Reflections on Building a Library (or, from slogging to blogging)…

Six months. 3000 books. 1300 boys. 1 Library.

So, my new job has kept me rather busy, creating a library from scratch… It’s a pretty unusual and exciting task – a blank canvas, with shelving for around 14,000 books (measuring shelves with a tape measure not something I’d done before!), a hard-working sixth form – they have even been known to shh themselves – who had been using its 100-or-so computer terminals for independent study (when I arrived the library was not yet open to the rest of the school), a newly installed, empty catalogue system, security gates (but no books), and ME – fresh out of library school, never worked in a school before, first professional library post – handed the keys to the library kingdom – deep breath – start planning.

First things first – consult with the staff and the boys: liaising with all the heads of department about what resources they’d like, going to meetings with senior staff (really fortunate to have access to a great senior management team), and going into forms to talk to the boys to find out what their favourite books and authors are, what they like to read, and what their ideal library would be like. Loads of ideas, loads of scope for making a really awesome library. Visit another local school and get some much-needed advice from their calm and lovely librarian: “it’s like a garden, there’s always something new to be done, it’s never finished”. Add to that a couple of visiting business grads doing their MA project on library development and there’s a good mix of research to draw on!

Armed with suggestions from staff, boys, fellow librarians and friends, the next thing was to find a good book supplier and get a good deal! Throw in a bevy of boxes of books from the old library and the departments’ subject bookcases, and a nice big order of fiction before the summer, and that was me set to sort, label and catalogue like I’ve never catalogued before.

Empty corridors in the summer holidays – zombie apocalypse? The effect is slightly spoiled by the backdrop of kids’ holiday club!

Summer in the library = greenhouse effect, lots of Radio 2, dusty boxes, mountains of books.

Two months, a lot of labels, and 2000 catalogue records later:

  • One sturdy fiction section (directly informed by the boys’ choices)
  • Recommended reads for sixth form
  • A fledgling non-fiction section

Also: I never thought I’d be so proud of a catalogue, but when you spend so much time with something and every record has been created by you, you can’t help but feel attached! Plus there’s an X-marks-the-spot treasure map for pinpointing the book’s location in the library, which is just cool.

Oh, AND: Write an acquisitions policy, figure out the circulations policy – which turns out to be way more complicated than it sounds – test out what the catalogue can do and make sure you can actually use it, solidify the library rules; try and create Powerpoint presentations that makes all this exciting and accessible for 11 year olds in twenty minutes. Go!

September rolls around, the boys flood back to school, and suddenly it’s showtime with an entire school to induct into the library. My first assembly of the year was with 300 17-18 year olds: not an audience I’d ever presented to before! Two weeks and seven year groups (1300 boys) later, I was getting on a bit of a roll with my “how to use the library – here’s what the catalogue can do” spiel. The best bit was when the lower school came into the library for the first time and ransacked the place for books – a whirlwind of readerly excitement at the end of which my shelves were somewhat decimated, but I had about a third of the school who had taken out books so I didn’t mind – whoever said boys don’t read enough?!

My Y8s started writing book reviews unprompted, pretty much every day I have book requests via the library site (I am also building a virtual library presence on the e-learning side of things which is great fun – access to the catalogue, guides, and lots of links to resources), and my reserve shelf is bristling with books that the boys are clamouring to get hold of (“I can’t believe you’ve got this one, it only came out this week!) I’ve been immersed in the world of children’s and young adult fiction once again – one boy wondered if I’d read all the books in the library because “everything I mention you seem to know everything about” – and that’s my job, how awesome.

NB: I have not read every book in the library (yet), but my memory for author names is serving me well in the knowledgeable librarian stakes….

I’m also really excited about the possibility of online resource subscriptions and encouraging a different kind of research approach across the school – we’re trialling databases and the real challenge will be getting this research mentality and information skills entrenched. Faced with a generation of cut-and-pasting Googlers -some of whom have never seen an index- there’s a tasty info-lit challenge to be had: a definite long-term goal!

So I’m now four weeks shy of Christmas and the boys show no sign of abating with their reading, their borrowing, or their general enthusiasm. It’s early days, but the shelves are gradually getting populated, and the books’ date labels are filling with stamps!

On next term’s agenda – pupil librarians and book club…



Filed under Books, Education, Libraries

Back to school…

20140124-090120.jpgWork Placement: UCS

Over the last two weeks I have been lucky to have the opportunity to work at University College School Library. UCS is an all-boys independent school in North London (though girls are admitted in Sixth Form). During my time here I have had the chance to observe lessons, including an information literacy session in the library, and to get involved in all aspects of school library life. It was great to see how well-used the library was! Thank you to my lovely colleagues who have been so welcoming and helpful during my time with them! I am going to note some of my top experiences…

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LEGO librarians

This is a belated post – as I’ve just found the pictures on my camera! As a bit of fun and a parting gift for my team at Nuffield, I designed them each a Lego minifigure. The idea came from seeing this library lady (left)… (

…and deciding that I would make a more personalised figure for each of my colleagues, as none of them fits the stereotypical librarian bill. (Though you will see that there are a lot of glasses being worn…it’s all the reading; it does for your eyes).

There are quite a few different places that sell customised bits of Lego, including the different hairpieces I was able to find, and you can get the classic heads (these’re the best in my opinion!) and body parts on Ebay without parting with a lot of cash. I just used acrylic paints and clear varnish on my figures, over a basecoat of black spray-paint that you can get in most model shops.

DSCI0586March of the Lego Librarians!

Also: check this out for more messing with librarian stereotypes!

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Trainee Showcase

On the 3rd July, all of the Oxford trainees and their supervisors, plus some other invited guests, gathered to watch a series of presentations from the trainees about their projects and what they’ve been doing in their Oxford libraries (and archives!) during the year. 

I used Prezi, as I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn to about the tool, and I liked the idea of an alternative to Powerpoint. I think it works well on something like my talk which was only ten minutes and very visually-oriented. Not sure how useful it would be if you had a lot of information to convey, as you only have one ‘space’ to fit everything onto. It was certainly fun to get to grips with and surprisingly easy to use once you got used to the frames and zoom concept. I tried to avoid excessive zooming around to keep everyone from getting motion-sick!


My mini-projects were all grouped under the heading revisualising the Library, because I think that is what trainees are able to do: they are new to the library space, and thus able to see it with a fresh view. Everything that I did had quite a strong visual emphasis – the interactive map, the reader guides, the website – so Prezi really helped me to showcase these images effectively. I’ve added a few extra text slides, as without the talk it wasn’t altogether obvious what was happening. Hopefully now, even without my narrative, people will be able to get an idea of what I’ve been up to this year.

Watch my Prezi

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What’s in a name? Or: does CILIP by any other name smell as sweet?

There’s been a whole lot of hoo-ha in the library/knowledge people/information world recently about CILIP’s rebranding. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the acronym, that’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which admittedly is a bit of a mouthful but accurately describes the body – in its non-acronymised form, anyway. When someone first said ‘CILIP’ to me, my inner monologue went something like this: wait, what? S-ilip? What’s that? Ohhh, they mean K-ilip! Well, thank goodness I didn’t try saying that first…hmm, I don’t like Silip, it sounds vaguely syrupy or serpentine – or like that cleaning product, what was it called…?  (and so on and so forth – yes my brain is that interesting, ladies and gentlemen).

Moving on. The point I wanted to make is that I think it’s great that CILIP is going to rebrand. The name doesn’t work in the organisation’s favour if people can’t instantly work out what it’s about and make some sort of reasonable inference as to its aims and objectives, or who it might represent. It’s not useful if new professionals can’t immediately tell how to pronounce it or know what it stands for. Given that advocacy is a major function of the organisation in times when libraries, their services and their employees are under threat, it’s even more important that people in the wider world can identify the organisation and make instant connections with its mission statement. Continue reading

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Library life: six months in and counting…

I can’t believe I’m almost halfway through my trainee year! This post is largely for my own reflection and to keep a note of what I’ve been up to in the last six months, but hopefully it might also inspire/interest those who are considering the graduate traineeship and a possible career in the library and information sector…

What have I done so far?

  • Designed a new Archive Visitors’ leaflet
  • Redesigned the Library Rules/information for new readers guides (including online searchable versions)
  • Went to a training session on referencing software and created a ‘how to’ for Mendeley
  • Learned how to use Sharepoint (specifically for web design)
  • Helped with the major overhaul of the library’s webpages to fit in with the college website redesign
  • Implemented LibraryThing widget feeds on the website to advertise the Library’s New Books
  • Sorted out several discrete collections, updated the catalogues, and created webpages with online holdings
  • Created an interactive map of the library, coded with HTML and using open source design software
  • Compiled a document of reader compliments to promote our Library’s services
  • Attended Library Camp, London

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