Thursday, 27 September 2012

Open House, London...

Away from the 23 Things, Open House Weekend was a chance for everyday plebs like me to have a look inside some of the city's most remarkable buildings (many of which are normally inaccessible to the general public). I thought I'd take this opportunity to visit some of London's more unique and/or lesser known libraries:  

Rotherhithe Picture Library

This is located at Sands Film Studios (not far from Canada Water tube station). It has been converted from an old grain warehouse and the building now positively oozes with history and character. Our tour guide, Neil, grew up in to this area and his retelling of the history of this craftsy building was something of a performance in itself. He took delight in explaining how the wooden arches (which are visible in the picture below) resemble an upside version of the Mary Rose, for example and spoke fondly about the nautical history of this docklands area:  

The picture research library is located on the ground floor of
Sands Film Studios and has the feel of a boat's lower deck

The library is an educational charity, mainly used by local schools and researchers.
It has thousands of images contained in scrapbooks like these

The Studios also include an independent cinema which runs a Film Club. There are an array of workshops too, many of which are dedicated to the making of costumes for some huge productions, such as Anna Karenina recently and the upcoming film adaptation of Les MisĂ©rables:

This cosy independent cinema has screenings most Tuesdays at 9pm
Sets and props are also created on site. I and other participants in the Open London tour got to try on some of the fantastic masks and animal heads which are crafted here:

Giving my best Bottom! (A Midsummer Nights Dream)

The RSA Fellows' Library

The RSA (or the 'Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce' to give it its proper name) is located a stone's throw from Trafalgar Square and dates back to 1774. Professor Stephen Hawking, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and (a little earlier) Madame Curie... heck, even Queen Victoria herself were all Presidents of this prestigeous society. The complex nature of its architecure, consisting of 6 interlinked houses means Robert Adam's building has frequently undergone refurbishment work. The Great Room has been re-designed 8 times since its inception, as an example, although the room's original murals still survive. Some parts of the building were adapted from other uses (the Adelphi Hotel was based here during the last century, for instance) which has meant architectural challenges which designers have overcome through innovation. They've successfully opened up the space, transforming it into the bright and airy exhibition and conference facility it is now:

The Strand Entrance of the RSA and an adjoining auditorium behind this are
converted from a former tunnel which led from the house to the Thames
The domestic nature of the buildings has made for some interesting design
to help overcome the challenges of adapting the building for commercial use
The library has always been a key part of the RSA, ever since it was decided at the Society's inaugural meeting that "a book should be bought". The RSA is also a keen supporter of libraries elsewhere. A project was commissioned by this group, for example, to provide the new frontage for New Cross Learning's entrance (see Thing 16). The RSA's own library moved and was revamped in 2003. It offers Society Fellows a shiny arts and social sciences collection, along with breakout spaces in which to just relax and have a snooze!:

Lighting is used to great effect in the RSA Fellows' Library

The journals area provides RSA's Fellows with a quiet haven
beneath the bustling pavements of Central London

St. Bride Library

The library at St. Bride Foundation Institute is a very different entity still, boasting one of the World's foremost typeface libraries. On the Library Information & History Group's Lost Libraries Tour which I attended last week, it was explained how this was one of the high profile Central London libraries under threat (the Girl in the Moon provides a recent list of some of the others, with the Women's Library probably being the most high profile). So much so, in fact, that it had to close for some months and is still dependent upon volunteers to help staff its opening hours, which have been reduced to 1 day a week:

The entrance to the St. Bride Foundation Institute
St. Bride Library's reading room houses materials ranging from digital typography to "current research
on medieval printing, paper making and the book trade" (source:  the
St. Bride Library Website)
Located off Fleet Street, at one time the building formerly doubled as a recreation area for Fleet Street journalists. It included a swimming pool in the basement (now a theatre) complete with its own laundry room (now a bar.. but with some of the old laundry equipment retained for posterity!). During the interwar period, St Bride's also housed one of the World's most famous table tennis clubs, where 1929 World Table Tennis Champion Fred Perry was a member before he progressed to the proper, non-table-based version of the game!

The library itself boasts materials used in all stages of the history of publishing, from founders' type and wood blocks (used in producing images) right up to software used in publishing and graphics industries. At the top of the building is a "memories room" which houses rare books and even a papyrus fragment dating back thousands of years. The importance of the printing press can not be underestimated within the context of the information profession (there would certainly be far fewer libraries without it!) and the St. Bride Foundation maintains a working gallery of some of the most popular ones. The term "legacy" is banded about a lot in this Olympic year but the lack of funding St. Bride's Library has suffered is indicative of a failure of this legacy programme in the Capital within a library context:

The Foundation includes a mini-museum, preserving some
of the best-known printing presses from Fleet Street's hay-day

The Bishopsgate Institute is a Grade II listed building, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend which recently underwent a £7.3 million refurbishment. It still retains much of its Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture, with the focal point being the Great Hall, where the likes of Sir Ernest Shakleton, John Williams and Sir Paul McCartney have spoken or performed. 

The library here was the only one in The City of London when it opened in 1895 and soon became flooded with users, with queues around the block and over 10,000 members registered during its first week of opening. Charles Goss, the Institute's original Librarian fervently gathered books specifically on London (some 50,000 items). The library expanded to include a new reading room with its magnificent dome: 

The dome had to be replaced twice; first after air raids in World War 2
and again following the IRA's bombing of Bishopsgate in 1993

The Archives Room at the Bishopsgate Insitute's Library. The collection includes the original plans for the
building which were invaluable in helping to rebuild and subsequently renovate  parts of the Institute

Fantastically, the library is now free and open to the public. It remains a special collections/reference only facility although the catalogue is gradually being made available online. It also includes some charming artifacts, such as these illuminated  wooden shop fronts:

Faithfully constructed old store fronts at The Bishopsgate Library. The library's online archive contains some fantastic
photography portraying  London & Londoners, Feminism and the history of workers unions & protest movements

Open House London is now in its 20th year and has grown to include 800 of the City's most characterful and interesting buildingsAlthough there were queues of up to 5 hours for the very biggest attractions (especially 'The Gherkin') I found most of the events to be easily accessible and hardly had to wait at all. It's a shame it is only once per year but (if you are in the London area) I would thoroughly recommend looking out for next year's event.

Inside the Greater London Authority's 'Onion' -
City Hall was designed by Norman Foster
Looking towards the Shard (Europe's tallest building may well feature at future Open House London events)

Thing 20: Routes...

Thing 20 (for those still counting) which invites us to think about how they wound up in libraries in the first place. I have added an entry to the Library Routes Project but felt a bit sheepish about re-posting here, having had a much more conventional route into librarianship compared to some CPD bloggers! (The routes of the likes of Library Quine, Siobhan B in the Library and Alyson Tyler make for a far more interesting read!!).

Last week I was privileged to attend the Library Information & History Group's Lost Libraries of London Tour which was quite brilliant (despite the rain!). I am indebted to Katie the Librarian for having summarised this so well (I was orginaly going to do my own write up but soon realised I had nothing to add to this!). Following the recommendations of some of those who led and participated in this tour, I also went to several Open House London events over the weekend. More on this to follow shortly...

The Lost London Libraries tour ended here at St. Paul's Cathedral
which at one time offered storage space for thousands of booksellers

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Time to reflect...

Thing 19 and another chance to have a good long think about just what I've been doing!

It's been a non-stop 5 months or so since I embarked upon this wild CPD23-based ride.. It's been a journey which has taken in visits to over 50 libraries, learning resource centres, discovery centres, reading rooms, etc. etc...across 5 different countries. I've had the chance to interact with other library professionals and to learn about some of the amazing things they have been doing, I've also embarked upon Chartership and have become a library advocate (although not an activist - an important distinction made by Johanna Bo Anderson in her excellent blog post on the subject).

I have been able to integrate some of the tools and ideas from previous Things into my work life. An example of this was the map I made in Thing 16 using a Google Docs account I had created in Thing 13. Evernote, in particular, is something I now use on a daily basis and I have also been able to make more use of applications I rarely used previously, such as RefWorks and SlideShare. Some other tools I have started out using enthusiastically but have fallen by the wayside. I have found this particularly to be the case with almost anything requiring installation, with applications like DropBox seeming like a good idea at first but often resulting in significant slow down through high memory usage (there are usually web-only options available, though, to help counteract this). I have also been more proactive about making use of my CILIP membership, having downloaded the Encyclopedia Brittanica App free for a year, for instance! I've been attending events and reading relevant stories I've seen on social networking sites more regularly in a concerted effort to keep up with developments within the profession.

What have I learnt, so far? Really it boils down to something I saw written recently on a plaque in The Hive's foyer:
The library's guiding inspiration [is] that 'learning' and attendant cultural processes of exploration, finding out, thinking, imagining, reflection, inventing and knowing are the province of all citizens. 
These are the things can we offer in libraries, provided we are lucky enough to continue to be able to make use of increasingly imaginative and inspiring environments in which to do so. Furthermore, I feel Continuous Professional Development is particularly important for all of us as information professionals, as CPD too is all about the processes listed above. To me, taking part in this year's CPD23 has helped me to appreciate how vital it is for those involved in any kind of learning process to have secure, comfortable spaces where they can do so; spaces where hopefully they will feel sufficiently motivated to want to keep learning throughout their lives.

During my time in Wales, I spotted a host of libraries which paint an encouraging picture of the future of libraries. One of the most interesting ones, however, was very much set in the past - and proudly so! As featured in a recent CILIP Update, Gladstone's Library in Flintshire is unique both in its status as a Prime Minister's Library and also claims to be the only residential library in the UK:

Gladstone's Library in Hawarden, Flintshire (Wales) was founded in 1895

The main reading room: a bronze of Gladstone
can be seen in the bottom-right hand corner

The building houses 26 bedrooms and part of its aim is to be a meeting place, cloistered away from the rest of the world, with debate on some of life's big questions positively encouraged among the library's members (although this is not compulsory!). The facility also hosts a writers-in-residence scheme, with the musings of writers in residence such as award-winning journalist and Radio 5 Live reporter Nadene Ghouri broadcast on the library's own blog. As well as penning her first novel whilst she is there, Nadene is currently sharing her opinions of this "slightly eccentric, architecturally beautiful" building and expressed her delight in meeting fellow residents.

From one of the longest established libraries in Wales, to one of the most up-to-date; Llandudno Library has had a makeover. My first visit to Llandudno's limestone, copper-mining coastlands was part of a Geography field trip I attended at school! I've been back a couple of times since and have been impressed with some of the changes I've seen occurring. The library was re-opened last year following significant public investment into the building. It is another shared service (something of a recurring theme in my recent blog posts..). Here the library is hitched up with a local history centre ('The Llandudno Story') council property services and a gallery:

Llandudno Library - a virtual tour of the building is available here

The quote on the far wall is from Monty Python's Flying Circus
("Oh Ken! Be careful! You know what he's like after a few novels!")

 A quick mention for The Welsh Library at the University of Wales, Bangor and particularly the ornate Shankland Room. This is another of my favourite reading rooms in the UK, with it's curved barrel ceiling and shields displaying the crests of each of the Welsh boroughs:

Oh.. and couldn't bring myself to sign off without mentioning Mary, the pet sheep of Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens in Anglesey - who remarkably (well..for a sheep!) enjoys standing  on her hind legs, like this:

Mary the Sheep, doing her thing, at Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Jing & Podcasts...

Blogging again after a week's holiday which took me to sunny North Wales, via The Hive in Worcester. More on that to follow but for now its on to Thing 18, which includes Jing and podcasts: 


I've used Jing before in the context of the work I do with the Sustainability Team at Kingston, in this case trying to encourage colleagues to use Power Save on their PCs to reduce carbon consumption
 (including a rousing soundtrack in the background, just to try to liven this up a bit!):

This was something I did a couple of years ago now and although Jing's shimmering golden sphere sat at the top of my desktop for quite a long time afterwards, it did not occur to me to use it again after that. I can certainly see the use of it in delivering library services, though - for example as a way of showing users how to access those harder to reach electronic articles (as an alternative to putting a series of annotated screenshots together using Skitch or some such, which is also effective). I notice many CPD23 Things bloggers have been singing the praises of Screencast-O-Matic, with some (Alyson23things and Gemma Bayliss among others) having taken the plunge and posted up some really useful and informative presentations with full narrationScreencast-O-Matic does similar things to Jing but with a simple one-click operation and without the need to download the product. I'll definitely give this a go the next time I need to give someone a virtual prod in the right direction!


I remember CILIP getting quite into the idea of producing regular podcasts around the time of their Big Conversation project, discussing the future of the Library and Information profession.  There is an example from former CILIP President Biddy Fisher here which I was able to use as a key source when future-gazing as part of my postgrad dissertation. JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee) offers a useful list of the podcasts it has produced, some of which are very technical but others are more general, for instance one on the ethical and legal issues of social networks (Facing up to Facebook with Nicola Yeeles, John X Kelly and Lynn McHugh from JISC's legal team). 

Elsewhere I have seen  podcasts frequently used in a library context in the production of tours and I really like what Goldsmiths Library has done using Adobe Captivate, with its creative 'Deadline at Dawn' / 'Deadline at Dusk' idea! 

So, The Hive, then.. an ambitious project, not just in terms of scale (occupying some 10,000 sq metres and costing £60 million to build) but also in daring to be the first library in Europe to combine local authority and academic library facilities. It was opened by the Queen in July as part of her tour of the region during her Jubilee and the building had over 100,000 visitors in its first 6 weeks of opening. Fittingly enough, the building's design looks (to me, anyhow!) like a jagged, postmodern castle.. of sorts. A balcony turret juts out onto a grass moat area, while the building's unusual shape culminates in two golden towers at the very top of the construction:

The gleaming new Hive (Library & History Centre) building in 
Worcester City Centre - designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
View from the 4th floor balcony of the Hive - the railway bridge on
the right leads towards the University of Worcester's other campuses
Island pods, or "perches" are used as the building's information points, rather than traditional sit-down helpdesks, freeing up staff to rove the building. These types of pods were something I'd seen used to good effect previously at Newcastle Central Library and the David Wilson Library at Leicester University, whilst Voices for the Library recently discussed the implementation of a similar setup at the mould-breaking Anythink libraries in Colorado (..I digress..). This arrangement helps to heighten the immersive experience offered to The Hive's users. Having removed some of the traditional barriers between staff and users, the building's design instead uses features which permeate through all the multiple services on offerwith expansive lightwells and large works of art prominent. Photos from a current exhibition on Dementia, timed to coincide with World Alzheimer's Day (23 September) can be seen throughout most of the building:

The entrance level is dominated by this massive oil canvas called
'Rack Alley' by Clare Woods (
here is more info about art at The Hive)

'Arts, Hearts and Minds' is an exhibition scattered around the five floors
of the building, featuring images from photographer Cathy Greenblat
This visit followed my recent outings to other shared library services at Clapham and Winchester, yet here (even more than the others) everything has been done to try to ensure the host of services offered work seamlessly with one another. Different loan periods and allowances are used, for example, to ensure students get priority access to their core reading materials. Crucially to the success of this project, Capita has also worked to integrate the systems side of The Hive's services which include a One-Stop-Shop for council services, a county archive and a local history centre:

History comes alive with this Jukebox which
plays memories of Worcester's past
The lampshade-type fitting on the ceiling is actually a speaker which
relays stories from Worcester's history to anyone directly underneath it

My only nagging concern when taking in this vast new behemoth of a library would be that the building could become a victim of its own success. By trying to be all things to all people, the Hive may experience conflicting priorities at times. With limited study space, for example, will the quieter study areas towards the top of the building, such as the research attic at the very top of the building be able to cope with hectic exam periods? Having to cater for not just students and the general public but also historians, genealogists, tourists, researchers and whoever else could start to take its toll. Happily there is also a Learning Exchange just across the other side of the nearby River Severn. Also (and unlike in some areas where the opening of new super libraries has had a damaging impact on surrounding facilities) other libraries do remain open in the vicinity so there are other options readily available for those for whom the buzz of The Hive becomes a little too loud.

Worcester's finest! The famous Lea & Perrins Sauce
is available in the Cafe's shop 

Monday, 3 September 2012

My first Prezi...

I've been busy with Prezi for my latest dabble into CPDs Things (gosh, is it Thing 17 already?). I've tried using it before and am yet to be 100% convinced of its advantages over PowerPoint. I find there is less you can do with Prezi compared with PowerPoint (I suspect some of PowerPoint's features are omitted from Prezi for fear of an Apple v. Samsung-style lawsuit). I can certainly see that improvements are being made, though and yes, the zoom and rotate features are pretty whizzy! When I tried to use more than one font and started to add hyperlinks to my presentation, things started to get a little trickier, though. 

Here I've used Prezi to create a photo tour of the trip I did to the US earlier in the year:

I did find Prezi's embed function a little glitchy, so have uploaded a PowerPoint of this here on Slideshare too, in case the one above is not working. I found Slideshare extremely useful when it came to keeping up to date with conferences and other events I could not make it to during my library qualification. Ned Potter (a.k.a. the Wikiman) has done some excellent Slideshares which would be interesting to any other CPD23 Bloggers who are just starting out in the profession, for instance this one which offers "Ten things you need to know":

licensed under Creative Commons)

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, I hopped on a train and headed South of London to the historical city of Winchester - a city that earned its place in English folklore by providing inspiration for tales of the magical, mythical Camelot and boasts King Arthur's Round Table as the jewel in its crown!:

The Round Table (believed to date back to around 1290)
is mounted on the wall of the Great Hall.
I also visited the Winchester Discovery Centre - equally magical in its own way. It's another of those buildings which have tried to redefine what a library is for the 21st Century and one which I feel does so particularly well. Much like the new Clapham Library I blogged about last time, the Winchester Discovery Centre (or WDC, for short) uses a circular main reading room with spaces for learning in the middle and the library's collection towards the circumference. This puts the library at the very centre in a way which Clapham Library also did but which so many of the other so-called 'Super Libraries' in shared buildings fail to do. 

Winchester's Discovery Centre set new standards for shared library
 facilities, winning a prestigious RIBA award for Architecture in 2008
The centre includes a cafe, theatre, gallery and an exhibition space for local interest displays (they were celebrating Hampshire's very own Olympians like Ben Ainslee in the Sailing, cyclist Dani King and equestrian rider Peter Charles whilst I was there, for instance). The textile wall, formed of an artwork called "Looking forwards to the past" (pictured below) was a particular highlight, for me, along with more weird and wonderful artwork on the 1st floor wall:

This astonishingly large (16.5 x 3 metre) work of embroidery was
created by Alice Kettle and brightens up the WDC's café
Bright stencil-like cut-outs and quotations dominate 
walls on the top level of the Centre
The circular main reading room with shelves in spokes around the outside
Oh yes... and there's a very nice cathedral too which provides a fittingly cerebral final resting place for one Jane Austen who died in Winchester in 1817: