What’s good about libraries? V

Library A to Z: VI’m following the A to Z Challenge by posting every day in April (except Sundays) about the importance of libraries. I’m using the Library A to Z advocacy materials and a small selection of quotations in each post.

What good things about libraries begin with V?

Value (money libraries save); values (the things libraries stand for); viewing films & other materials; visually impaired users; voting (finding information on political issues).

There is, of course, one controversial V word: volunteer. Volunteers can be a great help in supplementing a library’s work, I’m one myself, but should never be a substitute for paid library staff. I’ve written on this blog about volunteers before, so I’m not going to repeat myself. In any case, I couldn’t do half as well as Dawn Finch who absolutely nails it in her post The harsh truth about volunteers. Go read it now!

Ok, that makes up for the fact that I don’t have much in the way of quotes to give you! Here’s Kurt Vonnegut:

I am eternally grateful for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.

Do you have any other suggestions for V?

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Adventures of a retired librarian: 2014

Happy-New-Year-Card-562975Year 2 of retirement and I’m still enjoying life – even though nothing very much has changed over the last year. That, and the fact that I was slightly better at writing things up as I went along in 2014, makes an “annual reflection” post more difficult to write. I’ve just read over what I wrote this time last year, and it bubbles with joy and enthusiasm. That’s still there – it’s just no longer such a novelty.

So what has stayed the same in my library world?

  • I’m still volunteering with Glasgow Women’s Library in multiple capacities. What has changed, though, is that I now get paid occasionally for training new volunteers – I’m proud to be a “senior” volunteer!
  • I’m still organising tweetups (though not so many – just two this year, Travelling Librarians and Cornton Vale.)
  • I ran a second Library Camp Glasgow.
  • I’ve done a few more talks / guest posts / articles – I keep a list of these on the “About” page.

What has changed?

  • I’m really proud to have started 23 Librarians which has proved a valuable resource documenting what librarians actually do, has inspired similar blogs in other parts of the UK and featured recently in CILIP Update. I think this is my major achievement of 2014, and it’s still going strong.
  • I’m sad to say goodbye to being a chartership mentor, but when the system changed last year I felt I had done enough. I gave my two remaining candidates a deadline – to submit their portfolios by the last possible date under the old regulations or find a new mentor. One submitted on time and we await the results, though I’m quietly confident that I can add her to my tally of four successful charterships and one revalidation.

What’s the plan for 2015?

  • I intend to keep going with GWL and tweetups (I have three ideas, already one better than last year.) I’m less sure about Library Camp and 23 Librarians – I think the former would benefit from a change of location to another city and the latter will maybe have run its course soon. I’ll keep publishing it as long as people are willing to write for it, but the stream of volunteers is slowing down.
  • I have one more idea for providing library CPD which I can pursue if some of the other things become less time-consuming.
  • I’d like to do more to advocate for libraries. The culture of cuts which has been pervasive in England for some time is spreading to Scotland – so far, I’ve responded to several consultations and sent some material from the Library A to Z campaign to politicians, but I need to follow that up. CILIPS’ advocacy pages are a good place to start. (To anyone reading this before 10th January, you could consider responding to Falkirk Council which proposes to cut its School Library Service. Nicola Morgan’s blog post will fill you in on the details.)

Finally, what do I wish for you?

  • A Happy New Year!

Volunteering with Glasgow Women’s Library: a presentation

As part of a presentation to Garnethill Women’s Rural Institute last night (must be the most urban “Rural” ever!) I talked about these slides based on my year or so volunteering with Glasgow Women’s Library. The idea was to show the variety of activities and to emphasise the friendliness of the place – the presentation starts and ends with the question you are always asked within about 30 seconds of walking through the door: “Would you like a cup of tea?” My part came in between staff members Gabrielle, who talked about the history and development of the Library, and Donna who talked about the Scottish Suffragettes and the related archival material the Library holds. Judging by the buzz in the room ( and the enthusiasm of one of the attendees who got on the same Subway train home as I did) we might have recruited a few more members.

Adventures of a retired librarian: 2013

What a year that was! 2013 was my first full year away from work and I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed life more, with any worries about being bored or lonely swiftly despatched. The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t and to plan for the future.

The most joyous discovery has been volunteering at Glasgow Women’s Library.  I started as a tour guide for their Women’s Heritage Walks but soon got involved in the library side of things. I’d never really been interested in cataloguing before, but I now find I enjoy it and have recently been training new volunteers. I’ve also done social media training for them, written book reviews, helped with a Scottish Women on Wikipedia day, staffed stalls and pop-up libraries at events and packed and cleaned when they moved premises. Never a dull moment! I’ve written about some of these things, but I always meant to do a more general post about the Library itself and what it did – a library, archive and museum collection which holds and celebrates the cultural, historical, political and social achievements of women across the UK. I was going to call the post Would you like a cup of tea? because that’s the first question you are usually asked when you walk in the door – it’s such a friendly place. As with many other posts, I’ve now accepted that this is one which is never going to make it outside my head, so you’ll just have to check their website instead, and see the montage of photos below.

Less successful was the other regular volunteering I took on, with the Scottish Refugee Council where I spent three months with the Media and Communications Team. Again, I meant to write a full post about the organisation and the wonderful work it does and, again, I never got round to it. I certainly learned a lot – I went in thinking I had some idea of how hard life was for refugees and came out knowing it was far worse than I had thought. I also learned things about myself – I agreed to work a day and a half per week , but found it too much and I now steer clear of anything that requires such a formal commitment. I also discovered that you can take the girl out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the girl. I work best in places where information is ordered and structured, and was frustrated when that wasn’t always the case. Finally, I banished any notion that I might be interested in going back to study because I was also not very keen on doing the research necessary to write blog posts on issues that I didn’t know very much about. This maybe makes me sound very shallow, and maybe my views will change and I’ll start wanting different things after I’ve been retired for a couple of years, but for now I’m happy with the flexibility of working with GWL. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy working at SRC – everyone was lovely and the fact that it didn’t work out as expected was entirely my own fault. Here’s a shot of a very happy day – the press launch for Refugee Week Scotland which I live tweeted and Storified for them.

Lajee Dancers from Aida Refugee Camp in Palestine perform in Glasgow
Lajee Dancers from Aida Refugee Camp in Palestine

But that’s not all! I’d already started Glasgow Library Tweetups while I was working and continue to organise them. This year we had Library Camp Glasgow which was a huge success and, I think, the greatest single achievement of my year, although the greatest honour was being made an honorary member of CILIPS. If you look at the About page of this blog you’ll see a list of talks, training sessions, book reviews and guest posts that I’ve done and I’m also still involved with SALCTG (Scottish Academic Libraries Cooperative Training Group) which counts as real work because they are actually paying me! I’ve gone from knowing mainly academic librarians to knowing people in all sorts of libraries throughout Scotland. I feel liberated, I think that’s the only word for it.

What next? More of the same – my calendar is starting to fill up pleasingly – and I also have several new plans afoot for providing informal library CPD. If I’m going to keep this blog up as a sort of diary I need to post more regularly, so I’ve changed its name from A New Library World to Adventures of a Retired Librarian in the hope of prompting a fresh start. Watch this space!

Continuing adventures of a retired librarian

This blog has been sadly neglected – because I have been BUSY! Never need I have worried about filling up my time after leaving work. Most of the activity has been social media related – notably the eighth in the series of Glasgow Library Tweetups that I have organised. This was a behind the scenes tour of Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, one of the biggest reference libraries in Europe. The highlight was undoubtedly seeing the Leningrad Album, which is not normally on view, in Special Collections. During the Siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge, near Glasgow, sent an album of solidarity and support to the women of Leningrad, who, despite living in dreadful conditions, managed to reciprocate. It’s a beautiful piece of work and the stories attached to it are very moving. You can read more on the GLTU blog.

I’ve been asked to speak about GLTU at the MmITS AGM next month – in fact I’m quite busy speaking, having already given talks on using Twitter to engage with users to Glasgow Women’s Library, Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre and Glasgow University School of Engineering. I never used to do talks beyond my own organisation, so this is quite a surprise.

I’ve also done a couple of guest blog posts for Glasgow Book Groups and Glasgow Women’s Library – you might notice a certain overlap of content, but, hey, who doesn’t recycle material. I’ve mentioned GWL twice now – I volunteer there regularly, and fully intend to write a complete post about it soon. It’s a wonderful organisation.

Before we leave the subject of blogs, I’m very proud to say that I have also got my 83 year old Dad blogging! He’s a retired minister who recently gave up preaching after 60+ years, and a blog is an ideal way for him to continue to share his faith. He supplies the content and I post it – find him at John Mitchell – called and sent.

Coming up next week? I’m volunteering at Aye Write!, Glasgow’s Book Festival. I’ll be on the door at nine sessions and, assuming there aren’t too many latecomers, get to listen in. I’m particularly looking forward to Patrick Ness and Jackie Kay. I’ve also got an induction session as a media and communications volunteer at the Scottish Refugee Council, and there are other opportunities in the pipeline which are not yet formed enough to write about.

So I realise, as someone who used to work full time, that this may not sound all that busy, but I do have a serious point to make. When my job disappeared, I thought I would have to sit down to plan my future to avoid sinking into lethargy. That would no doubt have worked, but actually I never did it. I kept an eye open for suitable openings, and one thing led to another. Before I finished work, I spotted a request to help Glasgow Libraries with Book Week Scotland. Doing that, and proving I was reliable, led directly to Aye Write. I saw a request from Glasgow Women’s Library for new members of their Women Make History Group – after joining that, I got involved in many more aspects of their work (really must write that blogpost). I spotted the Scottish Refugee Council opportunity on Twitter, and using social media generally has given me lots of connections. The skills and knowledge I have built up over many years in work are in demand, and I can concentrate on the interesting ones without having to worry about the dull stuff, such as invoices or statistics. So to anyone else contemplating retirement, assuming the financial situation is right, I would say, go for it. There’s a new world out there waiting for you.

When Things 20 and 22 collide: the case of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

I was saddened at the weekend when I was alerted via Twitter that most of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s libraries were under threat. On 10th November, both local papers, the Journal and the Evening Chronicle, carried detailed articles by Adrian Pearson in which we were told that”The vast majority of Newcastle’s 18 libraries will either be closed down or handed over to community groups as city chiefs set out £90m of cuts over the next three years. Only the newly-rebuilt city centre library is said to be safe from the axe.” One of the comments led me to a transcript of a Radio Four Today Programme interview from earlier in the year with Tony Durcan, head of Newcastle’s libraries, in which he “gave, at best, lukewarm support for the universal need for paid and qualified library staff”, offering the opinion that library work was “not brain surgery”. Well, other than brain surgery, nothing is, and it doesn’t hold out much hope for the libraries if this is the attitude of the boss. More hopeful is a pre-emptive campaign against the move by authors such as Alan Gibbons, Philip Pullman and Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson which has been covered in the Bookseller, BBC News, and the Guardian. Local anti-cuts campaign Coalition of Resistance is also taking up the fight.

So how does this relate to Things 20 and 22? Well, Thing 22 was about volunteering in which I stated my opposition to job substitution and handing libraries over to community groups in this way. Thing 20 was about Library Routes, and part of the post I wrote in 2010 for that project said of a library I visited as a child “I was intrigued by all the Browne tickets and wondered how on earth they ever found mine (especially as they seemed to be in a different place each time). The only time I remember asking for help was when we had a kitchen planning project for Cookery and the person I asked took me straight to the right shelf which I thought was very clever.” You’ve guessed, that is one of the libraries on Newcastle’s little list. My family lived in Fenham between 1968, when I was 11, and 1973. To go back to the Evening Chronicle article, I read that “Fenham’s library is one of those with an uncertain future. Mark Johnson, 85, a retired police officer, said he goes to the library three or four times a week to read the newspapers. He has been using the service for 40 years. “I’m very disappointed. They got rid of the pool too. I think it would have a very big impact on people around here.”” I must have overlapped with Mr Johnson, perhaps we queued up at the counter together and marvelled at the way the library staff could always find our tickets?

So this was the branch that first got me thinking about the methods of actually managing a library, starting me on the career path I later took. It also influenced my choice of degree subject – staff at Fenham never seemed to mind me using children’s tickets to take books out of the adult library. In those days, there wasn’t the fantastic choice of teenage literature that there is now, so I went through all the Agatha Christies that they had, then moved on to historical fiction. After that, I started taking out historical non-fiction and biographies which, coupled with a charismatic teacher, inspired me to study history at university. I can fairly say that Fenham Library shaped my life. Where are today’s young Geordies going to get that sort of experience if you close all the libraries now, Newcastle?

Thing 22: Volunteering

Thing 22 asks “Have you undertaken unpaid work to further your career?”  and  “Is volunteering a good thing, or by working for free are we in danger of devaluing our profession?”  Volunteering in libraries is a really contentious issue, and reading some of the other blog posts on this Thing throws up a range of views. My own answers are “No, but I’m now in a position to volunteer (without having a career to further any more)” and “It depends on the volunteering”. I’ll explain by outlining what I see as three different kinds of voluntary work.

Job substitution

This most definitely is a bad thing and devalues the profession. Work previously done by paid library staff should not be done by volunteers and I abhor what is happening in so-called community libraries. Fortunately for me, some other bloggers have rehearsed the arguments for this view very eloquently, notably Gemma Bayliss’ Blog and Rebecca at It’s not about books or being quiet all the time so that I don’t have to. Thanks guys! However, I do have strong, personal feelings about the latest threat to libraries in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but I’m going to leave that for a separate post.

Volunteering to gain experience

This is actually the full title of the Thing and, on a small-scale, I find this acceptable. I don’t agree with the concept of “interns”, who are really just doing jobs for free, but for someone who has no job and can’t get one through lack of experience, I think volunteering shows initiative and it would encourage me to look favourably on any job application they made. Several bloggers have given good descriptions of how volunteering helped them – for example Kelly Quaye, the Physicist/Librarian and Theatregrad.

I’ve not done this myself, but I have taken on volunteers and done my best to give them varied experience. Most recently, in the last couple of years at Jordanhill, I had two at different times. One had a qualification, but had never worked in a library and was finding it difficult to get a job at any level. The other was a recently qualified teacher who could only get supply work and was considering a career change. In both cases, they came in one day a week for a few months, mostly working in Reader Services but with spells in other areas so that they could see all aspects of life in an academic library. They were always an extra and never used to plug staffing gaps – in fact, they took up staff time to train, but nobody seemed to mind because most people enjoyed sharing their knowledge and passing on their enthusiasm. One volunteer later applied for, and was offered, a weekend post: this is obviously the ideal way for library school students to add experience during their studies, but there are never enough jobs to go round. Volunteering can be the next best thing.

Community groups

In an ideal world, charities would not be needed – but we are never going to have an ideal world and I see nothing wrong in giving your time for organisations which would not exist without volunteers. Many people see this as putting something back into society, but it can also give valuable and varied experience. Joining the committee of a professional group or becoming a union rep are other ways of achieving the same thing. In my own case, I have now finished my current contract and need to plan what to do next and this is the sort of area in which I will be looking to volunteer. However, I need time to relax and reset my sleeping patterns after three months of getting up early for the Glasgow / Edinburgh commute and will leave any long-term plans till the New Year. In the meantime I –

  • have the next Glasgow Libraries Tweetup to organise.
  • have a full complement of chartership / revalidation candidates.
  • have a meeting with staff at Glasgow Women’s Library coming up to discuss joining them as a tour guide.
  • have volunteered to help Glasgow Libraries distribute goody bags for Book Week Scotland.
  • have agreed to edit Scottish Roundup for Sunday, 2nd December. That’s the end of Book Week so I’m aiming for a books / libraries theme and will be looking out for good blogs to include.

As I said in my last post, I now have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I do, and these are all things that interest me and that I will enjoy. I feel very lucky.