Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Day in Exeter...

This week I took part in a trip to the Devon and Exeter Institution and Exeter Cathedral Library and Archive organised by SWRLS and CILIPSW.

In a row of houses that make up Cathedral Close, sits a small white unassuming building, previously the home of the Courtenay family, the Earls of Devon... but behind those doors is a beautiful collection spanning two hundred years of arts, sciences and humanities and articles of local importance. The library was established in 1813 by local gentry of Exeter who began the collection with £4000 of books – a significant sum at this time in history. The Institution is everything that you’d expect from an old, established library. There are two main rooms to the library which are walled floor to ceiling with leather bound tomes. This is a library from another time, the card catalogues are still well used and many members came in during the morning to read the daily paper whilst sitting in the comfort of a cosy armchair. You could very easily have believed yourself in an Austen novel... maybe walking the library of Mansfield Park or Pemberley.

The chief librarian, Roger Brien, spent some time talking to us about the history of the building from its establishment as a library to the present day and it’s now charity status. He also spent some time sharing anecdotes of some of the Institution’s librarians and more interesting benefactors.

After a brilliant lunch we strolled around the cathedral gardens to the new home of the Exeter Cathedral Library and Archive where Librarian Peter Thomas and Archivist Ellie Jones showed us some of their precious collection. This collection includes records and artefacts from as early back as 800 AD including the Exeter Book, which is part of the Domesday records.  The Library holds items from the cathedral’s history and collections of interest from patrons and benefactors of the cathedral which include an extensive collection of medical books from as far back as the Tudor period.

It was a very interesting day and an eye opener to the world of special libraries. As a public librarian it isn’t very often that I get to see older collections and I can’t imagine getting much work done if I worked in either of these locations. A recurring theme in both locations was making the issue of making the public aware of the collections held in these places. As a public librarian we are also having this problem of preaching to the converted. With social media so prevalent you would think it would be easier to publicise services but how do you reach those groups who could benefit from your resources and help?

I would like to thank Clive and Lynne for organising the day and if you are intrigued by what you’ve read here there is another visit planned for the 6th February so keep an eye out on the message boards.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Newcastle Central Library

During a weekend jaunt up north I took an hour out to visit the new Newcastle Central Library... I say new, it has been open since 2009! This is part of the new generation of public library and the thing that always hits me about these buildings is how they look and adopt the layout of academic libraries reminding me of Sheffield University’s Information Commons. It was also interesting to compare it with Swindon Central Library and Wiltshire’s new Trowbridge Library (housed within County Hall, Wiltshire Council’s headquarters).

The central library is over six levels with space for exhibitions, meeting rooms, a computer suite, cafe, crèche and all the normal things a library holds including BOOKS! I particularly liked the express zone on level one with different themed displays for quick choice but was thrown that the fiction is housed on level three. Instead the non-fiction is located on level one and adds to the feeling of it being an academic as oppose to public library. I should explain that there are two entrances to the library but in some ways it’s more like walking into a shopping centre than a library (modern design is funny like that!). It would take too long and you would be asleep by the time I’d finished so I'm just going to pull out a few interesting and what I think are key points.

  • All library staff are roving in the central library and were easy to point out but became few and further between the further you went up. There are enquiry points but none of the more traditional counters for memberships and queries.
  • For the size of the library there are only two bays of horror fiction although there is a very prominent blood-thirsty display but I wonder what will happen to this once the genre dies down.
  • The size of the children’s library struck me as odd in proportion to the size of the library but I imagine that children are not the main catchment for the central library. It takes up a third of the floor space on level three along with what you would expect in a standard public library (fiction, DVDs, music, large print and talking books). Whilst we were there this space was also being used for a gaming afternoon which livened the atmosphere and brings an often reluctant demographic into the library.
  • Newspapers and magazines were spread out across all levels of the library which could be confusing to first time users. 

The library’s wide variety of services include the normal eBooks, author events, home delivery service but also other initiatives which I believe work in these urban environments such as work clubs, business workshops, Internet taster sessions and law in the library which sees solicitors from Northumbria University School of Law give free legal advice to users. There is a similar programme in Wiltshire not with the law but with health which sees local nurses hold drop in sessions in libraries which has proven very successful over the last two years.

One last point I would like to raise which is along the same lines is the  promotion of a collection called “From Words to Wellbeing” which is much like Wiltshire’s “Books on Prescription” in that local GPs can ‘prescribe’ books that help you manage your wellbeing. In Newcastle Central this collection is kept together and under signage which makes it obvious to all what a person is looking at... the advantage of this is that members of the public can find it themselves and help themselves if they are too shy to ask. In Wiltshire libraries these books are kept in with the normal run of non-fiction and people have to come to the counter... it would be interesting to compare these two services and see whether users are comfortable with one way over the other.

Below are a few photos of interesting displays and initiatives set up in the library. Living in such a rural county it is interesting to see how more urban areas are dealing with the challenges of twenty first century public services including libraries. Newcastle impressed me and there are small changes I can make in my libraries which may prove successful. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

October Book Reviews

A stunning emotional debut by Laura Harrington... Alice Bliss and her family are thrown into unknown territory when her father is called up to fight in Afghanistan. When he leaves the family try to carry on as normal but cracks start to appear almost immediately... an already fraught relationship between Alice and her mother doesn't get any better, boundaries shift, life changes and 15yr old Alice is just trying to keep up

I read Engelby a few years a go which is a very twisted novel and I've always meant to go back to Faulks... Charlotte Gray seemed like an obvious choice and easier as I knew the story due to the film... little did I know it's completely different! Charlotte is an independent young woman ahead of her time in many ways who wants to help in the War effort. She is snapped up by G unit and sent to France in a matter of months where the truths of War unfold and Charlotte learns what it is she's fighting for.... Love is ever present as a purpose for her actions and we follow many characters through their individual battles.

A hard slog but I'm glad I made it through... characters

made by Faulks will haunt you for years after

 A wonderfully seductive and easy read with the complicated lives of a small group of friends Amber, Greg, Jen and Matt. With a group of close friends who have known each other for years they are always going to be secrets, old and new. The chocolate run embeds us into Amber's life as she traverses life, love and the brilliant relaxing qualities of chocolate in a modern world. An easy read whilst ill and a beauty from an author I've been meaning to read for a while... I'm glad I took the time!

Another of the never-ending dsytopian teen novels. This for me was lacking something although I can't put my finger on what.
Cal is just a normal kid, goes to school, comes home, does his homework but then the cracks start appearing, voices are in his head, seeing things in the shadows... and then he is woken from the coma that has been induced in him for 12 years. What ensues is a need for truth, discovery of a new world and the need to find a family you don't remember.

For those that like a bit of quirky with their novels... If you enjoyed the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels this will be right up your alley... PC Grant is coming to the end of probation and working out where to go next when he gets sent to DC Nightingale and the magic law unit... what ensues is a case of murder and magic, gods, goddesses, ghosts all in the setting of the multicultural capital... slow to start but picked up pace and now I can't wait for the next installment!

The 2012 Orange prize Winner.. a debut by Miller focusing on the life time relationship of Achilles and all ancient greek history the Gods aren't quiet for long and we follow the twists and turns of a unique relationship in the time of the siege of Troy... written in a easier style not losing the poetry of ancient greek tradition... easily read with a balance of action and emotion to keep you reading

After following a £10 note around for a weekend Steve Boggan went to the next step and followed a $10 around the USA for a month... with no input or influence Boggan follows the noted from the centre of America in Kansas to Illinois. As much a story of travel around USA what stays with you is the people Boggan meets along the way and the trials they face in modern day America... the kindness of strangers is abundant.. an interesting perspective and a quirky way of viewing modern american society.