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the website of Katie Fraser
a librarian with a PhD in Learning Sciences

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Back in Cat(aloguing)

So, I'm over two thirds of the way through my traineeship, and back in the cataloguing department. This means waving goodbye to the cosy little office that is interlibrary loans, and back to the wide open spaces that are cataloguing. I'm picking up stuff again reasonably quickly - as I was assured, cataloguing is rather like riding a bicycle, except I can't ride a bicycle, and I can, to some degree, catalogue, as I hope I've been proving this week!

So, having experienced my fill of the library's departments (at least the ones we get to actively experience) I suppose I ought to jot down a few thoughts. The first is something that has come up a couple of times in this blog before, and that's the idea of circulation. The great thing about switching between departments is that you get to see the links between those departments. I've never worked in acquisitions, but as soon as books are ordered and received, they come straight through to be catalogued. They get labelled - okay, so I miss this step! - then I get to shelve them, issue them on my circulation desk shifts in the evenings and weekends, and then they come back to me to shelve again. In addition, having worked in interlibrary loans, I now know what it's like when other libraries want our books, and how we deal with researchers with wider needs than we can serve through our books and journals alone, which is pretty central to my interest in supporting research. I've got a much wider appreciation for the system of libraries than I had before I worked here, even though I was behind the desk in a library before.

In addition, I think I've picked up some pretty cool skills here. Not a lot of graduate trainees get to catalogue, and while I'm not sure that's terribly heartbreaking (and although cataloguing's not my dream job) it's illuminating to understand cataloguing at a certain level, and I'm sure it'll stand me in good stead in library school and future job interviews. Getting enquiry desk experience has given me oodles to think about in terms of how to interact with library users, and again is something really important to have on my CV. I keep on saying that this post has been a great preparation for library school. I've still got 4 months before I'll find out how true that is!

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Sunday, 30 March 2008

British Library Roadshow

I've been on holiday this week, but I went on a bit of a busman's holiday, and popped in for a quick seminar on developments in the British Library - part of the British Library Roadshow. There was a bit of a mix-up and so I ended up in the seminar for commercial interest rather than the HE seminar, but as I was really interested in attending for my wider career development rather than my current work, it didn't really matter which I attended.

First, and most frivolously of all, I highly recommend the British Library chocolate we got free. Yum. There was also some interesting content.

One thing that I didn't expect to be hearing was about the British Library's dissatisfaction with copyright laws. In some senses this was rather hypocritical of me. In our own library we constantly have to persuade students that our attempts to stop them from breaking copyright law aren't part of our evil library plans, just a genuine professional need to demonstrate that we are enforcing the law. Somehow (subconsciously) I must have felt like the British Library had evil library plans of its very own, as hearing a spokesperson for the BL say it was actively campaigning to change copyright law to be more appropriate to everyday needs was almost shocking! Balancing legal requirements with my idealism is something I'm going to have to get more used to doing as a librarian, so it's good to have a role model for doing exactly that! I also heard about the projects they're working on, the Turning the Pages project and British Library Direct Plus.

Turning the Pages is basically e-book software designed to present manuscripts and ancient texts, but what is fascinating is the way that focusing on a specific style of text changes design requirements from the textbook e-books we see in academic libraries. The ability to view the actual layout of books and the actual quality of pages and text with this software is enthralling, and you can really understand why it's useful with unique and beautiful illustrated works.

British Library Direct Plus is (or at least, will be) a database searching tool that lets you plug in and search across different databases to which your library subscribes. It then links to the British Library's holdings, and your own library catalogue, and explicitly states the cost of article supply through the British Library. My own experiences of cross-database search engines as an academic library user have not been overwhelming. The University of Nottingham eLibrary Gateway I used as a student seemed to hide the functionality of individual databases, encourage the user to confuse databases and e-journals, and limit interdisciplinary users by a rigid use of subjects to categorise databases. At first glance, the British Library system seems like a bit of a step forward: the wide catalogue of the British Library, saved searches and alerts and promising local integration means it's something I'd be interested in working with as a librarian, despite my continued reservations about the limitations of grouping searches and results from a range of database styles.

Lastly, and second-most-frivolously, the new British Library building at Boston Spa is going to be staffed (well, enabled) by robots! This is obviously very exciting, and almost certainly quite practical too.

I'd highly recommend the roadshows: I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for them in future years. It's quite a relaxed session, it's interesting to see what the British Library are up to, and I imagine if you attend as a full librarian at the correct session it could be quite a useful networking event too!

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Friday, 29 February 2008

General update - interlibrary loans and thesis

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.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Interlibrary loans start up

Well, I'm in my first week at interlibrary loans. I moved down on Thursday, so I've only had 3 days as an official member of the department, but I'm beginning to learn the pieces of the puzzle. At a contrast to cataloguing, where there's one big process you have to slowly learn, interlibrary loans consists of lots of little bits and pieces that are relatively easy to pick up, but which are harder to reconcile. I've separately learnt how to order books from the British Library, how to return books to the British Library, and how to process incoming books from the British Library, and it's only when I have a few seconds to take a step back and think (as I'm doing right now) that I've realised that's actually the whole lifecycle of the book. At least, the whole lifecycle minus the bit where the student / staff member actually uses it! There's a slightly shorter process for journal articles, as these tend to arrive electronically, but I haven't followed through the whole thing yet!

There's quite a big contrast between downstairs and upstairs so far. As ILL is near the circulation desk it's far more caught up in the 'hustle and bustle' of the library, and I find I'm moving around a lot more, and trying to multi-task a lot of the time. This is quite rewarding as I feel more involved in the day-to-day life of the library, but it can be a problem when trying to pick up new tasks! Luckily my previous experience manning the counter on my own at Nottingham forced me to develop super duper prioritisation skills.

In terms of getting settled into a routine, this week's a bit of a challenge. Mondays (yesterday) I work a late night during termtime, which means I'm on the counter 5 to 10pm, and only arrive in the library at 3. Tuesday (today) I'm at the enquiry desk from 1 to 5pm. Wednesday (tomorrow) I have my interview at Sheffield - more about this will follow, doubtless. Thursday I'm giving a library tour in the morning, and have one of our series of trainee talks in the afternoon. Finally, Friday I'm back down in ILL for a whole day, but the two other members of the ILL team are working late nights, so I'm on my own until 3pm! There's plenty of support around for me, but I'll be the only member of staff officially assigned to ILL, so the idea is for me to be able to do all the basics by then to keep the place running. We'll see how the multi-tasking goes then!

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Staff circulation

I'm over a third of the way through my graduate trainee placement, since the start of this month, and this not only means I'm through a significant portion of my pre-library school training (one step closer to a job as a real librarian!) but also that I've reached the first departmental switch of my post. In the graduate trainee posts at Essex (which, for some reason, are known locally as student assistant posts) three staff are usually recruited, and they rotate around the different departments of the library, spending two thirds of the year in the Cataloguing department, and one third of the year in the Interlibrary loan department.

I've been up in Cataloguing until now, but I'm moving down to Interlibrary loans today - meaning I've got the 'sandwich' year, which I'm pretty happy with. This is not only a change in terms of my duties, but a change in location. Cataloguers are based 'upstairs' in the staff-only office, on the first floor. Interlibrary loaners (Loners? Surely that can't be right?!) are based on the ground floor, in a little office hidden in the short loan section, behind the main circulation desk.

The teams on the first and ground floors overlap in duties to some extent, but often operate independently. All the subject librarians are upstairs in Cataloguing, along with the accessions and labelling departments, and the deputy and head librarians. The team downstairs centres on the desk, and includes user services librarians and a large team of library assistants, some of whom are term-time only. The upshot of all this is that I'll be in a completely different section of the library from last term. I still keep all my shelving, enquiry desk and late night duties, but I'll be more likely to be asked to work on the desk if it's busy.

I'm definitely looking forward to doing Interlibrary loans. It's a service I used a huge amount during my PhD - and, as I do my corrections, I may need to use again. This means I know a lot about it from the point of view of the user, but very little of how it works in the library, with the exception of issuing procedure. We've already had our library talk from the head of Interlibrary loans, so I've got more of an idea of how things work, but it's a new section of the system to learn, and new procedures to follow. Another good way of deciding exactly what I'd like to do in my future career!

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