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Department of Information Studies


British Museum Libraries Visit – by George Bray

By Anne Welsh, on 5 December 2014

British Museum Panorama

Following in the tradition of independent visits to libraries, a group of UCL LIS students organised a visit to some departmental libraries of the British Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday 19th November 2014. The libraries which we were able to see were the Anthropology Library and Research Centre (in the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas), the Library of the Coins and Medals Department, and the Library of the Middle East Department. It was really interesting to be able to compare these libraries, which were very different (with the exception of the typical library issue of a lack of space for the collections!) despite being within the same broader institutional setting.

Once we had arrived and obtained our security passes, the group split into two smaller groups and spent about 30-40 minutes in each of the Coin and Medals- and the Middle East libraries, before reconvening at the Anthropology Library where we had a chance to talk with some of the staff more generally about the libraries and the profession.

Coin and Medals (Mary Hinton)

An exhibition of German medals from WWI immediately outside the entrance to the Department gave an interesting example of the way in which the physical, archival and library collections can complement each other to create public exhibits. It was good to see that the librarian’s working space is an integral part of the Department as a whole, which helps to strengthen the relations between the curators and the librarian. This was further demonstrated by the fact that the Coins and Medals physical collection is located in the same space as the library, something facilitated by the size of the objects themselves, which makes them easier to store in a smaller space. It was also very interesting to hear that a large proportion of the Department’s acquisitions are donations, which shows how important such gifts can be in helping to fill out a library collection beyond the capacity of the acquisitions budget.

Middle East (Rupert Chapman)

The main room of the library is the wonderful Arched Room, which was originally designed to maximise light in the room without creating the risk of a fire. It features a mixture of cuneiform tablets, library books and some of the Department’s archival material; being surrounded by high shelves of neatly-arranged clay tablets and seeing the further two floors of shelved books above creates a rather unique atmosphere . We were also able to have a look at some of the Department’s rarer books, which are located deeper within the staff-only section. Our discussion with the librarian-curator was very interesting and informative, covering topics as diverse as the conservation of the older physical books, through the in-house classification scheme, and even the collection management software that the library uses.

Anthropology / Africa, Oceania and the Americas (Hannah Thomas)

The main difference in nature between this Departmental library and those of the other two which we saw was that the majority of the library collection is actually accessible to researchers who can browse the shelves themselves, rather than request items to be brought to them. This is mainly due to the fact that part of the library’s stock comes from the Royal Anthropological Institute, whose members also have borrowing rights. It was also very exciting to hear about an upcoming project to re-classify, tag and barcode the entire collection. In our talk with some of the library staff, we learned more about the position of librarians and Departmental libraries within the museum as a whole, and were pleased to hear further evidence of the ways in which the librarians and curators work together on projects, very much to the benefit of the public and researcher. It was also interesting to hear how varied Hannah’s library working experience had been before coming to work at the British Museum, and the benefits of having such a wide range of skills to draw on as a result were very apparent.

The group would like to thank Hannah (a former UCL LIS student), Mary and Rupert for their time and effort in making the visit both possible and highly enjoyable.


George Bray (@NexGenGB) is studying for his MA LIS this year, while working part-time.

Image: Ryan O’Shea, copyright commons, some rights reserved.

Note: the appearance of the byline on this post is auto-generated, indicating that it was postedby Anne Welsh. George Bray is the sole author of this piece.


CILIP New Professionals Day 2014 by George Bray

By Anne Welsh, on 11 October 2014

The UX workshop, tweeted by @jonasherriot

Tweet: @jonasherriot

Yesterday I attended CILIP’s New Professionals Day. Of the eight workshops that ran, each person could go to four, so the following account is selective in coverage.

Simon Edwards (CILIP) pointed out the paradox of a world where information’s value was increasingly acknowledged, but where information professionals were often considered unimportant. It is up to individuals to ensure that we make our relevance apparent; we need to keep up with current trends, expand our networks and perspectives, and always remember the importance of continuing professional development.

Workshop: Hooked on a (UX) feeling: research, users and academic libraries:
Georgina Cronin (University of Cambridge) led an engaging workshop on UX (user experience) research. Typically associated with web design, it offers vast scope for improving library services and providing observational data when librarians need to prove their services’ value. Attendees undertook some ‘cognitive mapping’ UX research, wherein we made drawings of our study- and work spaces, subsequently reflecting on the significance of the order in which we drew them.


Workshop: The Library of Birmingham: rewriting the book:
Dawn Beaumont (Library of Birmingham) spoke on the context and content of one of the UK’s biggest public libraries. She emphasised that public libraries constantly need to justify themselves to people who do not understand the tremendous value of such places for society’s vulnerable groups. It was surprising to learn that Birmingham Library is as frequently used as a space for events, social and business meetings as it is accessed as a ‘traditional’ library service, though this continues to play a fundamental role.

Keynote presentation:
Jan Parry (CILIP) gave advice derived from years of experience in government libraries. Her main message was the importance of keeping ourselves active in our careers, knowing what to do and what to look out for in order to help broaden our prospects and get to where we want to be. We must keep our work interesting and challenging, and not be afraid to ‘move sideways’ if we cannot ‘move up’.

Workshop: Professional registration:
Franko Kowalczuk (CILIP Candidate Support Officer) presented useful guidance on the registration process, including the types of material in a portfolio used when applying for Chartership. Since a lot of the process involves the ability to think and write reflectively, attendees were asked to reflect on a recent event/activity in which they had taken part. What had we learned from it and how did we intend to incorporate our experiences into future work?

Maddie2Workshop: Make yourself a ‘must have’ and go places:
Emily Allbon (City University) offered tips on improving our professional value and marketability. These included: gaining insight into our libraries’ broader organisations and how our activities contribute to their goals; not being limited to ‘library stuff’ and getting involved with other disciplines, widening networks and perspectives; developing new skills and improving existing ones; being able to foster expertise as well as more generic transferable skills; and raising our profiles (i.e. cultivating a social media presence and ‘getting noticed’).


This was a very interesting and useful day. It was great to meet and talk with a variety of information professionals and the workshops were very thought-provoking.


George Bray (@NexGenGB) is studying for his MA LIS this year.

Inset tweets: Maddie House (@thevonfresh), who is taking her MA LIS part-time while working.

Image: Jonas Herriot

Note: the appearance of the byline on this post is auto-generated, indicating that it was postedby Anne Welsh. George Bray is the sole author of this piece, with tweets by Maddie House and Jonas Herriot.

“The Professional Divide”: Journal Club Report by George Bray

By Anne Welsh, on 8 October 2014


Hill, C. (2014). The professional divide: examining workplace relationships between librarians and library technicians The Australian Library Journal, 63 (1), 23-34 DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2014.890020


Article summary:

Hill presents and analyses the results of a survey undertaken to assess workplace tensions between library technicians – who have a TAFE diploma – and librarians – who have a professional degree. From her findings, she suggests tensions can be resolved through more accurate understanding of skill sets and roles, which could be accomplished at a variety of stages, from the recruitment process, through continued professional development, to on-the-job building of good relations.


There was universal unease regarding the methodology used in both survey and analysis. Certain questions appeared biased – for example offering a different set of ‘roles’ when asking what the duties were of librarians and library technicians. There was also confusion about the sampling process, which the article described in rather vague terms, and method and terminology seemed to lack definition. This made certain aspects of the analysis feel potentially unreliable – for example, no consideration was given to the reasons why people responded to the survey in certain ways, or what other factors might be contributing to tensions.

We also explored the idea behind the article – i.e. tensions within workplace hierarchies – and whether this related to our own experiences. While it was generally agreed that professional or qualification-related inequalities were not a problem as long as good relationships were maintained, there was anecdotal evidence for certain divides. Examples included: academics or other professionals not appreciating library professionals’ abilities and knowledge; cataloguers and systems staff lacking a connection to the front-end of the services (and vice versa); and the idea of qualified librarians doing the same tasks as unqualified paraprofessionals but with lower pay.

Various ideas were suggested for improving or maintaining workplace relations. The most popular was sharing duties in enquiry and reference roles, which was felt to improve communications and understanding across the hierarchy. All-staff meetings and open-plan offices were also seen as fostering a sense of unity. It was felt valuable for a librarian to have had experience of junior tasks at some point in their career, advocating the value of graduate traineeships prior to professional qualification. The importance of respect for colleagues and their skills was seen as paramount.

Related to this was discussion on whether it was right to assume that obtaining a different qualification (e.g. technician to librarian) was ‘progress’ or an ‘upgrade’, as assumed in the article. Shouldn’t it be left to the choice of the individual as to what kind of work they were happier doing? It was felt that this reflected the broader societal issue of pressure to be ambitious and obtain ‘top jobs’, regardless of a person’s other life concerns and interests.

Finally, the function and nature of professional bodies was addressed. How far should the continuing professional development (CPD) of the individual be a concern for the professional body? While it was agreed that CPD was certainly vital to being an effective librarian, questions were raised about whether organisational membership was a necessary part of this; particularly the case given the other bodies that exist beyond CILIP, such as the School Library Association and the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. Was being a member of a ‘specialised’ body more beneficial than membership of the broader organisation?

The article provided a lot of interesting debate and we look forward to the next journal club.


George Bray (@NexGenGB) is studying for his MA LIS

Journal Club takes place once a month, and is facilitated by Charlie Inskip and Anne Welsh, with organisational support from Laura Keshav. This year we are discussing three articles on the theme of Information Literacy and three on more general topics. Discussion is led by students, and covers the research methods of the article and its contents, which are then used as a springboard to students’ experiences with regard to the topics raised by the article. The Club is open solely to students in the Department of Information Studies.

Note: the appearance of the byline on this post is auto-generated, indicating that it was posted by Anne Welsh. George Bray is the sole author of this piece, drawing on the contributions of the students at Journal Club last night.