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.

10th February

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It has been an AGE since I have blogged, so I apologise! As usual, the days seem to fly past – I can’t believe it’s February already.

I had my first MSc teaching session with Kirsty last week, which went well! I had been off sick for the two days beforehand, but managed to rally my body and mind for the big day. We began our mini-library-course with a session on ‘Finding Quality Journal Articles’, with Kirsty leading and me attempting to answer fairly complex questions about cellular beams and automotive engines… but I think I did okay! My name is on the Powerpoint too – I’m famous (ish)!

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We started by asking them a few questions about where they would look for resources, and how confident they felt about using the library and undertaking their research project. This was via the medium of a little questionnaire on Blackboard (thanks to Sarah, my line manager, who is a whizz at such things!). Our thinking was that we can run a similar questionnaire at the end and compare the responses to see what we’ve achieved, and will have qualitative and quantitative data to take back to the department.

We had lots of helpful leaflets and guides for them too. Personally, I love a good hand-out, as you can review it at home (and I prefer having things on paper!). It’s also helpful when students don’t speak English as their first language, so might miss something that’s said during a talk or demonstration – with written materials, they can go through it at their own pace. Kirsty showed them the main databases that they need to use, which does differ slightly across disciplines – but things like ScienceDirect and Web of Science are things all the Engineering students can use to their advantage. However, they need to be aware of databases that are abstract-only affairs, and ones that have everything in full-text. This is mainly why I try and talk people out of Google Scholar until everything else has been exhausted: it shows you lots of things that look extremely helpful that you end up not being able to access! The bane of my MA career!

We tried to get them to start exploring the world of electronic journal resources in more depth for their MSc dissertations, so all the questions were quite specific. I’m still not sure what a cellular beam is, but I did manage to help someone find a relevant full-text article from EBSCO, and got a low-five for my trouble! That was a nice moment, I felt proud to have genuinely helped!

I also sat in on one of Alison’s sessions last week, wherein she spoke to History students about using Special Collections and archives for their dissertations. I always jump at anything remotely Special Collections-related, so this was great! To be honest, I was a little jealous that they were given this opportunity and wished I was doing a project again. I did consider doing History and English for my undergrad degree, but decided one book-heavy discipline was probably enough… Alison’s session did make me think, though, that we weren’t really told to use archives, how one might go about using them, or even that they might be helpful. Sadly, I wasn’t able to fly to Princeton during my undergraduate degree to look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ledger, either – woe is me! For my MA I relied heavily on Eighteenth Century Collections Online for my background research (which is totally fabulous, and I suggest everybody have a browse), as eighteenth-century American political tracts aren’t always easy to come by in their original form! That being said, there are so many things that are useful that are available to the students both in Bradford and other archives in the UK, and it’s great that Alison and Martin are so enthusiastic about helping people get the most out of them. I also had a good goggle at the materials they’d got out to show the students – always the best bit, it’s hard to pry me away from primary sources!

Speaking of Special Collections and things, I went to the John Rylands Library in Manchester on Saturday with some of the University of Sheffield Library Society. It was wonderful, and I didn’t want to leave! But as I have much more to say on that subject, I shall save it for another day. I stupidly left my phone in the lockers before our tour, so will probably have to appropriate some of their photos with all due credit. But I shall leave you with the one photo I managed to take outside as the rain began lashing down (it’s Manchester, I should have known) – I love some Victorian high drama!

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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!).