Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Contributed by: Heather

For many years, Bib Services has been running occasional “behind-the-scenes” tours under the heading “Journey of the Book” – which we thought was an original title until we Googled it, when we found that there is nothing new under the sun. These tours, which follow a book through the processes of ordering, receipt, cataloguing and processing, were devised as a means of introducing new library staff to the work of our department – because, as a centralised department, we have contact with everyone, everywhere, at some time or another and because most people like to be able to put a face to a name. We wanted to be able to demonstrate not only that we existed, but that we were helpful, friendly and that the work we did in the back-room had a direct impact on the work they did on the front line.

After a while it occurred to us that perhaps library users would also be interested to see behind the scenes, and we started to offer a similar tour to the public. This covers pretty much the same ground, but we have to be careful to explain things in layman’s terms and not to assume that anyone knows, for example, what a catalogue is, what it does or why it might be useful.

Gradually we noticed that some of the people on these public tours were, in fact, colleagues from other library services – and who doesn’t like to have a look and see how another library does things? This did give us problems sometimes, when a group might include curious but uninformed library users alongside fellow cataloguers who were looking for a lot more detail.  And so we devised a third “flavour” of tour – one specifically for professional colleagues.

Although it takes time and work to organise the tours – setting up displays, preparing handouts and “goody-bags”, and devising and collating feedback forms – and although it can be tiring and slightly stressful to be suddenly in public view and acting as a tour guide, we have found the experience to be well worth the effort.

Sometimes “to see ourselves as others see us” can be uncomfortable. Working in the back room tends to be isolating and we make assumptions about our customers’ knowledge and expectations that turn out to be wrong. Things which we regard as being self-evident, often aren’t. And so we learn as much as our visitors and, in the case of professional colleagues, often make contacts that endure to the benefit of all concerned.

 As always, we’d be pleased to hear your comments.  Perhaps you have tried something similar and would like to share your experiences, or perhaps you are contemplating a similar project and would like to ask further questions about ours?

Our next tours, which are Public Journeys of the Book, will be on Wednesday 8th of February.  Unfortunately, these are now almost sold out, but we will be announcing the details of any future tours on W&E.

If you would like to be sent details when the next tours are announced, please leave your contact details here, or e-mail us at bssgeneral@cityoflondon.gov.uk

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