Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Through the Looking Glass - Starting a new job

I’m now just over a month into my new role. I’ve survived the early stage of learning the procedures, people’s names, where the toilets are and other pieces of vital information. From there I’ve moved on to starting to get the hang of my new responsibilities. Hopefully I’ve made a reasonably good first impression.

Regular readers will know that I have a slight tendency to go on about how important reflection is and how I find that writing helps me to think about things. Now that initial new job rush has passed this seems like a good moment to put that into practice.

Starting a new job is always an odd experience. It shakes us out of our routine and forces us to learn a lot of new things all at once. A new person has to take on board a huge range of new information: new ways of doing things, new procedures, who people are and what they do, where things are, the history of a place, a whole new culture.

Strangely I think that can be particularly disconcerting when you move to a workplace that is similar to your old workplace. I’ve moved from one FE college library service to another. In some ways I felt right at home straight away. (It helped that everyone was friendly and welcoming). That very familiarity can sometimes give a through the looking glass feel to your first week or two in a new role. It’s a world you know well but everything is slightly different.

Maybe that’s not very like Through the Looking Glass at all. The familiar is more fundamentally twisted in Wonderland. It’s more Sliders or some other story where parallel universes are very familiar but other enough to get the plot moving.

Some of the induction training covered systems and resources that I was already experienced with but of course there were enough small differences to make complacency potentially risky. (Not all that dangerous but definitely a source of potential hiccups when I was trying to make that good first impression. Thankfully I think I managed to stay on top of this.)

Beyond those small differences there are some more fundamental differences between my new role and my old one.

The college itself is bigger than my last place. As a result our service is spread across three different sites and we have four different centres. The main site has the main learning resources centre and a specialist higher education centre.

A higher proportion of HE students and thus the need to provide that kind of tailored facility is another key difference.

In terms of my personal role here the big change is that I am now line managing other members of staff. This is a new challenge for me and it’s one of the aspects of this job that I was looking forward to before I started. Professionally it’s a very important area for me to develop and I’ve always been interested in helping other people to develop. I know I’m bound to say this but having met everyone they are a great team.

Another important difference is that my last role was term time only and I am now full time. Again this is a very positive step in terms of professional development. It’s also a positive step for practical reasons. However there is another layer of culture shock involved in getting used to working in a college library outside of term time. That will get worse after Friday when my teacher wife will start her long summer holiday but never mind. She does completely deserve it and we are going away for a couple of weeks later in the summer.

Don't worry I am keeping busy during this relatively quiet period of the year. Jiscmail List users might have seen my request for help with researching a new code of conduct for example.

When the new term starts I will be responsible for timetabling everyone. As far as I can tell that’s a task that is reasonably easy as long as nothing comes up but something always does.

Inductions will also take up a lot of my time in that first half term. I will be explaining our service to new students who are going through their own through the looking glass moments. Perhaps the analogy works better here. A student who is used to a school might find this new place of learning familiar in some ways but radically different and strange in others. When working with brand new students I always try my best to remember what it’s like to adjust to a new environment and new people while trying to take on board a huge amount of information. It shouldn’t be too hard for me this year.

My overall area of responsibility is Customer Experience. I am responsible for making sure that we are meeting our students’ needs and providing high standards of customer service. It is part of my job to make sure that those new students find our LRCs friendly and welcoming. Given the warm welcome I’ve received in the last month or so I have no worries about that aspect of my new role.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Good News - Chartership and a New Job

I have two pieces of good news to share.


I am now a Chartered Librarian. Regular readers will remember that I took a leap on Leap Day and sent in my portfolio. I have now received the eagerly anticipated email reassuring me that the Qualifications Board have accepted my submission for Chartership.

I enjoyed working towards Chartership. It inspired me to visit libraries, to attend events, to write articles and to engage with my profession more. A lot of my favourite experiences from the last year or so of librarianship have been connected with this process. Looking back there are a lot of things that I could easily have missed if I hadn't had this goal to help motivate me.

Take a look at the entries on this blog. I might have visited the London Library or the Wellcome Library but I might have never got round to it. Would I have made it out to Cambridge to visit the British Antarctic Survey Library? It seems unlikely that I would have even known the trip was happening. Would I have finished CPD23 nearly on time? Would I have made it to the COFHE conference? I could give you lots of other examples.

Without wanting to go into full acceptance speech mode I would like to thank my mentor Emma Woods for all of her help and guidance. I passed, I've learnt a lot from the experience and I've enjoyed it. I think those three points prove that she's a great mentor.

I've also been lucky enough to have a very supportive manager who was prepared to send me to conferences and other events, give me time to go to meetings and so on. Thank you to her and the rest of the library team here at the college.

The last two years have been hugely significant for me in terms of professional development. Chartership was a goal but it's not the goal. It is a step on the journey. One of the great things about it is that it has reinforced or created a whole range of good habits which I now need to build on. Habits like blogging regularly, looking out for events, visiting interesting libraries, keeping up with my professional reading, keeping up with the latest ideas, reaching out to other library folk etc.

Thinking about how much I've learnt during my time at the college and how great the team here are actually highlights the less happy element of my second bit of good news. This coming Friday is my last day here. I'm starting a new job after the half term break.

A New Job

On June 8th I will start a new role at Kingston College. (I am staying in the FE sector so I won't have to change my blog description.)

Of course career progression is one of the things that motivates people to engage with professional development activities like Chartership. I am sure that being able to say that I had recently applied for Chartership helped to tick at least one or two boxes. So my personal experience is that CILIP qualifications do help your career.

I plan to make the most of the opportunities that this new post will offer me. I know that I will be building on everything that I've gained from my time at Richmond College, including all the things that I've gained from working towards my new qualification.

My journey 'beyond the shelves we know' is taking a new turning. I don't know exactly what experiences will form part of this new path but I am looking forward to finding out.

Friday, 27 April 2012


Earlier in the month we had a very interesting visit from the artist Jon Adams.

He has a unique perspective on life partly due to his dyslexia although it shouldn't be reduced to that. His struggles with reading and writing (and some unenlightened teachers, sadly) led him to see things in terms of other kinds of narrative. Maps and geology are key metaphors in his art.

His work is more fun than I'm making it sound. He goes in for guerrilla art and playing with the boundaries of what he's doing.

At the college he gave a thought provoking talk and then ran a workshop for some of our students. They all made flags out of books and set them fluttering in a heart shape.

According to our local paper Jon Adams described the artwork as:

“A marking and crossing of boundaries that are imposed on us by others.”

Here's their article about the visit.

And here's some art as promised in the blog entry title...



Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Drop Everything and Read

** Just in case anyone was wondering how that DEAR event went (see previous blog entry "Taking a Leap") this is a report I wrote for our staff newsletter. This slightly downplays how much organisation it took but I recommend giving it a go if the idea appeals to you. It was a great library outreach / reader development activity. Hope you all had a happy Easter. **

DEAR - Drop Everything and Read

On the 1st March staff and students across the College took part in a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) event to celebrate World Book Day. A bell went off at 11 o’clock and people stopped what they were doing and read for ten minutes. The idea was to do something a bit different in order to create a sense of excitement around reading.

We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from people who enjoyed their ten minute escape into a good book or an interesting magazine. It was nice to take an unusual break from the everyday. More importantly DEAR sparked a lot of discussion about what people like to read and hopefully inspired some participants to read more or to try reading different things.

If you would like to share what you read for DEAR or just your thoughts on a good read the Library has recently launched a reading blog at:

If you dropped everything and read we hope you enjoyed it. Thank you to everyone who took part and everyone who encouraged students to take part.

Alan Green – Liaison Librarian

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Taking a Leap - Chartership and DEAR

Happy Leap Day.

I hope you're taking a leap today and trying something different. The 29th February only comes once every four years.

I'm using Leap Day as an arguably tenuous connection between two leaps into the unknown that I'm taking this week.

Firstly regular readers and fellow Chartership candidates might be interested to know that I have submitted my portfolio. Go me.

After a year's work three copies are on their way to be assessed. I felt a real sense of satisfaction when I finally finished it. I held it in my hands and thought about all the reflection and planning and work that went into creating it. Then I thought about all the experiences that have gone into it and I realised that in some ways I am going to miss working towards Chartership. I had to remind myself that although this is an important step the whole process is really just one part of my ongoing professional journey.

Every now and again I get nervous and wonder if I've missed something or if I should have included X or Y as evidence or mentioned Z. Hopefully that is something that everyone goes through. After a while I calm down and think about how great it will be if I am accepted as a chartered librarian (touch wood).

If you are considering taking a leap and signing up for Chartership I really think you should go for it. 'Working towards Chartership has given my professional development a greater depth and breadth'. That last sentence is the first line of my supporting statement. Good strong opening I thought and it is very true.

My second leap for the week featured in my portfolio and is related to tomorrow's special date. Hopefully you all know it's World Book Day (well it's been marked in my diary for ages). I've been counting down the days this year because we are experimenting with a college wide DEAR event which I helped to set up. A bell is going off at 11 and everyone in the place is going to Drop Everything and Read for ten minutes.

We made the front page of our student newspaper for this month. It features an interview with me and one of my colleagues. (Yes, this article is in my portfolio.)

We've also set up a reading blog to help maintain the enthusiasm that we hope DEAR will spark.

So two leaps into the unknown for the week of Leap Day. Let me know if you've taken a leap you're prepared to share.

Crossed fingers and positive thoughts for my two leaps are also very welcome.

Have a Merry Leap Day and a Happy World Book Day.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Wellcome Library

The Wellcome Trust is the second biggest medical charity in the world. It funds and supports a huge variety of medical research. As part of that work they run a research library which covers the field of human health in impressive depth. Everything from the history of medicine to public health cartoons to gunshot wounds and parasitic worms. Thanks to the professional development wing of the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries, the nice people at CPD 25, I was able to join a tour of this amazing library.

The Wellcome Trust was founded by Henry Wellcome. He set up a very successful pharmaceutical firm from scratch and spent a large part of the resulting fortune on funding medical research and building up a staggering collection of items related to the history of medicine. It's a proper nineteenth century, golden age of collecting, eccentric well-travelled millionaire with an obsession type collection. The fruits of his collecting mania can be seen at the Wellcome Trust. I popped into one gallery on the way out and saw Darwin's walking stick, a naturally mummified human body, an infant identification kit, some of George III's hair and various other weird and wonderful things.

His eclectic interest in medicine and human health is also reflected in the Wellcome Library. Its resources reflect its founder's vision. It exists to support research into every aspect of medicine and human health from the obvious to the most obscure.

After Henry's death in 1936 the Wellcome Trust was set up following instructions in his will. Originally it owned Wellcome's drug company. They've now sold the shares but presumably that was a sensible financial move because we were told that the trust's wealth is now around 14 billion pounds.

So this is one library that isn't feeling the chill but that doesn't mean they don't face challenges. The Library is going to be refurbished and redesigned soon in order to attract more visitors. The Collection attracts vast numbers of curious visitors but most of them don't make it up to the Library. It provides an excellent service to the researchers who come to make use of their resources but it is open to everyone and they want to attract more people and a wider range of people.

Getting some of the people who visit the Collection to wander upstairs and visit the Library seems like the obvious solution. The refurbishment will give the Library's decor a 1930's look which is more in keeping with the rest of the building. On the other hand there will be whizzy new technology like smart tables and that sure sign that someone has decided a library needs to be updated, a café.

I can see the logic. Some of the rooms further on have a beautiful atmospheric 1930s style but the first room you enter has a slightly clinical air. Not totally inappropriate of course but I can see that it might put off potential casual visitors. The entrance hall is very white despite the impressive murals that surround the enquiry desks. These kind of subtle little clues are important when you thinking about making a library seem welcoming to everyone.

The Library's classification systems are also a challenge for users and newly arrived staff. Yes, systems plural. They have at least three. The Barnard system sounded particularly interesting. This is a specialist classification system for health libraries. While I'm sure it has strengths it didn't sound like a system that is designed to be easily understood by members of the public.

The plurality of systems has come about because of the organic way that the Library has grown over the years. Given the sheer size of the Library reorganising it would be too huge a task. I think the lesson is that we need to think about the long-term impact of our decisions.

Our guide was very enthusiastic about the work of the Wellcome Trust and the Library's role in supporting it. He also took great pleasure in showing us some of the more unusual items in the Library's collection. Books on body piercing, the history of orgies, witchcraft and other odd corners of the world of human health.

The tour ended in a viewing room where we were shown the online catalogues (there are plans to bring it all together), their online resources and a nurse training video from the sixties.

The overall impression is that the Wellcome Library is a place of wonders. It is a place dedicated to furthering our understanding of our bodies and the things we do or have done to them for good or for ill.

Online 2011 - Designing inspiring digital repositories and knowledge environments plus the launch of a new digital library for the LSE

The least snappy title but one of the better talks. The LSE is about to launch a new digital library. Ed Fay, the head of the project and Sarah Charlton from the design consultancy Mickey and Mallory talked us through the process of setting it up.

The LSE is a collecting research library so the new digital library has the ambitious goal of collecting and preserving digital material for future generations.

The project has three phases.

  1. Digitization – They have digitized key parts of their existing collections. This is an ongoing process.

  2. Born Digital resources – They will collect anything that is relevant for social scientists.

  3. Things they are responsible for archiving – This is a broad area but the LSE is an official archive for the United Nations among others.

The intended audiences for all this are reasonably broad. LSE and other HE researchers are obvious potential users, as are university lecturers and students. However Ed also mentioned FE colleges, schools, local historians, genealogists and last but not least anyone with a general interest.

Setting up this kind of digital library is obviously a huge task so LSE made the most of available outside expertise. Several of the key technical components are open source which allowed them to tap into open source communities that work on digital preservation. Fedora Commons and Hydra were the two main examples.

The LSE felt that the presentation side of the project, creating an attractive and engaging website, was a skills gap for them. To solve this they called in design experts from Mickey and Mallory. Sarah Charlton explained their side of the story.

The brief included the ambitious but slightly vague instruction to create a ‘world class’ website. They used a collaborative design methodology which involved lots of meetings with various stakeholders. They looked at websites which they saw as examples of best practice and discussed them in the hope of reaching a consensus about what ‘world class’ means in this context. Their key conclusion was that the strongest examples had striking designs but the content was always centre stage.

M&M wanted the digital library to make the most of LSE’s strong brand. Everybody wanted the site to combine good search features with space for serendipity. The latter mostly involves showing people selected highlights from the collections.

Ed emphasised that this is an ongoing project. It will be launched early next year but the digital library has space for further developments. They hope to add new functionality in the future. They will monitor stats and respond ‘agilely’ to user behaviour. One of the key hopes is that the digital library will help researchers to uncover relationships between items in different collections.

At the end of the talk a member of the audience asked about their digital preservation strategy. Interestingly the response was that they don’t have one and they are happy with that. The digital library team feel that they have taken the first steps towards preserving digital materials for the future and they have committed to that task. Despite that commitment they take the view that it’s not up to them to solve all of the technical problems surrounding digital preservation. They will keep an eye on what other organisations are doing particularly Microsoft and other big IT companies. Apart from that the plan is to maintain access and face the challenges of digital decay as they come.

The LSE digital library will open to the public early in January.

This is my last blog post about Online 2011. In conclusion this is why I didn’t pick up that many free pens.