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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 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 Thing 4: Current awareness

After feeling rather pessimistic about Thing 3, I was really looking forward to jumping into Thing 4. Current awareness is something I am more comfortable with, even if I am a latecomer who didn’t start paying attention to the library world at large until I began library school. CPD23 still found a way to challenge me, though, by asking me to use three tools I am only slightly or nominally familiar with.


Twitter was a complete mystery to me until I was forced to join it in an information resources module at the beginning of this year. Being generally skeptical of social media, I was less than thrilled to be joining it. Annie mentions on the  CPD23 blog assignment that there is a perception that Twitter is full of trivial information about people’s personal lives. I was definitely one of the people with this assumption. When I get bored and click on trending hashtags, I can still see that it is true for a lot of people. However, I use Twitter primarily for professional purposes. In fact, it’s where I found out about the most recent developments in RDA implementation and about the LC’s review of MARC (#marcmustdie)! The option to be selective about who I follow  keeps Twitter manageable for me. By following users related to libraries, I can keep my Twitter feed largely full of information I might be able to use professionally. I would get really overwhelmed if I used it for both social and professional purposes. However, I do have some overlap; I might tweet with  library school colleagues about going for drinks, etc., and I do follow some non-library/book-related users. My decision about whether to follow users not related to libraries is usually based on how much they tweet; I much prefer only occasional tweets if they’re not librarians/literary nerds like me.

For other people’s thoughts on Twitter, do go have a look Woodsie Girl’s post. She has some excellent advice for coping with Twitter overload, and I especially like her suggestion of looking at Twitter as a conversation. One of my favorite things about Twitter so far has been participating in live chats like #uklibchat last week.

RSS Feeds

Using Google Reader was a pretty strange experience for me. RSS feeds do not appeal to me by nature, so it was good to be pushed out of my comfort zone. The week did confirm some of my expectations, but there were some surprises as well. I expected to feel overwhelmed by the sight of several hundred things in a window that looks remarkably like my inbox, and I was. As an alternative to RSS feeds in CPD23 so far, I have been following some blogs on WordPress and Blogger by subscribing using my account. Though a great side effect of the bundle RSS feed is that I have more of a chance to browse, I think I prefer the method I’ve been using so far. It feels less overwhelming, and it also lets me break my reading down a little. I can read WordPress blogs one day and Blogger the next. My current method also helps me control my natural inclination to browse/procrastinate. Unfortunately, I could easily spend a day looking at all the posts that come up Google Reader. It’d probably be a better evening task for me, but I am not sure that’s what I want to devote my evenings to.

Some of the pleasant surprises of Google Reader were seeing that other friends were already using it to share links. I had no idea, but have found some really interesting information through them already. I also really liked that I could easily see a preview of each blog post/website before visiting it.

I don’t see myself using it in the long term. It makes me feel like reading is an obligation rather than something I should enjoy. I also prefer looking at one website in depth rather than getting an overview of several; i.e. I’d rather spend one evening looking at everything on and then the next looking at CILIP than go back and forth.


Pushnote reminded me a lot of a non-professional site called Pinterest that I basically use to share pretty things with friends. Pushnote has a similar premise — it is a way to share interesting links with people. The idea is a good one, but there are a few flaws. I can’t put my finger on why, but I don’t find the dialogue box as intuitive as it should be; I also think it’s strange that you (or at least I) can’t seem to access all content from it. I have to go to the website to look at friends’ profiles individually. I am also skeptical of the rating system. Why would you share something that wasn’t excellent?

I hope Pushnote keeps improving, but for now I have too many other things to follow to use it.



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Learning to catalogue in 2010-11

The following post is my contribution to issue 163 of Catalogue & Index, a publication for members of CILIP’s Cataloguing and Indexing group. It’s a particularly timely issue about RDA and I’m honoured to be included. My piece provides the student perspective to accompany Anne Welsh’s article about teaching RDA. Do check it out if you can!


Elaine Sanchez recently released the comments from her survey, “Your feelings about your cataloging (metadata) profession”(2011). Questions about training were included and responses revealed the variety of ways in which cataloguers learned to excel at their jobs. Many mention the importance of mentoring, but the response that best summed up my thoughts on learning to catalogue was that which refers to learning cataloguing as an “apprenticeship process.” I love the phrase‟s association with craftsmanship, and how it also emphasizes the different steps in learning to catalogue. There is independent theoretical study, on-the-job practical training, and independent work. Though the last stage is theoretically independent, in reality it still involves a great deal of discussion and working with others in person or via listservs. Though I am still mastering cataloguing as a craft, I hope my experiences of learning to catalogue are illustrative of the steps and teaching methods encountered by many.
Some of my colleagues came across cataloguing while doing traineeships, but my first encounter with cataloguing was deliberate. I had missed the deadline for library school applications, but I was still able to take individual classes at the University of Missouri, near where I lived at the time. Being naturally drawn to detail and knowing cataloguing was a valuable skill, I opted for a cataloguing class. The class had both theoretical and practical content. While I now appreciate the thoroughness of this approach, it was overwhelming at the time. I kept getting caught up in jargon and, though I was creating dummy records each week, it was hard for me to see how theory related to the records I was creating, apart from punctuation. The sense of achievement that came when I got an A is what made me decide to continue my cataloguing education when I finally began my MA.
UCL, with a required cataloguing module as well as an optional advanced module, was the obvious choice for me. I started in September and was thrown into cataloguing right away. The best part of the cataloguing modules was the theoretical knowledge they provided. Even the basic cataloguing module had sessions on RDA, and the final assignment was to create my own cataloguing policy for a subject field of my choice. It was a daunting task, but class discussions of AACR2 and RDA provided the background knowledge I needed to identify strengths and weaknesses of AACR2. It is easy to see how this encouragement to think critically about the principles of cataloguing will benefit my career, whether I am working as a cataloguer or just talking to practicing cataloguers about their work. I also opted to take historical bibliography, which introduced me to the basics of DCRMB.
However, practical cataloguing and on-the-job training have been equally significant for me. As part of my course, I did a brief placement at Kew Gardens. I gained a lot of confidence from just that one fortnight of cataloguing books, pamphlets and serials with a small team of experienced cataloguers. I also felt comfortable in the knowledge that I would soon be getting more experience cataloguing; I had already spoken to my lecturer about volunteering. The libraries I had previously worked at in the United States seldom accepted volunteers, and I was unsure of how to go about finding a volunteer cataloguing position. I was delighted to hear that the Paul Hamlyn Library was actively seeking volunteers, so I contacted the British Museum and spent several months cataloguing there. Paul Hamlyn has a wonderful collection and the experience showed me some of the challenges I might face as a professional cataloguer. For example, running into realia in a museum setting felt quite different from cataloguing examples in class. Luckily I was quite familiar with AACR2 and able to find answers to my many questions using it and the museum‟s local guides. Perhaps what I learned most at Paul Hamlyn was how to trust my instincts. This is something that really cannot be taught in library school; it only comes with a lot of practice and encouragement from other professionals.

I noticed early in my cataloguing education that it was very awkward to create records for electronic resources using AACR2 and MARC21. My professor did mention a new standard, RDA, was being tested to address this, but I didn‟t really learn much about it until I started at UCL. Its use of FRBR terms was quite intimidating until I realized that it represented a completely different approach to cataloguing. RDA emphasizes users‟ needs. The changes in standards (the dismissal of both AACR2 and MARC21) will transform catalogues. It is an exciting time to become a cataloguer, but I am glad I was taught theory and encouraged to think critically. Even though standards will change radically during my cataloguing career, I will still be expected to find solutions to cataloguing problems; I would never feel confident doing that without understanding what lies behind standards.
What has struck me most about the process of learning to catalogue is that, like all crafts, it is hard work. As a young librarian cataloguing education was something I had to actively seek. I have now taken three cataloguing classes and have some cataloguing experience in the real world under my belt, I still find that cataloguing requires a lot of dedication. It is a changing field and there is always more to learn. I always seem to think of more questions about cataloguing when I am actually doing it. Nonetheless, my various learning experiences have made me a confident cataloguer who is comfortable consulting cataloguing resources and making decisions… even at my current stage in the apprenticeship process!

Sanchez, E. (2011) Your comments about your cataloging (metadata) profession. AUTOCAT, 19 May,


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