Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Long overdue update...

Not had much time to blog lately, mainly due to a frantic but ultimately successful attempt to get my Chartership portfolio submitted before last month's deadline!..

...admittedly I don't actually know the outcome yet but I'm really pleased just to have persevered with it - particularly with some turbulent times affecting both my mentor and myself along the way. It has also been another year of turmoil for UK libraries in general, truth be told...though now is not the time to dwell on this and frankly right now I'd much rather focus on some of the good stuff that's happened instead!

First and foremost - Cycling for Libraries! - which I took part in for the 2nd time. This year we started in Montpellier and meandered our way along the Rhône en route to Lyon. It was another amazing adventure and brilliant to meet up with the gang again! 

There was some fantastic coverage of our advocacy efforts in the French media and there's also a YouTube video of the tour (embedded below) from one of the participants which has a satisfyingly Gaelic feel to it...

Other stuff I've been up to this year includes:

My colleagues and I also achieved a Customer Services Excellence Award which (as well as being an achievement in itself, of course) will hopefully lay the foundations for continuous improvement. 

I'm looking forward to more travelling in 2015, with the opportunity to go and visit some more incredible libraries, like this one in Prague:

...and this in Warsaw:

In 2015 I also plan to take part in not one but two Cycling for Libraries tours - the first a localised tour taking place between Basel and Strasbourg from 6-10 June. This is something of a warm-up to the main tour which departs from Oslo on 1 September and arrives in Aarhus, via Gothenberg, on 10 September in time for the opening of DOKK1 and the Next Library festival. 

When possible I'll post further updates on here. In the meantime, have a happy 2015 everyone!

Image/Video credits:

Alex.ch. (2007) Inside Warsaw University Library. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alex-photos/2116880246 [Accessed 27.12.2014]

Balazh, A. (2014) Little house in the woods on New Year's night. Available at: http://www.thinkstockphotos.co.uk/image/stock-photo-little-house-in-the-woods-on-new-year-s-night/137379665/ [Accessed 28.12.2014]

Bauwens Video (2014) CYCLING FOR LIBRARIES 2014 Montpellier-Lyon = CYCLO-BIBLIO 2014. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzw5j8z0dMk#t=406 [Accessed 28.12.2014]

Memegenerator.net (2014) "Hoorah!". Available at: http://cdn.meme.li/i/on0lh.jpg 

Moulds, N. (2014) Strahov Monastery Library, Prague. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegrimfandango/14505754385 [Accessed 27.12.2014]

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Around the Øresund...

Scandinavia has more than its fair share of fantastic libraries, from the futuristic curves of the Vennesla Library and Cultural Center in Norway, to the more traditional majesty of Stockholm Public Library. I visited 3 amazing libraries during my recent trip to the Øresund (the strait which separates the Danish island of Zealand and the Swedish province of Scandia) each of which was just bursting with bright and innovative ideas.

The first was Malmö Stadsbibliotek (City Library) which, as can be seen from the pictures below, is really two buildings linked together by "The Cylinder":

The library moved to "The Castle" at Regementsgatan in 1946

This entrance is also the link between the old and new parts of the building

This extension was added in 1997 and
overlooks Slottsparken (Castle Park)
According to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), "Malmo is also undergoing a transition from being an industrial city to a city of knowledge" and the library lies very much at the heart of this. This includes services to support entrepreneurs starting their own businesses and Swedish language teaching for adult learners. [These links are to web pages which are in Swedish.]

The newer section of the library makes good use of natural light
The library includes a range of touches to make the space more homely, including low energy lighting, artwork, video games and a choice of furniture for users to relax in..

Art and funky furniture are key features of the building. The examples displayed here are housed within "The Cylinder" (above & right)

One particular feature of the library which was completely new to me was the use of motorised, ergonomic trolleys! Items can be stacked on these either upright or longways, with a tilting mechanism allowing either convenient browsing or for the books to moved around easily:

Tilting trolleys!
Next up was the Den Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond) which incorporates the National Library of Denmark and Copenhagen University Library. This grand national library building actually shares many similarities with Malmö Stadsbibliotek, architecturally-speaking. It dates back to 1906 (Malmö library was founded in 1905 although it has since moved) with an impressive, glass-fronted extension added in 1999:

The Black Diamond is another library which
mixes contrasting old and new elements
The entrance to the older part of the building. (At the time of my visit, the library was
an exhibition all about Danish Jews returning home after Word War II)
Much like the British Library and many other national libraries worldwide, the reading rooms were closed off for member/student access only. There were plenty of exhibitions and special collections to look around, however, including one designed by Russian avant-garde artist and experimentalist Andrey Bartenev:

Andrey Bartenev uses a lot of psychedelic and overtly sexual imagery in his installations,
making for one of the more colourful & provocative archivs displays I've encountered!

The inside of the building (also known as Det Kongelige Bibliotek
or "The Royal Library") looking out to Copenhagen's harbour
Finally I visited Biblioteket Kulturværftet in Helsingør. It forms part of this historical Danish port town's "Culture Yard" complex which is an imposing metallic structure, jutting out onto the former dockyard.

The library section of the Kulturværftet ("Culture Yard") can be seen on the left
I liked this library a lot as it has a wealth of fun elements in it, including plenty of toys and games - both traditional and computerised - for kids to play around with, as well as balconies, a piano, exhibitions and artwork, even a lighthouse(!), a table tennis table(!!).. the list just goes on & on! In addition to all this, the library has a very sophisticated book sorter (supplied by Lyngsoe Systems) which has also been specially designed so that it is in-keeping with the library's industrial maritime theme. 

The library includes countless allusions to the town's nautical past
(NB The lighthouse mentioned above can just about be seen in the background!)

Anyone for table tennis?!..

Even the shelving includes fun elements, with lego figurines atop many of the stacks! 
These spinning top chairs are rather fun too!

The balconies are reminiscent of those at the Saltire Centre
(Glasgow Caledonian University) and look over the harbour
The library also boasts views to the town's spectacular castle - supposedly the setting of Shakespeare's 'The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'...

Kronborg Castle, Helsingor (or "Elsinore") is believed 
to be the real-life inspiration behind Hamlet
It was great to finally see some of Scandinavia, if only this small section around the Øresund. I hope to go back and visit Norway, in particular, some day. Libraries aside, I would have to say Helsingborg was the real highlight for me. It's a stunning old city, right on the sea and I would highly recommend it to anyone!

The sun setting over the harbour at Helsingborg

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Daytrip to Oxford...

The John Henry Brookes Building (JHBB) at Oxford Brookes University
I took a jaunt to Oxford earlier in the month to check out the latest of the "super-converged" academic libraries here in the UK. These are buildings which bring together a range of university services in the one physical place. In this case the library space literally wraps itself around the other uses of this extensive flagship building which include a careers area, academic support ('Upgrade') and catering services.

The library overlooks 'The Forum' on the ground floor of the JHBB
which encompasses academic services, the IT Service Desk and a café
Further elements of this RIBA award-winning building include a 300-seat lecture theatre, the Students' Union and an innovative ‘market place’ and campaigning area to help students promote enterprises & good causes. The roof has over 600m² of solar cells, generating free energy for the building, with a further 1700m² of green sedum roof to encourage wildlife. This is all part of an ambitious £132 million development plan (called 'Space to Think') to update Oxford Brookes' Headington campus.

Large banners all over campus announce the 
major transformations occurring at Headington

Pink is something of a theme...
...including the trolleys!
It is difficult to find an area of the building which doesn't encourage visitors to make some use of the library space. Our tour guide spoke about how those who use the lecture theatre have to pass through the library, as an example, to get to the loos!

Plasma screens outside the lecture theatre display 
"silent disco" event held at the opening of the library
Subject enquiries and some training generally
happen in this Help Zone/"auditorium" area.
The building has 3 separate entry and exit points, which is certainly unusual (Newcastle City Library is the only other library which springs to mind with a similar setup). Most of the space remains open too after hours during term-time. It is only the reading rooms which are shut after core hours, with the rest of the JHBB building staying open.

(To note that the Special Collections area was still being completed at the time of this visit. More information can be found here on their website.)

The library entrance remains open outside of core hours 
but reading rooms are locked during late night opening

Many thanks to CILIP Thames Valley for hosting this visit and to Oxford Brookes Library staff for their insightful tours and generous supplies of cake!

I also had time to visit the unique Story Museum in the centre of Oxford which currently houses the enchanting '26 Characters' exhibition. Famous authors have had a lot of fun, from the looks of things, dressing up as characters from their favourite books. There is more information about the exhibition (which continues until 2 November)

Rochester's Extraordinary Storyloom and Katherine Rundell in 'Where the Wild Things Are' at the Story Museum

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Pop-up libraries...

The term "pop-up library" has been used to describe a multitude of different things in recent years. From the unstaffed book swaps which have cropped up in places like railway stations, pubs and phone boxes, to the more extensive and ambitious structures which have been built through the efforts of volunteers striving to campaign against library closures in areas like Brent.

Tree trunk used as a "pop-up library"/book swap as part of
In Other Words literary festival in Liverpool last year 
Pop-up libraries within an academic context were not something I had encountered prior to attending an M25 Consortium's event on the subject last week. Noreen Beecher from the University of Westminster explained that these are stalls set up as an "outreach project" by the library in response to dropping usage figures. Stalls were set up in areas like the Students' Union and in lecture theatre foyers. The stall itself consists of an easy-to-assemble, lightweight pod (which even lights-up!). The sessions were "themed" and gave users the opportunity to give feedback about various services, with topics including library search, 24/7 opening and Christmas Opening.

Noreen Beecher and Elaine Salter host the M25 Consortium event 
at the University of Westminster's Cavendish Campus
Two members of staff would "pop up" to do shifts of around 30 minutes at a time, although Noreen reported that in actual fact these slots would often extend far beyond that due to the number of questions these staff received. Staff members would typically be a mix of professional librarians and assistants equipped with iPads, giving them access to the library catalogue and to the library management system. Staff would also be armed with a range of freebies which were given out to students, including notebooks, markers, pens, screenwipes, post-it notes, sweets and easter eggs!

Noreen went on to report how this scheme had improved relations between staff and students. She cited anecdotal evidence about how the initiative encouraged those who had not ventured into the university's libraries previously to do so. Library staff also found this a good way to promote new services and felt the main benefit was the feedback collected from non-users of the library, as well as that gathered from regular users.

University of Westminster-branded goodies
were up for grabs at the event!
Elaine Salter (Library Services Manager at Westminster) then opened up the discussion to broader Customer Services topics, for instance talking about how University of Westminster Library Services is one of only a handful of university libraries in this country which does not charge fines. This apparently made for happier students (perhaps unsurprisingly) and NO CASH HANDLING! We also spoke briefly about a proposed Text-a-Librarian service and about the hidden costs of 24/7 opening.

Some of us then took in a tour of the University of Westminster's Law School Library site. The library was refurbished in 2012 and I was particularly impressed with some of the lively touches they had introduced, for instance help point rostrums decorated with piles of books (donated especially for this purpose) and mobile group study pods:

The University of Westminster School of Law Library

Mobile pods at the University of Westminster
This was a very well-hosted event which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did feel that it did muddy the waters slightly, though in terms of what exactly constitutes a pop-up library. With no books or other information resources available, it is debatable as to whether or not these stalls can be accurately described as libraries at all, in fact, yet they are definitely an extension of the University's library service. I also wondered whether this sort of outreach exercise would be as useful in institutions with a higher proportion of distance and part-time learners than Westminster has.

We finished the afternoon with drinks at Saint George's Hotel, overlooking the BBC Broadcasting House in London's schwanky Fitzrovia and offering some great views across the capital!

Dramatic skies captured from 'The Heights'
restaurant atop the Saint George's Hotel

Friday, 18 April 2014

Manchester Central Library...

The grand exterior of Manchester's Central Library
To start with a confession: 

Despite living in Manchester as a student for 3 years, I only visited the central library once during that time. Don't get me wrong.. I liked the building - on the outside it loosely resembles the Pantheon in Rome and it provided something of an oasis (no pun intended) in the bustling centre of town. It's just that with one of the largest student populations in Europe (over 100,000 according to Midas) we were spoilt for choice when it came to finding places to study in the city. These include the labyrinthian John Rylands University Library - now complemented by the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons. Then there was the other John Rylands Library - an amazing neo-gothic building  (pictured below) in the heart of trendy Deansgate. So, all in all, I next to never felt the urge to venture into the rather outdated echo chamber that was the old central library during my time at Uni. 

Stairway at John Rylands, Deansgate
What strikes you first of all when you enter the new building is the amount of space available now. Only 30% of the building was in public use back in my day (..over a decade ago now - yikes!) whereas now 70% is accessible to the public. The comparisons with Liverpool's Central Library (which reopened last year) are obvious, not least on account of their architecturally similar grand circular reading rooms. Much like the great football rivalry, you get the sense the city was keen not to fall too far behind its Merseyside neighbours; in this case by providing its residents with a flagship library building it could be proud of. In common with other large central library buildings which have opened in UK cities in recent years (Newcastle, Cardiff and Birmingham to name a few) this is also a library building bursting with life and engagement. 

There are a several areas of activity dotted throughout the building's four main public floors, including business and employment services, a media lounge, a "Secret Garden" childrens' library/play area and electric pianos which users can plink away at!

Exhibitions include some of the miscellanea the library has collected over the years, from locker handles to 80 year's worth of the sweet wrappers which were found stuffed down the seats of the old study spaces!

*Check out this fab BBC News School Report which gives a good overview of the building's key features!*

Reading Rooms: There are obvious comparisons to be made between
Manchester Central Library (above) and Liverpool Central Library (below)

One for the archives

The captivating Archives+  area includes a BFI Mediatheque
As soon as you enter  the new building through the exquisite main Shakespeare Hall, you are greeted by the sight of a large sign saying 'Archives' and find yourself  to be irrevocably drawn towards the vast array of interactive displays held within this space. It was refreshing to see the city's archive being given such a prominent place in the library. All too often library archives are an area hidden away in a dusty corner and typified by old library equipment; serried ranks of microfiche readers, map cabinets and slide projectors. Here in Manchester there is a very modern vibe, with touch screens, a unique virtual book stack and a hanging circular LED display scrolling live messages and feeding tweets received by @MancLibraries, all adding to the Sci-Fi/Tardis-like feel of the space.

Archives+ is full of eye-catching exhibits, for instance a model of a typical Mancunian tenement building, complete with video blogs about the lives of those who occupied these residences (below, left). A giant digital map in the middle of the room also allows visitors to pinpoint the sites of major historical landmarks within the city and to read stories about the major events which have shaped the city, ranging from the writing of Manchester's first Charter, through creation of the Manchester Ship Canal to the trauma of the 1996 IRA bombing.

One of many interactive exhibits at Archives+
The Media Lounge at Manchester City Library
which inhabits the basement of the new building
The basement area is not accessible to the public but includes some 35 miles of materials in this, the 2nd largest public library in the UK (the Library of Birmingham being the biggest). The building is connected via the underground City Library to Manchester's civic hub - a one stop shop for council services and enquiries, with Connexions also providing information and advice for youngsters. On the wall there is a sign stating, "No matter who you are or where you are from, Manchester is and always will be, yours". As a final thought (before I departed for Manchester's celebrated Curry Mile) I could not help but hope the same will always be true of our public libraries.

Manchester is a city which always makes you feel welcome!

The new Manchester Central Library frontage at night.
Lost in Literature exhibit at John Rylands, Deansgate