Two Library Visits

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been on visits to two very different but equally interesting libraries – the Scott Polar Research Institute library and the library at Anglia Ruskin University.

The Librarian at the Scott Polar Research Institute has a really interesting role because she is responsible both for the library and for the Polar Museum collections. The museum collection includes many artefacts from polar expeditions, such as maps, dog-sleds and furs, as well as pieces of furniture and equipment from ships which sailed to the Antarctic. We were lucky enough to be shown the Museum storeroom, which housed a really interesting selection of textiles and paintings, and we were also shown the cold room, which is a room kept at -30 degrees. The purpose of the room is to freeze the museum artefacts in order to free them of moths before they are put into storage – the Librarian explained to us that items are kept in the cold room for two weeks, before being transferred to a comparatively warmer area kept at zero degrees in order to bring them gradually back up to room temperature. Apparently this is a very effective way of getting rid of moths, but one which doesn’t do any damage to the artefacts.

As well as being shown around the museum, we also had a very interesting tour of the library – as the Institute is a world-leading centre for polar research, the library is used by a wide variety of different patrons, not only by academics and students. The Librarian gave us one example of somebody who had phoned the library to find out the correct tyre pressure for a plane which needed to land on ice – the enquirer was just about to set off on their own polar expedition so this was a fairly vital piece of information and the library was able to provide it. The Librarian was really enthusiastic about her role and it definitely seemed like a really interesting place to work.

My second recent visit was to Anglia Ruskin University library, which I visited yesterday afternoon. This library was very different from the college library where I work – it was packed with bustling students and was quite noisy as the students are allowed to talk and use mobile phones on the first level of the library, with the quieter floors being situated upstairs. This idea of different floors for different kinds of use was one which was also utilised by the library at the University of Warwick where I did my Masters degree, and I think it’s a good idea in principle – students need areas where they can work in groups and collaborate, as well as areas for silent study. However, as the Anglia Ruskin trainees pointed out, in practice this can often lead to noise travelling upstairs to the quieter floors as students sometimes fail to make the transition between noisy and silent as they pass through the different areas.

This is why clear and bold signage can be really important in libraries like this, so that the rules for each area are made clear to the library users. The Anglia Ruskin trainees had an excellent idea about creating colour coded signage for each area, with different colours being used to indicate whether the area should be noisy, quiet, or silent. I think that this would definitely provide a useful visual clue to students, as the current signage within the Anglia Ruskin library is the same between floors and quite generic.

The two Anglia Ruskin trainees gave us a really comprehensive overview of their roles – they explained that the central focus of their job was customer service and that they spent a lot of time helping students and roaming the library looking for anyone in need of assistance. Unlike me, they don’t do any cataloguing or processing of stock because their books always arrive shelf-ready and can be put straight out. Anglia Ruskin has a no growth policy regarding their collection, which means that for every new book bought, another book must be removed from the library. Because of this, the library is investing heavily in ebooks and ejournals as this allows the collection to grow without it taking up any extra valuable floor-space.

It was interesting to hear one of the Anglia Ruskin trainees describe how she worked set shifts in each area of the library and how she was scheduled to do each task at a specified time. This reminded me of how my work was structured when I worked in a public library, as I was given set times to work on the counter, or shelve, or do RFID tagging, depending on what the priorities were that day. In my current job I am much more in charge of my own workload and it is up to me to prioritise my own tasks – I like this as it means that I am able to build variety into my daily schedule, and I also like the feeling of being able to take an independent responsibility for my own work.

I am finding it very useful to learn about the diverse working environments which can be found in different libraries – it is clear that no two library jobs are the same. The Anglia Ruskin library definitely seemed like quite a challenging environment to work in, simply due to the high numbers of students, but I liked the buzz and bustle of it and I think that it would be a vibrant and exciting place to work. However, I also like my own college library, which is peaceful and elegant and full of very serious and independent students who just come in, get their heads down and study.

I think that my ideal library work environment in the future will be somewhere between these two types – I like to have lots of interaction with students, but I also like to do the work that happens behind the scenes and which relates to the management of the library’s collection. I think that my ideal role would also involve some teaching, as I am really interested in information literacy and user education. Overall, I’m definitely getting a sense of the type of librarian I want to be after I complete my traineeship, and the library visits that I’ve been on have given me some really useful insights in this respect. I’m looking forward to visiting more libraries in both Oxford and London over the coming months!

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