Disaster Response and Salvage Training

Disaster Response and Salvage Training

Recently I attended a British Library training day on ‘Disaster Response and Salvage Training’ (for libraries, that is). It was a fascinating day which kicked off with some rather compelling case studies of damage experienced across the UK. This not only emphasised the importance of the subject matter, but was an interesting exercise in learning not only from other people’s mistakes but from their preparedness.

The course was led by Emma Dadson from Harwell Document Restoration Services, whose breadth of knowledge on the topic was extremely impressive. Emma has been in the industry for 12 years and has been involved in some very high profile salvage operations, including those at the National Library of Wales and after the recent fire at the Glasgow School of Art. I cannot speak highly enough of Emma’s professionalism, public speaking skills and industry knowledge – you could not ask for a better trainer on this subject.

As well as working through a number of case studies and general information about salvage and disaster response for both paper and non-paper items, the day also included an adult version of what children’s librarians refer to as wet play. We were divided into groups and given a box of books and other resources that had been water damaged (i.e. Emma had tipped water into the boxes). We then went through the items and set them out for salvage as best we could, following what we had learnt throughout the day. It was a great way to put our learning into practice and also see how working in teams could affect a salvage operation. Part of the training room floor was covered in plastic for this section of the course!BL blog photo

Also on that note, the British Library has lovely training facilities and equally lovely training packages featuring none other than Sherlock Holmes. The packages themselves are extensive and also contained Template Emergency Plan provided by Harwell. Although a number of the attendees were from large libraries, some were from consultancies or smaller organisations, for whom such a template could be incredibly valuable.

As well as learning a lot, the day was also a great opportunity to meet other librarians and conservators and – as always – to network. I even met one librarian I had already ‘spoken’ to on Twitter. The day was highly interesting and informative and I would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about what is actually a fascinating – and crucial – topic.

Contributed by: Anne-Marie Nankivell


Rare – and very well done!

Rare – and very well done!

Contributed by: Chris

With time always at a premium, training courses can sometimes feel like a luxury and self-indulgence.  I have recently been on two short courses on rare books.  One was a day course arranged by the Historic Libraries Forum and held at Cambridge University Library; the other just a half day organised by the Association of Pall Mall Libraries at Middle Temple Library.  The trainers at each – Will Hale and Renae Satterley  – were excellent: richly informative but with a light touch. And in each case, the cost of the course was inconsequential. Remarkable that when training in most areas is so expensive, in the area of rare books the attitude is so generous.

The Cambridge course gave a truly expert overview of the topic. The first session covered the history of book-making: from the making of the paper (until the 1820s, linen rags were used to create a pulp, which was then spread like porridge over the surface of a kind of sieve) through the process of type and different forms of illustration (type ornaments, woodcuts, engravings), explaining with great clarity how the printing process related to the final structure and order of the book, and finally to the binding process.

The second session built on this by explaining about bibliographic format.  This involved much folding of paper and closely resembled a childhood origami session – good fun, and much laughter. It then moved on to an effective explanation of Format signatures – the method of expressing the structure of a particular book.  For example, a simple one might be A – P4; a more complex one π’a2 A-04, P4 (-P4).

The success of the course was in revealing how what often today seems esoteric and slightly mysterious to many of us is actually based on simple and practical considerations in the manufacture of the books.  This was reinforced at the end when we visited a workshop in the basement, where we could examine many of the traditional tools of print-making.

The half-day session at Middle Temple Library focussed on provenance specifically ie. the history of a specific copy of a book and the interpretation of the book-plates, signatures, mottoes and jottings of all kinds that appear on books.

Renae gave an amusing summary of the different kinds of evidence (from simply-interpreted through to very difficult and impossible); an informative explanation of the kinds of resources available to help; and useful tips on approaches to cataloguing.

The session ended with informal discussion of actual examples from the Middle Temple and Athenaeum Club Libraries.

Far from being a waste of time (and certainly far from being a waste of money), these training seminars have provided instruction and inspiration.  Should I have gone?  Definitely.

Practicum placement at The City of London Libraries

As a requirement of my Bachelor of Arts-Librarianship in Perth, I chose to spend my three weeks with the City of London Libraries Information Services Section (ISS).

What a great choice this was! Suddenly all the theory from previous units of the degree have come together with much more speed and clarity than I thought they would. From cataloguing, classification and authority reports to purchasing, retrieval and information services. It’s all about how your library items get to the shelf and how you are able to access your library resources.

My special interest in all things historical and especially in the historical information that may be gathered through the books that have survived from the past, brought me to select the City of London Libraries for my practicum placement. The Guildhall Library has an extensive number of books, items and manuscripts that chronicle the history of London and other exciting things such as Shakespeare’s First Folio printed in 1623. During my placement I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Guildhall Library Incunabula project, an amazing thrill to examine these books from the 1500’s. This project adds more information to the provenance evidence of the books, building up a record of the books historical journey of ownership to the documented information of the contents and historical information about the book itself. Guildhall Library’s trade directories were also a great cataloguing experience.

During this practicum placement I have been able to visit each of the City of London Libraries. I have worked at the enquiry and loans desks of Shoe Lane Library,Barbican Children’s Library, Barbican library,and the wonderful Barbican Music Library.I also have spent time in the Guildhall Library and the City Business Library and a lovely afternoon at the Artizan Street library and Community Centre,which provides a community centre and services to the local residents and city workers. These visits to the branch libraries have provided a great insight and a wealth of practical knowledge about working in a library as well as showing the links between the City of London Libraries Information Services Section and the branch libraries.

I want to thank all those in the City of London Libraries ISS who have helped and hosted me for this practicum placement and especially all the staff at the branch libraries who have let me hover and shadow them and who have pass on valuable information.

– Sam Bowen

ISS away day visit to the Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham

ISS had an away day earlier this month, leaving behind the City and venturing northwards to the Library of Birmingham. This was a novel experience as there has never been an outing which has involved the entire section before! The purpose of the visit was to not only check out the new £200 million library but also to discuss the results of the ISS survey 2013 and to generally have a think about the work we do as a section.

The Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of the library seemed to be a favourite feature, as was the intriguingly named Secret Garden (an outdoor green space on level 7 which offers fantastic views of the surrounding area and will be a very popular spot in the warm summer months but was unsurprisingly pretty empty of people on a freezing January afternoon!)

Secret Garden

After lunch we reconvened in our meeting room and undertook SWOT analysis sessions. These sessions enabled everyone to think about the good bits and the ‘could do better’ bits of what we do and how we do it. They also helped us to consider what the future could hold for us (both positive and negative) and the services we provide. The thoughts, ideas and suggestions that were generated by these discussions were duly noted and will go towards improving and developing the work we do both as individuals and as a section.

So our first ever away day was a success; an opportunity to get out of our office en masse, take in the splendour of Europe’s largest public library (it really is huge!), reflect on all the good work we’ve been doing and plan ahead for all the work still to do!

Contributed by : Lynn

(Photographs courtesy of Carol Boswarthack)

“Sharing today, securing tomorrow” : the 2013 NAG Conference (Part 2)

Part 2 of the report on the 2013 National Acquisitions Group Conference in York (the papers are available here to members – http://www.nag.org.uk/events/2013/07/nag-conference-2013/)

Adopting RDA by Stuart Hunt was an updated version of a paper I’d heard previously at other events, adapted for non-specialist cataloguers.  The key points were that going live with RDA would be a sequence of events for most libraries, with many of the timings being dictated by the timetables of external record sources and suppliers.  Other significant issues would be how to manage unavoidable hybridity and data in multiple environments (“classic catalogues”, discovery layers).

RFID Update: Mick Fortune surveyed “the evolving RFID landscape”, concentrating on new applications, new concerns and new standards.  Using RFID only for access control, membership smartcards and security (as most libraries in the UK currently are) was, he said, “Like buying a smartphone and using it to make calls”.  Development has been inhibited by being driven by RFID suppliers, not libraries, a lack of involvement from LMS suppliers and a lack of agreed standards for data or frequencies.

New applications in development worldwide include stock management, supply chain monitoring and mobile apps that interact with stock.  Cooperative working has, though, promoted the adoption of common standards.  For instance, a UK initiative – LCF (Library Communication Framework) (version 1 published in September) – aims to standardise exchange between LMS, RFID and third party apps.

Privacy continues to be a concern (Libraries will be obliged to complete PIAs in 2014) as does the discovery that RFID tags are potentially vulnerable to alteration by smartphones.

BIC, UKSLC and Accreditation by Simon Edwards explained the history, structure and role of BIC (for those who weren’t aware of it): jointly set up by CILIP, the BL, the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Associations, it works to establish shared standards among all those incolved in the supply chain. He also outlined the Accreditation process (which we at the City have achieved) and introduced UKSLC (UK Standard Library Categories).  Formerly known as eLibraries, these are versions of the BIC subject categories adapted to organise the stock in libraries and provide subject access, though Edwards stressed that “they are not a substitute for Dewey“.  Most cataloguers would be surprised by the assertion that “patrons have changed because of the internet” in that they now want to “search by subject” (is there anything new about this?) and it wasn’t clear to me what he envisaged the relationship between UKSLC and classification should be.

David Stoker, in a heavily visual presentation, described the lengthy and challenging process of renovating the Liverpool Central Library and the PFI initiative that financed it.  The new library is an undeniably impressive achievement and has apparently proved hugely popular with its users.  This promotional video gives as idea of what it is like …

Lastly Ben Showers introduced the National Monographs Strategy initiative from JISC, designed to answer the question “should libraries be collecting the same books as each other?” Presumably the implied answer is “no” and the question is being asked in the context of potentially replacing physical collections by space-saving e-resources rather than simply a revival of co-operative purchasing schemes such as the old MSC.

The co-design pilot project is running for six months and is due to end in December 2013.  Showers explained that is based on the principles of “thinking in the open“, being “evidence based” and “community-led” and “iteration not repetition”.  Involvement from all interested parties (potentially all libraries with any kind of research function) is actively encouraged via their blog, which is intended to be the main focus for the project and is here … http://bit.ly/monographsuk .  So do have a look and feel free to contribute!

The titles of these conferences do tend to be designed to attract attention by snagging on contemporary concerns, rather than providing a coherent theme.  “Sharing today, securing tomorrow” would, perhaps, suggest one thing to a public librarian (in the context of “shared services”) and it was interesting to be reminded of the different meanings that it might have in an academic or research context.

If there was a thread through these apparently disparate papers it might have been the question of how to foster sharing and co-operation in the absence of the kind of centralised, top-down governmental intervention represented by the Public Library Standards (and, I suppose, the national library websites for Scotland and Wales).  Ben Showers’ community-led and crowdsourced approach certainly offers a theoretical alternative, and it will be interesting to follow its progress.

“Sharing today, securing tomorrow” : the 2013 NAG Conference (Part 1)

A report on the 2013 Conference of the NAG (National Acquisitions Group) with the theme “Sharing Today, Securing Tomorrow” which took place on the 4-5th September at the Royal York Hotel in York, contributed by Nick (as it’s fairly lengthy, I’ve split it in two …)

The view from the hotel

The view from the hotel

This was my first NAG Conference.  I found it a well-organised, friendly and enjoyable event, attended by a broad cross-section of the profession from all sectors (though the presentations tended to have an academic bias), as well as representatives from other interested parties in the supply chain.  Some there were clearly conference veterans, others, like me, were first-timers.

Looking back at reports on previous NAG Conferences, it did strike me that the presentations this year were less narrowly focused on “Acquisitions” in the conventional sense (EDI, Buying Consortia) than they had been in the past and, looking through the list of delegates, there were fewer whose job titles implied that they were “Acquisitions Librarians” in the old sense.  Though none of the presentations were irrelevant, many could have been delivered in a variety of forums : taken together, they offered a useful survey of issues of contemporary professional concern.

Here is a brief summary of the presentations I attended (they have been made available to NAG members on their website  http://www.nag.org.uk/events/2013/07/nag-conference-2013/  (some of these – the more text-based ones – are more useful than others unsupported by commentary). 

Is the digital library our future? Carol Hollier and Susanne Cullen from the Humanities Library of Nottingham University outlined their implementation of the University Library’s “accelerated e-strategy”

“The University will accelerate the adoption of digital information resources, including e-books and e-journals, in order to make efficient use of library space, and promote their use by providing simple tools for discovery and access”

and how successful it had been in their specialist library.

Some of the statistics quoted were that printed books added to the University collection had declined from 40,000 in 2005/6 to roughly 27,500 in 2011/2, while the number of e-books (in stock) had risen from just under 50,000 in 2008/9 to 325,000 in 2011/12.  Digital databases and journals had also increased in number over that period (though the rises were less dramatic).

Most e-resources had proved popular with users (journals and databases, of course, and especially digitisations of key readings), but there had been drawbacks (specifically, it was implied, in the field of Arts and Humanities).  These included key texts not being available electronically, texts in non-Roman scripts failing to display properly and resistance from users, particularly to making core texts (full-length monographs) available in electronic form only.

In a survey, when asked “Would you be likely to use core texts in an e-book format if they were available?” 76% of respondents said that they would be “highly” or “fairly”likely to do so.

On the other hand when asked “The library provides access to e-books.  When would you use an e-book?” 12% answered “Always, I prefer e-books to print books“, 43% “Only if a print book wasn’t available”  and 24% “Rarely, I prefer to reserve print books rather than using e-books”.

The answer to the question in the title of the presentation seemed to be “Yes”, but a qualified one, and with the implication that an identical e-strategy is not necessarily appropriate to all subject specialisms. (The presentation included some useful links to research which confirms the ambivalence of some academic users to e-resources, for example


Living with standards by Gill John of Newport Libraries presented a generally positive view of the Public Library Standards still in force in Wales, though in reduced number.  She felt they helped to achieve the aims of “safeguarding the improvements achieved since 2002 whenever possible”, “protecting library services from disproportionate resource reductions” and “providing a suitable tool to support the management of services through what could be very difficult times”.

(As Public Librarians will be aware, the PLS are no longer in force in England.)

Legal dimensions to content acquisition and management by Laurence Bebbington of the University of Aberdeen was a “personal, high-level overview of various things, with a legal dimension … in terms of aspects of content acquisition and management”.  Some of the themes included uncertainties over the long-term future of digital resources (how far should we trust “trusted digital repositories“? is it possible to have “perpetual access”?) and balancing the threats from censorship with the dangers of promoting terrorism, defamation or fraud (particularly in the context of open access publishing).

(This was one presentation which I would recommend reading, if you have access to it – the “slides” are very detailed and text-based.)

Bookmark your library by Russ Hunt was an update on the progress of the OCLC website (BYL) that is intended to provide a promotional national website for English libraries (they already exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and features the FabLibraries “national catalogue” based on a subset of OCLC’s WorldCat.  149 libraries (mainly public) currently participate.

Since the launch in March (when publicity included being referenced in “The Sun” and interviews on national and local radio) it has been visited 8,455 times and has 219 followers on Twitter, which is possibly fewer than they would have hoped for.  Problems identified include trying to connect to a multiplicity of “OPACs” and “politics”.  Future aspirations for the site include adding additional partners, particularly more academic libraries.

The site itself is here – http://www.bookmarkyourlibrary.org.uk/

Part 2 to follow shortly …

Photoblog: Chap Books & Tracts

Chap Books & Tracts

In our last photoblog, we showed you a unique cookbook which temporarily resided in the CATALOGUING CUPBOARD (think of a vault, a scary vault, not from IKEA). This time we bring you Chap books and tracts.

A tiny little treasure trove of interesting things, this book includes poems, tracts, stories, a dream dictionary and an oraculum that may answer questions like, ‘where did I put my keys?’, ‘what did I come into this room for?’ and ‘do I need so many books?’ (oraculum says yes, always yes).

Probably intended as a bit of disposable pop culture, this item has luckily lived past its sell by date and is now a part of the Guildhall Library collection. Do take a look inside by visiting our Pinterest page, or an even closer look by visiting Guildhall Library.

Contributed by: HD

Dandelions, Digital Literacy and Development

Dandelions, Digital Literacy and Development

Contributed by: HD

I recently attended an event held by Dawson’s, which featured three talks I really enjoyed, the first by Ben Showers (@benshowers), programme manager with JISC. In A Presentation on the First Stage Findings of the Library Management System Programme, he discussed the three ages of library systems (the stand alone age, the age of integration, and the age of contingency) and the evolution of the LMS from back office tool to something which is presently more integrated, a product of collaborative effort, and moving towards an age of the continually evolving LMS, a product that will be being born of what Ben Showers described as a ‘dance between user and system’.

Ben Showers spoke of how user expectations are being shaped by sites like Facebook and Twitter, and how in choosing a LMS we will need to be aware of these expectations, to be open to enhancing our LMS through being a part of knowledge communities, making use of things like crowd sourcing, and to accept that the LMS is never complete and is on a path of continual change. I felt rather excited by the prospect of the third age with its focus on community based knowledge and crowd-sourced data, as open and collaborative endeavours can lead to some truly amazing things (Linux immediately springs to mind).

We might not be able to get the perfect product (has there ever been such a thing?), but between us we may be able to use the tools and skills at our collective disposal to collaboratively build something that suits our needs (the open-source ILS Koha might have been mentioned…). A lot of this will probably depend on open data and Ben Showers suggested that we ought to let go of data the way dandelions let go of their seeds (as inspired by Cory Doctorow). Data should be set free, allowed to settle or die wherever it lands and similarly allowed to flourish and prosper should it land on fertile ground. Let data be promiscuous, was the well-received advice.

The next talk was by University of Greenwich’s Mark Kerrigan (@MarkKerrigan), entitled How Digitally Literate are Students? He spoke about how students might have digital skills, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are digitally literate. He also asked whether institutions make assumptions about levels of digital literacy and make decisions based on these assumptions, suggesting that, in order to develop the student, the academic institution must look at what resources it has, the needs of the student, and how the resources meet those needs.

Mark Kerrigan illustrated the differences between student needs by describing four types of students. The digitally immersed student is at one with her digital environment. The adaptive student is capable and skilled, if not fully engaged. The digitally fixed student is good at what she knows, but won’t engage further than necessary. The detached student is, well, detached, not seeing the potential benefits of digital skills. Mark Kerrigan suggested that students should be guided towards being adaptive and that there is a need to align the teaching of digital literacy to the student’s journey which starts on entering an institution and ends with leaving prepared for working in a professional environment.

It occurs to me that the library can play a vital role in facilitating a service user becoming more adaptive (the library having a role in anything is great news, even if it’s The Da Vinci Code), but before we can start helping service users with digital literacy, are we adaptive enough to keep up with the changing nature and demands of our work? Do the institutions for whom we work do enough to facilitate our development to keep in sync with ongoing changes? People working in libraries/information environments have different levels of digital literacy and this is something we need to be aware of in terms of the services we provide and our own professional development (but mostly in terms of being able to talk to people in IT without wanting to catapult ourselves out of a window).

Finally, the keynote speaker at the event was Annie Mauger (@anniemauger), CEO of CILIP. Her talk was on Inspiring Information Professionals: a bright future in a digital world.  She spoke of the difficulty of working in austere times with cut budgets and loss of staff, with fewer people doing more work. She emphasised that it’s important to recognise our own value, though we may feel devalued at times, and also to continue developing professionally. She spoke of how information professionals need to be responsive to a changing environment. If technology is changing our role, then we must look at how to adapt to those changes.

Annie Mauger mentioned a quotation I really liked by Wayne Wiegand, who said, “Rather than the user in the life of the library, think about the library in the life of the user”. She asked whether the physical library really is about what is held there, or whether it’s about the purpose for which the patron wants to use it. Annie Mauger also stressed that universities especially need libraries to be physically at the heart of their institution, so students can see them and make use of them. After all, if our libraries are going to be hidden away like secrets, it doesn’t do much for the visibility of the people working in them or the services on offer.

During this talk I really felt that the library doesn’t have to be a dying institution at all (as someone once kindly described it to me, oblivious to the fact that libraries have been dying for quite a while now). Library spaces aren’t just about collections in the same way those who work in libraries don’t just deal with books. Libraries offer space for peace, privacy and quiet. The people working in libraries connect the user to the useful. If libraries are truly built to be cultural and educational hubs, places where you can access a variety of resources, activities and space, they can find new life in an age where space, quiet and privacy are becoming ever elusive.

I came away from this talk feeling that the library’s image needs to be recast into something visibly in sync with a changing information environment. This means not shoving libraries away into invisible nooks, but showcasing them and their staff as places and people who can offer traditional services, as well as help bridge the digital divide. Let’s market ourselves better and make it easier for people to find us, to join up, to ask for our help and just generally offer them the ease of connecting with us.

There’s a lot happening on the digital landscape which is having an impact on traditional librarianship. Maybe the library profession seems dusty and oaken in comparison to the dynamism of new technology, but here’s the thing, information is for use. Every user has his or her information need. Every bit or byte of information has its user. We can mediate that space between user and information, saving the time of the user. The digital environment is a growing organism in which we can still play a role developing technologies and strategies, educating users to become more digitally literate, and continuing to guide people in their search for information.

Introducing our new partner : St Bride Library

Everyone who visits the St Bride Library falls in love with it. It is an amazing collection of books and journals, type specimens and printing presses, anything and everything to do with printing, typography and graphic design, housed in a higgledy-piggledy beautiful building of 1891.

St Bride 1

Between 1992 and 2004, St Bride Library was part of City of London Libraries. We made a big effort to retrospectively convert the existing catalogues and 34,264 monograph records, 11,000 in-analytic records and 3,300 serials were put online.

Then, in April 2004, St Bride Foundation took over the running of the library and the ownership of its collections. Although their holdings were still contained and still displayed in our catalogue and although a limited number of records continued to be added, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Library’s acquisitions and a considerable backlog built up.

But now we are beginning a new project to catalogue as much as possible of that backlog and make those new acquisitions available to the enthusiasts, experts and students who use the library. Thanks to the generosity of the Foyle Foundation, a lucky cataloguer has been appointed to work part-time for a year on the project. These are some of the things we have catalogued already, in our first two weeks – books and pamphlets, old and new, in a variety of languages St Bride 2– and soon they will be available to St Bride Library staff and users.

I hope to update from time to time with reports on our progress and news of especially interesting treasures we discover, but in the meantime click here to see the latest additions to the catalogue.

Contributed by: Heather

Why go to a conference?


Conferences are like holidays in this respect – that they are exciting in prospect and exhausting in reality.  When the announcement is made, I am all enthusiasm and really want to go; as the day draws closer, I start to wonder if I can spare the time and find the energy; and I leave the house with marked reluctance and a lot of moaning. Once there, of course it’s an absolute blast; by the time I come home I am utterly knackered; and for a week afterwards I bore everyone rigid by telling them how wonderful it was and how they ought to have been there too. Then it all quietens down until the next event is announced.

Conferences are unlike holidays in that it is entirely possible – indeed, it’s what usually happens – that you never see any more of the glorious countryside or historic town in which you are staying than you glimpse in the taxi ride to and from the railway station. You will probably never set foot outside the grounds of the university or hotel during the whole period of the conference.  To that extent it is more like being inside a particularly liberal open prison.

I am told that in prison you learn much more to benefit you in the future from your fellow prisoners than during the course of organised education and training. That’s true of conferences too. If it has been well-planned, the programme should offer topics ranging from those with which you are already familiar enough to have an opinion and to be able to discuss them with a degree of confidence, to those which are completely new to you.  You will take lots of notes and make lots of good resolutions to follow up on references and contacts later.  Sometimes you will hear someone say that there is no point in going to a conference in person when all the papers and presentations will be published afterwards but, useful though this is if you really do not have the time or the opportunity to attend, it misses the point. The most valuable thing is the opportunity to talk to your colleagues, people who share the same interests, challenges and problems as you do. It is the breaks between the papers and the presentations where you will learn the most. It is also in those breaks where you will have the opportunity to contribute something yourself. While it is great to learn from other people, it is enormously cheering to find that you might sometimes be able to say something to help them in return. 

The library community, even in these straitened times when we all have too much work and too little time, is hugely generous and cooperative. Social media facilitate this, certainly, but do not yet match the simple pleasure and satisfaction of finding the brightest and best of your colleagues all together in the same room at the same time. And that is why you go (and should continue to go) to conferences.

Contributed by: Heather Jardine