Jigsaws and the power of three – a term at the Albert Sloman Library

The Albert Sloman Library is the biggest library I’ve worked in so far, and the opportunities are many and diverse. However if pressed (and I realise no-one is asking) I would say the most important thing I’ve learnt this term is a better understanding of how different departments and aspects of library work fit together. I’ve wanted to learn more ‘behind the scenes’ skills of library and information work –  not purely out of intellectual curiosity, but because I think informed staff are better equipped to help. For example, even before the start of term I had some training on reading lists using Talis, and was therefore able to help a staff member who was having difficulties getting his list just right for the start of term.

Writing a blog post to cover everything from this term is simply not possible. So I’ve decided to posit ‘three somethings’ that may give some insight in to the trainee post so far.

But first, a bit of context to the term for the three of us.

Lego Studying_Landscape

We started the term all working together in Student Engagement and Learning Support, where we had overall responsibility for feedback and displays on the ground floor, helped out with welcome week, numerous events such as ‘Blind Date with a Book’ and Essex Crown, and lead information literacy sessions for students. In November I was invited to do some cataloguing as I’d expressed an interest in learning this intriguing skill. From December, myself and Katrina joined the Collections Team, and Jake is still with Student Engagement. We will rotate once again in February, then again in April and finally we’ll all have a chance to do a summer project.

The Power of Three

1. Something I was hoping to do

Having worked in libraries previously I was intrigued about the mysterious art of cataloguing. I had tried to read a few books on the subject, but as with any practical skill, trying to learn something without having the materials to hand is pretty difficult! So, armed with a very basic knowledge of MARC records and RDA, I was plunged in to the murky world of cataloguing. Actually, it was extremely enjoyable – I had a very good teacher, and was extremely pleased when I got back my first paper bibliographic record with no corrections! I also liked learning about the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) – a global library cooperative. This seems extremely altruistic, and I like the idea that a record created here could be used by someone across the other side of the world who is struggling to find the right metadata for a book – librarians are a generous bunch!

2. Something I never expected to be doing

There are a surprising number of potential answers. But I suppose the most obvious was dressing up in a shiny green cape and waving a wand. (This thoroughly impressed a good friend of mine, who is convinced that librarians have magic powers, I blame The Librarians). The reason for this was that the library ran a supernatural scavenger hunt as part of ‘Essex Crown’ – an interdepartmental competition for both staff and students. This was organised by the graduate trainees, and involved a series of library related tasks and puzzles. We were inspired by the library inductions, where treasure hunts are used to teach students about using the library, so perhaps our puzzles could be used in future to guide students around the library.

3. Something I was surprised by

Having come to the library with a focus on how the library serves its users, I was surprised by how much the Special Collections grabbed my interest. The Albert Sloman Library this year celebrated 50 years since opening (more of that in Katrina’s blog post) and so the trainees were called upon to deliver some ‘hidden gems’ tours. Learning about the special collections was a real eye-opener, and made me consider the role of libraries as curators and preservers of information. We were able to explore the basement stores and rolling stacks, with wonderful row upon row of interesting books, pamphlets and tomes (these are searchable via the library catalogue and students do request them). I found it fascinating to learn more about the backstory of particular collections. For example, a rather striking painting casually hanging in the special collections room has an intriguing tale giving an insight in to the 1920’s Parisian avant-garde scene. Titled ‘Woman with a Fox’, it was given to the library by Jim Ede, the founder of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. You can read more of the story here…

Of course the wonder of these gems is sharing them with others, and I was really touched by the responses of people and their appreciation of being able to view these hidden gems.

Thus ends my first term at the Albert Sloman Library – and already I’m looking forward to plans for next year. Watch this space!



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