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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.

Visits to Sheffield Public Libraries

January 6th, 2009

Happy 2009! It’s an odd time of year for our course, as there are no lectures until the start of February – it’s undergraduate examination time. There’s plenty to be getting on with in the meantime though, a large assignment, thinking about dissertation topics, and other bits and pieces (preparation for the next semester, conference applications for student places and so on). To fill in blog space, and because I haven’t so far, I thought I’d write up some thoughts on my visit to Sheffield Public Libraries. This took place all the way back in October, but this semester’s been a little packed!

This visit was a little bit different from the Derbyshire Public Libraries visit, as instead of going to the flagship library as we did in Chesterfield, we visited a couple of branch libraries, in this case Parson Cross and Upperthorpe Libraries. These were an interesting mix. Parson Cross is quite far out of Sheffield, and a fairly old library, but due to be replaced by an exciting new library within a community centre soon. Upperthorpe is a relatively new library, based in a community centre including a swimming pool – in fact, I remember the renovation works on the old swimming baths where it’s housed taking place when I lived in Sheffield before! To illustrate this post you’ve got a picture of the children’s library in each, Parson Cross to the right, and Upperthorpe below. I’ve picked the children’s area as they’re always nice and cheerful, but I also think the pictures nicely illustrate the slight differences between the two – with Parson Cross being cheery but slightly dingy (or well-loved, perhaps), and the Upperthorpe slightly brighter and airier.

After the tours around the two libraries (we were bused between the two) we had the opportunity to talk to some senior staff from Sheffield Libraries. As with the Chesterfield Public Libraries visit I came away feeling a little bit of guilt about public libraries not being my sector of choice. However, I think the visits did confirm for me that I really wouldn’t like to work in a branch of a public library. Don’t get me wrong – they both looked like fantastic places, and I’d happily be a library user in either. The community aspect of libraries, while valuable to me, however, is not what I’m interested in libraries for: my passion lies in the information side of library work, and helping people locate and use resources. On the other hand, it made me think about the possibility of working in a public library in a more central, administrative area. Some of the profit making and project based arms of Sheffield Libraries sounded really intriguing, and I’d definitely be happy working in a more information-focused role in a public library. Never say never!

Visits to Sheffield Hallam and Leeds University Libraries

December 4th, 2008

I’ve been on a lot of library visits since I’ve started the MA, and have managed to fall behind a little on my updates, although I’ve still continued my recording habits everywhere – I’m sure there’s an ethnographic study on ‘the blogger in the wild’ waiting to happen here, writing notes and getting left behind on tours while photographing furiously. One interesting trip was to a couple of public libraries in Sheffield, but I’m skipping forward for now to the two academic libraries we visited, Sheffield Hallam University’s Adsetts Centre, and the Brotherton and the Edward Boyle Libraries at Leeds University.

The Brotherton Library is a beautiful old building, and one I had the opportunity to wander round at the RLUK Conference. I haven’t included any images of the Brotherton library, partly as they didn’t turn out very well, and there’s plenty of images available on the Internet which give a much better impression of this beautiful building. However, it’s also partly because I wanted to focus on the other two libraries.

The Adsetts Centre – pictured to the top right – was one of the first of a new line of learning centres, built in 1996. The Edward Boyle – pictured to the left – was built in 1975. The two share a common feature – the library atrium. I’m familiar with this architectural feature from Essex and from the Sheffield Information Commons with its good sides – letting natural light penetrate the darkest library depths – and its bad sides – mainly students dropping things down. Unlike both of these libraries, however, the Adsetts Centre and the Edward Boyle also have open floors, and, as visible in both photographs, it means that it is near impossible to zone different types of study area for groups and individuals.

I’ve been reading Lorcan Dempsey’s Recombinant Library paper for my collection management essay, and it emphasised something I’m quite interested in – the recent emphasis on library social space as a consequence of the increase in electronic resources, the need to balance the social and individual study aspects of the library. Such considerations are obviously affecting both these libraries. The Adsetts, while revolutionary in its day for its technological resources, has recently had to build an extension to allow social study spaces without drowning the library in noise, and the Edward Boyle has had to grab social space where it can, and where the noise is least likely to filter through to quiet areas.

Whenever we build a new library, it is always a gamble, and perhaps the library world just has to face up to the fact that the kinds of space required aren’t predictable. The Adsetts was revolutionary in its time, built to overcome the difficulties of space introduced by technologies, but it has still required reworking. The Edward Boyle is now in line for a complete rebuild. Both these visits made me wonder what the space I’d be working in by the end of my career would look like. It’s possible that I’ll be in a current building like Sheffield’s Information Commons or Leicester’s rebuilt David Wilson Library desperately trying to reconfigure it to fit new styles of working! I know that new buildings are designed to be as reconfigurable as possible, but these visits made me wonder if that’s really a pipe dream.

Visit to Chesterfield Public Library

October 8th, 2008

The first library visit of the MA course today, and we went to Chesterfield Public Library, with the slightly broader remit of hearing about Derbyshire Public Libraries in general. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll have picked up that my career plan isn’t really focused on public libraries. I’m not one to turn down a library visit though: I do believe that the different library sectors can learn a lot from each other, and it’s also generally interesting to go and see the services other sectors offer. I also have to say that if I was less certain of my career goals I would have been swayed completely!

Derbyshire sounds like a fantastic library service to work for: they seem up to speed with the political agenda, open to new ideas about how to make the library service work for the public, and full of initiatives for drawing new users in. My personal favourite aspect of the library was how much natural light came in: I find so many libraries in every sector lack this. Of course, part of their agenda was to sell their service to us – in a year we’ll be potential job applicants – it’ll be interesting to see whether that’s a theme in future visits too!

One of the things I enjoyed thinking about during the visit was how academic and research libraries could learn from the way things are done in public libraries. The picture in the top right shows the front-facing books displays which seem to be becoming pretty common in public libraries. I was wondering if academic libraries could benefit from similar displays. Universities often concentrate on core texts for undergraduates, but as a postgraduate I certainly would have been tempted by a display of intellectual classics. For example, when I was an undergraduate my lecturer claimed that every educated adult should have read ‘The Selfish Gene‘ by Richard Dawkins, and I know I’m always telling people to pick up ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat‘ by Oliver Sacks. Promoting books as tangible and desirable artefacts isn’t really done in academia, but it could lead to wider reading, expand minds and encourage interdisciplinary thought. In fact, reading without a specific learning outcome in mind is something the academic sector could borrow from public libraries in general!