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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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On a wet and gloomy Monday evening, I had the pleasure of going on a tour of the weird and wonderful London Library. Having heard some stories about the Library from some of my friends who were lucky enough to spend their graduate traineeships there, I was happy to discover that free tours are offered every other Monday evening (as it is a subscription library, I believe this is a marketing ploy, but one I was happy to take full advantage of!)London Library

Before I go ahead, a disclaimer is needed in case I have mis-remembered anything that our very knowledgeable tour guide told us!

The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, who apparently was fed up with not being able to take books home from the British Library (which at the time had a reference only collection), and started his own library where members could take books home to study at their convenience. Astonishingly, this is still very much the case today where 97% of the collection is on open access shelving and can be taken home, including books from as early as the 18th century! It was refreshing to find out that the purpose of the conservation team was not to render the works inaccessible to members in order to preserve the books in their original state; but only to preserve the books so that they can be used by future members of the library.

StacksThe major challenge the Library faces is space. It is almost like a living organism in the way it has grown out of a Georgian townhouse and has stretched itself upwards, downwards and to every side barring the front, with different parts of the building having different numbers of levels below and above ground. You can tell from the structure of the building that parts have been added here, there and everywhere in order to utilise every pocket of space. In the stacks, books are shelved from floor to ceiling, where the floors are thin metal grills in order to circulate air and light. We were told that if all of the books were taken off the stacks, then the building would rise an incredible 3 inches! So the books are integral to the structure of the building.

The collection grows at approximately 8,000 works a year, which is presumably why they require a huge team of approximately 60 full time and part time staff to keep the Library in working order, with about 20 members of staff in Reader Services alone.

ClassificationI loved the quirkiness of the classification system, which was devised by a librarian at the London Library in the late 19th century, which basically meant that anything that wasn’t arts and humanities was shoved in to “Science and Miscellaneous”. This lends itself to wonderful serendipitous browsing, and I could imagine spending hours enjoyably browsing the shelves. This led to some rather amusing subject guides on the ends of bays, such as charities sitting next to cheese.

What I really enjoyed about the London Library was the homely feel and quirkiness of the Library, which I think very much lends itself to being an inspirational location for authors and scholars of all descriptions. In one of the main reading rooms, I noticed there was a display cabinet of old membership forms, and 2 of them belonged to Edward Elgar and Winston Churchill! The Library almost seems like it is from a past era, and I really hope it is able to continue despite the challenge which all libraries seem to be facing of reduced funding.

I would very much recommend attending a tour if you are interested in experiencing different and unique libraries!

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Firstly my apologies for misquoting Shakespeare, but I thought it captured the topic of what I wanted to discuss perfectly. Secondly, the following post is a personal train of thought that I have had and all views are my own!

RoseIt was widely reported that CILIP recently put forward a motion to re-brand and change its name. I know of other library and information associations around the world that have also felt that there may be a need to review our profession and rebrand in order to appear more modern and to include a wider range of professionals under their umbrella.

The potential name changes of large library and information associations seem to be symptomatic of a change in our views regarding the term ‘librarian’. I think this change can largely be put to the opinion that the term ‘librarian’ does not accurately describe the work we do and the roles we have any more.

With the development of the web and the increasing focus on virtual library resources as opposed to physical resources, it seems to me that there is a parallel move away from job titles that include the word ‘librarian’, and a move towards ‘knowledge and information professionals’.

I am not a historian, but I believe the role of the librarian has existed for millenia. The term ‘librarian’ comes from the Latin term ‘liber’, which means ‘book’. The role of the librarian is a historical one that has evolved from the gatekeeper of knowledge to what could be currently described as the guide through the seemingly infinitesimal world of physical and particularly online resources available to us in the modern day age (see Ned Potter’s great prezi on this thought). When our roles contain less emphasis on book collections and more on information online, should the job title of ‘librarian’ also change to reflect our jobs more accurately?

Before we ask this, maybe we should go back to the title of this blog post and ask what is in a name? Or more specifically, a job title? Is it more important to represent how we view ourselves internally within the library and information profession – that we accurately describe our work so that other professionals know what we do – or is it more important how we represent our jobs to our family, friends, library and information service users and the wider public, so that they can understand our roles?

For example, I am an Information Officer. When I am introduced to a stranger at a family party and I am asked what I do, I tell them that I am an Information Officer and I receive a blank face as a response. I then hurriedly add that I am a half librarian half researcher for a law firm, and their eyes light up with understanding. The public knows what a librarian is – even if it tends to be an outdated image of our profession that has remained solidly in the 20th century, while in many cases our jobs have changed beyond recognition as we have moved in to the 21st century.

What actually inspired this blog post was a number of conversations that I have had with other professionals in the past year. These particular professionals indicated that they didn’t feel that they were librarians. In fact, they actually appeared to be slightly offended at the term. As such, they felt that professional associations that included the terms ‘library’ or ‘librarians’, such as CILIP or SLA for example, did not represent them, and that they could not accordingly belong to such organisations.

I have to admit that I was stunned when I first encountered this school of thought, and even more surprised when I found it repeated by different individuals with different jobs and in different organisations. Personally, I feel that as CILIP includes ‘information professionals’ as well as ‘librarians’ in its name, it would cover those who feel that they are not traditional librarians. The term ‘information profession’ appears to me to be inclusive of anyone who works with information in a professional role, and I don’t quite understand what name CILIP could take to be more encompassing than that!

I personally don’t feel offended when someone calls me a ‘librarian’, rather than an ‘Information Officer’. The librarian has the time-honoured role of organising knowledge and information (whether it is in a physical or online form), and this has been vitally important for the development of society for centuries. What I think is the problem is not the term ‘librarian’ itself, but the public’s perception of librarians not developing with modernity as it should have done. Can this be solved by CILIP changing its name to something like ‘The Knowledge People’? Of course not. In fact, this is more likely to mystify and isolate the public from us, when we need to accomplish the opposite. We need to bring them closer to demonstrate to them the significant value and vast number of modern technical skills that librarians and information professionals of today possess; we need to present ourselves as professionals who can navigate the murky depths of the Internet and curate the digital world, as well as professionals who possess the more traditional (and still essential) skills of managing physical libraries and book collections.

How can we accomplish this feat? I honestly don’t know. But I’ll leave you with the full quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet as food for thought:

O, be some other name!

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. (II.ii.42-47)

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Flipping the trainee training

At the 2013 BIALL conference, Nicola Sales provided an extremely thought provoking and intriguing session on a new and innovative method of providing training. The idea is to flip the classroom and instead of having the trainer on stage where they are observed providing demonstrations by generally passive users, have the session participation led, with the trainer on the side only to help and guide the users along (see Nicola’s blog for more information here).

This was extremely relevant to me, as during our last trainee solicitor intake my team had discussed refreshing and updating our training on conducting legal research in time for our next trainee intake. Our situation is slightly different from Nicola’s, as Nicola was working in an academic environment. Nicola was able to give the students materials to study in a form of online training tutorials before the training session, so that the session then consisted of the students completing problem based activities that required the use of the legal resources, and Nicola was on hand to help if needed. Nicola was also lucky enough to gain the cooperation of the course tutors, so that students were required to take an online assessment 24 hours after the training session in order to gain credit for their course.

Advantages to this training approach:

  • Individuals own and control their own learning, and can study it at their own pace, and as much or as little as they need
  • Content can be left online for later reference
  • Increased interaction between the trainer and participants

Disadvantages:

  • Need the resources to host the materials online
  • There is a danger of putting too much of the content to study online beforehand – you should resist and only put up the key essentials

On using this model of training, Nicola reported that training attendance has shot up from 15% to 91%, which is truly astonishing and very admirable. They have also noticed that the type of questions to the librarians have changed in a positive way, showing understanding of how the resources basically work.

Nicola’s training in an academic environment differs to my situation of training trainee solicitors in a law firm. Firstly, although we could create online tutorials (or more likely due to our lack of resources, use the tutorials of those provided by Westlaw and Lexis), I very much doubt that many of the trainees would be able to take the time out of their first very busy weeks to view these online tutorials. We even struggle getting them to our training sessions in the first place! Secondly, we do not have an alluring reward to provide special motivation to our trainee solicitors, such as the achievement of course credit by taking a test. However, I do hope that our trainees are intelligent enough to realise that knowing how to use our resources effectively may save them time, and in many cases panic, when asked to conduct legal research within their training seat.

Flipping the classroomHowever despite these differences, we have followed the key principles of Nicola’s flipping the classroom technique with our refreshing of our legal resources training. We have changed the structure of our training so that Westlaw and Lexis Library (the 2 main legal research resources we have) provide trainers, who will explain and demonstrate the databases in the first half of the session to the trainees, and then set them questions where they have to use the resources in the second half of the session, with the trainer on hand to help if needed.

For comparison, we previously used to provide Powerpoint presentations on how to use LexisLibrary and Westlaw where the presenter demonstrated searches, and the trainees passively watched and (hopefully) absorbed some of the information. I certainly agree with Nicola that getting the users (whether trainee solicitors or students) to actively use and explore the resources with scenario questions to be the most effective method of training; as it gives them the opportunity to explore different ways of searching the resources without rushing, and it simultaneously demonstrates the relevancy of the resources to their work; which is also an extremely important objective of our training sessions to our trainee solicitors.

In addition to these Westlaw and Lexis trainee sessions, we organise training in the library itself by department. With my team, we are each responsible for the training and specific resources for a number of departments, so for example, I provide the library training to the Corporate and Banking & Finance trainees, and any new solicitors, partners, etc. to those departments. This way, we gain some specialised knowledge with our departments, so that we can provide more effective library inductions and training. There tend to be 2-4 trainees per department, so this also provides a smaller and more informal group so that trainees may feel more comfortable asking us questions.

Previously, we would invite trainees to the library for an induction in the first couple of days they have started their seat. However, we found that at this point the trainees weren’t really familiar with the work they would be doing in their particular department, and therefore unable to appreciate how they could best use the resources or to ask questions about which resources to use for specific tasks. Therefore, we decided to move their induction to the end of the 1st week or beginning of the 2nd week, which means they are not so overwhelmed and they are able to make the most from the induction.

The library induction currently consists of a (very quick) tour around our hard copy resources, explaining the function of the Enquiry Desk, how to check out a book, and then the majority of the induction is an exploration of the online resources. A new addition to this induction, is for first year trainees we provide a quiz where they are required to use a variety of hard copy and online resources in the library to find the answers. These quizzes are department themed, and are intended to be potential real life questions they may be asked to find the answer during their traineeship. To do this, we liaised with the Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) in each department to ensure the questions are authentic. By providing a quiz, hopefully the relevancy and importance of the library resources are demonstrated to the trainees, and how to use them is made more memorable by making them actively explore them. We then go through the answers with the trainees step by step, and show them how they could have located the answer using a variety of methods and resources. This is also gives them another chance to ask questions about the resources and to reflect on how successfully they have managed to use them.

Informally, we have received some really positive feedback on this method, and I personally think the inclusion of the quiz for new trainee solicitors following the flipping the classroom technique is really effective in teaching users how to make the most of the library resources available to them.

Ideally we should obtain some formalised feedback from the trainees, and we are planning on sending out a quick survey to our trainees to see how they rate the Westlaw and Lexis training as well as their library induction training by us.

If you work in a law firm, how is your trainee training structured? Or even if you are in an academic environment, do you have any ideas as to how we can further improve our training? I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Blog hibernation

I must apologise for not updating my blog in such a long time, but I hope you will understand that I have had good reason not to. Neil Infield mentioned earlier this week that there was nothing worse than a dead blog and I want to show that my blog merely went in to hibernation and did not, in fact, die.

My pet tortoise Merry, who is a frequent hibernator

So the reasons behind my blog going in to hibernation in the height of summer:

  1. I secured my first professional role as an Information officer at Trowers & Hamlins law firm, and began working full time in July.
  2. As a result of winning the SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Award for the Legal Division I went to the SLA annual conference in Chicago and, being my first trip to the USA, I also went to New York for a holiday (who wouldn’t?).
  3. I had to write my dissertation on open access to complete my MA in Library and Information Studies from UCL (still waiting for my results so fingers crossed!).

Now despite these factors causing a hibernated blog, they will undoubtedly inspire the content of many, many months’ worth of blog posts to come. I hardly know where to start! So I think I will just work my way backwards through all that I have been doing, learning, and thinking about – so be warned, you may not be getting posts on CILIPs New Professionals Day back in May until 2013!

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While browsing Google images for beautiful book-related pictures that I could use for my new blog header, I stumbled across the artist Su Blackwell and her absolutely gorgeous book sculptures – a portfolio of which can be found here: http://www.sublackwell.co.uk/portfolio-book-cut-sculpture/ 

The magical nature of books  and the idea that they can bring stories and characters to life is an old (and a very true) one. However, the way Sue Blackwell has captured the essence of the fairytales she portrays is simply beautiful.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Alice, A Mad Tea Party

Out of Narnia

The Orient Express

The Snow Queen

The Wild Swans

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The Library and Me

For me, the library has always been a special place. I remember as a child being excited at the thought of my mum taking my brother and me to the local public library and getting my next wonderful book out (and video if I was lucky!). When I reached secondary school, I used to love going to the library and getting advice from the librarian on the next book I should read. At university the library became my safe haven, a place where I could research and complete coursework without distraction. And this was a great comfort to me when I was in a frenzied state of study-induced panic.

Libraries have always been warm, welcoming and friendly places for me. Beautiful LibraryAnd this is what we come to expect from libraries; a space where anyone is welcome to come and enjoy a book. But not only that, libraries have always been an exciting place for me, and this does not seem to be a common and popular perspective held of libraries. I am not even talking about the secret passageways or the books that trigger a secret door to be opened in the mysteriously wonderful libraries featured in novels. My love of libraries meant that I actually could not wait to go to the library to find the next fantastic book to read, a book so exciting that I could not put it down. Yet as public libraries are closing across the country, and less and less visitors are accessing libraries as a result, this passion and excitement for books may be diminished, or worse, never discovered.

In a time of what the future world might call the Digital Age, where there are more and more distractions such as hundreds of TV channels to watch, and  potentially addictive internet browsing (facebook, twitter and cake baking websites for me!), it is vitally important for librarians to remind and possibly re-introduce the joy of books to the public. E-books have gone some way to do this; not only by making books modern, but by simply reminding people of the exitence of books, which they may have forgotten in their busy and largely digital lifestyles.

However, I have gone off on a tangent!

It has always been an ambition of mine that one day I would have my own personal library. Not necessarily a very big or grand one (although ideally), but simply a room in my house that only contains novels, and can be used solely for reading, with no other distractions. Beauty and the Beast LibraryThis is a dream of mine that I have had as long as I can remember, well, for as long as I could read! As an ambition that began as a child, the shape of my perfect library always took the form of the one featured in my favourite Disney film… of course it could only be… Beauty and the Beast! The Beast’s library has huge windows to let lots of light in, more books than can possibly be read in a lifetime, and a cosy fireplace for a lovely space to read.

But if I had only just been born in this current Digital Age, how would this dream be altered? Would I be dreaming of a library as I still think of it – a warm and welcoming room full of wooden bookcases of beautiful books, with an aroma of that papery Virtual Librarysmell… or would I be dreaming of a virtual library of e-books on my iPad? Although it is the same dream in the terms of possessing a large enough number of books to justifiably call it a ‘library’, the modern manifestation of it as a virtual, untouchable space is just not the same, and nowhere as special as the dream of the physical library.

This is because the library is not just a collection of books. It is the space which houses the books; a space where you can sit and read without fear of being disturbed; a space where you can fully relax and submerge yourself into the world of the book, and a space where you can take shelter from the real world, and take a holiday from real life.

Sadly I currently live in a small flat, and the nearest I can get to fulfilling my dream at the moment is purchasing this really cool reading chair (which I am very, very tempted to do!). But one day, despite the Digital Age we live in, I still hope to have the perfect, physical library space of my own!

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