Category Archives: Staff development

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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Aberystwyth, mon amour: or, loving the CILIP Cymru Wales 2018 conference (part 1)

CILIPWales18aHaving recently returned from Aberystwyth and the rather excellent CILIP Cymru Wales conference I thought it was a good time to resurrect my blog.  I’m a cataloguer, and when the call for papers initially went out I was delighted to see that CILIP Wales had embraced a request to include ‘technical services’ within their themes and topics.  We are generally missed out within general library conferences, so I was delighted that CILIP Wales was willing to welcome into the fold cataloguers and metadata specialists, and of course I had to offer a paper!

Arriving in a sunny Aberystwyth on the afternoon before the conference I had taken the opportunity of being in the area to deliver a training session to the NHS Library staff at Bronglais Hospital, following this, a walk on the beach and a good Indian meal in the evening, and I was ready to face two days of intense ‘library stuff’.  I started the event with the pre-conference mindfulness session, and this kind of set the tone for the rest of the conference for me, in that it was a start to being aware of mindfulness, resilience, and well-being within both my personal and professional life.

Over the next two days there were several keynote speakers who looked at what I perceive as ‘the personal in the professional’ – these presentations were great on a multitude of levels, not least in that it didn’t matter which library sector you worked in, or what your role was in your library service, these sessions could be of benefit to you.

On the afternoon of day 1 Sue Hodges brought her personal story into her presentation “The power of building resistance”, she exuded an air of calmness and focus as she talked about the importance of well-being, and that our back story is important (illustrated by her own story of her family moving to Australia when she was 5 so her Dad could look for work).

Following on was Jo Wood (@Libswithlives) who turned out to be one of the main highlights of this conference (for me at least).  She too brought her personal story into her session, and I feel privileged to have been there to witness her courage in being brutally honest about life events, and a break down, that crashed her world.  She reminded us that behind every person’s CV and career history was a personal story too. In a professional context you are normally only aware of people’s achievements, but we should perhaps be more honest about revealing what else we are dealing with at the same time.  You might be under the impression that all those fantastic speakers you are listening to have progressed in a timely fashion to that peak you are now witnessing them at, but remember – everyone has ‘stuff’ in their life, good and bad, and it contributes to what they are doing, and where they are.  My review isn’t doing justice to Jo’s presentation – but for those of us who were there, we all felt the impact of her talk.

It was also interesting to hear about the Librarians with Lives podcasts that she produces, and which to my shame I hadn’t come across before, but will certainly be checking out.

On the second day, there was a third session which looked at the ‘person’, this was Jo Walley (@joeyanne) exploring imposter syndrome – and yes, when asked, just about everyone in the room put their hand up to admit to feeling this!  She talked about the five deadly Ps she had identified – Performing, Perfecting, Pretending, Proving and Pleasing and gave examples which I am sure many of us identified with.  She also introduced the concept of ‘Mindful self-compassion’ – embracing an awareness and acceptance of ourselves, a practicing of self kindness and a common humanity towards others.

So many of us don’t feel that we are good enough, and it was so welcoming to have Jo (and her gorgeous flowered shoes) end her talk with telling us that we were all “Enough – exactly as you are!”

What all these sessions did was help me to start re-evaluating myself and how “Karen-Person” fits into “Karen-Cataloguer/Librarian”.  I plan to look at mindfulness in more detail, to plot my own life events against my career/profession events to see if there are any conclusions to be drawn, and to be more aware of personal wellbeing


Beach treasure from Aberystwyth (a happy place)

in the workplace.  Last year I attended a session at the AWHILES annual conference, led by Mark Hodder on Positive psychology: the science of happiness, and as a result of this every day I identify at least three happy/positive things that have happened to me that day, which I am finding very beneficial (even if my cats do feature quite a lot!).

In part 2 of this blog about #CILIPW18 I shall look at several other sessions that made an impact on me.


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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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Rape in Antiquity: twenty years ago

RapeKPDCToday I received an email from an old friend, Susan Deacy, reminding me that today was the 20th anniversary of the conference we organised together back when we were postgraduate students.  Violence and Power: An International Symposium on Rape in Antiquity brought together an international group of academics and postgraduates, and was held in the University of Wales College of Cardiff (now Cardiff University) on 19th November 1994.  I was researching an M. Phil on gender relations in Greek New Comedy, at Cardiff and Susan was working on her Ph.D. on Athena, at Lampeter.  I seem to recall that we had been instrumental in holding a series of postgraduate seminars bringing together researchers in Wales who were studying Classics, Ancient History, and even Egyptology, and out of this seminar series had emerged the idea for a one day conference.  We had some wonderful speakers, and were able to eventually publish most of the proceedings in a book which we co-edited: Rape in Antiquity: Sexual violence in the Greek and Roman worlds, published in hardback by the Classical Press of Wales in 1997, and in paperback with an updated introduction by Duckworth in 2002.  A quick look on Amazon has just revealed to me that it is now also available on Kindle (news to me!).

Susan briefly blogged about this anniversary, which has prompted me to do the same.  She noted that she has one of the conference posters up on her wall; and while I haven’t done this, I am pretty sure I have the programme and a copy of the poster somewhere at home. (Although I admit that I used to have a framed copy of a review of the book on the wall until the frame was broken).

One memory of the day; it was nerve-wracking and exciting organising a conference for the first time, and from the very start I felt as if I had stepped upon a roller coaster from which there was no getting off.  As well as organisers, we were both also speakers, and I also filled in for another speaker who was unable to reach us.  Their paper involved two slide projectors (none of your modern day powerpoints or prezis!), which made for some complicated timings.  All in all though, the day was a success.

It is hard to believe that twenty years have passed, and I sometimes wonder if I made the right decision in leaving academia and becoming a librarian instead.  As a postgraduate, both during my M.Phil and my Ph.D. there was an excitement and an energy behind my work, and I got to meet some fantastic people who were working on a whole range of research areas within Classics/Ancient History, many of whom are now Professors and Senior Lecturers at Universities across the country.

So, today I am feeling old, but have some great memories of a day of stimulating papers and discussions.  Thanks for the memories Susan!

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Knitted planes, J. B. Priestley’s shirt and Iris Murdoch’s beer mat collection – experiencing the “Discovering collections, discovering communites”conference (part 2)

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Secret Garden, Library of Birmingham

In my last post I talked about the Social Media panel I attended at the Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference held in Birmingham (29-30th Oct).  After a networking lunch where I mostly stood on the edge and talked to my friend (I had very blocked ears at this event and trying to hear people in a noisy room was really difficult), I went to the “Demonstrating the impact of collections” panel (5).

We all want impact, and we are all looking for ways to demonstrate our impact, especially to those higher up the food chain, so this seemed like a good panel to attend.

First up was Katie Giles talking about “Widening the Arc of friendship: exploring letters from Iris Murdoch and Phillipa Foot with the local community”.  Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies  and Archives and Special Collections acquired over 200 letters from Murdoch to her friend and fellow philosopher Philippa Foot that covered a period of 40 years. The centre already had a large collection of letters and other items associated with Murdoch (such as her beer mat collection!), but decided to use this new acquisition in a community project, opening up the letters to non-academics and people who would never normally use their collections.

The letters arrived in a red canvas bag, in which they had been housed all along, and this red bag became a symbol for the project. The letters ranged from decorative airmail letters to postcards, and included a sketch ‘the dog of happiness’. They approached a variety of different groups within the local community, such as local schools, Age Concern Kingston, Carers, and Adults with Learning Difficulties in Kingston, and ended up with an age range of participants from 10 to 83 years old!  They devised certain activities tailored to the participants, but ensured that all groups were given a visit to the archives.  A particular challenge they overcame was working with adults with very low levels of literacy, but still successfully engaging them in a project centred round letters from a novelist.

Top tips learnt from the project:

1) Always talk to experts – different groups of people have different needs, so talk to the ‘experts’, the carers etc who normally work with these groups, and find out how best to engage with people.  Don’t assume you know best!

2) Be adaptable and think on your feet.

3) Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Next up Kirsty Patrick (Mass Observation Archive, University of Sussex) talked about “Mass observation behind bars: building collections with the prisoner community”.

The Mass observation archive captures what every day life in Britain is like. The first round of investigations took place between 1937-1950s and involved volunteers sitting in pubs and cafes watching and taking notes about people, as well as a panel of volunteer writers who completed surveys.  Newer material has been collected since 1981, although they no longer ask volunteers to ‘spy’ on people in public places!  There is also the ‘12th May’ project – in 1937 Mass Observation called on people to keep a diary of everything they did that day (which was George VI’s Coronation day), this project has been repeated since 2010, and anyone can get involved.

At the archive they are trying to widen participation in this project and want to reach sections of society who would not normally get involved.  Due to this they have reached out to community groups, disability charities and prisoners.  In 2013 the Mass Observation project went behind bars at Lewes Prison, and took part in creative writing activities with prisoners.  Those who contributed felt that they had been given a voice.  Prison diaries were found to be very structured with strict timings due to the nature of life behind bars, but provided interesting insights to an aspect of everyday life in Britain not normally covered.

Both these two papers showed imaginative projects working with diverse sections of local communities and demonstrated that archives are not just for academics and specialists.

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Ceiling of Shakespeare Memorial Room, Library of Birmingham

The final paper in this panel was “Valuing the archives: from non-market valuation to input-output analysis” presented by Lertchai Wasananikornkulchai (University of Glasgow) and based on research he is currently undertaking. I admit some of this did go over my head a bit as he discussed various economic models for demonstrating the value of archives.  But a useful exercise in attempting to show that input-output analysis is a better model for smaller institutions and archives to use.


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Knitted planes, J. B. Priestley’s shirt and Iris Murdoch’s beer mat collection – experiencing the “Discovering collections, discovering communites”conference (part 1)

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Library of Birmingham

Over two days at the end of October (29-30th Oct, 2014) I was attending and speaking at the RLUK ‘Discovering collections discovering communities’ conference in Birmingham.  A gathering of archivists, museum staff,  librarians and academics it was a fascinating experience.  Building on a previous conference that had looked at ‘Enhancing impact, inspiring excellence; collaborative approaches between archives and universities‘ that had taken place the year before, this event focussed on cross-sector collaboration and the impact this could have.

There were a variety of panels to choose from on the first day, and the ones I attended all proved to be fascinating, albeit mostly not directly relevant to my job.  Although I was speaking about a special collection, and collaboration with academics and clinicians, I am a cataloguer and this isn’t the main part of my role.  Most of the speakers I heard appeared to be archivists rather than librarians, and I think the focus of the conference tended to be on archives.  This didn’t matter though, as all the papers were really interesting, and lessons learned about archive collections can also be applied to special collections in libraries.

The first panel (3) I attended was on “Social media: virtual collecting and the new frontier of discovery?”, and this was probably the panel I felt I could relate to most directly as I blog, tweet, and use Pinterest (all for work purposes as well as personal). First up was Simon Demissie from the National Archives discussing popular Twitter feeds such as the @Theretronaut and @HistoryinPics who have large followings and utilise historical images without really paying attention to referencing and copyright.  As librarians, archivists and historians we will probably feel distinctly uncomfortable about this.  Demissie however, whilst acknowledging this problem, also believed that as professionals we had a lot to learn from these kind of feeds and sites, especially if we wanted to engage with audiences in a similar way. He focused on the @ukwarcabinet feed which utilises cabinet papers from the National Archives to provide a narrative of the Second World War.  This has been very successful, especially around the 70th anniversary of D Day, but ultimately may prove to be unsustainable due to the level of work entailed to provide accurate referencing and metadata.  Demissie provided a lot of food for thought on this topic.

Next up was Alison Cullingford, University of Bradford, and author of The Special Collections Handbook.  I have heard a lot about Cullingford and her projects in the past, but this was my first chance to hear her speak and meet her in the flesh (not just on Twitter), and I was not disappointed.  This was the paper where we met J. B. Priestley’s shirt, wrapped in a bag and ‘fresh’ from The Mayfair Laundry, and appearing on the 100 Objects Bradford blog.

Cullingford looked at how for early adopters social media has  matured into an ideal way of promoting special collections, although there are many of people out there who are still very wary of using it.  Using the 100 Object Bradford blog project as a case study she explored how they had used it, what the benefits were, and what lessons they had learned.  For example, it is a good place to address popular enquiries, using the information that people were already asking for.

As an aside Cullingford mentioned St Andrews special collections blog Echoes from the vault which has been running a project using ‘How to’ books as a starting point for blog posts. Great idea!

The final speaker in this session was Peter Findlay (JISC) talking about using and contributing to Wikipedia as a way of promoting collections and project work. At JISC they have a Wikipedian ambassador who is embedded in the community and helping to challenge the notion that Wikipedia is inaccurate and not a source to use.

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Library of Birmingham

He pointed out that every time a project is funded a new web resource is often created that usually ends up being just another fragmented silo of information; and that we should be thinking about working more closely with big platforms like Wikipedia to share knowledge and images.

I really enjoyed this first panel and it set me in good stead for the rest of the conference.

(Further posts to follow)


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