3 months in, nearly

It's been 2 and a half months since I started my traineeship at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and it has been far from what I expected. To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect as this is the first time I've worked in a library.  I am from a retail background, having worked in retail for 5 years, so it was difficult for me to imagine anything different. In addition, I knew very little, if not nothing, when it came to law.

However is has been an enlightening couple of months.  I've learned about checking in new serial books onto the millennium software, the different terminology used when referring to law books and law reports etc. and the different departments that work behind the scenes.
I could go on, because I'm learning something new everyday. Whether it's to do with the databases used to find material or the way in which students use the resources.

I'm glad I started with an open mind and that it is completely different to what I was doing before. I took the leap to do something that I had wanted to do for a long time and I'm really enjoying it.


Hello all. I just wanted to welcome our new crop of library trainees based here in London (which has continued to grow, including now this year trainees from the Bank of England). I'm Mike from the Institute of Historical Research (you'll see me a few times throughout the year, but I'll mainly be an annoying email presence sending you Doodle Poll invites to various visits throughout the year!) Anyways I hope you'll all find this blog useful and maybe even entertaining in parts and feel free to make it your own for the coming year as previous trainees have done. N.B. One thing you'll also find useful is the list of coming visits which will begin to be updated soon, so eyes peeled.

See you soon.

Visit to Cambridge Libraries

On Thursday, 17 July, five of us were lucky enough to visit several libraries in Cambridge and meet their graduate trainees. Last year’s London trainees did a similar trip to Oxford, and I hope future years’ trainees will get this opportunity as well. Not only was it nice to get out of London and see another city, we also were able to learn about the unique features of working in libraries that are often a mix of centuries-old books and architecture, and very modern buildings and services. In some ways, I found the Cambridge libraries to be a lot like my workplace, the Courtauld Institute’s Book Library.

The outside of the Wren Library, Trinity College

Trinity College

We began our day at 11am at Trinity College. The graduate trainee, Harriet, was kind enough to come in on her day off to give us a tour. She walked us through the impressive First Court, past the steady stream of awed tourists. Of course, most of the students were already finished for the academic year, and there were only a few dotted around the grounds and the library. We entered the library from the newer section and wound our way through the stacks and student study areas to the entrance of the impressive Wren Library, completed in 1695. This was certainly the most typical example of what one would expect of an old Cambridge college library; a beautiful arched ceiling, scholars working silently, and shelves full of antiquarian books and manuscripts. Within the display cases on either side of the central aisle were gems from the collection such as a first edition from Sir Isaac Newton (with an annotated title page adding the ‘Sir’ once he was knighted), A.A. Milne’s manuscripts of his Winnie-the-Pooh books, and a special exhibition created by Harriet and other library staff focussing on the college and library during WWI.

St. John's College

St. John’s College

Our next stop was St. John’s College, where we were met by graduate trainee Charlotte. Despite the similar look of the college itself, the ‘Working Library’ as it is called, was very different from the older libraries of Cambridge. Built in 1994, the Working Library has all the modern features one would expect from a university library. For instance, students can gain access 24 hours a day, using their cards to gain entry outside staffed hours. The building is full of natural light and feels very spacious, but also allows for quiet, secluded study spaces. Looking around their new acquisitions displays and audio-visual collection, I was impressed by their large selection of both academic and non-academic items. The Working Library is connected to the ‘Old Library’, staffed by a Special Collections Librarian who supervises the Reading Room on the ground floor. The Old Library’s first floor is smaller than the Wren, but just as impressive. It is lined with beautifully carved shelves, which even have the old library catalogue hand-written on to fold-out panels on the front of each bay, a snapshot of the library as it once was. Each graduate trainee is able to create an exhibition, and Charlotte’s, which is entitled ‘Blancmange to make, Blisters to draw’, has been receiving attention from the media thanks to the publicity help of her colleague. Having done her masters dissertation on early modern medical recipes, Charlotte decided to curate the exhibition on this topic.

The Old Library, St. John's College

Christ’s College

Our last stop before lunch was Christ’s College. Graduate trainee Lucy first took us to the separate Law Library, nestled on the side of the Porter’s Lodge, and then to the main Working Library. Built in the 1970’s, the Working Library is less architecturally stunning than the first two libraries, but they offer services such as ‘Squash O’Clock’ where library staff provide squash and biscuits for students near the library entrance during exam times. One of the features of the collection is the music hire library, one of the largest collections of borrowable music in Cambridge. The Old Library was designed by architect G.F. Bodley in the 1890's, although a small section dates from 1505 when the college was founded. The collection includes six first editions of Paradise Lost by Christ’s College alumnus John Milton, and a first edition of On the Origin of Species and letters from alumnus Charles Darwin to his cousin, William Darwin Fox. Lucy’s exhibition is in the Old Library and explores the link between the college and American alumni and investors. Besides the American flag bunting decorating the room, we were also shown unique library items such as sixteenth-century mummified rats, which were found in the walls during a library renovation. The rats were kept for anatomical study because of their exceptionally long tails, which indicated they were genetically interesting specimens.

On that appetising note, we headed off in search of lunch.

Pembroke College

Our first stop after lunch was Pembroke College’s libraries. The Old Library was designed in 1875 by Alfred Waterhouse (architect of the Natural History Museum in London), and the modern additions such as the Law Library and Yamada Reading Room were added in 2001 by local architect Tristan Rees-Roberts. Graduate Trainee Sarah took us through the library, beginning with the newly added collection from the library of art historian Tom Rosenthal. The beautiful stained glass of the old and new libraries, and the views of the peaceful, leafy ground make for the ideal place to read and study. I felt that this library presented the best mix of old and new of any of the libraries. The Yamada Reading Room is a real gem, with modern stained glass windows on one side featuring poems from former Pembroke College student Ted Hughes.

The Classical Faculty Library

Our second visit of the afternoon was to the only faculty library on our list, the Classics Library. Graduate trainee Emily, who also kindly organised our Cambridge visit, showed us the modern building and its collection. Although there were less of the interesting architectural features and rare books of the college libraries, Emily’s tour gave us the best sense of the day-to-day workings of a Cambridge library. The first floor of the Classics building holds the Museum of Classical Archaeology, which features casts of a multitude of classical sculptures, an exhibition of modern art inspired by the casts, and lots of features for school visits.

Newnham College

Newnham College

Our final stop was Newnham College, originally the only college or faculty library women were allowed to use, and currently still a women-only college. Unfortunately, the graduate trainee at Newnham library, Meriel, was not able to be there on the day, so we were kindly offered a tour by the library assistant on duty. The ‘old’ part of the library is actually relatively new, as it was built in 1897. It was expanded in 2004 and is now a graceful mix of old and modern features. There are study spaces with views out through the large arched windows of the old library on to the beautiful grounds. In addition to an impressive collection of books from all disciplines, the library also has turn-of-the-century illustrated children’s books. I only glanced the spines of some of these on a closed access shelf, but even those were beautifully embossed. Meriel’s exhibition is on the theme of ‘All creatures great and small’ featuring zoological and botanical illustrations. As an illustrator, the Newnham’s collection really appealed to me, and I was especially drawn to a small selection of ukiyo-e prints hanging on the walls of a darkened hallway. Our tour guide finished by showing us the grounds and pointing us in the direction of the old laboratories. Having had a look at this building, we headed back towards the city centre and met some of the Cambridge graduate trainees.

Thank you to Mike and graduate trainee Emily for organising the visit, and to the Cambridge graduate trainees for giving us tours!

Photos by Bobbie Winter-Burke

Christ’s College Library
The Classical Faculty Library
Newnham College Library
Pembroke College Library
St. John’s College Library
Trinity College Library

Trainee Profiles 2013-2014

City University London
Michelle Kaczmarek

Hello, I’m Michelle! 

I’m one of the two trainees at City University London and I thought, as I’m at least three quarters of the way through my year here (how time flies!), it was about time I introduced myself and reflected a little on my experiences as a library graduate trainee…

I came to the traineeship straight out of university. I haven’t always wanted to be a librarian – in fact I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do! When I was eight I told my parents that I’d quite like to stack shelves at Tesco when I grew up – needless to say, no matter how many times I try to explain that a librarian’s role is a little more varied, they still joke that I must be living the dream with all those books to shelve…  

Anyway, after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Combined Arts at Durham University, I flirted for a while with the idea of pursuing a career in art history academia; I embarked on a research Master’s degree and spent a year submerged in books about Picasso and Parisian cabaret. I can’t deny that I loved feeling a little bit like an art history detective, delving deep into the subject and uncovering unexpected connections. My experience of postgraduate research, however, made me realise that it wasn’t the specific subject that I loved, but the research process itself. A career in librarianship seemed to me to be the best way to support and inspire research and learning in all subject areas. I applied to traineeships and was lucky enough to secure a position at City University – cue the rather overwhelming transition from medieval Durham to Central London!

The City University traineeship programme is split over two sites; my first six months were spent working at Cass Business School and in March I moved to the main University Library. It’s been a great opportunity to experience and compare work in a large university library as well as a smaller departmental library and I’ve definitely got a greater understanding of academic library operations by seeing how the two interact. I’ll admit that, as an art history graduate, the prospect of working in a business school library didn’t sound like my cup of tea. Thankfully I was proven wrong; while I didn’t emerge from the six months with a new-found understanding of financial markets, I felt that I at least had more awareness of the area and could offer valuable advice and educational support to those who did choose to pursue the topic. My main day-to-day duties at Cass involved processing books (new books, location changes, withdrawals and repairs), dealing with membership and access requests, and assisting with enquiries on the service desk; alongside this, I helped out with various other jobs and projects as and when they came along (editing online reading lists, ordering books, writing up information for a database app, etc.). My training at Cass also gave me a working knowledge of key financial databases such as Bloomberg – skills which I’m sure will be useful in the future. 

With only five members of full-time library staff, my work at Cass was quite different from the Main University library. While I became involved in most areas of the library’s day-to-day operations at Cass, I am now working in the Copyright and Digitisation department.  This involves fulfilling requests for digital course readings – making sure that the request is within the limits of copyright, finding and scanning the extract, and making it available to students via Reading Lists Online – as well as enquiry work on the service desk and a few other bits and bobs. While I was initially quite nervous about moving, everyone at both sites were so friendly and welcoming that it turned out to be a really positive thing; overall, I think this change to a more specific area of library work has ensured that I’ve continued to learn new things throughout the whole year. 

My experience of being a trainee at City has been overwhelmingly positive. Before I started I wasn’t really sure whether working in library services was something I definitely wanted to do or what the role of a librarian even really involved! As I’m sure has been the case in many institutions, this year has not been an easy one for City as cuts in spending force staffing reviews and job insecurity. I feel like this has been a valuable experience, exposing me to some of the realities of working in the field in harsh economic situations. It acted as a reminder to me that libraries must (and do) continue to prove their value to society and I admire the professionalism of my colleagues in working through it. I continue to enjoy my traineeship, especially working with students directly to support their research and education. My experiences so far this year have opened my eyes to the varied roles that the term “librarian” encompasses in an academic institution, and I urge anyone considering a career in librarianship to visit as many libraries as they can – and not just the obvious ones – librarians are everywhere! 

 As for me, I’m enjoying my last couple of months at City and looking forward to the future. I hope to begin studying for the Library and Information Studies Master’s next year and have applied to courses in London but also in Canada! I’m happy with the experience and skills I’ve picked up this year and I’m excited to see where the next stage of my library career takes me!

Queen Elizabeth Hospital Library Visit February 25th 2014

The visits so far have covered a great range of sectors and specialisms, and this one added the field of healthcare libraries to the list. We ventured east to Woolwich’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where the library is housed within an ‘Education Centre’ on the edge of the site. On arrival we were greeted by a very friendly team of four library staff, and given a tour and overview of the library’s holdings by Stephen, Electronic Resources Librarian.

As we learned, the library is part of a consortium of five libraries within what is now known as the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, with a shared catalogue and an effective intra-library loan system, meaning they can divide their acquisitions and club together to subscribe to electronic resources. Although electronic journals have become popular, when it comes to books the majority of users still prefer to use the printed version, and for the most popular textbooks the library holds several copies. I was initially surprised by the relatively small size of the physical holdings in the library (around 6200 books), and the fact that they were in the process of disposing of a large amount of print journals to allow for more seating space. Stephen explained that not only have electronic journals become increasingly popular, but also that the older printed journals had become obsolete as medical knowledge has advanced – so much so that they couldn't even give them away!

By freeing up space, and some tactical positioning of shelving, the library staff are hoping to create a partially blocked off quiet study area towards the rear, and more space for general seating. The library is frequented by a mixture of users, including nurses, doctors, and medical students on placement, and Stephen explained that as well as those who need to carry out serious research for exams or actual medical cases, a lot of staff like to come to the library as a place to get away from the stress of the main hospital.   

After our tour we were handed over to Sian, the Deputy Library Services Manager and Nora, Library Assistant, for a useful and informative presentation on how they found themselves working in health librarianship, their roles in the library, and on the field in general. Sian’s role consists of a range of responsibilities, including running training courses, marketing and promotion, attending meetings and committees (such as the Clinical Librarians Group) and the day-to-day supervision of the library’s two Library Assistants. Nora’s role as one of the Library Assistants is also varied, including spending time on the front desk dealing with general enquiries, processing a large amount of inter-library loans, stock checking and other on-going projects, and she was just starting the certification process with CILIP, which offers a route into professional librarianship.

Sian outlined the skills she thought were essential in health librarianship, including adaptability, flexibility, IT skills, and communication skills, but reassuringly advised that prior medical expertise was not an essential prerequisite for the job – as with most specialist library roles this is something you can pick up as you go along. Despite continuing uncertainty in terms of funding and restructuring within the NHS, and the function of libraries within it, I got the impression that working in a hospital library is a highly rewarding and varied career choice. It was clear that you are given genuine opportunities to make a positive impact in the treatment and care of hospital patients, as well as more broadly assisting with medical professionals’ research and career development. As a practical demonstration of this Sian gave us the chance to test out some of the electronic resources used by the hospital staff, which she runs regular training sessions on to help users search more effectively and ensure they find the most up-to-date and valid research.

We had a go on several approved databases, including NICE Evidence Search and Trip, attempting to find answers to questions such as: “is cranberry juice an effective treatment for bladder infections?” It was interesting, and actually quite fun, to put ourselves in the position of a healthcare library user, and Sian really highlighted the important role librarians in all fields can play as educators in a world where people are increasingly using a range of online resources for their research. Hospital library staff may not be directly saving lives like the medical professionals they work with, but it’s as close as a librarian can get - and that sounds pretty good to me!

Thank you very much to Sian, Stephen, Nora, and Keith.

Library Safari

I know this is out of London - but thought some people may be interested in the Library Safaris from CILIP....could be fun! best wishes, Alex

Trainee profiles 2013-2014

The Courtauld Institute of Art
Bobbie Winter-Burke

Hello, I’m Bobbie, one of two new graduate trainees at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Before starting the traineeship in September I was a library assistant at Middlesex University’s busy Hendon campus, while also working one day a week cataloguing the curatorial collection of art books at the Whitechapel Gallery. I graduated from Sussex University in 2009 with a degree in English Literature, and like many others, did not give much thought to what I would do next. Since graduating I have worked in a fairly odd array of places, including setting up and running a small art bookshop, working in a gallery, a theatre and a museum, and also for a gynaecology journal, a human rights organisation and an archive. Not all of it seems that relevant now, but all of my previous experience has somehow fed into my decision to become a librarian.

So far I am really enjoying my year as a trainee and can’t believe that I am nearly half way through. After four weeks of thorough training, Cait (the other Courtauld trainee) and I are now overseeing a range of daily tasks. A typical day consists of answering enquiries from students and visitors, accessioning new books (of which we’ve had over 2000 since we started), manning the issue desk, and dealing with short loans and reading list items. I also manage the internal side of our inter-library loans service, which means taking requests from students and staff. This has involved a fair bit of research, locating books and journals from around the world, and definitely tests the limits of my language skills from time to time. It has taken quite a while to settle in and get to grips with new library systems, collections, and students, but I am definitely starting to feel like a ‘real’ librarian.

Before starting my traineeship I attended lots of library visits and courses, meeting many librarians and new professionals along the way. These events were a really useful way for me to make sure that I really wanted to be a librarian and essentially that I could commit myself to the huge expense of a postgraduate degree in the subject. Last April I attended the ARLIS event, Taking the Plunge: Art Librarianship as a Career Option, which I would definitely recommend to anyone even vaguely thinking about following this path. What was most interesting about the programme of talks was hearing the different routes people had taken on their way to becoming art librarians. It was reassuring to be told that many librarians working in arts organisations don’t actually come from an art history or fine art background, which made me realise I might stand a chance of getting the job I had applied for at The Courtauld.

What is so great about the traineeship is that as well as receiving a great deal of support and training internally, we are also encouraged to attend courses and visits throughout the year. It is also a huge comfort being part of a group of trainees in London, as not only do we get to visit other libraries across London and beyond, but we can discuss issues that come up along the way… which most recently has been the drama of library school applications. I’m still not sure if I want to study full- or part-time next year, but now that I have applied to a few places, I feel I can relax and enjoy the traineeship and begin to look ahead at what might follow.