Wednesday, January 27, 2010

London Libraries Change Program: Backlash

"I don’t think any member of the public would have put interlibrary stock, online services and automated lending as the three priorities for change in London Libraries. In fact we know they would have put improved shelf stock, longer hours and better buildings along with a request that well informed staff be available at counters. It is almost bizarre that the LLCP failed to identify the things that people most want."


Counting down to Freedom to read week 2010

I made this list recently for my Acquisitions students (we were talking about Collection development/Materials policies this week, and got into discussions about book challenges), and I thought I would re-post it in full here.

Here are some recent book challenges that made news, and some related literature about book banning and censorship:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A metro in Ottawa

(no, I'm not calling it the subway)

Great article on Spacing Ottawa today about the history of the debate for underground transit in Ottawa. There are some wonderful drawings representing various (killed) plans. Apparently, the idea of underground transit first came up in 1915... and I quote:

"In a report to Parliament, the Holt Commission noted the severe congestion of Sparks Street and arteries leading up to it, including Bank and Elgin Streets. [The commission recommended] placing streetcars in a subway between Bronson and Rideau Streets, with southbound lines on Bank and Elgin."

That's pretty much the same congestion problem we have now (OK, so we'd have to add King Edward).

*Alex puts her head down on desk in frustration...*

Monday, January 25, 2010

London Library Change Program, Phase 3 Bulletin

Read it here! (warning: PDF)

London libraries are looking at centralised request services in back offices, an unified approach to "stock management and procurement" (the word, stock, sticks in my craw!), and a single system for renewals and requests, in (possibly) 15 out of 33 boroughs.

They cite TPL as an example of a large, centralised library system. I could be wounded that they didn't mention us, but that's OK. We're only the largest bilingual English-French library system in North America.... Maybe they're still mad at me for making fun of Oxford's circ desk.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I'm not much for anniversaries, but I thought it worth mentioning that this blog was born one year ago today.

I'm still figuring out what I'm doing here - I'm surprised by the fact that I'm still at it, pleased to have a forum for thoughts that don't fit under any of my official blogging duties for LANCR, CLA Montreal Chapter or Librarian Activist, and thrilled to be keeping my writing muscles strong. I do struggle to find ideas and to ensure I post (as) regularly (as humanly possible), but overall I'm glad I stuck this out past the OPL Web 2.0 course.

A big thank you to all of you who are readers, and to those of you who've linked to me on your blogs. I really appreciate the sense of community tied to the blogging world. You guys make it worth it, and every comment still makes me excited!

This is not a terribly inventive post, so sorry, guys! I'm off to teach and then work the aft/eve shift now.... And then spend the weekend with KARE-LYNNNNN!!!

Current projects: a reading map for the Olympics (damn straight I'm linking to that great article about the torch...), a booklist of kids' books about orchestras (yes, Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead will be in there), and various branch-related stuff, including a teen survey (send me your fav. Olympic and orchestra books!)

Currently reading: The Taken, by the mysterious Inger Ash Wolfe. It's a compelling read, even if I will never be a mystery addict.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Travels with Alex in British libraries, Part 4: London, Day 3

In which a kind gentleman helps Alex find William Blake, we visit the old publishing 'hood of Paternoster Row, we find commonalities between the library at the National Research Council of Canada and the London Library, and we learn that "bookstore categories" for non-fiction collections isn't a new idea....
(with brief interruptions for the second fire alarm of the trip and, oh yes, theft!).

This day was my day alone in London. Kris and I parted ways for the moment, so I could meet up with the lovely Colette, a dear friend from high school now studying in Plymouth. Well, now it's Dr. Mesher, actually, since she graduated days after this visit! There is something exciting about exploring a city on your own, and I reveled in my hour before I went to meet Colette at Paddington (dear Colette deserves a giant shout-out for taking the train up to London. For the day. From Plymouth. Four days before she defended her viva. Seriously).

I secretly wanted to squeeze in a tour of Shakespeare's Globe that morning, but I thought it might be too tight. I felt badly that the day before, we'd been a stone's throw away in Southwark, at the Tate, without even laying eyes on the theatre. What kind of a daughter/niece was I? At the very least, I figured I could see it, even if the tour was a stretch, time-wise. So off I went, southwards, and quickly discovered that, um, yes, I wouldn't be making that tour...

Oh, look, it's the Globe!

Oh, look! Hordes of schoolchildren!

If there's one thing I have learned from Stratford, Ontario, it's that being in a crowd of 15-year olds can really ruin a good Shakespearean moment (Merchant, 2005, Care and me...).

The new, improved, Zen-like me sighed, dusted herself off, and decided to simply walk across the Millenium Bridge and see what caught her fancy over there. Oh, St Paul's, I forgot about you....

Thus did William Blake and I get introduced. I nipped into the Cathedral (I am pleased to announce the only revolving door I am friends with: great quote, and suitably solemn!) and just sort of breathed it all in. I'm usually good at situating myself, but I got hopelessly lost in the crypt looking for Blake. A dapper older man striding purposefully through on his way somewhere probably less crypt-like observed, "You look like you're looking for something," to which I replied, "I'm looking for Blake" (now, how often do you get to say that?) Off we went (he's in the OBE section, in case that helps you), and I hung out with him for a bit before mercifully coming above ground again (that crypt is a bit stuffy).

Up into Paternoster Square, formerly Paternoster Row (destroyed in the Blitz). Paul Collins talks about this neighbourhood magnificently in The Book of William, painting this picture of booksellers, swindlers and clergy rubbing elbows, with errand boys carrying fresh cuts of meat taking the short way past the Cathedral (which was, actually, through the Cathedral!) He also talks of the Great Fire, and how booksellers, confident St Paul's wouldn't burn, stuffing their wares into the hollows of the crypt. Of course, St Paul's went up (blame Wren, actually), and countless quartos with it. One bookseller, according to Collins, was able to read a book he'd pocketed while fleeing, by the light of the fire alone. I elected for a steamy cup of coffee instead, and then off again to the tube to pick up Colette.

She and I visited the Imperial War Museum, and again, not library-related, but they did an excellent job of exhibiting common, everyday objects to tell a story. Thanks to Megan and Mathieu for the suggestion to visit. We were enthralled by a home-made life vest made by a child's mother for his Atlantic crossing (fleeing the Blitz). The mother instructed her son to wear the vest AT ALL TIMES, even at night; he was told to never take it off. The ship was torpedoed, and few children survived, but he did. Colette and I were having a great time, banging our heads on reconstructed Anderson Shelters, until the fire alarm went off. (Fire alarm #1, by the way, was moments before Kielan and Kate's wedding). What kind of luck did I have on this trip? Actually, don't answer that.

None the worse for wear after 45 minutes out on the street, I made my way back to Paddington, parted ways with Colette, re-united with Kris, and decided to conquer the London Library, the world's largest independent library, as my final library-themed pilgrimage of the trip. Thanks to Diana, this time, for the tip to visit.

The London Library is honestly a hidden gem, tucked into rowhouses in St. James' Square (I got a few good pics, as at right, but check out some great ones on their website here; not to mention wonderful historical photos here). The lovely Suzanne, from the Reference desk, led Kris and I on a tour of the library, which is entering Phase 2 of an $8m remodelling project. I first read about the library here, and then a colleague mentioned I simply must visit it.

Part of the reason for the remodel is that the London Library never withdraws anything; as the website says, "It is a central tenet of the Library that, as books are never entirely superseded, and therefore never redundant, the collections should not be weeded of material merely because it is old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable: except in the case of exact duplication, almost nothing has ever been discarded from the Library's shelves." Imagine the backlist of periodicals! Imagine the historical children's picture books! Another policy is that the collection is almost entirely circulating; 95% of it goes out, actually. Imagine, for a minute, driving yourself nuts looking for a science textbook from the 1950s. Not being a student or faculty member at the university, you can't access their collections. You can, however, join the London Library and borrow General physics : a textbook for colleges by Oswald Blackwood, published in 1943.

The London Library was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841; members included Thackeray Dickens, Darwin, Conan Doyle, Sassoon, Churchill, Christie, Sackville-West, Amis, Chatwin and ... Forster! T. S. Eliot was its president for 13 years, starting in 1952. In fact, his widow, Valerie, has donated $2.5m to the current remodelling project, and there is an Eliot Room now.

A few of my observations:
  • As you can see at right above, the London Library shares a feature with the National Research Council library on Sussex in Ottawa: see-through floors! In Ottawa they are glazed glass (too many lecherous scientists looking up skirts); in the London Library, they are a kind of grate.
  • The library has its own (we would say, "bookstore style") shelf mark and shelving system. I explained to Suzanne that many North American public libraries are eagerly adopting similar systems and that the London Library was, thus, trendsetting (albeit unknowingly)! An example from the above PDF: "In History, for example, the shelving sequence begins with H. Abyssinia and runs through all the sub-categories in strict alphabetical order, to end with H. Zululand. In Art, the sequence begins with A. Aesthetics and ends with A. Woodcarving."
  • The majority of the London Library's collections are in the humanities; the Art Room grows at a rate of 68 feet/year! The library also has material in more than 50 languages.
  • Deep breath: there are no fines. In fact, "books on loan are only requested for return to the library when they are wanted by another member." Oh, and they have a postal loans service, which means they will "despatch" (I had to. It doesn't come up much) "books and periodical volumes to members anywhere within Europe, for no more than the cost of the postage."
  • Upon reading the pamphlet I came home with, I was almost moved to tears by this quote from John McNally: "The London Library is a dream of an institution; slim and elegant on the outside, labyrinthine within. It is the stuff of fiction, the gentleperson's Google."
  • From same pamphlet, I have discovered I missed the Heron Allen Collection of the Rubdiyat of Omar Khayyam. Curses!
Can I just say, the members of the London Library are surely kindred spirits, because one of them begins his inscription in the suggestion book with "Three cheers for..." ("all the changes," in case you're wondering, but he goes on to lament the removal of the green chesterfield outside the Prevost room). That would be a passing Forster reference. Can I just move in, please? I'll sleep under the newspaper shelves.

We left the London Library for a short snack at Caffè Nero, and, well, you know how that ended. I tried to think of Helen Mirren's Prime Suspect, and Sherlock Holmes striding through the streets, while I was stuck in Charing Cross Police Station, just to keep myself from utter desolation, but it was not very effective. What's funny (ha.) is that while crunching through my brie and tomato pannini, I was honestly thinking, what a perfect trip. I can honestly say I saw everything and everyone I wanted to. How utterly content I am!

So there is that.

I can't end on that note, so, to close, a parting shot of the locked-tight library at Canada House (Of course I wanted to ask to get in, and of course I tried the door quite emphatically, but I wasn't sure if they'd stall/shred my temporary passport if I made trouble... eep!):

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Travels with Alex in British libraries, Part 3: London, Day 2

In which Alex stands on T.S. Eliot, and beholds both Sylvia Plath's manuscripts and the Magna Carta.

So now it's Tuesday, and we spent the morning with Sim, Carey and the girls at the Tate Modern. After that, we all took the tube together to Westminster, so that Kris and I could visit the Abbey and Sim, Carey and the girls could head to Buckingham Palace. We parted ways (goodbye for awhile, unfortunately) beside the Abbey gates, under Big Ben, as the clock chimed 2 pm. We counted it out, then kissed and hugged, and said, See you soon!

I went to the Abbey because, really, how could I not? (I don't think I had ever been as a child). I didn't expect much (does that sound bad?) but I was, in the end, oddly moved by a few things. Elizabeth I and Mary I are buried side by side, adjacent to a monument that commemorates, fittingly, those "divided at the Reformation by different convictions who laid down their lives for Christ and conscience sake." Just tracing the repeating pattern ER along each side of the tomb was quite something. I momentarily lost Kris outside this room (panic attack: are there loudspeakers in the Abbey for them to call out lost husbands? Hell, no!) only to find him pensively resting in the Poet's Corner (always a good place to wait for me!) Again, more moving than I thought it would be: the quote on T. S. Eliot's tomb that made me stop dead.

"The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."

Quite something. As was drifting past David Garrick and Laurence Olivier.

On the way out, we were stopped short by the 20th century martyrs statues. And then it was off again, to the British Library.

In a new (1997) facility, more or less across from St. Pancras Station, the British Library is rather unassuming from the exterior. In fact, even on the inside, its winding staircases are disconcertingly reminiscent of the Toronto Reference Library (I jest not: check it out!). We arrived near closing, and the woman at the piazza desk was sorting through the day's worth of Reader's Passes, recycling the plastic-y part and tearing off the individual name stickers. We had time for the shop, a glance at the (real, this time!) King's Library, and the Treasures room.

OK, I confess, frankly, we were exhausted. Running around the black hole with Miss K. and Miss Z. at the Tate, dashing through the Abbey, oh, and I forgot... up and down Knightsbridge (no library relevance)... So we spent a good few minutes just sitting on a bench in the piazza, contemplating another bench. Bill Woodrow's "Sitting on History," actually, which is pretty cool.

Finally, the Treasures Room. I was starting to feel pretty Zen about this whole trip: I had seen a lot of things I wanted to see, I'd spent invaluable time with family, and I was in the British Library, for God's sake... standing in front of Jane Austen's writing desk (frankly, I was never much of an Austen-ite. More of a Jane Eyre girl. The desk was interesting, though).

Treasures indeed. In one humble room: Lewis Carroll's sketches, Sylvia Plath's marginal notes, the lyrics of the Beatles' "Michelle" on the back of an envelope (lyrics to "A Hard Day's Night" on the back of a birthday card for Julian Lennon), the First Folio, various Quartos, da Vinci's notebooks, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta room, the Gutenberg Bible, the Ramayana, the Diamond Sutra. It is almost too much to bear. I confess I am glad they have velvet benches in here: quiet contemplation between visual feasts is necessary.

Then we descended into the tube, to change again, for the 3, 458th time, at Baker Street, and home to Cricklewood.

British Library's piazza

Monday, January 11, 2010

Travels with Alex in British libraries, Part 2: London, Day 1

In which Alex re-unites with one of a total of, oh, maybe three, friends from library school, succumbs to her inner Woolf groupie, misses a library (whoops!) and is alternately annoyed and amazed at the British Museum.

It's all about context. "Old" means something totally different in Europe. I remember noticing when I came back from Rome the first time how new everything looks here. Regularly, I say, "I work at one of the oldest public libraries in Ottawa," dating from 1934. Kielan reminds me his flat was built around then. "Old," in England, means your library is housed in a building that also has a dining table donated by Queen Elizabeth. The Virgin Queen, that is.

My friend from library school, the lovely Renae, kindly invited Kris and I to visit her library while we were abroad. She is a rare books librarian at the Middle Temple Library. Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court which call men and women to the Bar; members and benchers include characters as diverse as Sir Walter Raleigh and Prince William, as well as five of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence.

The Middle Temple Hall, where Renae took us for lunch, is home to the giant dining table mentioned above (which was brought down the Thames by boat and into the Hall through a window, and is probably there for the duration now), and also features a double hammer beam roof carved from the oak of Windsor Forest and stained glass windows representing the coats of arms of illustrious members. The Hall also hosted the first performance of Twelfth Night, in 1602.

The library itself is no less impressive (I know, sorry, no photos - but there's one nice one on their website). It is open to all members of the Middle Temple, as well as to member of the other Inns at Court. The library was founded in 1641 by Robert Ashley, who bequeathed his books to the Inn. Some (unexpectedly) diverse material made it into the Library's holdings this way: Ashley bought up much of John Donne's library, interestingly. There are also excellent examples of incunabula in the library's rare books holdings, not to mention a Captain John Smith map of Virginia from 1612. Three years ago, when Renae first arrived, the Library received a massive renovation, which included a "conservation-level storage space for the Archives and Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection." With a much better home, climate control, and a caretaker like Renae, the collection is undoubtedly in wonderful hands. I must say Renae's mending shelf looks nothing like mine!

I can't talk about the Middle Temple Library, though, without mentioning the great mystery of the Molyneux Globes. A matching set of celestial and terrestrial globes (the former one of a kind), made in 1592, were made by Elizabethan globe-maker (my, that must have been quite the career - some context: when the globes were made, Guyana had just been "discovered") Emery Molyneux and are dedicated to Elizabeth I. The big question is, however, who donated them? Was it Ashley? Was it Francis Drake? Was it Elizabeth herself? There's a lovely poster display near the globes outlining the main suspects. Alas, at the moment, anyway, there is no documentary evidence of the globes before a passing mention of them being repaired in 1717.

After such a juicy tour (and a frankly delicious lunch), Kris and I wandered around a bit, killing time until meeting Kielan at the British Museum. Since it's somewhat close to there, I decided to make a pilgrimmage to (one of) Virginia Woolf's London homes, 46 Gordon Square. Side note: why can't they put a sign on each corner of these squares for stupid North Americans, so we don't have to walk aaaall the way around the perimeter to find #46?

On the bright side, the walk was calming. The square was quiet, and its small park at the centre was peaceful in the mid-afternoon misty rain. I actually had quite a moment of, I'm in England. I'm in the square where Virginia once walked. Then I stumbled upon another library. Indeed, little did I know, but Gordon Square is home to Dr. William's Library. I confess I didn't even try the door; I was sort of blissed out, and too tired to care by then. While recently reading The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World, I discovered that Dr. William's Library was home, until recently, to a First Folio. Well then. Also, the library is "the pre-eminent research library of English Protestant nonconformity" (now you know, OK?) Meanwhile, we stood outside #46, at left, and contemplated a young woman living with her sister Vanessa on Gordon Square in 1905.

And then it was on to the British Museum. The old Reading Room is now, of course, the space for temporary exhibits (Aztecs, when I wanted the ghost of Marx), so we bypassed that. I had the lovely good fortune of being chaperoned by not one, but two (!) lovely gentlemen willing to do my bidding (K and K!), so I elected to inspect the Staffordshire Hoard (not merely because I enjoyed saying, "Let's go inspect the hoard!") and, of course, all the pilfered Egyptian stuff.

Have you head about this Staffordshire Hoard, by the way? Largest batch of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found; found, no less, by an amateur treasure hunter, Terry Herbert, while he was metal detecting in a field. Wow.

One of our final stops in the Museum was a lovely room with the title, Enlightenment. An exhibit about exploration and discovery in the 18th century, the room was originally built for the King's Library (do I get to say I saw it twice, since the actual collection is now at the British Library?). The King's Library is the collection of King George III, donated to the nation. Donated material from the House of Commons now fills the shelves, although I wonder who belongs to the gigantic, multi-volume (at least 80) atlas, hilariously entitled, General Atlas (what, pray tell, does the Specific one look like?), that Kielan and I kept tripping over?

After inspecting mummified cats, Cleopatra, oversized dictionaries, stuffed field mice and suchlike, it was inevitable that we stop by the actual, working library at the Museum. Really, it had been at least 72 hours since I had last attempted to break some rules. This time, I was summarily told "what for" after taking an illegal picture of the Paul Hamlyn Library. Kielan was scandalised; Kris was not surprised. Interestingly, the library is not for researchers, but rather for the visiting public, to help them to discover more about the cultures represented in the library. The collection is thus reference-only, with photocopy facilities, and uses the good old DDC. The information pamphlet comes with a funny warning not to use the ladders along the walls; staff will apparently run up and get things for you (ah, Nicholas Hoare flashbacks!).

After parting ways in the rain with Kielan, who was finally off for his honeymoon with the lovely Kate, we made our way to the Idea Store in Whitechapel. My friend Diane had recommended this one as emblematic of the Idea Store concept, so off we went.

Let me just say, getting off the Tube at Whitechapel, after dark, is rather grotty. There is a street market by day, and it's rather like going by the Byward Market after closing: all tattered shop wares, exhausted workers, and dirty tarp. It's rather Brick Lane-y, too. All in all, an inauspicious start. Although, given the sampling of ethnicities we saw in the neighbourhood, I can see why the Idea Store was chosen as the local library concept. Certainly it makes the library experience less bleak, at least architecturally, than Oxford.

And what, exactly, is the library experience? I found myself wondering as I wandered through the Idea Store. I think the stores have actually done a good job of providing excellent service; I think they get flack for their gimmicky nature. Certainly, the big-screen TV was even a bit much for me. I like the idea that they are rather like Quebec's Maisons de la culture - a third space that includes not only a library, but a coffee shop, daycare, dance studios, and rooms to rent for ESL groups or other activities. While I was wandering around, I eavesdropped on a staff member giving what looked like an impromptu library tour to a young mother in the Bangladeshi novel section; I thought, this is what service is all about, and this is probably what this community needs. Many of the little things were thought out to be as simple and welcoming as possible: Braille labels on signage, public use PCs scattered around the floors (in addition to a large area for many stations), swirly stacks that don't rise as high (and are somehow less intimidating... Some might argue wistfully that we should be intimidating, but I think we need spaces that fulfill each role: grand, majestic library spaces celebrating the wealth of knowledge, and functional, everyday spaces that invite everyone in, regardless of age, wealth or culture), and tabs for fiction.

Some things I liked:
  • Good use of pictogram labels for children's non-fiction (you know signage makes me passionate!)
  • A bibliotherapy book club (well, the bibliotherapy part is icky, personally, but the idea is noble: more informal club where readers come with ideas rather than a formal, classroom-y club)
  • The Idea Store has a toy library - I've read about these in a few places now (we have one in Ottawa) and I think it's a great idea. Why would anyone want to buy all that stuff? Plus, boost your kids' immunity (hee hee!)
  • They have a monthly "News views" club - "share your views and opinions about the latest news over a cuppa and croissants." I want to do this!
  • They have a Citizens Advice Bureau Service - hmm, interesting....
  • Just so you don't despair that quality reading of literary fiction is dead, the Idea Store Festival of Reading 2009 was on while I was there, "focusing on the themes of life, crime and history," with readings in various branches. I like the emphasis on reading, not writing, in the festival name.
I was less impressed with the staircase (honestly! Just because it's functional doesn't mean it has to be totally horrid! It looked like estate housing stairwells!) and surprised to see picture books not shelved in any order (aaah! Anarchy! Now, I know this may be less "strict," but it's entirely useless for anyone trying to find specific titles. Part of encouraging pre-literacy skills is choosing the right books, which is much harder for staff or parents if they're all muddled together. Trust me; I separated ours out at Rideau Branch after losing my mind a few times).

Overall, I expected to be more annoyed with Idea Stores, frankly. I think, in the end, the thing I am most uncomfortable with about them is the name: many think that the "re-branding" campaign was undertaken because the word "library" had failed in some way in England (think: Oxford, only much worse, probably). But the thing is, it still seems kind of silly to me; part of the goal of the Idea Stores is to appeal to immigrants, who probably don't have any associations with the word library (unless, say, they lived in Communist China or North Korea). Using the word library would probably be more instant "brand recognition" than explaining the concept of an Idea Store. Many other Britons, who quite like libraries despite everything, are also pretty much permanently alienated; adding in the word "Store" gives them the creepy-crawlies. We should be less caught up in terminology and more worried about actual service; during this conversation I had with Ralph, Jackie and John, John mentioned a run-in he had recently had with a librarian in Birmingham who scolded him about proper handling of items in the Reference collection. We should be more concerned about developing positive relationships (and being partners in lifelong learning rather than security guards for Burke's Peerage) than about the word, library. Moreover, usage of libraries in the UK isn't totally going down.

And, really, the expanded hours and additional services of the Idea Stores are not too far from the concept of the public library in North America: many of us are also experimenting with adult ed classes and such; OPL is expanding its Sunday hours based on popular demand; many libraries in smaller communities have acted as community centres (or within community centres) for generations.

Oh goody, I just started two sentences with "and" and "but." Nicely done. Oh well.

After dawdling around the Idea Store for an hour or so, we were off into the night (and the tube) to enjoy Italian food at Attillio's (delish!)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Travels with Alex in British libraries, Part 1: Oxford

In which we learn much about Alex's criminal tendencies, customer service, good lighting, the universal horrors of Brutalist architecture, whole collection RA, and interactive museum exhibits.

Oh, Oxford. Why must you keycard the doors to university libraries? I suppose the goggle-eyed proletariat does confound students trying to study, but really, how elitist. I did scamper up a back staircase in Christ Church College Library... See, I had my eye on this unsuspecting young girl in front of me. I figured we could pass for study mates and I could tail her in when she swiped her card. I just didn't count on:
  1. The heavy, heavy door that thudded emphatically shut within 1.2 seconds of her entering
  2. The crisis of guilt I had at second 1.1.
Also, I could hear my aunt asking Kris incredulously, "did she go up there?," and figured on day 2 of the Re-uniting With Family trip, B&E (or at least, E?) would not be a good first impression.

Luckily, my cousin Sim sensed my frustration and took me to Blackwell's, whose Norrington Room (160, 000 books on 3 miles of shelving!) made up for some of the closed doors of the day.

In the evening, after a day of college wanderings, Kris and I meandered around non-university Oxford, taking in shops and the local public library. Yes, even in shops I can find library inspiration: I would like to shout out to Timpson's for excellence in customer service. I picked up two of their little "Campaign for better service" cards. Like a comment card/suggestion card, but more elaborate, actually saying "Sorry you had a problem," asking how the problem was dealt with, and the likelihood that a customer will recommend Timpson (notice the question is not "will you return?" but "will you recommend us?" I thought that was interesting. Word of mouth is everything!). The cards are signed by John Timpson, another personal touch that I thought showed a certain respect for customers. Not to mention they have a monthly draw from the cards (which are thematic: the ones I picked up were "Have we amazed you?" and "Sorry you had a problem") for prizes. Hello, incentive. Anyway, a good customer service idea. I also liked that they were Business reply mail postcards.

On to Oxford Central Library (Can you tell I was stalling?). Right. So, if you don't already know, British public libraries are woefully under-funded, and some sketchy bureaucratic decisions recently mean people are starting to threaten to close libraries, or at least get rid of the pesky books. Just read The Good Library Blog (by Perkins, library cat, who today threatened to run someone through). So, on the one hand, things are quite dire; on the other hand, great gobs of money are spent on library-esque buildings like the Idea Stores (stay tuned for later post about that) and the Norwich Millenium Library (anything located at "the Forum" is not getting off on the right foot with me... pretentious, much? I reserve further judgment until I hear from my uncle Ralph, who lives there, or I visit him and the Forum *snort* myself). I have very mixed feelings about those endeavours (and I had an interesting conversation about them with my uncle Ralph, aunt Jackie, and her friend John - more later).

So, Oxford's Central Library is Siamese-twinned with Westgate Mall (home to Primark; across from M&S). You enter via a rather desolate lobby (security guard nods; Alex and Kris nod), with flyers about city services, elevator and staircase. Up you go, to the 2nd floor main library entrance, which looks like this:

"It's just like the old Rideau Branch!" I exclaimed - that lovely CHOOSE YOUR PATH idea that I find so intimidating in libraries. Circ desk that looks like a battleship: check. Right for entry, left for exit, and woe to anyone who isn't party to those cultural norms: check. I'm not being mean, Oxford: my library looked like this until one year ago. Many of us are guilty of similar architectural crimes, often perpetrated by architects, not librarians!

Oxford Central Library is open 57 hours a week, and is home to regular collections (books to Blu-ray, with a smattering of public use PCs), a Children's Library, a Music Library, Oxfordshire's Adult Learning Centre, and a local studies collection called Oxfordshire Studies. Unfortunately, the building is staggeringly ugly, all cement, orange carpet, and poor lighting. I had to drill pretty deep into the county website to find a passing reference to the Westgate re-development project, which is currently on hold, and may be dropped, due to the economic crisis. Wikipedia tells me the project would have included "a prominent new three-storey glazed entrance for Oxford’s County Library." No one can tell me when the library and the mall were built, but I blame the Brutalists for the library, at least. I was very disappointed that I arrived too late to visit the Oxfordshire Studies room (it closes 30 mins before the library proper). I did see an old card catalogue through the window to the OS room, which filled me with glee.

Some things I quite liked at Oxford Central Library:
  • More customer comment cards: most interesting question, "Do you feel you were treated fairly?"
  • "Naming" the bays with letters (see photo): far easier to say "Bay H" than "English drama - 822!"
  • Quick reads display: "easy to pick up, hard to put down."
  • Screen reads display of books in the media room - brilliant! Whole collection readers' advisory! Ten points for you, Oxford!
  • The magnificent Oxfordshire Studies sign (word cloud!) as well as their tasteful banners hanging down to the main reading room.
  • I think the Children's Library did the best they could in a gloomy space. Staff were working on a lovely creative mural when I was there.
From the literature I picked up, I was somewhat confounded to see that their application form asks about ethnic origin. Is this common? I see the merit, on the one hand (and they do say, "...This information will help us to plan and provide better services for library members") but couldn't they get general info from demographics? Wouldn't they want to know also the ethnic backgrounds that aren't visiting the library? I can't see that it's worth it to offend some to gain limited info. I did like that "Mixed" is the 2nd option on the list. I also like that if you register online, they will mail your library card to you!

I love that the brochure for young people includes benefits of membership, including "having fun" and "chill out." I also love that it mentions "Puzzle books" in the same breath it does "Picture books" - I wonder if that's a reflection of how popular they are, as they are here?! The application form is also available in other formats for those with disabilities, including (unusually, and quite interestingly) on audio-cassette, computer disk, or by e-mail.

The charmingly-named brochure, "your library - what's in it for you?" (man, when did not using capitals become synonymous with cool? Although I guess I am guilty as charged in e-mails to friends all the time) led to a startling discovery: No fines for children under 5 at Oxfordshire Libraries! In fact, "We'd like children to have fun when they come to the library so we don't mind if they make a little noise. We know that getting books back on time can be difficult sometimes, so there are no fines for children under five. We don't worry if books occasionally get damaged; there are no charges and we can find other copies." Bullet points about children's services below this statement include "Children and babies are never too young to join." Damn straight! I also liked that they emphasised having "books and films you won't find on the High Street."

All in all, horrid building housing some lovely services and collections. I hope they get a face-lift, Westgate re-development or not. In a city full of such astoundingly beautiful places, it is a shame to see such a jewel in a setting that does it little justice.

Non-library observation of note: The Ashmolean, Britain's first public museum, (1683) is amazing, with a respectable collection of Pre-Raphaelites and a sumptuous new display space for them, as well as "the only significant Minoan collection in the UK," and "the greatest Anglo-Saxon collections outside the British Museum." The whole museum re-opened only days before our visit after a massive reno; it now set up according to a new display approach they call "Crossing Cultures Crossing Time." The idea is to reveal "how the civilisations of the east and west have developed as part of an interrelated world culture."

One thing the Ashmolean (and, come to think of it, the Imperial War Museum - maybe it's a British thing?) does very well is exhibit the everyday objects that really make a big impact on visitors: eg. Pashmina gloves, India, 1700s, belonging to the Governeur-General of Bengal. Amazing. Another thing I loved was the interactive stuff: they had an interactive display on, entitled "Writing the spoken word," which involved making your own hieroglyphs. I was also oddly captivated by this magical bowl, which is a propos of nothing, really.

Bonus observation for the day: I loved this idea to clean up a messy bulletin board, from *I think* Balliol College... Would be great in a teen area....

Friday, January 8, 2010

Status: Anxious

Yes, I know. I have ignored this blog over the holidays. I needed a good, solid rest from the online world, which, I am happy to report back, I got. I'm not an enthusiastic Christmas or New Year's partyer, so I had a quiet time with some family and friends, which was nice. I also managed to read a few grown-up books which, in the season of massive BOYA readings, is not to be under-estimated. I highly recommend Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout (linked sketches of characters in a small town, centering around Olive herself, a force to be reckoned with...).

I also renewed by utter love for the non-fiction writings of Paul Collins (he writes for McSweeney's, but also has a few non-fic books under his belt). His previous books include Banvard's Folly: Thirteen tales of people who didn't change the world (portraits of historical figures such as the inventor of the Concord grape and a man who designed a pneumatic subway for Manhattan, who could have been famous but, because of bad luck, bad timing, or bad decisions, now languish in utter obscurity"), Sixpence House: Lost in a town of books (about his short-lived decision to move to Hay - yes, that Hay - with his wife and baby), and Not Even Wrong: A father's journey into the lost history of autism (about aforementioned baby's autism diagnosis, and Paul's own exploration of the history of the often-undiagnosed condition). His new book is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. Of course, with Shakespearean scholars for a father and an uncle, and a raging love for Paul Collins' non-fiction writing (which is pretty exciting, since I am your typical female, mostly fiction, reader), I thought that just might appeal to me.

It was everything I had hoped! Paul is a master at capturing the utterly fascinating minutiae surrounding great moments in history, and The Book of William gives his talents centre stage (get it? I know, pathetic). Seriously: did you know that the First Folio's printer, William Jaggard, was a blind man? Or that Shakespeare didn't much like him in life and would probably have been annoyed he was printing the Folio (had he not died before his buddies decided to print it, and hired Jaggard)? Or that, of the many copies of the First Folio destroyed (by fire, shipwreck, damage, rot, etc.) one perished in a shipwreck that had 11 passengers and 13 crew as survivors (crewmembers pushed passengers into the water to save themselves)? Or that one of the first Japanese introductions to Sheikusupia's work was via puppets? Oh, and, seriously, Japan's Meisei University has 12 Folios? An image from Meisei's image database is at right - the title page for my favourite play, Measure for Measure.

Anyway, read it.

This post was supposed to be about anxiety. I have also been quiet recently because I have a lot going on (um, when do I not? I don't mean to complain, because I bring it on myself). I'm hunting for acquisitions/collection development policies to show my students, since I'm teaching Acquisitions starting next week at Algonquin. I'm excited about that, but just trying to prep my material asap, and somewhat frustrated by the previous instructor's love of Comic Sans MS as a font of choice.

I am also making some medium to big decisions, including one related to whether I stay at St-Laurent Branch in my current, temporary-but-available-permanently, job as a supervising librarian (based in a children's dept.), or return to my permanent position as librarian at Rideau Branch.

Then there's the class visit of grade 9 developmentally-delayed kids I haven't prepped for yet, the reading map about the Olympics I have to do, shelftalkers for St-Laurent, a bookmark about kids's books about the orchestra, speaking notes about databases for kids, furniture for the teen zone (almost done ... will post when finished but it is looking really good!), etc. etc. BLAH. Ironically, a lot of these projects are my first love, RA, but I hardly have time to turn around these days and so they keep getting shuffled to tomorrow's to-do list. Speaking of, I'm working tomorrow, so we'll see. Maybe it will be quiet. I hate even thinking that, because I wish I could be out at the desk just serving the public (hey, isn't that the general idea?) and I hate that I have to bring work with me or it won't get done (since I have 3.5 hrs off desk every week). I hate that I probably look busy, which is not very welcoming. I look up a lot, but still, it's not ideal.

Anyway, to distract myself from the stress of everyday life, and impending decisions, I am going to post in the coming days about some of the libraries I visited while abroad last month. I have a folder full of goodies I haven't had time to properly go through yet, so I will, and you all will benefit accordingly as armchair (desktop?) travelers. Just don't let your passport out of your sight! (P.S. to Lorie, if you didn't already find out: man-purse stolen from chair in a Caffè Nero in Mayfair)