Visit to Senate House Special Collections and Archives

On 29th January the graduate trainees visited the 4th floor of Senate House to learn about the library’s special collections and archives.
Special Collections
We were met by Jonathan, who works with the printed special collections. Jonathan began his talk by showing us the new Senate House website. It can be viewed here; you will find it vastly more informative than I am able to be. Note the prominent position of the Historical Collections on the home page J An important part of the librarians’ work here is to promote the collections, which they do via the internet (website, blogs, twitter and facebook), exhibitions, books (such as Senate House Library, University of London by Christopher Pressler), and by liaising with tutors.
There are eight in Jonathan’s department to catalogue the ¼ million items. This is a larger job than usual because the cataloguing of rare books includes extra details, including the book’s binding, its history, its donor, and any inscription or significant notations. Further to this, collections held since the 1830s/40s are catalogued on cards and need updating.
One problem for special collections librarians is the condition of rare texts, many of which are fragile and in danger of disintegrating. The first step is to box them up, but then the librarians must decide whether to attempt to digitise and/or rebind the books. Cost and risk of damage must be considered. The library has scanning facilities but not a cradle – which would reduce wear and tear during the digitisation process. On the other hand, digitised resources are 100x better used so it is worth doing where possible.
As examples of the collections we were shown a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle and a pirated copy of Lady Chatterley printed in Egypt complete with arabic seals. Library members can use the catalogue to search for and request rare books. Staff will then make them available in the reading room. In order to protect the books, the reading rooms are always supervised by an invigilator. Readers may not eat or drink, and no pens are allowed, but gloves are considered more of a danger than bare fingers because gloves desensitise the hands.
Richard is one of two archivists at Senate House and he talked to us about his experiences. He described the difference between archives and libraries as a matter of “uniqueness”. At Senate House an archive is a collection that is unpublished and unique. An archivist’s aim is to make life easy for researchers. Currently it is not possible to cross-search books and archives so an important part of the job is to make archive records searchable beyond the catalogue. Senate House takes on archives that will complement their book collections, but archivists avoid splitting a collection wherever possible – for example, Senate House would not collect trade union archives because Warwick is the centre for this material. This arrangement makes the resources most accessible to researchers.
Apparently being an archivist is a cloistered existence; whereas a records manager is always on the phone, an archivist is more academic. Archivists have to be ruthless and selective when choosing and preserving archives – known as “appraisal” – as due to cost and space limitations it is not possible to preserve everything. This is the most challenging part of the job. There are better and worse methodologies but no right or wrong answer.
A large part of the job for both archivists and librarians is getting grant money to put towards collections, cataloguing, preservation, digitisation… We were asked to consider whether it is truly an efficient use of time, considering the rate of rejection? There is definite skill in pricing the project and presenting your case. It affects your reputation to get it right.
As an example of Senate House’s archives we were shown one of 66 volumes of lists of students and University of London graduates from 1836-1932, which are also available in digitised form. The publication of this information is a data protection issue. Archivists whose records include personal information have a responsibility to protect the privacy of those involved. It was decided that an 80 year embargo was appropriate, and patrons must sign a form to use the archives.
Richard also talked briefly about his earlier career when he worked as an archivist in the Gambia. There he was tasked with appraising government records and writing a guide to the national records. This raised the question: why prioritise archiving when the funds could be put to good use elsewhere, for example public health? Richard argued that aside from the historical value of the archives it was critically important to have properly administrated documents in order to run the country successfully.
Our thanks go to Richard and Jonathan for two informative and engaging talks.

Visit to IALS Library

Yesterday myself and the other graduate trainees went to visit IALS, which is just off Russell Square, housed in a large ‘Brutalist’ style building, designed by the same architect who designed the National Theatre. (It moved there around 1976.)

We were shown around the Institute’s law library by David, the Deputy Librarian, and attended two sessions, one on IALS’s Document Delivery Service and one on helping users with special needs. It was an interesting and informative visit, (with yummy biscuits included!) and thanks go to David, Adam and Catherine for taking the time to show us around the library, talk to us and tell us more about their roles within IALS.

  Here is some information in (hopefully!) easy-to-read bullet points from the tour:

·         The IALS Library has recently increased its opening hours so that it is open Mon-Fri ‘til 11pm and on Sunday as well.

·         The Library for IALS is actually housed on the 4th floor- this is unusual, as most academic libraries are situated on the ground floor, and it means that students have to travel downwards to 3 separate floors in order to access the collections.

·         Main users: Main users for the IALS Library are PG students only- e.g. LLM (Masters in Law) students, PhD students and academics. IALS get around 2000 students p/a, including those from Kings, SOAS, UCL and LSE.

·         Virtual subscriptions and databases are provided for users

·         Access is also available to barristers, solicitors and big law firms. (These are known as ‘commercial users.’)

·         There is no free access- you have to pay to access the Library. (From £26 for a day pass.)

·         Interestingly, David told us that the needs and wants of academic and PhD students drive what they buy in terms of collection stock.

·         Also, limited space means that one of their computer rooms becomes a training room in the Autumn Term, offering sessions and 1-2-1s on Westlaw, Lexis Nexus and other e-resources. There is a strong emphasis on training and web skills- which David also thinks are key skills for the modern information professional/librarian.

·         Because of the high level of enquiries, there are 2 staff at the enquiry desk at all times. There is also an extra member of staff to provide LLM services. IALS also has a high-in-demand Short Loan Collection which, as David informed us, ‘provides its own dynamic.’

·         IALS Library also provides self-service machines which give students greater flexibility in terms of being able to issue and return books themselves

·         The ground floor of the Library has just been refurbished and there are plans for all the floors to be done in the next 7-8 years.

·         Also hoping to set up a virtual accounts system for photocopying and printing in the summer

·         IALS Library has a unique classification system (neither Dewey nor LoC) but it has been in place since 1950 so, as David suggested, it is a little worn in places!

·         Collection covers: digests, legislation, subsidiary legislation. It is IALS’s aim to collect all the major sets of legislation, textbooks and journals, as it is a national resource. Interestingly, this means that it never disposes of anything- which consequently means it also has problems with space! The library has already been extended to try and accommodate this, and mobile shelving (i.e. rolling stacks) are in place, but more space is still needed as the collections are continually growing.

·         99% of stock is on site.

·         Each floor has a display of the most recent issues of popular journals so that academics can scan them and students can keep up to date. This seems particularly popular with students and academics.

·         Wi-Fi runs throughout the Library and the cafĂ©

·         Most of the LLM students are from overseas

·         The IALS building is actually a listed building, which means that redecorating extensively is restricted. (E.g. no air conditioning is allowed.)

·         They also have an ILLs (Interlibrary loan) service.

Notes on following librarianship as a career

David raised some intriguing and useful points on following librarianship as a career, and on choosing to undertake a course in librarianship/information studies. They run as follows:

·         There is a lot of variety in librarianship and a lot of variety in (day-to-day) tasks

·         Distance learning (e.g. at Aberystwyth) is always an option for librarianship courses, and in many ways it may be more affordable

·         You do not need to have a legal background to work for the IALS Library. A lot of graduate trainees go on to other law libraries and law firms, but also art libraries and reference libraries.

·         At the moment, academic libraries are tending to get rid of senior staff and keep on junior staff, so this (hopefully!) lessens the competition for jobs.

It was really interesting to see so many aspects in a large-scale law library, situated in the heart of London. It was encouraging to know that IALS’s main priority is meeting the needs of its students, and that support is provided for those with special needs, learning difficulties, or chronic illnesses. We also had an opportunity to network and chat to the other graduate trainees at IALS. I particularly enjoyed the sessions we attended on Document Supply and dealing with users with special needs. I thought they were very detailed and well-presented, and they gave us an added insight into the day-to-day roles of some of the information staff there. I’m looking forward to the other trips we have planned so that I can compare and contrast their different services, training, and priorities.

-Eleanor Keane, 23/1/2013

Applying to Library School

Hi all,

Here are some of the options for that I've come across for library school and thought that I would share them on here - I hope it's useful.

December is the deadline for UCL – fairly early in the post for graduate trainees - but ultimately I, and I think maybe UCL, think that if you’ve already applied for graduate trainee posts you probably have already heavily considered Library School. I had considered Library School, and can honestly say I considered it with the utmost sincerity and measured regard, but the very fact of wanting or indeed needing (for many people) to complete the master’s for career progression does not seem to make the course one hundred per cent feasible. It costs – to somebody in my position having already completed a graduate course and having to fork out the living costs of London - the world, a completely incomprehensibly un-savable amount. However, this has ultimately not deterred me from applying because there are plenty of ways around the cost without having to pay for it all in one fell swoop, and the course at UCL does seem very interesting and good value for money, as well as being the most affordable (apart from distance learning courses).

First of all, you could go part time, something which all universities offer but something that it is important to consider is: can you afford to pay half the tuition fees in one go? And if not can you afford to pay for one module at a time? Probably most people can if they began saving the year before. UCL offer their course on a modular basis over five years and one further thing to take note of is that you can do the diploma (so that means you do not do the dissertation, but can importantly earn chartership with this) and then return to study within five years to complete the full master’s. Additional funding could be gathered from Career Development Loans but these are given with the understanding of repayments beginning with the end of the course. More options of funding for most of the master’s are available from very varied and obscure sources if you scour the respective universities funding pages and utilise google’s search engine. Often these funding bodies give a criterion that excludes a large amount of people - but some luck can be had. One other option could be simply to apply for a distance-learning course – something that seems to be very popular; I myself have several colleagues that are currently doing this. Coupled with this course you can fit a full-time job and social life and take a great deal of time over completing it. Aberystwyth, Robert Gorden and Northumbria University run the prominent courses in this area.

A more interesting and life changing option is to look further afield (something which I consider to be more interesting anyhow.) I have strongly considered America due to some generous scholarships (directory available here) that are available but was ultimately put off by costly and time-consuming applications. It seems that most courses come with an application fee and additionally you would have to take the GRE examination. The GRE can be taken in England and if you are interested it can be booked online here. However there are some great schools and I am under the impression that an American qualification would not hinder anyone in securing a job in the UK. The American Library Association accredits courses in the same way CILIP accredit UK courses. A list of accredited programs and a very large document of funding options can be found here. I was very interested in University of Wisconsin at Madison, which seemed to be a very good school to attend and was voted the best student city to live in America, but, as I previously stated, I was put off by expensive applications and the GRE. That said, not all schools require the GRE.
America is not the only option for study outside of England: many European countries offer English language courses, and, more importantly, they are considerably cheaper than universities’ in England. Take, for example, the master’s at Copenhagen – a great university offering free courses to students within the EU. I can only assume that it is fiercely competitive to secure a place considering they only take 25 students per year.
The only further advice I can give is to take an in depth look around at all the options and to consider options that are out of the ordinary as they possibly could be life changing and extremely rewarding – really, though, it does depend on individual circumstances. This article really made me want to study abroad but at the moment I don’t think that this is the best option to me.  The most appealing option for me at the moment (it does change daily) is to work and study part-time, hopefully at UCL – this is working on the assumption that I will not receive any funding from UCL considering I was unsuccessful at gaining a first-class degree; although, of course I would not turn down any funding… 

Visit 15/01/13- Westminster Reference Library


On Tuesday a group of us went on a visit to Westminster Reference Library. The first striking thing about the library is its location directly behind the National Gallery and yet one would not even know it was there unless told, making strengthened awareness of it imperative to its survival. To begin the visit Peter talked us through the history of the building which was built on the site of a house once owned by Sir Isaac Newton and thus rebuilt in a matching style. He then began the tour with the dark and bare basement; the only remaining part of the original structure. In contrast to this the tour moved up a floor to the modern business hub where Eveleen explained the variety of users it attracts and how the library has adapted to meet their needs. We were also shown the general work space and the bookable study space on the mezzanine which gives members the option to arrange meetings, study groups and more in a more formal environment. The second floor is the main area for exhibitions and also houses the Arts and Design collection which has been designated as a collection of ‘outstanding national significance’ claiming over 45,000 reference works plus 4,000 for lending. Many of these books are, by necessity, housed out of the reach of the public but there are numerous signs encouraging readers to ask for anything they cannot find on the shelves and the amount of people filling the desks during our visit was a testament to the importance of work space in such a busy building.

Staff have managed to utilise the prime location of the library to their advantage by creating a comprehensive business hub to draw in the large numbers of commuters who pass through the city each day. There is a wealth of information available to both established businessmen and women and to those wanting to start up their own businesses. In addition to books and periodicals available within the library, membership also offers 24 hour remote access to websites such as COBRA making it an invaluable resource to anyone in the business world. Several of us joined up on the spot and I for one have already made use of some of the extensive online resources available for members. In addition to the business databases there is also access to newspapers, encyclopaedias etc. Having been in London for several months I am slightly ashamed that until this point I had not made the most of some of the resources available to me which in itself highlights the growing importance of social outreach; something that this library is at the forefront of promoting.

Probably the most innovative strategy for raising awareness of the library is their programme of events throughout the year. Rossella showed us a variety of posters and videos from previous events and discussed how popular they have been; indeed their spaces tend to booked over a year in advance. Far from being a detached use of the space after the library has shut, many of them tie in with the library’s focus on arts and performing arts such as play readings and lectures. In addition to this Peter explained to us how they display relevant items from the library’s holdings to compliment the art exhibitions held on the second floor. In this way they are able to both attract new readers to the library and also to extend their involvement with the subjects they specialise in. In a time when the future of public libraries is looking somewhat bleak it was wonderful to see a library adapting and solidifying its place within the community; certainly not an easy task in central London!

Whilst the specificity of the two main collections do certainly set Westminster aside from a typical public library it was great to be able to speak about the common problems they encounter such as homeless people seeking shelter and young people wanting a space to socialise and how they try to manage such issues. Far from encouraging exclusivity as a preventative measure, membership is easily attained and resources such the free legal advice hub, and the Life in the UK practice tests ensure that everyone is represented and provided for, not just the academics and businessmen who pass through. Indeed as a recent graduate it was good to see the staff encouraging membership for students, allowing them somewhere permanent to work even after their studies have finished. Also, although primarily a reference library, there are books for loan on the top floor enabling users to take their research home with them when the library closes. Not only this but membership enables readers access to all lending libraries in Westminster. Overall it was an incredibly enlightening visit which myself and the other trainees are extremely grateful for so many thanks again to everyone at the library for their time and hospitality!

N.B. For more information about events on at the library visit their Facebook page:
Trainee profiles 2012-2013

Institute of Classical Studies
Kate Symonds

Hi, I’m Kate the Winnington-Ingram trainee at the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies and the Institute of Classical Studies. Until I started this job I knew very little about the strange and mysterious ways of Librarians but I’m learning. Slowly. I stumbled upon my traineeship entirely by accident whilst procrastinating during my Masters degree at Glasgow and was shocked that I’d never considered librarianship as a career before given my obsessive organising of every bookshelf I’ve ever owned.
 What I think makes this library such an amazing place to work is its size and speciality; there are only six members of staff (including myself) and the readers tend to be researchers and postgraduate students so there is quite a close-knit environment. The collection itself is vast; it takes a great deal of strength not to disappear between the shelves and spend half the day reading.
             My main duties include working on the circulation desk assisting customers with check outs and queries and also sending out postal loans and photocopies. I am also responsible for the processing of new books and book repairs. Repair and conservation I find particularly engaging and am continually researching and experimenting with better ways to preserve the collection. In addition to this I also update the library’s various social networking sites, operate the mailing list and am currently implementing a scanning service for readers as a temporary measure until the library has more advanced machines.
 I have really enjoyed the visits so far and am looking forward to the busy schedule we have for this term. It is excellent seeing such a variety of libraries and comparing how they operate in order to build a more complete picture of the profession as a whole. I am eager to learn more about digitisation and open access and to see how different libraries are adapting to a changing environment of readership. Having completed my traineeship I hope to continue working in libraries whilst saving for my library Masters. So far this year has been incredible and I hate the thought of not working with books every day.

Library Visits List

Hi All,
  Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year. Here's a list of the visits coming up over the next few months (a few more are still in the pipeline and I'll let you know when a definite time is set for them).

15th January, 2.30
Westminster Reference Library
22nd January, Afternoon
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Library
29th January, 2.30
Senate House Special Collections and Archives
5th February, 3.30
King Alfred’s School Library
19th February, Afternoon
Senate House Collections and a session with Colin Homski on Web 2.0
26th February, 2.30
Ministry of Justice Library
5th March, 2.30
Royal College of Surgeons Library
12th March, 3.30
BFI Library
19th March, Afternoon
Institute of Classical Studies/Historical Research joint library visit
21st March, 2.30
Courtauld Library
14th May
British Library
4th June, 2.30
Warburg Library