Wednesday, 17 April 2013

'Quick' Chartership Update (Part 2)...

Some 550 years ago, Rotterdam was the home of Desiderious Erasmus - the Dutch Renaissance Scholar and Humanist who is revered to this day within academia for his efforts in preaching a message of tolerance, freedom of expression and respect for others. Erasmus remains Rotterdam's most famous son and it is a testament to his legacy that Holland's second city is such a chilled-out and culturally diverse place to this day. Rotterdam has become known as the "Gateway to Europe" hosting Europe's busiest port. Whilst the city was practically obliterated during the Second World War, it now also boasts some of the most cutting-edge architecture in the world.

This could be Rotterdam... or anywhere
Rotterdam has many fantastic libraries. The problem nowadays is trying to find them! With 19 of the city's 25 public libraries having closed in recent years, aside from the massive central library (below) it is often hard to pick them out.

Bibliotheek Rotterdam - the central library
attracts some 3.4 million visits per year
What does have to be said, however, is that the central library itself is a captivating (if not downright magnificent) place! In Part 1 of this (inexcusably long) blog post, I wrote about libraries which do things, places which inspire users to want to better themselves and to participate in the activities which they offer. It is a huge building to explore, for a start and from the giant chess board in the foyer (see below - N.B. from what I saw, Rotterdammers are obsessed with chess!) to the music practice rooms on the 6th floor, the library strives to invite users to engage with their surroundings at every step. This idea of a library which is "alive" extends to the living roof, where a bee-hive was installed in 2012 to celebrate 'The Year of the Bee' in Holland!

Chess players and spectators outside the Bibliotheek's Cafe
The music/media area includes access to the Musiekweb database
which offers the choice of some 4.5 million tracks
The Rotterdam suburb of Spijkenisse, a few miles south-west of the city centre, is home to perhaps an even more incredible library building: the so-called 'Book Mountain'. Heralded as "the biggest bookcase in the world", this is a library with a keen focus upon sustainability, with natural lighting used as much as possible, trees lining the pathways and shelving made of recycled plastic bags (I kid you not!). Since opening in October 2012, the building has already been nominated for a raft of international awards, including the Red Dot Design Award (which it won) and the London Design Museum's 'Design Museum of the Year' Architecture Award. 

Again, participation is the key here. The pyramid includes small enclaves which host IT teaching facilities, classrooms, special collections, a gallery and meeting spaces - enticingly hidden within the pyramid. For those intrepid enough to make it to the top, there is also a cafe and (inevitably) more chess!

MVRDV's 'Book Pyramid' in Spijknisse, a suburb of Rotterdam

An entrance into the pyramid leads to a small gallery
hosting an international photography exhibition
Given that (..and possibly because) Rotterdam is host to such facilities as the central Bibliotheek and the Book Pyramid, it is a sad to see that public library provision elsewhere is just so sparse. Some of the city's residents have taken matters into their own hands. I saw an example of this at Rotterdam-West - namely the enchanting Lees Zaal community project:

Lees Zaal is Dutch for 'Reading Room'

Bird box book shelf at Lees Zaal!
It was interesting to get the perspective of those volunteers working in this community facility. They received criticism from some quarters for taking on a role which some view as the responsibility for the Dutch Government to provide. The response of campaigners was to point out that ensuring a community "reading room" of some description was retained in this area was simply too important to get angry about (noticeably, staff do not refer to the project as a library, even though it has an open book collection). The project has secured support from Stichting Doen, a lottery-funded scheme encouraging sustainable community projects and Woonstad Rotterdam, a city-wide housing project. 

Visiting some of Rotterdam's other cultural hubs has convinced me that this is a city which still values its libraries, despite their diminishing numbers. Below are two examples, the first from the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI - the outside of which is pictured at the top of this blog post). The second is one I stumbled across whilst exploring the city's art museum:

The NAI Library contains around 60,000 volumes
with a highly international range

The charmingly prefabricated library at
Boijmans, Rotterdam's main art museum

I returned to the UK just as a chilly end to February paved the way for the coldest March in the UK since 1962, so headed directly to the cosy surrounds of the Library Camp London Unconference. Excitingly enough, the new Muppets film was being filmed outside the Senate House building at UCL (University College London) as I arrived.. I managed to see a small snippet from a scene involving a tiny 'Interpol' car (and then got told off for trying to take a photo! Oops!!). I digress... Over 100 of us gathered in UCL's oak-panelled Middlesex South Library:

Photo c/o Sue Lawson on the Library Camp Blog
Session 1

The first session I attended was on 'How to keep vision when dealing with operations' led by Kathy Baro from the University of Exeter. Here I heard feedback from a group of both public and academic librarians about how their work related to their respective institutions' strategic plans (or equivalent documents). It was interesting to hear that in general, the response from academic librarians tended to be that people felt the strategic plan was being increasingly incorporated into their working lives (being discussed at meetings and training sessions, for instance) which has also been my recent experience. With public libraries, the picture was more varied, with some librarians commenting that their council's vision did not relate to them and this was a source of major problems. Others were able to extract the more the supportive bits out of their council's strategy and to help colleagues understand the applicability of these elements to their roles. 

Session 2

The next session was a real life version of the popular #UKlibchat Twitter feeds. This one was entitled, 'Design your own LIS qualification'. There was a good mix of people at various stages of their career. Some were thinking about where to study, while others were able to impart their experiences of having completed an LIS course. I spoke about the CityLIS  course and the aspects of it which I thought had been particular useful to me, such as the presence of guest speakers (Dame Lynne Brindley, former CEO of the British Library, as an example) at some lectures and the options available to gain new technical ICT skills. We also talked about what was missing from their courses, with budgeting and practical skills such as teaching being mentioned. The full Storify of the session is available here and @Agentk23 also produced this wonderfully minimalist diagram of the session's layout (in which I am the leftmost brown blob!):

The #UKLibChat 'Design Your Own LIS Qualification' session
Session 3

After a ginormous lunch (with this being a free event, attendees were encouraged to bring their own savories - and they did, in humongous quantities!) I went to a session on Cycling for Libraries (Cyc4lib) led by Graham Seaman (@Navtis). I was delighted to see this event represented, having just recently signed up to travel back to Holland later in 2013 to take part in this year's Cyc4lib event. This bike ride/unconference involves over 100 librarians from over 20 countries around the world getting together to cycle from Amsterdam to Brussels. We will be highlighting the plight of public libraries, in particular, along the way. A small group of us had a useful discussion about how to try to stir up more interest in this event from the UK. I was surprised to hear that only a handful of British participants had attended the previous events (from Denmark to Berlin in 20011 and Vilnius, Lithuania to Tallinn, Estonia in 2012). We talked about the possibility of hosting a smaller-scale "feeder" event in Britain to encourage participation. 

Session 4

The next session was 'The Sweary Session' - hosted by @RichardVeevers which started off promisingly with some colourful tales about the derivation of several of the commonest expletives heard in libraries (or indeed anywhere)! The Rhymetime session happening concurrently to this one in the same reading room was something of a unique juxtaposition.. the sort of thing which could only really occur at a Library Camp event! This, combined with the fact I had managed to also inadvertently spray half of a bottle of water over myself and other attendees (leading me to mutter some choice swears of my own..  £*$%ing sparkling water!) meant my ability to concentrate properly on this session eventually escaped me entirely. It seemed many participants were using it as a chance to just generally let off some steam about their jobs/managers/customers etc.. fuller write-ups are available here (via @KrisWJ) and here (via @ellyob).

Session 5

The final session I went to was on 'Librarians and Personality' led by @preater & @RosieHare. This was a follow-up session to another #UKlibchat, with participants asked to indulge in a bit of amateur psychology using an online personality test. I wound up as an introvert in the 'INFP' category - a "Questor"...for whatever Jung's analysis means! At the start of the session itself, we were all asked to line up according to how we saw ourselves along the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority fitted into the introvert category, although far more were prepared to identify themselves as extroverts than might have been expected. We then talked in groups about what type(s) of personality is needed to work in librarianship ("not psychopaths" was one of the more interesting contributions!) before reconvening as a large group for a discussion on how these various personality types interact with one another. One memorable contribution which I think summed up the day explained how librarians are the type of people who, unlike many from other professions, might be prepared to freely give up an entire Saturday to talk about their work! I think this is a positive thing..

It was my first Library Camp experience and was certainly one which got me thinking, not least (with the group being such a mixed bunch) about the notion of what constitutes a "professional librarian" or "library and information professional".. and whether it matters at all. There has been some interesting recent debate about this. 

Other events I have attended recently include a fascinating CILIP ILIG Informal presentation by Dr Janet Murray on her efforts in helping to transform LRCs in Vietnam. I also returned to the City Business Library (fast becoming one of my new favourite London libraries!) last month for a highly informative 60 Apps and Sites in 60 minutes event, presented "with efficiency and humour" by Simon Barron (@SimonXIX) and Anneli Sarkanen (@LibrarianNelly).

High time I wrapped this blog post up. The good news is that the weather has finally started to improve, I have started to think about the summer and particularly the Cycling for Libraries ride. It's something I am tremendously excited to be taking part in and I look forward to meeting fellow participants in Amsterdam this June (...and I might even see a few windmills this time around, who knows?!).

A returns unit at Rotterdam Central Library


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