On the subject of my subject

My name is Sarah, I’m the subject librarian for architecture at Cardiff University and since 2010 I’ve attended, of my own volition and in my own time, lectures at the Welsh School of Architecture. Here’s how and why…

The lectures

In 2008, after much extolling of the virtues of information literacy to academics, I succeeded in introducing into a module entitled Architecture since 1940 an assessed annotated and critical bibliography exercise, preceding first year students’ first essay

My appalling sketch of an iconic building from notes made during the Architecture since 1940 lectures

My appalling sketch of an iconic building from notes made during the Architecture since 1940 lectures

submission. It quickly became apparent that some underpinning knowledge would help my marking of students’ work. Students’ claims that source material analysed “an iconic building” would be easier to assess if I knew something about the architect.

Though I believed from the outset that lecture attendance would go beyond mere knowledge acquisition, allowing me to better integrate within the School and understand and meet its needs, what I’d not anticipated was quite how valuable and enjoyable the experience would be. So much so that, since attending Architecture since 1940 lectures in 2010I’ve also attended Issues in Contemporary Architecture, a third year module, which I chose because I felt I would enjoy the broad, sometimes multi-disciplinary, nature of the subjects it covers, Cities and Landscapes, a second year module, which starts the process of contextualising the build and makes heavy demands on the library with an extensive reading list and Architecture from Pre-history to the Industrial Revolution, a first year module, which I chose because I knew little of the formal architectural properties it examines.

Professional development

I work part-time, so attend lectures in my own time, adjusting my working hours in order to attend. Because of this flexible approach to my working week, line management support has been crucial and I formally acknowledge my lecture attendance in my appraisal documents.

Lecture attendance has encouraged me to diversify my professional development, which has enhanced my understanding of how best to support the School.  I’ve attended a training day on Building Regulations intended for construction professionals, accompanied a student heating, ventilation, and air conditioning visit, assisted at a Royal Society of Architects in Wales annual conference and participated in some Twentieth Century Society architectural events.

Learning to teach

My more publishable observations on others' teaching

My more publishable observations on others’ teaching

A more obvious benefit to my professional development has been the opportunity to observe others teaching.  I’ve valued the chance to see architecture lecturers at work, to observe their reliance on the visual representation of information and see how informal the lecture process can be.  This has directly impacted on my own teaching, as I’ve attempted to teach in a style more compatible with the School’s.


Collection development

Recommended reading for one module, collected during lectures

One module’s lecture notes, including recommended reading not on reading lists

Attending lectures confirmed my suspicions that lots of reading material is recommended during lectures, supplemental to formal reading lists. In the case of the Cities and Landscapes module, which has an unusually extensive reading list, attending the lectures gave me a better appreciation of how the sheer breadth of knowledge imparted has necessitated this extensive reading list.  It also helped me understand the odd fluctuations in student demands for texts, as I witnessed lecturers setting students’ informal assessments.

Student experience

I’ve gained some insight into how architecture students learn.  This insight led to some dalliance with Performance Based Learning techniques, to more informal delivery of teaching and to a better appreciation of student workload.  And hearing some of the subject-specific language they encounter, I’ve attempted to employ that vocabulary where feasible, to suggest a synergy between School and Library.

Staff engagement

Attendance at lectures has often resulted in an improved relationship with academics. Some now seek my advice on what texts to best set for student reading. More frequent, though not as warranted, are requests for feedback on the content and teaching style of modules. Viz,

Great to have feedback Sarah…I do sometimes feel like I am speaking into the void. […]  If you can see anything that I could improve please let me know.

If nothing else, the experience of attending lectures has offered witness to the extent to which some academics suffer the same anxieties as me about the relevance, interest or style of delivery of material.

Student engagement

Attending lectures has increased my visibility among students.  Most are unquestioning that I should be attending lectures.

Lovely architecture student demonstrates sketching in Dublin

I got paid to go abroad and watch students sketch. Lovely.

My first attendances at lectures signalled enough of an interest in architecture that I was invited to accompany the first year undergraduates on their week-long study visit to Dublin in March 2011.  This was an excellent opportunity to further engage with students, to discover a little better how they were taught, how they learned and what motivated their architectural interest.


Stourhead Gardens, which I viewed differently following a lecture on their construction

I visited Stourhead Gardens with a friend following a lecture on the Gardens. My poor friend was subjected to all sorts of facts.

Personal development

And, finally, I attend architecture lectures because I enjoy it.  I’m learning about buildings and I’m visiting places, such as Stourhead Gardens and Wells Cathedral, with fresh eyes.

The future

Next year the structure of the undergraduate curriculum is changing and I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to so easily slot lectures into my working week. But I’m very keen to do so. Do you think I should? Or am I deluding myself that attending architecture lectures is a valid part of my role?

At least one person I know agrees with my assessment of my experience… This blog post is adapted from a short presentation given at the 2013 ARCLIB conference in the University of York. Subsequent to this presentation one colleague felt encouraged to investigate attending lectures in their own institution, “with a view to improving the Library’s support for new undergraduates”. I hope they find it as rewarding as I have.


What David says you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs

The rather splendid Canton Social Media Surgery people dangled a wonderful nugget of enticement to local social media wannabes for their November gathering at Chapter Arts Centre… a talk from local barrister, David Hughes, entitled What you can and cannot say on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.  Likely along with many, the Twitter joke trial had me wondering whether I should be more careful about my occasional forays into online silliness.  And this week’s (apparently extremely lenient) fining of nine people who revealed on Twitter and Facebook the identity of a woman raped by footballer Ched Evans served as a lesson, to any who weren’t clear, that social media is not a private conversation among friends.

The observant amongst you will notice this is NOT a barrister’s wig

So off I tootled to listen.  And fascinating stuff it was, too.

What follows is my representation of what I consider I heard David Hughes say.  I wouldn’t like to state he said any of this, mind.  See, I’m now rather concerned that I may misrepresent David Hughes on this here blog and he’ll come after me with his barrister-y wig…

David identified four legislative areas where social media users could trip up, namely defamation, privacy, contempt and criminal law.


@L_OS_Cymru's Defamatory Tweet

Goodness. How rude! But is it defamatory?

See this tweet (to the left) from today…?  This tweet could well be defamatory. Unless @L_OS_Cymru can show his expressed opinion to be substantially true.  And you lot had best not go repeating what he said.  Just because you’re saying what @L_OS_Cymru has already said, doesn’t mean you’re not in trouble too.  Unless you can prove what you said wasn’t serious, was in the public interest, you knew your source for this information was reliable or you’d sought comment from me about my ducts and had also tweeted that information.  Or, if you wanted to get all Private Eye, you could tweet that you’d heard unsubstantiated reports about my ducts…

David covered a whole lot of information about defamation.  I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what he said, and appreciate he hardly touched on what he could’ve said about the subject.  The picture I felt David painted was a complex maelstrom of potential pitfalls for the unthinking tweeter.  But he did pass on one extremely handy tip… Always state true facts upon which your opinion is based.  This can be deemed to be honest comment (a legal term, that is) and is sort of ok-ish-maybe-unless-you’re-rude-about-someone-angry-and-very-very-powerful.  State your opinion, link to a published news article wherein the facts upon which your opinion is based appear and Bob’s your uncle.  Unless the article states that Bob isn’t.


Legislation in respect to privacy seemed a heck of a lot easier to understand than defamation.  David laid out the basics for us with, “You can say what the hell you like about Gary Glitter”.  You know, unless he winds up in court.  Then, careful now.

For everyone else think:

  • Would a reasonable person expect you to keep private what you know about them?
  • Is there real justification for publishing that information (via social media)?

So, if anyone (@benelwell) knows anything more about my ducts, shush.


David said read this.

Criminal liability

If you’re offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing online, you’re still subject to criminal law.  That’s straight forward enough and, frankly, I think we should all be clear about it by now, following a number of recent high profile cases.

David noted indecency is subject to a more fluid interpretation than obscenity.  A photograph of an aborted foetus posted online by someone making a pro-life statement could, for example, be considered indecent, and, therefore, potentially subject to criminal prosecution.  But you’re all lovely, lovely people and you won’t be getting all menacing or indecent, so you’ve nothing to worry about.  But if you do fancy mock-threatening your local airport, David remarked, “That case is a reflection of modern culture, because no-one thought he meant it seriously”.  See how careful David avoided expressing any real opinion about it though?  Eh?  Canny, that.

So there you have it.  But let’s be clear.  The above in no way constitutes legal advice.  Or opinion.  Or anything much of anything.  Dash it all, I should’ve shown you a picture of a cat instead of writing this.  I think it’s ok to do that online.

Oh, and David said that because this blog post invites you to comment, I’m responsible for what you say on here, so have to moderate your comments carefully.  Consider yourself warned, @L_OS_Cymru.

Bond. Nice, but no superlatives.

I saw Skyfall today. It was diverting, occasionally exciting, had some rather lovely scenic shots and was worth the £4.90 cinema ticket.

And that’s about it.

Other bleaches are available.

No superlatives. No hyperbole. It was just quite good. I enjoyed it. But I’ve forgotten much of it already. Well, I shan’t forget Bardem’s badly bleached hair and eyebrows. Neither shall I forget his character’s dubious motivation.  And his intelligence and logic so easily floored by actions that even I could’ve anticipated. Oh, perhaps the excessive bleaching had affected his cognitive abilities? Is that possible? And why hadn’t he bleached his facial growth and hand hair to match? Were we to suspend our belief and think this man naturally blonde? Or assume he had plenty of time to bleach his roots in between learning everything about computers (though only ever demonstrating he knew where the Enter key is located), and planning dastardly deeds? And, if so, wouldn’t you think a man who’d had a brush with hydrogen cyanide would want to stay away from the nasty chemicals? Hm?

You see where I am with this film? It was fun. But flawed. The film was ok. Not brilliant. Not awesome. Not the best Bond ever. Fun. It was fun.

This isn’t the best sunset I’ve ever seen. (Photo by me.)

Yes, I wrote ‘fun’ thrice in that last paragraph. Intentionally. It was in an effort to convince you I’m not curmudgeonly, though that I went out of my way to attend a cinema screening costing a bargain £4.90 may suggest otherwise. I’m just tired of superlatives. Or, more precisely, I’m tired of people not preserving superlatives for when they are truly warranted. I’m tired of superlative abuse. I’m not exhausted, you understand, I’m tired. Well, not even that, truth be told. I’m a tad weary.

Tell me a cake you’ve just eaten was the best thing ever and notice how my pursed lips smile weakly, because it’s too much effort to pull apart your evident exaggeration and explain that it’ll now be difficult to convince me of something you’ve done that truly warrants awe. And notice how I reciprocate by waxing poetic about potatoes. Instead of sharing with you something that has truly touched me.

Bond? It was ok, yes? But do me a favour and cease wantonly bandying your hyperbole about this film. If you could, that would be fabulous.

Oh. Did I say fabulous? I meant quite nice.

No tweets for Lent

Twitter’s great.  I said as much in this Prezi, so let’s not bother with the specifics of why right now, eh?  Except to mention how I’ve met some truly excellent people because of Twitter, and my life would be far less rich without them.  Sniff.

Tai chi

These were my people. For three years.

But me and Twitter, we’d had our three year anniversary.  And I’ve empirical evidence that three years is as long as I usually love anything.  ANYTHING.  Pottery class, three years. Tai chi, three years. Jiu jitsu, three years.  Choir, three years.  Egyptian Arabic lessons, three years.  Husband, three years.

You get the picture.

Me and Twitter, we were doomed.  We needed a break from each other.  Enter Lent and a perfect opportunity to fast from the daily thoughts of 340 people.  Well, mostly.  Some of them I knew I’d still see during Lent and many of them are Facebook friends, but you get the picture.

Gone for Lent

I went for Lent.

And I should get to the point.

What did I my Twitter-less Lent teach me?  Did I learn I was truly addicted and spend the entire six weeks mumbling incoherent sentences of precisely 140 characters?  Or did I forget all about it and joyfully gambol, lamb-like, through fields of daffodils instead?

The withdrawal

I was twitchy for the first week, constantly fiddling with my phone.  And it was a full month before I stopped conjuring pithy remarks in my mind every time something amusingly mundane happened.  More alarming was how others reacted.  A handful of people not on Twitter almost reeled in shock at my announcement.  Evidently for them, Twitter partly defines me, which couldn’t have brought home more emphatically how it was time to cut back on my online interaction.  Of those on Twitter, some expressed, throughout Lent, that they regretted my departure, which was nothing other than touching.  Yep.  These were the people who, if I’d’ve died during Lent, would’ve come to my funeral.  Or would, at least, have tweeted about how they wish they could’ve come to my funeral.  Or maybe thought about tweeting about how they wish they could’ve come to my funeral and then just TwitPic’ed a photo of a nice flower* instead.

The benefits

Oh dear goodness, I had SO much more time.  Some of which I used to sleep.  Bloody Twitter had stolen my sleep.  Bloody Twitter had also stolen most of the space in my brain.  My brain had been full of nonsense about vague acquaintances, when it should’ve been partly full with my family’s news.  And partly empty.  Boy, was my head quieter.  Less spin-y. Less crazy, I-can’t-breathe, overwhelming, what-am-I-doing-next-today, look-at-this-cute-picture-of-a-cat, iPad3-is-out-let’s-all-buy-it-now.  Which meant I could concentrate better…  I properly listened when people talked… and the previously baffling plotlines of Lewis re-runs suddenly made sense, because I was there, in the moment, not distracted by 340 people.  Plus I relaxed more because hundreds of (admittedly lovely) lbrarians weren’t chatting about work in my living room after 6pm.

The downsides

I missed the camaraderie of Twitter.  I quickly remembered that, though I have plenty of hobbies and non-Twitter-friends and make efforts to go out, pre-Twitter I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts.  And there were moments that would’ve felt so much more poignant had I shouted about them to 1,320 or so people.  Such as Wales winning the rugby Grand Slam, or TEDxCardiff 2012 or a rather curious police incident outside my house one Friday evening.

But I’m fairly resilient, and mostly coped without the banter and the broadcast.

John Donne

This is John Donne. He wasn't an island either.

More difficult was the anxiety I felt over losing touch, both personally and professionally.  I felt I’d chosen to not go to a fabulous party and had spent the entire evening thinking about what was happening at the fabulous party.  Or I’d skipped a meeting and all the big decisions about stuff that I cared about were being made at that meeting.

I’m a woman, not an island, see?

The outcome

So, it’s Easter and I’m back to using Twitter. Because there were people I truly missed.  And because it would be professionally foolhardy to stay away.  My forthcoming week illustrates this perfectly… I’m off to Glasgow for the LILAC conference, a librarian shindig to do with teaching and that, where I’ll get some excellent librarian-chum hugs and read tweets about newfangled pedagogical theories from the sessions I can’t attend.

But my six tweet-free weeks have taught me I need to modify how I use it.  More looking at the world instead of my phone.  No more post-midnight tweeting.  No more Twitter in lieu of finding something more constructive to do.  More Tweetdeck columns to organise those I follow and, hopefully, reduce some of the noise.  And maybe some unfollows.  But, er, not YOU obviously.

To those who sent me lovely (and professionally advantageous) messages during Lent, I thank you for thrusting temptation in my way.  I wobbled occasionally, reading some tweets, favouriting a handful and sending three direct messages, but I did no public tweeting.  I ate obscene amounts of chocolate instead.  Though didn’t joyfully gambol amidst daffodils.  No, not even once.

* those who know me will realise I’d prefer a photo of a potato or some bubblewrap

Why blog?: an activity for the Connected Researcher workshop 23 February 2012

The RIN report  "Social media: a guide for researchers"

The RIN report "Social media: a guide for researchers"

The Research Information Network’s Social Media: a guide for researchers states, “almost all the researchers interviewed for this project maintain a blog of some kind”.  These researchers, with demanding schedules and the pressures that academic life bring, wouldn’t be blogging aimlessly.  So what would motivate them to make time to publish their thoughts online?

Spend a few moments thinking about what potential you see for blogging.  Would blogging offer you an opportunity to reflect, to diarise?  Somewhere to collate material you find online?  A chance to share your ideas?  Would you see blogging as a great networking or learning opportunity?  Share your thoughts informally in a comment below and we’ll discuss them together.  Rather than posting one long, considered comment, you may chose to post a number of short comments, so others may respond and you may engage in an online conversation.

Chasing moths

At the beginning of the academic year, a university-based librarian usually finds herself* instructing students in how to find information. I completed my initial forty-six hours of such instruction yesterday, so it’s time to take stock…

I sometimes wonder, when in the throes of teaching, whether the students reallise how much effort goes into educating them.  I reflect on the times I sat through certain of my degree lectures, a little bored, wondering when it would be over, not for one moment considering that the person talking had put hours and hours into preparing the lecture, was likely making a certain physical effort in delivering it and could wind up deflated if there was no obvious appreciation.

El Croquis. Smell the quality.

El Croquis. Smell the quality.

I put a lot of me into my teaching. I enthuse about beautiful architectural books, about databases, about fabulous high resolution Creative Commons licensed photographs of buildings. I’m quite physical in my enthusing.  When I talk about structuring searches and identifying synonyms for keywords, I run to the nearest window, point and ask the architectural students to tell me what it is (one day someone WILL say fenestration).  When I talk about the gorgeously glossy architectural journals such as El Croquis and Casabella, I have a good sniff of the pages and pass them around, instructing the students to smell the quality of the information (they always indulge me, bless ’em).  I positively force students to stroke material samples we hold in our trade literature collection.  I sometimes use interpretive dance to demonstrate ideas (this works particularly well when explaining CI/SfB classification). I have students join in panto-style, shouting out answers, telling me whether a search will result in more (higher!) or fewer (lower!) results.  I have them grade on a scale of one to ten how excited they are about particular database search features (it’s usually an eight).  I spend in the region of £25 each year buying lollies to hand out to students for answering a quiz question using databases, getting some Internet for Architecture Tutorial quizzes correct and answering my particularly tricky citing and referencing questions.  And I recently found myself running about a room trying to free a moth, offering a moment’s diversion for the students.

Architecture students are a particularly clever and creative lot.  They are peculiarly confident and sometimes delightfully cheeky.  So, more often than not, the instructing will descend into jolly banter, which I actively encourage.

And, each time I manage to sneak into another School of Architecture lecture and discover what the students are learning, I try to incorporate some of that experience into my own teaching.  This can leave me feeling very vulnerable, as I’m ignorant about architecture, and can’t easily express why I respond to a particular building in a particular way, but sometimes this obvious vulnerability draws an opinion from an otherwise retiring student.

Water Moth by Benjiman Green, on Flickr

This is not the moth I saved. This moth is likely dead now. (Photo by Benjiman Green)

I tell myself that these things combined mean the students stand a better chance of remembering what I’m trying to teach.  That these things combined mean I appear human to them and they’re more likely to approach me on library related matters.  And these things combined have often resulted in exactly that. But these things combined aren’t pedagogically sound and may be frowned upon were some colleagues to witness them.  And these things combined mean I could alienate students who judge me unprofessional.

I’d love to hear other librarians’ thoughts on this.  On whether it’s best to subdue one’s personality when teaching. Or whether a little bit of silliness goes a long way…

* shameful gender stereotyping

Library Camp: it wasn’t in a library and there was no camping

Sarah points out the next session

We chose our sessions from Post-It proposals on a board (Photo by Katy Wrathall)

Last Saturday 150 enthusiastic librarians and library enthusiasts converged on Birmingham for an unstructured day of sharing, cake eating and hugging.  This was Libary Camp and it was good.

A darned high proportion of the 150 enthused library types have already blogged about Library Camp in splendid detail. You’ll find these posts via the Libary Camp Twitter archive. So, if these posts are splendid, why should I bother blogging too?  Well, dearest reader, because once again the power of the Twitter librarian (for the Library Campers were mostly Twitter-savvy) has rescued me from a bit of a motivational slump at work and I feel inspired…

I’ll wager that all the Campers gave their own time and money to talk about work on a weekend.  I love my job, and gladly allow certain parts of it to drift into my personal life.  At times I, unreasonably, resent some colleagues for not doing the same.  To meet so many people, who have the same attitude as me was wondrously self-validating.

The Library Campers reminded me I’ve still so much to learn.  I’ve been librarianing* for twenty seventeen years and can, at times, be complacent, thinking I do my job just fine, thanks.  If I never ventured beyond my own institution, I could end up believing my own hype.  This morning I slowed the pace of a library induction because @joeyanne and Jean Allen’s session on Transliteracy: bridging the transition from school and further education to higher education brought home to me that some 18 year olds may never have been inside a library.  @AndyWalsh999 and @DaveyP’s session on Games and gamification gave me an idea for my soon-to-be-rewritten finding architectural information sessions (it has something to do with images of buildings and jigsaws).  And tomorrow I’ll be asking whether we can get data re where people are located when they use Cardiff University’s mobile app to chat online to librarians, to better inform our approach to roving, or floor-walking, because it was suggested during @AndyWalsh999’s session on Mobile technology and what it means for us.

Thumbs up for the massage

Hugs, massages, handshakes (for the less desirous of human contact)... it was all on offer at Library Camp! (Photo by Ben Elwell)

I was with friends.  Good friends.  Good friends who like to hug.  Absolutely nothing better for the spirits than friends and hugs.  You can see just how happy this made me in a couple of the non-cake Library Camp photos on Flickr and in some of @llordllama‘s Randy Weasel films.

Add to that already heady mix a great evening meal with some of my favourite people, an absolutely lovely weekend spent with @SmilyLibrarian, @SarahGB and @EzzieSays and Wales winning through to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup, and you can guess at why my Library Camp weekend left me buzzing.

I achieved a lot more today, a Monday, than I ordinarily would, thanks to my post-Library Camp buzz. The Twitter librarians, the Library Campers, are my colleagues, as much as the people I see every day. They inspire me.  They are great.

*not a real word

Librarian, heal thyself

Lovely architecture student demonstrates sketching in Dublin

I got paid to go abroad and watch students sketch. Lovely.

In March, I was fortunate to accompany the first year architecture students on their week-long architectural study visit to Dublin.  I spent the majority of my time watching the students sketch buildings.  I quickly realised that the act of sketching, the doing, was how these students were learning. And I began to wonder whether this explained why they rarely retained the information seeking skills I tried to instill in them.

Now, librarian chums, do not fear! I’ve always insisted students do the old information seeking and evaluation bit. I even tie it to an assessed critical bibliography, which precedes their first essay submission. But, I was thinking, was this enough doing? And the right sort of doing?

I resolved to review my first year workshops for the 2011/2012 academic year.

My doodles

My doodles. Mostly of food.

So, with the 2011/2012 academic year almost upon us, when I’ve a spare moment, I’ve stared at the wall and awaited inspiration. I’ve doodled. I’ve re-read my last year’s workshop material. I’ve played with a new architecture database and its fun visual representation of results.

Yes, wall-gazing is how I, a librarian, usually approach finding new ideas for my teaching. I, a librarian, who expends obscene amounts of energy telling other people to research their topics using bibliographic databases. I, a librarian, who looks ruefully at people when they tell me there’s no quality information for their essay, or pictures for their design project. I, a librarian, when I need to find information, don’t do research and I don’t do databases…

Oh, and I usually return my books late and get library fines…

Anyway, a fortnight ago, two things happened that reminded me there could be some professional literature out there that could help me with the whole right sort of doing thing…

First of all, I attended a Social Media for Researchers workshop with Dr Alice Bell, wherein we were encouraged to set up a blog, register for ResearchBlogging.com and blog about a peer-reviewed article.

Secondly, a colleague from the wonderful Architecture Librarians’ Group recommended an article on the information seeking behaviours of architects. From a peer-reviewed journal, no less. What fortune!

So, armed with one peer-reviewed article that I’m currently trying to digest and potentially blog about, I’ve also tracked down other relevant articles using LISTA, the Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts database.  And I’ve found information from Dr Andrew Roberts and Professor Andrew Baldwin on the Centre for Education in the Built Environment‘s website, about problem-based learning in architecture and civil engineering students’ information searching behaviour.

Do I have my new workshop materials? Not yet. But do I feel a little reassured that my approach to teaching preparation won’t be as erratic as usual? Yes.

So, is this librarian healed?

Um, probably not…

The secret life of an academic librarian

I got a bit mucky with the weeding today. At work. Let me explain…

Library space is finite, but knowledge is forever growing and shifting. Most library users never question how it is librarians keep buying books without the shelves ever getting full.

More Flatlets for Old People

Uh oh, a green book

Well, we weed. We put books that haven’t been read into stores and, when the stores are full, we withdraw stock from stores.  I won’t bore you with the details, but, dear reader, please be assured that we define withdrawal parameters and produce systems reports to meet those parameters.  We don’t just chuck out the green books. I promise.

So, back to today… We need to clear one of our remote stores, ready for the University to build some shiny new building. This store is a cold, steel, hangar-like, window-less and woefully biscuit-free construction. It’s full, good and proper full, of stuff.  Over 30 metres of that stuff is related to architecture, the discipline I’m responsible for. There are no systems reports to assist me with the weeding here, just a netbook to check library catalogues and my knowledge of what the School of Architecture teaches and researches. That’s in my head. Which is why a librarian devoted to one subject, a subject librarian if you will, makes a good weeder. We mostly know what excites the academics and what they won’t miss. Parisian garden pavilions? Yes please! Eighteenth century churches of Dorset? Be gone with you! In addition to knowing what can be reasonably withdrawn, the subject librarian has a good gut feeling for what books are worth a bit. Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes that 1909 first edition can be picked up from a second-hand book dealer for 63p. But often we spot what’s going in the second-hand trade for over £100.  I found a lovely few bits and pieces in our hangar-like store worth £2,000, and they were right mucky too. (Don’t worry, we’ll de-muck those and put them somewhere safe.)

48 metres of books

About 48 metres of books

I’ve got another 35-odd hours of work to clear my bits from this store. Hours that I’d much rather spend teaching students about electronic databases, or helping academics with a tricky enquiry, or ordering more lovely books for our weeded shelves, but I know this work is crucial.  And out of sight of the library users. And totally, utterly unappreciated. Ah well, much of what the academic librarian does to keep things ticking over is secret. And, truth be told, provided our users are happy, we don’t really mind.