Monday, 23 July 2012

The Ghost Library

Despite the occasional bang or crash, and two-second bursts of buzz-sawing from the builders, there is something eerie about the empty library. Ghostly figures drift behind the plastic shrouding, and ghostly mobiles ring. Ghostly conversations are almost always fraught, starting off  'Look, I can't...'

Nevertheless, things move apace, with almost 'Elves and the Shoemaker' mystery. There will be something of a hiatus, however, one suspects, when it is time to effect the painting and lay the carpet. Because we have not settled the vexed question of the decor yet.

We sailed perilously close to having beige carpet, disaster surprisingly averted when Crail declared she would kill herself if that was to be the choice. 'Well, we can't have beige then', said the Academic Librarian. 'She has to live in here'. How sweet - he thought I spent my entire life in the library.

But I am contemplating what outfit to wear in my new role as Ghost Librarian. Should we don a Victorian night-dress and glide silently about, or should we go the whole London Dungeons hog?

We have also uncovered a charming piece of library history, when students smoked pipes, and librarians hissed 'Ssshhhh', instead of 'Here's a tenner, run to Iceland and get me a couple of bottles of their vodka, dear boy'. The signs have been there all the time, covered by a floor plan.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Well, this is unexpected

Things are not quite normal. Crail has been indulging in a bit of unseemly weeping.
End of an era. The gothic gloom of the bays in the Plant Sciences Library, loved by some, hated by the hoi polloi [who stump through bawling 'It smells of old books!'], will be no more.
On Monday the builders move in with their sledgehammers, and poncification begins. Though to be frank once the amount of the budget was revealed, 'poncification' is likely to be ludicrously euphemistic.
One was nevertheless optimistic about the changes. Comfy seats for students, more light, coffee machine, and all that.
But it was the sad sight of Crail's empty cage that did it.

How Crail came to be caged is too long a story to indulge in, but the beloved cage, with all its room for Important Stuff I Will Deal With ... Later, is to be swapped for, well, an airport car-hire desk if the 'artist's impression' is to be believed. No doubt a polyester uniform will be shaken out of a carrier bag at some point, and one will be handed a 'Can I help you?' badge and a box of logo'd pencils. Crail's request for a chaise longue in the 'relaxation area' was declined, reasons unknown.
Please note: The object, which I understand is called a broom, was placed in the shot for aesthetic reasons alone.

Wednedsay morning, 8.20 am

Oh, for goodness sake, you say. Another of Crail's boring shots of a boring library.
Aha, there is a point. Intended for University bodies who think in-department libraries are a waste of resources and are no longer necessary.
This is a fairly typical sight that greets Crail when she staggers into the Genetics Library at around 8.15 am.
Those nice young people depicted are a postdoc and a postgrad student. The Genetics Library is a small one, yet it is rarely empty. It is not the most lovely working space imaginable, these users aren't reading books or periodicals, and neither needs to use it.
They choose to.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Oh don't start me

Well, it's a rare occasion these days that Crail can be prised away from strip bingo and Mr Lloyd reading Caesar's campaigns to a rapt audience [of Crail - his son brings him a large bottle of Glenfiddich and a megabox of soft centres every week to ease the guilt] BUT..
BUT, word has reached Mablethorpe that Some People at the old Alma Mater are under the impression that a visit to the departmental library is not as popular a form of self-improvement as it once was.
Outraged, Crail demanded the gag and restraints be removed, out came the Box Brownie from the back of the wardrobe [still a couple of shots left on the reel luckily] and off we went to Cambridge. Moribund, eh? We'll see about that!

THIS is what we found. Hand on heart, unposed [well, all right, Aslin looks a bit self-conscious], unrehearsed, unadjusted, just a normal day, none of that Photoshop malarkey [except to make the images smaller and loadable]. Hence the crap shots, you will say. Cinema verite, I say, gritty realism. THIS is the Genetics Library, circa 2.00 pm on Tuesday 21 June 2011. Bear in mind that any self-respecting Part II has by now gleefully chucked away all their lecture notes, and is likely to be found face-down in their College rosebed, where they have been for the last 5 days.
So who are these people? Postgrads, postdocs and visitors, all happily working away in the Library. Not the nicest library in the university, you could say, and pretty small, note, but THEIRS, a few steps away. Furthermore, these are scientists, a group of people not generally perceived as haunting libraries, or whatever you want to call them.
I might add that, in one's other role as concierge of the Plant Scis Library, one noted 6 users in the various nooks and crannies [ergo difficult to photograph].
6 users in Plant Scis, 8 in Genetics? Oh perLEASE, you might say. Pathetic! But, these are long-term users, not poppers-in, and the libraries in question are single-room facilities for small departments. We're NOT DEAD YET!
Gauntlet chucked, back in time for Darby and Joan.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Crail is risen from the dead!

Well, there I was, mid-day and still in the Wincyette pyjamas and the [slightly soiled] Terylene housecoat, just settling down in readiness for 'Loose Women' with a pink Sobranie and a schooner* of sweet sherry [*well, all right, I use the commode pot], when Matron announced I had a visitor.

In came Passion & the Fury, somewhat red-faced from the exertion of cycling to Mablethorpe, demanding, if you please, something from the mini-bar. Quickly hid the 'schooner' under the chair, and pointed out that only tea was allowed for visitors. She grudgingly accepted the remaining hard-centres from the previous visitor's Milk Tray box, and then whipped out various items from her wheely-shopper. Some rather lovely blue balloons, some M&S choccies [soft centres, thank the lord], a puzzling plastic thing that said 'More than words', and a statue of a nude man, no less! 'What am I supposed to do with THAT?' I demanded, getting tetchy since by now she was keeping me from lunch, and I'd selected Sausage Surprise and Spotted Dick too. Next thing I know, out comes the camera, lots of flashes, and some unflattering images will no doubt soon be circulating the internet. I deny it all. The Max Factor Compact and Trowelette were still in my shopping bag too.

'You've won a prize', she told me. 'The VD Award, aka Most Effusive Verbal Diarrhoea'. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather, had I not been semi-recumbent already, having consulted the 'schooner' every time her back was turned whilst rummaging in her shopper [fuchsia leopard-print - I ask you].

Anyway, many, many thanks to all you kind people who for some reason [I'm not dead, and I'm not rich] voted for mon blog. Totally undeserved as I just blurted out a load of crap, whereas some wrote carefully-crafted and immaculately-presented near-opuses [?opi?]. Didn't even think I'd passed the course, let alone got a risque ornament for the mantelpiece. Didn't attend the partaaay as the bus pass only works for local buses [and as you can imagine, the locality of Mablethorpe has little to recommend it]. Plus, of course, because I had offended so many people with thoughtless comments that it seemed unwise to attend. Have only apologised personally to a couple of people, but again I apologise unreservedly to anyone to whom I caused offense.

Here's a phote of a contrite moi post-trowelette [Passion & Fury had of course swanned off to the Bricklayer's Arms by then with her Instamatic]. Sincere thanks to everyone, and please know I am genuinely touched [in both senses of the word] and grateful to you all. Thanks too to Passion & the Fury, for coming all that way, after having been on her knees scrubbing dubious stains from the carpet until 1 am after the paartaaay, and having a terrible time trying to persuade reluctant cab-drivers to take tired & emotional attendees home, when they couldn't even remember where home was ['I don't care if they are librarians, love, I'm telling you I wouldn't take Her Majesty herself to Buckingham Palace in that state'].
And now I've GOT to go. Strip Bingo, with a possible prize of a bottle of Malibu, and then the Gay Gordons at Darby and Joan. Six Joans to every Darby, so there's always a bit of an unseemly scrum.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

"Now to scape the serpent's tongue"

[With apologies to Girl in the Moon for nicking her thread, but it was too hard to resist]

Ah, it's been a long 12 weeks, and Miss Crail is feeling the burn ...

Unfortunately, no Damascene moments to report yet. Need time to digest, cogitate, and possibly regurge. This will be a long-term thingy. The old Delicious account is positively STUFFED with things to follow up later.

Anyway, can I have an aegrotat without having devised a marketing plan of stunning innovation and ingenuity? I need that certificate, not only because it will look nice on the wall next to ‘Choosing and using ladders’ [it was an uphill struggle, but I did it] and the barely-legible quill-pen-on-lambskin ALA, but to point out to the academic who has been walking behind my desk, eyeing my screen, flaring his nostrils and adjusting his trousers disapprovingly. Never mind the champagne and canapes, though the opportunity to swish around in a lovely polyester gown over a too-tight grey suit, and fling that tassel across the mortar board, was once a pleasing vision.

Cam23 has proved useful to me in these ways:

* Most importantly, immersion in Cam23 has meant I simply haven’t had time for cataloguing, dusting, heaving bloody great bound journals along the shelves to try to create a few inches of space. Heh heh. More next summer please.

* Quite a few of us work solo in libraries, and thus often feel left out of the information loop. I only know a couple of people on the program, that’s how isolated I am. The nun-like sequestration is amplified if you are a library assistant. Information gets out in patchy ways - some colleagues will be unaware of an important resource or development, whilst others will have missed hearing about something else. This is worrying as well as being annoying. If you are missing out, your users are missing out too. I was intending to use as illustration the fliers I saw in the UL about the testing of the search facility available ‘from this autumn', and Aidan only having heard ‘rumours’ about what sound like pretty important changes, but not having been informed myself - But I was cut off at the pass this morning by Ed Chamberlain’s message. Heck, I'm going to say it anyway. Communication from above is patchy. OK, that has little to do with Cam23. However, although Cam 23 is less about resources than about media, it has helped enormously to see what others in the Cambridge system have been up to, and in suggesting what should best be considered [As well, of course, as seeing how other libraries are using these tools, often in the most innovative ways]. I don’t feel so much as if I’m on Pluto [or more aptly perhaps, in Upminster - you know, beyond Barking]

* It has been absolutely fascinating to hear others’ opinions, the strong reactions both positive and negative, in interesting combinations, and to benefit from the views of the already-experienced. Conversely, others’ postings have reassured me that I’m not the only person in Cambridge who feels like they are not quaffing the champagne and guffawing loudly at the geeks’ party. What has been a revelation is that most of these Web 2.0 tools are genuinely easy to install and use, as well as being free. That’s my kind of tool. My ‘Well-I-won’t-understand-that’ barrier has been broken down by Cam23. For the less-than-confident, the idiot-proof instructions given by the team each week have been spot on .

* Some of the tools have already made my life so much easier. As a tricomputerate person, how did I live without Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Documents, all the ‘stuff’ parked in iGoogle? All Googlecentric ... but who flippin' cares? I can see how tools such as these aid communication with colleagues, but not really for MY library users, ditto Doodle. Facebook for libraries - Have had the necessary info parked there for a year, but I honestly don’t think a dialogue is going to happen, ditto blogs. Flickr, YouTube, LibraryThing etc - Nice toys, not for work. If I want a phote of the, um, gothic splendour of the Plant Scis Library, I'll do it myself. I’m glad I’ve been forced to consider Zotero, and angry with myself for not doing it sooner. It will certainly be recommended to PhD students, as will Delicious continue to be, and I’ll also use the latter to park links to sites I’ve recommended to them and not just for me. Twitter - well, to use it properly you need to be checking it constantly and following up leads, or you’re cast adrift; and if you have time to do that at work then you’re lucky. A lot of the tools we’ve covered would be extremely useful for public libraries or for large academic libraries [RSS feeds, podcasts, wikis etc] but not necessarily for small departmental libraries with a captive audience. I have so many more options to consider now when attempting to update my own, er, expertise. In the past, I’d never have considered SlideShare but there are some useful presentations out there. Blogs ditto, mainlining Phil Bradley and 'them clever people'.

* If Cam23 has achieved only one thing with the recalcitrant Crail, it has forced one to finally work out how to drop RSS feeds into web pages as a way of updating the ones I don’t have access to.

As to what I will use to engage others, this will require some thought. The Passion & the Fury brought to my attention the dog distracted by squirrels which is kind of how I am. 'Wow! That’s good' [do it for a week] 'Wow! thats good' etc. The ether is littered with my little dumps. So I for one NEED to step back and think before diving in.

I don’t think the Infosphere is yet at the level of development where we can push out info, and all the people who need to receive it will do so, same as researchers should not rely wholly on feeds to get their bib and research updates. If you are a Twitter junkie [and quite a few Cam23ettes have said they think this is a medium they will be using] then you are likely to get a constant stream, ergo it is not the ideal medium for punting out library info, likely to be most people's 'yeah-right-check-that-later' [with added '-and-then-completely-forget-about-it'] category. If I need to get out information to exactly the right group of people, then a targeted generic e-mail is still the best option. The Mongoose's description of a conference with several levels of attention required, for different information sources, sounds like hell to me, let alone for the poor speaker who has to keep control of it all. And it's frankly rude to be tweeting to others when your little face should be tilted attentively upward. Worse than snoring loudly. Plus, are we really saying we are genuinely capable of processing multiple streams of information simultaneously? And that all that stuff about teevee/the internet/Google making us stupid was totally wrong?

Social media - the idea of tending more towards the informal is good, given the apparent continuing stuffy image of library staff. Getting out of one’s rut and trying new methods is good. Feedback, interaction, collaboration, all good. But we must be careful that it is not just the same message in a new-toy medium. The reminder that students’ learning styles are changing and differ from person to person anyway is a bit worrying, as that means not just different platforms but different methods/content. But as Chris and others have said, these things must be kept up to date and interesting. Normally, if you don’t have anything to say it is best to keep quiet, but that looks bad on Facebook or blog pages. It is certainly time for Miss Crail to be killed off [after a brief but ruinously expensive sojourn drying out in St Joan's Institution for Aged Librarians, Gasworks Ave, Mablethorpe]. Facebook does at least allow some static information, but that is essentially duplicating a website, where necessary information must still remain, because most people will still look there for opening hours etc.

Right, enough already, exit stage left to the sounds of Rickie Lee Jones and ‘Last chance Texaco’, and head for the chaise longue and a well deserved Tanqueray with digestives to dunk [God, that makes a mess]. Perhaps even wee little toke on the Departmental Hookah whilst illicitly reclining in the Academics' Bagnio.

Oh, and I think I used the wrong graphic at the beginning. I meant, of course, to use this:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

'Seal the island, Dan'l'

[Sorry, the title won't mean anything to most people, but couldn't think of another one. And, whadd'ya know? Joan was in an episode!]

Having wrestled with the roughly-equivalent subjects of CMSs and the clunky, inflexible and unlovely Camtools, I was feeling a bit cynical about library-related wikis. Wikis and CMS-enabled sites can be useful, but as Camtools has demonstrated, they don’t quite take off as expected. Not everyone embraces the concept with the institutionally-desired enthusiasm, especially when one is trying to wrangle academics. I am the administrator of a couple of Camtools sites, and run a Departmental website, so I know it is MURDER trying to get people other than the helpful few to contribute. News? New grants? Interesting research? Images? Stonewalled. Make it up yourself.

Most of the wikis we were asked to look at were indistinguishable from a normal website to the untrained eye, so it would be great in such circumstances if more staff could add and amend. However, someone has to end up being Miss Trunchbull, or there are endless wrangles about the more trivial aspects, such as design [as I got last summer, whilst the far more important content part was still left for me to sort out]. However, the idea that the relatively untrained can add bits is excellent. Templates, and the entry box with similar actions to Word, are wonderful wheezes. [Blogger is a great example of a Web 2.0 tool that anyone can use and produce a pretty decent-looking product]

And then I saw Antioch University's awesomely comprehensive staff training wiki. God, that must have taken some work, but what an excellent resource. No need to ask that old bag again how to print a spine label - it's all there, and you can do it in brown-wrapper secrecy! ...I did notice though that a lot of the wikis recommended were still used amongst staff and not reaching out to users.

I also noticed the frequency of the 'Ask a Librarian' box, which we know the CSL uses. Frankly, I'd rather people followed a link and e-mailed me. The worry would be that if I did not constantly check, there's nobody else to answer those interesting 'What are you wearing under that tweed skirt?' questions. It would definitely be enormously useful to obtain readers' opinions and suggestions, and if a wiki gives them the opportunity to do that whilst the thought is hot so to speak], then great. I got some refreshingly frank and helpful comments a while back in a library survey, but such responses are not 'of the instant' and constrained by the questions asked.

So, yes, wikis are a great idea, and most useful in many circumstances. But alas, once again, unlikely to be of use in Craildom.

Sh*t. Here comes the flying chalk again.

Oh, and PS, must I pontificate about Wordle? It's a toy