Posts Tagged ‘ librarianship ’

The Singing Librarian – being both


singinglibrarianI’m a librarian. I’m a performer. And being both makes me better.

Librarians have a key body of professional knowledge and a set of professional skills. If we didn’t, there really wouldn’t be much point to us.  Performers, too (whether professional or amateur) draw upon a set of skills and a body of knowledge.

In the case of librarians, the perception may be that we rely largely on knowledge rather than skills.  This is not really the case.  In terms of finding information on-line, for example, we don’t learn the ins and outs of every search engine, digital library, repository or on-line archive. We draw upon skills that we have learned (formally or otherwise) and then honed through experience to help us when we encounter new resources. Similarly, the ability to work out exactly what it is that someone is actually looking for is a skill.  On the other hand, performers do not (or should not) rely entirely on skill. There is a body of knowledge to draw on in terms of creating a character, using voice and so on. Perhaps more importantly, theatre has a language, etiquette and culture that have to be learned – sometimes, knowledge of this can avoid injury, so it’s rather important.

But how do the knowledge and skills from each side of my life relate to each other? In many ways, but in order to keep things relatively short, there are five main areas where I see my performing activities and my library work intersecting: memory, adaptability, use of voice, confidence and organisation.

Firstly, memory. It is a common misconception that librarians know everything – our job (or at least my job) is to help other people access information, not to know the answers for them. However, I find it is useful to have a lot of information ready to retrieve from the mental filing cabinet – whether that is the status of particular book orders, the location of books on the Spanish civil war or the best database to use for locating information on CTG. In my other activities, memory is just as vital. Lines, harmonies, dance steps, location of clothing for quick changes… the list of things to remember during a show is worryingly long. Thankfully, I am usually a quick learner, and I think this may be partly due to my work-life combination.  Each side of me exercises my memory storage and retrieval capacity, though in different ways, and so each side of my life enhances the other.

Secondly, adaptability. Sometimes, in theatre, things just don’t go the way they should. Someone forgets to enter for a particular scene, a prop shatters as you pick it up, words get jumbled or a follow spot operator has a bad day. As a performer or member of the technical crew, you just have to cope and carry on, preferably without most of the audience realising that anything went wrong at all. This is relevant in library life surprisingly often. I have to demonstrate various websites, software packages etc. to many different people, sometimes one-to-one, sometimes in lecture theatres. And, of course, things go wrong. A site goes down for maintenance, the internet connection decides on a go-slow or the network cuts out entirely. In these instances, I don’t pretend that nothing is wrong, but I either have to keep the audience entertained (as it were) or come up with an alternative plan. Improvisation is an important skill!

Thirdly, use of voice. As I don’t tend to engage in mimed performances, the use of my voice is rather key to the performing part of my life (most obviously when singing). I therefore know how to project my voice, and have strategies I can fall back on to keep my voice going when it’s tired.   I do so many lectures and workshops on campus that this is extremely important to me in the work environment as well. We have two training rooms in our library, and one of these has a microphone that can be used. I always book the other one to leave the mic. available for colleagues. I’m not a naturally loud person, but I know how to make myself heard. And when there are times of year when you go from workshop to lecture to tour with barely any breaks, being able to take care of your voice is important.  The techniques I’ve learned as a performer have thus been invaluable as an academic librarian.

Fourthly, confidence. I am not confident when meeting people I don’t know, or when being myself in front of people. On the other hand, I am (in some ways) confident when I get up and perform as a character. That may say all sorts of things about me psychologically, but the strange “I’m terrified, but nobody can tell” confidence I have on stage can translate into work situations, such as large lectures. To a small extent, I take on a character. His name is David and he’s a librarian. Yes, he’s me, but being able to perform in some way helps make the whole thing less disturbing. I also tend to leaven my presentations with a light sprinkling of humour, as any public speaker probably should.

Lastly, organisation. Unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not one of the world’s tidiest people, but as a librarian, I do have a certain professional appreciation for order, for the proper arrangement of information, for categorisation and sequencing. This can help me as a performer, particularly if a show has a myriad of costumes or other items to keep track of – everything has its place and all is well. It’s even more useful in other aspects of theatre. As a director or a stage manager, I am super-organised. I have lists and spreadsheets and diagrams and more lists.  Yes, there’s certainly plenty of room for creativity and spontaneity (lists can always be re-written), but the librarian approach to life definitely makes me more efficient and effective in the theatre. Managing and organising information is not a pointless skill beyond the walls of the library, it reaps bounteous artistic rewards!

Of course, none of these things are unique to librarianship or to performing, but it’s interesting how they interact and how different parts of my life feeds back into others. I firmly believe that as the Singing Librarian, I am stronger – librarianship helps make me a better performer, and performing helps make me a better librarian.

Beyond the dilemma of the work-life balance, how do your leisure activities impact on your work? Or vice versa? I’d be fascinated to know – leave a comment!

A free day in the library


Earlier this week, I mentioned to one of my friends that I had a day coming up where my work diary was empty.  This is a rare occurrence, as (even during July) the working week is liberally sprinkled with workshops, demonstrations, meetings and one-to-ones.  When I mentioned this, my friend then asked me what I do on ‘empty’ days, particularly when most of the students are off on holidays.  I expected to get at least one student ask for some help, but that didn’t happen.  Here, though, are the things which filled my working day when the diary was empty:

Stock moving. We have two collections of books moving to our library over the summer, so we’re having to make space for them.  To that end, everything else has been shifting around in the library, and on this particular day I helped to shift some of the history books.  This particular work helped free up some space in a particularly squashed area of the library, but will also have the knock-on effect of freeing up some shelves for the collection of music scores which is coming our way.

Writing. Our library is involved with many of the local schools, offering access to the building as well as training in information skills to sixth form students.  We give them lots of different handouts etc when they come, but we’d like to condense that down into one booklet.  On this day, I worked on the page about choosing appropriate keywords to help in the search for information.

Web editing.  I am one of the library’s team of web editors.  I made a number of small tweaks to the web site, including correcting a few rogue spellings, adding a link to a useful external website and tidying up some of the information on borrowing books.  I also made some changes to my subject guide pages – some factual updates and an attempt to integrate my Twitter feed in a visually pleasing manner.  Unfortunately, I have discovered that my method for doing the latter is not effective on small screens.  Back to the drawing board…

Searching.  I have been involved with a project to introduce reading lists management software to the campus.  The discussions I have had with academics and fellow librarians have made me curious about the impact of reading lists in general.  I therefore spent a small amount of time trying to locate any research which may have been done in this area.  Initial findings suggest that not a lot has been written on the topic, but I did find some interesting articles to read.

Updating.  I also updated several reading lists using said software.  The intention of the project is to hand responsibility for reading lists over to academics, but we’re in a transition phase, so I’m still doing bits and pieces.  Thankfully, it takes mere seconds to add items to lists (or remove them from lists, for that matter).

Line managing.  I approved a leave request from one of the three people I line manage.

Checking. An academic in the process of revalidation for one of her courses sent a set of reading lists through to be checked, in order to see which items are currently available through the library at my campus, another campus or electronically.  I was able to complete this by the end of the day, though checking to see what copies of the missing books would cost had to wait until two days later.  Checking these lists also allowed me to practice use of a new resource discovery system – I had previously been using it primarily to locate electronic material. Confusingly, these lists will not tie up with the reading lists project – I work for three universities at once, and only one of them has the reading lists management software.

Preparing. Various bits of preparation needed to be done.  I finalised my travel arrangements for a visit to a different campus the next day, along with what I was supposed to be doing when I got there.  I discussed the content of a training session (to be held in two days time – just a little bit of time pressure there!) with an academic. And I added the dates of some demonstrations and workshops to my diary.  These were for September and October, but I already have numerous dates booked in for 2014.

Quite a full day, with a variety of tasks. There is always a lot to do in my job, even when things are supposedly ‘quiet’.  I wasn’t able to remove much from my to-do list (which somehow ended up longer at the end of the week than it had been at the beginning of the week), but I still felt that the day was a productive one. And although I always say that the best bit of my job is face-to-face work with students, it was still an interesting day. So there we have it. That’s what the Singing Librarian does when there’s nothing in his diary. I can be fairly sure, though, that the next clear day will be filled with an entirely different selection of activities.

What does a librarian do all day? – revisited


Some months ago, I wrote about what I actually get up to at work.  Since then, I have had a major change of job, though still within the world of higher education librarianship, so I thought it was about time I updated this to reflect my new role.  My job function is known by many different names in many different universities, but essentially I am a subject librarian, with my particular subject specialism being health.  This is a surprisingly broad area at my place of work, encompassing various branches of nursing, along with medical imaging, dental practice, occupational therapy, midwifery, speech and language therapy, cardiology, operating department practice, paramedic science and (soon) minimally invasive surgery as well as health administration and other areas of professional practice.

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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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A real librarian


It’s time to update the ‘About’ page on this blog as a number of points have been rendered untrue over the last week.  Specifically the following:

The Singing Librarian is not, technically speaking, a librarian.  He has been working in a higher education library in Kent (UK) since Autumn 2000, but does not yet have a librarianship qualification and is therefore only a quasi-librarian.  His job title is ‘Senior Library Assistant’.

And

The Singing Librarian is in the process of obtaining a librarianship qualification, but already has a BA (Hons) in English Language and Theatre Studies, as well as an MA in Literature.

One small thing has ensured that these statements are no longer true.  On Monday I received confirmation that I have passed everything necessary to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Information and Library Studies.  As this course is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and I’m currently continuing my secondment, it appears that I have become a real librarian in the eyes of the profession as well as the eyes of the world.

There were no trumpets, fireworks or choirs (unless you count the Titanic rehearsal on the night I found out) to accompany this new stage of the Singing Librarian’s life, but it is quite significant.  An accredited library qualification opens up a number of career possibilities within the information world, which are attractive largely because of the interesting nature of the roles rather than the money (anyone who thinks librarians are rolling in money clearly doesn’t know any librarians).  Subject specialisation, cataloguing or secondary/further education librarianship all appeal.  I don’t know where I’ll go next, but it is nice to know that I am finally a real librarian.

Secondment


I am not technically a librarian. I have mentioned this before, in an excessively long post about the name of this blog, and it continues to be true. I lack a librarianship qualification, thus I am a simple library assistant. Well, senior library assistant, but still. And yet, within the next few weeks, I will complete the final assignments for my PgDip in Library and Information Studies, and at some point soon after that, I will hopefully hold a piece of paper in my hands which proves I hold a qualification accredited by the lovely people at CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, formerly known as the Library Association.

And yet, if someone happened to receive an e-mail from me at the moment, at least an e-mail sent from my work account, the word librarian would appear very soon after my name. How can this be? Am I committing some horrendous library fraud, for which I will be strangled with cardigans or shushed to death? Thankfully not. I have simply been seconded. For three months, while a colleague/friend/fellow blogger recovers from surgery, my job title reads “Assistant Librarian (Acting)”, which is generally regarded to be about the most fitting job title anyone could find for me in the library world, if you take it to mean something that it clearly doesn’t mean, that is.

What the job actually entails is some degree of supervision for what seems like hundreds of staff (but is probably somewhat less), endless hours sweating over rotas, many meetings with sundry management-type librarians, dealing with moaning students, dealing with moaning library staff, creating library accounts for staff and external borrowers and generally keeping my fingers crossed that the front-line operations of the library can keep running. I’m also supposed to be organising various bits of training for an assortment of staff members.

This is not a job I would have applied for had it been permanent, and I made this very clear to my line manager and the head of department when they interviewed me for the secondment. However, it is a development opportunity, yes it is, much as I hate the phrase. Experience in a position of authority and responsibility can only help me further my librarianship career, and being in this post will make it easier for me to get involved with information skills training, an area which interests and excites me greatly. I’m certainly learning an awful lot as I go. Not least amongst the lessons learned is the fact that you really, really can’t please everyone, and that it’s not a disaster when not everyone agrees with something. It’s just life.

I’m acting up until June, by which point I hope to have gained some valuable experience and insight (oh, dear, I’m lapsing into meaningless interview-speak) and grasped hold of the next rung on the librarianship ladder. Of course, the fact that running off to train as an actor is starting to look more appealing than it ever has is rather distracting. For now, though, while I’m trapped in the library world as a result of my employer funding my studies, this is a step in the right direction. A decision to veer off at a bizarre angle can wait.

Questions are asked and answered


There is a meme going around, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, where bloggers interview one another, and end up giving really quite interesting (or in my case, really quite long) answers.  I think the beauty of this meme is in the nature of who is doing the interviewing.  It’s not people that the bloggers know in their day to day life, who would most likely be fishing for particular bits of information that they already know.  It’s also not people completely disconnected from them, who would end up asking entirely generic questions.  These are people who know their interviewees through the blogosphere, a curious form of social interaction which is simultaneously very open and very reserved, as each word can be chosen, pondered and held back.  All of us leave a whole number of gaps in the narrative of our lives as we blog away, and many of the questions and answers I’ve seen have been filling in some of these gaps, which the blog authors may have been entirely unaware of.

So the meme has been floating around, and I’ve seen it whiz through the periphery of  both the comics blogosphere and the theatre blogosphere, and now it has entered the realm of the blogs that I read more regularly.  I finally decided to be brave and ask for some questions following the questions that Aphra posed to Reed.  Reed, or possibly her ever-present Editor, posed five questions, and warned me that they “are all prompted by the fact I am a NOSY woman”.   As a result, this is probably one of my longest posts ever.  If you really don’t want to know about the real Singing Librarian, look away now and come back in a few days when I start wittering about something less personal.

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