Sunday, 22 July 2012

Keeping in touch...

Now it's easy to dismiss the likes of Twitter, Facebook and the rest as frivolous tools designed to help up do nothing more than poke away our lives glued to digital displays... but what social media has done to bring people and communities together is undoubtedly fantastic. In Thing 12 we are asked to contemplate "Putting the social in social media" and many CPD23 bloggers (Bookslinger1066, Charmain the Librarian and others) have already pointed out just how invaluable having this network available is to remote libraries like Orkney Library & Archive.

It's also always exciting to find out what libraries elsewhere are doing and I find social media can help to provide an insight when trying to predict what might be around the corner for libraries here in the UK. I follow the University of Manchester Library Facebook Group, having studied there as an undergraduate and noted with interest that their John Rylands Library now provides a recharging station for students to use to charge up their equipment. Further afield, posts I saw on Twitter and YouTube prove that some libraries in the US are already starting to dabble with 3D printing. @Thelibrarynews reports that the University of Nevada, Reno just this week became the first academic library in the States to offer this campus wide. This is one of a host of innovations which are predicted to be the next disruptive technology; a concept defined prosaically as a product which creates a new market by applying a different set of values but in simpler terms is something with the potential to change the way we live, work and even think. Here’s a video all about the potential applications of 3D printing within a library context:

Boffins in the know are starting to say 3D printing may be prominent in libraries of the future
[Uploaded by mybluheaven here - Licensed under Creative Commons]

At a time when many libraries in the UK are under threat, I also use social media pages to keep up with the progress of public library campaigns. There is a burgeoning list of these on the Voices for the Library Wordpress site. A campaign I follow with particular interest is the plight of Brent's libraries. Fear not, as I've no plans to turn this post into a political rant - the likes of Zadie Smith, Jacqueline Wilson, Alan Bennett, Kate Mosse, Philip Pullman and Patrick Ness (winner of this year's Carnegie Award for Children's Fiction) have already expressed their grievances about these closures far more eloquently than I ever could. The uproar about the Council's decision culminated in a high profile but ultimately unsuccessful case heard in the High Court last year. In Quantum Leap parlance, this week was the leap home with a visit to a pop-up library set up outside Preston Library - the very first library I ever set foot in and a victim of these cuts and closures in the London Borough of Brent:

 The Preston Community (pop-up) Library sits 
at the entrance to the former Preston Library

My own mother has been working tirelessly to try to help save Preston Library. The pop-up library is the culmination of several months' effort from those intent upon giving the libary back to the community. The library is not staffed and has only limited shelter from the elements but the public can come along to choose from a host of items selected from a growing collection (already amounting to literally hundreds, if not thousands) donated by well-wishers. 

The library is not staffed - users are trusted to fill
in a card pledging to return any items they take
Storage for items not on display has generously been provided by local organisations and there is much support from the community. 

Kensal Rise Library, opened by Mark Twain in 1900, was stripped of its books, furnishings and an historic plaque commemorating the opening in a dawn raid of the property by Brent Council last month. The Save Kensal Rise Library! Facebook Group boasts support from the Mark Twain Museum in Connecticut, as featured in this article in the Guardian

At Barham Park Library (which also succumbed to Brent's library closures) campaigners have gone a step further, opening a volunteer-run library in Barham Park Primary School's Nursery building. Activities for children to get involved with, such as art and quizzes are available and over 200 members have already signed up within the library's first three months. Sadly, the Nursery itself is having to close very soon too as the school is undergoing refurbishment. The school has agreed to donate its furniture to this project, however and yesterday I was able to lend a hand packing this and the library's books onto a truck so that the facility can be relocated to a new venue on Wembley High Road.

The quaintly mock-Tudor Barham Park Library, now closed
along with 5 other Brent Libraries in the past year

Friday, 13 July 2012

Librarians behind bars...

So last Wednesday I spent the day banged up with several other librarians at Lewes Prison. It was a suitably gloomy morning when we arrived at the gates:

The foreboding entrance gates at HMP Lewes (understandably,
there were no photo opportunities to be had inside the prison)
We were taken on a tour of the prison first. The cells reminded me of some of the more basic Halls of Residence I had encountered during my time as a student (and these even had their own ensuite WCs!.. albeit fairly basic ones). Joking aside, for a Category B prison the inmates seemed fairly well treated, with most being allowed out of their cells for much of the day. Even the serious offenders (separated in another wing which wasn't part of the tour) did have access to the library, if accompanied by an officer, for an hour at a time. There were many opportunities for inmates to work and learn during their stay (average sentences at Lewes are only 8 weeks but some prisoners were there for very short or long terms, ranging from several days up to Life). The Prince's Trust has set up a course in Falconry which is available only to those prisoners who have been exemplarily well-behaved. We were introduced to some fairly menacing 'jail birds' outside in the Prison's aviary, including Kestrels and Harris Hawks. Prisoners had the chance to learn to feed, look after and fly these birds.

A Harris Hawk (courtesy of  FurLined on Flickr - Creative Commons Licensed)
In the prison library you find almost everything you would expect to find in a public library, including an extensive DVD collection, the inevitable graphic novels display and sporting/celebrity auto-biographies. There was a noticeably augmented Crime section and I had a chat with an inmate about whether he liked to read these. He told me that he did but but was disappointed the novels available all conformed to a "simplistic narrative" where a "Gillian Anderson/Scully-type character" would invariably track down the culprit and bring them to justice. He went on to (ironically, I think) bemoan the lack of books explaining how to jimmy one's way into a Securicor van..

The library's approach to rules and regulations reminded me, interestingly, of the system of passive enforcement I saw at GVSU. There were no barrier alarms and it was simply accepted that some stock would go missing. There was certainly censorship here but it was subtly done. Only a handful of 18-rated films made it into the collection but there was certainly some fairly hardcore fiction (Richard Montanari et al.) available. Law books were popular, of course, to the extent where these statutes and proceedings had to be kept behind the counter and were only available upon request. Maps of the local area were similarly restricted, just in case someone did want to try to use them to plot their escape!

The library is heavily involved in the learning opportunities which are available, promoting reading groups and a scheme which allows prisoners to record a bedtime story for their children. The librarians spoke of how much satisfaction the prisoners get out of such programmes. The library also hosts the Toe by Toe scheme which pairs up strong readers with those who have learning difficulties in a 'Buddy System'. And that (eventually and in a roundabout sort of way) brings us to Thing 11: Mentoring.

There's only a limited amount I can say about Mentorship. I have engaged in this to a limited extent in the past through Kingston's own buddying scheme is run for new employees. I have never had a mentor (nor mentored) in a formal capacity, however before and again I look forward to meeting my potential Chartership mentor. He is from a public library background so hopefully both of us will be able to learn from one another. I also hope to be able to work with him to identify where my own personal strengths & weaknesses lie and this is something covered in the Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP). 

The prison visit was organised by CILIP and a big thanks goes the librarians who met with us on the day - it was a fascinating insight into a side of libraries I had barely thought about before and it was very positive to hear how rewarding this could be.

I continued my adventures (a little closer to home nowadays!) with a jaunt along the East Sussex coast this week, ending up in Eastbourne:

A hotel library, Art Deco-style at The Cavendish on the Eastbourne seafront
 Fireworks hail the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture - performed 
by a 20-strong brass band at Eastbourne's bandstand

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The next step...

Woohoo! Really glad to have made it into double figures for CPD23 Things!! The organisers have been very generous in allowing time to reflect this year and this has been helpful in giving me a chance to keep up with this. I'm frankly pleased just to have kept this going - sometimes it has been difficult to find the time to blog, or there have been glitches with Blogger (while I'm on the subject, a big grrr to all of these adverts which keep cropping up!) and it would have been very easy to let this fall by the wayside.

The other minor cause for celebration is that I have found a potential mentor for Chartership - which, as luck would have it, is the subject matter of Thing 10. Having been in touch with several others from CILIP's mentor list without success, making an appointment is something of a breakthrough and I'll look forward to meeting them at the end of this month. This has also started me thinking about putting together a Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP). The template for this is downloadable from the 'Five Steps to Chartership' section of the CILIP website and requires me to look at where my training needs are and how to address these. I'm also writing up my appraisal at the moment so it will be useful to work on both of these in conjunction with one another. 

Meanwhile, following a visit to the European Commission (pictured below) on Monday, it was interesting to read in CILIP's May Update about Partage Plus, a project the EC is spearheading to digitise thousands of Art Nouveau materials. 

The Berlaymont, headquarters of the European Commission, Brussels
In Brussels, Art Nouveau is everywhere and here are photos of another library building typical of this late 19th Century style. This was also an introduction to another type of library I had not encountered before, namely the Bank Library:

The National Bank of Belgium Library houses reference
materials on Finance, Economics and Monetary Policy
This is free for use by students and members
of many finance-based institutions in Belgium
It's worth noting, though that Art Nouveau is not the only type of architecture on display in Brussels. One of my favorite buildings, tucked away in a shopping arcade off the famous Grand-Place (and believed to have been designed by the same architect-sculptor, Jean Cosyn) was La Bellone - Maison du Spectacle. This too hosts a library, as well as a variety of performing arts and cultural exhibits:

La Bellone: This late baroque style building is protected  
by a glass cover, forming a courtyard for events and shows

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Getting things done...

Week 9 was a bumper extravaganza of a week for CPD23 Things with not just one but two Things covered: Google Calendars & Evernote.

I have had a go at using these, both of which are aimed at helping with organisation and getting things done. Overall I found Evernote to be the more useful of the two. I have a habit of hurriedly texting down memos on my phone as memory-jolters, most of which have titles like "v350 Photo" or "Ogvt 576b" which undoubtedly have some deep significance when I write them but then fade into gobbledygook with time. Evernote allows me to embellish these with clippings and pictures from the web or already existing on my phone and then access them online from anywhere. Handy. Thanks to Evernote, too this blog now has its own email address - (catchy, no?!).  I also rather like the idea of "Preserving your Food Memories" which is something else Evernote positively encourages.

I was interested to see if Google Calendars would offer anything drastically different to Outlook but can't see that it does for everyday personal /shared calendar use. I can see the use of it for libraries and found this link recommended by the CPD23 Things gang helpful in understanding how other libraries have been able to advertise events and even to SMS library users about overdues using Google Calendars.

As far as my Wanderings go, last weekend it was off to Brussels. The Royal Library of Belgium was hosting a Librarium exhibition, charting the history of the written word. One of the highlights was a death scroll dating back to 1,000 B.C. Here is a quick slideshow which also includes a tunnel-like piece of artwork entitled Puits de Science (Fount of Knowledge) which I found quite striking:

The fun and thoroughly Art Nouveau Belgian Comic Strip Center also has a library, complete with life-sized Smurf (or Schtroumpf, in French). The library is mainly used by researchers (predominantly journalists and students) but its recreational reading area is available for visitors to the museum and gallery to browse. The collection includes comic books in 20 different languages:

A host of creatures inhabit the Belgian Comic Strip Center's Library

One of Dutch cartoonist Marten Toonder's creations, 
Ollie B Bommel, browses the shelves
(George Remi AKA) Hergé's Tintin is a star attraction!
Victor Horta's extravagant warehouse is home to many familiar comic characters