New Professionals Day 2014

On Saturday the 1st of March I attended the New Professionals Day 2014 event in the John Paul II Library in NUI Maynooth. The day was broken into workshops and then ended with a very informative tour of the beautiful Russell Library. Many remarked at how serious we must be about cataloguing to give up our Saturday and I have to say it was most certainly worth the time and the journey to Maynooth.

In my current role I am involved in cataloguing older books, from as far back as the 1500’s, up to more recent books in our reference collection. When I began as a librarian I didn’t realise I would enjoy cataloguing as much as I do. There is something very cathartic in having such an ordered and logical approach, as is required when cataloguing, in order to maintain attention to detail. I wanted to attend the workshops to learn a bit more about other forms of cataloguing and I wasn’t disappointed because presentations by Grace Toland in the Irish Traditional Music Archive and Brid Dooley from RTE Archives were very enlightening in terms of cataloguing items that are not books. The presentations are well worth a look and are available on the NPD site here

I think people get the impression that cataloguing, be it books or other items, can be a boring and monotonous task but in fact there is a lot more to cataloguing than meets the eye. I have found that while cataloguing you have to be able to take on and manage various different things:

  • Language (Google translate can be a godsend when cataloguing books in Latin, German, Italian etc. etc. all in one day)
  • Data protection V Freedom of Information – This was highlighted very nicely by Captain Claire Mortimer’s workshop. More of an issue in archives than in libraries but I think it is good that she made the attendees aware of this. I have come across this in my current role where we deal with patient information and it is something that is of huge importance.
  • Preservation while allowing public access – This is especially important for older materials. The more information that you can give about an item in a catalogue record the more likely it is that members of the public can identify whether or not it is the item they need and this prevents the materials from being handled and moved if it is not necessary.
  • Time management – This leads on well from the previous point because you have to make as detailed a record as possible but be aware that there are constraints on your time, you have to find balance.
  • Indexing – At the end of the day it is about the user being able to find the information that they need to you need to use something that is relevant and understandable for the user.

There is a lot to think about and I’m sure others could add to this list.

I really enjoyed the final workshop of the day which dealt with rare books because I feel like it filled a gap in my knowledge. I still think that UCD should bring back a rare books module and possibly deal with the issues of digitisation and rare materials, but if groups like NPD continue to hold fantastic events and enlist such knowledgeable speakers then this becomes less of an issue, which is extremely helpful. Barbara McCormack, who led this workshop, then brought us on a tour of the Russell Library which gave us a great opportunity to see the items she had spoken about. For many people learning is a very practical and visual thing so incorporating this was a great approach.

Russell Library

Russell Library

Another notable part of the day was a tour around the new library in Maynooth. The building is a brilliant example of a library responding to the wishes of its users. The ground floor is open and collaborative with the addition of the bean-bag room where groups can work and discuss projects and ideas without the fear of the dreaded ‘shushing’. As you go upstairs the library becomes quieter with silent study areas on the top floor. This is a fantastic way of catering for all students and the different styles of learning.

The students wanted more power but less waste and the library has delivered by utilising green initiatives in an attempt to create a sense of balance.

There are full windows and planting that bring the outdoors into the students and this creates a great atmosphere in the building. My only gripe being that I haven’t had the opportunity to study there. Many thanks to Hugh Murphy for the tour.

A big thank you to all the presenters, Jane Burns (the wonderful MC) and all the organisers and helpers for what was a really informative day.

Unfortunately, my Twitter wasn’t working with me during the event but a fellow Class of 2012/2013 MLISer Shona has also written a great blog and added her Storify of the events.

Bring back the Rare Books module!

559943_10200731772681569_507787984_nYesterday, as part of the InfoSoc committee my classmate Kate and I organised a field trip to Marsh’s Library. The library was established in 1701 by (the somewhat unfortunately named) Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and it was the first public library in Ireland. It stands today like something trapped in time; the building itself has changed somewhat over the years but in the first gallery the books still sit almost exactly the way they did back in the 1700’s. It is an amazing feeling when you walk in and see the beautiful wooden bookcases and see the old bindings for the first time, you can sense the history! Funnily, if these books could talk they’d have amazing stories to tell, regardless of their content. The books have seen visits from the likes of Bram Stoker and James Joyce. They have been shot at during 1916 and have the bullet holes to prove it. It was a truly fascinating trip.

However, I did leave feeling somewhat saddened; the MLIS course in UCD no longer offers a module in Rare Books and I think that this is a pity. We were lucky enough yesterday that Maria kindly brought us some books to look at in more detail, she gave us a short history lesson on bindings and ink but really this is a subject I would love to study in detail. I know that technology is growing increasingly important in our field but librarians still deal with books too and I sometimes think that the books are being neglected in this course. Now I realise there probably aren’t many people who have an interest in this area but, for those of us that do, it is a real missed opportunity.

At the end of the day I think there are still reasons for study in this area. Although you might not get the opportunity to work with rare books, it is good to have some knowledge of the history of books and in essence the history of the profession. Books and manuscripts are where in all began for us. You can learn a lot from rare books, not least from what they actually contain, but also history of ink, bindings, printing, rights and ownership, annotations in the margins…..the list goes on. And, to be honest, there seems to be a consensus that rare books are important and need to be preserved for future generations. There are efforts being made to catalogue these books to indicate provenance and all the other important information and to digitize these books to make them more accessible. For one such project see Irish Script on Screen, and there is another project getting underway this summer. I know funding is an issue, but funding is an issue everywhere and I think there will be jobs in this area in the future. Let’s face it these books have made it 400 years and they’re still here. Eventually funding comes from somewhere!

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Basically, I believe there will be opportunities for people in digitzing these types of materials. I would like to see librarians have a part to play in this and I would like to see those librarians trained correctly in order to understand the books and how to treat them. These books are parts of history; they have been and will be around far longer than you or I and therefore we must do our best to appreciate them and protect them.

It’s too late for me (its something I would love the opportunity to do in the future and I will study on a personal level) but bring it back for the future library students! Even an optional day course at some point in the year would be beneficial.

My final note is just to say, if you get the opportunity to go visit Marsh’s, please do. It’s €2.50 for adults and worth every penny! But bring a coat. it’s pretty cold! We have to preserve the vellum binding, don’t you know!