Trainee profiles 2013-2014

Brunel University Library
Joanne McPhie

Introduction- Initiation in the knowledge of a subject; instruction in rudiments, elementary teaching. OED. Hello, my name is Joanne McPhie and I am the current graduate trainee at Brunel University Library. This is my introduction to you, but also an account of my own initiation into the world of libraries. I have come to the role via a fairly circuitous route. After graduation from the University of Glasgow, with an undergraduate degree in History and English Literature and a Masters in American Studies I felt I had had enough of the esoteric world of academia and I wanted to meet some people! I went into bookselling, working for a national chain, in one of those temporary roles “while I decide what to do next” and ended up staying for ten years. I had a wonderful time, read and discussed a lot of books (I think there are more arts graduates in the book trade than I met at university!) and met quite a lot of librarians. Talking to them and seeing their satisfaction with their roles, made me rethink my own career and I began to investigate the possibility of shifting professions. A graduate trainee year made a lot of sense, not only would it let me test the water by exploring what a job in a library actually meant, but it was a good background when applying for a qualification in library studies.

So far my time at Brunel has been amazing. I might be biased, but I think that being a graduate trainee at a university library, and in particular a dynamic institution like Brunel, is an excellent grounding for working in libraries, because it allows you to experience so many different roles and responsibilities. Brunel Library is very proactive and involved in everything going on in the university. It incorporates many non-traditional roles, including things like Copyright or Research Data Management, which I believe means the library is crucial to the success of any new initiatives like Open Access, but it also houses typical departments like cataloguing. My schedule here has been structured, with different rotations with all the departments of the library, but I have also been encouraged to pursue my own interests and feedback on where I would like to develop. My rotation began with the Customer Services team, manning the welcome and help desk, assisting students with enquiries and problems, which is where most of the more generic skills I already had came in handy. I moved on to spend time with Academic Services, working with and observing the Subject Librarians in action and especially, assisting the Special Collections Librarian with archiving and preparing the collection for cataloguing. This access has been a real highlight for me and in an older and more traditional institution I may have encountered more barriers to helping with it. I am currently with Collection Services, where I am getting some solid experience with cataloguing and acquisitions. Brunel librarians are a friendly bunch and have been incredibly encouraging and patient in explaining to me, for the third time, what exactly happens when I press that button. I really feel like I understand the way the library is structured and what is required of all the different roles within it.

It has also been great to be part of CPD25 Graduate Trainee programme, not only so I can talk (and moan!) to other trainees and learn about their experiences, but also because it has enabled me to meet other library professionals. Having been on a few visits to other institutions including the British Museum libraries and the Natural History Museum library I have a greater sense of what it means to be a librarian and what the job actually entails. It has also been useful to assist me in applying to Library and Information Studies courses, putting on seminars where we could speak to the course conveners and past students.

Being at Brunel has brought back a lot of happy memories of my own time of study. I will be a mature student when I return and complete my qualification, which comes with its own adjustments, but due to my great experience at Brunel I feel sure I have made the right decision, it just took me ten years!

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

David Phillips

Hi I’m David the current trainee at the Institute of Historical Research Library. This is my first library job and after nearly three months in the post I can safely say librarianship is the career for me. I’ve worked in a wide range of not so appealing jobs in the past, from door to door salesman to dishwasher, so it’s been great to find something that I enjoy and has genuine opportunities for professional advancement. I graduated from Exeter in 2011 with a degree in History and not much idea what I wanted (or was able) to do with it. I had always planned to go travelling after uni to delay the inevitable entry into the ‘real’ world and, while I had always had woolly ideas that working in a library would be nice, it was only when I got back to the UK in December last year that I really looked into it as a career. I soon found myself on the CILIP website, and frantically applied for as many Graduate Trainee roles as possible.

The position at the IHR in particular was ideal for me for the obvious reason – it requires a History degree, and I liked the thought of being able to work with a collection I already had an interest in. While I did not have any previous library experience it was reassuring to see that many of the skills asked for in the job spec were things I had gained from previous jobs, which at the time I did not necessarily think would be particularly useful in future – particularly on the customer service side of things. I was extremely chuffed to be offered the role back in February and spent the following months counting down the days to September.

My first few months have been an excellent introduction to the world of librarianship. I feel lucky to be part of quite a small team, which means I can be involved in all different aspects of the running of the library (albeit on quite a basic level to start with). While I have received a lot of support and guidance from my colleagues, I have also appreciated being given a lot of freedom to structure my own days. It is a nice feeling after only ever working in roles where you constantly have management breathing down your neck to have that independence.

Alongside the more basic tasks, such as shelving and fetching books from the top of Senate House tower (great view), I have also been introduced to cataloguing, classification, acquisitions (of French books), inter-library loans, sending books/journals to be bound, and web design, as well as looking after the Library’s Facebook page (please like!). Something I am really excited about is the refurbishment of the Library in its previous home in the North block of Senate House. We are in temporary accommodation at the moment, which is why only a third of our collection is on open access (a great source of discontent for a lot of our readers who hark back to the ‘good old days’ when the full collection was available for their perusal). All being well the building work should be finished by the end of the academic year and I will be able to help with the move back to a brand new shiny IHR.

As well as working in the IHR it’s also been great to meet fellow trainees from different institutions, and to start to get an idea together of the range of options available in the library profession. I’m very open-minded about which sector I may end up in so I’m really looking forward to visiting different kinds of libraries and seeing what each has to offer. While it may seem a bit of a depressing time, with Public Library closures and a lack of funding for professional qualifications, I have been reassured by the range of options seemingly still available – from traditional Librarian roles, to jobs in digitisation, and information management more broadly. I’m not sure at this point whether I will be able to carry straight on to do a Master’s or Diploma course next year, but I will definitely be applying and keeping my options open.

Applying to study library science CPD25 November 8th 2013 : Alex Giles

What better way to cheer yourself up on  a wet day in November, nursing a cold as I was, than to spend it in the company of some wise  and inspiring individuals generously sharing their passion and expertise with some keen but naive young acolytes…. No, not an episode of The Karate Kid – none of us were quite as cool as Jaden Smith (hey, we’re aspiring librarians…), or as young – but  the Applying to study Library Science day run by CPD25.
We were taken on a journey - it’s always a journey, isn’t it? - from a wide-ranging overview of where the profession is right now, with all its challenges and opportunities incisively explained by Stephen Pinfield from Sheffield iSchool, to individual students’ experiences of current courses and recent employment. Along the way we heard from Vanda Broughton of UCL about what to expect from a Masters course in library science and some top tips on how to apply for one, and Bethan Ruddock who, as author of “The New Professional’s Toolkit”, was expertly placed to point us in the right direction of developing our skills and confidence, as well as promoting  a myriad of groups for us to contribute to; exhorting us to speak out loud and proud as Library advocates! Of course we didn’t have to join everything , and we were allowed to say “no”-  but was that a bit feeble? Not strict enough? Shameful even? 
  Just as some of us were beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed, and distinctly worried that entering the cult of the champion librarian was going to take up rather more time (and stamina...) than  we’d planned, the lunch gong sounded and we dived into some first –rate sandwiches, juice etc.  This was an opportunity to find out more about some of the various programmes on offer in the UK from the informal “course fair” and their “stallholders”, and make some new friends as Bethan had suggested; network, but not in a nasty  way...
In the afternoon we heard experiences from recent graduates and those still studying, which made the morning session that much more specific and concrete for us. Alexandra Burton, who has just started as an Assistant Librarian at University College School, recently completed a Post-Grad Diploma at UCL; just stopping short of writing the dissertation and gaining the traditional Master’s, but still ably qualified. This was an option I hadn’t heard of before, and one that provided much food for thought and debate.
 Ian Clark, now employed as a Library Systems Officer at Canterbury Christ  Church  University , shared the benefits of  a modular  study programme within distance learning (Aberystwyth) , and there were other experiences of part-time study whilst working full-time. A lot of the discussion centred around finding a course that suited your aspirations, and your pocket...With fees increasing at an alarming rate, and little help available, the cost of funding a library course proved a major issue in the Q & A, and subsequent chat in the pub....
As I wended my way to my part-time evening job I reflected on what I’d learnt, and what I hadn’t learnt (always useful...), and mused that rather than being daunted by the monastic commitment  to professional development ,or the array of choices before me, I  would remember what Vanda had said: “We don’t expect you to do all of it, just some  of it...” Right then... Now, where to start? Join CILIP?

Many thanks to Samantha Halford  and  Helen Williamson of the CPD25 for organising not just a very interesting and useful day, but also for creating such a warm and comfortable atmosphere; very conducive...

Canada Water Library Visit 19th November 2013

Image copyright 2013
Nestling close to the water of the old dockyards, above the underground station is the rather imposing bronze ‘inverted pyramid’ of Canada Water public library. We were lucky enough to be taken on a tour behind the scenes of this ‘super library’. Set for a huge regeneration plan  Southwark council started, perhaps surprisingly, with commissioning a new library to be the centrepiece of the community they are building. Certainly one can see the current transition all around with the quaint wooden bridge across the water starkly contrasting with the crumbling architecture beyond. A few years from now it is planned that even more modern flat blocks will have been built and shopping centre expanded so it will need a central place for its new residents to gather; in this case it is hoped to be the library and the (currently empty) plaza it occupies.
Richard took us on a tour of the building which, on such a sunny day, benefits hugely from the light pouring in through large windows gazing out on the water. The central staircase creates a sense of occasion when entering the library; echoing the awe inspired by grand older libraries. We went up into the main reading room where it was children’s Rhyme Time then onto the second floor mezzanine where many readers were escaping the noise with laptops and headphones. We were lucky enough to go out onto the roof where there were some incredible views out across the London skyline. 
Photos by Alex Giles

The Green Roof

Intentionally built into the ground floor is a performance space with capacity for an audience of 150. Management of this space has been outsourced to The Albany group who organise productions throughout the year. It also gives the library a place to hold book launches and related events away from the main collection negating the need traditional libraries face of hastily rearranging the bookcases. In addition to the performance space, there are several meeting rooms of various sizes leading off the top gallery of the library. These are open to bookings from anyone leading to a diverse spectrum of activities (Yogameister anyone?). The performance space and the meeting rooms are great examples of how purpose-built new libraries can fulfil all of the changing roles of libraries within modern society. Thankfully books remain prominent, but it is also important to have other spaces which the community can utilise for other ends. In enabling this Canada Water library has placed itself at the centre of the community which is rapidly growing up around it ensuring its use and survival. Additionally revenue created by private bookings and ticket sales can go back into the library resources.
Membership is free and which includes use of the free wifi and pcs scattered about the library and the building is fully accessible to everyone. The collection itself comprises of 40,000 volumes ranging from children’s books and general fiction to reference materials on local history. Designed as a community library rather than an academic one their acquisitions policy focuses strongly on what will be popular among their readers which seems to have led to a rather large Manga collection. On the ground floor there is an independently run café, several computers and some book displays containing either new or popular books and themed displays suggesting related works people might enjoy (while we were there the theme was time travel). There are also self-service check-out machines enabling people to borrow books incredibly quickly if their schedule doesn’t allow for browsing. There is also a selection of audio-visual materials allowing users to borrow new films and cds etc. at a small cost. With many of the rental giants collapsing  it is sometimes easy to forget that there are still many people in the UK without internet access and therefore unable to access new popular services such as Netflix. This allows people to pop into the library (handily located above the tube station) on their way home and select something to watch/read. Furthermore the small fee charged by the library again allows them to make this process sustainable.

Top of the spiral staircase in the main reading room

It was quite refreshing to hear that Southwark do not (unlike many libraries) require that their staff are fully qualified before hiring them. Instead they interview people and hire them based upon whether or not they are suited to the job, which can at times differ radically to traditional library practises. Considering the competitive nature of librarianship at present and the rising costs of University fees it is always reassuring to know that there will be further opportunities for work beyond our traineeships even if we cannot go forward with a library course at present. Or indeed, if we decide to pursue one part time or even distance-based. It is a further comfort to see that, with constant threats of library closures, with a little innovation even new libraries can still thrive.
Thanks again to Linda and Richard for arranging such a great visit for us!

Alex Giles: Grad Trainee at City Uni.
Hi fellow trainees,
  Just wanted to let you know that there is an open evening at City Uni this Wednesday eve (20th November) for their post-grad library and information courses. I went last year, and really enjoyed it - there were some good intro talks by the course leaders, and lots of past and present students to quiz  - oh, and wine too... Check it out:

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

Institute of Classical Studies
Kate Symonds (again...)

Hello! I’m still here... much the same as last year if a little more wizened. Having the opportunity lengthen my traineeship has allowed me to get started on the first year of my distance based course in Digital Libraries and Information Services at The University of Borås.  It’s also allowing me to fine-tune some of my training based around the aspects of librarianship I now know I want to focus on which is great. I’m looking forward to the next year to compare with last in order to see what aspects of the job and trainee scheme change and which remain constant; not to mention another twelve months of new books!

Welcome to the 2013-2014 cohort of library trainees!

It's that time of year again where we say goodbye to this year's lot of trainees and hello to a new bunch.
Welcome to those of you who are just starting a new job in a library and watch this space for news of visits and events to get involved in during your trainee year!

Support for Researchers: how librarians can support REF, data management etc

On the 8th May I went to the CILIP headquarters to hear my colleague Monique Ritchie and Andria McGrath, from Kings College, and David Buckley talk about their positions (Research Librarian, Research Information Specialist, and Liaison Officer for Any Book Library Services respectively) and how they support academics in their research. I arrived early, and after some considerable confusion as to what room the event was in, and having walked in on two separate meetings (one was a roundtable discussion that I have to admit I’m glad I wasn’t involved in; it appeared quite heated...) and walking around the labyrinthine CILIP's corridors for some time, I arrived, still punctually, for the meeting and sat down with a coffee and biscuit, courtesy of David Buckley.

David Buckley was the first to speak, and humorously too, about his company: Any Book Library Services. The company started in Greenwich and has since moved to Leicester where they are now based. They pick up books from libraries and sell them, splitting the money between the library and themselves. It sounded very interesting and I’m definitely more positive about giving books to them to sell; to pump the money back into the library as well as David’s company is surely better than hiring a skip to dump them in unloving. (And, of course, I feel compelled to support a fellow Buckley!)  David's company collect the books free of charge and 100% of profits are given to the library if the book sells on the first day of being uploaded to all of the usual suspects online (Amazon, Abe (also now owned by Amazon), Libris etc.). If it sells after that, the money given to the library is on a daily sliding scale; 1st day 100%, 2nd day 99%, and so on.  David seems passionate about his company and it’s certainly an interesting and seemingly profitable business model for both libraries and the company itself, but I have to admit I’m not entirely sure how it makes enough money, considering the competition for selling books online and the percentages Amazon, and the like, take from sellers.

Next up was Andria who discussed the importance of working with IT and research management as well as supporting academics. Andria highlighted the importance of providing training that is designed for supporting the researchers, however designing this training it seems is only half of the work; getting people to attend being the other half. Together with providing the teaching, Andria mentioned, the key to success is having very solid relationships with the institution, such as a good working relationship with the Graduate School in order to publicize and get people through the training room door. Along with providing training, another key skill is a willingness to professionally develop. Andria attended a course in Leiden, which, along with an amazing trip, helped her to fulfill her role to her full potential. Obviously this is not something that every institution is willing to pay for, especially in a time of falling student numbers and smaller budgets, but attending free events and training is something that is available, and well worthwhile.

The third Speaker, Monique Ritchie, Research Librarian at Brunel University, spoke about her new post supporting researchers and the Research Data Management Project. The key skills that Monique brought attention to are:

·      Flexibility and adaptability
·      Prioritizing
·      Diplomacy
·      Sense of adventure
·      Thinking strategically
·      Networking

Networking is something that has always sent a shiver down my spine, and many other people’s as well, but from the events that I have attended that have included that twenty minutes for “coffee, tea and (yes! the dreaded) chat”, that very twenty minutes has often been for me the most memorable. I’ve met some very interesting people and even stayed in touch with some. Other skills Monique drew our attention to are those that many other library roles require as well; most people it seems must be flexible with the ability to move around the institution, but with such a heavy workload for librarians supporting researchers, the skill of prioritization certainly seemed like a must. Other skills at first seemed more aligned with Parliament than libraries, such as diplomacy and strategy, but Monique soon explained that she often had to justify what she was doing and fight her corner. The research librarian has to stay up to date and even determine in advance what the needs of the researcher will be.

Supporting researchers seems to be a fluid role that constantly changes with the developing needs of researchers themselves, the publishing world, and changing academic practices.  Both speakers were incredibly enthusiastic towards their professional lives and appeared to relish the dynamic positions they held, and the opportunities for learning and developing they offered.

Monique's slides are available here:

Andria's slides are available here:

British History Online Focus Group

Not knowing quite what to expect from an invitation to join a British History Online focus group, a gaggle of slightly trepidatious graduate library trainees arrived at the IHR on Tuesday afternoon armed with their laptops and were treated to a few hours of gentle mental exercise with one of the leading digital history resources.
We were introduced to the online resource which is run at the Institute of Historical Research by Bruce Tate, Project manager at British History Online, and Jonathan Blaney, its Project Editor. BHO is essentially a digital library which aims to provide primary and secondary sources for the history of the British Isles between the middle ages and c.1900. The team have, to date, digitised more than 1,000 sources and choose these sources based not only on their centrality to historical research, but also their interconnection. The resource also has a strong element of collaboration since users are able to annotate and correct the digitised sources, greatly enhancing their value to the history community. Notable BHO collections include the Journals of the Houses of Commons and Lords, as well as a huge amount of local history sources which draw from the IHR’s Centre for Metropolitan History and Victoria County History, to name but a few. They've even made some nifty online tutorials to help even the most technology averse historian along, which you can see here.
What’s really great about the resource though is the fact that on top of digitisation Bruce and Jonathan are also always looking to develop text analysis features designed to allow historians and researches to search and organise their findings in new and exciting ways. And it was in this area of text analysis features that we, enthusiastic knowledgeable and digitally literate (hmmm) early career librarians that we are, came in. Goodness help us.
In actual fact the features we tested were all manageable, intuitive, and interesting enough for us all to navigate easily and have an opinion on. So we started off with looking at ways the journals of the Lords and Commons could be searched and manipulated to give the user a quick colour coded visual representation of when and how frequently a searched-for topic (eg. Naval budget, war, cattle etc) was talked about in the Houses across a specified period of time. Elsewhere, we created social network diagrams which used the correspondences between individuals in the records to show how connected people in the houses were. Another great resource was BHO use of online maps to organise local history sources, something that can be played around with here
In addition to us trying out the resources and commenting on their usefulness as (broadly) cogent and (seemingly) intelligent young people, it was also a really interesting opportunity to be asked, as library professionals, to consider what other kind of interactive digital resources our respective library users value, or might value if only they had the opportunity. The energy behind the projects was infectious and certainly encouraged me to think about the role of today’s librarian as being - at least in part - a trainer or facilitator in these ways.
Thanks to Bruce and Jonathan for arranging such an interesting afternoon - and for keeping us happy with timeouts!

The Library of the Institute of Historical Research

Tuesday 7th May 2013

After an interesting feedback session with the British History Online team, we headed upstairs for a tour of the Institute of Historical Research’s Library with Mike Townsend, Collection Librarian.

We were treated to a trip up the Tower, where Mike had dug out some of the library’s treasures, which he felt represented the work of the library at the IHR today. This was a really interesting and useful way of telling us about the library and illustrating the work it does. Plus we all enjoy an old book or two: Diderot’s Encyclopedie, a major Enlightenment work, certainly caught our attention! The key themes illuminated were collection management, discovery and promotion.

The IHR is currently reclassifying its material and is increasingly discovering new gems among its collection. They have been uncovering items which have never been catalogued, which is quite incredible. As well as cataloguing and classifying these works, the IHR has been working diligently to ensure that these works enrich their current collections, publicising them on their website, seeking out themes and trends, and writing interesting blog posts. For example, see this fascinating post by the lovely Katherine Quinn:

Collection subject guides have been created highlighting topics within the IHR’s vast collections, including books and e-resources. One example Mike gave us was the History of Food and Drink – this topic encompasses a great array of material, with works ranging from swan offal to cannibalisation. (  I really admire the fact that the IHR is striving to engage with its collections to make them more accessible, user-friendly and engaging, particularly for readers who wish to browse. It struck me as a great demonstration of 'adding value'! 

However, the reach of the IHR's Library has been limited to some extent by being short-staffed. Mike explained that they have been unable to go to universities to promote their materials or to spread word of their extensive and exciting collections. Things are looking positive for the future however, when they will be moving to new premises, as they are planning a grand launch to promote their materials. It’s encouraging to see that in a difficult climate, the IHR is still expanding and it is working hard to reach more people and to promote its collections.

The calm carpeted library itself seemed a lovely traditional place to visit. People were working hard and there was a nice ambience – very different from the bustle of the business library I currently work in!

After a brief tour, Mike took us into a study room to give us an introduction to cataloguing. After kindly furnishing us with a guide to cataloguing and classifying, he spoke about the importance of these skills to librarianship and the emphasis on ‘cat and class’ at UCL. Mike told us that the more subject knowledge you gain, the better your cataloguing can be, as you can include more subject headings, insert extra notes and provide further information to make each entry rich in detail. He tried to impress upon us the importance of cataloguing skills, particularly if you end up as the sole librarian, and spoke of MARC21, entries and fields. 

It was great to hear Mike sound so positive about an area I’ve always perceived to be rather tedious, so that was encouraging. As a host, Mike was interesting, engaging and lively. Another enjoyable Tuesday afternoon! 

Visit to the Natural History Museum Library, 30th April 2013

Last week a smaller group than usual – others of us caught up in the start of summer term rush – journeyed to South Kensington to visit the Natural History Museum Library. And sorry to say it, but those who couldn’t make it missed a treat. So much so that I am going to write this blog post as a top ten reasons why being a NHM librarian is such a splendid and glamorous thing. Starting with:

1.    The Museum itself. What a place to work! Usually I am more of a V&A girl and haven’t crossed over to this side of Exhibition Road for many years, but those dinosaurs got me as soon as we walked in. Aside from the obvious attractions, the details in Waterhouse’s architecture keep you continually entertained. Terracotta animals and plants are dotted about the building, with extinct creatures in the east wing and living in the west. The NHM started life in the 18th century as part of the British Museum, moving to the current site in the mid-19th century, and now houses the most important natural history collection in the world, an animatronic T.rex, and a library.

2.    The variety of visitors. The primary role of library is to support the research of the museum – there are PhD students based there, and MSc students at nearby Imperial College who are linked with the museum. Alongside the academic research that is done in the library, visitors ranging from families from Australia wanting to know more about the first fleet, to Sir David Attenborough himself come to access the library’s collections. Anyone can register and is free to join. Visits are by appointment only so they don’t have many casual callers, and a quiet, serious research environment is fostered.  Readers can request anything from the collections, but first edition Darwins needs a good reason before they are retrieved!

3.    Working in a museum library. This is a bit different to many people’s experience and perception of library work. There are elements of the academic environment (working with students and academic staff) as well as other facets that might usually be associated with public library, such as public outreach. The library also serves a number of independent researchers, including art students. NHM library and archives are members of MLAG, the UK Museum Librarians and Archivists Group – a good place to start looking if you are interested in working in the sector.

4.    Learning opportunities. As a reference library where material is retrieved in advance and invigilated, staff here have an amazing opportunity to interact with visitors and talk to them about their research. We spoke to staff about their own academic backgrounds, and found that not everybody had a science background.  The best way to learn about the subjects covered by the library is to get to know the collections – the more you retrieve from the store, the more you can absorb, often by learning from readers and their research. Again, did I mention Attenborough? NHM staff can gain specialist subject knowledge in various areas. Which leads me on to…

5.    Moonlighting as an author. NHM used to have several small libraries littered across the museum, covering various the subject areas of natural history: botany, zoology, ornithology, entomology anthropology, palaeontology, and mineralogy. Each library had its own team, and staff came to specialise in these areas. Some years ago it was decided that the libraries should merge and centralise into a more conventional academic-style structure. Still, the various expertises remained, and to make use of this library staff are now heavily involved in curating the Images of Nature gallery within the museum, and in the publication of the accompanying catalogues. We met special collections librarian Andrea Hart who spoke to us about her involvement in the soon-to-be-installed exhibition and catalogue, utilising the women’s collection (we had a sneak-peek at some amazingly vibrant coloured drawings of natural history and ethnography by Olivia Tonge from the early 1900s). Andrea is able to make use of her knowledge and research skills to write and be published – an unusual opportunity. Similarly, Hellen Sharman was able to write on her own specialist subject of ephemera, in an article in the museum’s magazine Evolve.

6.    Art collections. Unlike in many other museum and gallery structures, the art collections in NHM come under the wing of the library and archives. The library’s special collections (more of which shortly) encompasses rare books, manuscripts and art works. You might not think of it, but the museum has the third largest art on paper collection in the UK. You can have a look at their online picture library for an idea of NHM image collections.

7.     Conservation. Now for some photos. This is one of the special collections items that Andrea was kind enough to get out for us. I’ve gone for the oldest, which is in fact the second oldest book in the collection: Pliny’s Natural History from 1472. Note the vellum binging and handsome furniture.

We also saw botanical illustrations by Arthur Harry Church, Kew Gardens botanical artist Franz Bauer, Ferdinand Bauer and Georg Ehret. With such important, and in many cases delicate, examples in the collection, staff take conservation seriously. All prints are mounted on acid-free boards, and hinged with Japanese paper & wheat starch paste. This means that should they be needed for exhibition, water can be applied to the hinge, and the artwork removed from the board without damaging the paper. All boards are tissue interleaved and stored in solander boxes, and kept in the special collections store which has UV-filtered lights. Perspex mounts and book supports are used to display rare books; and smaller pieces such as photographs are stored in polyester archival sleeves, meaning that any annotations or other useful content on the reverse of the item can be seen whilst minimising manual handling of the originals.

8.    Digitisation. Having been involved in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) since its inception five years ago, the NHM is still working as part of this project which aims to digitise biodiversity literature to create an open access resource for researchers. Within the library there is a digitisation workstation, including this hard-to-miss scanning unit known as a scribe.

Out of copyright published material can be requested, and any of these requests held by the library can be digitised here and uploaded to BHL website as tiffs, later converted to JP2 files.  The pressure that these units put on the books is potentially quite destructive, so special collections items are not included in this project.

9.    Social media. They are ever so modern at the NHM, and have all the social media covered. I could make a pun here (something on the subject of tweeting about ornithology...); instead I will draw your attention to the NHM blog, NaturePlus. The library’s part of this blog is widely used, with new acquisitions updates and special items of the month, as well as more discursive pieces written by different library staff. They do also use Twitter...  @NHM_Library. If you look closely you might even see a twitpic of us “lovely graduate trainee librarians”!

10.  Performing. As if all of this wasn’t exciting enough, the library also get involved in the public engagement programme in the museum. There have been live video links to lecture theatre (on the other side of the museum) to showcase interesting items from the collection that can’t be removed from the controlled conditions of the reading room – for example William Smith’s geological map from 1815 (for a sense of the scale of it, see this blog post). Joining up the library with the museum’s public events is a really effective way of unlocking the collection, and must be great fun for the staff members who get to show their extrovert side in doing it!

So there we have it. Huge thanks to Hellen Sharman for organising such a great visit. 


RNIB Research Library

On Tuesday 16th April, a few trainees and myself descended on Judd Street to visit Robert, the librarian at the RNIB Research Library. Upon entering the building I was struck by the shop, full of a diverse range of things designed to enrich the lives of blind or partially sighted people. There were large print Scrabble boards in Braille, telephones, vibrating watches, dice, and audible footballs amongst many other things. The library leads off of this shop:  when entering please beware of the wall of Sooty and Sweep’s staring back at you; they can give quite a fright. However, you shouldn’t be frightened as it is just part of the large assortment of Sooty and Sweep collection boxes that the RNIB has.  The RNIB has famously used the Sooty and Sweep characters, though unfortunately they have lost or misplaced the original documented agreement to use the image.
The RNIB is the largest library in the UK for people with sight loss and offers a wide choice of fiction and non-fiction books in audio, Braille and giant print for adults and children. As well as providing this vital service it also acts as a veritable treasure trove for researchers. One member of staff mainly runs the library, but two others have recently been recruited. The computers in the library have technological aspects, which I am certainly not used to in the library where I work – the computers can tailor to the needs of the individual user and can be customized with varying conditions. For example, the JAWS screen software can increase the size of the text seen on the screen as well as change the colour of a document to make it more accessible.
The library offers a wealth of historical documents available for research; this ranges from official documentation, annual reports, journals and embossed manuscripts, as well as objects and photographs. The library houses a unique and valuable collection of historically important material relating to the history of blind people and the organizations working with them, including RNIB and many local societies and care homes; this means that the library is also an important resource for people researching family history.
The library is free to join and use, except, that is, for the brilliant Talking Book Service, which is produced by RNIB Talking Book Studios in a professional audio facility based in Camden, London. They produce audio books and magazines for both RNIB services as well as commercially. 
Library users can borrow six books at a time, and the loan period is three months, with postage free. The Talking Book Service includes unlimited access to over 20,000 audio books and the loan of a DAISY player. Unlike audio books on normal CDs, readers can use the DAISY technology to skip to a new chapter, or the next paragraph, and insert a bookmark. Books are delivered and returned free of charge under the Articles for the Blind scheme. And these can even be sent to a different address, in addition to your home address (this can even be a holiday address).
In the archive in the cellar of the building we saw a lot of photos and raised Braille maps. One photo depicted women hand stitching Braille books together, which was particularly enlightening. We also came across an 1838 New Testament in Braille, another highlight.  In the 19th Century the only books that were produced for blind or partially sighted people were largely religious texts. The Research Library and Archive have recently been brought together to make their full potential available, which has meant that this site has acquired a lot of new material previously held at Peterborough. Walking around the archive, the amount of work that needs to be done is clearly visible. There are shelves and shelves of boxes of un-catalogued objects; additionally the library management system is undergoing a transition to an archival-based system. It seems that Robert is keen to take on the challenge, though, and he certainly won’t get bored:  there are plenty of interesting things to be distracted by!

ARLG London and South East: A Seminar on Support for Researchers: how librarians can support the REF, bibliometrics and data management

This came up today on LIS-LINK:

There are still a few places left on the following event

To book a place please contact as soon as possible and by May 1st at the latest.

ARLG London and South East:  A Seminar on Support for Researchers: how librarians can support the REF, bibliometrics and data management

Wednesday May 8th, 6pm for 6.30pm start till 8pm.

Venue: The Ewart Room, CILIP HQ, Ridgmount Street, London, WC1. Nearest Tube station is Goodge Street on the Northern Line.
Free admission for both CILIP members & non-members, due to the generous sponsorship by Any Book Library Services

Monique Ritchie, Research Librarian, Brunel University. She will speak about her new post supporting researchers, the Research Data Management Project and UKRISS

Andria McGrath, Research Information Specialist, King's College London: "Library research support partnerships". She will speak about working with IT and Research management as well as academics.


6-6.30 pm. Registration, networking, tea, coffee, & biscuits.
6.30 pm. Short talk by Mr David Buckley, Liaison Officer, Any Book Library Services, followed by Chair's introduction to our guest speakers.
6.40-7.10 pm. Andria McGrath's presentation.
7.10-7.40 pm. Monique Ritchie's presentation.
7.40-7.55 pm. Discussion & question time.
7.55-8 pm. Chair's thanks to our speakers & close of meeting.

SLA Europe, BIALL and CLSIG Open Day

A few of the trainees spent the day at CILIP headquarters for a series of presentations, most of which pertained to law librarianship. Below are the main points I got from each speaker with a link to their presentations.

Google is not God; it is important to find and use authoritative resources. Therefore librarians still have a key role to play.

The profession is stereotyped, which can be frustrating. Jacky suggested that she was offered one (corporate) job because she was the only candidate who did not look like a librarian!

Jacky changed jobs and sectors every few years with support from TFPL. Examples include higher education, architecture, law and medicine. Having subject experience was of little significance compared to general skills like management, empathy and communication, though Jacky did say that having worked with lawyers was considered useful. She would have liked to try working for the BBC, MI5, newspapers and charities, and is considering voluntary services overseas.

At the BMA library Jacky project-managed the movement and rebranding of the library, bringing it into the 21st century and making it a part of the organisation’s strategy. Before and after photos are included in her slideshow.

Just apply for things and make the most of opportunities. Be proactive rather than wait to be asked. This includes applying for voluntary roles to gain experience and show your commitment to the profession. Keeping a blog and tweeting also demonstrates current awareness and motivation.
 It is not necessary to meet all the criteria of a job advert if you argue your case.

Sam asked employers what they look for in graduate-level candidates, and the main criteria were enthusiasm, fresh ideas, up-to-date digital skills, people skills, drive to achieve...and cheaper labour. Experience and specific training were not expected.

Compared to working for a law firm, the job of an academic law librarian is NOT to do the research for the students but to teach them how to do it for themselves. Emily does a lot of training sessions and even sets coursework for the students. There are a lot of meetings and committees. Emily pointed out that by choosing this position over one in a law firm she was able to have more responsibility earlier on.

Problems for the sector include: tightened budgets across higher education and increased publisher costs (also publishers splintering); balancing the needs of teaching and research; space limitations; the balance of hard copy and electronic; outsourcing; improving standards of legal information literacy and last but not least engagement with students.

It is important to get involved and try new things. Emily set up Lawbore, the online resource for lawyers. It provides a web-guide to authoritative resources, a range of tutorials, and a blog to keep students up-to-date with new developments in law. Lawbore is now hugely popular not only with City students but on an international scale. Emily is also involved in BIALL (more committees!), which has been great for networking and keeping in the loop.

Law librarians still specialise, either by department (cataloguing, acquisitions etc.) or by subject. However in smaller law firms, in which the teams are much smaller, librarians may have to cover several or even all areas themselves.

Work for a law firm is research-heavy. Enquiries can relate to the law, companies, people, press, current affairs... There is a lot of training to provide for new trainees, new joiners plus any additional training needs for new resources, refresher courses etc. There is relatively little cataloguing to do; firms tend to have their own systems and these can be quite relaxed.

A law firm is a professional work environment. Advantages include:  good resources, interesting work, relatively well paid (subject to the firm). However the work is demanding, time sensitive, and in some firms librarians are treated as “only support staff”.

Sandra does not have any law qualifications but her employers have not expected her to have prior experience of law, only information management. She spent 12-18 months at three different firms before settling at Mishcon de Reya. She took the opportunity to be responsible for the firm’s intranet and the job has grown with her. The knowledge management department has also tripled in size since she started.

Danny appreciates how lucky he is to work in such a well-funded library. There is a huge variety of material that, as a librarian, he gets the chance to handle. Although apparently it is best not to know what some of these things are worth! 

It is also an intellectually stimulating environment, with lots of opportunities to learn and to get involved with projects. The library is constantly organising exhibitions, talks and other such events. Danny’s advice is to get out of your comfort zone.

Marie is “currently in my first professional post as an Information Officer for the law firm Trowers & Hamlins”... see her blog for details about how she got there.

Regarding library school, Marie advises students to make the most of the tutors and especially get to know your personal tutor as you may want to use them as a reference. In her experience, employers are not interested in which modules you chose, so it is best to pick your favourites and get the best mark possible. Make sure not to miss opportunities to build your CV in your spare time – during her degree Marie won the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) 2012.

Marie also encourages librarians to embrace social media. Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn and 23 Things are all great ways to gain (and demonstrate) current awareness and can provide you with great support...even job opportunities. Further to this, it is important to develop your own digital brand so that when employers look you up online you make a good impression.

We are living in a digital age, in which technology is developing very quickly – so much so that training in any specific programme is soon out-of-date. Therefore librarians should make sure they are experts in two core areas: people and information.

Simon gave some statistics on the huge (and increasing) amount of information that is being produced and talked about the possibilities of storing and organising this digitally. Libraries are working towards building larger library networks online. Simon believes the future for the digital librarian is as a liaison between IT and the library, translating the jargon and ensuring that the online systems are making all the information accessible. He is in favour of automated systems because “humans make mistakes”.

Simon has been an army librarian, e-resources manager and now works for the British Library on their Qatar project. He is a self-taught programmer and another winner of the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award.

Working at an Inn of Court (also Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn) is a blend of academic and research librarianship as the Inn is used by trainee and practising barristers, as well as judges and clerks. The library therefore offers training and signposting but will also carry out research for some patrons. This can be time-pressured. Additionally the library maintains a daily current awareness service in the form of a blog, and a gateway site of free authoritative websites – because google is not good enough!

It is a conservative and traditional environment in which to work; Tracey enjoys the formality but agrees that it does not appeal to everyone. However the Inn has embraced the modern age in that it subscribes to electronic resources, uses social media and provides wifi access. It also runs social mobility schemes.

In addition to Inner Temple, Tracey has worked at Lincoln’s Inn, the House of Lords and the law firm Lewis Silkin. Often her change of job was motivated by her drive to acquire experience and move up the career ladder.

Start with jobs in a larger organisation so you get the chance to learn from others. Then find opportunities to shine.

Fiona found work experience at her local library during holidays before completing her library qualification. She then worked for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, then Baker & Mackenzie. Finding that the professional services staff were being regularly restructured, Fiona set up a sideline business offering freelance negotiation training – so as not to keep all her eggs in one basket. In 2006 Facet Publishing published her book: Negotiating Licences for Digital Resources. She continues to work part-time for Linex Systems, a software company, and runs half-day workshops on the topics of Negotiation and Using Excel to Manage your library budget.

Fiona’s advice is to sell yourself – remind your boss of your achievements and aspirations and ask to take on projects. You are always on show whether that be in person at work or socially or electronically. Do your core job well and then you will be given more opportunity to play to any other strengths and interests. As your career matures you can start to specialise and consider more niche roles and opportunities

If you feel you are stuck in a rut, talk to your boss or careers department about why you are not being promoted. She also recommends volunteering for professional bodies (e.g. CILIP), using social media, taking qualifications (Prince2, CIPS) and writing articles. The information sector is large and changing rapidly, so you do not need to follow a traditional librarian’s path. Find the new gap in the market and move into it e.g. Information Architecture, Outsourced service co-ordinator.