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)

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