Beware of the Swans, or, Collecting in Tough Times


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Let me take you back to a baking hot day earlier this year – yes, we had a summer and it was on June 8th.  I made the epic trip down to Kew for Collecting in Tough Times, a National Archives event which aimed “to explore how archive services can address the challenges of collecting in the context of shrinking resources”.  N.B. To allow candid discussion, the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule.  So I can’t be specific about who said what about their service, and you won’t find much trace of this event online.  You had to be there!  Still, I’ll try to give you a flavour of the discussions.


No story about the National Archives is complete without mention of the Swans. Alas, this time they had cygnets (cute!) so I didn’t get too close.

The four speakers (including me) were asked to be provocative, to encourage open debate about our situation and what we can do.  Without prior discussion and coming from very different institutions, we found ourselves in agreement.  In difficult times, archives need to think strategically, to be selective, to value our expertise and professionalism and the services we provide – and to understand we cannot collect or do it all.

I argued that we must tackle the burden of past passive collecting, deaccession effectively and collect strategically.  Other speakers covered working with volunteers, community archives, and charging corporate depositors for the investment of time, space, cataloguing etc in their archives.  In the workshops, we shared our collecting challenges, especially how to say no to deposits.  Never easy: having good policies on which to base decisions is vital.

The event was exemplary in the amount of time allowed for discussion, resulting in some really interesting and candid conversations: I got a great sense of how things are for my colleagues.  Not good: those in local authorities particularly are operating at incredibly low levels of staffing and often with little support and understanding.  But archivists aren’t accepting a cycle of decline: they are trying to find new ways to continue to care for collections and bring them to the public.

The good news? Audiences more than ever are keen to engage with heritage, whether for academic research, family history, or natural curiosity – and we have more ways than ever to share it with them.  So we can be confident that what we do is valuable – all we have to do is find ways to translate that into the support we need …

& here’s some cygnets they hatched earlier …

Why I Revalidated


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In 1994, librarians were learning how to do gopher searches (younger readers, this was a way to search the internet, just before the World Wide Web came along).  Acronym-laden databases on CD-ROM were delighting/scaring our users.  I became a Chartered Member of the Library Association (now CILIP).  The information world has changed a bit since then …


Not this sort of gopher … K Schneider, licence CC BY-NC 2.0

But my Chartership hasn’t.  For many years, you Chartered and that was that, job done.  Fellowship seemed to be only for the great and the good.  There was an optional revalidation process (when did this come in?  I can’t remember!) but it didn’t catch on.  Strange that a profession so connected with social and technological change should not require its Chartered Members to keep up with and reflect on new developments.

Well, now it does.  In 2014 CILIP introduced a much more friendly revalidation process for all levels of professional registration.  This is set to become compulsory in 2016.  Quite right too, I think.

The new process is not onerous.  Members must do at least 20 hours a year of continuous professional development (CPD): this can include using social media, talking to colleagues, reading professional publications and the like as well as conferences and committee work.  To revalidate, you use the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to submit your CPD log for the year and a 250 word reflective statement.  Unlike Chartership, there’s no need to supply any evidence of the CPD, and revalidation is free.

I sent in my application a couple of weeks ago and have just heard that it has been successful!  I’m delighted and am definitely going to revalidate every year.  Doing so demonstrates to my employer and anyone else who might be interested my commitment to improving my skills.

I must admit I did NOT find the VLE easy or intuitive to use.  Fortunately  there is plenty of help to be had:

  • CILIP’s regional networks offer training sessions on revalidation.  Our local Mentor Support Officer, Maureen Pinder, who happens to be a colleague at Bradford, was most helpful.   Several librarians here are in the process of submitting and we found that a joint session sharing our problems and encouraging each other was a fun way to get it done.
  • Jo Alcock (Joeyanne Libraryanne) has written a series of posts on Hints and Tips for revalidation.  Jo was involved in developing the new scheme and ensuring it worked for busy librarians so that everyone would be able to afford the time and cost.

Best of luck to all revalidating librarians!

Why do librarians tweet about cake?


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I’ve taken on a challenging/fun writing project for 2016: summing up social media in libraries 2010-2015, for the next edition of British Librarianship and Information Work.  Crumbs!

How appropriate!  The Bodleian Library in cake form, courtesy Sally Crossthwaite's flickr stream under licence CC BY NC ND 2.0

Mmmm, cake.  The Radcliffe Camera (part of the Bodleian Library), courtesy Sally Crossthwaite’s flickr stream under licence CC BY NC ND 2.0

The deadline is autumn 2016, but I’ve started work already as the piece will need a great deal of planning, research and reflection. Finding information and evidence so that I’m not just rehashing anecdotes and personal experience will be vital – and difficult.  There’s plenty of “how to” and “why you should” when it comes to social media in libraries, but not a great deal of analysis or reflection.  I’ll need to take a creative and flexible approach to sources, which poses problems for a reference book i.e. online sources are incredibly prone to link rot.

Here’s some of the many, many fascinating questions I’ll be considering:

  1. What is distinctive about the way libraries/librarians engage with social media?
  2. What has been the impact of the rise of the smartphone and the app, and of creative commons and other licencing which allows sharing of images?
  3. Whatever happened to web 2.0?
  4. Is social media in libraries mature technology/core business?
  5. How have social networking platforms been used in librarians’ professional development?
  6. How are librarians teaching and supporting their readers in using social media?
  7. How are librarians choosing which platforms to use to interact with users?  How are they evaluating and justifying this use?
Good advice!  A typical library adaptation of a meme - Keep Calm etc etc became ubiquitous and "jumped the shark" during the time period my chapter will cover.  Courtesy Robert Burdock's flickr stream, licence CC BY NC ND 2.0.

Typical library adaptation of the Keep Calm meme which rose and “jumped the shark” during the time period of my chapter. Courtesy Robert Burdock’s flickr stream, licence CC BY NC ND 2.0.

8. And of course, why DOES cake feature so heavily in librarianly social networking?  Plenty of reasons – it’s lovely, shareable, doesn’t need plates etc,  photogenic, and can be formed into library shapes such as buildings or books.  I guess the revival of craftiness, Bake Off etc also plays a part as we have a large population of librarians who bake.

Anyway, I’d be very grateful for any hints, tips, references or comments, especially from librarians outside the worlds of higher education or special collections.  It would be great to hear from social media refuseniks, though I doubt they’ll be reading this.  I’ll be seeking them out via email lists later on!

Weeding and Working Together


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The National Archives have produced two really useful bits of guidance recently:

Deaccessioning and disposal: guidance for archive services will help safeguard vulnerable collections by outlining legal issues and professional principles and practices.

Guide to collaboration between the archive and higher education sectors has been produced jointly by TNA and Research Libraries UK.  It offers inspiration and realistic advice to archivists and academics on working together.

Bye Bye Basement!


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Fingers crossed and all that, my service, Special Collections at the University of Bradford, should get our long-awaited new premises in 2016.  Hooray!  Our project is part of a wider programme which will transform the lower floors of our 1970s Library to meet the needs of modern students.

Before: rambling, dark mazes full of odd stairs, awkward corners and pipes where you really don’t want them.  Not to mention our horrible mustard-coloured scary carpet.

Journal stacks, floor 02

This area is the home of the Library’s remaining collection of print journals – part of the long and winding journey from the Library entrance to our home in the basement.  The space has been much improved in recent years but is still very dingy and unappealing.

Corridor, floor 02

Random corridor to nowhere. If readers walk past the reading room, this is what they see …

After: lighter, brighter, tech-friendly spaces which make the most of every square metre of our small building.  We will have PD 5454 quality storage to keep the collections safe plus public spaces which allow for teaching, outreach, exhibitions and the use of all kinds of collections.  Not to mention people-friendly spaces for staff and volunteers, with room to catalogue archives.

We’re now at the stage of “plans with walls” and costing the project.  Since the autumn I’ve been to many meetings with colleagues to try to get all the things we need into the footprint to be refurbished.  It’s tight, but we’ve done it.  It’s been exciting working with the team from Farrell and Clark, our architects, and the other experts, seeing how they bring their expertise to solve problems that have puzzled us for years.  They have tried really hard to understand how we work and what we need – couldn’t ask for more.

I’m learning so much: will try to blog as much as possible to help others on the same journey.  Even if the project doesn’t go ahead, the work we have done will give us a headstart next time.

It’s been easier for us than it would otherwise have been because we have been preparing for this for so long.  I have learned that no matter how far off improvements may seem, there is an awful lot services can do now that will really help when the time comes.  For instance …

Archives Accreditation.  We decided to apply for Archives Accreditation in the knowledge that our premises are poor BUT we do the best we can, understand and manage the risks involved, and otherwise run an excellent service.  We hoped we could use the outcomes of the application to help us make the case for improvements.  It worked.  We received the award (provisional of course!) and it has indeed raised our profile in the University and given us independent external support for our need for better space.  Do consider applying if you’re in this situation – it is really worthwhile.

Save our Sounds!


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Sound recordings offer us extraordinary insights into the past.

To take just one example from my own experience.  I had read the text many times, but I never fully understood the popularity or impact of J.B. Priestley’s Second World War radio broadcasts until I heard him speak.  His homely, warm Yorkshire tones contrasted with the cutglass BBC English of the announcer and created a welcoming world of shared experience: intimate, comfortable, encouraging – a popular voice.


However sound recordings are extremely tricky to manage.  Like film, they present a mass of complications.  Sound recordings exist in many many formats, often short-lived and made of vulnerable materials.  These formats require equipment to access them.  This quickly becomes obsolete and hard to obtain.  Said equipment also must be stored and made available to listeners.  It is also more difficult to get a quick sense of the content of a sound recording compared to a photograph or a book.


From moonshake’s flickr stream under licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

All of which means that sound recordings in archives are less likely to be catalogued and made available than paper or photographic media.  Hidden from the public, many are deteriorating fast.  The British Library estimates that we only have only a few years before the task of preserving the national sound record becomes impossible …

Lots of excellent work is already being done by larger organisations, but there is much more to do.  The British Library is surveying the UK’s sound collections to find out more about what we have and whether it is at risk.   Please do complete the survey if you have any such collections – it’s a step towards preserving them.


Open reel audio tape from Idedeyan’s flickr stream under licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Part of the Dorrance Stalvey Papers (Collection Number 1896). UCLA Library Special Collections.

Updates from you?

Originally posted on Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland:

Thank you very much to everyone who sent an entry, new or revised, for the forthcoming edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland. As I write this, final edits are going ahead and I am firing off numerous emails to request clarification about particular collections. Thanks to everyone who is responding to queries quickly and with good humour.

If anything has happened with your collections since you submitted your entry – for example, if you have acquired any new printed special collections of any vintage (including 20th-21st century), disposed of collections, if you reported collections as uncatalogued that are now catalogued, etc, or indeed if you have moved location, changed telephone number or email address etc, please could you let me know by emailing by 31 January 2015?

(Dr) Karen Attar
Editor, Directory of Rare…

View original 11 more words

Meeting Medieval Manuscripts


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Mystified by medieval books?  I’m very impressed by a new series of online tutorials offering a fun and free introduction to these wonderful objects: how they were made and how they were used. Books and the dissemination of knowledge in medieval Europe was created by medieval book expert Erik Kwakkel.

Any excuse to share an image of one of my favourite medieval books … bit early for Valentine’s Day, but heart-shaped books are a delight any day of the year.  This one is a 15th century Book of Hours belonging to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF, Manuscrits occidentaux, latin 10536).  You can find out more about it on its own webpage and see it with some other heart-shapes on Dr Kwakkel’s Tumblr.


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