Monday, March 31, 2014

Reflective Journal, LI860

As some of you know, I recently went to London for a school trip.  I kept a handwritten journal as part of the course assignment and decided to upload what I'd written here as a way to catch everyone up and, well, it was easier to add pictures and play with the layout here.

1st Entry, Feb. 2

This assignment is a unique challenge for me.  I've always had trouble keeping a journal but I'm excited so I think it will be easier this time around.

The closer my departure date gets, the more nervous I become.  But it's definitely an excited type of nervousness.  I am so excited for this opportunity.

I'm greatly looking forward to exploring and seeing a side of London and libraries I haven't been privy to before.  I can't wait for each official visit and getting to know other future professionals, as well as making potential contacts within the field.

Basically, it boils down to that, while I'm very nervous, I'm equally ecstatic.

2nd Entry, Feb. 5

I am a crazy mixture of excited and panicked.  This will be the first journey -the first adventure- of this sort I've taken by myself.  Well, not quite by myself as I'll be with classmates and colleagues.  But, this kind of opportunity doesn't crop up very often and I intend to take full advantage of it.

I am looking forward to the library visits, seeing the differing collections housed within each, seeing things I am unfamiliar with and in a city I have fallen in love with.  I am intrigued and excited (there's that word again) about what I will learn, see, and experience.  I expect to come away with an even greater respect and appreciation for the profession I will one day fully enter.

I have found I'm making multiple lists.  Sometimes, those lists are different and other times they're just newer versions of a previous list.  I'm listing things to pack, what I need to do before the trip, places I would love to visit while I'm there, etc.  It helps me feel more in control, better prepared for this adventure.

I'm embracing my nerves.  I can't wait to start.

3rd Entry, Feb. 11

Holy cow, I leave tomorrow.  I can't sleep, I'm too nervous.  I've made more lists, trying to eradicate the butterflies in my stomach with a show of preparedness.  Unfortunately, it's not really working.

I've done laundry, cleaned my room, packed and repacked, made lists of what I need and double checked bags.  I have not been able to sit still since this morning when i first woke up.

Now, time to do a bit of homework before I, you know, repack my bag just one more time.

4th Entry, Feb. 15

I'm in London (insert excited squealing here)!!  I've met with the others in the course and I'm excited to proceed with them.  I have to admit, I'm exhausted and have major jetlag brain.  I'm grateful for the "free day" tomorrow (Sunday).  I have plans to accompany two other colleagues and touring one of the nearby museums.  I also hope to stop at the Pickwick Hostel and book a room for after the program.  Well, I'll be booking a bed to be more precise.

I'm a bit, as the kids say, pissed with the WiFi policy in the hotel.  It's 5 GBP for one hour!  This is greatly limiting my access to certain information.  Such as, for instance, my other classes.  Though, there are cafes and such that offer free WiFi, but, a hostel I stayed in had free WiFi.  But, I suppose that's comparing apples and oranges.  Still.  Get it together, Holiday Inn.

Moving along, I am ready to begin this information and culture adventure!

5th Entry, Feb. 16

Well, my plans didn't work out quite the way I was expecting.  But, it was still an amazing first day in the city.  My roommate Helene invited me along to meet with one of her friends living in the city.  After assuring me I was more than welcome, I tagged along.

It was amazing.  Her friend took us to a few street markets, markets so flooded with people it took more than a half hour to reach the end of a little street.

It was amazing!  I've never been to a street market quite like that or quite so overflowing with people.  The smells of hundreds of kinds of foods and flowers was heady as we wandered.

After perusing a few shops as well, we stopped at a pub for dinner before heading back to our room at the hotel.

This was also our first stab at navigating the Tube.

I'm in love with the Tube.  I could content myself to just riding along the different trains for an entire day, people watching, reading, and writing.  Is that strange?

6th Entry, Feb. 17

We visited CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) today and spoke with Simon and Guy.  CILIP is similar to the ALA and has, in fact, worked closely with them.  CILIP is a relatively new institution as they've only been around for about 11 years.  They speak out for the library and information professionals as well as offering support to its members throughout their careers.

While ALA and CILIP are different, it was interesting to see, in my opinion, the biggest similarity: both are concerned with the de-professionalization of the library and information profession as well as the constant fear of continuing budget cuts, especially in the public sphere.

It was pointed out by Guy (one of the presenters) that, if a library is public, they are political.  The truth of his statement is still sinking in.  I had never really thought of it in that way before.  A public library is a part of the community which, incidentally, links it into community politics.

I enjoyed this visit as it was a new look into a professional organization, committed to the support of its members throughout their careers.  It was a look at how to improve the standards (Simon discussed how CILIP recently revised the body of professional knowledge and how programs are accredited).  

I really appreciated the look into this professional organization and I appreciated it even more when the presenters, Simon and Guy, stayed after and chatted, answering both new questions and questions they didn't have a chance to answer as they presented.  They were welcoming and eager to share their information with us budding professionals in our own right.

7th Entry, Feb. 18

I am still in awe over this library.  All libraries, even new ones, have history contained within their walls but it was nothing like what is housed in the Wiener Holocaust Library.

The Wiener Library is the oldest holocaust library with the second largest collection.  It was funded through charity work and donations as well as in small part by the German government.  During WWII, it was funded by the British government as they used the findings of the library for the war effort.  The collection is a mix of official documents and personal histories, often donated by survivors or the family of survivors.

It was stated that people will often come to the library and use it as a means to trace their family by finding documents and sometimes personal items to help them in their search.  Our guides said that sometimes, families have been able to find each other through the library and their research.

This library was an emotional punch as we were shown different stores, such as the photographic store.  Many of the preserved images were donated and showed how people were able to put themselves back together after the travesties of the war.

There were countless stories of struggle, death, desperation, fear.  But, there were equal stories of families being reunited, of survival, and life continuing after the war.

I had no experience quite like this one at the Wiener library.  It was interesting to see their classification system explained, though it was a rather short explanation by their one permanent librarian.  He stated it was a homegrown classification that had evolved and grown over the years to accommodate their growing collection.

Like I've said, this library is outside my experience.  It was an amazing look at a specialized library steeped in such history.  I would love to revisit this library, spend even more time with the collection.

8th Entry, Feb. 18

Today, we visited the British Library.  Holy cow, what can be said about this vast and immense library?  Well, for starters, they're what's called a copyright library, which means they have a copy of everything that is printed within the UK.  And yes.  That means they have a copy of every printed version of Harry Potter right down to a phone book for central London.  Their collection houses over 2 billion items and about 20 million of those items are physical books.

Holy cow, indeed.
This was a new experience, like, well, everything else will probably be.  It was amazing to see a few of the different items in the collection, such as the first stamp and one of the largest atlases.  The lengths they must go to in order to preserve these items is immense.  For instance, before a book is put into the collection, it is first quarantined.  This way, any and all mold, pests, or equally gross things can be removed from the book.  It will also keep the books already in the collection safe.  Also, there's a tower in the center of the library called the King's Collection.  To protect the collection, the tower has two thick panes of glass and in the center of the glass is a gel which will protect the books from fire.  The glass is also tempered in such a way to protect the books from the harmful rays of the sun.  And, in order to get inside, you have to be a member of staff and your badge must be swiped.  However, not all staff can get to the books.  You have to posses special clearance.


The library has an online catalog available to everyone but you need to know what you're looking for specifically.  If you type in, for instance, "business" into the search box, you will be bombarded with millions of results.

One of my favorite things about this library was a board they had in a technology center.  It was a place for people to swap skills.  For example, if a web designer is looking for legal help, he could be connected to a layer who needs a site designed.  The library uses cards for each person to fill out and leave on the board.  Their contact information is there, enabling them to connect with other professionals.  Our guide called it a low-tech Facebook.  I found myself wishing libraries did this more often.
This library was astounding, beautiful, and wonderful.  It was amazing to see the few things we did, knowing we hadn't even scratched the surface of the collection.

9th Entry, Feb. 19

The Swiss Cottage Library felt the most familiar to me as it was a public library.  It serves a population of about 225,000 with the demographics constantly changing due to new developments.  This library was plagued with the same concerns seen in public libraries in the States (budget cuts, losing professionals).

However, the one thing that really threw me was the constant mentioning of the Camden council.  While at first it sounded similar to a library board, it became clear it was not.  The Camden council is in charge of all of Camden, not just the library.

Another instance that gave me pause was realizing there was no library staff in the children's section of the library.  In fact, there was only one reference desk and it was located in the adult section of the library.  I thought it was odd they didn't have at least one member of staff present with the children instead of leaving them to their own devices.  Perhaps they felt they didn't need to be there as parents were with their children and, if a child wanted to check out a book, there was a self-service kiosk specifically designed for children.

10th Entry, Feb. 19

I was greatly looking forward to the visit to the RADA (Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts) library.  My excitement was soon squashed by the unwelcoming attitude of the director.  Instead of having even the briefest of spiels, he simply turned us loose in the small room, letting us look at the collection.
The collection, while small, was brilliant if a bit tattered.  But I'll talk about that in a second.  The collection was specific to the performing arts, so there were copies of Shakespeare's plays as well as more contemporary works.  Books about costuming and directing were also available for perusal.

After we spent some time looking at the collection, we had about a fifteen minute discussion with the stiff director.  He warmed to us by the end but it was definitely not the most welcome I've ever felt in a library.

He spoke to us about the state of the collection, mentioning the books behind the locked glass were delicate, rare, and couldn't be handled without special care.  He showed us books in boxes on top of the shelves, saying that while they were damaged (some were barely holding together) they were still available for circulation.

It saddened me to see so many books in such a sad state.  I couldn't help but wonder what could be done to fix them, if people could be trained and the materials could be gotten cheaply.  The explanation he gave to us as to why the books had yet to be repaired was the cost.  He mentioned that there were books that had been taken out of circulation due to their current state of damage.

11th Entry, Feb. 20

The Wellcome Library was stupendous and so far outside my experience as to be comical.  Though, I think my classmates were equally mind-boggled as we were shown around the magnificent space.

This was a library in which shortage of funds was never considered; money was no object.  It was amazing to see what could be done when the library wasn't in constant fear over ever-dwindling money.  The library is funded through the Wellcome Trust.

The library focuses mainly on the medical and works to engage the public with science.  The library's online resources are available to the public at large.  A search on the website ( will search across multiple platforms through a global collection.  Clicking on a link will also give more of the bibliographic information of the particular item.

Pictures are also available for searching and a high-res image will be available for free download after clicking on the picture.

The focus on the medical also allows the library to delve into other aspects of medicine, including quackery and witchcraft, as well as the history of medicine.  If there's a medicinal link, the library is interested.

The library works to engage the community by establishing an "exploration zone" which links in with the current displays and exhibits as well as putting on events.

The classification system was a mix of Library of Congress and homegrown, enabling them to change and evolve as the collection grows.

It was such an amazing experience, to see how different this specialized library is from the public sphere and from the libraries previous visited.  It was also comforting to see how concerned the library was with its community and patrons and their constant desire to see that their needs are met.

12th Entry, Feb. 20

The Egypt Exploration Society was probably my favorite of the libraries.  Like many of the other libraries, it was a very specialized collection, focusing on Egypt and its continued excavation and exploration there.

One of the things that struck me the most was that until the director had been hired, there hadn't been a librarian in charge of the library. The position is part time. Also until she was hired, there was no cataloging system. They are still finding hidden materials in nooks and crannies of the library. She has instituted a cataloging system and is using both her staff as well as volunteers in order to catalog each item in the collection.  It was plain to see her frustration with the lack of a catalog before her employment.

Of all of the libraries, this seemed to be the most plugged in to social media, using it as a tool to reach their patrons as well as extend their influence and bring in more patrons. By using social media, they can raise awareness and even bring in some additional revenue in order to help with library costs, such as fixing materials in need of repair.

Another of the things the director had taken issue with is there was no statistical data to back up the need for the library.  There was no information of how many people they helped per day as many of the members who use the library don't use the sign-in book.  Without that sort of data, it is hard for her to justify keeping the library open to the board.

I thought it was interesting that most of the things in the collection came in through exchanges with other institutions or donations.  There was no collections policy in place until very recently when the director implemented one.

I really enjoyed this library and even purchased a couple of books, which I'm pleased with and can't wait to read.  I'm most pleased with the lyric poems of ancient Egypt I was able to find in their offerings.

6th Entry, No date

Well, the program has ended.  I'm staying in one of the most darling hostels, Pickwick Hall.  It's a two minute walk from the British Museum and I plan on taking advantage of the closeness.

Though, I'm only here for two days, which has me worried.  I'm not sure where I'll be after this.  But, that's something to fret about tonight when I get online.

Anyway, the time flew by so quickly!  It's crazy that it has ended.  I was most sad to see most everyone leave.  I had so much fun with the others in the program and wished those who left could have stayed on longer.

7th Entry, No date

I'm no longer in Pickwick Hall.  I may also be having a bit of a crisis.  I just found out my grandma's health has taken a very swift decline and I've spent most of my day talking with my parents.  I don't think I've cried this much in a very long time.

I'm going home early.  Instead of staying until the 6th, I'll be leaving on the 1st.  This way, I'll be home when the worst happens.

I'll admit, I'm a bit relieved to go home.  I got sick the last day of the program and I haven't gotten any better which has made these past few days a bit of a misery.  Add to that the fact that my current hostel isn't very, shall we say, nice, and I'm definitely ready for home.

8th Entry, March 1st

I'm on the plane for home and I'm so excited to get there.  My whatever I got the last day of the program hasn't gotten any better and the last I heard, my grandma hadn't improved either.

I've been really thinking about my experiences in London and I've come to a few conclusions.

1) It is amazing that, despite differences in culture and library type, there is always the underlying concern with the community and its patrons.  Libraries are constantly looking to engage with the community, to bring people into the library, to help them find information, and to provide a safe space for the enjoyment of that information.  It's comforting, really, that this is true.  Even though each library we visited was different, from the public Swiss Cottage Library to the well-funded Wellcome Library, they placed an emphasis on their patrons and their communities.

2) I have decided that I need a travel buddy.  While I do like my solitude, being all alone in a foreign country is terrifying.  I've learned my lesson in this regard.

3) I miss keeping a journal.  I need to do this more often.

4) Libraries should take advantage of the free tools of social media.  They can be such a boon and there's the potential that they will draw in more patrons if they use them correctly and wisely.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more are free and should be used.

5) I am immensely lucky to have been able to go on this trip, to visit such amazing libraries with an outstanding group of people.  I've learned a few things about librarianship that will help me in the future (how to market to the patrons, how to deliver a presentation to fellow professionals and make it engaging).  I cannot wait to begin my career in this amazing profession.

Closing Thoughts

Librarianship is still a fundamental part of the UK and the librarians are continuously fighting to prove that this is true.  This, from my own experience, is true in the US as well.  It is a constant battle to prove that librarians and libraries still have a place within the modern world of technological advances and Google.

As I know I've said before, one of the biggest similarities between librarianship in the UK and the US is the focus on the community and the patrons.  Without the community, the library (especially the public library) wouldn't exist.  The library is for the community, for the patrons they serve.

A rather large difference can be seen when asking archival questions.  Usually, anything from the 1800s is considered "modern" and processed accordingly.  This isn't really seen in the US because, well, we're a young country in comparison to the UK.  The UK libraries have records and materials dating back many centuries before the 1800s.  To me, it seemed that there was more of an emphasis on preserving material, more of an importance.  I know it's important in the US to preserve old material and books, but it seemed to be a bigger cause of concern in the UK.

I said it in a previous entry and I'll say it again: libraries should -no, need- to take advantage of social media sites.  People spend a lot of their time online.  It's silly not to take advantage of the free tools social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest offer.  Libraries can showcase newly acquired materials or an upcoming program event freely, reaching more of their patrons than a paper flyer could.  In my experience with public libraries in the US, it seems that the UK libraries are a bit lacking in the social media aspect.  The Provo City Library is an excellent example of using social media to its advantage.  The PCL has a Pinterest account in which they'll inform their followers of newly acquired material, especially in an electronic format.  They have also been known to live tweet an event which means they showcase little tidbits of an even with their follows, allowing those who wanted to go but couldn't a chance to experience it in some small way.  By plugging into social media, a library can reach more of their community, perhaps even bringing in people who haven't used the library in the past.

With the exception of the Wellcome Library, each library faced budgetary concerns (something they have in common with many libraries in the US).  There are certain things that can be done in order to raise money, such as used book sales, but it seemed those things were few and far between.  Something more could be done in order to raise money for the libraries.

I keep hitting on this, but a major strength of libraries I've had dealings with in the States is the fact that they implement social media and make the free tools work for them to bring in patrons and keep their communities appraised of any happenings.  Being patron driven is also a strength, making sure that the community is bettered through the library and the services offered.

Most of the libraries we visited during our London trip had spaces reserved for studying which quite a few libraries in the US do not have.  Patrons, especially students, could benefit from specific spaces for studying, even if it's a quiet spot in the library in which talking isn't allowed.  If the space is available, perhaps offering rooms for patrons to use for studying would also be beneficial.

It is my hope that I will be able to return to London, hopefully being able to visit the libraries once more, maybe to see if any have changed or what has remained the same since the last trip.  Libraries have to evolve and change with the times so it will be interesting to see how they work to remain relevant, to remain community pillars in a technological world.

What am I saying?  I will most definitely return.  How could I not when there is so much more to be gleaned and learned?  We barely scratched the surface of most of the collections of each library visited.  I can't wait to go again!

Enjoy a few random pictures!