Archive for the ‘ Library ’ Category

It must be summer…


Things can get rather silly in the Library of Doom.  It’s probably a reflex action that helps us cope, making us laugh instead of scream.  The silliness tends to be most obvious over the summer, as there are very few students in (so you can get away with more) and other than stock management, there’s not all that much to do.

So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise when I bounded out enthusiastically for a session on the issue desk (one hour, serving approximately ten students) and was handed an origami boat.  Continue reading

Things not to do in the library on a hot day


Imagine, if you will, that Great Britain – that damp, green, eccentric island – is experiencing a heat-wave.  Imagine, if you will, that the hottest July temperatures since the reign of Queen Victoria have been recorded.  Imagine, if you will, that there is a library, the Library of Doom, which has an interesting building design with lots of glass and a general lack of air-conditioning.  Imagine, therefore, lots of very hot and sweaty members of library staff.

There are certain things which you would not recommend doing in these circumstances.  Continue reading

My library runneth over


Everyone knows that libraries and bookshops share something in common with the TARDIS – they are much bigger on the inside than on the outside.  This is particularly true of dusty second-hand bookshops and old libraries with idiosyncratic shelving systems.  However, even those places with the stretchiest hold on the usual laws of space and dimension can only stretch so far, and it seems to me that the Library of Doom has reached that point.

Second-hand bookshops can get away with having books lined up along the window sill, or in teetering piles on the floor, but this doesn’t tend to be very acceptable in the world of libraries. Health and safety people tend to have a fit if there’s anything on the floor, and library patrons naturally start to complain if the books start encroaching on non-shelf territory.  I was intrigued to see what the state of play was in my crazy library, so I wandered round with a tape measure, a pen and a piece of paper yesterday morning before starting work, and here are the the thrilling results.  Subject area, followed by the number of shelves-worth of books that won’t fit on the shelves and are decorating the floor, trolleys, windowsills or study desks.  Or in one case, the top of a radiator, so I hope we find somewhere for those before the winter.

From least impressive to most: literature (4 shelves), sport and art (5 shelves each), music and policing (six shelves each), general science (7 shelves), media (10 shelves), history (13 shelves), languages (14 shelves) and social sciences (20 shelves).  I have a feeling that I missed the geography section accidentally which would add a few more.  Plus approximately 12 shelves-worth of periodicals and don’t even mention the DVDs, as it’s liable to make us all cry.

That’s a lot of books without a home, and sadly no spare space to erect any new shelves.  In approximately 30 months, there will be a brand new Library of Doom, but in the mean time, if you here of any tidal waves of unshelvable books engulfing unsuspecting students, you know why!

Has anyone got a book-shrinker?  I’m sure I saw several boxes of books arriving just before I left this afternoon…

Higher education = Big Brother?


It has occurred to me that there are disturbing parallels between my work in the Library of Doom and the world of so-called ‘reality’ television. Both provide a vital social service, but the populace at large is probably blissfully unaware of this. We keep strange people out of the workforce and off the streets for a period of time, contributing to the overall sanity of the nation.

I do not watch reality shows very often, but it is sometimes unavoidable due to friends, relatives and housemates who devour them greedily, thrilling to the exploits of the publicity-hungry folks these shows tend to attract. Increasingly, the cast list of these shows (I’m looking at you, Big Brother) largely consists of strange, unpleasant people who I’m very glad I’ll never have to meet. For anything up to three months, these people are locked away in a secure environment, meaning that their interesting social skills are only inflicted on a dozen or so people. Thankfully, it seems that the British public decides en masse that nice people should win these shows as often as possible. And also, I have to admit (grudgingly, mind you) that Big Brother has probably done wonders for tolerance, acceptance and inclusion, in that the past winners have included a gay man, a male-to-female transsexual, a working class chappie and even, of all things, a practicing Christian.

Higher education performs many roles, but at least where I work, it fulfils the same vital function as reality TV. I see disturbing numbers of people every day with bafflingly low levels of knowledge, intelligence and common sense, people who surely could not function in the workplace. For three years, or possibly more, we shield society from these people and attempt to teach them the skills they’ll need to survive. We try to show them how to think for themselves, demonstrate how to interact in polite society and force them to fend for themselves without mummy or daddy to cook, wash and clean for them. “How long can you borrow a 7-day loan for?”  “Have you got any photographs of the Great Fire of London?” And of course the brick wall people, who make you feel like you’re either talking to or bashing your head against said edifice. Don’t you feel glad that the valiant staff of higher education institutions are keeping these people away from the rest of the world and at least attempting to turn them into functional members of society?

Maybe the analogy’s not valid, but it struck me recently, so I thought I may as well share it.

Rudeness and gratitude


Anyone who works in any kind of service industry, or indeed any public-facing job, will know that people can be unutterably rude sometimes.  And anyone who knows a librarian, or who reads the very funny webcomic Unshelved will know that libraries can attract some of the rudest (and some of the most implausibly stupid) people out there.  Some recent examples…

The student/staff member (not library!) who is rapidly becoming one of my least favourite patrons.  She likes to wander into my office unannounced.  An office with a closed door.  Which has a big sign saying ‘Library Staff Only’ on it.  But this sign evidently doesn’t apply to her, as she will merrily waltz in whenever it pleases her.  It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to a colleague, or on the telephone, or doing some thrilling data entry.  She will walk straight in and loom over my desk, tutting impatiently until I speak to her.  If the door is locked (many of our office doors have a number-pad entry system for lone worker security purposes), she doesn’t knock.  She rattles the doorknob.  She tuts.  She slips notes under the door.  Mysteriously, her requests tend to slip to the bottom of the pile.  Most odd.

Or there are the people at the issue desk, who will lean over and wave their library cards at you to get your attention instead of waiting their turn.  This can happen while I’m cashing up, dealing with someone else, filling in a form or (more than likely) having a heart attack. 

I have, of course, already mentioned the charming people who tell us that they pay our wages.  Then there are the people who think it’s acceptable to refer to a colleague as a ‘stupid cow’.  Actually, dear, both she and I have two degrees, while you have none.  And you clearly don’t appreciate how stupid it is to wind library staff up.  We may be unfailingly polite to you, but we have power…

But on the other hand, you meet some wonderful people. The ones who’ll ask your opinion on anything and everything and have a fascinating conversation about it.  The ones (very, very rare) who present library staff with a box of chocolates when they graduate.  The ones who’ll take the rude people to task.  This week, someone said something so encouraging that it inspired me to write this post (although, I admit that the majority of it has been a rant).  “You are the heart of things, and you do a great job.  Without you guys, we can’t learn anything.”  He’ll go far.  He’s polite, he knows how to stroke our collective ego, and he clearly appreciates the awesome power of library staff.  And most important of all, he makes up for all the rude people and makes us realise that it really is worth doing what we do.

The trouble with students


I think I’ve worked it out.  The trouble with students these days is that they don’t really come to university to learn any more.  They come to be taught.  And there is a difference that goes beyond spelling and transitivity.  You see, I think it comes down to money.

Students today have to pay an awful lot of money to come to university, and they’re not shy about reminding you of it.  ‘I pay your wages’ is a relatively frequent cry of the man, woman or monster who isn’t satisfied with the responses to their questions.  To a certain extent, I suppose that could be true, but each student probably only pays me a penny or two per month, so I’m not all that worried.  However, they do indeed have to pay a lot of money to come here.

So they expect to be taught, not to learn.  They want to know what the answer is, not how to find out what the answer is.  They want to be told what to think, not how to think.  In the library, they want the three books on the reading list and nothing else.  No reading around the suject, which was one of the most interesting parts of study for me (and I’m only 27, can things really have changed that much?).  No forming of opinions.  No righteous anger at social injustice.  Just an endless frustration, for they all want the formula for how to get a first class degree handed to them on a plate, and most don’t understand that such a formula is impossible.  It’s about curiosity, imagination and reason.  It’s not about regurgitating facts A, B and C in the correct order.  It’s about disagreeing with your tutor and arguing your case, not blindly accepting what they say.  Or at least it should be.  Or is it just me?

 There are exceptions, of course.  The students who really want to learn, who want to expand the boundaries of their world view, who deliberately seek out authors with views that contradict their own.  And these are the students who make working in a higher education library worth while.  They are few and far between, but they bring a smile to my face like a breath of cool breeze on a muggy day.  The enthusiasm to learn is a rare and precious thing which needs to be encouraged.  If only I could work out how to do that…

%d bloggers like this: