Semester 2 Update

The gang does Varsity 2018. We lost this ice hockey match, but we had a blast anyway.

Well, that was an unexpectedly long and totally accidental hiatus from this blog! I have been managing to keep up with my Residence Life blogging commitments, though, so if you’re interested, you can find them here.

Since I lasted posted on this blog, I have:

  • Handed in many, many assignments
  • Completed nearly the entire second semester of my MA
  • Been to my first ever Sheffield Varsity match
  • Attended a Research Support TeachMeet in Manchester
  • Started a part-time job in my department
  • Applied for two post-graduation international internships
  • Provisionally arranged work shadowing opportunities in a range of organisations
  • Gotten engaged!!!

I hope this goes some way towards explaining the accidental hiatus…

Semester two has definitely been a mixed bag. I’ve enjoyed some modules more than others – I know that our Management module is definitely going to be useful in my future career, but I just can’t seem to get excited about budgeting and strategic planning. The Service Quality Evaluation group project I’ve been working on has been valuable, though (and not just because I got to mystery shop a café!). Over the Easter vacation I worked on two things. One was an essay about open access educational materials and how they can help to lower the costs of HE for students in the US. I quite enjoyed researching and writing it, but we’ll see if I still feel the same after I get my marks back in a week’s time! I also completed my dissertation proposal, which is looking at peer teaching for information literacy amongst medical undergraduates. Compiling the literature review was a little frazzling, but I’m still excited to get stuck into the research properly in the summer.

My job is actually a 100-hour placement in the Information School, where I’m helping to collect evidence of research impact outside academia for REF2021. It hasn’t always been enjoyable so far, but it’s definitely taught me a lot about REF and about the research lifecycle. It’s also made me think more seriously about working in Research Support after I graduate, so I’ve provisionally arranged some work shadowing using this very helpful list by NLPN. This line of thought has also been encouraged by attending the TeachMeet in Manchester. My coursemate Chloe and I were the only students there. It was really interesting to listen to all the different presentations and see what other institutions are up to, as well as to informally network. It seems like Research Support is a relatively immature service offering with lots of potential for dynamism and evolution, which is the kind of environment I’m interested in working in. Definitely one to think about!

Also on the employment front: I’ve applied for two international internships, one in the US and one with the EU. I’m staying very realistic on both fronts and not getting my hopes up too much, but you know what they say: don’t ask, don’t get.

From my personal life, I guess that getting engaged is definitely the biggest news I have! It still feels very new and big and exciting. We won’t be getting married for a few more years now, though. We need to start doing some serious saving first, and maybe even find the time to see a bit more of the world.

Thanks for sticking with me this far. I’ll try not to leave such a big gap between this and the next post as I did with this and the last!


Visit: Cambridge Central Library (feat. a personal life update)

Central from the outside. “Central Cambridge Library – Vue extérieure 3” by Marie D Martel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On Thursday 12th January I visited the Cambridge Central Library along with all the other trainees from the Cambridge area. When I was a student, I volunteered once a week for two years in my local public library (lovely Fulford in York), so I’m no stranger to the public library life. In fact, it was that volunteering position which made me realise that I wanted to make a career out of libraries, so really I owe it everything. (Rachael, if you’re reading this – I miss you!)

The basic structure of the tour was a walk around each floor to have a nosey at what each contained. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • The children’s section on the ground floor – it was huge, jam-packed and brightly coloured, and therefore absolutely perfect. Our guide informed us that children’s services were amongst the most heavily sought after, and I think it’s fantastic that Cambridge does provide so well for children. It took me right back to doing story times on a Saturday morning in Fulford.
  • The BFI Mediatheque – the whole idea of these was new to me, so it was fun to experience one for the first time. We watched a film about Cambridge in the 1970s, and although not many of the streets were familiar to me, the other GTs who have been in Cambridge longer had a lot of fun playing detective.
  • The youth and adult support sections – I think it’s really important that libraries support the information needs of their communities in as many ways as possible, so I really liked how accessible and integrated these services were in the library.
  • My last highlight is a bit of fun – we got to see the book sorting machine in the room under the stairs! I’ve used the front-facing portion of one of these machines to return books at my university library, but I’d never seen the actual machine in action. It was HUGE – it pretty much filled the whole room. They are downsizing it soon, though, which will give them a lot more room.

The last part of the tour was focused on the Cambridgeshire Collection. To quote its own website:

Established in 1855 the Cambridgeshire Collection, based at Cambridge Central library, is a major, multi-media research library which provides a wide range and variety of resources on Cambridgeshire and its history.

It’s definitely (and appropriately) a blast from the past – they still have a paper card index! It contains over 60,000 items, including maps, newspapers, playbills, and telephone and street directories. We were also lucky enough to see behind the scenes, where the Local Studies Librarian showed us her all-time favourite archived item: a tiny jar of jam. I can’t remember the exact details of this story, but here is a rough approximation. Many years ago, a local jam-making factory was commissioned to provide miniature jars of jam to furnish a dollhouse for a young royal. They made extra bottles and kept some, and now one such jar lives (very carefully wrapped up) in the depths of the Cambridgeshire Collection. It really was an amazing and unique object to see.

The saddest part of our visit to the Cambridge Central Library was definitely finding out that the Local Studies Librarian is the only professionally qualified librarian left in a professional post, and even she only works part-time. The deprofessionalisation of public libraries is a subject close to most librarians’ hearts, and you can find some more writing on the subject here.

Personal life update: There’s not many people reading this who won’t already know this, but I’m recording it here for posterity anyway: I GOT INTO SHEFFIELD! My application was accepted on 22nd December 2016. I’ll be starting the MA Librarianship course, full time, in September 2017. Scary but exciting stuff!

Visit: Main Library at University of Cambridge (feat. a personal life update)

Cambridge University Library in Autumn” by Anna L Martin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Fair warning: this is a lengthy post. If you just want to read the Personal Life Update, skip ahead to the end now! (I promise not to hold it against you.)

On Tuesday 18th October 2016, I was lucky enough to visit the main University library at the University of Cambridge for the first time as part of an organised visit for graduate trainees in Cambridgeshire. It is a legal deposit library and its collection of books, manuscripts and other assorted curiosities is absolutely enormous – everything from Isaac Newton’s notebooks to build-your-own-skeleton kits, via Soviet maps of Cambridge, Jane Austen novels and the Penguin Guide to Squash (the sport, not the vegetable). I was genuinely awestruck by the massive number of volumes they’d managed to fit under one roof. I think the fact that most indicates the sheer vastness of the collection is that they measure their new stock in kilometres! We were told that, every year, due to their status as a legal deposit library, they acquire about two kilometres worth of new stock, which blew all our minds a little bit.

Our itinerary for the day looked like this:

10:15 – Arrive

10:30 – ‘Behind the Bookstacks’ tour

11:30 – Visit to Rare Books Department

12:15 – Genizah Research Unit presentation

13:00 – Lunch

14:00 – Visit to the Digital Content Unit

14:30 – Visit to the Office of Scholarly Communication

15:00 – Depart

It didn’t go entirely to plan – we actually left about 15:15 because the lift broke in the morning and we had to postpone going up the tower – but only fifteen minutes over schedule is pretty good, I think.

The ‘Behind the Bookstacks’ tour was definitely enjoyable but it was very, very long! I couldn’t keep up with where we were going; the corridors were an indecipherable maze to me. Our guide said it had only taken him a week to get used to it, but we were a bit skeptical about that. Our first stop was the Historical Printing Room, which was fascinating. It really hits home how labour intensive printing used to be when you see the comparative sizes of the machinery and of all the individual letter tiles. After that, we proceeded into the main body of the library. It was really interesting to see all the places that only staff get to see, such as the climate-controlled stacks where the manuscripts live (they are absolutely freezing!). We also got to visit the Map Room, which is accessible to any member of the library, and the Munby Rare Books Room, which is slightly more strictly controlled. The Map Room was a particular highlight of the tour for me – our tour guide had pre-selected some maps for us, one of which was a (sadly not entirely accurate) map showing which parts of Britain are at most risk of drowning if sea levels rise. Of course, we all crowded round to see how East Anglia fared, which was sadly not very well at all. London and East and South Yorkshire were also quite badly hit, but most of Wales and the West coast didn’t seem to be affected too severely. At least now I know to hotfoot it to my boyfriend’s in Manchester if we start to see any sudden rises in sea level!

Our next adventure was back to the Munby Rare Books Room to hear a presentation from a member of staff about what exactly it is that they get up to in the Rare Books Department. Rare Books look after the older printed material in the Library – handwritten items (manuscripts) are looked after by the Manuscripts department. Although the distinction between the two seems obvious, we were informed that it can be more problematic than it first appears! After the presentation we were invited to have a nosey at some interesting examples of rare books, including one from the Peterborough Cathedral library, which is held in the University library, and a photographic book documenting the building of the University library. Although I can’t see myself working in a Rare Books department, it was really interesting to see some examples of the diversity of material that crosses their desks every day.

The presentation from the Genizah Research Unit was the most mysterious item on the itinerary. Neither myself nor any of the other trainees had heard of the Unit, so we were all very curious to find out what exactly it was about. It turned out to be absolutely the highlight of the day! The collection is made up of 193,000 manuscript fragments, mostly written in Hebrew, Judaeo-Arabic, Aramaic and Arabic, recovered in 1896-7 from the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, Old Cairo. We were lucky enough to actually see some of the fragments. The three that were the most memorable for me were:

  • a petition to the Muslim leader Saladin from a man who wished to be relieved of his duties as a tax collector (unfortunately for the petitioner, the request was denied);
  • a set of paper amulets against scorpion bites (the magician who created the amulets was apparently not a very good salesman, as only 3 of the 12 had been sold); and
  • most interestingly of all, an early example of a pre-nuptial contract, in which the husband promised his bride-to-be that he would not bring any gamblers or drunkards back to the marital home (what a reputation the groom must have had!).

Although some of the fragments were absolutely tiny, every one was crammed full of the most incredible social history, all the way from the 10th century right through to the 19th, when the manuscripts were recovered. If you want to learn more, links to five audio recordings about various pieces of the collection, originally recorded for Radio 3, can be found here.

Lunch was a coffee and some pumpkin and spinach risotto, then it was off to the Digital Content Unit. These are the people in charge of imaging and licensing the library’s content. They inhabit a very dark room somewhere in the basement, but they get to play with some astoundingly expensive toys, so I think that makes up for the lack of ambience in their working environment! They put those expensive toys to good use creating images for the Cambridge Digital Library, which is well worth a browse. For me, a particular highlight is this Chinese Book of Prints. Not only is it beautiful, but it is so delicate that it is believed that it has only been read from cover to cover once, and that is by Scott, the photographer who digitised it for the Digital Library. Now that it has been digitised, it will probably never be opened again, but thanks to the hard work of the DCU, we can admire it any time we like from the comfort of behind our computer screens.

Our visit to the Office of Scholarly Communication was a tad more controversial than our other activities. After a presentation by a member of staff from the Office, a lively debate broke out amongst us about the academic and commercial value of the Open Access movement. I think that it was a pretty even split between those who thought it was a worthy endeavour and those who felt it was an unnecessary burden on both scholars and publishers. I am on the former side; I think knowledge should be shared as widely as possible for the benefit of all.

The last thing we did was journey to the 14th floor of the tower in order to admire the stunning views over Cambridge. They really are absolutely beautiful! However, what was less beautiful was the sight of the 14 flights of stairs we had to climb down after our lovely guide forgot to bring with him the key which operates the lift downwards. It was so tiring, but fortunately the great views and overall great experience made up for it. I’m definitely very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit the library and to meet all the other trainees as well.

Personal life update: I had my first driving lesson last Saturday (22nd Oct)! I’d been procrastinating that moment for nearly five years but a few weeks ago I finally found the strength to conquer my fears and book the damn lessons. It was scary, but not as much as I had expected, and for brief moments I actually felt quite comfortable behind the wheel. However, I only actually drove for about twenty minutes, and didn’t have to do any of the indicating or two of the three gear changes, so we will see how that level of comfort changes when I’m put in charge of doing absolutely everything! My driving instructor is an absolute sweetheart who made me feel so calm, so shout out to my friend Cat for having excellent taste and recommending him to me.

Thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end,