New job, new opportunities, new challenges

It has been three months now since I left my job as a Trainee Liaison Librarian the University of Reading to take up a post as Assistant Librarian at an Oxford college. Although both academic librarian posts, they could not be more different: a very large team versus a very small team; a large University library versus a small college library; a fairly specialist role versus a generalist role.

The main reading room of the college library

The main reading room of the college library

Working as part of a small team in a fairly small library creates both challenges and opportunities. One of the main benefits is the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of running an academic library: for example, I am responsible for the Library Management system, I manage a team of student Library assistants, I catalogue and classify incoming books. I have also planned the refurbishment of a group study room in the Library, and a Library book sale. I am most excited about the opportunity to work with our rare books collection. The collection is very miscellaneous in nature, and includes everything from a medieval illuminated manuscript to incunabula, an autograph letter by Virginia Woolf, and Victorian private press books. Although the varied nature of the collection means that there is little coherency, I think it has great potential for teacing and outreach activities. My future plans include cataloguing the collection, starting a blog highlighting some of the most interesting items, promoting the collection as potential teaching resources to the college tutors, organising an exhibition of our most fascinating items, and organising sessions for our students and alumni. I am still in the early stages of planning the cataloguing of the collection, so there is a lot of work to be done!

Detail of the title page of one of our rare books: a book from 1583 printed by the celebrated Antwerp-based printer Christophe Plantin

Detail of the title page of one of our rare books: a book from 1583 printed by the celebrated Antwerp-based printer Christophe Plantin

To me, one of the main downsides of working in an Oxford college is the fragmentation. With each of the colleges having their own college library, and there being several seperate faculty libraries as well as central facilities, the potential for miscommunication and duplication is huge. Although  there are few cities where there are so many libraries as Oxford, I often feel as if I am working in complete isolation of other Library staff here, and it is much more difficult to share and learn from best practice than it was at Reading. Even within the college, there is little collaboration between the academic and the support staff on the one hand, and the various support departments on the other. Coming from the University of Reading, where collaboration is promoted and rewarded and where I have organised and attended seminars for University teaching staff, training sessions for Library staff and collaborated closely with various academics and other support staff such as study advisors and language tutors, this was the aspect that I initally found most difficult to adapt to.

Although this can be frustrating at times, I enjoy working here, and am looking forward to what the next months will bring!


Library history research: a glimpse into the past

I was invited by the editorial team of CULIB (Cambridge University Libraries Information Bulletin) to write a short article about my experience of doing library history research for their library history themed issue. As the Secretary of the CILIP LIbrary & Information History Group, this is a topic that is close to my heart, and I thought I would share my article here as well, as it may be useful for MA LIS students or librarians thinking of embarking on a library history-related research project.

When I was studying for an MA in Library & Information Studies in 2011-12, I did not have to look far for a topic to write my master’s dissertation on: at Guildford Royal Grammar School, just a few yards from where I lived, hundreds of antiquarian books rested on the heavy wooden shelves in the Chained Library, which was constructed towards the end of the sixteenth century. These books have been accumulated since the school’s foundation in 1509, and they include eighty-three volumes that were donated by John Parkhurst (1511/12-1574-75), bishop of Norwich, which formed the focus of my study.


The Chained Library at Guildford Royal Grammar School

Parkhurst’s collection formed the perfect material for a comprehensive, small-scale research project. Most of Parkhurst’s books were still in their original bindings, and the collection had been spared from the overzealous ‘conservation’ efforts of Victorian librarians, which led to the destruction of much historical evidence from early printed books in many other libraries. Furthermore, although nothing had been written yet about Parkhurst’s library, the availability of a wide range of primary sources that I needed for my research made my project attainable within a one year time frame.

These sources included Woodward and Christophers’ catalogue of the Chained Library of the Royal Grammar School in Guildford [1], which includes a transcription of the earliest surviving catalogue of the collection, drawn up in 1596 by George Austen, the then mayor of Guildford. Apart from the books themselves, I also made use of contemporary sources to contextualise Parkhurst’s book collecting and trace the history of his library. His correspondence survives in the so-called ‘Zurich Letters’, held in the archives of the Swiss city, comprising the correspondence between continental Reformers and English clergy during the early part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, as well as in his Letter Book, which Parkhurst compiled in the 1570s in an attempt to organise his personal administration. Both of these sources have been published [2]. Parkhurst’s only publication, Iohannis Parkhursti Ludicra siue Epigrammata iuuenilia, a collection of short poems that includes references to printers, authors and booksellers, had been digitised and was available through Early English Books Online. Finally, I made use of Parkhurst’s will, in which he bequeathed his books to the school. This document had been digitised by the National Archives, and could be downloaded from their website for a small fee. The rare wealth and availability of the primary sources that documented the development of Parkhurst’s library made it possible for me to re-construct the history of the library of this sixteenth-century bishop.

The bibliographical study of the collection in Guildford RGS formed the basis for my investigation into the history and development of Parkhurst’s library. I paid particular attention to the contemporary bindings: through analysing the tool groups that were used to decorate them, I was able to trace where, and in many cases also when, Parkhurst had his books bound. This enabled me to discover how his interests as a book collector developed. Alongside the development of his library, I studied Parkhurst’s correspondence, which abounds in references to printers, booksellers and contemporary works and authors. I found that Parkhurst was deeply involved in the dynamics of early modern print culture, and that he sought to contribute to the dissemination of Reformed theology through his bequest and through facilitating the exchange of books between England and continental Europe. Parkhurst’s collecting habits and his involvement with the publishing world were deeply influenced by the religious views he developed as a result of the close relationships he had formed with the continental Reformers of Zurich.

Portrait of John Parkhurst, by unknown artist

Portrait of John Parkhurst, by unknown artist [3]

Whilst undertaking this project, I came up against some common challenges that await those who venture into library history research. The accessibility of many historic collections is limited. For example, the Chained Library at Guildford Royal Grammar School is now the headmaster’s office, which meant I could only come in to study the collection when the headmaster was not in. Furthermore, the originality of library history research is also one of its pitfalls: because you don’t know what you are going to find when researching books that have often remained unstudied for centuries, it is very difficult to plan ahead. Starting early and building flexibility into your schedule is key. Nevertheless, I found library history research to be immensely rewarding. It is an opportunity to make an original contribution to our knowledge in this field: so much of the history of libraries is still uncharted territory, so many historic collections are full of evidence waiting to be interpreted. The interdisciplinary nature of library history makes it a fascinating field to work in; it touches on intellectual history, political history, book history, the history of reading, and theology, philosophy or literature. The written or the printed word, as carrier and transmitter of human knowledge, has been central to our civilisation for millennia.  Studying the history of a library enables you to find out who collected these emblematic artefacts, to what purpose, and how they were used. In this way, each surviving collection or catalogue can offer us a glimpse of the cultural life of a society long gone.

[1] Gwendolen Woodward and R.A. Christophers, The Chained Library of the Royal Grammar School Guildford: Catalogue (Guildford: Royal Grammar School, 1972)

[2]The Zurich letters, comprising the correspondence of several English bishops and others with some of the Helvetian reformers, during the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, ed. and trans. by H. Robinson, 2 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1842–5) ; The Letter Book of John Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich, compiled during the years 1571-5, ed. by R.A. Houlbrooke (Norwich: Norfolk Record Society, 1975)

[3] Unknown artist, portrait of John Parkhurst, 1564, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, 2008),

Some tips for large group teaching

Liaison librarians are usually involved in teaching, but we often don’t do enough of it to experiment and to find out what works and what doesn’t, unless we have been teaching for several years. I found that after I have done a session, reflected on it and noted what to retain and what to improve, I often have to wait a whole year before I teach that session again! Therefore, sharing best practice is essential, and it is something we often do not make enough time for. Being new to large group teaching myself and having completed a course on teaching and learning in Higher Education, I thought I would share some tips I have picked up over the past two years. This is partly based on a short presentation that I did at London LibTeachMeet 2013 – the slides will be up soon!

Tip: if this could be one of your lectures, it may be time to try a different approach (source: Wikipedia)

  • The more relevant your session is, the easier it is to grab your students’ attention
    Avoid generic sessions. If possible, try to find out what assignments your students have, when they are set and when their deadlines are. I have got access on the VLE to all modules for my subjects, and I made a list of all assignments students in my subjects are set. I then mapped these onto information literacy skills that are outlined in the SCONUL 7 pillars model to gain an overview of what skills students will need to develop at what stage. This has helped me immensely in making sure sessions are relevant. It is ideal if you can get an example of previous students’ coursework from the lecturer, as these work much better than examples you have thought out yourself, and you can use this material to make exercises as well. Close collaboration with lecturers is essential here – not only for access to student exemplars and assignment briefs, but it is also an opportunity to raise your profile in the department and highlight the value you can bring to teaching and learning, which academic staff are often not aware of.
  • Large group teaching does not have to equal a traditional lecture format
    Teaching skills in a traditional lecture setting is somewhat of a contradiction – you want your students to be able to do something at the end of your session, and information literacy can be quite dry. I have come up with several ways to encourage active learning and to break up the lecture format, such as including multiple choice questions, asking students to write a reference from information displayed on the screen, asking students to write ideas and/or answers to questions on post-it notes, etc. I was nervous at first about trying interactive activities like these in a group of over a hundred students, but found that they actually work really well: far from breaking students’ concentration, it helps them to stay focused, and often solicits questions and comments. I try to include a short activity at least every twenty minutes. It is, however, very important to carefully plan any activities: how long are they going to take? How are you going to provide feedback? Will students work individually, or in pairs (this often works well in lecture settings, I find)? Displaying a timer on your slide can also be very helpful and make sure transitions between lecture and activity and vica versa are smooth.
  • Always ask for feedback
    This enables you to reflect and improve. You can hand out a brief feedback form, or ask students to write down what they found most useful and what could be improved upon a post-it note, and stick it on the door when they go out. In my experience, students are much more positive than you might expect! Make sure you pass on any good feedback onto the lecturer, and keep a copy of the results: you never know when you may need it to prove the value of the services that the Library provides.
  • Have a plan B ready in case technology lets you down
    I found that you should never rely too heavily on technology. All too often the Wifi is down or very slow, your Prezi won’t open because of an outdated version of Flash Player, or a database you wanted to do a demo of is down (all of these have happened to me!). I now never do live demos in large group sessions: I always do screencasts and show these. The added benefit here is that you can zoom in and merge film clips together if you have the appropriate software (I use Camtasia).
  • Exploit opportunities for collaboration
    In a large university, there is often a degree of overlap between what different departments do, such as the library, e-learning, study support, international student support etc. Students can really benefit from collaboration, as it can result in a session that shows how different skills relate to each other. It is also a great way to raise your profile within the institution and establish useful contacts.

Do you have any other tips for teaching large groups? Please let me know in the comments section!

Une Semaine à Paris – My Erasmus visit to the Université Pierre et Marie Curie

In July, I spent a week at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, a Science & Medicine University, through the Erasmus Staff Mobility scheme. It was a fantastic opportunity that broadened my perspective on academic librarianship, and I cannot recommend participating in this scheme enough! It took a lot of time, effort and back-and-forth emailing to arrange everything, but it was definitely worth it. As a result of spending a week at the UPMC, I have developed a broader view on the profession, a keener insight into the ethics that we as librarians share no matter what country we are based in, and several worthwhile and exciting ideas to try out in my current workplace and in my future career.

I attended various presentations and Library tours, and got the opportunity to speak to many librarians at the UPMC, all of whom where very helpful and generous with their time. This is a summary of the various themes that were covered and the various libraries I had the opportunity to visit.

The library system in France

The profession of librarian is governed by the state in France, and librarians are directly employed by the state. They need to pass a highly competitive public exam in order to be employed in a library for any other job than shelving. There are four levels of exams:

Candidates need to submit a portfolio prior to the exam, and it consist of an interview, written tests (incl. essays on current affairs and general knowledge), and for the concours A, a translation exercise to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. To prepare for the exam, they can do a two year vocational course, or a highly selective master programme, but these are not essential for entry to the profession.

The governance of French libraries is also much more centralised than it is in Britain. Public libraries, including heritage libraries (“bibliothèques municipales classes”) are governed by the so-called “collectivités territoriales”, and there is a general library inspection (the I.G.B. or the Inspection générale des bibliothèques), which university libraries are also subject to (created in 1822). This is organised by the Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche (Ministry for Higher Education and Research), which is responsible for university libraries, inter-university libraries, and libraries of big public establishment (such as the library of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle), and libraries of research institutions. For each inspection round, they focus on a particular mission, such as new services or e-resoures, and evaluate libraries according to this aspect. They also publish reports on national progress being made. The national libraries in France, such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Bibliothèque publique d’information (which acts as a laboratory for new services for public libraries), are also governed by the ministère de culture.

Libraries in Higher Education are managed by Mission de l’information scientifique et technique et du réseau documentaire (MISTRD), part of the Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche,  a body charged with managing scholarly information and the information resource network. One of the institutions that supports academic libraries is the agence bibliographique de l’enseignement supérieur (ABES), which compiles the SUDOC, the union catalogue of French university libraries, shares bibliographical records, and “implements the national strategy defined by the French Ministry for Higher Education and Research”. Their responsibilities also include setting up a thesis portal and negotiating national licences. They are also supported by the Centre Technique du Livre de l’Enseignement Supérieur (CTLES), whose mission it is to formulate and carry out a conservation strategy for France’s university library collections. They provide temporary and permanent storage space for university libraries.

The Libraries of the UPMC

A few facts about the University and its libraries:

  • There are 31,000 students (of which there are 10,000 medical students, and 21,000 science students). 17,000 students are registered readers.
  • There are 27 libraries at the BUPMC, overseen by a senior Library management team
  • The libraries are divided by level and by discipline. Thus, for each discipline, there is a “bibliothèque enseignement” (“teaching library”) and a “bibliothèque recherce” (research library). The former are used by undergraduate students, the latter by postgraduate students and researchers. In addition, there is a Bibliothèque Licence 1 & 2 (L1L2) scientifique, which serves first and second year science students. They are in the process of regrouping the libraries on the Jussieu campus (the main campus) into one big teaching library, one library dedicated to first years, and the various research libraries.
  • There are 15 associated libraries, all of laboratories and institutions, with which they collaborate
  • There are 140 Library staff
  • Surprisingly, most libraries close at 5. Only the L1-L2 library is open until 9 on weekdays, but it is closed on Sundays.

Many of the objectives for the UPMC libraries for the following years will sound familiar to British academic librarians: extending opening hours, opening a learning centre, further embedding information literacy training into the University curricula, developing the e-library, setting up an institutional repository, adopting a discovery tool, introducing RFID, making the catalogue accessible to Google and various web 2.0 related projects (setting up a Facebook page, setting up a virtual reference librarian service). They are also looking to extend their collection of foreign language materials, and they want to evaluate services more regularly (they undertook a libqual survey two years ago).


The view from the senior Library management staff offices. Only slightly jealous!

The Jubilothèque

The Jubilothèque is the online library of digitised materials. It was set up in 2007 using the open course software pleade. It only contains items no longer in copyright, and includes:

  • Classic texts of the 19th century in Physics and Chemistry
  • 18th – early 20th century monographs on Geology
  • 19th century regional Geology works
  •  All 19th century theses written at the Paris Faculty of Science
  • The Charcot (a 19th century neurologist and bibliophile) collection, consisting of his publications and personal papers
  • The Giard (a 19th century French zoologist) collection
  • The publications of the Société géologique de France

The Library collaborated with academics to set up the Jubilothèque, and they provided the explanations of the collections. Half of the budget for the digitisation effort was received from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and the UPMC are currently in the process of putting in a bid for funding from BSN5, an institution set up by the Ministry for Higher Education and Research whose goal it is to create a digital scientific library. The University pays to have all content preserved by the Centre informatique national de l’enseignement supérieur, which acts as a data repository for permanent archiving. The content can be accessed through various channels: the Jubilothèque, Gallica, Medica (an e-library for medicine students), and Sudoc (the union catalogue) and they are in the process of putting links into Wikipedia articles.


The Jubiloteque homepage

The Jubiloteque homepage

Information literacy instruction

The information literacy instruction at the UPMC is coordinated by five référents, who do this alongside their other responsibilities:

  • Sciences Licence (= undergraduate)
  • Sciences Master
  • Sciences PhD
  • Medicine
  • Researchers and lecturers

I spoke to Guillaume Delaunay, who is the référent for Medicine. As such, he contacts lecturers to arrange teaching sessions, designs lessons and develops teaching materials, and organises training sessions for Librray staff who want to teach these sessions (this is done on a voluntary basis). They also employ PhD students to teach these sessions, and they count towards the hours of teaching they have to complete as part of their PhD.

Library staff, having found that the traditional lecture format, which is prevalent in French universities, does not work well for info skills sessions, are seeking to make them more interactive. An approach that they have tried is learning through teaching, which was also discussed at LILAC 2013 by Thomasson & Wernbro at the University of Chalmers in Sweden. Students are divided into groups, and each group has to complete a number of exercises on a topic within their discipline, and then do a presentation on the research process to the rest of the group. The Librarian then comments, and provides a summary at the end of the session. Overall, although a lot of work is involved, the staff at UPMC have found that it works well, and that it is much more enjoyable than lecture-type sessions. Moreover, students who had attended these types of sessions scored significantly better in the tests that they have to complete at the end of the session (they have to research a topic and complete a bibliography) than students who had attended traditional sessions.

The information literacy sessions that they designed follow a constructive approach in a series of workshops that is much more structured than the ad hoc training that is usually provided at UK university libraries. For example, this is the training that is on offer for medicine students:

  • Introduction to literature searching and medical information (3 hrs)
  • Using catalogues of medicine libraries (1hr 30)
  • Using Jubil, the UPMC library catalogue (1 hr)
  • Databases for medicine  (1 hr 30)
  • Medical information and keeping up to date (includes Open Access and RSS feeds)(1 hr 30)
  • Evaluating medical information on the internet  (1 hr)
  • Referencing and creating a bibliography (includes Zotero) (3 hrs)
  • Scholarly communication in medicine (includes bibliometrics, copyright, Open Access, repositories, creative commons, the publication process) (3 hrs)

One of the things they do that struck me as particularly helpful was the collation of statistics for how many students and staff received information literacy instruction. These can be used to show discrepancies, and help the Library to prioritise and focus efforts. These numbers can also be used to demonstrate value to the wider University community.

For some courses, modules like these are obligatory, but librarians are finding it difficult to get students to attend for whom it is not a requirement. In order to increase attendance rates, information skills sessions are also offered as part of the Certification Informatique et Internet (C2i), another initiative from the ministère de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche. This computer skills and digital literacies programme, at the end of which students receive a nationally recognised certificate, is aimed at students and teachers in Higher Education.  They are also looking at several options for offering online information literacy modules.

The low number of academic staff that were reached led to the introduction of the Midis de la biblio in 2012-13, which consists of lunchtime sessions covering topics like Open Access, bibliometrics, Zotero, and the advanced use of databases. This programme has been much more successful, and struck me as a great way to engage academic staff with the work of the Library.



The 2012-13 programme for the Midis de la Biblio

Library visit: the bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique Recherche (Maths & Computer Science Research Library)

I was given a tour of the Mathematics research library, which was recently refurbished. I was impressed by the size of the collections: they hold 81,700 volumes, and subscribe to 1,266 journals. Throughout the Library, they had used a consistent colour scheme, and the usability of the Library was much enhanced by clear, consistent and professional-looking signage. The study spaces all had individual desk lights and power sockets, and even though the Library is located partly below ground floor level, the lights and windows that the architects had designed created the impression of a light, open space. In fact, this Library is so popular that it is regularly visited by students of other subject areas as a place to study!

It was also interesting to hear that academics were very much involved in the design of the Library, For example, they requested that a special type of shelving units were bought, which can be easily lifted by a forklift and carried to the safety of a higher floor in case of flooding (the University is situated near the banks of the Seine).  There is also a committee of academics who send book requests to the Library – they seem to view it very much as ‘their’ library. This is very different from my experience of the UK libraries where I have worked, which mainly target students. They often lack dedicated services and training for academic staff and researchers, and in my opinion this makes it more difficult to promote our value as an academic library and justify the expenses involved in running the library.

bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique Recherche5

I loved the signage in this library!

bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique Recherche2 bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique Recherche3

Library visit: the CADIST Library for geosciences, environmental studies and maps

The Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche. appointed 25 so-called CADIST libraries in 1980 for each subject area, to create highly specialised research libraries that can serve the whole of France. CADIST stands for Centre d’acquisition et de diffusion de l’information scientifique et technique, and these libraries receive a copy of items published in France through legal deposit, and a direct grant from the government to make further purchases of mainly foreign language material – 80% of their collection is in English.

As the CADIST library for geosciences and environmental studies, this Library has a dual mission:

  • As a CADIST, it serves the whole of France as the most specialised research library for geosciences and environmental sciences. In this capacity, they deal with 2000 ILL requests a year, and many external readers visit the Library.
  •  As one of the 27 University Libraries, it serves the students and researchers of the UPMC. Like in all other research libraries at the UPMC, membership is available only to students from Master level onwards.

As a CADIST library they are also associated with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, who collaborate with them to digitise parts of their collections for Gallica, the national catalogue of digitised work (I highly recommend having a look at Gallica – it is a true treasure trove, and in its vaste scope and ambition unparalled in Britain). I was also interested to hear that they make use of a shared storage facility in Marne-la-Vallée, just outside of Paris, for all Parisian University libraries. I think that British universitity libraries could learn from these types of collaborations to solve problems common to all libraries.


Library visit: Charcot

This heritage Library, which comprises the personal collection of the 19th century neurologist and bibliophile Jean-Martin Charcot, is tucked away in a room in a newly-built commercial institute on the hospital campus. It has been there since 2012. The collection is varied, and includes correspondence with Sigmund Freud, runs of 19th century journals that are now being digitised, and early printed books on medicine and science. Having spent a few months volunteering at the amazing Wellcome Library, this collection really appealed to me, and I could see a lot of potential for outreach activities and exhibitions. The collection is still in the process of being catalogued, and it is not yet very well known amongst researchers. It is not consulted very often, apart from the photographic studies of hysterical patients, which are often consulted by artists as inspiration for their work.


Some of the early printed books


The Charcot Library

Library visit: la bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique enseignement (Maths teaching library)

This library had recently been completely refurbished. The signage, the same as in the bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique recherche, was consistent throughout, and subjects and disciplines were clearly indicated with signs on the wooden shelves, which created a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Impractical though it may be, I wish more libraries had wooden shelving! A nice detail was the board games corner, which had proved to be very popular with students looking for a break from studying.

bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique enseignement 2

Group study rooms on the left, lovely wooden bookshelves on the right

bibliothèque de Mathématiques-informatique enseignement

Library visit: la bibliothèque de Licence 1&2

This is the Library for first and second year undergraduate students. Again a modern, bright library, with a lot of colourful furniture. This library stocks textbooks, books on study and career skills, and fiction, comics and DVDs to help students relax (this collection is very popular!).  The librarian remarked that lecturers are not very good at creating reading lists and sending them to the Library, so they buy copies of all French textbooks in their subjects. This collection policy seemed ineffective and possible wasteful to me, but of course many fewer textbooks are published in French than in English. Nevertheless, it has become clear to me during my visit that the UPMC libraries could benefit from dedicated liaison roles, such as have become common in British university libraries.

bibliothèque de Licence 1et2

Library visit: la Bibliothèque nationale de France

I could not go to Paris and not visit the BnF, the French equivalent of the British Library. The main site of the BnF (site François-Mitterand, opened in 1996), with its bewildering architecture of four towers connected by walkways, was a fascinating place to visit. It houses a myriad of subject-specific reading rooms, exhibition spaces, a bookshop, a cafe, and even a massive urban garden. The dual structure that I encountered at the libraries of the UPMC is also present here: it is divided into the Reference Library, housed on the site I visited and accessible to the general public, and the Research Library, housed at the François-Mitterrand and three other Libraries in central Paris. Applicants for a reader’s card for these collections must provide their motivation for wanting to consult the collections. I was particularly intrigued by the multimedia space, in which visitors can test a range of technologies to access texts, such as tablets with Gallica loaded onto them, an Xbox and a range of ereaders.


The multimedia room



Two of the four BnF towers. I must say I prefer the architecture of the BL!

Library visit: la Bibliothèque publique d’information

The BPI, housed in the iconic Centre Pompidou, is the biggest public library in France. It serves as a laboratory for all public libraries in France, regularly testing new services and even employing researchers to analyse user behaviour. It seems that public libraries are valued much more in France than they are in Britain, and they remain very popular with the general public. I was told that people queue to around the corner in the mornings at 10 when the BPI opens its doors! Their collection comprises general works as well as academic works. They are also one of the only providers of free internet in Paris, and there was a long queue of those unable to afford the internet, waiting to make use of one of the BPI’s computers.



I picked up several common themes during my visit to the UPMC. Here as well as in Britain, change is one of the only constants in libraries, and being an effective librarian requires above all a high degree of flexibility and a willingness to experiment and innovate, something which I felt the UPMC was particularly good at. One of the main differences between the UPMC and the universities I have worked at was that the UPMC libraries lay a much greater emphasis on supporting researchers. The large majority of their budgets is spent on research materials, and their research libraries are modern, bright buildings that attract academics from the UPMC and beyond. The distinction they make between teaching and research libraries, which as far as I am aware does not exist in Britain but appeared to be fairly common in France, is one way to solve the issues associated with serving a diverse community. The information needs of students and academics are very different, and academics are disinclined to visit a Library that they perceive to be a study space for students. I think more should be done to engage academics and to promote what the Library can do for them. I also encountered the same issues with the promotion of the importance of information literacy, although France seems to be further ahead in this aspect with the incorporation of information literacy into the curriculum for the Certification Informatique et Internet. National initiatives such as this go some way in supporting academic libraries in France, and it is a pity that no such system exists in the UK,

Indeed, it struck me that the direct involvement of the government in funding, creating and inspecting academic and public libraries ensures that libraries are held in high regard in France. In academic libraries, the centralisation of the higher education system means that there is much less duplication of effort and of stock through concentrated collaboration efforts. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in the UK, where increasingly corporatised universities view other institutions like competitors rather than partners in the creation, diffusion and furthering of knowledge, an evolution that is set to become even more pronounced in the future thanks the disastrous HE reforms that were pushed through by the current government. In a culture in which libraries are considered to be part of the public good, like they are in France, it is easier for librarians to not only support the community they serve, but to reach beyond the walls of the institution and fulfill their potential by contributing to society at large.

Some thoughts about rebranding CILIP

Like many other librarians and information professionals, I was sent an invitation to complete a survey on rebranding CILIP.

I was struck, not only by the sheer ridiculousness of some of the names that were suggested (The Knowledge People? Really?), but by the manner in which CILIP is carrying out this expensive exercise. Surely we, as library and information professionals, should feel some level of ownership over our professional body. We are not just represented by CILIP – we are, or at least, we should be, CILIP. And yet, CILIP made the decision to rebrand without consulting its membership. CILIP decided to put a budget of £35,000 aside for this – our money – without consulting its membership. To save money, CILIP even decided to – the irony – close its resource centre, again, without consulting its membership. We are told that our views on rebranding CILIP would be welcome, but the decision to rebrand has already been made. The slogans and the names have already been developed by the brand consultancy that CILIP selected. What is presented as an opportunity to contribute, amounts to little more than a multiple choice exercise within constraints that have been drawn for us.

If rebranding is to take place at all, should not librarians and information professionals themselves suggest a new name for their professional body, instead of a brand consultancy the suggestions of which evince their unfamiliarity with the profession? We are CILIP. We should own CILIP. Instead, much like our libraries and resource centres largely depend upon the interests and priorities of our parent bodies, we are being sidelined by our own professional body.

Change is needed at CILIP, but it will take more than a new name.

The future of research libraries in the 21st century

I attended this talk at the Oxford Internet Institute last week (25th April 2013). It was a very interesting talk which generated some lively discussions. I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts so feel free to leave a comment!


Professor Christine Borgman, Visiting Fellow and Oliver Smithies Lecturer at Balliol College (Respondent)

Dame Lynne Brindley, Former CEO, British Library (Speaker)

Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford (Respondent)

Lynne Brindley argued that the digital habits that we are forming will have an increasing influence on teaching, learning and research. The future is uncertain, and libraries are operating in a context of continuous change. However, she also emphasised libraries’ greatest asset: the public trust that we enjoy. The brand of libraries is trusted by the public and by researchers, and our core values are built on that trust. She then went on to discuss six challenges that she believes research libraries will face in the future as a result of this changing social and cultural landscape.

  1. Digital acquisition and digital archiving. The relevance of this issue is underlined by the recent extension of the legal deposit law to include content that is published online. Legal deposit libraries will have to decide what digital content is worth preserving, and how it is going to be preserved. For example, are snapshots an adequate representation of a website? Libraries will have to collaborate with other memory institutions (archives and museums), between which boundaries will blur in the digital age, to create dynamic, internet-based, multimedia archives. Up until now, libraries have looked at the past when collecting materials. In the digital age, this will no longer suffice, as preservation will need to be thought of at the time of creation, to avoid our cultural heritage disappearing into a digital black hole. As an example of this, Lynne mentioned partnerships between authors and libraries, establishing archives as and when items are created rather than retrospectively.
  2. The opening up of our collections for global access. Research libraries have an obligation to open up their print collections to the world. This can be achieved through digitisation, but Lynne emphasised that digitisation is only a means to an end: enabling new forms of scholarship and supporting developments in digital scholarship should be the ultimate goal. Now that we have mastered the digitisation process itself, we should shift our attention on these aspects. The same evolution towards global access will also necessitate us to carefully consider the balance between copyright protection and the open access movement.
  3. Big data for commercial use. This is a development which is driven by the value of data for marketing. A lot of information that is available on the internet is currently being used without permission, and without debate. Libraries should take a leading role in helping communities understand the complexities around data, and support a more sophisticated digital skills agenda. Libraries should take lead not only in the debate but also in the actions that are proposed and taken.
  4. Navigation through research. Big commercial companies such as Google and Wikipedia are currently leading, and they are taking advantage of users’ personal information without transparency. And yet, they are the first search engines that users turn to for enquiries. According to Lynne, the best way in which libraries can counter this trend is by becoming embedded within the broader framework themselves. Our metadata need to become more embedded in the web, so that libraries can provide detailed and reliable information in the places where users are looking for it. In this way, we can enrich the content of the web. Another role for the library in this complex digital information world is that of mediator, by helping users navigate the enormous amount of information that is available.
  5. MOOCs. Lynne stated that in the context of research libraries, it is interesting to note that the predominant leadership in this field has come from prestigious universities. It gives research libraries the opportunity to claim a role in these developments, and add value, for example by organising user-generated content and by developing users’ research and critical thinking skills.
  6. The future of the physical library. It is often said that the physical library will no longer have a role. But experience has proven that digital companionship is not deemed to be sufficient, and library spaces are associated with silence, concentration and collaboration. There is a relationship between an original item, a digital surrogate and space, as digitising material generates interest in the analogue material, rather than making it obsolete

Lynne ended her talk by arguing that the future of libraries is tied into how libraries are perceived by their parent institution, and that strong leadership will be required to support scholarship in the chaos of a transitional age. One thing is clear: for research libraries, standing still is not an option. We must either choose a path, or risk turning into a museum of the book.

In her response, Sarah Thomas pointed out that there is a discrepancy between the image of a certain type of space that the concept of a library still conjures up for many people and the seismic upheaval that is taking place as libraries are trying to redefine themselves in the digital age. An example of this tension could be witnessed when the decision of New York Public Library to move many of their book stacks to a storage facility in order to make more room for user spaces caused public outrage. The challenge for libraries is to be respectful of the tradition that many readers cherish but to be flexible enough to remain relevant in today’s society at the same time.

Christine Borgman reflected on the changing trends in research and how they influence research libraries. For example, librarians need to stop thinking of monographs and journal articles solely as texts that are being read in print, but also as data collections that are being mined by robots. We need more domain knowledge, and MARC does not stand suffice for these purposes. Libraries are institutions of the past, the present and the future, and will need to fulfil twice the responsibilities with only half the financial resources.

LILAC 2013 – Day 2 (26 March)

I attended LILAC 2013, the Libarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference, on 26 March. As a Liaison Librarian, teaching information literacy sessions is an important part of my job. However, Information Literacy was not covered in my Librarianship master’s at UCL, and I noticed that information literacy instruction is approached in a somehwat haphazard way in the departments I liaise with, lacking vision and strategy. In order to address this issue, and as part of my chartership and the postgraduate certificate in Teaching and Learning that I am doing, I am looking to develop a greater insight into the acquisiton and development of information skills in an HE context so that have the knowledge I need to develop a more strategic vision on information literacy instruction for my subjects. I left LILAC with a deeper understanding of the theories of information literacy, and some new ideas to try out in my sessions.

Keynote: Dr Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg – Mainstreaming Information Literacy for the Promotion of Universal Access to Information

Irmgarda discussed the work that she is doing for UNESCO on the development of strategies and guidelines for the promotion of universal access to information. She argued that information literacy is embedded in our daily lives, and that access to information is a human right, as it is one of the building blocks of our present-day knowledge societies. These competencies help build participatory civic societies, and contribute to peace, freedom, democracy and good governance. Therefore, information literacy should be part of lifelong learning for all citizens. However, the changing global information landscape necessitates the development of a new, holistic framework, as different types of literacies, such as digital literacy, IT literacy and media literacy, start to move closer together and overlap. UNESCO developed the concept Media and Information Literacy (MIL) to indicate this group of related literacies. UNESCO is now looking to move from theoretical frameworks of information literacy to concrete outcomes in the form of strategies, projects, tools and resources.

Dr Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg ‘s keynote address

Peter Hickey – Reorganising to succeed

Peter discussed the implications of a staff and structural reorganisation at University College Dublin Library, which was concluded in September 2012. The need for this restructure resulted from the opening of two new library buildings and a budget drop of almost 30% since the economic recession started, which urged the Library to reconsider what use was made of professional staff time. It was decided that the liaison role needed to change in order to become more efficient. In the new structure, the traditional collection management responsibilities are taken over by a newly-formed Collections Team. The number of Liaison Librarians was reduced so that each liaises with one of the six colleges that the University consists of. They focus solely on building and strengthening relationships with the academic staff in their college and on teaching and learning. This new structure has had a positive impact on buy-in on the part of academics, as the structure of the Library, its aims and what it can do for them is much clearer to them now. Furthermore, it has enabled the Library to adopt a more structured and coherent approach towards information literacy instruction. Whereas before the reorganisation, the number, level and quality of information skills sessions depended largely on Liaison Librarians’ individual commitment, a new Teaching & Learning strategy is now in place that emphasises information literacy as part of programmes rather than individual modules.

Katy Wrathall and Jane Secker – ANCIL: integrating information literacy into the curriculum through research, reflection and collaboration

In this paper, Katy and Jane explained how they used ANCIL (A New Curriculum for Information Literacy, developed in 2011) to audit the provision of information literacy at LSE and York St John University. They interviewed academics, support services and students. They discovered that the information literacy provision was quite patchy, and that information literacy was often not embedded in the curriculum, but offered as optional extra. The ANCIL framework, however, defines information literacy as ‘the skills, behaviours and attitudes of the discerning scholar that underpin lifelong learning’, and promotes a collaborative approach between academic and support services across the institution. Through their audits, Jane and Katy uncovered some obstacles for the realisation of this vision. Academic staff tend to feel that information literacy is the remit of the Library, and they also often did not feel confident enough to teach these skills themselves. As a solution, the speakers have set up short 20-minute info skills workshops for academic staff, and they are aiming to embed information literacy in the postgraduate teaching certificate.

They highlighted a few useful resources in their talk:

SMILE: Information literacy and academic writing course, aimed at undergraduate students (username guest1, password guest)

The ANCIL curriculum

PILOT, another online information literacy course aimed at students

Jane Secker explaining the model on which the ANCIL curriculum is based

Jane Secker explaining the model on which the ANCIL curriculum is based


This session was modelled on speed-dating, with participants being given the opportunity to listen choose eight 10-minute presentations to listen to from a total of fourteen presentations. This was an interesting concept, and made for a fun, albeit intense, afternoon.

I attended the following presentations:

  • Cara Bradley – A subject-driven, case-based approach to plagiarism prevention education
    Cara emphasised the importance of embedding instruction regarding plagiarism in subject areas, as each discipline will have different types of plagiarism to deal with. She bases her teaching on case studies, often cases of plagiarism that make it into the media, which provoke discussion and develop students’ understanding of what plagiarism is and why and how they can prevent it.
  • Carla Hagstrom & Heather Cunningham – No rock stars involved: capturing the interest of first-year medical students in a health information literacy session
    When looking for ways to liven up the two one-hour information skills sessions for first-year medical students at the University of Toronto, Carla and Heather came up with the idea to film students from higher years talking about which resources they found most useful. They then showed these videos at the beginning of the lecture, and adapted the content of the sessions to cover the resources that were mentioned by the students.
  • Heather Lincoln & Paula Evans – Integrating iPads into academic library information literacy
    Paula and Heather teach students on the Business Master’s programmes at Imperial College London. For 2012-13, these students were all given an iPad as a tool to facilitate paperless course delivery. In response, Paula and Heather designed information skills sessions that were tailored to students using iPads, focusing on useful apps and accessing and using library resources on these devices.
  • Clare McCluskey – Bite-sized information literacy
    Clare came up with the idea of bite-sized information literacy sessions when she noticed that the traditional longer sessions, taught as part of the curriculum, weren’t working for her undergraduate Education students, which was reflected in bad feedback and a low NSS score. In collaboration with the Head of Programme, she came up with the idea to do a ten minute session at the beginning of a lecture every three weeks, with optional follow-up tutorials, which a third of the students attended. The feedback was excellent, and the NSS score has gone up by 20%.
  • Robyn Patterson – Working with what you’ve got: using limited resources and staff to build an information literacy program
    Robyn is a librarian at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, which opened in 2010. She outlined the information literacy program that she helped set up from scratch, which offers optional, Library-based sessions to the students.
  • Nicola Sales – Flipping the classroom: revolutionising legal research training at the University of Salford
    Nicola came up with the idea of flipping the classroom for information literacy instruction for law students as a solution for the fact that the allocated teaching space, six one-hour sessions, was too short to equip students with all the skills that they need.  In the flipped model, students are asked to study online demonstrations on the VLE before arriving at the classroom. Classroom time was then spent on practical tasks and answering students’ questions. Nicola found that students generally came to the classes well-prepared, and that they were much more engaged.
  • Gunilla Thomasson & Mona Wernbro – Learning by teaching
    Gunilla and Mona transformed the information literacy course that the Library teaches as a result of student feedback. They wanted more active learning to take place. The course now centres on an assignment that the students work on in groups. It requires them to find information and evaluate the results, cite their sources, and analyse different types of documents, and then present what they learnt in the form of a short lecture on information retrieval and evaluation to the other students on the course.
  • Emily Shields – Smoothing the path from undergraduate to employee: MMU Library’s contribution to study skills & employability online resources.
    Emily discussed the Library’s involvement in online, VLE-based courses on employability and skills, that are being embedded into all undergraduate programmes at MMU. They collaborated with departments from across the University, such as Careers and Learner Development, to set up modules such as job searching, digital literacy and researching employers.

Helen Westwood and Russell Burke – Bedding in with the geographers: a case study

Helen and Russell discussed an information literacy programme for first year Geography students that they had set up at Royal Holloway. The sessions were an integral part of a compulsory, assessed skills module. Because the librarian was involved in the development and delivery of the module, he was perceived both by the academic staff and by students as part of the academic team. Because of its success, Helen and Russell are now looking to roll this model out to other courses. They gathered data in the form of feedback forms and surveys to demonstrate its usefulness.

The presentations from LILAC 2013 are available here.

Embarking on Chartership…

I have just embarked on chartership, and thought it would be a good idea to use this blog to document my progress. I would love to hear from others who are currently working towards chartership, or thinking about doing so, so feel free to leave a comment or get in touch if you want to share your experiences!

Having registered for Chartership nearly three months ago, I was happy to finally complete my Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP) last week. As the entire chartership programme will be based on the PPDP, putting some time into getting it right seemed worthwhile. It is quite ambitious, and I hope I will be able to reach at least the majority of the goals that are on there! I am very lucky that my current employer is very supportive of chartership – it is listed as a requirement in my job description, and they organise chartership workshops every month for all staff who are working towards chartership, in which we discuss things like change management, financial management and information literacy from a practical point of view. They are led by members of the senior management team, and I am sure that hearing their experiences and advice will prove to be very useful in the rest of my career. I also have a training budget, which enables me to, for example, attend LILAC 2013 tomorrow, something which I would not have been able to do otherwise!

For my PPDP, I tried to balance skills I need to develop for my current role with skills I would like to develop for the rest of my career. Because I would like to change career paths at some point (I am currently working as an Academic Liaison Librarian, and although I love my job, eventually I would like to work with Special Collections / Rare Books), this was quite tricky. Fortunately, there are a number of skills that overlap, and I think I have managed to achieve a good balance between general Library skills, liaison skills and skills that are specific to Special Collections work. I based my PPDP on a skills audit I undertook through the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, and the Skills of a Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian document that was drawn up by the Rare Books and Special Collections Group. This allowed me to focus on areas that would benefit both my current post and the rest of my career the most, and I chose to work on developing my skills in people management, information literacy instruction, academic liaison, website design, special collections promotion, and cataloguing of rare books and special collections. In order to develop skills in the last two areas I will need to fund some training myself and use some of my annual leave to volunteer, attend training events and conferences, but I am willing to invest in a career that I feel really passionate about.

Overall, I have really enjoyed doing a skills audit and working on my PPDP. Because chartership is designed to fit around your career, I have been able to draw up a plan that will, hopefully, allow me to develop skills that will enable me to improve my performance in my current job, and enhance my career prospects at the same time. It has allowed me to identify which areas I already feel confident about, and which I feel I need more experience or knowledge of. It is very different from my experience of library school, where I felt that a lot of what I learnt was not useful, not relevant for me or not pitched at the right level. So far, chartership seems to be really worthwhile for my professional development as a newly qualified librarian. Let’s hope I still feel this way 12 months from now, when I will hopefully be ready to submit my portfolio!

Studying for a Librarianship / Information Studies degree full-time? A few words of advice…

Studying for a degree in Librarianship full-time has become increasingly rare. This is due to a number of factors: the economic situation, the unprecedented rise in postgraduate tuition fees at some institutions, the gradual disappearance of funding opportunities and the government’s outright neglect of the needs of postgraduate students. Nevertheless, having completed my master’s full time myself, I wanted to offer some advice to those doing the course full-time or thinking about doing so.


For UK students the situation is quite bleak, but there are a few opportunities other than AHRC out there. The Stationer’s Company provides £6000 bursaries each year for the MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL, CILIP provides bursaries from the John Campbell grant, and several special interest groups have small bursaries for students undertaking a dissertation on a topic within their are (for example, the Library and Information History group offers awards for students undertaking research in this area). Make sure to check out what opportunities are available in your home country if you are, like myself, an EU student. Most European countries provide funding opportunities for students who want to undertake a degree abroad. For example,  I was able to get an interest-free loan from the Belgian Fernand Lazard Foundation, and small grants are available every other year specifically for students wanting to enroll on a master’s programme in the UK.

Work, work, work

This is the best advice I can offer. The job market is very tough at the moment, and most employers will no longer regard a one year graduate traineeship as sufficient experience for a professional post. It is essential that you use your year as a full-time student to get more work experience. Get a part time job, volunteer, or (like me), do both. The number of assignments you need to do for the MA might seem daunting, but if you stick to a 9-to-5 working pattern it is not that bad – I always only worked on my coursework on Fridays, I took weekends off, and I managed to squeeze 20 hours of volunteering and working in a total of four different libraries into my week. Not only did I gather experience that helped me land my current job, I also networked and got to know a lot of people in the field I want to work in. In many ways, being a full-time student is a golden opportunity to get experience you would not normally have time for. For example, Special Collections jobs are very scarce, but I managed to develop a wide range of experience in this field through volunteering. Even though I don’t work in this field now, this experience will come in handy once I start hunting for that elusive rare books job.


Don’t wait until the final term has started – start looking into job descriptions of roles you would be interested in now. Make a list of all of the skills and knowledge you need to work on. Make use of the opportunities that your university offers; many, for example, offer ECDL certificate courses, which I have seen as a requirement on numerous job descriptions, including the one for my current job. You will notice that academic libraries very often ask for cataloguing or classification experience. Knowing the theory isn’t enough. Write to libraries and ask if you can volunteer – many will be happy to help you. If you’re interested in Liaison work, try to get some teaching experience.

This advice may seem quite bleak, but in the current climate it is essential that you stand out. Use your MA year to start networking, start developing professional skills and get more experience under your belt. It makes for a very intense year, but it will all be worth it once you start job-hunting!

The first post, in which she completed the MA course and reflected on its value

Now that my dissertation has (finally!) been handed in and my status on the UCL student information server has been changed, rather dramatically, into “permanent leaver”, I think this is a good moment to reflect on my experiences of studying for a postgraduate qualification in Library & Information Studies. I would like to emphasise that this post represents my personal views and experiences only.

I have yet to discover what the value of the MA in my day-to-day job is going to be, as the mere three months that I have been working in my first professional post is not sufficient to measure its impact. I have certainly improved my research and analytical skills through writing my dissertation, which I greatly enjoyed, and I gained a number of practical skills such as palaeography, cataloguing, and classifying. Perhaps most importantly, the relatively low workload of the MA gave me time to gain invaluable practical skills and knowledge. I improved my Latin through a course at the Open University, I gained more experience of providing customer service in my part time job at the University of Surrey, and I feel privileged to have worked with 17th century prints at the amazing Wellcome Library, and to have catalogued early printed books at Lambeth Palace library.

Nevertheless, I think the course suffers from a number of severe shortcomings.

I think that an MA should not and indeed cannot provide students with all the knowledge they need, but should provide a foundation on which students can build. However, I found that the UCL course was lacking in this regard. The pace and the level of most lectures were frustratingly low. Although some of the assignments were certainly useful as they simulated tasks that librarians are likely to encounter in their professional lives, such as classifying books, writing policies and project proposals and conducting case studies, I found that a sound theoretical grounding was largely missing. Principles and theories were referred to, but at no point were students expected to read any of the texts that were mentioned. Nor was any preparatory reading expected for any lecture, which made in-depth discussion impossible. Essays were exercises in serving up other people’s findings, with no original research expected. Failing an assignment was practically impossible, however badly you did. If the MA in Librarianship aspires to be an academic, postgraduate qualification, I believe that more emphasis on academic rigour and higher expectations of students are necessary.

Of course, because of its vocational nature a master’s in Librarianship / Information Studies is bound to be somewhat a hybrid course, with one foot in academia and one in the profession.  Nevertheless, I feel that an emphasis on the latter should not be detrimental to the furthering of the former. I don’t believe that a LIS qualification must necessarily and intrinsically linger at an undergraduate level.  To believe this would be to minimise the value that librarians and information professionals can bring to an institution and to society at large. On the contrary, I believe that this value could be increased even further if library courses prepared aspiring librarians to challenge, question and debate much more than they, in my experience, do now.