The Wooden Horse: my show & tell item

trojanhorse1.jpgMy previous blog posts have shared the experience of attending the Our Mythical Childhood show and tell at the University of Roehampton, but whilst I talked about other people’s contributions I didn’t discuss mine.  The book I chose to share with everyone was The Wooden Horse retold by Russell Punter, and illustrated by Matteo Pincelli.  It is an Usborne Young Reading (series 1) book, and was first published in 2011.  Unlike some of the contributors to the event, this book was not one from my childhood, I had only come across it about about a year ago when I had started looking at Helen of Troy in comics, graphic novels, and children’s illustrated/picture books.

It is a very simplified version of the story, but what I like (in books like this one) is how the author has to make certain choices and decisions about which bits of myths to use, and how best to distil the essence of the story, and in doing so decide what aspect they are going to portray.

Although this book is about the Wooden Horse, to give context the narrative is framed by Helen’s story.  Within the book there are only five named characters – Helen, Menelaus, Paris, Odysseus and Sinon.  The book begins with Helen – her name is actually the first word in the story, and ends with her being taken back to Sparta.  She is a very passive character, and the only time she is given a voice it is internal, when she thinks about what will happen when Menelaus reclaims her.  Despite this being a very simple version we can see how she is portrayed very much as an object – Menelaus is ‘proud’ of having a ‘lovely wife’, and we see her as a possession of his.  Once Troy has been defeated Helen is taken back alongside Trojan treasure – the implication being that she too is a piece of ‘treasure’, an object to be shipped back.  Probably the most interesting sentence in the book (for me), occurs on the final page : “Helen may not have wanted to go back to Greece, but she had no choice.” (p. 47)  Which speaks volumes.

STKarenTrojanHorse2In the afternoon of the ‘show & tell’ we chose books from the University of Roehampton’s special collections and, as I told in a previous post, I picked a book called The Trojan Horse, by James Reeves and illustrated by Krystyna Turska as I thought it would prove to be an ideal counter part to the book I had brought with me.  The episode of the wooden horse is framed in quite a different way and is told through the character of Ilias, a grown man (at the time of telling) but who was aged ten when Troy fell.  He and his younger sister, Ida, escaped and now live far from their ruined former home.  In The Wooden Horse Paris and Helen fell in love, but in this version Ilias describes how Paris stole Helen and kept her prisoner in Troy.  Most of the war is glossed over, and it is really only the episode of how the horse appeared and was brought into Troy and the terrible consequences, that is told.  It is Ilias’ life that frames the episode rather than Helen’s and we are given an insider’s view on events.  As mentioned above I enjoy seeing how writers will encapsulate a particular myth, and particularly liked how these two books, which on the outside might lead one to thinking they would be similar, provide very different aspects of the story.  Incidentally neither of them include the episode related in The Odyssey (IV: 265-289) about Helen calling out to men within the horse using the voices of their wives.

Whilst many of the contributor’s shared books or items that they remembered being influences from their childhood, I realised that I don’t actually recall any particular book with a classical theme from when I was a child.  I feel a bit bereft!  I’m sure there must have been books on mythology, but I can’t pinpoint when my interest in the classical world began to emerge.  What I do remember well was in sixth form we were allowed to take Classical Studies (which we couldn’t do before then), so in the lower sixth we did the O level, and in the upper sixth the A level (only one year each).  We had the most wonderful teacher, Mrs Janet Cox, whom I found very inspiring.  I had obviously discovered the classical world before this point, but this was where I really started learning about it.  Having a teacher who loved her subject made it come alive for all of us.  She would also play music and bring in biscuits for us at break time, and there were classically themed posters on the walls of the classroom.

Incidentally, I also remember that she kept bees in her garden, and it is because of her that I joined The Green Party when still a teenager!

She taught Latin to a mere handful of students at lunchtimes (when I was doing O levels), sadly I never took this option!  It was probably not suggested to me as I wasn’t particularly good at French (the one language we all had to do), and at the time it never really occurred to me to request joining the class.  Grown up Karen is very sad that teenage Karen did not do this!!!!

I enjoyed the ‘show & tell’ and having the opportunity to hear about other people’s formative experiences and books, and have also relished having the opportunity to reflect on my own journey within Classics.  I am also keenly looking out for children’s books that retell Helen’s story, and also that of the Trojan Horse.


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Finding classical treasure in the stacks: Our Mythical Childhood show and tell (part 3)

Here I will talk about the afternoon session of the ‘Show and Tell’ event at the University of Roehampton, held in association with the Our Mythical Childhood project, on 19th June 2018.

In the morning we had all brought along items to share, but in the afternoon we were given the chance to find new treasure from within the shelves of the University’s Archives and Special Collections.  The University archivist, Kornelia Cepok, showed us a variety of collections that had potential for us to find books with a classical theme or influence, including the Richmal Compton Collection. Richmal Crompton was a Classics teacher, and also daughter of a Classics master, and even though she is mainly remembered for the Just William books she also wrote a lot for adults too.

BenHurAs a librarian I was also impressed by the lovely electric rolling stacks, operated by a touch screen, and moving quietly and smoothly without the aid of human arm power! (and quite unlike the electric powered ones I used to have to use in the UWCM medical library which were quite monstrous in construction (think Frankensteinian levers), and so terrifying to use that most students didn’t dare!). But I digress…

It was difficult to know where to start, and how long to spend poring over various items in the stacks, however I was lucky and a few things leapt out at me.  The first item I chose was a copy of Ben Hur, and that really just for the cover. In the end I also chose two other books: The Trojan Horse by James Reeves, illustrated by Krystyna Turska (1968) and The story of the Odyssey by A. J. Church, with illustrations after Flaxman (1892).

stkarentrojanhorse2.jpgI picked The Trojan Horse as it had the same subject (and similar title) as the book I had brought to share, but was a very different interpretation of the story, being told from the viewpoint of a family within Troy, who were suffering due to the Greek attack.  Helen was not a focus at all.  But I also picked it because of the illustrations which I was really drawn to.  Krystyna Turska (1933-), was born in Poland; she spent time in a Russian concentration camp, before coming to England where she established her illustrating career.  Her style was perfect for myths and fairytales, and The Trojan Horse was not the only classical based work that she did.

stpmkaren1.jpgThe Story of the Odyssey was also illustrated but the pictures were done in the style of Greek vase paintings and were taken from John Flaxman’s designs. Flaxman (1755-1826) was a sculptor, draughtsman and ‘leading figure in British Neoclassicism’.  stpmkaren2.jpg

I didn’t take as many notes as in the morning, and didn’t quite catch what everyone’s choices were, but here is a selection of what the others pulled out of the stacks.

STpmRichard1Richard had found a copy of The Bronze Sword by Henry Treece (1965), part of a trilogy set in Roman Britian and centered on Boudicca. He had also found copies of Junior Bookshelf, a review periodical founded in 1936, and aimed at teachers and librarians. Richard pulled out the issue which reviewed The Bronze Sword, so we were able to hear how it was positively received.  He had also found a review for a Mary Renault book which wasn’t particularly well received, and the issue was raised about ‘gender’, and expectations from male and female authors.

STpmTony1Tony Keen (who joined us for the afternoon session) chose The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen, illustrated by Charles Keeping (1970), which turned out to be not about Poseidon as might be expected, but Hephaestus. We found the illustrations to be very interesting (although I didn’t take any photos of them), as even though a children’s book they appeared to feature nudity.  They are quite symbolic, and deliberately not based on Greek costume or vase paintings, and Keeping is quoted in Children’s Literature in Education 1(3):54 as saying that he used “a figurative art. There’s nothing else in it…except people, their emotions and their reactions to emotions.”  He aslso saw them as violent and cruel.

STpmNanciMinotaurNanci had picked The Hamish Hamilton book of Myths & Legends by Jacynth Hope-Simpson (1964), which turned out to also have illustrations by Krystyna Turska, and we all particularly liked the Minotaur who looked quite cuddly really! If I remember correctly we found that Theseus seemed to be exonerated for many actions in this version, in that deeds he is usually acribed – such as abandoning Ariadne – were here blamed on others, such as the fact that it was the sailors who sailed away forgetting her. He was very much being glorified as the hero.

STpmRobin1Robin had veered away from Greek myth and found The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Noel Streatfeild (1972).  This was a non-fiction book for children, and not something I had been aware of Streatfeild writing, being much more familier with her “shoes” books (e.g. Ballet Shoes).

Someone else (sorry can’t remember who) had chosen Richmal Crompton’s Narcissa (1941), it seemed only fitting for at least one of us to have chosen an item from Roehampton’s Crompton collection.  Although this book wasn’t based on a Greek myth, the main character Stella is portrayed as a narcissist, and the myth of Narcissus may indeed have been in Crompton’s mind.

In the morning many items brought to share had a direct emotional link to the person talking about them, often being their first introduction to the classical world when a child.  In the afternoon we were basing our choices on other responses; reactions to titles, covers, illustrations or recognition of an author.  We responded to different types of pictures, and found new connections to the classical world in books we had perhaps never heard of previously.  I have certainly taken note of several of the items that were discussed during the whole day, items I might want to add to my personal book collection.

The day itself proved to be extremely interesting and very rewarding.  I wish to thank Susan Deacy for organising it, for all the attendees for their contributions, and to Roehampton library and their Archives & Special Collections section for hosting.


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“Caecilius est in horto”: Our Mythical Childhood show and tell (part 2)

This is the second part of my write up of the ‘Show and Tell’ event at the University of Roehampton, held in association with the Our Mythical Childhood project.


Richard and the Cambridge Latin Course

Richard Woff, retired Head of Schools and Young Audiences at The British Museum, brought along the Cambridge Latin Course, used to teach Latin in secondary schools and first published in 1970.  For anyone who experienced this course (sadly not myself), they have fond memories of Caecilius and his family, and his tragic death in Pompeii.  Richard was interested in looking at where people remember classics from their childhood.  What kind of memory is it, is it linked to pictures or to characters? Some informal research seems to indicate that prior to 1970 people tended to think about characters – Julius Caesar, Boadicea/Boudica.  If having learned Latin there were mnemonics to help remember grammar that they still recalled, as well as declining Amo, Amas, Amat etc.  1066 and All That (first published 1935) starts in 55BC and the invasion of Julius Caesar, and was culturally embedded into memory.  Things that were remembered were associated with school.  Post 1970, and the advent of the CLC, people now recall the Caecilius family and even “Caecilius est in horto” (first sentence in the first story).  It seemed to indicate a new paradigm of what people were remembering about classics from their childhood. Its influence has been seen to extend into aspects of popular culture, for example, Dr Who!  In 2008, the epidode “The Fires of Pompeii“, featuring David TenSTRichardlatin1nant as Dr Who, was set just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The Dr interacts with Caecilius and members of his family, Metella and Quintus, all based on the CLC characters.  Richard noted that the TV series “Plebs” based in ancient Rome has also named some of its characters from those appearing in the CLC.  He surmised that writers on both shows probably experienced the CLC when younger, and have brought this cultural influence to their writing.  He also noted that the course seems to have inspired a wide culture of response and memory with fan fiction, and YouTube videos for example.

STAnwen1Anwen Hayward, Phd student, University of Roehampton, brought Realms of Gold: Myths & Legends From Around the World by Ann Pilling (1993).  She admitted that as a child she was obessed with Greek myths. The cover of this book is classically themed and gives the impression that that is the main content, when in fact there are myths from Africa, Russia, India, Wales, and Norse legends.  Anwen said she remembered being particularly pleased (as Welsh herself) that a Welsh story was included. It was interesting that visually the cover was designed to show classical themes, and perhaps this was a deliberate ploy to attract readers who were already familiar with Greek myths, and then introduce them to other cultures.

STAlison1Alison Waller, Senior Lecturer in children’s literature, University of Roehampton, brought Crown of Acorns by Catherine Fisher (2010).  This book isn’t a classical story, or a retelling of a myth, but does have some classical influence within it.  It is based in Bath, and one of the characters calls herself Sulis, her (chosen) name and ideas about identity are tied in with the plot.  Alison mentioned the importance of ‘place’ within stories, and the associations that get linked to them.  In this instance with Bath there are several different versions that people resonate with – for example, Roman Bath, and Jane Austen’s Bath – two very different cities, but in the same location. This also means that there are a mixture of influences on people reading the book, and in general when we are thinking about place.  I’ve only read a couple of Fisher’s books, but will certainly be looking this one up.

STNanci1Next was Nanci Santos, Independent Researcher, who brought some intriguing comic books in Portuguese (but are also available in English), featuring Donald Duck and his Uncle Scrooge McDuck.  Not where you might think you would find anything classical but Nanci explained that several stories are influenced by Greek myth, and Scrooge McDuck stnanciduck1.jpgis sometimes portrayed as an antiquarian, and there have been instances of time travel, such as back to ancient Egypt.  This was another example of how classical myth can reach into unexpected places.

STKimberly2Following on was Kimberly MacNeill, PhD student at the University of Roehampton, and her object was a doll, but not any ordinary doll, this was Iris Clops, a Monster High character.  These characters are the teenage children of ‘traditional’ fictional monsters, such as Frankenstein.  Iris is of course the daughter of the Cyclops.  The Monster High dolls seem to be part of a movement positing positive views regarding anybody/anything who is not of the norm. Whilst in the Victorian era those who were regarded as monstrous, who might have physical disabilities, were regarded as ‘freaks’ and were shown in public as such; more recently these images have been claimed backed, and ‘monsters’ are becoming more empathic (as an article in the Guardian suggests).  Kimberly boughSTKimberly1t the doll for her daughter, and her daughter provided a lovely illustration of her doll for us plus a few key thoughts.  Kimberly suggested people should perhaps look at their own children to see how they are interacting with the classical world (perhaps they are more heavily influenced if their parents are interested in the classics).  You will also notice how children want to question who are the good guys and who the bad, and what they base their decisions on (a smile = good……).

STSara2Our last contributor for the day was Sara Venkatesu, Ph.D. students, University of Roehampton.  She commented about how her childhood had been filled with books, courtsey of her parents.  Books were everywhere (which sounds like my house now!), and the book she brought to share with us was Sirene by Helga Di Giuseppe and Felice Senatore (2014).  This book tells the story of the Sirens in a very particular way, taking appropriations from Italian myths and stories where the Sirens are portrayed very positively, especially Naples where it is believed that a Siren founded the city.  In Italy Sirens are portrayed as calm and gentle creatures, available to help.  In this book the Sirens are drawn as beautiful women with the legs of birds; Homer doesn’t describe the physical attributes of the Sirens in much detail, and in some cultures Sirens and Mermaids are interchangeable.  Anna noted that in Polish the same word is used for both.  Sara also brought another book featuring Sirens – I mitici sei: Il segreto delle sirene (The mythical six: the secret of the sirens) by Simone Frasca and Sara Marconi (2016), part of a children’s book series based on myth and science fiction.

And so we reached the conclusion of our morning’s session.  It was fascinating to see what a varied group of objects and books had been brought to share.  I was interested to see how some people had brought books that were influences on their own childhood interaction with, or even introduction to, Classics (and this has led me to think about my own encounters with the classical world).  All these objects had stories to tell, and sparked off mini discussions around the table, so it was in fact difficult to break for lunch!  My next post will look at our afternoon adventures exploring the special collection stacks.



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“The wrong plinth” and other stories: Our Mythical Childhood show and tell (part 1)


University of Roehampton Library

On Tuesday 19th June I attended a ‘Show and Tell’ event at Roehampton University, held in association with the Our Mythical Childhood project.  A group of interested parties (academics, graduate students, librarians) gathered in the Foyles Special Collections Room in the rather lovely Roehampton Library that opened last September (2017).  We had all been invited to bring along a classical-themed object of children’s culture to share with the others.  I’ll blogged about my own object separately, (a book called The Trojan Horse) so will focus on what everyone else brought to the table.

First up was a remote contributor, Rachel Bryant Davies of the University of Durham who had been unable to make the day in person; she presented to us, via the wonders of modern technology (skype). Her objects were colouring sheets for 19th century toy theatres – sheets that were designed to be coloured in, cut out and stuck on to cardboard or mounted and then used in the toy theatre.  The characters were representations of equestrian burlesques that were performed at Astley’s Amphitheatre in Lambeth. These included the siege of Troy, and the trick rider Andrew Ducrow striking classical poses on horseback, such as a Roman gladiator.  Children could engage with performances by recreating them at home.  Discussion at the table involved the idea that the mash-up of cultures (classical, medieval, 19th century) enabled the physicality of play.  By ‘modernising’ classical stories, they became less blasphemous and more playful. Although the theatres were probably owned by middle to upper class children, there are comments about poorer children pressing their faces to the publishers/booksellers windows to look at these theatres/character sheets – ‘consuming through the glass windows’.  To find out more about these theatres see Rachel’s recent book – Troy, Carthage and the Victorians: the drama of classical ruins in the 19th century imagination (Cambridge, 2018).


Susan playing ‘Aulos’

After this excellent start to proceedings, Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton (and organiser of the day) talked about Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green, originally published in 1958.  She was given a copy of this book by her Grandad when she was a child, and it opened her eyes to the fascinating world of classics.  Susan’s example was just the first of several, where contributors shared their early introductions to the classical world, and which book or object had a major impact on their early years.  Susan also shared her treble recorder which, when she was reunited with it a few years ago, she found was labelled ‘Aulos’ and thus resonated with her research on Athena (and indeed the aulos).  Although this was not a conscious ‘classical’ moment from her childhood, it resonated as a lovely synchonicity.


Liz sharing images of Once Upon a Time

Liz Hale, University of New England (Australia) shared Once Upon a Time: Children’s Stories From the Classics by Blanche Winder (first published in the 1920s we think), which had some wonderful illustrations – although another contributor (Robin) commented that her Mum had hid the book in the attic as she thought some of the illustrations were really scary! Winder tells the basic myths very much as fairy tales, these were very ‘safe’ and sanitised versions of the stories.



Robin and her Visitors’ Guide

Robin Diver, PhD Student at the University of Birmingham, brought A Visitors’ Guide to Ancient Rome (Usborne).  Aimed at children it gives ideas about the reality of living in an ancient city, from markets to healthcare, chariot racing to public baths; with pictures, top tips and snippets of information. Robin admitted to writing  ‘horrible’ novels about the ancient world when she was a child, inspiration coming from things like the visitors’ guide, and also a programme on Spartan women by Bettany Hughes that she watched when about 9.  Her stories attempted to bring Greeks and Romans together but at the time she didn’t really understand how they really interacted.  A few others also admitting writing books/stories when kids that were influenced by their interest in the classical world.  Liz wrote a play for puppets ‘Scipio in Canterbury’, and Anwen wrote a story involving time travel and Pompei, where the protagonist had a moral dilemma about the idea of preventing the eruption of Vesuvius!


Anna with Pandora

Next up was Anna Mik, University of Warsaw, who shared a gorgous children’s picture book, Pandora by Victoria Turnbull (2017). Pandora is a fox who lives alone in a world of broken things, a post apocalyptic world without nature, until the day a bird with a broken wing falls from the sky.  The text can be interpreted psychologically, looking at ideas of rebirth, or looking at the environment, which lead people to talking about the mythical character of Pandora, of her courage in going back to the jar, of being a ‘risk taker’, of the ideas about women’s curiosity, whether it is perceived as a good or bad thing.  Liz mentioned a YA trilogy, Pandora Jones by Barry Jonsberg that was worth looking at.


Oliver’s Lego Athena

So far, aside from Susan’s recorder, all the ‘objects’ had been books, but Oliver Brookes, Roehampton graduate and trainee librarian, changed all that by introducing Lego Athena!  His thesis topic had been centred round the iconography of Athena, so he was delighted when Lego brought out a version whilst he was writing up, she was perfect to watch over him. He was fascinated by which aspects of Athena had been chosen to be represented by Lego – although they themselves call her “Battle Goddess“.  Oliver commented on the interesting experience in crafting your own figure or goddess out of all the pieces. Susan brought out her own Lego Athena, and playmobil Athena, and I followed soon after with my playmobil Helen and we talked again about choices made in deciding upon what objects/costumes are used to d


Athena meets Athena

esignate these figures as who they are.  Whether that matters more to adults/classicists in these examples, and whether the view of a child is more simplistic.

My offering was next but I will leave that for a separate post.

I will continue my write up of the day in Part 2, where more interesting objects are shared.


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‘Playing’ with Helen

Recently I’ve been ‘playing’ with Playmobil figures again, or ‘playpeople’ as my brother and I knew them back in the day.  No, I haven’t completely regressed to my childhood, I’ve been exploring options of representing Helen of Troy through this format.  Why? Well, it was partly sparked off by being invited to participate in a ‘show and tell’ day at Roehampton University, connected to the Our mythical childhood project. Participants have been asked to bring a “classical themed object of children’s culture” to talk about (I’ll blog about this event once it has happened).  I’ve decided on my object (it’s a book, but I’ll not talk about it now), but I started wondering about what else I would like to bring, which got me thinking about Lego and Playmobil representations of classical culture.  I suddenly wanted a Helen of Troy, if this seems a bit weird then you should know that my PhD was about representations of Helen in Greek myth and literature, and that since last year I have started looking at comic and graphic novel versions of Helen.

Playmobil have a ‘history’ range which encompasses Romans and Egyptians, and they produced two Greek Gods – Zeus and Athena – in 2016, and four more recently (Poseidon, Demeter, Artemis and Hermes).  Sadly, they haven’t produced any other Greek figures, even though I am sure a Trojan Horse would be a hit.  A quick look online shows that people have improvised their own Trojan War, so I realised I needed to improvise my own Helen.  Scouting around for figures I could possibly use I’ve resorted to doing a bit of shopping on ebay as I didn’t think the figures I already had (mostly dating back to late 70s early 80s) would do. I remember getting my first playperson, I possibly had a voucher or something to spend in the shop, and I chose a female figure with a horse, I called her Nina.  Looking back I didn’t have that many playmobil figures, my brother had more, and his seemed more exciting – Native American Indians, and American Civil war cavalry, Robin Hood and his merry men (and Maid Marian of course).  I had nurses and doctors, but he also had construction workers, so it wasn’t all glamorous.  I think the yellow car I had was the most exciting accessory. I collected all these from my parent’s house the other year so have them to hand, but none look like Helen.  These days there is a far greater range of figures and accessories than I could ever have dreamed of back in my youth; but this means I have a far greater chance of constructing Helen now – even though she might end of being a cobbled version of a Roman woman, Athena, and a fairy or a princess!


Helen in pink (Marvel Classics Comics Iliad, 1977)

My research has recently been looking into the colour of the outfit that Helen is depicted wearing in comics/graphic novels, and apart from white one colour that rises to the fore is pink. The colour pink has so many connotations these days, and we are all aware that it used to be a favourite for boys rather than girls.  Now it can be associated with femininity and being girly, but it can also have a sexual overtone, seen for example in Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield who basically adopted the colour as her own, and even had her own ‘Pink Palace‘ a whole house painted pink, filled with pink accoutrements such as a heart shaped pink bath, and pink furs.  By putting Helen in pink I believe artists are unsurprisingly tapping into the idea of Helen as a sex symbol, and differentiating her from the other, more sedately portrayed, women around her.  I’m presenting a poster about the ways Helen is depicted in comics at the Drawing on the Past conference in September so will leave the discussion here for now.

So I want to give my Helen a pink dress as a nod to her sexuality and femininity (whilst being aware I am using a children’s toy so don’t want to get too creepy about it!).  She will have blonde hair, to acknowledge that she is described as ‘golden’ or ‘tawny’ haired.  But I’m still a little stumped about what accessory she should have.  I think a hand-mirror would be great if I can get one, but there is no real object or symbol associated with her that I can think of, as she was only semi-divine.  Unlike Athena, with her owl, aegis and helmet for example.

So here is my first attempt, (she could be improved but I need to get the knack of pulling bodies apart to start on embellishments!). There may be other versions to follow.


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CILIP Cymru Wales 2018 conference – final thoughts (part 3)

CilipW18SeaAs a national CILIP conference there is always the opportunity to hear from people at the ‘top’, and this time on the second day we were addressed by Nick Poole (CILIP CEO, @NickPoole1) and by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas (@wgmin_culture) the Welsh Government Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport.  Positive things were said, but as another speaker highlighted, as librarians we are very good at having conversations, but we also need to act, and this may mean not waiting around for that strategic document or plan to land on our desk.

Phil Brabban (@philbrabban) University Librarian of Coventry University Library spoke about building an inclusive service.  He explained how the library service at Coventry University had taken a look at their provision for international and overseas students and found it to be woefully inadequate (though probably not much different from many other institutions).  Students may be coming from countries where education and library services are provided completely differently (or they may have no prior experience in using libraries), so they are facing a lot of challenges and cultural differences when arriving to study in the UK.  Coventry have worked at rectifying their approach, and spoke to international students about what they wanted and needed rather than relying on what the library services perceived them to need.  One of the initiatives they created was Pre-Arrival Library Support which helps to prepare students with all they need, and can be accessed before they ever reach Coventry.  It has been very effective and also won them the Times Higher Education Leadership & Management (THELMA) Award in 2017 for Outstanding Library Team.

Phil highlighted that actions are better than words, and even doing a small something was better than nothing at all. We should also be continuously re-evaluating our procedures and not just assume that just because we have done something to rectify a problem that we can just rest on our laurels.

CW18TwitterLater in the morning Phil joined the panel session about diversity and inclusivity in the library community.  As has been rightly pointed out on Twitter (and at the conference itself) this panel was composed of four men and two women, all white, which raises many questions in itself.  @Bethanar’s comment for instance attracted an interesting discussion thread.

Really CILIP Wales should have made a greater effort to ensure there was more diverse representation on the panel, and should have been aware that by not doing so they were leaving themselves wide open for just criticism.

The participants themselves did have a lot of good points to make, so I am not criticising any of them individually; but how can you speak about diversity and inclusivity without having other voices directly represented?

I haven’t mentioned all the sessions I attended, and as there were parallel sessions I was obviously unable to attend everything – what helps is having colleagues sit in on different sessions to you so that you can then compare notes!

I came home from the conference feeling professionally invigorated, and pleased that as a cataloguer I had seen tech services included in the conference make up.  I enjoyed that many of the key note presentations dealt with the person in the profession and were therefore applicable across sectors and job roles.  It was good to see that Aberystwyth as a location worked (despite some apparent organisational doubt), librarians will travel!  I also still have a few items and opportunities to chase up (podcasts! references! websites! people!).  Roll on next year!

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From Aberystwyth, with even more love for the CILIP Cymru Wales 2018 conference (part 2)


Discussing & voting

In my last post I talked about some of the keynote speakers that I enjoyed, in this post I would like to also include some of the breakout sessions that I attended, as well as the evening event.  The very first one I went to appealed to my ‘arty’ side as it included a photography project. Emma Adamson (@BookishEmma), Celia Jackson (senior lecturer, Photography), and Barbara Colley from the University of South Wales talked about a project between library staff and photography students.  The project helped library staff get over a difficult time of change and transition, whilst giving a group of students, who hadn’t really engaged with the library previously, the opportunity to have their work taken seriously and have their photographs decorate the library space, giving them some ownership and investment in the library.  Library staff got to vote on the final works, and an evening event welcomed the participating students and their families to see the results.  Staff and library users felt that the photographs fitted into the space so well it was if they had always been there, but they also generated conversations especially when they were being hung.  In our session we were then given the chance to vote on what our favourite image was, and we had time to peruse the images and discuss what we liked about them.  One of the prints will be given a permanent position in a counselling room.  The project worked really well for all involved, and is something that could be taken up by other institutions quite easily.

Later in the morning there was a key note talk from Professor Jon Anderson (Cardiff University) (@LitAtlasWales)about Literary Atlas Wales.  Described as “…an interactive online atlas that offers a range of maps which locate English-language novels set in Wales.” This project sounded absolutely fascinating (and I wish I had his job!!).  Out of 323 English language books based in Wales, a short list of 12 was created with detailed maps, plotlines, notes, and interviews.  I’ve only read three out of the twelve so perhaps have some reading to do.  The atlas uses ‘distant’, ‘deep’ and ‘artistic’ mapping of the novels and “hopes to stimulate new understandings of literature and place and the geographical nature of the human condition.”  Taking a look at the pages for Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce, it turns out that the Moulin Club, run by Druids, with “women selling the promise and practice of nightly relations at a fixed price” although situated on the fictional Patriarch Street, can be mapped onto Pier Street, which is where my B&B was located…

I certainly recommend that you take a look at the atlas, and you could probably lose a couple of hours working your way around.  They are also keen for people to get involved and contribute.


…and the winner of Welsh Librarian of the Year is….

After the day’s events we adjourned to the National Library of Wales for the Welsh Librarian of the Year and the Tir na n-Og awards.  I didn’t envy the committee having to decide which of the nominees would win the Welsh Librarian of the Year as all the candidates excelled in their field.  In the end the honour went to Tracey Stanley, Deputy University Librarian, Cardiff University.

Following on from this were the Tir na n-Og English language awards and we were treated to some mini interviews with the nominees about what their books were about, how they came to write them, how they became children’s authors originally and where they liked to write. Paul Jeorrett introduced and interviewed the authors and revealed he had compiled a play list to go with the books which was being played on his radio show practically as the awards were taking place.  The winner was Hayley Long with The Nearest Far Away Place, and I now have a copy waiting to be read at home.

On the second day I, unsurprisingly, attended the ‘cataloguing & metadata session’ which included two papers.  The first by Amy Staniforth about developing shared practice with colleagues across Wales which was about the WHELF (Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum) co-operative cataloguing group which emerged out of the WHELF shared LMS procurement process.  Amy described how the community of cataloguers has developed through discussions about international standards and the creation of templates, and has been empowering members to raise awareness of metadata more widely.  Although I have been part of this community it was informative to hear about the group’s activities and to clarify for me just how much we have achieved so far; not forgetting that one of the cataloguers, Jane Daniels ( Cardiff Metropolitan University), was nominated for Welsh Librarian of the Year.

Following this was Doreen Barnaville (Cardiff Metropolitan University) and Christine Megowan (Cardiff University) talking about curating and cataloguing artists’ books.  This presentation followed on from a cataloguing training day held earlier in the year.  Doreen and Christine’s presentation included a myriad of images of artists’ books, primarily from the collection at Cardiff Met, and talked about how cataloguers can best engage in recording the details of these items which may not fit into a traditional book format (think ‘pages’ of stone or wood, or 3D objects).  They also discussed ways of engaging students with these items, and the successful projects that had been achieved.


Blue cat avatar…

This post has turned out to embrace the more arts based aspects of the conference, which I certainly enjoyed, and I should perhaps mention here that participants at the conference were encouraged to make their own avatar out of play doh.  Here is mine, although I should point out that I was eating chocolate cake at the time, so is perhaps not the best example!

In my next (and final) post on the conference I will look at some of the other sessions that made an impact on me.

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Filed under Conferences, Librarianship, Staff development