Sunday, 31 July 2011

Seven books that changed the way I see the world

The idea for this post is shamelessly pilfered from SaintEvelin and Bobbi L. Newman’s blog posts, which immediately made me try to work out which seven books changed the way that I see the world! Thank you to both of them for such inspiring thoughts on the topic, and I hope that they don’t mind that I have written my own version.

I’ve found it quite difficult to select my books. As an avid childhood and teenage reader, an English Literature graduate, and now an embarrassingly lapsed reader who rarely finds the time to read fiction, but still enjoys it, I have read a lot of books. I think that most of them have changed the way I think about things in very tiny, subtle ways and that, collectively, the books that I have read have shaped the way I see the world. It’s a challenge to try to pick out the ones that have had the most individual impact, and I am sure that there are more than these seven.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne
I can’t remember how old I was when I first read this, but I was young – maybe eight years old? I’m pretty sure it was the first book that I ever read that could be classed as “science fiction”, and it totally grabbed me. I had been reading non-fiction books about volcanoes from the children’s section of Kingstanding Library in Birmingham since I was about four or five years old, and was absolutely fascinated by them (those of you who know me will know that I remain a frustrated wannabe volcanologist to this day!). The idea of journeying to the centre of the earth, via volcanoes, exploring the Earth’s core, and what might be found down there (I won’t tell you in case you haven’t read it – go and read it!) was an amazing one to me, and this book boosted the vivid imagination that I had as a child. It sparked an interest not only in science fiction, but also in the possibilities of real-life exploration of our planet, and reinforced my desire to have a job playing in volcanoes when I grew up! I re-read it several times as a child and I think another re-read is long-overdue, particularly as I hope to visit one of the volcanoes featured in it in the not-too distant future. It also introduced me to the work of Jules Verne, much of which is excellent, though this remains my favourite.
The Chalet School series, Elinor M. Brent Dyer
I’m cheating a bit by choosing a whole series rather than a book, but there is no one particular book that I can pick out. It was the books near the start of the series, when the school was based in Austria, which most had an impact on me. I read them as a child and they introduced me to the European continent, sparking an interest in the countries and the languages. I was fascinated by the multilingual nature of the school and its pupils and staff, who came from all over Europe, and who were expected to be proficient in multiple languages; the school had two English, two French and two German days per week, where teaching and conversation were to be done solely in that language (on Sundays they could speak whatever language they liked).  I learnt my first bits of basic French and German (words for greetings and meal-times etc.) from these books, and couldn’t wait to start learning the languages properly at secondary school. Sadly, when I got there, I didn’t in the end take to German, but I loved French and Latin, and have, as an adult, started trying to pick up Spanish. I really believe that my love of languages and desire to visit different European countries first came from these books. Towards the end of series, the school is based in Switzerland (it had to move around several times due to circumstances such as the Nazi Party coming to power – these books really engage with the context of the time in which they were set). When my first ever opportunity to travel abroad arose when I was 11 years old, it was to go to Switzerland – I remember being hugely excited, in part because the books made it sound beautiful (I wasn’t disappointed).

Buxton Spice, Oonya Kempadoo
This is another book which sparked an interest in another area and culture of the world. This was the first book that I read during a module on Contemporary Caribbean Women’s Writing during the first year of my undergraduate degree. It is set in Guyana, and really evokes a sense of place. Since reading it, and subsequently other books from Caribbean countries, I have been fascinated by the Caribbean. After this module, I originally planned to do an MA in Postcolonial or Caribbean Literature and then a PhD in the same subject; obviously, that hasn’t happened, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of it ever happening. The interest in the Caribbean aroused by this book has affected my reading choices, my own writing, and has added a load of countries onto my list of places to visit. Prior to reading Buxton Spice, I didn’t have much interest in visiting the area – I thought that all there would be to visit were the usual holiday resorts – but since then I have had my eyes opened to all the possibilities of places to explore there. For me, having plans to travel and a travel “wish-list” enriches my life, and so this is why I would say this book was life-impacting, by adding to my list.

1984, George Orwell
This was the first dystopic novel that I read, and it prompted me to seek out more of them. I am fascinated by natural disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes etc etc!), the various dangers to us that are out there in Space, and I always like to consider the worst-case scenario when it comes to the destruction of society or the planet (I’m not sure what this says about me!), so dystopic literature really appeals to me. This book changed the way I see things because it demonstrated to me the power of the creative human mind to predict a possible future, or a worst-case scenario which science doesn’t always consider. When I was at university, my housemates who studied sciences predictably asked what the point of studying literature was. My reply was that writers, good ones, have the ability to predict a possible, likely future, based on their perceptions of what has happened in the world so far, and their ability to take these and imagine how the future might develop. Writers can see and consider things that scientists might not, and 1984 is an example of the power of imagination to look ahead into the future. While the scientists were busy developing technology (an important thing to do, of course, I’m not saying it isn’t), writers such as Orwell were thinking about the development of society.

Ariel, Sylvia Plath
A collection of poetry rather than a novel, but I feel it still counts as a book. Ariel inspired me to start writing poetry properly. I’d always written silly little poems throughout my childhood, and then songs during my teenage years of wanting to be Alanis Morissette. When, as an older teenager, I read this collection of poetry, it really showed me how writing poetry is a delicate, difficult craft in itself, and absolutely not the easy alternative to writing prose. It made me realise that writing poetry is not a case of scribbling down some words when inspiration strikes; you have to sit down and work on it, re-write over and over again, constantly question the effectiveness of the images and the impact of the words. It is hard work, but a well-written poem can have a massive impact on the reader, as do most of the poems in this collection. After realising this, I began to write poetry that was actually alright. I’ve let my writing slip in recent years, but I will go back to it, and when I do I will pick up Ariel again, as a reminder to myself that I will need to work hard.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
This maybe didn’t change the way I see the world in general, but it changed the way I see literature. I read this during my first year at university, and was completely blown away. It is the perfect novel. Absolutely perfect, in the way that it is written, it the way that it deals with different layers of themes, in the images and the sense of time and place. I cannot believe that Mary Shelley was only 18 years old when she wrote it, because it is just phenomenal. I have read many amazing books before and since, but none of them have struck me as another example of a perfect novel. I recommend you read all of the books on my list, if you haven’t already, but if you only choose one, make it this one.

The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler
I picked this up for £3 from Musiczone (remember Musiczone?!) when I was 15 and first interested in feminism. It felt a bit rebellious too, buying and reading on the bus a book with “vagina” in the title! Any childish thoughts like that, however, disappeared when I read the book. It made me realise that the vagina is actually a far more complicated thing than just a bit of the body; it symbolises a lot, and talking about it can be funny, sad and enlightening! This book developed my interest in gender and feminism – it’s probably the first thing that made me decide to define as a feminist, and feel able to explain why - and I have read it many times since. It has also boosted my confidence in talking about gender and feminism. Last year I performed in the stage version of The Vagina Monologues at Sheffield Students’ Union, and that too was life-impacting; being involved in the text and one of the people who brought it to life for an audience was an amazing feeling, and everyone who I spoke to who attended absolutely loved it and had a great time. 

Writing this post, and reading the posts that inspired it, really demonstrate the power of books! I’ve also enjoyed writing this very much; perhaps I should write about literature more.

What do you think? Did you have a similar experience with any of the books I’ve chosen, or did they leave you cold? What books have changed the way that you see the world?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Library Day in the Life, round seven: Tuesday

It’s going to be a very short blog post today, as much of what I did was very similar to yesterday, and I don’t want to repeat myself. So here’s a couple of the other tasks that I carried out.
  • Selecting off-air and BoB recordings. Every week I go through the Radio Times and select programmes and films that would be useful additions to stock. Once upon a time I would send them all through to our off-air recording service, who would record the programme and then send the disc to me, to classify along with our commercial DVDs. However, we now subscribe to Box of Broadcasts, which has really reduced the need to record things. It’s a streaming service which allows subscribers to select things from the week ahead to record, which are then added to the BoB archive for any subscriber to watch; so if someone from another subscribing institution has selected something to record, you don’t need to, as it will become available to all. Most of my selection is now done on BoB; this way, the programmes are available to a large number of students at any one time, and they can watch from wherever they have a computer and internet connection, neither of which is true of a DVD in the library stock. However, I do still send a few things through to be recorded onto DVD and added to stock; our Film students often analyse aesthetic aspects of films, so we want our film recordings to be of high quality, which, being a streaming service, BoB recordings sometimes are not.
  • Classifying DVDs. I have been getting behind with classifying recently, as I’ve been focusing a lot on journals, so today I decided to spend some time on the growing selection of DVDs on my classifying shelf. We usually purchase DVDs from Amazon, and, as I’ve said, we get discs sent through from the off-air service, so classifying is done from scratch. I add a classmark (cinema films all go at the same classmark, with cutter letters from the start of their titles), subject headings, geographical headings, general notes such as the presence of bonus material, and parallel titles, if any. I enjoy classifying DVDs – they’re interesting, and I have found that my knowledge of film has really grown since I started my job (though I think my parents found it annoying when I was home for Easter, and I piped up with “I’ve classified that!” every time they suggested a film to watch!).
I also agreed a date for a Staff Development Hour that I am going to deliver up at the main campus during the next academic year, on the research that I did for my dissertation and consequent journal article. Staff development is viewed as really important by Library Services, and there are fortnightly Staff Development Hours at each campus during term-time. I have delivered/helped to deliver a few already, so I’m looking forward to this one, although I think it’ll be a while before I get chance to sit down and plan it.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Library Day in the Life, round seven: Monday

I’m sure those of you reading this are familiar with the Library Day in the Life project, but if not, then you can find out more here. Basically, twice a year library staff and students blog and tweet about their day or their week, to provide an insight into the many different roles that we have. I began participating during the last round, in January of this year. Last time, I wrote very detailed, realist accounts of my days over the week, hoping to bring the reader into my day as far as possible, to give them a sense of my workplace life. I think this was a good approach, but I don’t think I need to repeat it each time, so for this round I am going to write short blog posts of each day, highlighting the main things that I have been doing. If you want to know more about anything, please feel free to ask in the comment section!

I am an Assistant Librarian working in a small campus library. My role covers several aspects; I have responsibility for management of journals at this campus, some acquisitions functions, classifying and maintaining the AV collection, and subject liaison for media and cultural studies. I also line-manage two members of staff, and contribute to the overall management of the library. I don’t tend to do a bit of everything in one day; usually I’ll be concentrating mostly on something within one of my roles.

Because of the different parts to my job, I don’t have a typical day, so I will blog each day for the rest of this week; a week should be much more representative of what I do.

Some of the things that I did today are
  • Line management admin. I didn’t realise before I started my role how much time line management can take up. As well as meeting with the staff you line manage, you need to write up notes from your meetings, carry out appraisals, and other one-off things. It’s really important to make the time to do the writing-up as well as the actual contact time. We’re in the middle of appraisal season at the moment, and it’s really helpful to look back at what the two of you have discussed in the past, what their achievements throughout the year have been, etc.
  • Desk shift. During term-time, the librarians and senior library assistants work on the enquiry desk, and the library assistants work on the service desk. However, at the moment it is vacation, so we are only running the service desk, and all of us take turns there. During my hour on the desk today, I helped a student use the photocopier, issued some Inter-Library Loans, took some fines, and emptied the book bins from the self-service machine. There aren’t many students around so there isn’t a great deal to do on the desk at this time of year; I take some other work out with me to do.
  • Created a spreadsheet of journal fund codes. I spend a lot of time creating, updating and working with spreadsheets, particularly in the journals side of my role. I can’t say it’s my favourite bit of my job! It is however, very necessary – we need accurate records – and it’s quite rewarding when you get a spreadsheet finished which is going to be really useful! Today, I’m mapping old fund codes to the new ones coming in this year, in anticipation of the main renewals (the journals for which the subscription runs from January to January, which is most of them) which we will process in a couple of months. It takes a lot longer than I anticipated, partly because I have to double-check a few which are moving to a fund code within a different subject, and partly because I don’t hit on the most efficient way to do it until I’m nearly at the end – sigh!
  • Attend Campus Management Group meeting. The librarians and senior library assistants – 6 of us in total – try to meet every fortnight to discuss what’s going on in the library, make decisions about priorities, iron out any problems etc. Today we start to talk about plans for the new academic year; rotas for the coming term, and how we’ll be involved in Welcome Week.
  • Pricing up DVDs to purchase. I basically look up each title on my list on Amazon, and Moviemail, to find out where is cheaper, and put them all into another lovely spreadsheet! 
I arrived home to an email from my Chartership mentor, asking how it’s going. I have been rubbish with my Chartership recently – time to ‘fess up…

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Further reflections of a first-timer at Umbrella 2011: Day Two

I was very fortunate to have received a sponsored place to Umbrella that covered the whole conference, so I was able to attend the second day too. I began by attending another session within the Technologies and access strand, which looked at user information seeking. The first of the two speakers was Professor Nigel Ford, from The Information School at the University of Sheffield, who discussed Technology, personalisation and librarians. I always enjoyed Nigel’s lectures when I was doing my MA at Sheffield, so I was really looking forward to this presentation, which was just as engaging as I had hoped. Nigel talked about the need to learn about our users’ information needs, their information-seeking behaviours, and the effectiveness of these behaviours, in order to develop effective user models which will allow us to help them navigate the various complexities of information, and search tools to become “smarter”. He called for LIS “researchers” and “practitioners” to work more closely together, in order to achieve a “critical mass of knowledge” on information behaviour. As a practitioner who would like to become a researcher whilst also remaining a practitioner, I was pleased to hear someone like Nigel argue for the need for the two domains to meet more effectively, and support evidence-based research methods. Another thing which I took away from Nigel’s presentation was an interest in the PATHS project, in which researchers are looking at users’ “paths” to information in the digital collections, with the aim of creating “paths” which can be used as learning objects themselves. I look forward to hearing more about the progress of the project.

The second speaker was Ian Rowlands, from the Department of Information Studies at UCL, who presented on The Google Generation: understanding information-seeking behaviours in the digital environment. Ian told us about conducting Deep Log Analysis (DLA) on server logs to find out how users reached a particular site, and what they were doing once they entered it.  Although DLA has its weaknesses, such as lack of contextual information about the user’s task or motivation, Ian explained, it is also a strong method of assessing what people actually did (not what they think they remember doing). He also discussed research carried out in the Department of Information Studies for JISC and the British Library, which looked at the information behaviours of the “Google generation” (those born after 1993) in order to try to discover whether there are fundamental differences between the behaviour of this and previous generations, to which HE will need to adapt.  They found that there are issues around information literacy amongst young people, but that this is nothing that we didn’t know already. Finally, Ian discussed a web behaviour test that was developed by the Department in conjunction with the BBC, which attempted to discover what motivates users to click on a website from a list of search results; implicit trust in the search algorithm, perceived authority of the information provider, or something else? Users were presented with search results which contained no contextual information about each result i.e. no URL or site name or anything other than a few lines of text from each site, and then search results which contained no information about the content of the page, but did contain information such as name and provider of the site for each result. The research results are not yet ready but I am interested to find out what they discovered. Both Nigel’s and Ian’s presentations were on topics which I really enjoy learning about and discussing, but with which I haven’t really had chance to engage since I finished my MA, so it was great to hear about the projects that they have been working on. In fact, both made me wish that I was back at library school and attending lectures like these every week!

For the next session, I turned my attention to the Libraries in the Big Society strand, and the subject of Volunteers in Libraries. I’m sure most of you have read the reflection on this session by Jill Howard, CILIP’s Policy Officer, which has been interpreted by many as a statement of support of volunteer-run libraries from CILIP. There was a theme of positivity and enthusiasm about volunteers in public libraries throughout; I couldn’t work out if this was because the speakers genuinely believed in the use of volunteers, because they were restricted in what they could say, being public library staff, or because they felt they had to deliver a positive session as part of Umbrella. I suspect it was a mixture of all three. This session wasn’t what I expected; I was hoping for more of a discussion and maybe a debate about volunteers in public libraries. Mike Brook of the West Berkshire Council Library Service opened the session, reminding us that volunteers have worked along paid staff in some libraries for years – for example, helping to run the housebound service – and arguing that the work that volunteers do must be strictly defined. Mike felt that the idea of community-run libraries is one that will die out, and believed that we will “see off” the threat whilst developing “positive strategies” for volunteers to work alongside paid staff. 

Tracy Long, Dorset Library Service Manager, then told us about Dorset’s use of volunteers, who collectively offer 8500 hours per year. They are used to help run the Home Library Service, help out with the Summer Reading Challenge, and to keep some libraries open for longer after opening hours were cut by the Council in 2006. Tracy emphasised that the characteristics of a community really impact on how libraries can use volunteers; in some communities it will be more difficult to recruit volunteers (and good ones) than in others. Tracy Hager, Area Children’s Manager in Wiltshire Libraries, wrapped up the session with a presentation on the use of volunteers for the Summer Reading Challenge at Chippenham Library. Tracy argued that they need volunteers in order to be able to engage effectively with the readers.  Prospective volunteers attend informal interviews, during which they are asked about their experience of working with children and their knowledge of children’s books, and receive training once they are accepted. Whilst some of the volunteers were reliable, effective and good at their role, others didn’t turn up on time, were too shy with the children, or were evidently only doing it for something to put on their university applications. Tracy calculated that she spent 35 hours over 6 weeks on managing the volunteers, and said that this was too much and that their procedures needed to be refined. 

As I’ve said, I was hoping that the speakers would engage more with the issue of volunteers potentially taking over libraries, but I do appreciate that, as public library staff, they would feel under pressure to not be seen to criticise any plans that their service might have. What I did take away from the session was that, although when working under careful supervision and in conjunction with paid staff, volunteers can be helpful for projects such as the Summer Reading Challenge, recruiting, training and managing volunteers involves a lot of work, and that things can go wrong very easily; for me, this really brought home the naivety and short-sightedness of those who believe that public libraries can be simply handed over to volunteers.

For the final session of the conference, I visited the theme of research in the Skills and professionalism strand. The first speaker was Professor Paul Sturges of Loughborough University, who spoke on Imagination and LIS Research. This was a really inspiring presentation. Paul said that, as someone heavily involved in peer review, he sees a lot of research-based papers, and that the poor ones were often bound by convention. He argued that imagination potentially has the capacity to transform the LIS research discipline; we need imagination for defining our research topic (is this a question that you really want to answer?), the use of theory (do you really need to import theory from philosophy? Do you need any theory at all?), the literature review (it should be used to stimulate your ideas, not list everything ever written on the topic), the methods (LIS research all too often relies on “the survey”!), and interpretation of results - discussions and conclusions are often poor because the author is exhausted from the research and just wants to get the thing finished! Paul also argued that we should be looking outside of the LIS literature for our research, citing a LIS research project in Malawi where the use of agricultural science literature uncovered the spiritual aspects of information seeking amongst farmers there, as well as arguing for the use of imaginative methods when studying perceptions; his example here was of some LIS researchers investigating children’s perceptions of public libraries by analysing posters created by children for a library contest. Paul’s talk got me really thinking about breaking convention in research, and I began to feel really excited about all the possibilities for the research I would like to do. I will be keeping my notes from this session close to hand, to remind myself not to fall into the various traps of lack of imagination; I think that my weak points are the literature review – feeling that I need to find and discuss absolutely everything relating to my topic – and the research method; I have to admit that I am one of those people who goes for the survey, every time! I think my lack of imagination is down to a mixture of lack of experience in research, and the feeling that I need to be really “academic”, so, just as it was really reassuring to hear Nigel Ford support evidence-based, practitioner research in the earlier session, it was great to hear advocacy of creative research methods from someone who is so experienced in research.

The second speaker was David Streatfield, from Information Management Associates, who discussed Cutting edge research: proving our worth or worth proving? David talked about something that I hadn’t come across or thought about previously, which was the increasing politicisation of research. Research assessment frameworks in HE assess academic research output on set criteria such as number of journal publications (what about academics in disciplines which make use of blogs, for example?). Quantitative research is favoured over qualitative research by policy-makers. Setting measures for success risks distorting the research process. David argued that LIS researchers must respond to this challenge by making the case for more rigorous qualitative research and assessment of services. Like Paul, David wanted to encourage LIS researchers to adopt a wider range of research methods, and both of them convinced me that if I am going to get involved in research, I need to do it creatively. 

The conference finished with the CILIP Libraries Change Lives awards. All of the nominated projects appeared to be making a real difference in their communities; you can read more about them here.

Overall, attending Umbrella 2011 was an engaging, interesting, educational, informative and thought-provoking experience. It’s difficult to say what made the biggest impact on me; I think I left with some new thoughts on aspects of my role (teaching, information-seeking, interactions with the student body), some knowledge of the wider profession outside of my role (public libraries, repositories), and enthusiasm to take some steps towards research.  I also really enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people within the profession, including experienced professionals as well as other new professionals. The Umbrella Conference describes itself as an event for those “at all stages of their careers”, and it certainly appeared to live up to this claim. Most of the other new or newer professionals that I met had, like me, won bursaries or sponsored places to attend, and I was really pleased that so many CILIP branches and Special Interest Groups offered these; they gave so many people the opportunity to attend who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to. Umbrella is expensive, and I did wonder whether there were things that could have been done to make it less so; I couldn’t help wondering whether we really needed a gala dinner with a red carpet and waiters with trays of drinks and a string quartet, for example. I am not an expert in event organisation and I have no idea what impact the dinner would have had on costs, but reflection is supposed to be honest, and that is a thought that crossed my mind. However, the organising committee did a fantastic job, and I would like to end by thanking them, and also thanking the CILIP South West branch who sponsored my place, for an amazing experience.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Reflections of a first-timer at Umbrella 2011: Day One

I was lucky enough to win a full residential bursary from my local CILIP branch to attend this year’s Umbrella conference. This was my first ever Umbrella, and it was a fantastic experience, although very overwhelming. I’ve never attended a large conference before, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I regret not talking to more people, but it didn’t feel like the kind of conference where I could just go up to people and introduce myself. However, I realise I need to broaden my horizons beyond the world of the New Professionals Conference (taking my own advice about establishing dialogues with experienced professionals I suppose!), and that next time I just need to be braver. I did meet several new people who recognised me and/or who I recognised from Twitter, and caught up with some friends, acquaintances, and folk I had met previously in various different ways, so I didn’t fail entirely at networking (and I did attempt to increase my own accessibility by writing my Twitter name on my name badge, as did several others!).

The theme of the conference was New structures, new technologies, new challenges – how can we adapt to an age of austerity? Sessions ran under six “strands”: Skills and Professionalism, Promotion and Advocacy, Technologies and Access, Libraries in the Big Society, Digital Inclusion and Social Change and Workshops: Skills and Techniques. I had originally intended to try to go to something in each strand, but there were two sessions in one strand (Technologies and Access) that I really wanted to attend, so I only made it to sessions within five of the six strands (I missed out Digital Inclusion and Social Change and look forward to reading some blog posts from people who did go to some of those sessions). Between sessions there was an exhibition with stands from various LIS-related groups and organisations (with plenty of freebies – I have SO many bags now!) and a poster competition.

The conference opened with a keynote speech from Gerald Leitner, EBLIDA (the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations) President and Secretary General of the Austrian Library Association. EBLIDA lobbies for European libraries and has recently focused on influencing copyright law in Europe. Gerald told us that European librarians are watching UK librarians fight against the threatened cuts to libraries, education and culture that we currently face, and reiterated that libraries are now more vital than ever. He argued that we need to work together to create a framework for libraries in the European Union. I found this speech interesting because I’d never considered the potential impact of EU law and policy on UK libraries; I don’t recall it ever being discussed during my MA. As Gerald pointed out, the EU actually offers a tremendous opportunity to create guidelines and a support network for libraries in the UK and the rest of Europe, and perhaps we should be lobbying our MEPs as well as our MPs if we are not doing so already.

It was then time for the first conference session. I chose to attend Effective Teaching Skills, which was in the Workshops: Skills and Techniques strand. Teaching is one of my favourite aspects of my job and is something in which I’ve always been interested; it was one of the things that attracted me to librarianship. I haven’t, however, had much chance to do it yet; I started my current job last November, after the bulk of the teaching was over. I’ve done a few classes, but I am keen to develop my teaching skills (this is in fact one of my objectives in my Chartership PPDP) and, with September just around the corner (sorry!), this seemed an ideal opportunity to get back into teaching mode. The session was delivered by Chris Powis, who is highly engaging and knowledgeable on this topic. Chris began by reminding us that teaching and learning occurs in our interactions with users at the enquiry desk, in drop-in sessions and through any kind of learning material that we produce, not only during inductions and classes. We are very much teachers, but many of us are not trained to teach; as Chris pointed out, library school curricula tend to focus on information literacy rather than practical teaching skills (during my MA we were offered one two-hour optional workshop on teaching skills, with limited spaces), so our teaching role can be challenging (and is not always accepted by non-librarian colleagues). A big problem that can be faced by those of us who teach is that the expectations of those whom we are teaching are often too high – expecting us to give them all of the answers – or too low (this is a library session – it’s going to be boring!). Chris warned us not to fall into the trap of holding these same expectations ourselves i.e. if we expect our students to be bored, we’re going to deliver a boring session! Chris ran through the importance of appealing to different learning styles, being inclusive, and making your teaching innovative, varied, active, challenging, relevant, interesting, and a performance (whether we like it or not, we are performing when we teach in front of a class, and some people take to this much more naturally than others!).

We then spent the rest of the session in group discussions, sharing our experiences, ideas and tips, talking about what worked for us and what we found most challenging. It was really interesting to hear about teaching in other institutions and organisations, with different sets of users and different kinds of resources, and some of the people on my table had some great ideas for teaching methods and activities, which they very kindly shared with the rest of us. I found this session both useful and inspiring; I came away feeling enthusiastic about throwing myself into the teaching that will come with the new academic year, and armed with a few tips and tricks which I will think about how we could potentially incorporate into our teaching sessions.

The second session was within the Promotion and Advocacy strand and consisted of two presentations. The first was Not Just Bars and Gigs: Working in Partnership with the Student Union from Linda Smith of Nottingham Trent University. Linda pointed out that members of the SU executive are ideal advocates for the library service, as publicity from the student body itself is the best kind. At Nottingham Trent, the Library and the SU have reciprocal arrangements in place; space in the Library foyer can be used by the SU for online voting in their elections, and by SU clubs and societies, and the SU provides publicity for the Library in a number of ways, from traditional marketing i.e. adverts on the SU website, to campaigns such as promoting appropriate behaviour in the library. Working with the SU has also allowed the Library to identify things that the students want in the library space, such as water coolers and lockers. It sounds like working in partnership with the SU has been really successful at Nottingham Trent, but I’m not sure how easy this would be to develop in my own small campus library or overall Library service (currently split over five sites); there would be issues of coherence and consistency I think. This is something that Linda highlighted as a challenge that they face every year, when the membership of the SU executive changes; some students are more keen than others to work with the Library, and they possess different skills, attitudes and ideas. I was interested to know whether Nottingham Trent ever use the SU to collect feedback from students about the Library service; Linda said that they didn’t, but I think if I were ever involved in developing a partnership with the SU, this would be an idea I’d like to explore – would students be more likely to respond to a survey or request for feedback from the SU than from the Library, I wonder?

The second presentation in this session was Centre of the University: Integrating services for students at Kingston University, by Karen Belsham. Karen told us about how space is being shared at Kingston; services such as a cafĂ©, general reception and drop-in areas for academic departments have been integrated into the Learning Resources Centre space. The LRC now has a service desk which is basically a call-centre offering both IT and library support, and services such as replacement ID card printing and other student documentation printing, such as letters for council tax exemption, are also on offer in the LRC. Karen explained that the focus is always on the student experience – trying to make things as simple as possible, particularly for new students – and argued that the LRC is an ideal space in which to integrate these services; the students know the LRC, they use it, and it has longer opening hours than other university services and departments. I can see how this is a really good idea; students expect us to be able to do more than traditional library support, and they want value for the money that they are spending on their education (with the forthcoming massive tuition fee rises this attitude is only going to become even more prevalent), so it’s great if we can find ways to make the student experience run more smoothly, particularly when they first arrive. However, as Karen pointed out, integrating other services into the Library places a lot of pressure on Library staff, who will need training in these new aspects of their role, and will need to be able to offer high quality support in a number of different areas. It can also impact on professional identities and professional boundaries. Concerns about impact on staff were raised by those who asked questions at the end of Karen’s presentation, and I think it’s something which would need to be thought about very carefully and thoroughly, with plenty of consultation with the staff affected, before any integration of services took place. I suppose it’s about getting the balance right; providing as excellent and comprehensive a Library service as possible, whilst not overburdening staff or changing their roles to an unreasonable extent.

For the final session of the day, I chose to attend a session on repositories and storage, which came under the Technologies and access strand. Repositories are something about which I am pretty much clueless, but which I really feel I should know more about! The first of the three presentations was on Open Access and Institutional Repositories: the University of Glasgow experience, from Susan Ashworth, who told us about Enlighten, Glasgow’s repository. A University Publications Policy was introduced in 2008, which requires academic staff to deposit the full text of their research publications in the repository. There was some concern from staff about issues such as what should go into the repository, and whether they would be breaking copyright, but with support and advocacy from the librarians working on the repository, their attitudes towards open access publishing and Enlighten became generally positive. Jacqueline Wickham from Nottingham University then discussed Research repositories: the role of library staff in their management.  Jacqueline gave us some idea of the skills required by library staff working on repositories, from metadata creation to knowledge of access rights, and suggested that perhaps library school curricula should be focusing more on these areas.  I found these presentations really informative, as I had only vague ideas about how a repository works, and both gave me a good idea of the whole process. Although I currently have nothing to do with my institution’s repository, I think it’s useful for me to have a general idea about how it works, in case any of the academic staff with whom I liaise ask me about it, and, as I hope to do some of my own research in the future, I might find myself depositing work in an institutional repository at some point.

The final presentation of this session was from David Errington, on Collaborative storage for Newcastle University. With so much focus on repositories, I think it can be easy to forget about the physical storage that libraries still require, so it was a useful reminder to hear about Newcastle’s offsite store, which contains a mixture of Library material and other institutional material. David and his colleagues hope that it can become a kind of Research Hub that can accommodate academics who want to access the material there, and I think that this is a great idea; as I said, it can be easy to forget about the physical stock, and for several of the arts and humanities subjects that my Library supports, print material remains important for research.

With Day One of Umbrella over, it was time to head off for the gala dinner and a lovely after-dinner speech from Bonnie Greer. I learnt loads, and Day Two was just as informative and engaging, but as  this post has become long enough I shall reflect on the second and final day of the conference in my next post.