Boston and Lofty Ambitions

26 Jun


I was in Boston recently and took the opportunity to visit the Public Library. The library is actually in two buildings which are joined together back-to-back, the older McKim building and the modern Johnson building. As a tourist the main face of the library was the McKim building which faces Copley Square. Free architecture tours are available daily starting in the lobby.



The library also has an unusual open courtyard in the middle where a couple were having wedding photographs!


In the modern half of the library was the biggest flag I have ever seen.


What I really loved was the inscriptions around the outside of the McKim building, which were too big to fit in a photo so I am relying on wikipedia here:

  • South: “Founded through the munificence and public spirit of citizens”
  • East: “The public library of the city of Boston • Built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning,”
  • North: “The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty” (The ‘commonwealth’ refers to ‘The Commonwealth of Massacheusetts’, nothing to do with the Commonwealth of Nations).
  • Also above the main : “FREE TO ALL”

I would love to see more of this in the UK. When the inevitable question “why should my taxes be spent on this?” is asked, the answer is right there. Boom! In fact, I don’t know why we don’t do this already. What would you write over your public library? Something lofty and poetic or some statistics about the relationship between illiteracy and poverty? Or both? Or neither?


LIS Qualifications – the up side

1 Feb

After a twitter exchange about @millieshoes about her blog post  on Library qualifications, I agreed I would try to blog about my own experience, and why I found the MSc at the University of Strathclyde invaluable for working as an Information Professional. Is there really such a variation across the UK? I think it is quite right that there should be practical elements. But I would not want to get rid of the theoretical content. How can you learn how to do the job well without understanding the theories behind *why* we do *what* we do?

I did this course back in 2006/7, so please don’t take for granted these subjects are still part of the course as it is now – ask these folks instead for that!

Also, I have not looked back at my notes from the course at all so this is a very subjective ‘what I recall and remember being particularly useful in the workplace’ account of my studies! Some were whole modules, others are tasks from one module or other that sticks out in my memory particularly.

Digital Archiving and Preservation – the cohort split into groups and each got a set of primary archive resources to digitally archive and catalogue. We also created a webpage, including content about the archived items from our research. Application of skills: technologies, metadata conventions, research (and of course referencing properly!)

Bibliographies – everyone got a different topic and had to produce a bibliography of some set number of items, as far as I remember anyway, along with a description of the search process. This was early on in the course, so introduced search techniques, resources like databases and catalogues, and then referencing.

Web design – definitely did some HTML, databases, excel, there was probably more – Pretty essential for all LIS professionals to have some basic knowledge about these.

Ethics – I do love a bit of library ethics, as you may know. Found this useful every day at work. I find it scary that there are practitioners out there without some understanding of the ethics of librarianship.

Classification and cataloguing – there was an exam for this section which is a straightforward and fair way to test how good you are at classifying! The only thing was that we learned how to use Web Dewey, and in the ‘real world’ I had to use the book versions and that switch took some getting used to!

Placement – there was so much to learn about on placement – I went to a University Library, and got to see a little bit of serials, subject services, special collections, the institutional repository, even stores, and to see RFID in action (still to this day my only experience of this technology!). There was a European Documentation Centre too and a day at the archives. A busy month!

Other skills would be things like giving presentations, working in a team. And there were a million other things too which I will have omitted! All-in-all, I would say the course I did was pretty good.

I don’t know if a) I had a particularly good experience b) I was just in the right frame of mind for that course at that time c) I really found my niche with this subject (which is why I’m now doing a PhD!). Hopefully this post might be useful anyway to give a flavour of what you *can* get out of a LIS qualification.

My librarian intuition is tingling…

26 Dec

Bright colours in no particular patternThis holiday I took a stash of magazines with me as Christmas reading – I think any other Ph.D. Students out there will appreciate a lighter read is welcome in the holidays!! – and one of my favourites is Psychologies. What I love about this magazine is it always lifts me up – compared to gossip or fashion magazines which I love to read but then typically make me feel fat/unfashionable/poor or whatever…yes I am an emotional reader! So I was reading Psychologies today and BOOM! There was a bit of librarian-bashing. Boo to librarian-bashing! And you know me, not one to put up with that quietly, being a Noisy Librarian and all…

Imagine someone described like this: ‘Steve is shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and a passion for detail.’ Now answer this- is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

Daniel Kahneman, “How reliable is your intuition?”, Psychologies, January 2012, p.38 (travel edition)

I don’t really take issue with the example, people have this inaccurate stereotype idea of what kind of personality a librarian might have, and I guess some of the traits described may form part of that. I get the point, and it isn’t really about librarians at all, it is after all an article about intuition.

It has reaffirmed for me why bother with this blog, because everywhere I look there are stereotypes of librarians and a) I think they are wrong b) I think we should kick up a fuss about it, all the time, every day, until people have a more accurate picture of what we do, because c) I think libraries are brilliant, important and useful, and should be celebrated. If society at large doesn’t know what librarians do, we need to be making more noise and telling everyone…but I have blogged about this before…

For the moment, I want to tackle this perception that librarians are shy, retiring types “with little interest in people or in the world of reality.” My experience is the total opposite of this. As a librarian, I dealt with different people all day every day. You never know what someone is going to ask for help with, often people come in and are shy about asking for help, or sometimes they only have a vague idea what they do want, and it is the librarians job to tease this out. This is not the place for hard sales tactics, so maybe people get the impression that librarians are not outgoing. I don’t know how anyone could do this job and not be outgoing. Never knowing who is going to come through the door, and what they are going to ask for help with, requires quite a bit of people skills. If you go to see your doctor, for example, do you want someone who really stamps their personality on your consultation?? Or someone with good listening skills and tact?

On the tidiness and order thing, so, yes, librarians do attempt to organise collections in such a way that they are accessible. However, the reality of this is no collection is ever perfectly organised and librarian are more aware than most people of the issues involved and works to make things accessible. It is not about some ideal of perfect organisation, but about ‘where can I most usefully put this? Where is the best place to put this for the user to find it in?’ Compromise is constant, and most librarians I know are pragmatists. In school libraries, some teachers are forever apologising for kids leaving the place in a mess – I was forever assuring them it was fine, and that the books are there to be used, it is good to see them being used, and I would actively encourage browsing, having a look around, having a look at a book for a while to see if it suits…OK when someone hides *all* of the A-Z signs, that is annoying, but that only happened twice till I found out who the culprit was…! In fact, I was discussing with some other professionals just recently about being able to observe certain books being used by how often they turn up elsewhere in the library, and that I thought this was a good way of measuring resource use and wondered about how that could be measured – see, librarians actually like you to pick up and use the resources in the library, so something being ‘out of order’ is by no means an irritation! It is a positive sign of resource use. And it is also a never-ending job, resources in a library are always shifting and changing as stock comes in and out, is replaced, is used etc. So actually, librarians like managed disorder, not order.

Anyway, must go now and eat some more Christmas leftovers, I think having had a couple of days off I was having withdrawal symptoms from a lack of library chat…! (although according to the stereotype librarians couldn’t possibly be chatty either….)

More information on Psychologies magazine is available at:

A really easy Christmas reading promotion idea

15 Dec

Noisy Librarians

Just a really quick and simple blog post today – here’s an idea for an easy Christmas themed library event, for your school library: Surprise Reads.

All you need is some wrapping paper, cellotape, and string. Oh, and library books.

Do you library books have barcodes? If so, you can hopefully alternatively type a number in to your system instead of scanning the barcode, because you need this too.

All you need is a stack of tags (made from bits of the wrapping paper or card, hole punch them and use string to attach), a stack of books, a stack of wrapping paper.

For each book, write its barcode on the tag, and a short description or hint at what kind of person might enjoy this book. For example

“This book would be perfect for…

…Girls in S1-2, who like horses

…Boys who enjoy football stories

…fans of Goosebumps stories

…anyone who enjoys fantasy genre books”


“Borrow this book because…

…it’s fun and festive

…it’s quirky and a bit different

…it will make you giggle”


Then wrap up the book and make a pile of them (under the tree, if you have one) so pupils can have a hunt through for something that sounds just right for them. They have to take the book away/back to class before opening it though!

You’re still loaning as normal, so this all counts towards your loan stats. I’ve run it year after year and not had problems with anyone not understanding they are still a library loan, but you might want to make a simple sign to explain.

Also, a really fun thing to do is to get pupils to label and wrap up books for others – cut out a stack of squares of wrapping paper, get a cellotape dispenser or you will have World War Cellotape, and I usually print the “This book would be perfect for…” bit on the tags in advance. And the great thing is everyone enjoys doing this even they are personally reluctant to borrow books, everyone has an opinion about what someone else would like!

That’s all 🙂 Happy Christmas from the Noisy Librarians!

School library pupil helpers & volunteers

2 Dec

Volunteering in libraries has become a contentious issue in the profession, especially since many areas in England try to replace professionally staffed public libraries with co-called “community libraries” staffed by volunteers.

As per usual I approach this from a school library perspective, and a Scottish one at that. Bear in mind at least until recently (I don’t know what the current picture is) the vast majority of school libraries in Scotland were professionally staffed. I was just reading Lauren Smith’s blog about volunteering  which makes some excellent points. My perspective on volunteers is very similar. As a person who took on volunteers I have a few things to add.

As a school librarian, pupil volunteers were an absolute godsend. I would highly recommend taking on pupil volunteers. Running lunchtime opening is just a million times calmer and fun with help. I had volunteers from S2 (2nd year of Secondary school) to S6, and they helped with item issues and returns, shelving, making book displays. They were my “go-to” instant focus group for ideas I had for the library. I found the School Library Association ‘Pupil Librarian Toolkit’ handy (it is on their website but accessible to members only – But I do significantly diverge from the approach it recommends. Essentially, the SLA toolkit recommends advertising the role, looking for pupils with various skills and qualities, interviews etc.

My perspective is that having pupil volunteers is not principally for MY benefit, as a school librarian, it is for the PUPILS benefit. So, I actually look for who would benefit from the experience. Yes, they have to show an interest, but beyond that, what is the function of a school if not to furnish pupils with skills and experience? Being a pupil volunteer is a great way to gain confidence speaking to people, working in a team, patience, and of getting some practical experience in a real, working library at the same time.

Bearing this in mind, when I was a school librarian, I ran a training scheme for my library volunteers. This was outside of library opening time & meant everyone could get together as a team. Using the SLA pupil toolkit, I would draft a job description, and we would look at it together and modify it until me and the volunteers were happy with it. We would then do a little skills audit, so I had a good picture of which parts volunteers had confidence in and where training was needed. We might do some teambuilding games or some enquiry roleplaying. Sometimes I had things I needed to make them aware of, such as privacy issues with people’s book loans, so we even did a smidge of library ethics. It depended completely on what the volunteers needed to learn. Other weeks, we would do activities like identifying the transferable skills they were gaining from volunteering. I felt it was important for the volunteers to be aware of these skills and qualities, so that they could make the most of them when applying for jobs or college later. We also participated in the Millennium Volunteer Award scheme, so their hours could count towards a certificate. The SLA also sent me some beautifully smart thank you letters for the pupils to keep. In return, I also felt very protective of my volunteers, for example, I expected pupils to be polite and respectful to my volunteers, and anything less was not acceptable! On the rare occasion where a volunteer gets hassled, be there to back them up, make sure they know you are absolutely there for them. After all, they are giving up their lunchtime to help. They deserve to feel safe and valued, just as they deserve training for the skills they need for the job.

I think pupil volunteers in school libraries are important. I think school libraries are in a great position to give some youngsters work experience and training. Being a library volunteer can give a young person a chance to shine, a chance to experience something different, a different way to be learning, to be experiencing success, to contribute to the school community. I mention this because I wonder if my experience could inform the debate on volunteers in other library sectors. I have done volunteering in the past, as a student I did various things, and that experience was very valuable to me. Right now, I would not do volunteer library work, I think it would be counter-productive and only encourage a ‘race to the bottom’ for salaries and enough library posts have been lost already. Rather than seeing volunteers as an opportunity to get a quasi-professional on the (very!) cheap, we should ask ourselves, how can we make volunteering of value to volunteers? Who would benefit from volunteering experience?

My Library Induction Recipe

17 Nov

This is my own tried and tested recipe for school library inductions, which should leave time for borrowing & work for all ability levels. I should point out I am a very kinaesthetic learner and I think you can tell I have a bias towards that kind of task! These sessions are fun and adaptable too, with lots of room for interaction with pupils, which helps it not become too repetitive for the librarian delivering it too. So I am not saying these induction ideas are perfect, but I hope they might inspire a few readers.

Part One – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Carel Press Reading Game (& folded photocopies of map)

1 (potentially sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to layout zone signs and books

1 full lesson time


Introduce yourself first, then I always ask the teacher to shut her/his eyes while I ask the class to put up their hands if they love reading / reading is ok / hate reading. I always say it is OK to not like reading, everyone has different hobbies and interests, I might like swimming but hate rock climbing, for example, however they are all at school to learn and they will need reading skills for that. And then tell them that the good news is that my job is to get them all enjoying reading & to find the right thing for each person, so even if they hate reading just now, it is my job to change that and when you really enjoy reading something it won’t be a chore any more. Then I’ll say something about how many different kinds of books there are in the library & there should be something to suit everyone and we are playing this game so they can get a good look at what the library has. (There might be time here for more discussion e.g. of authors they enjoyed at primary school, play it by ear!)

Then we play the Carel Press Reading Game. I find this works really well when pupils are set by ability already, because all of the books can be selected for reader level & appeal. About 4/5 books per zone is plenty. (P.S. I do the photocopying and folding of worksheets during school vacation, for the whole year in advance). I like to mix up the categories (the game comes with extras and bits you can swap), so that ‘Fact’ becomes a zone and I would definitely include Sport and Graffix too.

I prefer not to give a spiel about genres, just give instructions for the game clearly, but then let discussions evolve over the course of the game. For example, I deliberately wait for someone to ask if they can borrow these books (I’m devious like that!), and then make that announcement to the whole class, “someone asked a good question here, absolutely, you can borrow one of these books, just remember which one and there will be time at the end to go back for it” – somehow generates more excitement that way. Also, it is good to have multiples and/or alternatives to hand in case 2 people want the same thing. Other points for discussion – what do they think of ‘fact’ being a zone? Is ‘fact’ a genre or is it something else? Could a book be put in 2 different zones? Which zone do they like best? Which one are they looking forward to? Teachers can be a bit surprised at first at the slightly chaotic or rowdy nature of the game, but as they start to see their pupils get enthused they start to get it.

Always try to leave 10-15 minutes at the end for borrowing time. It doesn’t matter too much if your class doesn’t get around the whole room; time for converting interest into loans is more valuable. Also, being in groups helps stagger borrowing time at the end of the reading game. Get the teacher to help, once you’re desk-bound, they can tell one group at a time to get the books they want and bring them to the library desk.

(I have ran an adapted version of the game, still using the exact same kit, but where all the books were “classics”, for a specific class project a teacher wanted support with & that was really good fun too)


Part Two – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Pirate map & question sheets

1 (hopefully less sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to shelve the relevant books & print/cut out question sheets

1 full lesson time

Part Two

This is the ‘Pirate treasure hunt’, inspired by Eva Baillie (now Librarian at Glasgow’s Goethe Institut) who ran something very similar in her school library! Preferably wait a couple of weeks after part one before running this session, so the class can return last time’s books at the same time. I would start with asking someone to explain the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then maybe a bit of practice for how fiction is organised (alphabetically by surname, so Roald Dahl would be under…D…ask a few others). Then I do a really simple explanation of how to find non-fiction books. My preferred description is that it is a bit like a supermarket, so similar things are next to each other, e.g. the vegetables are right by the fruit…etc, (and suggest keep an eye out for any parts of the library they might want to come back to, e.g. the car books, football books, etc) but then sometimes you can’t find something so then you can either ask me or search the catalogue and get a number (Dewey number) and then follow the number order to find the book.

This time you will probably need 2 teams, and within each team a number of pairs or threes. Each pair gets a small question sheet. These will need to be adapted to your library! Here are my most recent ones:


Each pair has to find one book, and answer one question on it. Not all the tasks mean using the catalogue computer (if they do you will have a long queue…). It is very important that you say that running or shouting will disqualify your whole team! Stagger when everyone starts – Task 1s to go first, once they have got underway, Task 2 can start etc., eventually everyone will be looking at once but staggering the start makes everything calmer! Also, choose a spread of books so not everyone is looking on the same exact shelf etc. While they are looking, relax a bit 😉 don’t give in to temptation to help straight away! Have a sit down, let them come to you, and even when you know they have the wrong book, look at it with them, explain where they went wrong, e.g. ‘I see you found a book with the right number, but what is its title? And what is the title you’re looking for?) Once a pair has found its book AND answered the question, you can give them a piece of treasure map to take back for their team. My treasure maps are laminated coloured card, cut into jigsaw type pieces, with an “X marks the spot” map on one side and on the other side, either a silly maritime poem or pirate joke. When all the pieces are put together the group can then read the poem or joke. A few stragglers may need some help at the end! Maybe send one of their teammates back to help them. At the end you can go over any lessons that came up from the game e.g. the pair who brought a book with the right number but wrong title, remember there might be more than one book with the same number & that will mean they are about the same topic.

The map & what goes on the back can be adapted or made more elaborate…maybe you can find some maritime riddle for them to solve, or hide a code. You could also give prizes or perhaps instructions for making pirate hats out of newspaper and the winning team get to wear pirate hats for the day! It depends how much time/energy you have! Mostly, I just give the ‘prize’ that the first group goes to borrow more books first!! Again, this allows you to stagger the kids going to look for books.

Yes it means you have to have a tidy up, and you have to shelve the same books over and over, but I like that it is very ‘sneaky learning’, you are covering the catalogue and the Dewey decimal system in a pretty crafty way. Also, again for the reluctant readers, the game is fun, and you really want to build some positive library experiences like this for these youngsters. And it gets them out and browsing the shelves, which I think is very important. Pupils can get a bit fixated on the library catalogue, I want them to feel happy and confident just looking around too. I do tend to keep this pile of books aside and reuse them, rather than lending them as with the reading game, it just means I can do a quicker turnaround for the next class. But if someone is very keen, it is no huge job to slightly adapt the question sheet for the next class.

Can you become…un-disillusioned?!

2 Nov Shows librarian getting increasingly frazzled as job takes over more and more of life until it is larger than life

Noisy Librarians“You have to do your librarianing within your overall resource, which is yourself!”

So, I was a school librarian for the last 4 years or so, and now I am a PhD student. I’m still working to improve libraries for teenagers – in a roundabout way, that’s what my research is about. I’m still a librarian – that’s my profession, and my background. I’ve realised very lately that after a period of disengagement and cynicism, I need to get re-engaged and updated.

About 18 months ago something really horrible happened that I can’t really blog about, just trust me, it was awful. The words “We’ve got to keep it together for the kids” were uttered and I tried, I really tried. Unsurprisingly, after a while I couldn’t keep doing that and had to take some time off to put “me” back together.

Prior to this, I guess I had been burning the candle at both ends, without realising it. I had various book groups going, library inductions, information literacy classes, visits, visitors, some clubs, a handful of ‘working groups’ or committees, in and out of school, trained/mentored people…..and probably another dozen things I’ve forgotten, as well as all the ‘usual’ stuff like, y’know, budget management, collection management, class visits, enquiries….it was all good stuff. I was described as “enthusiastic”. But it was too much and when something really bad happened I was way overstretched and couldn’t really cope emotionally.

After some much needed rest, I had to rethink my priorities and working practices, and changed things so I could work again and try to avoid another meltdown in future. A lot of this is stuff about me personally and I won’t go into that here (Reader: phew!). Some of it was maybe useful to pass on, things I would suggest to other solo librarians in whatever sector, such as have regular meetings with your manager, whether they’re a librarian or not, set aside proper time and space (i.e. somewhere you can shut a door!) minute them, talk about what you have been doing, what you are planning on doing, short and long-term, and you can periodically review how your various projects are going. If they don’t have a clue at the start, they’ll learn a lot about what you do just by having time to talk. The meetings don’t have to be formal – how can two people sitting in a cupboard office chatting over a packet of biscuits be that formal anyway? But you can formalise its existence; managers are busy, get that diary time, send an agenda, write minutes. Also, take your breaks, get a proper lunch and if you’re ill, don’t go to work!

Gradually, things were getting back to normal, it was slow and I felt wary of taking on new things. It wasn’t an ideal time, although of course there is no such thing. It wasn’t great to have work ‘restructuring’ all around while I was getting to grips with this stuff. I’m pretty sure there are still things to figure out. But I had at least learned about the Librarian / Person model:

Shows librarian getting increasingly frazzled as job takes over more and more of life until it is larger than life

I always wanted to invent a model for something...

As you can see…the principal is that you can have enough IDEAS to keep 10 people busy, but YOU CANNOT DO THE WORK OF 10 PEOPLE! In addition, The Librarian can only exist if YOU do too! If you are not well, library service closes – that’s the deal with solo librarians. If your employer really wanted a service that never closed for lunch, holidays, sickness, training, heck even toilet breaks, they would employ more librarians and they have chosen not to. This is hard to say to individual patrons who might be lovely and/or needy (please see This Blog for an excellent discussion of this in more detail!). But (shock!) you are a person too, and this does not make you a Bad Librarian. You have to do your librarianing within your overall resource, which is yourself!

“you can have enough IDEAS to keep 10 people busy, but YOU CANNOT DO THE WORK OF 10 PEOPLE!”

If you’re a solo librarian, and you’re not 100% because you’re stressed or depressed or grieving or whatever, you kinda need to reduce how much librarianing you do. Well, I was far from 100%, probably more like…11%, and that doesn’t come back right away, its really gradual. And I know I’m not alone – its been scientifically shown that librarians are stressed!

This post is partly to say there is life after stress! I’ve been given a great opportunity to do research which builds on the experience I already have, and I think that appealed to me because I didn’t stop having those ideas (the ones that’d be enough to keep 10 people busy) I just had to limit what I did. So this way, perhaps I can contribute to the profession best by sharing those ideas, doing research.

But partly it is to ask for input on how to re-engage professionally. I’ve found Twitter great recently for linking up with professionals in far-flung places such as Doncaster and even Hull! 😉 Seriously though, if for some reason you’re into blogs but not into twitter, give it a go! Interacting with other professionals has highlighted to me how much stuff is going on and I feel out of date! Even worse, I was telling some students only a few days ago that it is up to them to keep up to date with their professional association after they graduate and if they aren’t happy with their professional association, to get involved in it to make your voice heard – time I took my own medicine! These are some of the things I have done, or have looked into doing in future, to try to get back properly engaged with our profession, and I am looking for any other ideas too please 🙂

  • Reading newsletters again…properly…there was a point where I really felt like CILIP was positively useless for school libraries, maybe even damaging to us (I’m still a school librarian at heart, I think, so, ‘us’) and it just made me so angry I couldn’t face reading Update…sorry CILIP…however, I am back…
  • I’m not really sure how but I want to see if I can get involved with one of the regional or special interest groups.
  • Someone showed me Lanyrd which is a neat tool for finding about all these extremely cool sounding unconferences….sign me up!
  • CILIP website Communities section – initially got quite excited about this but it is still very quiet. It was too long since I’d had a proper look at the CILIP website though, and there is certainly potential there.
  • I don’t know if I still count as a ‘new professional’ but the ‘new professional network’ thing is something I mean to look in to.
  • I know I’m late to the party, but I think I will do the CPD23 thing
  • I even checked out what Revalidation is about, I’m not really sure but I’m interested and will bear it in mind.
  • There’s probably millions more ideas than this, do you have any suggestions??? Please comment!