Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 Resolutions - how did I do?

A recap: last year I made the following resolutions -

  • Register for Chartership
  • Get involved in something else professionally
  • Get more sleep

To cut a long story short, I failed on pretty much all of these. Oh well. Hoping next year is more successful!

Monday, 7 July 2014

ARLG London and South East Visit to the Royal Library at Windsor Castle

On Thursday June 26th I took part in an enjoyable afternoon visit to the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, organised by ARLG-LASE. I took the day off work and spent the morning exploring the Castle itself, before meeting the others at the Visitors' Centre in the afternoon, to be escorted through the grounds to the Library.

The Royal Library is the third such collection: the first two made their way to the British Library. It contains around 43,000 items, many of which were donated. The Library was built in the 1830s, in the suite of rooms that used to belong to Charles II's Queen (hence why, when you tour the Castle, you only see the King's chambers).

I was surprised to learn that Prince Albert had a hand in developing the Library: he apparently had an enthusiasm for organisation and cataloguing, insisting that the books should be organised by subject rather than size, introducing bookplates, and trying to get more shelf space (nothing new there then). These days, the Library is used rarely by researchers: there are only a few dozen per year, as to gain access you have to specify what you want to see, and it has to be something that isn't available, or else is very rare, anywhere else.

The Library has some amazing items, including Charles I's copy of the works of Shakespeare, the title page of which he annotated with 'better' titles to some of the Bard's famous plays. To my mind he displayed a distinct lack of imagination: for instance, he wanted to rename Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick. There are also miniature books which were originally sent for Queen Mary's doll house.

The collection contains volumes from across the rare books spectrum. Among the Library's incunabula is a volume of Wynkyn de Worde's Polychronicon of 1495, as well as a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. There is also a copy of Aesop's Fables, printed by William Caxton, from the later 15th century. More recent items include books printed by William Morris's private press, Kelmscott, and an edition of the Holy Gospels, published in Venice, which was a coronation gift to King George V from the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, and which has an absolutely stunning mother of pearl binding.

Plenty of other books are notable for beautiful or unusual bindings. Materials used to bind these books include velvet, lacquer, horn and snakeskin. An 1867 volume by William Perkins, woodcutter to the Queen, is about the legendary Herne's Oak in Windsor, and is bound in wood from that very tree.

Not all the items in the Library are books. There are prints by artists as distinguished as Leonardo da Vinci, random objects presented to the Royals over the years, and even a piece of the Berlin Wall.

I really enjoyed my visit, and the chance to see inside a library that is not normally open to the public.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Digital Curation MOOC - impacts of the wider digital environment

I am currently taking part in a Digital Curation MOOC with UCL and I thought I would share my response to one of the assignments. It asked us to try and identify how the wider digital environment has impacted on our own activities, and our interest in digital curation.

I remember using computers at primary school as a treat, and in secondary school during IT classes (where they still had the old-fashioned printers that printed on that square paper with holes perforated on each side!). As my dad was a teacher, I was able to go to his primary school after school on a weekday to use his classroom computer to process work. However, it wasn’t until my family got a computer when I was about fourteen that I started to use the computer regularly for schoolwork as well as personal things.

This point marked the biggest change in how I worked as I began to routinely word-process my assignments from that point on. I also began to use the Internet, although we only had dial-up for several years, so I kept having to come off so that my parents could use the phone!

As a librarian, technological developments have made my profession easier in many respects, but have also brought their own challenges. As I currently work with a VLE (Blackboard), my job would actually not exist were it not for technological development.

Looking through the technological development timeline, I was reminded of all the developments that got lost along the way, superseded by something better within a very short time. I still have a Minidisc player and an APS camera lying around somewhere, as well as a personal electronic organiser that I used during my A Levels to write my essays before I got a laptop. I remember my college friends were rather envious of it!

Where does my interest in digital curation come from? Well, I am a librarian – therefore I’m interested in all issues surrounding the organisation and management of information – and digital curation at its simplest is really the digital side of this, in contrast to the cataloguing and classification of physical material. As our world becomes ever more digital, digital curation becomes even more important as a way of ensuring the preservation and conservation of the increasing range of electronic materials.

ALISS Visit to the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

I've had this draft sitting in Blogger for ages. Oops. Anyway, here is a quick note of my visit to the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, located in Denmark Hill, south London.

Organised by ALISS, the visit involved a tour of the reference library and archives as well as a look around the museum. It began with a talk about the history of the library and archive, which contains material from the history of the Salvation Army as well as the foundation of William Booth College, also on site, where members are trained. Later we visited the library of the College, an open, airy, modern space designed to assist students. The visit was very interesting.

Friday, 4 April 2014

House of Commons Open Day for Librarians and Information Professionals

In February I was lucky enough to be able to attend the House of Commons Open Day for Librarians and Information Professionals. It was held in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, and was well attended by librarians from all over the UK - I spoke to one who had come down from Manchester, and another who had flown from Belfast!

The day began with registration in the Macmillan Room, where most of the talks of the day were held. We were given an Introduction to the House of Commons Library by Patsy Richards, the Head of Customer Services. She explained that the Library was the Members' Library for the House of Commons - there is another for the House of Lords. The Library supports the work of MPs, helping them to hold the government to account by providing information on all manner of issues. The Library does not habitually help cabinet ministers, who have resources and researchers of their own, but helps to redress the balance by assisting backbench MPs and members of the opposition.

Some of the leaflets promoting what the Library offers

There are 60 specialists and information professionals working in research, providing information such as debate packs, Standard Notes (information about much-requested topics), research papers and personal briefings for individuals. Enquiries are kept confidential, so an MP is not able to ask directly what another has requested. The service can be very busy: on this particular day, which was a Wednesday, there were 89 queries due for a response on Friday.

Maintaining a level of impartiality in responses, particularly those involving controversial issues such as climate change, fox hunting and abortion, is very important, as is speed and clarity - information is often needed at short notice. Research papers and Standard Notes are made available online for ease of access.

The next talk was on Customer Services and it was given by Chris Sear, the Head of Front of House. The Customer Service team is a recent development in the Library, and the Front of House team has been reorganised, dealing directly with members. For instance, floorwalking, greetings and service promotion are all new innovations, while enquiry services, online services, information literacy training and loans are also dealt with. Chris also spoke about feedback: in the past surveys were used to gather feedback from users, but this was changed in 2012, and now feedback can be given via interview, Members' Committees or complaints (which tend to be IT-related).

Leaflets about the House of Commons Information Office

The role of library and information professionals in the House of Commons Library was delivered by Susannah Foulis, Head of Library Resources; Liz Marley, Thesaurus Editor, Indexing and Data Management Section; and Julia Keddie, Senior Library Executive, International Affairs and Defence Research Section. They talked about the variety of roles and responsibilities they had: library resources including both hard copy and online; the LMS and the catalogue; binding and conservation; and disaster planning. The Library holds nearly 260,000 bound volumes and 10,000 reference books, as well as 70 hard copy journals, over 1700 ejournals and 50 online subscription series including LexisNexis and Westlaw. The current main areas of development are ebooks, mobile resources and RDA. In particular, Susannah talked about her work with the varying resources, Liz spoke about her role managing, compiling and enhancing the development of vocabularies for Parliamentary search, while Julia discussed her role in research.

During the break there was a chance to look around the exhibition Aspects of Parliamentary History, introduced by John Prince, Head of the Reference Room. The exhibition, which was made up of many rare documents and interesting texts, contained journals and magazines, records of debates, examination of the role of many MPs (such as Chaucer, Sir Philip Sidney and Disraeli) as writers, documents such as constituency maps and electoral histories, cartoons and Parliamentary Committee records.

The exhibition led on nicely to the next session, which was on Parliamentary Archives and delivered by the Director, Adrian Brown. He talked about the management, preservation, access and research that went into ensuring the archives remain available for anyone who wants to use Parliament's records now or in the future. Funded by both Houses, the records are based in Victoria Tower and the holdings seem fascinating. Dating back to 1497, they include such things as the draft Declaration of Rights, Charles I's death warrant, the Articles of Union with Scotland and the House of Commons journal of 5th November 1605. The archives also hold collections relating to Parliament, such as information about the architecture of the buildings, some local and family history-related records (e.g. records of Papists), and personal papers from such figures as Lloyd George.

The archives also encompass the online world, which brings its own challenges: it needs to be ensured that relevant information is managed, captured and preserved. The Parliamentary web archive offers access to many kinds of electronic records, such as archived websites and Parliamentary papers. There is also an online catalogue, Portcullis, and a public services searchroom: an appointment is needed, but anyone can make enquiries via letter, fax, telephone or email.

Efforts are being made to connect Parliamentary archives with communities. Online exhibitions such as 'The Gunpowder Plot' and engagement via social media are helping to do this, as is the Living Heritage website which holds lots of archive materials. Publications such as Victoria Tower Treasures are also bringing the archives to a wider audience.

The last session before lunch was 'So You Think You Know About Parliament', delivered by Chris Weeds, Visitor Services Information Manager. This took the form of a quiz and was highly entertaining and informative - I clearly didn't know much about Parliament at all as I only got 6 out of 20! I learned some interesting snippets of information, including the year the first House of Commons Librarian was appointed (1818), and the only person who is allowed an alcoholic drink in the House of Commons - the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then only during the budget speech.

After lunch it was time for the tours. We divided into groups to visit the Palace of Westminster; my group toured the Members' Library first.

After a fascinating tour of the Library, we were able to tour the rest of the Houses of Parliament, including Westminster Hall, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This was great - our guide really knew what he was talking about, and it was really interesting.

Owing to a mix up at the start of the tour, we arrived back to Portcullis House too late to see the Online Resources Demonstration. However, we were in time for the Q&A and Feedback session at the end.

Thanks to everyone involved for a really good day, and if you haven't been, I really recommend signing up next year.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

ARLG London and South East Visit to the Linnean Society of London

There have been so many good library visits organised by groups already this year, and I've been able to go on quite a few of them. Last week I went on an ARLG London & South East visit to the Linnean Society of London.

The Society can be found in Burlington House in Piccadilly (near the Royal Academy); it is the world's oldest active biological society, founded in 1788. We were given a fascinating introduction to the history of the society, which takes its name from Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish naturalist whose collections form the backbone of the Society.

Our tour began in the Meeting Room, the equivalent of the room in the previous building where, over a century ago, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace's paper on natural selection was presented. Portraits of the two now hang on the wall, while the current President conducts the meetings from a crocodile-skin chair. I was particularly interested to hear about Wallace: he has been largely overshadowed by Darwin, but he sounds like a fascinating character and was also a great believer in social reform.

We were then divided into two groups. My group headed towards the Library, where we got to see the beautiful Grand Reading Room, complete with galleries. The Library is a working research library which holds both historical and current materials. The Library continues to acquire materials, often those books published by members of the Society, the Natural History Museum, and Kew. There was an interesting display on Wallace, including the rolled-up skin of a python he shot on one of his expeditions, and his sketches and notes. The librarians had kindly got out a number of special items for us to look at, including some of Linnaeus' books and notecards.

Finally, we got to see the Linnean Collections, kept underground in a bomb-proof strongroom. Here we learned more about Carl Linnaeus and his work. It was fascinating to see early editions of his books and it was clear that he was considerably ahead of his time in many ways: for instance, his classification system for living things put humans next to apes - this was in the late eighteenth century. Some of his specimens, including butterflies and amazing beetles, are still on display.

Afterwards we headed back upstairs for tea, biscuits and a chat. Thank you to the staff at the Linnean Society for a fascinating afternoon.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

ALISS Visit to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Back in January I went on an ALISS visit to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in London. When I think of Freemasonry I think of the Stonecutters in The Simpsons - the secrecy surrounding Freemasonry and other such organisations is rather fascinating, and I was looking forward to having a look around.

The afternoon began with a tour of the Freemasons' Hall. Sadly photographs weren't permitted, but tours are run regularly for the general public and I strongly recommend you check it out - it is beautiful, with magnificent architecture (that has often been used in filming).

The library and museum is on the first floor of the building, which dates from 1927, and holds a collection of books, music and manuscripts on Freemasonry in England as well as some material from elsewhere in the world. The library is the repository for the archives of the United Grand Lodge of England and the Supreme Chapter of England and predecessor bodies. The library staff are kept busy with enquiries from Freemasons and also members of the public - family history queries are among the most common. I was surprised, and impressed, to learn that the materials are open to the public - I had expected that some at least would be confidential, or only accessible by Freemasons, but this is not the case.

The day ended with a visit to the archives and a look at some of the amazing documents held there. Sadly I had to leave a little before the end but I left much more enlightened about Freemasonry as a whole and their library and archive holdings.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

ARLG London and South East Visit to the Architectural Association

On Tuesday 15 January I attended the CILIP Academic and Research Libraries Group (London and South East Section) visit to the Architectural Association Library. Located just round the corner from my workplace on Bedford Square, the Library is a hidden gem serving the needs of AA members and students.

Seated in the main Library room with its beautiful ceiling, we were given an introduction to the Library and its history by Librarian Eleanor Gawne. Founded in 1862, a few years after the AA itself was founded by some students dissatisfied with the current state of architectural education, the Library contains more than 45,000 volumes on the history of architecture, architectural theory, contemporary architectural design, building types, interior design, landscape design and supplementary subjects. The Library also holds journals and has a growing collection of e-journals and e-books.

I found the special collections particularly interesting. We were shown several volumes, including a Nuremberg Chronicle from the 15th century, donated by a former AA member. The designs and drawings in the architecture books were beautiful. After a break for tea and biscuits, we were introduced to the archives by Archivist Edward Bottoms. The archives contain material relating to the work of the AA, including architectural drawings and paintings, models and student projects, as well as the culture and history of the Association. Formal cataloguing began in 2010 and an online catalogue is imminent. The collections were fascinating – the highlight being the record of a festival run by AA students in Bedford Square in the Seventies, which involved an elephant, a rock band and fire-eaters in the Library!

I really enjoyed my visit to the Architectural Association. Thanks to all the AA staff and ARLG London and South East for sorting it.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 Resolutions

I probably shouldn't make New Year's Resolutions. They always backfire on me as I end up doing exactly the opposite to what I wanted. For instance, in 2013 I wanted to see fewer plays than in 2012; I actually ended up seeing twice as many. However, I can't seem to stop myself - I like to have something to aim for, even if I end up going in the opposite direction.

My big resolution this year is to register for Chartership. I wanted to wait until the new PKSB was introduced, as well as the VLE and online submission - this has now been done so I've no excuse, really. I have been in my current role for nearly three years and I think this is a good time to charter - I wouldn't want to begin with the additional stress of a new job at the same time.

I would also like to get involved in something else professionally, though I am currently rather vague as to what. For the last couple of years I have been Newsletter Editor for the Career Development Group (London & South East Division). Now that the CDG in London has merged with the London branch, I no longer have this role although I am still involved with the new committee. So I'm going to look around for something else to do.

My last resolution is to get more sleep. I spent much of last year feeling tired (largely for self-inflicted reasons - not going to bed early enough for instance!) and while I don't think it affected my work I definitely didn't feel at my best - and I got through an awful lot of coffee. This resolution isn't just for work - it will hopefully make me feel better in all areas of my life.

So there are my three resolutions for the year - I will check back in 12 months to see how I've done!