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!

January 6th

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Happy New Year everybody!

I have returned after a lovely Christmas break with a particularly ill-timed cold (no pun intended). It was actually the first proper Christmas holiday I’ve had for five years due to doing bar work for what seems like an age, so I made sure to relax, eat a lot of cake and read plenty of books. It was also nice to be on the other side of the bar when I did venture out to the local watering-hole. My only resolution for this year, I think, is to blog more regularly! And perhaps to get a place at library school of some form.

Speaking of library school, and school in general, I graduated last month! So I am officially a Master of Arts, which is a bit scary as it seems like only three months ago since I started, and I suffer from constant ‘imposter syndrome’. Still, it was worth all the hard graft and lack of sleep! My degree was definitely the best Christmas present I received.

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Look, it’s me posing in my gown! No mortarboards at Leeds, sadly.

I managed to get my application to UCL in too, after much transcript and application portal stress. I was only informed of my final MA grade on November 27th, and graduation wasn’t until December 18th, so I was cutting it a little fine. It’s in now, though, so fingers crossed. (And on to the next ones!)

I’m actually excited to be back at work, although the 6am start this morning was a bit of a shock! I’ve finished my time with Acquisitions for now, and I almost got the hang of RDA cataloguing and processing orders. I’ll be back with them for a while this semester for more practise, as I kept being stolen for teaching sessions before Christmas, so that’ll be good – I can flex my cataloguing muscles once more! I have lots to be getting on with for a couple of weeks, and will be starting my time in Special Collections soon, which I’m very much looking forward to.

I will also be learning how to teach this semester! After the reflections at Library Camp about the lack of teaching preparation for LIS students, this is fortuitous indeed. Kirsty, the Engineering Librarian here at Bradford, is doing her Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy portfolio, and asked if I’d like to help her with teaching some of her MSc students. She’s set up an intensive six-week course for them to learn the necessary library skills for their independent research and assignments, and I shall be embarking on that quest with her. I’m not sure if I recall talk of me leading a session in the meeting, but the nagging feeling of abject terror tells me I may be correct! We’ll be having a prep meeting once a week until their course starts, so we have plenty of time to prepare and sort out materials and session content (more on these soon – I’ve left my notebook somewhere!), and we’ll also be making notes during our meetings so we have a record of me being mentored. I’ve not been mentored before, so I have no demands as such, but it’s going to be great experience for both of us and I’m sure once I get over the fear it’ll be fun!

I’m also trying to organise some visits to other libraries at the moment, to get more of a feel of the professional landscape. If anyone in the Yorkshire area would like to exchange visits, do let me know! So far I’ve been in touch with six libraries around Leeds, academic and otherwise, and everyone seems very friendly and helpful. I’m looking forward to getting out into the field, as it were!

I shall update very soon with more detailed news, but as I said, my notebook appears to still be on holiday, so intricate details and spur-of-the-moment thoughts I had are not by my side at the moment. Plus, as it’s the first day back, it’s definitely time for a cup of tea…

5th December – Library Camp Part Two

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Good evening folks! Here, as promised, is the hotly-anticipated (ha!) second instalment of my Library Camp musings. (If it’s not quite as readable as part one, I apologise: I saw my favourite band ever last night so am on something of an emotional comedown today!)

 

The third session I attended was on Learning to Teach. As this has been a very big part of my first month and a half of Graduate Trainee-ing, this seemed an appropriate session. As librarians who work in schools, colleges and universities well know, teaching is a huge and very important part of the job, but doesn’t seem to be included on anybody’s MA course when they’re qualifying. Interestingly, when I spoke to my mum about this (Momma House qualified about thirty-five years ago!), she said there was concern about this when she was qualifying, so it would seem nothing has changed on that front for a long time!

 

I can’t help but think it would be a good idea. Teaching – or perhaps teaching well – is something that isn’t innate (in my case, anyway). One point well-made was that members of staff who teach need to be aware of differentiation, which is something I’d never even heard of! Also, that teaching needs to be engaging but not exclusionary – activities like role-play may be fine for some students, but for the other students like me who shrink from such things, classes need to include more learning options. In short, everyone has a different learning style and comes to a class with differing learning needs, and sessions need to be able to address most, if not all, of these. There is also an element of the learning process which means that the students need to be able to teach themselves. This made me think of a Health Studies session I helped out with recently – Donna (the Health Studies Librarian, who looks after lots of students!) had put together some activity cards to guide students through and get them to use some of the main Health Studies databases – EBSCO, PubMed and the like. So while we were there to help, the students were doing, rather than listening. I also stole a few of the sheets as health searches seem to be structured differently to the literature-based databases I’ve used in the past. If anyone needs help with searching for Charles Brockden Brown, I’m your girl, haha!

Another thing that came up was promotion of sessions. Often, as I have seen with my own eyes, students assume that as Library teaching sessions are not compulsory, they’re not necessary. Sessions need to be pitched at what the students actually need – there is some discussion about second semester workshops going on at Bradford at the moment! Perhaps by strengthening links with departmental staff, and asking lecturers to help get across the importance of information literacy skills (and therefore Library sessions and workshops) could help this.

 

There are, of course, professional teaching qualifications that can be done, or college courses (I know my brother did one while he was job-hunting), but it would depend on personal commitments. The best course of action seemed to be to help out with as many teaching sessions as you can, which is something I’m luckily not short of in my traineeship! I have now figured out exactly how to explain secondary referencing to first years in a coherent fashion: I think.

 

 

I also attended a session for the ‘Special Librarians’ – that is, librarians who don’t work in libraries. There were a few of us trainees and pre-MA people there, just to see what options there are outside academic or public libraries. The range of jobs was quite fascinating and very different! From corporate companies to the BBC, to museums, all of it sounded interesting. It’s good to know that the qualification won’t limit job opportunities (as much as I love it, I would definitely consider doing something outside academia). The most important thing I gathered was to expand search terms (‘information professional’ rather than ‘librarian’), and to be able to sell yourself to organisations. Another thing was having a keen awareness of who your users are, exactly what you do for them, and to be able to go out and meet those users rather than wait for them to come to you. This does happen at Bradford with the Library on Location slots the academic librarians organise, although I have yet to go out and meet the students in their non-Library habitat! Alison in Special Collections also does a great job of getting the collections recognition and promoting them online for users who may not be studying at the University.

I also managed to do a bit of networking on Momma H’s behalf in this session – someone mentioned prison libraries, so I went over and introduced myself and asked about what she’d like to find out about. Momma H is a long-qualified librarian (the only one left in our home county prison service, I think) and very experienced in working in prison libraries, so it was nice to enthuse about that, pass on her email address and explain a bit more about what she does. Never a dull moment in prison libraries as far as I can tell!

 

I’m afraid I snuck off for a walk round the Library of Birmingham. It is fantastic! Very busy, but as a building it just begs to be explored, there’s so many different sections and the snazzy escalators (especially when backed by shelves of old leather-bound volumes) were really cool! I went up on to the balcony thing, with the view over the Symphony Hall and ice rink, it was beautiful. Momma H tells me the music library is brilliant, but sadly I didn’t get time to go and have a look! I think we’re going to meet up there for a day at some point soon. There is also a very intriguing glass lift at the top of the building, but there was a massive queue to get in it – does anyone know where it goes?!

Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay for a pint after the winners of the cake competition were announced (I didn’t win, but all my cake got eaten, which I will take as a compliment!), as trains back to Leeds are only once an hour and take bloody ages. But I hope everyone had a lovely, well-deserved bevvy, and well done to the organisers of Library Camp! I’ll definitely be coming to the next one!

2nd December – Library Camp Part One

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So, it’s been an age since I updated! This will be formed, in part, of bulletpoints, as I have tucked myself up in bed at 8:25pm, like the true punk kid I am…

 

On Saturday I attended my first Library Camp, which was held at the Library of Birmingham. Despite the 6:30am wake-up call (on a Saturday? My 19 year old self would be surprised), I was at Leeds station, cake in hand and raring to go!

 

I attended sessions on social media in libraries, being an LIS student, Learning to Teach, Special Librarians (those who don’t work in libraries), and then snuck off for a quick wander around the library for the last hour.

 

The social media session was really interesting as it’s something that I’ve never been so encouraged to use in a professional sense – hence my terrible blogging skills and Twitterings. Anyway, the main points seemed to be that social media as a whole is a very powerful tool, yet requires some planning and careful usage. On the whole though, everyone was really enthusiastic about the potential of social media to become a fantastic promotion machine, as well as a great networking tool, and I agree! Some of the basic points covered were:

~ Social media should be about conversations and interactions with users/students/customers

~ It’s important for front-line staff to have input, as they see people every day

~ The use of multimedia becoming more prevalent (videos, slideshows)

~ Having an image, perhaps, or a face – something recognisable. Batgirl and Mr Potato Head were two very successful candidates (I think these were both patrons of public libraries and champions of children’s literature, though I may be mistaken!)

 

I managed to sort-of gatecrash the LIS student session – it wasn’t strictly for the trainees, but I thought it would be valuable to hear people talking about their courses, how they’re structured, what works and what doesn’t. There was mainly a strong Sheffield and UCL cohort there, which was helpful as I’m applying to both of those.

The most important thing I learnt was that I think I am most definitely not cut out for distance learning! Even being a part-time student during my MA upset me sometimes as I’d always be dashing off to go to work while all the social things, conferences and reading groups were going on. I think distance learning would be very, very hard for me, as I find having a support network of other students (not to mention the tutors!) paramount, and the whole experience of being at a bustling university makes me very happy indeed.

That being said, I wouldn’t fancy full-time either – I don’t know when anybody on my MA course [as a full-time student] ever slept, and the financial burden would be too heavy. Plus, I really enjoyed having more time to do my research and immerse myself more fully in one module at a time, and I got so much more than I expected out of my degree doing it that way. I also find working a welcome distraction at times, as studying can be a very lonely and wading-through-treacle-like experience. Part-time study does require time management (although I would argue no more than full-time study), but as I’ve explained to many folk, if I can hold down two jobs and finish an MA dissertation to the best of my ability, then I think I have that covered!

As I have so much more to say, I think I will leave the last two sessions until tomorrow, and spread the Library Camp joy a little further!

 

In other news, life is much the same at Bradford for me: busy as always! Lots of helping with teaching and exams last week too, and the front desks are noticeably busier as we draw closer to assignment deadlines. Things have calmed down a little in terms of my timetable as I’m with Acquisitions when not running around. I’m learning to do cataloguing, which is coming along slowly but surely – luckily my colleague Andy is also being trained on this so I have somebody to discuss (which really means argue) the finer points of punctuation and RDA content with!

18th November

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Good morning world!

Well, what have I been up to? Last week was busy and seemed to pass in a flash.

I was allowed to go it alone on the enquiry desk on the first floor (where some of the books live), which is something that the subject librarians do throughout the week. When you’re on the desk, you’re a second port of call for help for the students, and questions can be varied in the extreme. As usual, I was slightly terrified about this! It proved to be fine though, as I had only to contend with ‘Do you have a stapler?’ and ‘Where can I find 005.336?’, so nothing too complex for my first solo effort!

I also attended a meeting about performance measurement and benchmarking on Monday morning. Basically, the Library is implementing new ways to measure how effective the service is for all the different kinds of students that come to the University, by way of mapping customer journeys. This involves (as far as I can gather, and in very simple terms), putting together a sort of timeline that involves what the students need and expect from the Library when they come here, and also what happens back-of-house to make sure these needs are met and that communication is effective. This seems like a marvellous idea to me, especially the communication part, as it can be unsettling when you come to university and have to learn new systems and library use policies (my school library was about the size of one the computer suites here at Bradford, so it was a step up!). Anyway, my role in this is to put together a literature review regarding how library users are usually segmented for such purposes. I’ve never done a literature review in the purest sense, being an English graduate, but my degrees have involved absorbing and presenting quite a wide range of critical and cultural material throughout, so I should be okay (fingers crossed!). Luckily – or perhaps unluckily for him – my brother is a sociologist so he’s very au fait with such things. No doubt I’ll be getting him to read over it for me!

I took part in another school session as well, which was quite fun, and once again actually managed to help the students out a bit. Upon being asked to find a book on the catalogue in relation to their research project, and then go and locate it in our library, one of the students managed to choose a text that had a classmark of something like 567.94857365 ART, which was impressive! Nothing like jumping in at the deep end, eh?

I also had a meeting with Martin, who works in Special Collections with Alison, which was fun! I have to say that Martin is the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t look at me blankly when I said I did my MA dissertation on ventriloquism and silence in Charles Brockden Brown, which was refreshing! Most people say, “Oh… who?”, listen politely, and then move the conversation on!  American literature aside, we talked a bit more about the collections, the art that Bradford holds and what working with these things entails (I’m still massively looking forward to it!). He also showed me a couple of projects he’s working on that I might be helping out with, and I got to learn a bit more about Isaac Holden (merchant and politician extraordinaire), whose letters I’ve had a peek at.

I have my one-month review tomorrow with my manager Sarah, who is absolutely lovely, so I’m hoping it goes well! I might bring in some biscuits to ease the terror. Will update on how that goes next week.

In non-Bradford-related news, I did indeed go to the Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library yesterday, which was lovely! I love being at the British Library anyway (especially the shop!), so an excellent time was had. They had some wonderful things there, and some of the books and playbills on display were amazing, such a privilege to be able to see them. The miniature children’s books were so gorgeous! I also noticed that there were some Georgian shoes all the way from the Shoe Museum in Northampton (somewhere I always drag first-time Northampton visitors to)! I was very proud to see my hometown’s heritage in a more national exhibition.

Anyhow, I shall stop rambling for now – I realise I need to do a 23 Things update, so I may try and slot that in slightly later in the week! I have joined LinkedIn, however, and my Twittering can be found below, but I need to get on with the slideshow/videocast stuff (don’t worry, there’ll be no videos of me talking about books, haha!).

1st November

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Good morning!

I realise I have been slow on the blogging front: the last two weeks have been hectic, but very enjoyable! As a result, this post will be slightly long-winded, I apologise (I will settle on a weekly slot in which I can blog to my heart’s content). Anyway, thus far I’ve adopted the approach of saying ‘yes’ to everything here at Bradford, and getting stuck in, and I feel like so far it’s working.

I’ve mostly been spending my mornings meeting with Subject Librarians and the back-of-house team, and finding out a bit more about what they do, and then my afternoons are spent with Customer Services. I’m happy to say that although I was slightly terrified about serving students on the front desk, I now sort of know what I’m talking about! (I think my terror of this was more of a deep-seated trait to feel like I should know EVERYTHING NOW, rather than the students themselves!) A colleague joked that after a fortnight I ‘almost’ looked like I knew what I was doing, which I took as a compliment. I can do the basics, but complex directional and procedural queries still leave me a bit baffled. I’ve also surprised myself by managing to help students out in a couple of teaching sessions: that being said, the nursing students taught me a bit about using and searching EBSCO themselves (it turns out that maggot therapy is actually a thing – who knew!).

Bradford has two really good collections in the form of the Commonweal Collection and the Special Collections, so I’m looking forward to working with those and finding out more about the process of acquiring, cataloguing, sorting – generally, the creation of such things, and how they can be promoted so that people get the best out of them (and finding out more about Bradford and the University itself, I am hopeless at Yorkshire history!). Alison (the Special Collections Librarian) very kindly got some of the Special Collections items out for me to have a look at, and it is no exaggeration to say I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

I’ve also been getting to grips with tools the students can use to help with their studies – luckily, I’ve used a very similar catalogue in my previous studies, so am well-versed in that respect already! Bradford has just launched a new search engine called Summon, which searches all the electronic subscriptions the Library has, as well as the catalogue. Summon is, in my opinion, an amazing thing (I’ve never had the privilege of being able to use a search engine like that), and I’ve already seen at least one student be shown Summon and find the journal article they were desperately seeking almost immediately! The publicity for Summon around the University has been really good, and everyone has been working really hard to get it up and running, so I think the students will soon be reaping the benefits of it. I also sat in on a teaching session about EndNote – something equally amazing and helpful that I have never used! Having written two dissertation bibliographies by hand (and gone through the trauma of not saving one and having to re-type it), I can admit that I am a little jealous of Bradford students! Although once I undertake my project later this year, I’m sure I’ll put these things to use.

 

In other news, I’ve now joined CILIP (student membership ahoy!) and am starting to explore the world of the internet in terms of groups and helpful pages for budding librarians, so will hopefully be in the loop about events and so forth. I’m starting to think about Library and Information MA courses too (any advice on these is most welcome). I’ve already raised the idea of a library workers Leeds meet-up with my colleague Suzi (who is doing her MA at Sheffield at the moment), which will be really nice and probably fairly nerdy. Apparently I am also to embark upon the Bradford curry experience next week with some folk from the Library, which will be lovely!