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Archive for March, 2014

Canada WaterAfter work one day, I rather impulsively took a trip to a local library that had been featured in CILIP Update for its modern design – Canada Water Public Library. I’m afraid I don’t have a citation as I seem to be having technical issues accessing the digital edition of CILIP Update. Anyway, I was interested to see how this library had been specifically designed for the 21st century, as well as to explore the collection for my own personal interest of course!

Firstly, the library has excellent transport links. It basically sits on top of the tube station – so much so, that I came out of the tube station and didn’t realise I was next door to the library until I walked outside a few steps and saw the very distinctive library exterior! It is a very convenient location for commuters to the city, as well as the local community.

The ground floor consists of a café, a display of bestsellers and popular books with self-check out points, and rather unusually… a bar. This is due to the library building also hosting the Culture Space; where theatre, music, comedy and dance take place. Not only does this attract more users to the library, but it also contributes to the function of the modern public library being a space for inspirational and collaborative work. Away from the old fashioned perception of public libraries being places of neat rows of individuals working away in silence under the glare of tight lipped old ladies, and towards light, open and inviting spaces where all kinds of work are accommodated for.

Children's reading areaOn climbing the open staircase at the heart of the library, you arrive at the first floor with the main book collection and various work areas. As expected there is a children’s reading area next to the children’s literature, but I was impressed by how the space was utilised and how the furniture had been used creatively to be interactive, and to  attract young children to reading. There were also various work areas with tables and PCs dotted around the edges of the library, creating cosy and private spaces for groups to work, and I was surprised to see how busy the library was late on a Thursday evening.

Wavy BookcasesThe books were also very attractively displayed on lighted bookshelves; not in traditional straight lines, but in waves that invited you to explore and encouraged serendipitous browsing. As expected the books were shelved by genre, but within each genre there were breaks in the bookshelves where popular works were displayed in a variety of ways; encouraging readers to try something new within the genre they like.

BalconyThere was yet another floor above which consisted of a balcony running around the outside of the main library. Here, there were non-fiction books shelved behind work areas, with electrical ports for users to plug in their own laptops, tablets and mobile phone chargers. Having this work space as an open balcony, rather than as a closed off floor, keeps it cohesive with the main library as well as maintaining the light and open feel to the library. Yet despite the open space, the area manages to provide a quiet space for those wishing to work. Again, I was surprised to see how busy this workspace was, and it became obvious that it was a popular place for students to come and work.

PostersSuitably impressed by the design of the library and the use of space, I then considered the marketing strategy of the library. One of the first things that struck me on entering the library was the numerous bold posters displaying various statistics demonstrating the value of the library; including number of user visits, number of authors who have spoken at the library, training sessions offered and many more. It is important for public libraries to pro-actively demonstrate the value of the library to their users, as libraries are ultimately funded by taxpayer’s money. I feel this is something all libraries of any sector can do more of, and I certainly think this is something my own library can actively improve on. As a corporate legal library, we compile statistics on the library management system of the research enquiries we complete for users, so that they are there if we need them – but we do not openly publicise them in any way. I think that it may be useful to pro-actively compile statistics on a monthly basis and publicise them in some small way – either on a poster on the Enquiry Desk or on the library section of the intranet. I believe that our users would be surprised by the number and variety of enquiries that we deal with, and would be further convinced of our value to the firm, if we did so.

I went to Canada Water Library to learn about how a modern library uses space; but I also learned a great deal about pro-actively demonstrating value, which I hope to transfer in some way to my own library service. I will certainly be visiting againg to use its collection, and I look forward to seeing what other innovative practices they will introduce that I can learn from!

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Side view of St PaulsOn Friday we had our work away day. I think traditionally this involves activities to develop new skills and to provide team building opportunities. As a group of 6 librarians, we are a tight knit team anyway, so we tend to take the opportunity to visit somewhere interesting and have a nice lunch. This year at my suggestion we took the Triforium Tour at St Paul’s Cathedral followed by afternoon tea in the crypt. As I have never known a librarian to refuse an afternoon which involved cake, this was a very popular suggestion, and indeed all we have seemed to talk about this week was our upcoming afternoon tea!Afternoon tea

But I am not going to bore you talking about the afternoon tea (although it was rather nice!). I suggested the Triforium Tour as it provides a glimpse of the rather secretive library of St Paul’s Cathedral, along with many other rooms behind the scenes. I never realised St Paul’s Cathedral even had a library until I stumbled across this tour. I was very excited and had very high expectations regarding the library, and I was not disappointed.

St Paul's Cathedral library

After knocking on the rather imposing door, and hearing it being unlocked from the inside, I felt like we were in some kind of thriller film. And indeed, once we were granted access I was hit by the very strong musty smell of old books and old stone walls, and inside was a small library decorated with dark wood carvings and stone sculptures on the walls. As well as books, there were a collection of eclectic items that looked like they probably didn’t belong anywhere else and had found a home in this rather unusual library.

The reason the St Paul’s Cathedral as we know it was built was of course due to the previous, medieval St Paul’s Cathedral on the same site being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Unfortunately, this meant that the previous cathedral library was entirely destroyed, and so the library of the new St Paul’s Cathedral had to be started from scratch, and was formed primarily from the collection of the Bishop of London at the time, and from a recently deceased reverend.

St Paul's Cathedral libraryThe library collection currently consists of over 30,000 items, and is mostly theological, but also contains socio-economic items and with a focus on works about London and St Paul’s. There is still a limited budget to purchase new items to add to the collection; particularly items that used to be part of the collection and were lost for some reason but re-surface in auctions. Also for new works on Christopher Wren and St Paul’s Cathedral. A lot of the collection has been transferred to the Guildhall library, and a substantial part of the collection has been transferred to the London Metropolitan Archive. The collection is also increasing due to donated items from the public. Although there is no formal acquisition policy, the librarian has to make the delicate decisions on whether to decide to take personal items, or to offer to the donor that he could try and find it a suitable home. Unsurprisingly lots of bibles are offered, but the vast majority are not rare or of historic interest to justify it being added to the collection. However, the matter must be delicately handled in case the donor may come across items in the future that are of value to the collection, and so they are not discouraged from offering further items to St Paul’s.

Miscellaneous collectionUnfortunately, like many libraries, it is really suffering from lack of space; as you can see from the towering stacks of books on the tables. Apparently St Paul’s Cathedral was originally designed with 2 rooms for the library, but the second room was commandeered for another function. This also largely inhibits how many donated items the library can accept from the public.

So the big question I had was who actually uses the library? Well, the library used to be exclusively used by the Dean and the rest of the Chapter (figures of importance who help run the Cathedral), but now can be used by anyone who has an interest in the collection. However this is not widely publicised, and this is largely due to the substantial amount of work required on the catalogue. Unexpectedly, the oldest items are the best catalogued, with pre-1800 items available online via the public catalogue COPAC. Interestingly, under the Care of Cathedrals measure there is a statutory duty to ensure the library is preserved and the collection is cared for sufficiently, and this allows for only 15% of items to be on a manual catalogue. Due to the library being kept by only 1 librarian who is also shared with the Guildhall library, 15% of post 1800 items are manually catalogued, and much of the catalogue needs checking before being released to the public, as many of the catalogue records were sadly corrupted when the catalogue was transferred from one system to another.St Paul's Cathedral library

You may notice from some of the photos that the vast majority of the books have white slips tucked in to the top of them. Unfortunately, we learned that these were the ones marked as needing cleaning and repair work. However, due to a limited budget and lack of manpower, it is taking some time to arrange.

Despite the extraordinary beauty and history of this very special library, it faces many of the challenges that  libraries face everywhere; limited budget, not enough staff, and the challenge of space. However, I am so glad that the library is being made available to the public and that there is a statutory duty to protect and preserve the library of St Paul’s Cathedral, as it is certainly a rare gem in London’s crown of libraries.

I will leave you with a quote from the Bible in Latin, which can be found carved in the stone wall outside of the library:

“Faciendi plures libros nullus est finis”, or “of making many books there is no end”

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes of St Paul’s Cathedral

The camera view of St Paul's Cathedral

The camera view of St Paul’s Cathedral

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This is a long overdue post on the final day of the Perfect Information Conference. Panel sessionThis involved 2 sessions in the morning before we left the Aviator hotel and back to our homes. The first was a panel session titled ‘Enabling Access to ‘Perfect Information’ in an Imperfect World’. This was a really interesting discussion debating the pros and cons of federated and enterprise search, which also fielded examples and experiences from the audience of implementing both types of search. As it was more of a discussion rather than a presentation, I’m afraid I haven’t got many notes from the session but it seems that federated search has been much better received than enterprise search.

The Art of Engagement by Linda Cockburn

The second and final session was on the art of presenting. I thought that Linda was very brave to provide a presentation on how to present to a room full of primarily experienced and senior library and information professionals. I was very much looking forward to this session as I was hoping to get advice in preparation for my upcoming BIALL Conference presentation with Sam Wiggins. Linda was superb and I picked up lots of tips to consider when preparing for a presentation that focused on performance and presentation content:

  • Be authentic and enthusiastic – share the best, most memorable, useful and interesting account of yourself and you work. For my presentation I spoke about how I wanted to be a professional Irish dancer before becoming a librarian!
  • Tell a story and bring it to life – arouse the audience’s anticipation by providing obstacles which must be overcome for success, and leave something for the end so that there is a climax
  • Remember, you are only nervous only because you care about what you are speaking on. Don’t fight your nerves, accept them.
  • Speak at half the speed you think you should – I didn’t use any notes for my presentation except a single A4 that said “slow down and smile” in capital letters!
  • If you want it to be a brilliant presentation, practice it at least 9 times out loud; particularly the opening and closing minutes for your presentation.
  • Present to a friend, and ask them to say it back to you to make sure you are explaining the information clearly.
Aviator Hotel

Aviator Hotel

This session was a great way to end the conference, as I came away feeling hopeful and positive about my presentation preparation for the BIALL conference. The content of this conference was excellent – I found every single session relevant and interesting to my work; which I can’t say for every conference I have attended. The calibre of presenters were impressive, and the sessions were balanced covering hot topics of the day such as mobile technology as well as topics that were useful on a personal level, such as managing your career progression. What also made the conference so successful was the calibre of attendees. The majority of attendees were very experiences and in senior positions, with lots of library managers knowledge manager directors. This meant that the numerous tea breaks between sessions involved really thought-provoking discussions, and was as useful as the formal presentations themselves. I would very strongly recommend the Perfect Information Conference to anyone who is considering going, it was a full and interesting few days!

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