Thursday, 31 May 2012

Checking in again...

There’s less of a time difference as I’ve moved out West (go figure!) but I’m still writing this far too late at night then can possibly be healthy. After a brief chance to explore Chicago I’ve taken the bus up to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and the next leg of my US libraries tour...

I’ll give an update all about UW-Madison and their Ask a Librarian service (which I’ve been finding out all about today) when I am feeling a bit more alive but I just wanted to briefly mention Chicago’s superb Harold Washington Public Library which is just a couple of doors down from the hostel where I’m staying in Chi-Town. The building’s unique design was the result of a competition which Harold Washington (the then Mayor of Chicago) organised back in 1987. A model of the building and of all the other entries can be found here. After a lot of travelling, it was a real joy to ascend a well-hidden rickety escalator to the 9th floor and be confronted with one of the most magnificent rooms I think I’ve ever seen in a library:

The grand atrium atop Chicago's Harold Washington Public Library 
It is a library which is clearly valued by the public of Chicago, to the extent where unfortunately there has to be quite a significant security presence on the door. As in Michigan (and without wanting to venture too deeply into the politics of it all) public libraries in Illinois increasingly find themselves providing an informal social care role in supporting their patrons, yet encouragingly the Library’s key mantra of openness and inclusiveness to all is still unquestionable.

Another marvel of architecture I saw yesterday was this Bahá’i Temple located on the North Shore of the City with its 9-sided structure formed almost exclusively out of glass and concrete:

This Baha'i Temple was completed in 1953 and has recently been restored

A view of Chicagoland from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center
(as I was too cheap to pay to visit the Observatory on the 96th floor!)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Looking back...

Thing 5 and the chance to reflect on what I've learnt so far. It's also another much needed breather after the exertions of the last few days!

On the 7.35am Amtrak train from Michigan into Chicago yesterday, I was thinking about sleep mainly but also had some time to contemplate what I've taken away from my time in Grand Rapids! I started to make a list of some of the things which GVSU's Library Service offers which differ from what we do back at Kingston University:

1. Peer-to-peer learning: Encouraging student engagement was a key theme emanating from the discussions I had with staff and students at GVSU. This involves taking a very much hands-off approach to management of the learning environment; leaving students and the student workers staffing the helpdesks to it to a large extent (and within reasonable limits) so that they get a sense of ownership. It has been a very deliberate development which stems from research which library staff have conducted into the ways in which students learn. Student engagement will be stressed even further when the Mary Idema Pew building opens next year, with students strongly encouraged to use the building how they see fit. Students will also be on hand to offer research support and to help with offer academic skills training to other students in the Knowledge Market area which is regarded as "the heartbeat" of the new building. The LRCs do have involvement in peer-to-peer learning at Kingston University too but not nearly to the extent than is starting to happen at GVSU.

2. Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA): A large proportion of e-books made available to GVSU patrons through the Summon library catalogue will never be used. The library pays a lease for those items which are used, with a proportion of each item’s cost incurred when the item is downloaded. If the item is used over a certain number of times then it will be purchased. The overall higher cost for each item purchased (the cost of leasing these items a number of times on top of the purchase cost) is negated by the fact that each item purchased will definitely have some use value. (This is something which is currently being piloted on a smaller scale at KU but has not been engrained into procedures in the same way as at GVSU). In document delivery terms, there are set parameters whereby if a requested book has been published recently enough and is not too expensive then it will be purchased by the library. I noted with interest that other libraries in the Michigan area and elsewhere in the States are now offering a Print on Demand service, similar to one I saw in a local independent bookstore in the downtown area:

A Print on Demand machine at Schuler's Books
3. Virtual chat and text messaging services: GVSU has had many years of experience with Virtual Chat services, beginning in the late 1990s with Question Point (through OCLC) being used to field chat enquires received from various providers (AOL, Yahoo, ICQ and so on). Meebo was eventually chosen as the preferred service as the number of enquiries received from other services declined. This is now embedded in the ‘Contact Us’ option on the GVSU Libraries website but is still only really used for the more straightforward enquiries. Staff at GVSU spoke with me about other ways in which it might be feasible to try to use chat for more in depth enquiries in future and to get feedback on these enquiries. Many retail companies in the States are apparently now very good at providing online assistance through chat. An 'Ask a Librarian' web chat service is something which we are looking to implement at Kingston in the near future.

4. Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS): I was interested to hear how these can save millions in building costs because of the reduction in shelving space required. The Steelcase Library, for example would have had to be three storey’s higher to accommodate all the items stored in its ASRS at the Pew Campus! As only the 3rd library to have installed an ASRS in the States and the very 1st to use it for a circulating collection, GVSU remain experts in this new technology and have had a lot to teach other libraries, including the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library which I will look forward to visiting on Friday.

5. Evidence-Based Practice: I attended a Summer School event in Stuttgart back in 2008 on the theoretical side of EBP in libraries but have not seen it used in reality until I came to GVSU. Observational studies on how students use the building or go about searching for research materials using the catalogue are common practise. These resulted in the use of a single search box, for instance and were key in feeding into the design of the Mary Idema Pew Library. Reference (or Subject) Librarians will also track all of their enquiries via a free piece of software called LibStats. This gives them key data on what areas they should focus upon and also builds up a useful database which they and other librarians can call upon to answer future questions.

Above all, looking back I have been extremely lucky to have been able to participate this staff exchange and am especially grateful to the staff over in Michigan for their amazing hospitality. They really took the time out to make me feel welcome and to help me with my research project. Many staff expressed an interest in conducting a visit to Kingston University during the Meet & Greet the other day and I would certainly look forward to welcoming them to the UK.

Saturday I was entrusted with piloting a motorboat (would you believe?!) which I drive out onto Lake Michigan for a picnic - just one of many fun excursions which GVSU’s library staff have treated me to over here.  Later I headed downtown to see the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS(!!) in what was frontman Anthony Kiedus’s homecoming gig! And pretty awesome it was too. Sunday was a more sedate affair, with a trip down to Tabor Hill Winery near Kalamazoo:

Give it away now! The Chili Peppers at Grand Rapids

Even the chocolates are works of art in Michigan! (Pictured at Tabor Hill Winery)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Moving on...

Phew! It's been a hectic few days... I hosted a Meet & Greet on Thursday. This gave me the opportunity to talk to GVSU staff all about what I do at Kingston University and about some of the differences and similarities between our Information Services and their Library Service. Around 50 staff turned out to hear a presentation I gave and there was also the chance for staff to ask questions. They took a keen interest in the fact that we are a converged department at Kingston. Here at GVSU the library and IT sections are separate but the two areas will be working much more closely when the new main library building opens next year. There were also questions about our collections development at Kingston (some of which I even knew the answers to!) and about a self-service holds project which I helped to roll out at KU.

I then found out all about document delivery at GVSU and had an introduction to the MeLCat service. MeLCat combines the catalogue records of over 400 libraries in Michigan and provides a state-wide resource sharing and delivery service. This has drastically reduced the interlibrary loan bill at GVSU as many of the materials requested can be sourced from other libraries at an annual subscription rate which is subsidised by the US Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). MeLCat even has its own courier service, called RIDES

It was Pink Floyd night down at the local ballpark, where I was able to catch a game and also see a cracking laser show afterwards!: 

Laser Show at 5th/3rd Ball Park -home of the West Michigan Whitecaps

There's much, much more to say about my time at GVSU and all I've learnt during my time here but I'm afraid I've become more than a little sidetracked from documenting it all during this balmy Memorial Day Weekend! More about that too, later on but for now I'll be heading out to Chicago in a mere few hours and alas will have to bid a fond farewell to Grand Rapids. 

I've not forgotten about Thing 4 either and have been using Storify to bring together news and photos from some of the libraries I plan to visit over there:

Friday, 25 May 2012

Four score and seven years...

I had something of an American History lesson on Wednesday, with a visit to Seidman House. This is the University's Special Collection and Archives space. It is one of the best loved buildings on campus and a welcome retreat for grad students in particular to find a little peace. It has the feel of an alpine villa about it and has retained its distinctive Sixties vibe (Seidman House was the 3rd building to be built on campus, back in 1965):

Seidman House was originally the University's Students' Union

Like many buildings here in Michigan, Seidman House includes a grand fireplace which acts as a focal point for the
building. It's hard to believe in the 85° heat right now but the campus experiences several feet of snow during Winter so a warm fireplace is something of a necessity and the students must really appreciate being to curl up in the lounge area (pictured above). 

The archive includes one of the largest collections of materials all about Abraham Lincoln in the USA. There are over 30,000 volumes in this part of the collection alone and often these items are lent out to national museums and other exhibitions:

The special collection includes figurines, portraits and other arts & crafts

One of the original 'Wanted' posters issued
after President Lincoln was assassinated

The annals boast a fine array of Alice in Wonderland wood engravings, Publishers' Decorative Bindings and around 600 map back books. There are even several incunabula, the oldest of these dating back to 1474 (Summa de Virtutibus et Vitiis). I'm told students get a real buzz from being able to handle and examine books which are so old without the need for gloves or other special equipment. Much of the collection is digitized and available online here.This includes some of the incunabula, as well as photos dating back to the days when the campus barely existed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the utterly American chili corn dogs experience (or veggie chilli corn dogs, at least, in my case). I also made it out to the Meijer Botanical Gardens and sculpture park... followed by some duelling pianos!:

Some superb improv piano playing at Mojos Bar in Grand Rapids!

Meijer Gardens - Bend of Mind by Tony Cragg (2005) 

This 24-foot tall horse sculpture was 
designed by Leonardo da Vinci

Sean Henry's 'Lying Man' enjoys the sunshine at Meijer Gardens

The library at Meijer Gardens
features a book tower made
out of 27 types of granite!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Thing 4 & Chicagwarts...

Well, I've promised myself that I won't let the CPD23 Things fall by the wayside while I am here in the US. I'm hoping to relate some of the tools and tasks set out during this programme to the work I am doing out here. This week is all about Twitter, RSS feeds and Storify.

Twitter is something I have tried desperately hard to get on with (I really have!). The difficulty I have is in configuring my Twitter feed to display the sorts of things I'd actually want to read. Many of the microblog posts coming up are still either completely irrelevant (I gather Jedward made it to another Eurovision final) or highly negative: "My mama need to hurry and get our printer fixed or get a new one because I hate coming in to [x] library". 

I've noticed the Mary Idema Pew building broadcasts tweets on how the construction work is getting on from its own perpective (!/gvsuMaryI) which is all rather sweet. I have also started to follow feeds from places I'll be visiting next week in the hope of picking up some tips! This tweet from popular Chicago-based film critic Roger Ebert caught my eye:

A bold claim indeed from Roger Ebert @ Twitter

The link mentioned in his tweet is to an article called The image of a man you do not see. As well as providing a useful insight into the architectural history of some of Chicago's most famous buildings, the journal entry also includes imagery from an outstanding collection of photographs entitled University of Chicagwarts by Justin Kern. Here is just one example:

The Harper Memorial Library at the Univesity of Chicago - Justin Kerns
Whilst looking at some of Kerns's photographs has made me even more excited about my upcoming visit to Chicago, I am certainly not done with GVSU yet! I visited the University's excellent Special Collection and Archives section today and there will be much more to follow about that soon. For now I'm very much looking forward to Chili Corn Dog Wednesday in the office tomorrow!

Couldn't resist! Here's another of Justin Kerns' fantastic UC pics

Monday, 21 May 2012

Site under construction...

It was back to the Allendale Campus this week and the Zumberge Library. When the Zumberge was built in 1969, the University had just 3,000 students. Enrolment nowadays is nearing 25,000 and as the main Univesity Library, Zumberge has felt the full impact of this rapid expansion. Staff are equipped with a ready supply of earplugs for handing out to perturbed students during busy exam periods!

Fortunately help is at hand for the Zumberge and its 650,000+ volumes, with over 1,400 donors giving a total of over $70 million (around £45 million) to help build a brand new facility. The new Mary Idema Pew Learning & Information Commons (named after the wife of Steelcase Chairman, Robert Pew) is set to open next September. Taking inspiration partly from the Saltire Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University, the aim of the building is to champion student engagement by providing spaces which can be taken over and generally messed around with by its users. The site for the new building sits directly opposite the existing facility, which curiously houses the University's Provost and other senior academic administration staff down in the basement (keeping them safe from the ever-present threat of impending tornadoes, presumably!). This gives them a decent view of the construction site which was topped out last month and is now just starting to take shape on the inside:

The Zumberge Library is to be converted to faculty offices next year
The large crane which can be seen across the pond
serves the new 5-storey Mary Idema Pew building

Earplugs are available for free at the main desk!

The building in between the Zumberge Library and the construction site for the new Information Commons is called the Kirkhof Center. This is the equivalent of a Students' Union building back home but definitely deserves a mention here as it has some fantastic spaces for learning... and yet more inspired artwork!:

A seminar room done American-style at the Kirkhof

Fibreglass paper planes in the main Kirkhof concourse

More to follow about the new building but for now I'm off to have a think about Thing 4 of the 23 Things. It's not been all work, happily and many of the folk down at GVSU were incredibly welcoming and hospitable to me over the weekend. It got up to a balmy 30 degrees on Sunday and I was lucky enough to make it out to the Great Lakes Kite Festival in Grand Haven:

Flying fish and other randomness on the beachy banks of Lake Michigan

Saturday, 19 May 2012

More lovely libraries...

Yesterday I visited the Health Sciences library and the Curriculum Materials Collection, both also located in the centre of Grand Rapids. The Cook-Devos Center for Health Sciences is part of what is known as the “Medical Mile” at GVSU. This is an area along Michigan Street (one of the major arteries into the City Centre) which hosts a cancer research facility, the Meijer Heart Center and a children’s hospital, among other healthcare-related buildings. Most of these have been built in just the last 15 years.

The Cook-Devos building houses the Frey Foundation Learning Center. Due to something of a design quirk, one half of the facility is on the 1st floor and the other half is on the 4th floor! I am told this can make for some interesting scenarios from an operational perspective. The largely glass building provices some fantastic views and makes for bright and airy environment:

The Cook-Devos Center (the taller building) was completed in 2003

The glass front area of the building includes the Frey Center

 Pills lodged in the group study area on the 4th floor

The 1st floor study area at the Frey Learning Center    

        A ‘model’ student doctor  accesses the library’s e-resources                  

The Curriculum Materials Library (CML) is a very similar resource to our Teaching Resources collection back at Kingston University. The library has a range of materials which teaching students can use to take to classes, including puzzles, board games, picture books, props and around 300 puppets! A preparation area also offers students the chance to get creative and make their own resources. As well as poster-making machinery, laminating equipment and (wire and comb) binders, the area comes complete with an extensive stack of Ellison die cut templates which allow patrons to punch out letters and shapes quickly and easily:

One of four cut-out-and-keep cats made for me using the Ellison machine!
Puppets galore! Preparation materials can also be seen on the background
A student-made display about ocean life at the CML 
One of the key traits of libraries at GVSU which differs from libraries where I work is that it will tend to be students who are at service points, rather than staff and this was also the case at the CML. Reference (or subject) librarians are not rostered on desks at all and this frees them up to play more of a role in supporting their respective faculties. There is similarly a keen emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and this is something I will go into more detail about when I come to find out more about the new GVSU library building which is currently being built on the Allendale site.
Last night I went on to the Grand Rapids Art Museum for some live piano music and an exhibition by Robert Rauschenberg (nope. Me neither). It was then off to Graydon’s Crossing for dinner with some of the GVSU staff (it boasts about 50 different beers and claims to offer a “traditional British pub atmosphere”.. although I didn't see a single stained beer rag anywhere, it wasn’t the slightest bit musty and there were plenty of places to sit down. What a gip!).  
The Grand Rapids Art Museum features some stunning architecture

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Whirlwind tour...

I've now had my first taste of libraries in the American Midwest. I've also tried something called a "Javalanche", some "Crack Fries" and Founders "Double Trouble" IPA!

It has been impressive to see that even this relatively small town (which was essentially mere corn fields until around 150 years ago) has put so much into its libraries. The main public library of the eight branch Grand Rapids Public Libaries (GVPL) system is a grand building. Dating back to 1904, it took the Victoria and Albert Museum as its inspiration, with a small entrance opening out into a vast, ornate foyer for added "wow" factor. This is flanked by dual marble staircases, leading up to elegant reading rooms (pictured): 

The Main Library (one of eight public library branches in Grand Rapids)
owes some of its architecture to the Victoria & Albert Museum (below)

(Photo by Lara300 on Photobucket)

One of GRPL's reading rooms, complete with working fireplace
I had the privilege of a behind the scenes tour, where I found yet more art and sculpture (it's becoming something of a recurring theme). I was also shown around the library's furniture archive, with volumes in both English and French interspersed here with examples of the furniture itself, more of which are dotted around the building. Furniture is a big industry in Grand Rapids and has played a massive part in the growth of the town. Philanthropy is also a huge deal in the States, with almost every building having the name of some wealthy benefactor or other in front of it. 

The building was renovated in 2001 when it also had a new extension added to it. This is a bright and modern part of the building but a great deal of work has gone into ensuring this is in keeping with the rest of the building. The new area hosts some great ideas, including Book Discussion Kits, a Small Business Resources Center and a book display in the shape of a fire truck. Kids are encouraged to create their own displays too:

Toy Story display put together by children who visited the library

The new part of the buiding houses some interesting and funky artwork

Book Discussion Kits: several copies of the book can be borrwed at once.
These are stored in rucksacks which include notes all about the books..
Many of the donors who have supported libraries in Grand Rapids are related to the Steelcase company in some way. Steelcase is the seventh largest company in Grand Rapids and also sponsors the main University library at the Pew Campus, located downtown. In the year 2000, this was only the 3rd library in the USA to install an Automated Retrieval System (ARS).. which soon became an Automated Storage Retrieval System (ASRS) due to the slight acronym issue, although library staff simply call it SPOT, after the dog ("because it fetches things"). I was lucky enough to see the innards of the system which rather cleverly will retrieve a crate based upon the barcode of any requested book. The book can then be removed from the crate, borrowed and then allocated to any one of several hundred crates when it returns. 250,000 items are stored in this way at the Steelcase:

Inside the ASRS: A robot selects and retrieves crates

The Steelcase Library's main reading room includes more smart furniture
Eiona Van Gent's "Cabinet of Wonder" sits at
the very end of the Steelcase reading room
My trip has been mainly work-based so far but I did get a couple of hours to look around downtown Grand Rapids yesterday evening. My impression is of a town which is very much developing all the time. It centres around the Grand River (shown here) with a growing range of art and cultural centres on its banks, as well as historical buildings like the Gerald Ford Museum where the ex-President and his wife are buried.

Overlooking the Grand River in Downtown Grand Rapids

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

First impressions...

The welcoming arch at Grand Valley State University

This is my second day here at GVSU and the first thing I really can't get over is the sheer scale of the Allendale Campus. It's a massive 1,250 acres! Fortunately the University accommodation I am renting here provides a bike for me to get around on, so I have been able to get out and explore the site - taking due heed of Tornado signs which are posted on all of the buildings:
 No tornados forecast, thus far, happily!

The campus has its own golf course, Performing Arts Centre and Arboretum (pictured below). Sculpture is also prevalent on campus. The Marching Band shown here is just one of hundreds of examples of artwork dotted around. This particular one was created by Stuart Padnos, a local scrap metal entrepreneur and self-taught artist. Stuart was also the man who started the Padnos International Center at GVSU - the very office that organised the Staff Exchange programme I am currently participating in. It was sad to learn, then, that Stuart passed away just last month at the age of 90:

The Marching Band by Stuart Padnos 1922-2012

GVSU's Arboretum. A tree is planted here for
every ton of paper used by the University

Yesterday I met with the Associate Dean of Technology & Information Services and the Head of Operations and User Services. They gave me an overview of their department along with some good pointers for the research project which I am doing while I am out here, including a few areas to look at which I had not thought of previously.

Today I will be visiting the public libraries here in Grand Rapids and am due to meet Marcia Warner, President of the Public Library Association in America. Exciting times!

Branding myself...

In Thing 3 we are asked to think about our "personal brand". It is still not a concept I'm entirely comfortable with as I tend to think of brands in terms of products rather than people. If pushed, I would say my brand could be defined in terms of the fact I enjoy traveling (hence this Blog's title) and have a keen interest in library design. This is not just in terms of the physical architecture of library buildings but the thinking behind where libraries are located, what services are included, what efforts have been made to make the library sustainable as well as a host of other factors which go towards shaping the overall character of the building. 


During my MSc at City University I visited countless libraries all over Great Britain and was fascinated to see how architects had interpreted just what exactly constitutes a library in the 21st Century. I've started to make a list of some of the libraries which I was particularly impressed by on my travels. These are not always the best designed libraries, architecturally but they are all unique buildings where clearly a lot of attention has been put in to give them a distinct feel which is appropriate for their users. Here (in no particular order) are a few from that list, just to give some idea of the types of interesting ideas that have been put into practice:

The David Wilson Library (University of Leicester)
A good example of sustainable library design. The funky sculptures hanging from the ceiling are also a nice touch. Even the toilets have their own Facebook appreciation society!

Opened by the Manic Street Preachers, no less ("Libraries gave us power..."). It's a bright and colourful building with a lot of fun ideas. I also love the fact they have a massive white grand piano in their main atrium area which anyone can book up and play!

This library is housed inside a bustling shopping centre. It brings in many different careers support services, such as Connexions and offers drop-in advice sessions on employment and learning. The facility is also home to a BFI mediatheque.



Although it didn't look much from the outside, I really liked this library as it provided a real oasis of comfort and commonality in the middle of a rundown council esatate.

As well as all the history behind it, I like the London Library because it's quirky - it has it's very own classification system, as an example, along with some highly eccentric patrons. It is members-only, annoyingly but the likes of Stephen Fry and Bamber Gascoigne have be spotted perusing the seemingly endless shelves (the library never gets rid of a single book). 


To emphasise that this is really just a fairly random selection of the libraries I have visited (it's by no means supposed to be a top 5). I also hope no-one who is from any of these libraries minds me including theirs in this blog post! 

So - not sure why the text seems to have shrunk (grr.. Blogger!) but that's Thing 3 down. Meanwhile I had my first day here on the Allendale Campus yesterday and will try to put something up about my first impressions shortly...