It’s June already?!

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Hey everyone!

As ever, let me start with my “sorry for the delay” disclaimer! It’s weird to think that I’m now well over halfway through my trainee year! Not too long until I’ll be heading south for the autumn (and the next two years at least!). I’ve sorted out my leaving date, potentially somewhere to live, made contact with an agency, and saved up some cold, hard cash! So everything is in hand for the next phase!

Now things have calmed down a little, I’ll try and write more. I’ve made a start on doing my research project – I say a start, what that means is doing literature searches and going ‘How on earth do people collate all this into one document?!’ (Methinks I’ll be ringing my soon-to-be-doing-a-PhD social scientist brother on that one!) I’ve never written a document with that degree of synthesis in it: generally, with literature, you take one or two theorists/critics at a time as they become relevant, rather than doing a strategic overview of all the literature in the field! I imagine this is because if you tried to do a literature review of everything on, say, Henry James, it would be never-ending. Best to dive in and pick the bits that are relevant to you! (And also because literature isn’t always a particularly systematic endeavour, unless you go for word analytics and things. Feel free to argue with me on that point, haha!) Critical fields aside, though, it’s a totally new thing for me, but also a good thing: you only learn by doing!

I’ll also be doing some data analysis, which I am assured is Not Scary At All, but given how long it took and how methodical I had to be in counting shelves yesterday (there were 625), I’m still a little apprehensive! I am absolutely awful at maths, and when confronted with a sheet of numbers, they start to swim a little bit and it takes me a very long time to get to grips with things. I’m hoping that by playing more with numbers I’ll actually improve my numeracy – it’s something I’ve managed to put quite far down my list of priorities for a while, but I’m going to need to step it up!

I have a couple of pieces of proper blogging lined up for the near future, so there’ll be more in-depth things to read about what I’ve been doing: a piece about my traineeship for Library Trainee Network and hopefully a guest post about the work I’ve been doing for Special Collections here at Bradford. Exciting stuff!

Rediscovered: J.B. Priestley in the Yorkshire Post

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Special Collections - University of Bradford

Last weekend the Yorkshire Post published a really interesting piece about J.B. Priestley’s First World War experiences.  The article, by Steve McClarence, uses objects from Priestley’s Archive to tell the story: his shoulder-badge, his photographs, his letters, and above all Priestley’s unforgettable writings about the War in Margin Released and English Journey.  You can see the archive objects for yourself in our current exhibition at the Bradford Industrial Museum.

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13th April – J. B. Priestley and World War One

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Good afternoon blogworld! It’s about time I shared what was a great experience for me recently – helping our Special Collections team set up an exhibition!

 

The exhibition is about J. B. Priestley’s time as a soldier in World War 1. There are hundreds of WW1 events going on this year, and our contribution is part of the Bradford Industrial Museum‘s new exhibition for the occasion. (I think it’ll be a big one, it was all hands on deck while I was there!)

 

I must confess that I don’t – or didn’t – know a lot about J. B. Priestley, other than that he was a British writer, and that I missed out on doing An Inspector Calls in our English GCSE lessons. I have learnt quite a lot about him since I started at Bradford, but it turns out he was also a survivor of WW1, having enlisted in 1914(!): he missed the Somme by a matter of days. He didn’t write about the war explicitly until much later, in Margin Released (1962). I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to articulate the experience of coming home when so many of your friends and fellow soldiers were left behind.

The J. B. Priestley Archive holds some fascinating things – letters that he wrote home from the front, medals (that apparently he never asked to have), a notebook he had with him, some photos from the hospitals that he spent time in while recuperating from injuries, and his officers commission. I learnt a lot about WW1 at school (mostly Sassoon and Owen, in terms of literature, and my father has dragged me round many a battlefield in Normandy), but I’ve never really seen that many personal objects belonging to a soldier and it really humanises the whole thing in a different way. Everything has a certain rhetoric, which I think is very different to how things are now:

 

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I think my favourite items are his letters: it’s still a strange and awe-inspiring experience for me when confronted with people’s personal correspondence. I love things like this – anything manuscript-y or letter-y! I think the fact that these are so personal is what fascinates me – you can find out people’s real thoughts and feelings through what they created, rather than what was given or attributed to them. There’s a real sense of immediacy you get with letters, rather than published material that’s been revised time and time again. The green letter at the top has a wonderful bit of writing at the side that Priestley has signed, concerned with a soldier’s honour and integrity (I’ll have to find the exact text from somewhere as the photo is a bit blurry!):

 

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The objects are very fragile so I didn’t handle much, I was quite happy looking! I have learnt, however, about the special weights used to keep the objects in position – no using mugs or putting heavy books on them, as I do! – and how photos are stored properly. (It also shocks me that some of these objects are a century old now. A century!) It was good to get involved with the discussion about what should and shouldn’t be in the exhibition, in terms of including text and visual objects, how to place splashes of colour to complement the more monochrome objects, what items and shapes fit together, which things need prominence. We put the portrait of Priestley in uniform in the middle: I think it works really nicely as a centrepiece as it draws the eye and the exhibition is all about him (he looks so young in it, it’s scary to think he was going off to war!). Lots of children go to the Industrial Museum, so while some of his writing was worthy of a place, we decided to leave it out in the end as it’s a bit text-heavy. I think the personal items, rather than the books, are more eye-catching, especially for those who don’t want to spend hours bending over cases reading text. Like I said, I also think they show the person, their milieu, what their world looked like to live in. The officer’s commission is a page full of text, but it is a beautiful bit of paper, and the language it’s phrased in was fantastic – very archaic [to me, anyway], so that stayed in (it’s at the top of this photo):

 

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We were also careful about not being polemical, as WW1 is still a very real and sensitive subject to many people. There’s no overtly political aspect to the J. B. Priestley exhibition – I think we wanted to present the young man and the soldier, rather than a message (which, I suppose, should be left up to the writer in question!). But here is our effort in all it’s glory:

 

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P.S. The views in this post are all mine, and mine alone. Also, please correct me if any of my facts are wrong!

19th March – Another ‘Quick Update’…

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As ever, I’ll start with an apology. (Should I just stop now? Can we all take that as a given every time I post? Haha!) Anyway, things I’ve been up to/need to blog about:

 – Standing in front of a class of MSc students and not being heckled!

Wooo! Apparently I was clear, didn’t hurry, made good eye contact and was generally fine. Yay! I now have a great portfolio of my mentor meetings with Kirsty and the learning resources we’ve put together. It’s our final session of six next week so will be having more of a discussion, starting with plagiarism and going on to getting some feedback from the students about the whole group of sessions. I have also promised to make cake: if that doesn’t get them through the door, nothing will!

 – Visiting Special Collections at the University of Leeds.

It was a lovely afternoon! I wanted to stay forever. Sadly, didn’t manage to liberate any of Byron’s manuscripts, but I might go back and peruse when I have annual leave. Not only this, but apparently you can just go in and say ‘Oh hey, can I look at your first Folio?’ and they’ll say, ‘Yeah sure, just wait right there.’ They do supervise you, but WHAT?! I know the Folio at the John Rylands is in the ‘Red Vault’, which basically means you need a very, very good reason to see it. Not so at Leeds! Fabulous stuff. Was also shown some of their conservation and digitisation work areas, in which there was a genuine WWI biscuit just sitting there (I don’t think the biscuit was being digitised though!)… Sigh. One day…

– Teachmeet at Sheffield Hallam.

I didn’t have much to contribute I’m afraid, as I haven’t (or rather, hadn’t) taught anyone by then. My question was just ‘How do I not freak out in front of a class?!’ But some interesting ideas! I need to learn how to use Prezi, among other things. Might try this out for my project!

– A quick trip to London to be grilled by LIS professionals.

UCL interview, followed by a much-needed pint – you can probably imagine the trauma! Will report back as and when.

– Having outlined a slightly less fuzzy idea about my Trainee Project.

Yes! I’m keeping this one under my hat until it’s developed further, but rest assured, there is a chance that aside from banging my head on the table trying to write a real literature review (I did English, okay?), I will be pouncing on innocent patrons with a clipboard in hand, yelling ‘FEEDBACK! FEED BACK TO ME!’. All good fun!

– 6 month review fast approaching!

Oh dear. It’s weird to think I’m halfway through! The transient nature of a traineeship is strange, but I’m looking forward to the future! Not so much looking forward to giving my final presentation, however…

– Starting my block of time with Special Collections next week.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be up to, so I shall also have to report back on that as and when. Needless to say, I’m really excited! Alison submitted Bradford’s application for archives accreditation very recently too (congratulations are in order!), so that may be something I can investigate further in the coming months.

28th February – Teaching Success!

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Hello blog-world! Here I am again. I thought I’d try and get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) fairly swiftly after the second Engineering MSc teaching session I did with Kirsty this week, as it went really well.

We had already decided to try to get the students to do some group work, so they can get to know each other more as well as bounce ideas off each other. The first week was mostly Kirsty talking and then we were helping them one-to-one, so we thought if we mixed it up a bit it wouldn’t feel too much like they were being lectured. We also decided to try using a Padlet wall during the student discussion and feedback to bring together their ideas, as they happened, in a place where they can see the information easily, rather than referring them to pre-prepared resources or presentations that don’t accurately reflect their questions and responses (the main point of our sessions, of course, being finding out what the students want to know, as well as telling them what they should know – or at least trying to strike a balance between the two).

We designed a little activity where we gave them samples of different resources – including the standard books and journals, but also websites, newspapers, market research reports, patents and standards. This was a good idea because while most of these are available online, it’s often just text on a screen – it’s good to hold the source and see what it actually looks like, how it’s set out and where all the different sections are.

We had a question sheet with some prompts of ‘Things to think about’ – the basic question being ‘Why would you trust this source?’, but framing it with other questions: for example, who establishes a new British Standard? Who writes market research? Who are the intended audience? Where and what is the evidence for their claim? We also gave them some answer sheets to jot down ideas in their groups. It went really well I think – they were really open to discussion and thankfully were actually discussing the sources!

We brought it all together after about half an hour and Kirsty led the group discussion, and asked them to talk her through each source: what they knew about it, what they would look for and why. It was really informative actually, I myself learnt a lot – did you know members of the public can have a say in British engineering Standards? Or that market research includes data on all the major players in a certain field (say, mobile phone manufacturers), their products and market performance? Well, you probably did know that, but as I’ve spent my degrees buried in musty tomes, I didn’t!

Anyway, the students really engaged and were keen to give their opinion and ask questions. Kirsty also decided to give out prizes for the most devastatingly analytical answers, which went down really well – it would seem that introducing an element of friendly competition got the best out of that particular group! While the discussion was going on, I started putting together the Padlet page as we went along. It’s not the most detailed of documents, and there were a couple of things I missed while furiously typing and trying to listen at the same time (such as ‘Google is powered by money, not quality research!’ or similar), but here is a quick screenshot:

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Kirsty said she noticed they were all watching the Padlet during the discussion, pointing out things to add to it, noting down the address and, perhaps most importantly, taking photos of it on their phone to keep, which seems to be the norm now (I still use pen and paper!). Kirsty said it was the first time she’d seen it work as it should – largely, I think, because the room we were in had multiple screens showing the display on the computer I was using, which meant everyone could actually see what I was writing. I think using a Padlet wall on one large projector screen at the end of one of the bigger study rooms elsewhere in the building wouldn’t have worked as well because the students wouldn’t have been able to see. This is related, too, to the students being able to take their time reading text rather than frantically trying to keep up with someone while making their own notes. Either way, it worked really well!

We – or rather, Kirsty – ended with a quick demonstration of how to get to market research databases, standards and patents through the library catalogue, and then everyone dashed away! But we had a quick brew and de-brief and we both thought the session went well: the students were much more relaxed and chatty while remaining focused this week, and hopefully this will continue.

Next week, I might be talking through some of the referencing Powerpoint, as I’ve been largely passive on the ‘leading the session’ front. I feel more comfortable with this after the session this week, mainly because the students seemed that way too. So I will update on the next one after the event. I’m attending the ARLG Yorkshire & Humberside Teachmeet at Sheffield Hallam on Monday, so will hopefully be sharing some of what we’ve been up to there, and maybe getting some tips on how to relax while delivering things to a group of about thirty-five people… All in all, much to look forward to!

Special Collections in CILIP Update

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The Special Collections Handbook

Very pleased that the latest issue of CILIP Update features a section all about the latest in Special Collections.  Special Collections is an incredibly dynamic and exciting area of library work, and it is good to see this feature in a title aimed at all librarians.  There’s a piece by Karen Attar about the new Directory and one by me about our innovative collections development policy at Bradford.  There’s some fantastic illustrations of materials from our collections too.

Sorry, CILIP Update is only available to CILIP members and libraries who subscribe to it.  If you don’t have access, following the links in the paragraph above will take you to other writing by Karen and me about our respective contributions.

PS I haven’t blogged much lately for which apologies.  NOT for lack of things to say though.  I’ve been putting all my writing energy into our application for archive accreditation, which…

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23rd February – A Busy Bee

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As ever, I apologise for my terrible blogging skills… perhaps I should just have a disclaimer somewhere on this page?! Work is just so busy that often when I get home I want to do nothing more than stuff my face with carbs and then collapse in front of BBC iplayer or similar. Haha! But, on with the news.

I feel as though I’ll be spending the next few weeks living out of a suitcase/on trains – three trips to London in four weeks, a couple to Sheffield and another home to Northampton within that time too! Most of these are work or uni related (UCL interview – yikes!), so I’m looking forward to scooting about England and spreading the Graduate Trainee word.

I finally met a fellow Bradford Grad Trainee the other week, after having exchanged emails for about three months! Her name is Melissa and she is a NHS Medical Library trainee, so her working day is totally different from mine. I think we both just wanted to hear what the other actually does! Melissa came to me first, so I tried to give her the best tour possible, but I have never before flexed my tour-guide muscles, so it probably wasn’t the best tour she’s ever been on, haha! But I showed her our different floors and collections, did a passable introduction to the Commonweal Collection that lives at Bradford – which I should probably blog about soon – and popped in to Special Collections for a chat too. Luckily, both Alison and Martin were there so Melissa got an actual introduction to what we have, rather than me going ‘J. B. Priestley! Jacquetta Hawkes! Mitrinović! THE RESOURCES!’ in a suitably excitable fashion. We rounded off the afternoon with an all-important cup of tea, and discussed uni thoughts as well as our Traineeships. We also chatted about our previous degrees as Melissa is a literature graduate too (there seem to be a great many of us in libraries!), so it was nice to find out more about her research interests and future plans.

I popped up to her library the following day, which is at Bradford Royal Infirmary. After a slightly fraught journey – I had no idea where I was going – I arrived just about on time! The library itself was gorgeous, it’s in a Victorian building, so it’s all panelled wood, painted ceilings and sweeping staircases. Melissa had warned me that it is a lot smaller than the uni library so the tour wouldn’t take long, but I didn’t mind! The library at the hospital serves the professionals in the area who are doing research as well as staff who are doing academic-ish work for their Professional Development modules and projects, which interested me as that’s where our libraries cross paths – lots of health professionals doing CPD stuff will come to the University too. Melissa apparently spends lots of time doing literature searches and teaching other people how to do them themselves, which I sympathise with. Searching healthcare databases is something I’ve had to learn quite quickly, and it’s totally different from doing an English or American literature search! And I imagine that if you’ve been qualified for twenty or thirty years, coming back to do something like a systematic review must be hard. Melissa said it’s really interesting though, as she gets to find out about all sorts of diseases and things, and occasionally there are gory photos… as I am a weakling when it comes to that sort of stuff, perhaps it’s better that I’m in an academic library for the moment!

I’ve also persuaded Melissa to join what is gradually becoming known (to me, anyway) as Library Club, as she lives in Leeds but is new to the city. It’s also really nice to socialise with people who understand my working day – a lot of my friends must think I just ‘Shhh!’ people and explain [badly] which shelf 607.89 is on!

Ooh, I almost forgot! We have decided what my Graduate Trainee project is to be on. I was, as usual, terrified that if I hadn’t already sketched out a detailed plan, Sarah would withhold my tea and biscuits, and then I really would be in trouble! Thankfully, it wasn’t too painful a discussion, and we’ve agreed that I’ll be looking further at performance and benchmarking strategies (like the customer journey mapping I blogged about previously). I’m not exactly sure how this will pan out yet, but there is still plenty of time.

I’m quite pleased about the choice because although it’s something I’m not overly familiar with, it’ll be really good for the library (and indeed the University) to do work looking at processes and customer satisfaction, so if I can help with that then that’s great! I think it will also stand me in good stead in the future, because any library job involves giving a high standard of service and having a framework by which to measure and implement it, so the fact I’ll have done a project on such things can only be another string to my bow.

I had a fruitful and interesting meeting with a lovely lady at Leeds Met about the aforementioned customer journey mapping in the context of Customer Service Excellence on Friday, so I’m feeling extra-positive about it at the moment! This meeting was followed by another meeting with Jennie, one of the subject librarians at Leeds Met who was also the GT at Bradford a while ago, and Cat, who is the current GT at Leeds Met. We naturally made a beeline for a lovely little tearoom opposite Leeds Uni, and so it was good to catch up with Cat and also to meet Jennie and exchange amusing stories about Bradford and libraries in general! It was a bit nostalgic for me being up that end of Leeds: I live the other side of the city centre now, so can’t pop into the Brotherton Library and stroke the dusty books (or something) on a whim as easily as I could!

That’s about all the big news for the moment, other than me learning to classify books, which I must say is actually quite hard! God bless Cataloguing in Publication data… It is interesting to learn about the organisation of knowledge though, and it feels a bit like doing detective work at times, which I seem to be actively enjoying. What did surprise me, though, is how subjective using Dewey could actually be. There was an occasion the other day when I totally disagreed with a classmark everyone else (via OCLC Classify) had given a book, so reclassified it myself, with apparent success! I put this down to strength of conviction (rather than ‘being pedantic’, haha), and did feel perhaps a little too smug, but it was my first solo effort without the Library of Congress to help. That being said, there has been lots of bashing-head-on-desk while wading through Dewey manuals and tables – my desk has mainly looked like this for the past week:

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Just looking at this makes me want to drink a medicinal cup of tea, so I think I will leave your eyes alone and report back with more news another day soon!