Supporting library users is a key part of my role as a graduate trainee and encompasses a wide range of duties from assisting new students with finding books to contributing towards an environment where they feel their voice is being heard. Working within student engagement really stretches one’s capacity to think creatively and find novel ways of grabbing people’s attention. A definite highlight for me was researching quotes for the banned book display that I set up on the ground floor. I was prepared for some of the accusations made against Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses, but truly surprised to learn that Toni Morrison’s Beloved was anathema to a US politician as recently as 2017. Before coming to work at the Albert Sloman I tended to regard libraries as neutral spaces that serve a purely intellectual purpose. I now think it’s fair to say that academic libraries reflect the values of the organisations they serve and play an active role in promoting a sense of community and shared values. The Albert Sloman is committed to goals such as diversity and equality, and throughout the course of the year the trainees have participated in promoting BHM and LGBT history month as well as helped to raise awareness of various ways that the library and university can assist students with their studies and overall wellbeing.
Last week myself, Jake and Katrina went to visit the Sixth Form College, Colchester to meet staff and learn about their library. Our hosts were very welcoming, and it was really good to share experiences of working in libraries as well as see how their library operates. One thing I’ve found with the different visits we’ve been on is that there are a lot of shared experiences, and it’s good to know you’re in the same boat.
Despite attempts made by the weather we weren’t deterred from visiting the British Library this week. Our staff here have been looking forward to becoming more familiar with the UK’s national library for a number of months and having the opportunity to discover some of its hidden gems first-hand. It was fascinating to learn more about how this institution operates. The British Library is not just of huge cultural importance but also assists with important day-to-day services here at the Albert Sloman and elsewhere. Most of the inter-library loan requests taken from staff and students through us here are retrieved from the British Library. Their extensive collection is a truly impressive resource. With the rights to a copy of every UK and Irish publication their collection includes over 150 million items and is continuously growing – by 12km a year. It’s a good first port of call for those books and journals that aren’t normally included in an academic library’s collections, and they operate the world’s largest document delivery service.
‘Authorities shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. Section 28, Local Government Act, 1988.
2018 marks thirty years since Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Section 28, a notorious policy which prevented schools and local authorities from promoting LGBT+ issues. At the time, the policy announcement was surrounded by a media-driven moral panic over the ‘gay lobby’; despite the fact that homosexual acts were decriminalised over twenty years before. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail wrote that ‘homosexual activists use sex lessons to promote their own lifestyle’, adding that ‘they brainwash youngsters through propaganda in public and school libraries’. (Daily Mail, October 6 1986, p. 9.) Other papers such as the Sunday Telegraph also defended Section 28, suggesting that sexual orientation was dependent upon the company that students choose to keep at school, and even went as far to suggest that the young needed protection ‘from this decadent and disgusting way of life’. (Sunday Telegraph, January 31 1988, p. 22.)
Life is full of revelations.
I love learning new things and seeing things from a different perspective. As a child I remember the moment of revelation when using a poorly designed household appliance and my Dad pointing out that every object we use has to be designed by someone – either well or badly. I started to think about those people who had designed things well, and how people they would never meet could benefit from their thoughtfulness and skill.
So what has this to do with cataloguing?
On the one hand, cataloguing is a skill that I’ve always been curious about, because I like to know the whole picture and how things fit together. But also, because it’s so important to be accurate when cataloguing because it will affect the end user. There’s not an immediate reward for these skills, and there’s not a little note that pops up on the library search engine saying “catalogued by Eleanor, rate her skills today!”. But there is a sense of achievement when you’re making marks on a bibliographic record and it comes back from checking with no corrections. You know that by doing a good job you’re indirectly helping someone, and making their life that little bit easier.
Hello, my name is Jake and I am one of three graduate trainees employed here at the Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex. I completed both my BA and MA in history here at Essex, and with that in mind, it seemed like the perfect place to also undertake a graduate trainee scheme. Moreover, for someone with no previous library experience, I was really motivated by the prospect of working within all of the different library departments, which the scheme at Essex offers.