Posts Tagged ‘ work ’

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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…

%d bloggers like this: