By the time you read this, I shall be safely ensconced behind my desk at the Fitzwilliam Museum Reference Library, buried up to my neck in paperwork and art books, with my time at the UL and the Pendlebury naught but a distant, albeit happy, memory. So now is probably as good a time as any to reflect on the last four and a half months.
The Fitzwilliam Museum Reference Library is a funny sort of institution compared with the more standard departmental and faculty libraries. It began primarily as a resource for museum staff, but now supports university-wide teaching and learning (we get visitors not just from History of Art, but also from Classics, MML, English, Archaeology & Anthropology and others) and frequently accepts academic visitors from around the world.
However, it’s not students’ immediate go-to library, because they’ll try their college/faculty libraries and the UL first. So while we run an induction for AHA postgraduate students, there aren’t many opportunities to really engage with students and user education and experience, which meant this was something I was very keen to get involved with.
There were other subsidiary aims too – to experience work in a team dynamic again (I’m a solo library assistant for 70% of the time), to gain more experience of social media in a professional capacity, to learn more about cataloguing music scores (they do crop up from time to time at the Fitz), and to learn a bit more about other aspects of the library management systems in use around the university – like circulation, use of RFID and acquisitions software.
There was a lot of ground to cover, and I’m pleased to say I achieved most of my aims. I didn’t manage to teach a skills session of my own, but observed and assisted at others, and gave inductions for both the Pendlebury and the UL (pitching the latter at both undergraduates and postgraduate levels). I’ve written several blog posts (including this one) and tweeted from @MusiCB3t. I’ve surveyed the students – and taken action based on the responses. I’ve catalogued sheet music, and CDs and DVDs, ordered books and raised purchase orders, and have undertaken many of the laborious processes the UL Music Department has to go through when processing a book from beginning to end – which could be a blog post in itself!
I’ve also really enjoyed working as part of a team in both libraries. The staff at both are great fun and omigosh do they know their stuff! Not only are they amazing at helping with all sorts of random enquiries from readers, sometimes I’ll mention something I’ve read about, or I’m interested in, and a colleague will say “oh, there’s this book which is relevant” or “have you seen this video?” and save me countless hours of research. Hopefully there’ve been skills and tools that I’ve been able to share with them too!
So what aspects of the work do I want to take back with me to try and implement at the Fitz? Firstly, I think social media is massively important – email is just one channel of communication, and not especially good in our case for broadcasts (not having students of our own, I don’t maintain lists beyond the main staff one). It would be good to have a bit more autonomy over the library’s public image, and I think a blog would be a good way to share news with patrons. At one point I had tried a Tumblr of our new books, which proved too much work for me to maintain, but I might experiment with other tools or formats and revisit this in the future.
The other thing I want to try and do is offer (and promote) skills sessions. A lot of the people who use the library rely heavily on print resources – mostly because the resources they need aren’t available online, but occasionally it’s because they’re not au fait with online tools and materials. Time is an issue – we’re all “too busy”, but the time saved by checking something immediately on the internet over heading to the library basement to rummage through the stacks might be sufficient incentive!
Finally (and slightly more boringly, sorry), I now feel much more confident at cataloguing the sheet music that arrives in the museum!
One thing that has struck me is how little students seem to engage with the physical library, beyond coming to borrow or return books. I know most college libraries do a marvellous job getting the main texts for freshers, but the library was a real focal point when I was a student, and it would be interesting to explore how students are learning now, and how the libraries could better support them. Of course, I also remember that my timetable as a music student was quite – well, maybe not disorganized, but there were lots of ad hoc events you’d have to incorporate, because you’d always be rehearsing, or performing, and fitting in with other musicians. So maybe spending time exploring the library is just one challenge too far?
There have been things I’ve come to appreciate about my working practices at the Fitz too. For one thing, our acquisitions processes are more complicated in some ways (mostly because we rely on so many different suppliers), but in other ways it’s a lot simpler – I don’t have to use a hefty piece of software designed to cover all bases, as I tailored mine exactly how I needed it. And it has been a bit of a challenge being based across two very different libraries – I almost require a different headspace for each. Only once have I managed to fail to go to the right library at the right time, but there’ve been a few near misses! Luckily they’re not far from each other, so if nothing else I could enjoy the brisk walk from the UL to the Pen or vice versa.
But while that concludes my time at the music libraries, I will continue to explore ways of increasing my involvement in music-related librarianship. After all, the Fitzwilliam does have a sizeable collection of manuscripts and early editions of its own, so there’s plenty to discover and share in a blog post in the future, so this may not be the last you hear from me!