gap left by the closure of the official CILIP training programme. It was pointed out that just because the event is for East of England members, this doesn't mean that it has to be held here. If it easier for everyone to get to London then why not hold it there? Other points raised included the cost of training. There seemed to be equal numbers of people who would be happy to pay and those who wanted free training and events. I would personally be happy to pay an affordable amount for training and events, but I did raise the point that travel costs need to be taken into consideration when setting the budgets. Another topic discussed was the possibility of a virtual learning environment which is apparently something that CILIP are actively working on. I'll be interested to see what they come up with. Having an online learning environment would certainly solve the problem of securing time off work to attend training sessions! 

Overall it was a really interesting and stimulating day. I came away feeling positive and inspired about the profession in general and eagerly looking forward to the next CILIP East of England event.

Photo credit: joeyanne

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Penumbra visit to Selwyn Library

Last week I went on my first work shadowing visit as part of the Penumbra programme run by Cambridge University. This first visit was to Selwyn College Library and I was very lucky to have the wonderful Sarah Stamford and her team show me round.
My day started with a quick tour of the college. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’ve lived in Cambridge all my life and barely know which college is which, never mind visited many of them. This was my first time inside Selwyn and it’s a lovely looking place. Our first stop was a trip to the archives and a quick chat with the archivist Elizabeth Stratton, who was putting the finishing touches to an exhibition of college history. I was surprised to see artifacts alongside the traditional documents and photographs but Elizabeth explained to me that items like this helped to set the more traditional items in context and it made sense to house them both together.  We also discussed how Selwyn are encouraging today’s students to contribute to the archives of the future, a very important point that often gets forgotten. Even recent students are asking to see photographs and documents from their time at the university, but this is largely dependent on the donations that the archives receive.
Next I was given a tour of the library. Despite being somewhat smaller than the library I’m used to, it was a very warm and welcoming space. I especially liked the silent study room where not even computers are allowed. I was impressed that this was an idea which came from the students themselves. I think that the idea of the library as a space to study in peace is often overlooked. I know that I've been in to the library on my days off just because I know that I can get some peace to get some work done. There is a lot of emphasis right now on how libraries need to adapt to accommodate changing study patterns such as group work and whilst this is important, I think that the need for a quiet place shouldn’t be overlooked. There are precious few places that people can go to get true peace anymore and I’m pleased that the students (and the library) recognise this.
The remit of the library is to support undergraduate teaching and it relies on reading lists and recommendations when selecting stock. Since I work in a legal deposit library, it was nice to see how books are selected rather than the way they just seem to magically appear at the UL! With a stock of c.40,000 items the point was made that the staff could look and see what is being used. Purchasing decisions could then be made based on this. This would be somewhat difficult in a massive library like the UL but it was very educational to see how things happen in a more traditional college library. Another part of the remit of the library is to foster a good relationship with students. By working with the students to provide them with what they want and need the library is setting a good grounding for students future relationship with the college.
Sarah also took me through some basic classification, which is an area I am very keen to get more experience in. I have to say, she explained it a lot more clearly than any of the books have been able to! One interesting point that Sarah made was that the book should be placed in the section where it will be of most use to users, regardless of where the ‘politics’ dictates it should be placed. The library uses a Dewey system which is different from the in-house system that I’m used to but the session provided a lot of useful theory for me to think about. Hopefully one day I will have a chance to put what I’ve learnt into practice...
We also talked a little bit about the library’s social media presence. This was of particular interest to me since my dissertation research is in this area. The library’s Facebook page is targeted at students rather than other librarians and aims to be an informal way of sharing news and events. The staff tries to keep the page people focused and light-hearted. Official communication is still done via email meaning that the Facebook page is a supplement to communication rather than a replacement. Based on my research this is the best way to go since not all users respond to social media. It is a good way of enhancing relations but it shouldn’t be relied on.
I really enjoyed my visit to Selwyn and would like to extend a massive thank you to the team there. I only wish the library (and librarians) had been this wonderful when I was at university!

Photo credit: qatsi.