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Friday, 31 October 2014

5 - Helen Blockwell, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Our latest blog is from Helen Blockwell, Sport Librarian and Library Website guru (!) at Cardiff Metropolitan University in Cardiff.

I loved reading as a kid.  I read anything and everything - books, cereal packets, road signs, Bunty. Saying that, I never considered librarianship as a profession until I was violently thrust, post-graduation (BA Hons English, Swansea Uni, but that’s not important) into the cruel world of temping in London.  Following a lengthy assignment washing bottles at the blacking factory (or was that someone else…) I needed to make a decision regarding my future employment.  During two very different temping assignments – one in a skyscraper with a team of extremely rude lawyers, the other with the lovely Quakers at Friends House – I met two very different librarians and thought “I could do that”.


After brief spells at the Financial Services Authority and University of Wales, Newport, I joined Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly known as UWIC) and I’ve been based in the library at the Cyncoed Campus for the last 11 years, during which time I gained my MSc in Library and Information Studies from Aberystwyth.

My job title is Information Advisor - I’m not entirely sure what it means but the ambiguity of it has meant that I’ve been able to do different things within my role. It doesn’t make it easy to explain what I do at dinner parties but that’s ok because I don’t go to dinner parties (my daughter is 3…the closest I get to dinner parties is when she feeds me plastic fruit).

I am the subject librarian for the prestigious Cardiff School of Sport, a role that I share with my colleague Lynette.  I do sport, she does dance - that’s areas of responsibility, not what we do for fun.  I liaise with academics (a terrible phrase that makes me sound like a hanger-on at parties) and I look after the budget to try and meet the needs of a burgeoning cohort of resource-hungry students. A substantial part of the budget is spent on electronic material with ebook usage being particularly high amongst sport students.  So where once we just had to work out the amount of print copies needed to meet demand (I still do this where there’s no ebook available, c’mon publishers, stop making it so hard!) now it’s become vitally important that any reading list material that is available as an ebook is purchased in that format.  Our recent NSS results show that sport students rate the library service highly so we’re doing something right.


When I’m not being a subject librarian I am the library representative on our Library & Information Services Web Group. We're responsible for our website.  My work involves development of the site and overseeing the content - ensuring accuracy, currency etc and any other queries or requests for things that come up. The library division have supported my role in this by paying for me to do a web design course where I learnt to use CSS, HTML, Photoshop, and basic principles of web design.  I’ve also had web writing training and SharePoint Designer (we use SharePoint as our web content management system).  We've a lot of work coming up in the next few months – we’re recreating the site on the new version of SharePoint and then we’re going public access (it’s currently only available to Cardiff Met staff and students).  It’s very exciting but it’s going to be a busy time – I’ve drawn up a site map to help us get a grip on the navigation and content that currently exists and now I’m working on publishing guidelines for the new site.  I think it’s great that we have a merged service (Library and IT) at Cardiff Met because I can learn from people who are not librarians and it gives you a wider perspective on things.

I like my job because it’s varied and I’m not micro-managed. I’m allowed to manage my own time and workload and so if I chose to spend a morning editing a web page and then the afternoon on collection management (a.k.a chucking stuff out) then that’s what I’ll do   Sometimes I feel like I’m juggling my time and I know the next few months will be particularly mad and demanding (as the Autumn term always is) but I’d hate it if I didn’t have enough to do.  I love working in Cyncoed – I can see plenty of green out of the windows (although the ventilation in said windows is pretty suspect and it’ll be freezing soon) and the people I work with are a genuinely nice bunch, which always helps!


So what would I say to someone considering a career as librarianship? Well (and this is just my opinion so feel free to ignore me if it seems controversial) forget any ideas of lurking in the shelves with your head buried in a dusty book.  The best librarians I know are practical, business-like and outspoken and have varied talents that they bring to the role.  And, importantly, at the end of the day they go home and stop being a librarian because it’s a job, plain and simple, not a personality trait.

I cringe when I read things about librarians being so much better than Google because Google is motivated by money.   Let’s be honest - I wouldn’t come to work if they weren’t paying me and I use Google all the time.  Admittedly I also know how to use a selection of databases depending on what my query is but that doesn’t make me a magician.  I like helping people, tinkering with things and spending money and I get to do some of that every day and that’s good enough for me.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

4 - Louisa Yates, Gladstone's Library

This week's post is from Louisa Yates, Director of Collections and Research at Gladstone's Library in Flintshire, the UK's only residential library.
Like others who have blogged for the 23 Librarians project, I’m not a librarian. In 2008 I was finishing an MA in English and wondering what to do with my life. I’d applied for PhD funding but that was a one-in-a-million chance and so I needed to get practical. Like any good research student I made a list of all the places that I thought I’d like to work. A distinct theme emerged: publishing, an archive of ‘something old’, museums, charities, libraries, universities. I wanted to write books and read books and talk to other people about books (preferably reclining on some books while I did so). So, books.
Then the million to one chance actually happened. I got the funding, stopped thinking about the outside world and spent four years writing a book of sorts about neo-Victorian novels.
Four years later I emerged with a doctorate and still no idea what I should do. I was lecturing part-time at two universities in the North-West. Talking about books was wonderful but neither were the Proper Job that a Grown-Up should have. But this was 2011. The cold realities of the economic climate meant that Proper Jobs were in short supply. Where on earth was I going to find a job that combined books, a love of neo-Victorianism, a desire to extend education beyond of the university sphere and a wish for variety?
Well, since 2012 I have been Director of Collections and Research at Gladstone’s Library. It’s the only Prime Ministerial library in the UK. Even more excitingly, it’s the only residential library in the world (well, we’ve not found another yet). People come from all over the world to read and think while staying here. Established in 1889 by Victorian Prime Minister and legendary bibliophile William Gladstone, St. Deiniol’s – we became Gladstone’s Library in 2010 – has nearly 200,000 printed items and nearly 250,000 manuscript letters. That number includes several distinctive collections, including the Glynne collection of pre-1800 works and the recently donated archive of the Crime Writers Association. The largest of our collections is probably the Glynne-Gladstone archive, a 250,000-stong collection of letters, diaries, sketchbooks and all the wonderfully varied ephemera produced by a large tight-knit family while at home and away.
The main collection is housed in two large two-storey reading rooms and ranges through theology, politics, history and literature with a bit of everything else thrown in along the way. Post-Victorian acquisition decisions are inspired by the Foundation Collection, Gladstone’s original donation of the 32,000 volumes that comprised his personal library and represent a lifetime’s collecting.  Often annotated, Gladstone’s books show a mind keenly preoccupied with almost every aspect of the world in which it found itself as well as the historical precedents that shaped it. Space forbids us from faithfully collecting in every area (we no longer collect law texts, for example) but our aim is to collect and curate a contemporary version of Gladstone’s preoccupations and interests.

Interviewing Francesca Haig, author of The Fire Sermon, as part of Gladfest 2014. I’m on the right!
As for a typical day, I don’t think I can describe it! We’re a small, tight-knit team who run a library that is also a place to stay, eat and talk. Every day is different. But I can mention a few of the things that the library team focus on most:
1.    Talking (and its close cousin, emailing). We spend a lot of our time simply talking to people about the library and what they could do here. Meetings, presentations, daily glimpses of the library, helping work experience students, organising group visits. We learn so much from our users. I recently spent twenty minutes discussing a recent PhD student’s thesis ideas; he might well be helping us with our new acquisitions in the future. I’m director of Gladfest, the library’s short-lived but hugely-popular literary festival – at the moment I seem to talk about nothing else!
2.    Access. Like all libraries, we work hard to facilitate people’s access to the collections. A typical day might see us induct several new members and help other users find books. We’ll work on the catalogue, review our usage figures and decide which new books to buy. Particular to my role is liaising with universities, research councils, academics and postgraduate students to facilitate their research projects and how we might obtain research funding in the future. Much less glamorously, there is also the daily wrestle with the photocopier (is there a library in the world that doesn’t have an uncooperative copier?)
3.    Digital. If people cannot get to us, or perhaps can only visit every once in a while, that’s fine. We do a large part of our talking via social media. A lot of the library’s arts programming, such as our Writer in Residence scheme, is promoted online. Always popular are our tweeted pictures of books @gladlib. Nineteenth-century engraved plates are irresistibly beautiful – they demand to be shared worldwide. More formal digital solutions also fall under my remit. We’re currently working to develop our library catalogue so that users can log in, save searches, and email book lists to themselves. The Library’s Warden, Peter Francis, just wandered into my office and asked if the catalogue can host audio files…
4.    Learning. The books on the shelves underpin a host of programmes designed to encourage people into the library – and once there, to think about what they find, share what they read and perhaps even produce writing of their own.  We’ve run courses on writing, reading, fiction, and film. Archbishops have talked about poets; poets have talked about Chartists; we’ve all talked about reading, writing and thinking. Twice a year I co-direct the Gladstone Centre, a consortium of people interested in Victorian studies from across the North-West.
5.    Collaboration. Alongside Gladfest, the major project occupying my time at the moment is the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium. While in the very early stages, this promises to be a truly unique approach to digital access.  In practical terms, this means we have to get on with cataloguing tens of thousands of letters ready for scanning! I’ve had to be quite inventive with this, drawing on all my research experience and talking to a wide range of people in order to develop metadata capture techniques that suit our collection. I’ve also recently been elected to the committee of the Association of Independent Libraries, a group of libraries who face many of the same challenges and relish many of the same freedoms as we do.
You can probably tell that I love my job. It’s great. Even though I’ve written about my job history, and my job experience, I’ve noticed that information studies is a career that seems particularly engaging to those of us with varied career backgrounds and a mixed bag of qualifications. Hurrah, I say!

Friday, 17 October 2014

3 - Kathryn Parry, Rhyl Library

Our third post is from Kathryn Parry a library assistant at Rhyl Public Library and student at Aberystwyth University.

I stumbled into the public library profession. With hindsight, I suppose the signs were there. Moving around as a child (my Dad was in the RAF), books and libraries were a constant distraction. I can remember being lost in fiction, and the decision to move from children’s fiction to adult, starting at A with Jeffery Archer is still etched on my mind. When we settled down in Shropshire I could walk to Shifnal library myself and loved the regular family visits to the much larger Telford branch. Then exams took over. The serious studying began, and after University, where I studied History and Theology (influenced by Indiana Jones and the Blists Hill Museum) I somehow ended up working in retail.

I am definitely a ‘people person’ and in my efforts to do my best and keep people happy I realised that working in retail may not be best for me. I wanted a job with more soul. Not quite getting soul, I became pregnant -with twins. That was it, for the first seven years of their lives I stayed at home with our daughters (author that kept me sane whilst daughters were in SCBU – Barbara Erskine). Then my husband and I decided that we needed another income. Cue advert in the local paper for a part time assistant job at Rhyl Library. This was seven years ago. I’m now a full time Library Assistant and second to my first job, working in a local newsagents ‘Janet Shaw’s’, this is the best job I've had.

Working in a public library means you need to be prepared for anything. Rhyl Library is one of the bigger branches in Denbighshire and the daily jobs such as; serving customers; unpacking the van and tagging items; ringing/emailing requests; finding shelf checks; shelving and putting stock in order; are divided up hourly between all of us. We all have individual areas of responsibility. I like to keep an eye on our Reserve, which holds non-fiction in a store building out the back of the main library and request books for our reading groups. I also enjoy filling Askews and Holt baskets with glorious stock that I think will issue well, and get stuck in with a local primary school that is fortunate to visit regularly. In my locker you will find various props that I like to use. Mrs Twits crocheted glass eye, Mr Twits messy (crocheted) beard, a water pistol for Red Riding Hood, and a copy of ‘The Cat In The Hat’ by Dr Seuss, are all part of my standby kit. Nothing beats the enthusiastic responses of children, and indeed adults, when you have found them the book or information that they needed.
Mr Twit costume!

An integral part of the job is now keeping abreast of the new technology, and helping people gain confidence with it. There are a large proportion of people who need help sending their first email, scanning a document, or printing off their holiday boarding passes. Internet access is free when you are a library member and the computers are used for both social reasons and for seeking employment. With access to wi-fi we also need to be able to help the public log on, using a variety of devices and encourage use of our online services. It is not uncommon to hear a work experience person remark that they didn't realise how much the staff do!

I passionately believe in the ethos that libraries are for everyone, regardless of their personal situation. Where else can you go and just sit? Whatever the weather? Interact as much or as little as you want, without even having to buy a cup of coffee? (Incidentally we do have a cafe and art gallery, and small museum on site should you ever be in the area.) This openness is one of the libraries biggest assets. We have regular visitors who meet up and read papers, who’ll sit by the
windows, never taking a book out or using the internet. Customers of routine only acknowledged by the counter on the front door, where would they go otherwise?

In this climate of uncertainty regarding public libraries I am interested in how our Library Service will be shaped in the future. So this year I have started studying for an MA in Information and Library Studies, distance learning with Aberystwyth University. Pretty daunting for someone whose brain has been taken over by twins and craft (yes I am an obsessive crafter – I made The Twit props) for so long! Whilst my courage/momentum is high I've joined CILIP and put my name down for the New Professionals Day in London this October. Hey I’m even writing this!

My advice to anyone wanting to work in a public library is – have a sense of humour, don’t take all the toilet issues to heart, (I have been trying not to refer to this dark side of the job, but it is there) you must like people. You will deal with, and help all kinds of people, all ages. Listen to people and don’t be scared of trying new things.

I’m not sure what the future will hold for me, but I am sure I have found a job with soul. Even when I’m not in work I want to visit other libraries and meet like-minded people. That must be a good sign, right?

Friday, 10 October 2014

2 - Erika Neck, Rhondda Cynon Taff

Our second post is from Erika, who works with mobile libraries in the Rhondda Cynon Taff, in the South Wales Valleys.

Hi, my name is Erika Neck and I am now a Senior Librarian for Mobiles and Community Services. I am based in Rhondda Cynon Taff and our services cover the whole of that area too.

My route in to the library service was later in life. When I left school I did a lot of temp work in various offices, but in 2000 after being made redundant twice in one year, (not fun!) I decided to go to University to get a degree to improve my job prospects. Whilst in University I went to my local library to learn Sign Language, realised that I would like to work in a library.

I was fortunate enough that a part time post became available locally covering Saturdays and evenings so I could continue my studies. Over the next few years I had various opportunities to move around within our branch libraries and loved every minute of it. Every day is different in public library work; you get the unusual requests which require a bit of investigative work to find the information needed and helping people on the computers with applying for jobs and just navigating their way around, whilst some people just like to come in for a chat and to meet people.

I have driven a mobile library for many years and it was whilst doing this that I wanted to get qualified in library studies so I enrolled at Aberystwyth University for my Postgraduate degree through distance learning. This was tough to fit in around work and my life but I eventually qualified this year 2014.

My current role is a recent post into more of a managerial role. I am now responsible for organising our 4 mobile libraries and our housebound and community services. It’s a very challenging and different to the jobs I have been used to as it’s less public facing and more organising staff and liaising with community groups and people with various needs.

A typical day for me starts about 8.30 am when the mobile drivers arrive and I am there in case of any problems with the vehicles or any staffing issues.
9.30 am Once the drivers have gone out for the day I then deal with any correspondence and emails.
10.30 am Go to visit some new Housebound people to arrange to put them onto our service and explain our housebound delivery system to them. This part of the job is great as you can see the relief on people who are too elderly or ill to leave their homes to get books, but still love to read.
12 noon Lunch Time!
1 pm Attendance at a Disability Officer’s Forum to see what advice or assistance the library service can provide to other Council departments. Examples include; explaining our community rooms; attendance at events; providing people with information on groups and activities in our libraries to help those who are socially isolated.
3 pm: Our mobile library drivers are over 2 sites, so I would then drive to our other site to see if they had any problems at the end of their day. Also, due to restructuring we have a new evening and weekend driver and I check to make sure he is OK with what he has to do, and if he
needs any further training or arrange for him to attend courses.
End of day around 5 pm.

I am now a member of CILIP and if anyone is thinking of going into library work of any nature I would say you have to be helpful, friendly, polite and have a positive attitude. Be able to deal with people from all walks of life and if you love variety in your job then you will love public libraries! They are a great place to help people enjoy reading, improve their minds or just to provide a social space to meet new people. The job has gotten more technical and we regularly help people to get online and provide assistance to those who need it to apply for jobs or benefits, but overall I love my job and could never imagine working anywhere else than libraries, in whatever form they are.

Friday, 3 October 2014

1 - Liz Chester, Coleg Sir Gâr

Welcome to 23 Llyfrgellydd, our first post is from Liz Chester who works at Coleg Sir Gâr a college of further and higher education based in Carmarthenshire.

As a student at Oxford Polytechnic in the 1980’s, working on my dissertation about a Victorian stained glass designer, I took root on a random floor of the Bodleian Library. Books moved up and down in dumb waiter style lifts and were distributed about the building to waiting readers like me.

This was my first ‘serious’ use of a library other than visits to the mobile that pulled up outside my rural junior school in the 1970s.
On graduation I was ‘drawn to’ and was somewhat keen to get through my interview for the post of Reading Room Assistant in the Library at the Ashmolean Museum. I wish I still had the job description - it might make a good reference point for how things have changed in library work since then. I was lucky enough to get the job –and what a lovely time I had – a small team, a strong hierarchy and yet great equality - all shelving together first thing in the morning – and much humour as we strived to meet the book and photocopying needs of university lecturers and post grad students.

A move to West Wales in 1988 - found me facing an interview panel of 7 - in the days when as a woman you could be asked if and when you planned to have children! Luckily I didn’t growl, got the job and moved into Further Ed. - my working home since.

My working life is varied, vivid, busy and an absolute joy. It necessitates (or has it created?) a bit of a butterfly brain moving from one topic to another; emails, phone calls, ordering, visiting classes, discussing technical issues with the IT department, working with learners to encourage appropriate behaviour in a space that offers a haven to HE learners, learners with mild to moderate learning disabilities, those studying plumbing, child care, carpentry and more.

My working day depends on the time of year – FE librarianship has seasonal variation in tasks!  Let’s take for example, September 30th 2014: We can start at about 3 am! I happened to be awake and it came to mind that our Level 1 Childcare group have been using the library so well since the start of term that it would good to deliver one of the college ‘Excellence’ cards to them. So, note to self for first action of the day and back to sleep!

As I arrive at work the following morning I open the door and a couple of learners follow me in – it’s 8.20 am. Check the diary for the activities ahead and say good morning to my colleague. We are still meeting and greeting as it is only a few weeks in from the start of term. First task is to write and deliver the ‘Excellence’ card, so a quick visit to the Childcare Department followed by letting the staff member who updates the library Twitter account know - as it would be nice for the group to have a mention there too.  My next task is to welcome back Level 3 plumbers, issuing ID cards and introducing them to an e-book that should help with their studies.  Then, back down the corridor to a class to talk e-resources, upstairs to work with HE learners to set up their access to online resources and back to base.

Some day to day activities run alongside the specific; helping newbies get into the swing of things with the self-serve and with the photocopier, regular telephone and email conversations throughout the day with my line manager and other colleagues about staffing, sickness cover and more (we are a multi campus college with sites throughout Carmarthenshire), reading mail, preparing reservations for learners to collect, keeping an eye on tidiness and general house- keeping.

About 2pm I received a request from a tutor for an e-book - place the order with our supplier – and was delighted to have the URL before the end of the day - one happy tutor! Also placing orders during the day to meet the needs of H.E. reading lists.

Getting close to 5pm and I’m assisting the IT technician to move 12 PCs that are in peril of water damage due to a leaking roof.  Then saying hello to our evening member of staff and spending some time with her working through how to add material to our LMS.  I will be staying on after 5 today as an evening induction is planned - it is important that part-time and evening groups get the same service as those who are with us for longer or during the day.  At 7pm – a happy group of mature Childcare learners arrive and I talk them through what we can offer. The last action of the day is to issue 4 children’s books to a computing class learner who has just started learning Welsh (the first language of a high proportion of our learners in Carmarthenshire). 7.35 pm is shut down systems, lock up and home!

If you are considering a career in Libraryland remember that in the F.E .library world it is imperative that you like people – and not just books! You may be selecting, buying and displaying your wares in the virtual or actual world - but if you don’t want to spend time with your service users showing and telling then it’s not the sector for you.

I love both the continuity and the change and there is plenty of both. The change in service users (you are only as relevant as you make yourself to your current users) and the change in the systems, the technology, the product and the educational setting. Getting between the user and the resource in a digital age is part of what we do. We are redefining our role and marketing to potential service users, users who are realising that library services walk alongside them on their learning journey and the positive impact working with us can make on their achievements.

With a degree in Art History and Anthropology and learning by doing for most of my working life - I came to a point a few years ago when I felt I needed to add some background knowledge to my practice. I opted for distance learning – with Aberystwyth University. What a joy, excellent packs of things to read and do – and a week of study school per year.  I felt supported, worked steadily (with some diversion activities and more cleaning than usual) and obtained an MSc Information and Library Studies - yowser! A nice bit of orange trim on my gown.