Category Archives: Librarianship

CILIP Rare Books & Special Collections Group conference 2015 (a late review)

Last September (2-4 Sept) I was pleased to be able to attend the CILIP Rare Books & Special Collections Group conference in London.  I had intended to blog about this straight away, but was struck down with appendicitis the following week, and have only now got the time to do so.

I had been invited to speak about the Cardiff Rare Books Collection, housed in SCOLAR and acquired from the Public Library in 2010. The theme of the conference was “Hidden collections revealed” and this covered topics from retrospective cataloguing, to private libraries, and embargoed collections to active promotion. The conference took place over three days and in three different venues – Friend’s House, Lambeth Palace, and the British Library. This allowed attendees the opportunity to have tours of the libraries in these places, although as places were limited not everyone got to see everywhere (myself included).

The first day began with an overview from Karen Attar (Senate House Library) on the (then forthcoming) Directory of rare books and special collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland. This is the third edition of the directory, previous editions appeared in 1985 and 1997. Attar is the editor and initially emailed potential contributors in 2014 asking for updates to their previous entries, or for new entries if they had not appeared before. The team in SCOLAR were able to compile an extensive update to the Cardiff entry to reflect all the changes and acquisitions we have had since 1997. Overall the book will be important to make people aware of different collections across the UK.

Following on from this David Prosser (RLUK) talked about the survey of hidden collections that took place in 2010. There were 77 respondents to the survey, it seemed that smaller libraries didn’t have the time or the manpower to respond. The survey also revealed that there were degrees of hidden, some were uncatalogued, some had card catalogues or printed catalogues. Modern problems of digitised materials were also highlighted. How long will these be available on line? Apparently 20% has already been lost to the web, creating a 21st century black hole of material.

The second session of the day focussed on uncatalogued material, and a variety of projects designed to combat this problem. Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros (The London Library) discussed a project they had been running from 1999, which had been revitalised when she took up her position there in 2007 and ensured that records were upgraded with material in hand. Previously they had just been importing records to improve what they had, since 2007 they have been able to add local detail such as provenance, bookplates, annotations etc. The project has highlighted the significance of not only what they knew they had, but all the extras associated with it.

Next, Darryl Green (St. Andrews) talked about the Lighting the Past project at St. Andrews. The initial stages of the project revealed that only 25% of their special collections were catalogued, as opposed to the 50% they had previously thought. Quantifying this to the institution meant that there were 150,000 uncatalogued rare books, and at their former rate of cataloguing this would have taken them 75 years to complete. They looked at a variety of ways to deal with this problem and this resulted in Lighting the Past. Student workers have been employed for the first phase of the project – giving them employment and training in specialist skills. The second phase will involve Rare books cataloguers upgrading records to full DCRM(B) standards.

Another project in Scotland was discussed by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence (Edinburgh University), they had difference circumstances to St. Andrews, and their approach was to have two paid internships, for two days a week for nine months (Feb-Oct 2014) – this offered opportunity and experience for the individuals. Training started with easier material and progressed onto more difficult material. The internships were a rounded experience, and included working on blogs, events, student liaison, and exhibitions. The training scheme was a great success, and one of the interns has now been employed in the rare books cataloguing department.

LambethPalace2aThe second day of the conference was at Lambeth Palace (where our former colleague Ken Gibb now works). The third conference session was about being open for research and had sessions from libraries that are not necessarily open to the public. Martin Cherry (Freemason’s Library) talked about the history, and the use and access to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry which was first established in 1837 by the Grand Lodge. Originally access was restricted to Freemasons but is now open to all.

Next we heard about military libraries from John Pearce (Deputy Librarian, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst).   Defence libraries are not regimental museums, they deal with material on the MOD, technical material etc. So why are there rare books in defence libraries? These are historical training manuals, and operational requirements, acquired for specific purposes at the time of publication – and now useful for the history of military education. With these libraries there is a restriction to access, as they are ‘behind the wire’ – but they do have a web presence to a certain extent, and they are beginning to digitise some material at Sandhurst.

To close this session we then heard about the Association of Pal Mall Libraries from Kay Walters (The Athenaeum), Sian Prosser (Royal Astronomical Society), and Renae Satterley (Middle Temple Library). The Association of Pall Mall Libraries was set up so that solo librarians could get to share knowledge and resources. The libraries range from private members clubs to societies, and the library collections range in size from 2K – 100K; some are research resources, some historical assets. There is a mixture of qualified and nonqualified staff running the libraries.

The final session of this day looked at collections that were ‘under wraps’ and included my own paper Collating and curating for the public: the Cardiff rare books collection which demonstrated the change in priorities at the Public Library, which went from actively acquiring rare and manuscript materials at the beginning of the 20th century for the public to use, to ‘hiding’ them away in stores and discarding them by the start of the 21st century.

In this session Helen Potter (FOI Centre, National Archives) discussed closed records at The National Archives, and issues surrounding the right to know vs right to privacy. There are a number of reasons why records might be closed, which might be to do with specific individuals (personal case files, e.g. prisoner files, naturalisation 1938-1945, criminal prosecution). Or the files might be closed because they are distressing and disturbing (rape, assault, mental distress). They are currently operating on the following principle – ‘release what we can, protect what we must’.

ChelseaArtistsbooks1aAfter lunch, there were guided tours of Lambeth Palace library, and then the rest of the afternoon was devoted to a variety of visits to special collections within London. Participants could sign up to two visits, and there was a bit of tube co-ordination required! I chose two places that were next to one another, and coincidentally not that far from Lambeth Palace either! My first visit was to the Print Rooms at Tate Britain; we were shown prints by a variety of artists, and some of Turner’s sketch books. We also got to see Beatrix Potter’s drawings for The Tailor of Gloucester. My second visit was to Chelsea College of Arts to see their Artists’ books collection – it was interesting to compare their collection with the one at Cardiff Metropolitan University that I had visited earlier in the year.

The final day took place at the British Library Conference Centre, and the first session looked at promoting collections. Adrian Edwards (Head of Printed Heritage Collections, British Library) talked about the potential of exhibitions to bring hidden collections into the lime-light, and focussed on a specific example of the ‘Comics unmasked’ exhibition which was held in 2014.

British Library2aHe highlighted that the objective of exhibitions are wider than what you see in the gallery. For example with this collection initially the material was spread over different sites and wasn’t catalogued consistently, if at all. However, due to the exhibition many comics got catalogued – the power of the exhibition gave leverage to the cataloguing priorities. They were able to convince the data quality team to see the cataloguing of the comics as a training opportunity – serials, complexities etc. Now all the material is available on one site, is used more, and the rare material has been moved to higher level of secured storage. In addition staff expertise has improved; some have given papers at academic conferences.

Next was Lara Haggerty (Innerpeffray Library). Innerpeffray library is five miles from the nearest town, and a bus only comes once a week, the library is essentially in the middle of nowhere. It was the first free public lending library in Scotland, set up in 1680. Originally in the loft of the chapel it started with 400 books. In 1968 they stopped lending books, there was a decline after the First World War, and there were other libraries in nearby towns, and the library began to disappear from people’s awareness.

By 2001 things were not looking too good: “We can no longer open the door and hope”

In 2009 Lara Haggerty was appointed as Library keeper and marketing manager, the 31st library keeper there has been. She created a business plan to raise visitors by 100% – quite a challenge!  She highlighted that they were selling something different, a unique experience for the visitor.   As part of this they have partnered up with local businesses, and they now hold events, like gin tasting in the library (!), and “How far would you walk for a book” walk, etc.

The final talk of this session was by Katie Sambrook (Kings College London) who talked about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office library collection at King’s College London. There are 100,000 items in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office library collection, mainly books, but manuscripts as well, covering 16th-21st centuries, with the heart of the collection from 1750-1950. There were difficulties for the library when it was situated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with security, couldn’t bring in lap tops, etc, so it was transferred to an appropriate academic institution. They have needed to catalogue all items from scratch, book in hand, and have about half done at the moment. They think that the catalogue is the best way of advertising the books, but have also promoted the collection by an exhibition space and online. They have used targeted promotion, picking a country or area, and found that even just a poster on library gates brought people in.

The last three talks were in a session that looked at going ‘beyond the library’, firstly Katharine Hogg (Foundling Museum) talked about the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at the Foundling Museum. Gerald Coke was a banker and in the 1930s started to collect Handel material – he chose Handel because he was first published in England and at available prices (Mozart was too expensive!). He was a generous collector and let scholars use the material even though he kept it at home, and he did have a house catalogue. The collection came to the Museum with an endowment, and although not quite a lending collection now, a database of the collection is now online.

Hannah Manktelow, a PhD student, talked about her research discovering provincial Shakespeare with the British Library Playbill collection. The collection contains playbills from the provinces as well as London, and much of what we know about theatrical history comes from playbills – when/where/who/what. The bulk of playbills date from 1780-1880. As there are 75,000 provincial playbills, to manage the project she picked five provincial towns – Newcastle, Nottingham, Norwich, Bath and Brighton. She decided to focuss on England for a national representation. She has been looking at where Shakespeare was performed (theatres, portable venues, etc); Who performed (a resident company, London stars, touring company. Bath received double the amount of stars than Newcastle – closer to London and very fashionable); and also when – what percent of the theatrical season.

One discovery has been that regional Shakespeare was more avant-garde, and had the first black perfoBritish Libraryarmer in Othello, he was very famous, but not accepted to play in London until the end of his career.

The final talk of the session and the conference was by Mark Byford, a private collector of rare books. He has been a collector for 12-15 years, and has a focus on Tudor and Jacobean books, but not a limit on subjects. There are about 1000 books in his collection. There is no catalogue of his collection, but he does allow people to visit to look at, or to take out, books. Access is dependent on collector/owner, personal contacts, but Byford believes he knows his books better than a librarian would (possibly).

 

Overall the conference was fascinating, lots of wonderful collections were talked about and we got to visit some great venues, and see some collections we wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to.  The only downside for me was that because the conference was spread over three venues there was no central ‘conference venue’ or accommodation.  As a non-Londoner there was a bit of stress in trying to work out a) where to stay, and b) how to get to each venue each day.  In addition there was no one place where all attendees were together outside of scheduled events (i.e. no conversations at breakfast, or hanging around the bar together at the end of the evening event).  But it was an interesting way of holding a conference, and I managed not to get lost more than once!

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The impact of metadata at the CILIP CIG 2014 conference

bug1This September I spent three days in Canterbury, at the University of Kent, attending the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference. Held every two years the CIG conference is an ideal opportunity for cataloguers and those working with metadata to get together. The theme this year was the impact of metadata and a variety of sessions arose looking at different aspects. Over the three days we looked at the Impact of metadata standards, the Impact on the organisation, the Impact of metadata on users, and the Impact of metadata professionals. There were formal papers, lightning talks and a poster session; as wfridgewordsell as a couple of optional tours at the end of the conference which I also managed to attend. Plus the best freebies I have so far received in a conference goody bag – including a fridge magnet of cataloguing words!

Impact of metadata standards

The ‘hot’ new metadata standard to be talked about these days is ‘Linked Data’ and the conference got off to a sizzling start with Thomas Meehan from University College London talking about Bibframe – which is the Library of Congress’ replacement for MARC and is based on linked data. If you want to know what Linked Data is you should look at Tim Berners-Lee’s four principles of linked data, which Meehan referred to. Unlike MARC, Linked data is not a cataloguing or library standard, it is greater than that and assumes an openness. MARC is difficult to share outside of the library world which is one reason why Linked data is seen as the future. Various libraries have published linked data, such as the Swedish National Library, German National Library and Cambridge University Library, whilst the British Library has been using it for the British National Bibliography (BNB).

The session moved on to Chris Biggs (Open University) who talked about OUDA – the Open University Digital Archive which will contain all the digital content from the OU from the last 45 years, including video, audio etc. He discussed the problems they faced including extracting metadata from a number of places, how not everything was catalogued in the past, how AV and text records were inconsistent, the standards that have changed or are partial, and how material has changed over the years with different carriers (broadcasts, videos, DVDs, digital files). Biggs detailed some of the processes they went through using MarcEdit, and the challenges they faced. So far the changes have been made in their LMS and are not yet in OUDA – but eventually all the data will be in OUDA and the discoverability will be better than with their LMS.

After a break Duncan Chalmers from Coutts gave a brief talk about RDA (Resource Description and Access) and using it with two metadata formats (MARC and Linked data). He pointed out that ‘metadata’ as a concept doesn’t figure in a user’s workflow, and that when people are used to searching for information on the web when they come into a library they notice when their searching on the library catalogue doesn’t work as well.

Following on from this Alan Danskin of the British Library took a very focussed look at certain rules within the RDA toolkit that need rethinking. His talk RDA and the cascading vortex of horror looked at a chain of instructions cataloguers would get sucked into when certain information was not available on an item; and he suggested some possible changes.

Impact on the organisation

image3The second day started with a very interesting talk from Laura Williams of the BBC who talked about embedded Media Managers who work alongside other staff at the BBC to capture and archive metadata. She looked primarily at TV metadata which is generated by film crews, and production teams. If the right information is not collated it has a knock on effect – for instance a programme synopsis won’t go into the Radio Times; or the cataloguers are unable to add the item to the archive. Williams also mentioned a couple of projects that are ongoing – the ‘Stockshop’ project which looks at which generated images might have value outside the use they were created for, or which have the potential to be used by someone else – for instance a view over London from a helicopter.

edinaNext up was Natasha Aburrow-Jones from EDINA looking at the impact of metadata within SUNCAT (Serials union catalogue). Originating as a project in 2003, SUNCAT was fully launched in 2005 and there are now 100 contributing libraries  which range from large national libraries to small specialised libraries; from Inverness to Cornwall, and includes one in Antarctica! They accept data in almost any format and quite surprisingly with ranging quality of metadata (it is bewildering how/why people submit records which don’t even have titles!).   The impact of the (non) use of data standards leads to a lack of consistency and non-matching with other records. They are currently designing a new in-house algorithm for matching metadata with “a multi dimensional radial match” .

Following on from this was a paper by Arwen Caddy who works in a corporate library for the company Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare. You probably won’t recognize the company name, but would certainly know the products – ranging from Gaviscon to Durex. About 4,000 books make up a small part of the research and development library, alongside a state of the art archive. This is a ‘Dim archive’ – meaning that it is a controlled repository which locks down documents so they can’t be tampered with; and they have permission from the CLA to store and give out papers to a select audience. By ‘locking down’ documents they are maintaining the integrity of the originals, regulating authentification and providing a trusted, non-tampered with copy (remember this is the corporate world!).   However, once the documents have entered the archive you can’t correct any mistakes – if you upload it to the wrong folder, that’s it, it has to stay there; if any errata are published you have to upload a whole new version as well; embarrassing mistakes stay on the catalogue. Caddy provided some tips on how to avoid mistakes; these included taking responsibility in the approval process and learning where mistakes were likely to happen, concentrating, and getting into a rhythm. There were a variety of other pitfalls in the process including confusions about chapter authors and book editors, and dates to file by (year the paper was accepted or the year it was published). She also provided some very good advice when dealing with her users: If you can’t always be right, be helpful!

Impact of metadata on users

peopleThe afternoon session looked at the impact of metadata on users. This included lightning talks on social media by Claire Sewell (Cambridge), which focussed on the use of Pinterest particularly in relation to their library science collection; Improving subject based metadata for LGBTQ related young adult books by Ruth Jenkins, a library school student; and enhancing the user experience and promoting bibliographic services at De Montfort University by Lynne Dyer.  Alongside these were a paper by Anne Welsh (lecturer at University College London) which discussed metadata output and its impact on researchers. She identified four user tasks of finding, identifying, selecting and obtaining. Whilst the ‘searching’ process is something that librarians are good at improving, there are problems at times with getting an ‘output’.

Impact of metadata professionals

DLrdaThe final morning looked at metadata professionals, and started with a paper by Deborah Lee from the Courtauld Institute of Art focussing on training new cataloguers to use RDA, when they have never used AACR2 – in contrast to all the conversion training that has been occurring for cataloguers who are used to one set of rules and now face a new set. Although training from scratch in RDA took a bit longer than training in AACR2 (due to relationship entities); on the whole, the beginner cataloguers didn’t have the same issues as established cataloguers because this is all they have known. Lee’s training programme did highlight the impact of local policies, and she emphasised the need to ensure that not only were these people trained to do the job in hand (and satisfy local requirements), but also that they were equipped with the skills to be excellent general cataloguers with the ability to do the job well elsewhere.

There were two talks from staff at the University of Kent looking at the changes, improvements and challenges they have been facing over the last few years. At one point they had enormous backlogs of items waiting to be catalogued and undertook a three year strategy to simplify and streamline services; this included establishing standard classification, RFID tagging core and main stock, and introducing shelf-ready. They worked to improve discoverability before they implemented their resource discovery tool. One of the talks was by two metadata assistants who had been recruited during this process and had come from non-academic library backgrounds and had brought fresh view points to the team.

celineThe morning also included a paper from Celine Carty (Cambridge) entitled Holistic cataloguing, or the fundamental interconnectedness of all things which provided some reflection on managing cataloguing projects and being aware of the impact on other teams. Whilst the cataloguing team may be improving their workflow, what about the people who may be processing or shelving the books – can they cope with an increased workflow, or are they involved in different projects? The key theme was ‘communication’ and she emphasised the need to speak to everyone – not just line managers, but all staff.

specialcollAt the end of the conference there was the chance to participate in some visits, and since I had planned to stay in the area for a few days and didn’t have to rush off to catch a train, I was able to do both visits on offer. Firstly I went on a tour of the University of Kent’s special collections; they house the British cartoon archive and have an extensive theatre collection, and were kind enough to put out some grecathedrallib2at displays representing many of their collections. Finally I went to see the Canterbury Cathedral library, which felt like going behind scenes at the cathedral. They house several parish collections including a ‘library in a cupboard’; and over 30,000 pre 1900 items.

 

cathedrallib3

Overall I had a great experience during the three days; I gained a lot from all the papers, managed to catch up with a few people, had my first proper attempt at tweeting from a conference, and was pleased that there was a greater representation from Wales than the last time.  Apologies if I have misrepresented anyone’s talk, and also if I haven’t mentioned you (purely down to space – it was all great!).

 

Post-conference I stayed on in the area for a few days and even managed to find Bagpuss’ shop!

bagpusshopTweets from the conference have been collected in Storify, the slides will be made available on the CILIP CIG webpages, and papers published in the CIG journal later this year.

 

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Attending Library Camp

I attended my first library camp at the weekend (Library Camp SW), and thought I should get down my thoughts about it before it fades into the distance.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Library camps in the last year or so; they’ve been providing a great space for discussion of library issues, they’re free, held on weekends so people who can’t attend events during working hours can come, and there is a lot of cake available!  As part of the staff development group of CLIC (Cardiff Libraries in Co-operation), we’re thinking of running a library camp in south Wales next year, so I realised that I really needed to attend one, to see what it was actually like in person, and to try and pick up a few hints and tips about the best way to run one.

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I’d hoped.

This was not a reflection on the organisers, I should hasten to add, but more a case of my own personality, and my ‘head space’ on the day.  I realise to get the most out of a library camp you really need to put a lot in, you shouldn’t just sit back and let if flow around you.  I’d already decided before I got there that I wasn’t going to pitch a session, as it was my first time I wanted really to see how it worked, and wasn’t brave enough to jump straight in – I also couldn’t think of any burning issue that I really wanted to run a session on anyway.  Maybe if I’d been brave enough I would have had a more beneficial experience.  Part of my problem was that I wasn’t particularly interested in most of the sessions that were pitched (and yes I know, if that was the case I should have pitched something I was interested in!).

I’m a cataloguer – and I went to the event with the full knowledge that it was highly unlikely that anyone would want to talk about cataloguing;  but I am also involved in staff development (both within my own library service, and with CLIC), and like to hear about stuff that is going on in general in the library world, so I figured there would be something to interest me, and yes there were a few sessions that I went to that were fine (one on chartership which I’ve been thinking about doing for ages, and one on disasters in libraries, which was interesting and I could at least speak about a bit); but for the most I found that I was just the worst Library camp attendee ever, didn’t feel inspired by what was on offer, and I sat silent……

I also found some attendees rather bolshy, and one session I attended got a little bit heated…

I guess at the end of the day each library camp will differ depending on who is there and what they want to talk about, it will also depend on which sectors are represented – as it became clear that some issues affect some libraries services in a far different way to others.

In the last session of the day I attended Rhyme time where I didn’t have to worry about speaking up, or cringe about some people’s attitudes, all I had to worry about was waving my arms around, not letting the rubber ducks fly off the parachute, and how silly I looked (but hey we all looked silly together so not a problem!).  There was indeed plenty of cake, and I sort of wished I’d skipped the main course and gone straight to cake – as I didn’t manage to taste the rather exciting looking Finnish blueberry concoction unfortunately – though I did manage some veggie rocky road  – yum!  The food sharing all worked wonderfully, and we could have just all sat in the park eating all afternoon.

I am sad that I didn’t have a fantastic experience, and wonder if my personality just isn’t suited to this kind of professional development event, or whether I was having a particularly bad ‘off day’, or whether if I went to one where the kind of things I am interested in were talked about more I would enjoy it more.   Maybe next time (if there is a next time), it will all be different for me.

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Social media workshop inspiration

Social-Media-MarketingYesterday I attended an all day library social media workshop, and came away enthused, encouraged and full of inspiration.  We looked at perceived barriers to using social media, creating good content, mapping tools to tasks, and digital signage.  There were plenty of break out sessions, and group discussions and activities, and a chance to reflect on what we were already doing and what we would like to do in the future.  At the end of the day we all had to make a pledge to ‘do something new’ in the next few months, we wrote it down on a yellow sticky, and we will be chased to see that we have done what we pledged! 

My pledge involved a new blog that I am setting up for the cataloguing department Iwork in.  There will be five of us contributing to it, but three of these have never blogged before.  I set up the bare bones of the blog just before I went on my Christmas break, so the next few months will see me (and the rest of the team) getting to grips with it; and starting to publicise it.  Our target audience will be the staff and students of the University, although anyone else is welcome to read it!  We will be promoting interesting books that pass through our hands, giving highlights on aspects of our job, explaining the vagaries of classification schemes, linking books to lecturers, and anything else we can think of.  Basically trying to be high visibility cataloguers!

During yesterday’s workshop in the final session when we were discussing our pledges, one of my library colleagues informed me that she had a much better understanding of the pressures and problems we experienced in the cataloguing department because of following myself and another of our cataloguers on twitter (and reading our blogs); for instance she hadn’t heard of RDA before we started talking about it (and I wouldn’t have expected her to either).  This means that when she has a pile of donations towering above her desk, and we aren’t doing them, she at least has some understanding of why.  These comments only further encouraged me to get on with the blog, and to think seriously of getting a twitter account for the department too.  We might not get hundreds of followers, but hopefully we’ll be spreading information to the right people.

It will be a few weeks before we really get going, but for future reference please check out our cataloguing blog and give us some feedback.

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Celebrating librarians on the printed page

How, as librarians, do we measure the impact of the staff development activities we pursue? This is a thorny issue which we are always trying to resolve in our Staff Development & Engagement Group.  When people attend conferences they have to fill in a feedback form (although many forget to!), and they are invited to write about their experience in our SDEG newsletter.  So we have opportunities to feedback to our colleagues, and share what we have learned – but measuring impact? If anyone has any bright ideas on this issue I’d love to hear them, as asking people six months later how their attendance at a training session has improved their work doesn’t usually yield any useful results (if any results at all!). 

While discussing performance metrics and the like at our last meeting we also touched on the issue of personal professional achievements.  Staff gain qualifications, present at conferences, and publish their work – but most of the time this passes almost unnoticed, except perhaps by a few colleagues or a line manager.  Surely these are the kind of things that should also be shared and be celebrated – they are steps on the way to ‘high visibility’ librarianship – but there are times when the wider world of librarianship might know what you have done, and yet the person sat opposite you is unaware.  Many of us don’t like to shout about our achievements, we are too modest/shy/embarrassed/don’t want to look like we are boasting/don’t think anyone will be interested etc etc. 

For the next issue of our newsletter the focus will be on celebrating achievements, and most specifically on those who have published in the last year.  A call out across the library service yielded several results (and of course we are still reliant on people letting us know), but hopefully we will be sharing details to a wider internal audience, and this may also encourage others to take steps to write up their projects too.  We are also trying to track down those who have gained qualifications and won awards – so many people seem to hide their light under a bushel when they should be proud of what they have achieved – and we should be proud of our colleagues too.

My own publications can be found listed on academia.edu

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CLIC social evening

We’re having a Cardiff Libraries in Co-operation (CLIC) social evening on Wed 24th October, 5.30-9.30pm at Barocco.  For anyone who works (or is hoping to work) in a library or similar environment,  come and join us.

http://kris-library.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/library-meet-up-in-cardiff.html

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Unexpected opportunity for a cataloguer: exhibiting Arthur

This week sees the ‘unveiling’ of an exhibition in SCOLAR our special collections department on the subject of Arthur: King of the Britons.  I’m really excited about it because I have had an integral part in the curating of it.  This is one of those ‘unexpected opportunities’ that I didn’t actually manage to talk about in my presentation at the CILIP CIG conference on 11th September because I over ran and had to skip it!

The opportunity came about for two reasons.  Firstly, my job now involves working on the Cardiff Rare Books Collection one day a week, alongside our Rare books cataloguer.  I was familiar with the collection anyway, due to taking part in the listing of material prior to acquisition from the public library.  Secondly, over the last couple of years I’ve taken a few evening classes with the University’s adult education department, purely because they sounded really interesting (one of which was on Arthurian myths and legends). In conversation with the tutor, Dr Juliette Wood, I’ve mentioned at times to her various items in the collection prior to them being catalogued, because I thought she would find them interesting or useful for her teaching and/or research.   She has a book coming out this autumn on the holy grail, and one way or another we decided it would be really great to have an exhibition on Arthurian material, and the head of SCOLAR agreed that we could do so.  SCOLAR has about four exhibitions a year, sometimes tying in with anniversaries or topics of current interest.

Arthur in the centre of his roundtable (from Malory, 1634)

Stage 1: We met up in SCOLAR to discuss what kind of themes we would focus on, and what kind of items we wanted to use.  I had identified some items that I thought might be relevant, and made a list based on our catalogue.  For me, one of our prize exhibits was going to be the 1634 copy of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.  Produced by the London printer William Stansby (1572-1638) this version was based on the earlier editions by Wynken de Worde and William Caxton, and was the only edition available for two hundred years.

Juliette was able to suggest a whole host of authors, and books, that might be of interest.  Working with a specialist in the subject was really interesting, as she has such depth to her knowledge.  Yes, I could have pulled out lots of books about Arthur, but I wouldn’t have known any of the intricacies, the historical foibles, or the really pertinent texts to use.

Part way through setting up

Stage 2: Using my scribbled notes from the discussion with Juliette I was able to search our library catalogue and identify a further list of items of interest.  Next time we met up I had retrieved a large selection of items from the collection.  Using paper slips to indicated the seven themes we had decided upon (we had seven cases to fill) we were able to go through items and add them to our proposed cases.  Throughout this process we were trying to be aware of what would be visually appealing.  A book might be a key text but if it has no illustrations and a modern binding it risks being of little interest to the majority of observers.  Luckily we had a wealth of material to choose from in SCOLAR and could mine various collections within it such as the Cardiff Rare Books collection, the Tennyson collection, and the Salisbury collection etc.  At times we had almost too much to choose from and also had to be wary of being repetitive and not include too many examples by the same illustrator for example.

Part of the ‘Arthur and local archaeology’ case

Stage 3:  I wrote up a list of all the items we had chosen, assigned to their particular themes, and ensured I included full details of each book, especially classmark and location, in order to make it easier to retrieve them when we wanted them.

Stage 4: We met again to look at all the items and to doublecheck which illustrations, or pages, we would be displaying.  At this point we also chose a key image for each theme/case which would be used on the SCOLAR website, and I scanned these illustrations.

Stage 5:  Juliette took responsibility for writing all the captions – so I was let off the hook at this point! As she had the expert knowledge it made sense for her to do so.

Stage 6: With some proofreading and tweaking from all parties the captions were ready, and thanks to Alison Harvey, the archivist in SCOLAR who is used to curating the exhibitions and helping others do so, they were set up in text boxes that were the correct size for the plastic caption displayers.  Thus ensuring a unifying harmony in the display.

Arthur doll amidst ephemera

Stage 7: The setting up!  I don’t think either of us was quite prepared for how difficult or challenging we found this stage (even though we realised it wouldn’t be easy).  I’d expected this to be one of the fun bits (although I’ve enjoyed all stages); and it was fun and satisfying  but needed quite a bit of thinking too, as you can’t just plonk the items down randomly in the cases.  We had to assess how all the items in each case would relate to one another.  We also had to ensure that the books were displayed in a manner that wouldn’t damage them; some were more fragile than others.  We had a variety of foam wedges, snake weights, and plastic stands – but there were several occasions when we didn’t have quite the right size or type of stand that would have been ideal, so we had to be inventive!  In all, it took us about 4 1/2 hours to set up the seven cases and to do a bit of tweaking after asking the opinions of Alison and Ken (the rare books cataloguer).  Its really quite thrilling to see an exhibition come together in the flesh, after all the preparatory work.

Guinevere figurine

The exhibition will be running up to December and can be viewed 9-5 during the week; you can also see an extract on the SCOLAR webpages.  The books used are predominantly from Cardiff special collections, although Juliette supplemented the display with a few items, including some ephemera from her own collection.  Hence, we also have a lovely Arthur doll and an exquisite Guinevere!

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