Library camp 2011

I haven’t been to a library conference yet, but I can’t imagine one as fun as Library Camp. (Can’t imagine any having Cake Camp as a fringe event, either!) I also had the added benefit of living near Birmingham, which meant no hotel and no unfortunate waking times. All this led to a relaxed mood, and the unconference format only reinforced it. Library Camp was an informal environment where librarians felt free to discuss their professional interests and challenges in an open and honest way. Throughout the day, I felt a healthy amount of optimism in spite of recognition of the issues facing us today. Most of the sessions I went to were discussion, and as a result most of them were also fairly open-ended and seemed to identify problems instead of offering solutions. All of them raised important questions, though. Choosing sessions was very difficult, as I think there were about 30 options! (A link to session notes for most of them can be found on the Library Camp wiki.) My thoughts on the five I attended are below.

1) Cataloguing & classification

This was a discussion-based session. Topics varied from MARC to UDC to the usefulness of classification. What made the session most unique was hearing the perspective of systems librarians, who asked a lot of questions. It made me realize that there is a dichotomy between systems librarians and cataloguers, though they should probably work in tandem to create the best user experience. It was also systems librarians who brought up the hardest questions: Why do you spend all that time on punctuation if we have to remove it to use it properly? What’s the point of classification? The former question was a very good one, and made me think that I should really learn more about systems and programming. The latter question confused me a little; users may see the classmark as a geographical location now, but it also provides a point of reference for librarians, and shelfmark systems don’t allow for expansion or physical  reorganisation.

2) Special collections

My dream job is in special collections, so I’m always keen to learn more and hear what those who already work with them think. This was another discussion-based session with a lot of different topics. I also have the most notes from this one. A lot of talk centred around outreach: the value of partnerships with local institutions when putting together an exhibition, the pros and cons of digital exhibitons, and how it can lead to more funding and donations. Of particular interest was the comment that public collections are often still treated like private ones, and the continued inaccessibility of items that have been shared online. This was directly relevant to That’s Not Online, a project I’m involved with. Toward the end of session there was also mention of various collections that are online, like the Culture Grid and People’s Collection Wales. Other topics discussed included depositing special collections or loaning them to libraries that would have appropriate storage conditions, what makes a special collection (the short answer is uniqueness), and a little bit of mourning for potential special collections that have been lost in skips.

3) Libations/zoning in libraries

I went to this session because I was interested in hearing Jo Alcock in person, and because I think this is a topic that is increasingly important. It was certainly the most lively session I attended. A red stress ball was passed around to give people permission to speak, and at the end there was a bit of a lively debate about the use of (fiction) genre sections in public libraries. Top tips included putting baskets in the library for users, floorwalking and training staff to spot people who need help, non-permanent signage that can be removed (making spaces more versatile), and marketing coffee shops in libraries as social learning spaces.

4) Wikipedia

Not surprisingly, this session is what inspired my recent That’s Not Online! post about Wikipedia’s GLAM project. Andy Mabbett spoke about the importance of open access cultural material and his own experiences as a Wikipedia volunteer.

5) Interlibrary loan

Having worked in an interlibrary loan department in an American academic library, I wanted to hear what UK librarians thought about it. It was a small and unfortunately somewhat gloomy session, with a lot of comments suggesting that those outside the department really don’t value it. One person said her library director thought ILL was elitist! I was also surprised to hear the range of fees charged for the service, from 80 pence all the way to £5. While the cost benefits of ILL were mentioned, the list of potential drawbacks was a little longer; it included the “I want it now!” attitude of patrons and the difficulty of effectively managing consortia and delivery. The session ended with the potential link between special collections and interlibrary loan, with a public librarian suggesting niche markets were the way to go in the future and an academic librarian agreeing that one of the most successful examples of ILL she remembered was two departments with similar narrow interests sharing articles. It was a thought-provoking session, and I particularly enjoyed hearing the public library perspective on ILL. It seems to have a completely different function within them as opposed to the one it serves in academic libraries.

Overall, Library Camp was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday! Unfortunately, I was having one of my shy days & therefore didn’t meet as many people as I would’ve liked. I’m really pleased to have met some other librarians from my place of residence, though, and am so glad I signed up for the waiting list.

Postscript: Rumor has it there will be an IFLA New Professionals unconference in Helsinki next year. Needless to say, I’m hoping to go!


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Thing 11: Mentoring

I am privileged to have many informal personal mentors. The many people (I can think of two couples and two individuals off the top of my head) I could describe as such have been crucial supporters throughout my life, helping me find the confidence to make big decisions and challenge myself instead of slipping into stasis. Most of the time, I don’t think of them as such, but they fit the description of a mentor given by the various resources on the CPD23 post: someone who advises, encourages and supports you on your way to accomplishing a goal.

With successful mentoring (albeit informal) in my personal life, it is no surprise that I am a great supporter of mentoring in a professional context as well. To a new professional like me, professional development is still a kind of scary idea. Non-librarians may think of librarianship as one vast entity, but in fact it has so many different pathways. Which one should I choose? How can I find the job that will best use my skills? What if I change my mind? I think it’s essential to have someone to talk to about these things. A peer network is very important, but it can be equally useful to speak to someone who has already been through these situations and may have a perspective that more closely matches that of a prospective employer. In an ideal world, a professional mentor will do just what my personal mentors did: encourage me to reach my potential & build my confidence.

The struggle I have with mentoring is this: I can be insecure at times, which means I sometimes need a lot of affirmation. I worry that I will end up taking advantage of my mentors when I get nervous, or that I will just pester them by asking them about every silly thing that comes up in my professional life. I could easily be a needy mentee who gives nothing back to the mentor. However, I hope to be over this fear by the time I am actually ready for a formal mentor. Over the years I have spent with informal mentors, I have been surprised by how much they seem to value my opinion (quite unjustifiably, I think!) and be interested in the new things I inadvertently introduce them to. If I have the right professional mentor, perhaps the same can happen in that relationship after a few years.

I look forward to starting the chartership process someday and meeting the mentor who will be helping me through it. In the meantime, I will be keeping my eyes open for a suitable mentor, bearing in mind the excellent advice that Teri Switzer and Priscilla Shontz give.

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Thing 10: Ways into librarianship

Now that the dissertation is out of my hands, I’m looking forward to catching up with CPD23 and hopefully doing some writing for fun.

Thing 10 is about how we got into librarianship. I must admit that when I started library school last September, this was one of my biggest insecurities. The graduate trainee scheme that operates in the UK is brilliant, and I assumed most of the people on my course would have completed one & therefore have lots more experience than me. (N.B. I also applied for lots of traineeships, landed one interview and failed to get the position. I probably brought some baggage with me to library school.) However, I was really surprised at the range of backgrounds represented. Even the traineeships varied a lot. Ultimately, though, I still ended up feeling like my route into librarianship was more representative of American than English librarians. Librarians on both sides of the pond tend to fall into the profession, but as always, there is a little more deliberateness on the English side.

So here’s my story:

As a teenager, I was interested in a few careers,  but when I graduated from high school I thought I had settled on becoming a magazine editor. It only took two years in journalism school to realize I didn’t want to work in that industry. (I wonder if being voted most shy in my class despite being editor-in-chief of the yearbook was a sign?) I was much happier after I switched to an English major, but the switch did make me completely aimless in terms of career. Librarianship did occur to me then; I worked part-time at my university library the whole time I was there, and two of my summer jobs were in a library. I was pretty resistant to the idea at first, though. I am still in many ways a stereotypical librarian, and I think I was even as a kid. I hated the idea of going to a reunion and hearing people say, “Oh, I knew you were going to be a librarian! You always had your nose in a book!” I wasn’t prepared to admit it was actually the ideal career for me until I graduated. By then I had met more librarians & was so impressed by their ability to find out absolutely anything, and the fact that they always seemed to be such interesting people. I also realized it fit with my interest in helping others and is essential for supporting education, which I have always believed is important.

I finally began pursuing librarianship in 2008, applying for traineeships and looking at library schools. I had an interview for a traineeship, but failed to get it. That was a pretty hard moment for me & I did end up taking a year off while I waited to hear from library schools. It was good to have a gap year to travel, and I chose to work as an au pair in England for that year.  I was accepted to 2 US schools before my contract ended , but ultimately decided that I wanted to stay in England. I went back to Missouri temporarily, where I took a couple of library science classes at the University of Missouri, before coming back to England in 2010 to do my MA at University College London. It’s been a convoluted and stressful process at times, but I have to say it was worth it in the end. I am so excited to finally be a professional librarian, and I think UCL provided a lot of opportunities I might not have had elsewhere.

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Poets on the line

I’ve fallen behind in CPD23 because I’m in the throes of dissertation writing. I will return soon! In the meantime, I thought I’d quickly share a new book I’m excited about: A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line.






A former poetry professor of mine contributed one of the essays, and I have heard the co-editor, Emily Rosko, read several times. It should be a lovely, thought-provoking read.

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Thing 9: Evernote

Unfortunately, bookmarking is not one of my strengths. I don’t use Delicious (though maybe I should look into it) and of course bookmarking everything interesting/useful I read would mean it would get lost in a sea of websites.

That said, I quite like Evernote. I believe I will continue to use it for both professional and personal purposes when CPD23 finishes. The biggest advantage, and perhaps most unique feature, of Evernote is that it is accessible both on and offline. I don’t have consistent Internet access at home, so it’s nice to be able to see things I found noteworthy in one place when I get back home. Since I’m also in the middle of a job search, I’ve found another great use for Evernote: making sure I have consistent access to contact information for my references. In the past, I’ve started an application on my laptop, then gone to uni to print it only to discover I’ve left off a phone number or some other minor detail. I’ve now started a notebook specifically for job information, and put all that information there so I don’t need to waste time searching for it.

This leads to another feature of Evernote I like, which is the ability to create notebooks. Delicious doesn’t seem to offer this, though there is of course the option to create tags. However, tags may ultimately be too unique to categorize things; Evernote offers the ability to create large categories, e.g. cataloguing, while still using tags, e.g. name authority. I find this really helpful and can see myself creating several notebooks for hobbies and for the different aspects of my job.

Other CPD23 participants have called Evernote clunky, and I can understand this. It’s not great at representing websites. This is not a big issue, unless the website has graphics that are significant to the content.

A visualisation of the state of Missouri, as captured in Evernote

Unfortunately, I think that a lot of the sites that are most helpful from a professional perspective would fall into that category. Evernote clearly isn’t perfect, but for now I think the benefits certainly outweigh the disadvantages.

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Thing 8: Google calendar

Before I started my calendar, I looked at the article describing what libraries have done with Google calendar. It was pretty impressive, especially what those universities in Hong Kong have done! I will definitely try to find a way to use it in my workplace.

However, I don’t have much use for a Google Calendar on a personal level at the moment. The biggest advantage to a browser-based calendar seems to be that it is accessible from multiple computers/platforms. However, I only use my laptop, and I don’t have Internet access on my phone. I must admit I like the sound of getting a text when my library books are nearly due, but all three of the libraries I have books on loan from send me an email anyway. For now iCal, a paper diary, and TeuxDeux cover my scheduling needs and I don’t see any new advantages in Google Calendar. I’m quite lucky to have a great deal of control over my own time. I prefer to schedule by morning and afternoon–I might, for example, research how to criticize photographs in the morning and travel to London for a visit to a library in the afternoon. The specific time doesn’t really matter. (This is why I can use TeuxDeux as a scheduling resource.) It won’t be like this forever, and I probably will revisit Google Calendar when I have to use multiple computers or have less flexibility in my schedule.

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CPD23 Things 6 & 7: Networks and networking

Things 6 and 7 seem similar enough that I can fit them into one post, which I’m grateful for as I’ve let myself slip behind. Both are about exploring the value of networking, either virtually or in real life. This ties nicely into Thing 2, which encouraged us to go out and meet our neighbors (surely the first step of networking) and loosely into Thing 4, which suggested the value of Twitter (conversation is another important part of networking, and Twitter certainly encourages that). Thing 6 & Thing 7 are ostensibly split into virtual and in-person networks/networking, though there’s some overlap. While that means dividing a blog post into neat little sections is more difficult, I think some overlap shows the potential that networking really has. Of course, I say this (and write this post) from the perspective of a newcomer to the process. Networking is a good excuse to lurk less. 🙂

Thing 6: Virtual networks

As I prefer to live life offline, I don’t participate in many of these at the moment. I did enjoy looking at them, though, and am thinking of joining some.

Facebook is the ubiquitous social network, but I only use it on a personal basis. I don’t see family or friends from home often, and it is really the easiest way to keep up with the major events in their life and, more importantly, see photos of them. I can’t imagine using Facebook for professional purposes, though I am a member of my department’s Facebook group.

LinkedIn is the big name in professional online networks and comes highly recommended by a lot of people. It is fairly easy to use, but it’s too easy for me to forget about. Apparently I joined a couple of years ago? Hmm. I didn’t remember until last week, when I submitted a job application and got an email saying someone had viewed my profile. As I obviously hadn’t updated my profile, I panicked and deleted my account. Better not to be there at all than have inaccurate/outdated information. When I have more time to make sure it stays updated, I may join again, especially as it does seem to be used in different ways by so many people.

As for the others: As a new professional myself, I do think I’ll join LISNPN. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who has skills to offer but still feels a little lost in the remarkably big library world at times. The site design is friendly and easy to navigate, and it feels like a particularly supportive network. I often feel uncomfortable giving any kind of advice, feeling less experienced than a lot of people, but I can imagine getting involved here. While I don’t think I will join LAT unless I get a position that involves teaching (which I’d love, actually!), it does link to some good resources. It also seems to be associated with TeachMeets. I attended one in Oxford recently and would be happy to see a network support them. Although I am a CILIP member (student rates, woop!), I am sorry to say that I don’t participate in CILIP Communities. As I mentioned, I prefer to live offline and can see myself getting too wrapped up in this. Lots of people can balance online and offline personal development, but I have a feeling I would get distracted from the important things.

Thing 7: In person networks/networking

There is a lot of discussion about the merits of professional networks (See the comment thread in Helen Murphy’s entry for examples of how passionate people are in one direction or the other). I joined CILIP because student membership is very cheap and it gave me access to career development tools which, being unfortunately unemployed, I had a hard time finding. Before I graduate, I think I will also join SLA Europe. For me, the greatest benefit of either of these right now is that they are an easy way for me to show on my CV that I am dedicated to career development. I hope to get volunteering and conference experience as well, but it is nice to be able to write CILIP member and know that it will be recognized. I also know that the area I would like to work in, the West Midlands or Southwest, have active chapters. It’s good to know I would have an opportunity to get involved early in my career, and to have a support network. Plus, I really like that being a member of CILIP makes me a member of IFLA; I am very interested in international librarianship. However, as much as I really appreciate that both of these organizations offer steep discounts for students,  my continuing membership will probably depend upon my job status.

Networking is quite new to me. My first experience with it was at the New Professionals Information Day, which I would recommend to anyone. All the speakers got me excited all over again about becoming a librarian. I went with a group of friends from library school, but tried to sit next to people I didn’t know during the sessions so I could meet new people. Unfortunately I can be quite reticent at times and only managed to meet a few new people. I went to the pub and chatted to more people, but still left thinking I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity as much as I could have. That was one of the reasons I chose to participate in CPD23, really. I had a friend visiting on the day of the Oxford meetup, but luckily she was also a librarian so we both went along. The pub was like the TARDIS (I’ve never seen such a sprawling pub!), so finding each other was difficult at first, but it was lovely once we got started. Being able to chat about the strengths and weaknesses of the programme in person was great, and it was interesting to hear about everyone’s work. Though TeachMeets may not strictly count as networking, I have been to one of those as well. It was excellent and I hope that I will be near one again. Shy as I am about public speaking, I might be brave enough to manage a short presentation at a TeachMeet.

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