Public libraries – more than ‘just’ books

What a silly title for a blog post. Books are never ‘just’ books. Books are one of the best things in the world, if you ask me. And my parents would have gone bankrupt, had they had to buy all the books I took out from the public library as a kid. And yet, public libraries offer so much more than ‘just’ books.

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(Image via Pexels)

As part of this term’s module on ‘Managing Library Services’, I have been thinking about public libraries a lot. Since I started the MSc, I have always been more interested in academic libraries – very predictable perhaps, since I work in higher education. This term, however, has been an eye opener with regards to the millions of things that public libraries do other than lending books.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the value of libraries, given the news about the plans of Lambeth Council to turn two of its libraries into gyms. What follows is a random list of some great stuff going on in public libraries – just some articles I’ve come across on the internet. And it’s in no way extensive. Of course it’s not. As I said above, there are millions of innovative things that public libraries do!

1. There is the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme. This is a scheme, delivered by the Reading Agency and the Society of Chief Librarians, by which GPs and other healthcare professionals use self-help reading – with the books being available from the library – to treat mild to moderate mental health conditions. I have just read that the scheme has been extended to young people.

2. A bit further away from home (I did say this would be a random list), San Francisco Public Library’s mobile kitchen, the Biblio Bistro, is used to teach users how to cook food.

3. Libraries also provide information and support for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, for example through the British Library’s Business and IP Centre National Network. The Enterprise Hub run by Northamptonshire Libraries is part of the network and has won the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award in 2014. (I could go on about this forever as my current assignment is all about enterprise services. Probably best to stop here though.)

4. Once again looking to the States, libraries are hiring outreach workers for homeless users.

5. Back at home, the Library of Birmingham has been the stage for a play – Hamlets.

6. And New York Public Library users can borrow WiFi hotspots, through the Library HotSpot programme, bringing the internet to many people who would otherwise be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

7. Staying with the theme of technology, more and more public libraries offer Makerspace workshops, were users can try out technologies such as 3D-printing. For example, looking to my home country, the Cologne Public Library.

There we go – just a few examples. I would love to hear about other examples of libraries being innovative. This list has the potential to become very long!

 

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Baby’s first trip to the library

childrens library

(image via pixabay)

Personally, I believe you can’t start early enough taking your child to the library. Consequently, I got my lovely baby daughter a library card when she was just over five weeks old. As we happened to be in the city centre that day, we went to the magnificent Library of Birmingham, which of course you can see on the picture below. They have a lovely Children’s Library  on the lower ground floor and even a small collection of German books for kids of all ages. Since German is my first language, this is pretty cool.

Library of Birmingham

(image: my own)

On a daily basis, however, other libraries are much closer to where we live. Stirchley Library is in walking distance, and we are yet to check out their weekly Story & Rhyme sessions on Tuesday mornings – we’re already going to Baby Sensory classes that day. (Yes, my baby has a better social life than me.) But a couple of my friends with babies have been and I have heard that the sessions are very popular and well worth going too.

And last Friday, we made the short car journey to Northfield Library to go to the monthly Book-a-Boo! session. My baby might have slept through the whole hour of stories and nursery rhymes, but I like to think that she’ll grow up to see libraries as an exciting place full of stories and fun, if we continue to visit them. It was lovely to see the older kids engage with the stories too. And it’s all free!

I had a quick browse of the board books at Northfield Library and got quite excited about all the books – I’m sure we’ll be making best use of the collections in the not so distant future. For now, the baby is quite happy with the small selection of high contrast black-and-white books we’ve got at home.

In short, our libraries are great places (despite all the painful cut-backs on funding) – take your children there! I certainly will continue to do so.

Have baby, will study

If you read back through my older posts, you’ll see that I took leave of absence from my Masters programme last semester. Well, I had a very good reason, I think – I was pregnant with our first baby.

Fast forward to March 2016: our lovely baby daughter has been here since the start of the year and I’ve been back to studying since February.

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been worried about returning to study. I wasn’t sure whether I’d find the time to study with a newborn baby, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d even be interested in studying. After all, you only have your first baby once.

Well, so far, things have turned out fine. After all, my course is a part-time programme, so by definition the workload is less than it would be for a full-time programme. And although looking after a young baby is pretty hard work, at least I’m at home in the day and can sit down to study whenever the baby naps. It also helps that I’m still fascinated by the world of information and librarianship. I’m not saying studying with a baby easy – it’s really hard. But here are some things that have helped me in the last few weeks:

  1. This first tip is actually from my coursemate who was in a similar situation a year ago – only that she didn’t even take time off when she was pregnant. That woman is a hero! Read papers on your phone whilst breastfeeding. Especially at night, when there really isn’t much else to do.
  2. This goes along with 1.): use mobile technology. I use Mendeley to organise my references and PDFs, and it’s pretty nifty how you can access your PDFs on any device that runs Mendeley, such as my mobile phone. No doubt other reference managers do similar stuff.
  3. Get yourself a sling. My baby loves sleeping in the sling. She’s close to me, and I have my hands free to type on the laptop. We both win.
  4. Enjoy the ‘me’ time. Most of the time, studying isn’t a chore for me, but something that I really enjoy doing. (It certainly helps that my current module on managing library services is massively interesting.)
  5. Be organised. So, know when your deadlines are. Stay on top of your weekly workload. Easier said than done – but it’s important not to fall behind.
  6. Get support from your family. I couldn’t do this without my amazing husband.
  7. Don’t expect to be perfect. Not an easy task if you’re a perfectionist! But my mantra whilst writing my current assignment has been: you just need to pass, you don’t need to achieve a top mark. (Incidentially, this also applies to being a new parent in general!)

My first assignment is due next week – wish me luck!

 

Study skills

Never mind the break I’m taking this term, I have passed the first year of my part-time MSc with flying colours! I scored As for for three of my modules, and a B for the fourth one. So, yes, I am rather pleased that all the hard work did pay off.

What follows are some things I learnt (often the hard way) in my first year of being a student again. Note to self: do read this post before you return to studying in February!

open book, cup of coffee, biscuits
Don’t worry about the assessment at the start of term

On my course, the assignment briefs are published right at the start of term, although the work usually isn’t due until the end of term, or at least not before a substantial part of term has passed.

In the first semester, I read the assignment briefs on Day 1… and panicked. This is especially true of one of the two modules that I took that term. I didn’t understand the terminology, I didn’t understand what we were asked to do, I didn’t have a clue of how to tackle the task. Cue some random googling of terms and perusing of papers.*

I really shouldn’t have worried. The modules on my course are actually structured so that you pick up the skills and knowledge that you need for the assignments on the way. Sounds elementary, but I really didn’t think about this and wasted a lot of time worrying about the assignment far too early. What you should do instead (and luckily I also did this!): engage with the module, do the weekly readings, participate in exercises and forum discussions. By all means do have the assignment brief in the back of your mind, but don’t stress about it from the start. And, as if by magic, things will become much clearer as you go along!

* This is not how anybody should approach an assignment, but especially not a librarian-to-be!

Talk to your fellow students

As I’m a distance learning student, this is somewhat more difficult than it would be on a campus-based programme, where you’re all sat in a classroom together. In the second term, I joined a couple of Facebook groups for my modules and they turned out to be the best support network ever. It was just massively reassuring to see how we were all struggling with the same questions. We all motivated each other to persevere, especially in the days (and hours!) before deadlines. Much better than struggling along by yourself.
Read the assignment brief carefully
Ask questions about it. Be clear about what is required, and what isn’t. Break questions down – sometimes it can sound like you need to do a lot of complicated work (especially if practical work is required), but do check carefully what you actually need to do. After a year on the programme, I can now judge much better what the required standards are. And as I found out to my relief, they are not always as high as the standards I set myself! Turns out, your lecturers do want you to pass, as long as you’ve put in the required work along the way!
Make connections between the curriculum and the real world

When I was learning about cataloguing and struggling with MARC, RDA & Co., I contacted one of the librarians at the nearest university library and asked if I she had time for me to come along and ask her questions about it. She not only agreed to that, but also arranged for me to sit with one of the cataloguers for a couple of hours. Librarians just are the most helpful people! Those two hours spent in the library were invaluable, because I could finally connect the theory from the course to the real world. MARC made so much more sense after I had tried to catalogue a couple of items myself! So, whether you’re studying librarianship or another subject, do ask people who already work in the field for help if you can.

On taking a break

The new term at Robert Gordon University starts on Monday but I won’t be amongst the students returning to the part-time MSc in Information and Library Studies. This term, I’ll be taking a break from studying. Don’t worry: It’s all good – it’s because I have rather EXCITING and BIG things going on at home  (alongside still working in my full-time day job for the time being)!

I’ll get back into the swing of things in the next term, which starts in February 2016. That really isn’t too far away if you think about it. And if I do get bored in the meantime, I have these babies waiting for me on the bookshelf in the study:

Stack of books

I’m of course still following all the lovely librarians on Twitter and reading my favourite blogs to stay up-to-date with the library world, so although I won’t be moaning about my MSc workload and assignments on here for a while, I do hope to continue to blog every now and then!

And if you are a student starting a  new term on Monday – best of luck!

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Hamlets at the Library of Birmingham

No, no, no, it’s not a typo up there in the title, the performance I saw at the Library of Birmingham the other week really was called Hamlets with an -s. It was an adaptation of the famous play and it was also one of the best, most exhilarating theatre experiences I’ve had in a while.

Why? Firstly, it was set in the Library of Birmingham, probably the most exciting building in Birmingham. And I’m not just saying this as a library student:

Library of Birmingham

There was no fourth wall in this performance. We started in the foyer and were taken to various parts of the building as the action unfolded, sometimes with the actors literally all around us. The Library here doubled as the Hamlet archives, with boxes with archival material strewn around, and “archivists” guiding us from one location to the next.

You know how the Library of Birmingham is an amazing building? Just imagine being there after hours, with nothing than a group of actors and some fellow audience members to keep you company. It is brilliant. Just look at this view:

Library of Birmingham at night

Secondly, I loved what the director, Daniel Tyler, did with the text. In a nutshell, he took Hamlet apart and then put the pieces back together. I loved how refreshing this approach was – it might just be my perception, but I felt that this performance was much less in awe of the Bard than many others I have seen.

We all got given a visit checklist. Of course I checked off the scenes as we went along – I cannot go past a good checklist!

Checklist

The actors were fantastic and really devoted themselves to their roles. There was not one, but about a dozen different Hamlets. In line with the archives theme, we had actors representing previous incarnations or archetypes of Hamlet, e.g. the female Hamlet, the Sarah Bernhardt Hamlet and the Wild West Hamlet. There also were multiple Ophelias. Here you can see Gertrude and Claudius (and some archive boxes, if you look closely):

Scene from Hamlets

Some of my favourite parts?

  • The ghost scene which took place in the Secret Garden – outside on the rooftop terrace – after nightfall. Eery!
  • The Hamlet monologues – many, many different versions happening at the same time. This included a Punjabi version, a ‘Hamlet challenge’ where audience members had to fill in the gaps in the monologue, and a silent movie version.
  • The Mousetrap. I don’t think there would have been a better way to use the Library, as both the audience and the actors (who were also the audience here) were strategically placed on two levels around the rotunda.
  • Hamlet going mad: pandemonium enfolding all around the audience over an entire floor. We were free to go anywhere on that level, and wherever you looked, something was going on.

(I saw: Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Library of Birmingham & Hôtel Teatro Theatre Company present a Young REP 18-25 Company production Hamlets.  Based on William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Adapted and directed by Daniel Tyler)