Archive for the ‘ Library ’ Category

What does a librarian actually do all day?


It is quite clear that librarianship is one of the most misunderstood professions out there.  People really have no idea what librarians spend their time doing, why they might want to do it or even what the point of librarians is.  Our image has been improved in recent decades thanks to characters such as the Discworld’s Librarian and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Rupert Giles, but still the overriding image is of a severe-looking lady with her hair in a bun, grumpily stamping books and telling people to be quiet.  Not always accurate – if nothing else, I’m no lady!

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Bad vibrations


I’m picking up bad vibrations.
They’re giving me palpitations:
Bad, bad, bad, bad vibrations!

Yes, the sparkly new learning centre has turned against me, clearly determined to drive me away.  For the past few weeks, the floor in my office has been vibrating, sending shudders through my desk, my chair and my body, and sometimes causing the shelves behind me to rattle.  Some of my colleagues have also been experiencing the vibrations, though some of them are only aware of the phenomenon when it visibly affects an inanimate object, such as causing water bottles to shake or computer monitors to jiggle from side to side.  And those who are aware of the vibrations react differently.  Unfortunately, I seem to be particularly sensitive to them.

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In/out/in/out, shake us all about…


Last year, I wrote about the general inability this country has to cope with snow.  It appears that we have learned little, if anything from the experience and our recent attack of the frozen white stuff has caused even more confusion and problems than the last.  Partly this is down to a lack of snow-related infrastructure  and contingency – unlike places where heavy snow is a frequent event, our train tracks can’t cope with ice, our cars lack winter tyres and even main roads can quickly become impassable.

Just like everywhere else, the shiny new learning centre was affected by the turn in the weather.  On the first day of snow, a number of staff left early in order not to miss the last busses and trains to their various home towns, then many of them found themselves unable to get in on either the second or third day due to the public transport system running away and whimpering in a corner somewhere.  However, a large number of staff did manage to attend, and services were able to run as normal.  But the general air of panic which seemed to sweep the country (even in areas like mine which were not so seriously affected) meant that before long, services could not continue as usual after all.  The whole university was closed at 12 noon on the Friday (the third day of snow), to reopen after the weekend, much to the surprise of the throng of library staff who were merrily getting on with our various tasks.  Still, we didn’t complain too much, to be honest – I, for one, loved the snowy walk with the dogs which the free afternoon allowed me to take.

Then the confusion set in.

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The blonde factor


Moving from the Library of Doom to a state of the art learning centre has been an interesting, exciting, tiring and sometimes frustrating experience.  The new building has been open for 10 weeks now and everything is beginning to settle down.  We understand the technology, we no longer forget which floor everything is on and we are adjusting to the open plan office etiquette rules and the students’ newfound freedom to talk, eat and drink almost anywhere in the learning centre.  One thing, however, has not settled down, and that is shelving.  In any library (sorry, learning centre), shelving is a major logistical issue involving more trolleys and members of staff than you could ever imagine.  In fact, the task seems to consume as many trolleys as are available – you can purchase a couple of dozen extra trolleys, but within a week you will find yourself needing more.

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Show the librarians some love!


Sometimes you find the most surprising things in the book return box.  First thing on a Thursday morning, this is one of my tasks, carried out as part of the routine of getting the temporary library up and running for the day.  Gone is the hideous wooden thing lurking in the corner, replaced by a much older, but more aesthetically pleasing blue metal drop box.  Given previous form and stories of drop boxes across the world, you might expect to find bacon rashers, dead squirrels, old underwear or hastily stashed contraband in there.  However, the only item I’ve found in there so far which wasn’t part of library stock was much more unexpected.  This:

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Farewell to the Library of Doom


So, on the day of the penultimate Hot Mikado performance, we closed the doors of the Library of Doom for the very last time.  Since then, most of our stock has gone into storage, while the merry band of librarians and library assistants have been scattered to the winds, dispersed across five different buildings on the university campus.  My team is based in a Temporary Library in an examinations hall, and we are all waiting out the summer, in anticipation of the grand opening of our big new, shiny learning centre.  Each day, as we go about our business, we can see the old library building being gutted, as teams of builders prepare it for a new life as a collection of teaching labs. 

It was hardly a perfect building. It leaked, sometimes causing large chunks of paint to fall from the ceiling.  It flooded once, which was rather exciting as an old storm drain suddenly made its presence felt in the foyer.  A shelf once came loose and made a valiant attempt at decapitating me.  The carpet tiles made endless attempts to trip people up.  The building was always either too cold or too hot.  The book return box was an eyesore.  It had slopes in inconvenient places which made it difficult to wheel the trolleys around.  Some of the light switches were behind shelves of music books.  The layout didn’t make sense, even after nearly nine years of working there.  There was never enough space for the books.  It had wheelchair access issues and a frightening lift.

I miss it, though.  I was the final member of staff to go through the closing-up routine and even as I passed the dodgy shelves, switched off the inconvenient lights, wrestled with the complicated doors on the first floor and took in each of the building’s faults, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss as each room was plunged into darkness and sealed away from marauding students.  I locked the Group Study Room and remembered the Children in Need fundraiser event, S Club Library.  I chuckled as I saw a few videos which reminded me of our Easter Egg Hunt (bags of mini eggs were hidden inside some of the video cases).  I passed the office with the hideous yellow shelves and remembered the student who came in there and asked for photographs of the Great Fire of London.  Almost eight years is a long time to work in one building, and had clearly allowed many memories to build up.  The different areas we’d sealed off with hazard tape from time to time.  The hysteria I’d shared with a colleague when the shelf tried to kill me.  The desk where I was sitting when I got the email asking me to perform in Aladdin.  The secluded part of the Open Access Area (computer lab) where I’d done some of the assignments for my librarianship qualification.  And more, of course.

All gone, now.  But the stock remains (and believe me, some of the books, DVDs and equipment have memories attached to them) and more importantly, my colleagues are still around as well.  I couldn’t hope for a better group of peers.  We share a lot of laughs and the odd tear now and then.  Whole shelves of librarians turn out to watch my shows, and we have regular trips to the local noodle bar and other eating and drinking establishments.  Frustrations are shared, ideas are passed to and fro and we seem to cope with anything, from the complete loss of our library management software (otherwise known as The Month We Do Not Speak Of) to unspeakably rude library patrons, and from yet another brood of ducklings in the garden to malfunctioning exit doors. 

So in a strange way I miss the nasty old Library of Doom, even as I look forward to the new building.  Whatever the environment’s like, I know we’ll be forging some new memories there.  I just hope it never becomes the Shiny Learning Centre of Doom…

Snow joke


I love my country, and am proud to be British, but sometimes I despair.

Weather is a fairly common occurrence here on this lovely group of islands. In fact, it is such an important part of our lives that I would have thought it was our most common topic of conversation, even if we tend to grumble about it in all its variations. Come rain or shine, come gale or snow, sleet or hail, drizzle or heatwave, the British can be counted on to complain. It will be too hot, too cold, too damp, too dry, too windy or too calm. And in extreme circumstances, such as the appearance of frozen water from the sky, we simply retreat into our shells and hide until it’s over.

Today, it seems that snow brought the country to a standstill. Or at least it brought London to a standstill and this had a knock-on effect across much of the nation, partly because it seems all the trains had been sleeping in London overnight and were therefore not available to transport anyone to their chosen destinations. In my part of Kent, the snow made a vague attempt at doing its job, but mostly looked pretty and melted. It would be very generous indeed to suggest that we had an inch of it. Further west, roads were harder to travel on due to the lack of gritters. Quite why gritting had not happened, I don’t know. Snow on Sunday and Monday was forecast before the weekend, so there was plenty of warning. To be fair, the major roads around here seemed to be fine, but reports from colleagues and friends suggest that this was not true everywhere.

The Library of Doom held out longer than many places. Plenty of High Street shops remained closed today, and most of the rest of Kent’s institutions of higher education either never opened or shut up shop at lunchtime. We sent home those people who were having public transport difficulties, then continued providing our usual librarianic services until 6 o’clock, when we put the books to bed and turned out the lights.

Reports suggest that other areas were hit harder by snowstorms, but it is clear that the levels of snow were and are nothing compared to snowfall in places such as Russia, Canada and Scandinavia, where life seems to continue happily during even the bleakest winter. Here, however, our winters are less harsh than they once were, but they seem to affect us in ways they never did before. Suddenly, many places of work and education are closed, public transport throws in the towel and the radio is warning us of impending doom. Is it the wrong sort of snow, or is the country just a bit pathetic? I suspect more of the latter, but tinged with a lack of preparation, an amazing ability to be taken by surprise by something we all knew was coming. One suspects that the rest of the world (and probably other parts of the United Kingdom as well) is sniggering at us behind their hands. If so, I really don’t blame them.

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