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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 Essex Libraries

April 14th, 2008

Easter break has meant a more relaxed time at the library, and to celebrate this (or at least, as a consequence of this) we went on some trips to other libraries as the region as part of our training scheme. This involved Colchester Institute Library – the local vocational college – Essex Public Library Headquarters and Chelmsford Public Library. This was a pretty mixed bag of places to go, but here’s my initial thoughts.

Colchester Institute, while it’s broadly in the same game of academic librarianship, is quite a different cup of tea to a university library. The staff were keen to talk about making their library as welcome as possible for their students, and one of the ways they did this was to make their library as appealing and welcoming as possible – along the lines, in fact, of a public library. It feels weird to admit that the place you work at isn’t that welcoming, but I guess it makes sense for a university to have a more weighty academy-of-learning feeling to it than a place that offers vocational courses. Interestingly, Colchester Institute does have a staff with a large proportion of subject librarians (although on a much smaller scale than here), and it certainly made me think more about the range of academic library posts that were on offer to see it.

Essex Public Library Headquarters made me think in a different way about public libraries. On one hand it was fairly inspirational to see the range of activities supported across the county. The number of books that were passing through were simply phenomenal, and there were lots of interesting projects underway, such as one to provide picture books to nursery schools across the county, various tie-ins with the Essex Book Festival and Year of Reading, and it was staggering to see the sheer number of books that pass through its system. On the other hand, it felt a little under-funded and under-staffed: leavers did not seem to have been replaced, and it really highlighted the budget crunches that this sector has faced.

Chelmsford Public Library on the other hand seemed to be thriving on the changing world of librarianship. It housed a number of services which tied into the library ethos, such as a Learn Direct centre promoting skills acquisition and the county’s Answers Direct service, a phone service which answered complex library queries from across Essex. The Answers Direct offices also included a homework help instant messaging service, which was particularly interesting for me, given my PhD topic of homework technologies.

All in all, then, these were valuable experiences, and a great way to get a picture of the range of library careers that are available to me. However, I’m yet to be convinced away from a career in university libraries: I think they’re where I’m most useful and where I feel most at home.

Lift out of order

March 11th, 2008

It’s funny how one little thing can throw a library into disorder. Throughout this month we’ve been having occasional problems with the lift. The Essex University library comes complete with an exciting paternoster: for those that haven’t encountered one, this is a scary-sounding continuously moving lift where cars travel round in a circle. Student can use this to get between floors by leaping on and leaping off at the appropriate floor. However, it’s not really sensible to get a book trolley onto a continuously moving lift car, so there’s also a nice sensible normal lift for staff with their trolleys, wheelchair users, and so on.

When there’s no proper lift, students can get around the library fine, thank to the paternoster (and, of course, the stairs: we’ve only got five floors). However, the lift is vital for getting books back to the appropriate floor for shelving, and it’s down. We therefore currently have a big pile of books downstairs, where they’re returned, and no way of getting them upstairs to shelve. This makes enquiries a bit of a farce:

Hopeful student “I can’t find any copies of Sociolinguistics – the catalogue says there’s one in.”
Helpful staff member “Have you tried looking in the enormous pile of books?”

Stressed student “I definitely returned this item, but it’s not been cleared off my record!”
Stressed staff member “Have you tried looking in the enormous pile of books?”


Today we heard that the lift may well be out of order for the rest of the week, but it transpires that Estates are coming to our rescue. They are going to stop the paternoster to get trolleys on and off: I’m not sure exactly how it’ll work, but I’m sure it’ll be fun to watch.

In the meantime, this has really brought to home how important getting books back onto the shelves actually is in libraries. It’s something that’s pretty specific to this line of work – you don’t need to get books back onto shelves a book shop, they just have to worry about the new ones. The main desk downstairs is called the Circulation Desk, and circulation is the very stuff of the day to day running of the library. Even though most of the time circulation only feels like time filler in between ‘important’ tasks, it’s pretty stunning to see what happens when it breaks down.

You also really notice how many books there are when even a small proportion of them are sitting in a pile in one place!

General update – interlibrary loans and thesis

February 29th, 2008

It’s the last day of February (thanks to extra buffer day of February 29th) and as I have an unofficial self-imposed target to meet of two posts a month, you’re getting two posts in one day. I’ve settled into interlibrary loans, and I’ve become pretty used to the work. There’s lots of different bits and pieces to do. I started out on the basics – opening post from other libraries, acquiring books from the British Library, entering request forms, and many other similar tasks. Now I’ve been here for a while I’m also learning to do other tasks, and today I just completed my first solo Status Report from the British Library – responding to messages they’ve sent about our orders and acting on them by sending emails to patrons, making notes on accounts, and so on.

It feels like I’ve only been here a short period of time, and now I’m nearly heading back up to cataloguing again soon – probably in the Easter holidays to allow my co-trainee to settle in before it gets too busy. I’ve enjoyed my time in ILL so far – there’s always a variety of things to do., and things happening. This week’s excitement was a new stamp for interlibrary loan requests (pictured to the right, with the old stamp) – the requests are all numbered consecutively, and the stamp rolls on each time. The old one was very broken, with an ink pad that did very little in the way of transferring ink onto paper. I have decided that this shiny new stamp will be my legacy to the library, if nothing else.

Today is a Friday, and on Fridays I’m alone in the ILL department. I usually make what I call ‘my Friday mistake’ – it’s always a different mistake, but I manage one every week. This week either it’s still coming, or it’s already happened, and I haven’t noticed, or (whisper it) I haven’t made a mistake at all. I’ll just have to wait and see.

The thesis is, as always, ongoing. The last couple of nights I’ve sat down and written a page and a half summary of the literature review and method chapter, which seems to be really helping me think about the main points I need to get across, the order in which I have to include them, and the ‘story’ of the chapter. I’ve still got no idea whether it’ll take three or five months to finish, though.