Reflective Log: Monday 29th April 2013

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Well, I don’t, I write this sitting at the floor 1 enquiry desk, but that line from the beginning of one of my favourite books just popped into my head as I opened this new post (Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle. It’s an old friend’s favourite book, so he gave it to me for my 16th birthday).

The last week has kept me pretty busy – I’ve had a lot of different things to get on with and I heard that variety is the spice of life. I’ve started my time working in Special Collections – last week was the first of a two-week block (alongside my enquiry desk slots and whatever else comes up), and I think I’ll also be spending random bits of time with them in the future too. When I started on Monday morning, I was briefed on reading room rules and collections, and we also discussed the skills that I already have, alongside our plan for the next couple of weeks – I’ll be spending some time cataloguing some books, doing some self-directed learning, and also have my own project-type thing to be getting on with, as well as carrying on with the Holden letters project that I was briefed on back in November but haven’t had time to get on with since, and hopefully at some point I’ll also get to see an example of when a reader comes to use the collection.

The mini-project that I’ve been given to do is to sort through boxes of pamphlets and make a note of their key details – author, title, publisher, date etc. They’re pamphlets that have come from the Commonweal Collection – a peace collection housed in our main library that I’m particularly fond of because of my involvement in student activism – and currently they’re not in any sort of order and we don’t even really know what materials we have. So over the last week I’ve spent a long time going through each box and putting their details onto a nice big spreadsheet – I’m currently at around 350 pamphlets, and there’s lots more to keep me busy. The collection is super interesting, and if I’m honest I would love to just sit around reading them. The main themes running through them so far have been Peace News pamphlets, pacifism/conscientious objectors, the Common Wealth party (a now dissolved socialist party that I’d never heard of before) and nuclear disarmament (something I also didn’t know anything about, but I could now tell you how to build a shelter in the bottom of your 1960s house in Canada to protect you from nuclear fallout!). I’ve come across several things that I’m particularly fond of: one being an illustration on the front of a pamphlet based on the Royal Coat of Arms, but with Thatcher’s face on the lions, and the words ‘Any Bloody Lie Will Do’ around the middle; another being some song booklets from marches against nuclear weapons in the 1960s; and thirdly this quote in the Common Wealth Party’s beliefs in the 1940s: “We believe that women must be given time off to shop. Neither shopping passes nor staggering of hours has proved satisfactory. The only solution is to give women definite hours off and not to record this as absenteeism”!

Taken from E. P. Thompson, The Defence of Britain (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 198-)

I also spent some time last week being shown how to catalogue Special Collections books, and I was given a pile of them to do myself – the books I was given were fairly straightforward as they had come from the main library collection so just needed a few tweaks and some notes adding (that the authors were members of staff at the university, any provenance, anything particular about the condition of the item). I’m still waiting to hear back about how I did with these, but I don’t think I did too badly. I found it interesting to be editing catalogue records looking for details other than the usual publishing details that a normal record would need.

The other thing about last week that I particularly wanted to mention was just from one of my regular enquiry desk slots last week. I had a lady come and ask about finding the various resources on a reading list she’d been given, and she had no idea where to start. I spent about half an hour with her, which is the longest I’ve spent on a single enquiry before. I showed her how to tell the difference between different types of resources on her list (e.g. chapters in books vs. journal articles), showed her how to use the library catalogue, and introduced her to a database. It’s all pretty basic stuff, but I was really pleased with how it went. The example of searching for a journal article that I picked to take her through turned out to be disastrous, because the module tutor had written down the wrong journal title completely and given the wrong page numbers so naturally it was nowhere near as straightforward as it should have been, but a bit of detective work got us there and the lady was very impressed. She also needed help finding some booklets from our Development Collection, which is a complete maze to navigate, but we got there eventually. She was very thankful and said she’d definitely come to me again if she needed help. The small things make me happy 🙂

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