This portion of the blog completes an assignment for my MLS program. It documents a spent week in Glasgow visiting libraries, museums, and archives alongside fellow students of Emporia State University’s School of Library and Information Management. The purpose of the trip was to immerse myself in Scottish library and information centers to broaden my perspective on the profession. This section is organized into two pieces: the first a chronological narrative, the second a reflection upon my experiences.
Scottish Screen Archive
Our grand tour of information centers in Scotland kicked off with a train ride to an industrial district to visit the Scottish Screen Archive, which is part of the National Library of Scotland. As a repository of Scottish national heritage films, its mission is to preserve and engage the population through education and research. The reason for its location in a rather inaccessible industrial park is that film is combustible; the SSA will, however, be moving to a highly visible central downtown location next year with offsite storage. This tension between usability and practicality would emerge as a theme running throughout the libraries we visited on the trip. Considering Glasgow’s architecture can date to the 15th century, there are challenges inherent in providing modern library spaces that we don’t generally have in the U.S.A. This is why a significant portion of our interviews with library professionals centered on the topic of facilities.
The SSA began in 1976 and his since collected more than 32,000 items, including documentaries, amateur tape, educational films, industry films, advertising, and television in both English and Gaelic. The SSA came under the auspices of the National Library of Scotland in 2007, which altered its administrative and funding structure if not its core mission to collect materials that reflect Scottish life and history. The SSA maintains an open access database as well as an online learning resource called Scotland on Screen. Donations fuel the enterprise, as the SSA does not make purchases on policy.
My group toured the facility first, including the vinegar room where infected reels are quarantined and the other storage vaults full of reels. The technical services manager described to us the infinite challenges he has experienced in his 30 years at the archive, not the least of which is managing disintegrating materials amidst a new digital environment whose longevity is questionable. We saw two techs staffing the machines the roll the spools as they inspect the new donations for physical damage, although only about 30% of donated materials will be accepted into the collection. Another archive room was filled with boxes of documents including scripts and movie posters, and yet another was reserved for keeping all the various electronic equipment required to play each of the different material formats the archive collects.
Later, Learning and Outreach Officer Emily Munro showed us footage clips of Scotland’s final streetcar parade, public health service announcements, and home movies of a toddler making sand castles. She described the move the SSA will be making to Kelvin Hall downtown, and the shift in emphasis that will have on daily operations. The public-facing side of the archive will grow, whereas on-site storage space will decline. She also has irons in the fire regarding other partnerships around Glasgow, including with University of Glasgow to build the archive into the curriculum. A more detailed analysis of my experience at SSA will be found in the latter section of this journal.
Upon returning home, I walked to the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) to visit the Cafe Library, where they issued me a visitor’s library card enabling borrowing and computer access. Again, a more detailed discussion of this experience is in the second section of this document. I then walked to meet my classmates as promised outside Kelvingrove to take them to Tchai-Ovna and Voltaire and Rousseau. While they were enamored with the bookstore, the tea shop seemed to make the majority of them nervous and they quickly vacated. The group then met up again at Brew Dog for dinner and a pint, after which a select group of us went to the Nice’N’Sleazy for open mic night. The quality of musicianship and fellowship at the concert was beyond anything I’ve seen in the States, and I believe I finally got a glimpse into the fabled vibrant music scene in Glasgow. We were tired the next day, but without regret.
Edinburgh Central Library
We took the train to Edinburgh to visit the Central Library, where a handful of staff shared their current projects with us. Acting Library and Information Services Manager Martina McChrystal shared an articulate overview of the library’s history, current agenda, aspirations, and mission. Alison Stoddart, Digital Lead, described how her team is pioneering new inclusive initiatives online in the UK, including one where residents can share their own stories and historical information (which requires staff approval to publish). This was a brilliant way to capture the stories that aren’t officially recorded in a nation that is increasingly moving to digital information.
The information on digital usage in Scotland painted a complex picture: 1/5th of people have never been online, yet digital users and downloads double each year, heritage collections received 100,000 hits last year, Twitter is an essential marketing tool, and the digital team’s priority is making collections available on mobile devices. This suggests to me a wide digital divide in the Scottish population, with some users taking up new technologies on a sharp curve and others either staying or being left behind with no knowledge of, interest in, or access to new technologies. Alison mentioned one community connection the library has made to ameliorate this gap by having teenagers come to the library to teach older generations about new technology and devices. This need to provide services to equalize digital literacy and access in the population is likely a significant theme in the Central Library’s service agenda. One question I regret not asking Alison is how they workaround the challenges undoubtedly posed by the thick stone buildings in regards to making Wi-Fi available in the building.
Karen O’Brien, Manager, then took us on a tour of the library itself. We saw the art room, where a viewing room had a sink to wash hands before touching the materials. Karen discussed the challenges of locating the public library within Scotland Historical Society’s classified buildings in regards to accessibility. Even slight alterations require kilometers of red tape, and accessibility features like lifts or sprinklers are often impossible. Their current building is still an improvement on the previous arrangement, where the music & children’s sections were located in a separate building than the rest of the library. Full of practical advice, Karen indicated that while theory is wonderful, what matters is what works on the daily level at the library.
Karen discussed something I hadn’t heard put in such terms before: that the library is the keeper of the public record, of course, but that the effect of this new digital age might result in a gap in the historical record of our time. This is not because people don’t document or save their photos or documents, but because they don’t do so with an eye for preservation and longevity. Therefore, her collection policy was to collect regardless of format, encouraging digital contributions despite the inherent challenges, considering that is the dominant format of this decade.
The reference room was a preserved collection in an of itself, with a card catalog and two-story stacks with ladders. A batch of students took exams at desks in the center which required our silence. I wonder if those desks are permanent, or if the space is arranged differently outside of exam time? They had a library-themed display on (this couldn’t be due to our visit; it wasn’t pointed out) including three titles I want to look up. They are Harold Bloom’s How to Read and Why; The Book Lover’s Companion: What to Read Next; and Jacques Bonnet’s Phantoms on the Bookshelves.
The Edinburgh Central Library and its staff projected an air of success, initiative, and realistic visioning. Their focus on patron-driven services and creative use of a complex building indicates they are thinking along the same lines as public libraries in the U.S.A. by trying to be as vital to and closely knit with their communities as possible.
After the library, I went with a few colleagues to Edinburgh Castle, where I learned (or should I say was told that) my family name once had a crest (although the fine print indicated no relation or representation was guaranteed. My parents always told me I was Irish.). Walking the Royal Mile was an educational experience in the various textiles Scottish people use for clothing, as well as their enormous gap in preciousness. We visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but it was closed due to a visiting member of the church. The guards changed as we short photographs through the wrought iron bars, which felt like an age-old experiment in commoner curiosity. My roommate and I hiked up King Arthur’s seat, where the he wind was so strong at the top it pushed the water on the surface of my eyeballs, warping my view of the city. After catching the slow train home, we were very tired.
University of St Andrews Library
Scotland graced today’s chartered bus to St. Andrews with merciful blue skies, giving us unfettered access of the town and campus near the beach of the North Sea. Dr. John MacColl, University Librarian and Director of Library Services, began our guided tour with the Martyrs Research Reading Room, which is a new facility that is totally silent and restricted to post graduate research. I appreciated the limited access, as that enabled the target patron population real access to their studies: library as place. Strangely it wasn’t the defunct pipe organ, shelves of old manuscripts, or stained glass windows I was envious of but the book stands and utter silence. While the majority of students working in that space were using a laptop, they also had books beside them. The shelves were full of large reference tomes, manuscripts, and historical books. Having been a distance student during my Masters degree, my school did not provide my with any study facility and I was left to my own initiative to devise a satisfactory workspace. I imagine myself having had more success in my learning had I had access to a room such as this, especially one that kept such long hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
We went to the conference room for lectures. Being an aspiring academic librarian, I felt right at home being sat at a proper desk in front of a projector to be presented with a formal presentation. The first round were the academic liaison team, who differentiated themselves from U.S. subject specialists in that they focus more on relationships with staff and students and supporting research than specialized knowledge. They are like scouts, going out into the larger campus community and gathering what data they can (both qualitative and quantitative) on what their students need. They also explain library policies to patrons as best they can, which includes a comedic poster campaign employing old-fashioned archival photographs to illustrate new concepts. They are extremely proactive in their data collection and relationship building with the campus community: this is something I’m taking away as a model to inform my own service. Having the outreach effort so codified in the staff, as opposed to merely written into job titles or done tangentially, is a brilliant initiative that complements my learning in Community Needs Analysis.
I was surprised, however, that they had no university-wide information literacy learning program. The liaison team tries to accomplish this, as well as providing access to LibGuides. They used the same structure as Concordia University Portland Library, where I did my practicum, in building a searchable database of FAQs based on student queries. Also, I learned silence is golden at the library here, to the point where they maintain a text-a-librarian service not for reference but to notify staff of other patrons making noise so librarians can ask them to quiet down. This is a significant departure from the fashion in the U.S.A. right now, which champions learning commons with flexible spaces and lax noise policies as a remedy to low foot traffic in libraries.
With regards to teaching information literacy, St. Andrews librarians focus heavily on getting attention at orientations, and have begun introducing library skills classes to 3rd and 4th year students, as their dissertations leave them at a point of need. The main problem, they reported is the librarian to student ratio for information literacy classes. I hear this echoed in States, although more frequently I am told the true barrier to strong information literacy curricula is lack of faculty and administrative interest.
St. Andrews, keen on feedback, has signs around the library using their signature comedic brand to encourage communication. They will buy any copy of a book students ask for, but have moved away from a patron driven acquisition system because it only worked for e-content, and it’s more affordable to purchase one print copy than an full e-subscription.
Gabriel Sewell, Head of Special Collections and Assistant Director of Library Services, discussed St. Andrews special collections holdings, policies, challenges, and aspirations. Between manuscripts, rare books, and photographs, they have a deep, diverse collection that, while attentive to the national interests, are international in scope. It’s so large that Gabriel noted much is still to be catalogued and learnt, saying “We’re finding out more about it all the time through cataloging and other initiatives. We have a real responsibility for preserving them for future generations.” That responsibility translates to open-door policies for use of these priceless collections because, being access-focused, Gabriel said, “Our collections are there to be used, enjoyed, and enhance the students experience. We’re very keen for the students to have contact.” With 200,000+ readers annually, the librarians realize their patrons are a great source of information about their own collections and encourages researchers to share their finished outputs with the library in order to learn more about their own collections.
One unique initiative was the presence of Dr. Beth Andrews in her position of Academic Liaison/Marketing. To have a person specifically dedicated to marketing and outreach would be the subject of much envy back in the U.S.A. Between branding merchandise, booths at orientation, developing a signage strategy, social media, comment cards, ‘voting’ booths of ping pong balls, and giving students space on digital screens in the library, she has made massive efforts to convey the responsive, personal nature of modern library service.
Alice Crawford, Digital Humanities Research Librarian, exists in another highly specialized position. She described the digital asset management system used to improve access to digital collections, as well as their utilization of Islandora’s open source system. Their collection development policy, she said is, “We don’t do it if it’s been digitized elsewhere.” This ‘unique copies only’ mentality would be echoed at Glasgow University’s special collections later, reinforcing how essential the funding/staff resources element is in making decisions about digitization. That doesn’t mean, however, that special projects where the library collaborates with faculty and researchers is off the table, and Alice displayed the Biographical Registry (1747-1897), photo-poetry book project, and Roman Gomez de la Serna journalism projects underway.
Finally, Graeme Hawes, User Services Manager, discussed what I consider to be a priority area: face to face patron services. With 35 staff members, the various branches of St. Andrews’ Libraries are well staffed by people who are service-oriented, but not necessarily information professionals. His reference statistics indicated 93% are in-person queries, and 95% of those are resolved at the helpdesk. The tiered referral reference model is one we studied in SLIM, and one that I believe satisfies the often conflicting needs of balancing budgets with providing quality services.
Graeme’s work coincided heavily with Beth’s, as building the image of the library into patrons’ minds is done in each interaction. “Consistency, clarity of communication, people always get the same message. It’s an invaluable interface and makes the helpdesk job easier because there is a concrete, welcoming image of the library in students’ minds.”
University Librarian and Director of Library Services Tom MacColl described to a plan to add 4,500 new seats at the expense of staff offices and collections in order to amplify the social aspect of the library. “Students want to be in the library; their friends are all there. We’re doing pretty well compared to other universities in the UK.” This last comment caught my attention, as my impression from Graeme’s statistics, listed below, was that St. Andrews library did in fact seem very busy.
Main Library: 1,128,152 entrants and 33,476 enquiries
JF Allen: 86,751 entrants, 1,199 enquiries
St. Mary’s College Library: 47,437 entrants and 2,961 enquiries
Tom described how many serious academics reacted to liberalizing the environment, believing libraries should be for serious research. This theme is familiar to my own experience, and shows how the competing demands of various patron groups can leave the library pulled in different directions.
After the library tour I walked to West Sands Beach, where the North Sea hits the shore in 4 tiers of low, flat waves. I spent an hour barefoot in the shallow surf collecting shells, some of which I’ve never seen before. Had I not given them away to a man from Aberdeen who took my picture, I could have posted them here and possibly looked them up. After the beach I walked to St. Andrew’s Castle and Cathedral, then bussed home sleepily. Julie and Drey accompanied me to dinner, where I discovered I’m not the only vegetarian in Scotland, followed by a lazy evening watching the BBC. Apparently there are still drill-through-the-wall bank robberies in Europe.
The following is a video clip of Gabriel Sewell, Head of Special Collections and Assistant Director of Library Services, sharing two items from their collections with us.
Glasgow University Library
Today we took the Clockwork Orange tube to Glasgow University Library. While theoretically it was a mistake to hop a train ahead of my classmates, I had the opportunity to wait at the next stop and listen to the absolute silence of underground. The inner and outer tube tunnels looked like amusement park rides, and the setup of clockwise/counterclockwise circular trains is really quite brilliant.
We began at the library with a tour by Robert MacClean, Assistant Librarian, and knowledgeable curator the Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book exhibition. The exhibition used 64 strategically chosen tomes from the 15th c. incunabula collection to tell the story of how printing matured. The book trade, previously handwritten manuscripts devoted to religious subjects due to the specificity of literate persons, expanded towards a market-driven structure. Publishers worked off of trial and error, limited budgets, and especially market feedback to develop the indexed, numbered, compact, and affordable book we’re used to today. The earliest handwritten manuscripts, said Robert, were equivalent to the price of a house; later they reached the cost of three days’ labor.
On the subject of balancing out labor budgets and value, Robert explained that none of these works are digitized in full. Rather, excerpts have been scanned to display alongside records in the online catalog. Were a digitization project to be undertaken, they would prioritize unique copies, although the lengths they would have to go to to avoid damaging these old materials would be extreme. Then the work of deliberating what metadata would be useful and discoverable would pose a new set of challenges.
Robert’s reading suggestions for those interested in the topic included Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance, Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography, Febvre & Martin’s Coming of the Book, and Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.
This notion of learning growing from experiencing special collections is part of the goal of the exhibit, and Robert reported a “huge appetite for this subject” evidenced in turnouts much larger than the planners imagined. Professors of astronomy, French, and geography have all found it relevant to their curricula and delivered lectures at the exhibit. An optimistic discussion of the possibility of digitizing these lectures to display the University’s prestigious scholarship led to many nodding heads, as boosting the link between preservation and teaching outcomes will result in stronger institutional support. The link between assessment, outcomes, and funding made me feel right at home, as this conversation is ubiquitous in American librarianship.
We then sat with Helen Durndell, University Librarian, who was on the verge of retirement after almost 40 years at Glasgow University Library. After describing the breadth of technological innovations she has weathered in her career, she jokingly named her greatest achievement being to put a cafe in the library. The Glasgow University Library Cafe is no trifle; its various seatings, well-priced healthy food, mix of natural light and private alcoves, and proximity to computers. Another useful takeaway was her perspective on library hours: keep it the same all year round despite usage statistics so students “never have to think twice about it.” She also described the paradigm shift in special collections from the 1980s to 1990s in that, in the earlier decade, librarians felt the need to hide valuable materials lest the university attempt to sell them off.
With 50,000 students and about 2 million library visits annually, a student visits the library on average 40 times per year, or just over 3 times a month. When I asked how GU carries out library instruction, Helen responded, “You just have to be in your user’s space. It’s so important.” GU does orientation and induction outreach, one-shots, and online tutorials. An interesting effort I have not encountered before was their use of podcasts to reach students – this is no doubt informed by the community analysis work they have done by having members of the Student Representative Council sit in on library meetings.
Other relationship-building efforts include social media, designing usable spaces, having liaisons help with theses, connecting to Moodle, and, of course, the infamous LibraryTree social game, which I encountered in a gamification research project last semester. I was pleased to see how much signage was devoted to the game, although I would have liked to borrow a dummy log-on to try to it out. The final standout effort Helen described was trying out a roving reference model, where librarians with devices would walk through the library actively seeking out patrons in need. The impression I got from my visit at GU was that of a very proactive, well-informed staff using excellent facilities to their greatest capacity. While some bemoaned the aesthetic of the library building, I thought its stacked structure ingenious to serving different patrons’ needs-specifically the quiet floors and device-free zones.
After, I explored the Glasgow University Library cafe, which was well populated, with students working in isolation or groups amongst the diverse accommodations. I also liked how the most recent academic journal titles were shelved nearby, offering scholarly yet engaging reading material for dining. After this I located Ted Hughes’ Crow on the 9th floor, as it had been in the back of my mind all week and I needed to refresh myself. Leaving the library, I found the Apple store before meeting the group bound for the women’s Library.
Glasgow Women’s Library
The Glasgow Women’s Library has been a grassroots, volunteer- and donation-driven enterprise for 24 years, and in that time they have been in a number of different facilities. For the first time, though, they occupy a space that is completely their own and not a subset of another organization’s. The building is under construction to provide a new reading space. With 22 staff members, a circulating collection, and over 1,000 museum-worthy archival pieces, the library is not small, and is in fact aspiring to have the collection recognized by Museums of Scotland.
The only women’s library in Scotland, the GWL is a node in an international network of women’s libraries. In the early days, when Adele Patrick, Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager, and Wendy Kirk, Librarian, were just starting out, inexperienced and with a significant information need as to how to start and run such a library, it was colleagues in established institutions internationally (specifically in Germany) that scaffolded their progress. The GWL really speaks to me about how the confluence of initiative and opportunity can make exceptional work happen: it started in 1991 when Glasgow was named a European spotlight city and a large cultural regeneration went underway. By stepping up to make women’s presence visible in that hype, the GWL was born.
There is an organization in Portland called In Other Words – a feminist community center with some literary context. Lately it has been struggling to retain volunteers and funding, and I’ve always been too consumed with work and school to contribute. In the back of my mind is the idea that I might be able do something for them when I return, so I mentioned it to Wendy and gave her my email. Hearing Wendy describe her early experiences building the library, I knew she had the information my IOW project would need.
What struck me most poignantly throughout this visit was the raw passion, verve, energy, positivity, and enthusiasm in the GWL space. According to Adele, GWL evidences “an incredible groundswell of goodwill and support from the community.” As a mission-driven library, there isn’t vagary in their visioning of the GWL. “It’s meaningful to women who would normally not access libraries and museums,” explained Adele, referring to English as a Second Language, adult literacy, lesbian support, pro-feminism, sex-positive, supportive services and collections. Their conception of each patron is beyond service, as they strive to empower and embolden patrons. Referring to the sectarianism in the area, she said they use the collection as “starting points on conflict or as resolvers of conflict.” Most libraries profess to be neutral; not so at GWL. They take the social mission of libraries and unapologetically inflate it with compassion, which is something I have never heard spoken of from an institutional perspective (although anecdotally from individual librarians it is more common). Like me, they are interested in transformative librarianship. It’s an example of that elusive unicorn of libraryland: blending academic and public missions. With PhD researchers peer-learning amongst ESL immigrants, connections occur which traditional universities just can’t duplicate. Their institutional partners mirror their twin missions, as they have academic and social services partners. From this experience I can take away the plausibility of such porous organizational boundaries and methods to lessen power-, privilege-, and circumstances-based divisions in society.
They work towards ‘reader development’ in read-aloud groups that de-intellectualize the experience and return to pure enjoyment of it. The lessen the barriers to library use in other ways, for example by not having fines for overdue materials. Also, by rejecting Library of Congress and embracing Dewey (in fact, a simplified Dewey that aims more for findability than scientific accuracy), they lean more towards the mission of accessibility than theoretical purity. The library is for use. Satellite collections in abuse centers allow the library to find patrons. A wishlist online enables donors to help in effective ways. They have many different tactics and programs to serve the diverse needs of their diverse population, and it’s this energy and volunteer commitment that drives it.
Outputs of this applied energy are library-as-publisher examples: Mix in the Colors, 21 Revolutions (which we saw on exhibition at GoMA later, and She Settles in the Shields. Wendy reasoned that if all women (not just educated or famous ones) must be found in the collection, then the library’s duty is to fill and existing gap even if it means writing the book itself. Their walking tours of neighborhoods led by volunteer guides describing the non-mainstream historical narrative of women’s experiences were so popular they published the information in pamphlets. Wendy’s recommended readings: Canadian poet Sky Dancer, Tamil poet from India Sameh, and South African poet Toni Stuart.
Glasgow School of Art Library
The MacKintosh Library at Glasgow School of Art, as some readers may be aware, experienced a fire. The archives had been temporarily relocated (meaning salvaged by a chain gang of volunteers passing boxes down a line) to the library building. While damaging, it doesn’t seem as though the fire was catastrophic necessarily, meaning halting library operations. The librarians expressed their relief that so little of the collection was actually damaged, and because the MacKintosh library was not built with any irreplaceable materials, the loss is not a historical one. 80% of the collection was retained, although they did lose some illustrated books from the 19th century, alumni writings, and early 20th century pedagogical materials.
The GSA Library, however, was always in a separate location from the main MacKintosh branch; therefore, besides taking the archive under its wing for an interim period, its daily workings are largely in tact. They moved into their current building in 1982, which had previously been a lecture auditorium. Jennifer Higgins, Assistant Librarian, explained the library serves students of architecture, art, design, and digital design at the undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and researcher levels. This, in fact, is a nearly identical arrangement to my own library at University of Oregon Portland Library and Learning Commons. They definitely have a bigger budget, more students, and an advantage by being in close proximity to the main branch, however.
Similar to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, they struggle to balance a limited amount of space between the competing interests of students and collection development. Also, art and architecture patrons generally prefer print materials, as visual images are more accessible in physical formats. Jennifer said 95% of purchases, including student’s PDA purchases, are in print. This is also why the GSA Library has such an extensive and expensive collection of journals: many art and architecture journals are prohibitively expensive for the individual to buy. Print suits the content, said Jennifer, because they want the full tactile and aesthetic experience of the publication, advertisements included. My library has a similar trophy wall of fantastic subject specific journals, which we too bind and keep on the shelves after a time.
Jennifer also pointed out that the collection extends in certain places beyond the scope of curriculum. Student suggestions and requests develop the collection around their own interests, and the library is responsive to their needs. The graphic novel and cult fiction collections are growing; also, they take suggestions for DVD purchases on their blog. In fact, they use yellow spine labels on items to adapt to the dyslexic subpopulation at the school, which is actually 20% of the student body. The yellow provides a better contrast that is easier for them to read. This subpopulation’s particular needs also guides the GSA Library’s cataloging system, as they value a “browsing culture over scientific accuracy.” I think this is a wonderful example of tailoring the library to the population that goes beyond traditional collection development.
Just as at my library, or any library serving students of digital design, GSA provides computers with a full suite of creative software; in this case Adobe. A photo is included below of the long list of information and digital literacy courses the library offers; very impressive. The diversity of offerings indicates the librarians are actively studying the information needs students have. Jennifer said they had tried focus groups in the past to determine other information needs, but they were rather unsuccessful. Social media was more successful, although engagement is apparently a problem. That complaint is very familiar to my home library, although sometimes I think librarians want patrons to be librarians, creating a false high standard.
A question I meant to ask was whether the GSA Library has any sort of technology lending collection. At UO we have our tech sandbox, which has iPads, Wacom tablets, portable scanners, ArcGIS software, and other creative technologies. Also, we take a book cart up to the architecture students’ studios in an attempt to bring the library to their home turf. It’s generally very successful for engagement, and we bring new mixes of materials each week. Another overlap between my and Jennifer’s libraries is the use of library space to display student artwork.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Library
Caroline Cochrane, Head of Information Services at the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, gave us a tour of the library and discussed the nuances of services there. With students in music, dance, drama, screen, and production, who are actively performing and producing works, the small library must tailor to the diverse needs of these disciplines. Music is classified as Library of Congress; the rest is Dewey. They moved into the current building in 1987, when they had only 400 students. Now, with 950 students, Caroline described the space challenges the library facing. In an effort to accommodate a growing collection and patron base, they are considering building outward on the sidewalk (which they own) up to the streetfont, as well as weeding the collection of lesser used materials like vinyl and CDs. Because much of the music recorded on vinyl is not recorded elsewhere (Dr. Smith quoted 80%), however, staff is taking pains to weed down to the “heritage collection” and unique copies. Just as Alice Crawford at St. Andrews and Robert MacClean at Glasgow University articulated, if it’s been digitized somewhere else it loses priority in the queue of expensive digitization efforts.Caroline explained they do not, however, want to reduce the amount of sitting space in favor of collections because the library is a quiet safehaven amidst students’ very busy days, which often run for 14 hours.
Caroline was the first librarian to bring up the notion of consortia, describing their buy-in to Shedel, a consortium where Scotland’s higher education institutions voluntarily buy-in at a price determined by their size. Being one of the smaller schools in Shedel, the resource is invaluable to the Whittaker Library, enabling access to 70+ new journal titles, music scores, and reference material. My library in Oregon is very similar to this setup, being one of the smallest libraries in the Orbis Cascade Alliance. Our students depend greatly on access to larger schools’ collections, whereas our contribution is to provide highly specialized materials on art and architecture not found elsewhere in the 37-member consortium. The difference between Orbis and Shedel is that Orbis has a shared ILS, the implementation of which has been arduous and controversial. Caroline described that while the consortium is exploring that idea, the needs of the Conservatoire’s students is so nuanced that they would still need to maintain their home-made index of cast and instrumentation beyond the shared catalog. This index allows students to search for a play with, for example, 2 female and 3 male actors, or a music score for flute and violin.
The Whittaker Library staff, which is 6.5 full time equivalents, appears very in touch with their students’ needs. They are open 61 hours per week, despite being a small operation. With 140,000 visitors annually (and, again 950 students), it seems there are a significant amount of staff, researchers, and non-student visitors as well. There are only 50 FTE teaching staff, but an enormous (600+) body of part time hourly paid staff who work in the arts industries they teach. This unconventional, diverse patron base requires 55,000 loans per year. One aspect I found fascinating is the potential for what might be called an institutional repository of recorded student performances. Caroline explained the difficulty of copyright on many works, and the costliness. I felt very intimidated by the complexity of copyright, and frustrated at the idea that students are limited in building professional portfolios due to this. It would seem copyright would take up much of staff time – I should have asked about that. I also learned that copying most printed music is strictly illegal, whereas the Scottish version of fair use is fair dealing, and entails 5% or 1 chapter. Dr. Smith pointed out fair use/dealing are not legal concepts but rules of thumb developed in the industry to avoid litigation.
After the library tour, Stuart Harris-Logan welcomed us into his cramped basement archives for the Conservatoire, whose mission Stuart described as collecting “Glasgow and Scotland’s cultural memory.” From October to May, there were 206 recorded visitors, indicating that despite its seeming remoteness, it is a significant resource for researchers. The Conservatoire specializes in brass, thanks largely to a recent director’s fervor in that area. Apparently the Conservatoire used to do commerce and music, but Strathclyde University (Caroline’s alma mater) branched off taking the commerce focus with it, leaving the Conservatoire to branch out into the arts. Stuart let us hold a serpent, whose medieval characteristics we were unable to trace as the ancestor to the tuba, often used in women’s choirs to supplement a lack of baritone.
In his wheeled stacks were manuscripts of much unheard music which had, in my understanding of the story, been acquired by traveling and copying by the early explorer Robert Minter. The archive holds opera programs, handwritten music scores, and correspondence from infamous artists. The gem of the tour was the namesake of this blog, the ‘Book of Strangers,’ which was the visitor registry for the Conservatoire in its early days. From its place on the pillow, we could read the signatures of Buffalo Bill, Brahm Stoker, Henry Irving, and the man who opened the university, Charles Dickens.
From the Conservatoire I took away the experience of what it might be like to work in a very specialized environment. Caroline’s duties ranged widely, and she spoke intelligently on collections, services, subscriptions, archives, and digital initiatives. Stuart made an excellent host because he deployed his deep knowledge of history and collections through storytelling. Despite the cramped conditions of his archive, I was impressed to see he is still collecting new materials (such as opera programs) to avoid leaving gaps in the archival record. This reminded me of Karen O’Brien’s discussion of the state of preservation, and the irony in that we are photographing and documenting our lives more than ever before, but not necessarily taking the measures to preserve this record. I forgot to ask whether he has offsite storage; Caroline listed the many different spaces and facilities the Conservatoire owns. I also wonder whether they archive props and costumes from performances, or whether they get recycled back into use? The Conservatoire has a patron base that simply produces so much new information and artifacts that there is a unique opportunity (and serious challenge) in capturing them and putting them to use. If the Conservatoire owns students works for two years, what does it do with them? Why own them if not to use them for something promotional or academic? How does this affect student portfolios, and do these students really require portfolios, or are their opportunities in the field cultivated over the course of their program? In all honesty I haven’t visited an equivalent library in the U.S.A. to draw comparisons or compare services. But what is clear is that while the Conservatoire has a unique patron base to serve, they still seem to be facing the same issues we see in public and academic libraries.
Library at Innerpeffray
Even having read up on the Library at Innerpeffray in advance of coming on this trip, and even having attended a presentation by a SLIM alumni who attended the trip recently, I was still awe-struck. Maybe I was hypnotized by the long drive to the country, the devoted retracing of history by our volunteer guide, the fact we were actually allowed to handle the books. Or maybe the Library at Innerpeffray just is a special place. Whatever it was, this archive affected me more deeply than all the previous.
Being able to sit and turn the pages to explore the book as I would any other demystified the collection and let me interact with recorded history in a way I hadn’t before. At first, I refused to take the book he handed me, afraid that my touching it would contribute to its long-term deterioration. You do have to wonder, and I’m sure some archivist could mathematically project, what effect the handling of the collection has on its longevity. I don’t believe the collection was as old (or as valuable, I guess) as the incunabula, which it is hard to imagine being allowed to touch. Still, I would have liked to speak with Lara Haggerty, Keeper of the Books, about the subject. I can say that the experience here had a deep impact on my perception of libraries, archives, and preservation – I wonder if that’s the trade off the library makes for scientific preservation.
The library was originally housed in the chapel, which has a small alcove up a winding stone stairwell to an apartment with a fireplace. There is also a schoolhouse building, which is now where the librarian lives with her family. What is now the library was built in 1762, and is a two-story facility with original wooden shelves and ladders. Regarding the security of this precious collection, place is outfitted with an alarm system, and the town of Crieff is a short drive down very limited roadways. It would be hard for a thief to escape unnoticed, especially considering the librarian resides just feet away. The book cases also have special UV-resistant glass and covers for when there are no visitors. As Dr. Smith pointed out, the materials have lasted a long time without these modern technologies, so perhaps I’m over-worrying.
Our guide described the library as a literacy efforts of the 1600s, mainly brought into being by a few dedicated men including David Drummond and some of his many successors. There was a 75% literacy rate in Scotland at a time when education was largely elitist, reserved for the noble classes and clergy. There is a bound borrower’s registry, where patrons would sign their names below a written promise (literally: I Colleen Sanders borrowed X and promise to return X…) naming the materials taken. The registry also contains the borrower’s town of residence and how far he or she walked for the book: 5 miles, 20 miles, 40 miles. Originally it had 400 books. It still has 400 books, according to our guide, although a quick glance makes me think it has grown beyond that number. The point is, the books came back.
The collection is dominated by religion, history, and philosophy. This type of intellectual content lends itself, of course, to note-taking and further scholarship, thus in those times patrons were encouraged to write in the margins. Can you imagine how fabulous that would be? Normally when I find notes in public library books today, I’m a bit disgusted, especially when someone underlines or highlights certain lines of poetry (poetry, people, really?). However, in a culture where it’s encouraged, I feel like the notes may become more substantial as it’s an accepted form of dialogue. Maybe not. But it’s fun to romanticize the idea.
The book I chose from the shelf was about witches, as I’m endlessly fascinated, repulsed, and indignant at that tract of history. Happily for me, the 1665 text was a treatise about the falsehood of the existence of witches, and went on at length documenting and disproving the methods for proving a woman was a witch. Some of the documents the author quoted were beyond belief – if a woman touches a person who later gets sick; she is a witch. If a man of good reputation accuses a woman of witchcraft; she is a witch. If a man of criminal reputation accuses a woman of witchcraft; she is a witch. I got lost in there for about an hour.
Another text was a History of Four-Footed Beasts, which through text and hand-drawn illustrations (of course) documented the known animal species by land and by sea and recounted their characteristics. Some were whimsical (unicorns), whereas some where eerily accurate. English then had slightly different spellings and employed a few letters we no longer use today, which forced me to slow down my reading. This was a good thing.
On the way out, I had the pleasure to sign the guestbook, which, the library no longer lending materials, is the modern equivalent of the borrower’s registry. They asked my name, where I’m from, what I liked about the library, and if I would come back. As we didn’t get to speak with Lara, I didn’t get a chance to ask the operations/funding type of questions that librarians discuss when they assemble to compare notes. We mostly focused on the history of the library and its collection. However, I wonder how important that guestbook is. Besides that and ticket sales, I don’t know what other data points they can collect to show the library’s impact. Is that even important for this unique little library, or are they basically grandfathered in on the land? How much of their budget comes from ticket sales? Do they do any outreach? Do many scholars come to the library doing research, and if so, do they maintain an archive of works written about materials there? What is it like to work there; how does she spend her days? The materials seemed grouped by subject, perhaps loosely, as opposed to a formal classification scheme. Is this the ‘original’ order of the books, or is there a logic I missed? Are they cataloged online? Searchable? What type of digitization if any is on the agenda? Does the library still collect materials? What is its mission?
From this experience, I took away not only the idealized image of the pastoral historic library I secretly hoped to nick from Scotland, but a heightened appreciation of archives and preservation. I’ve said that before in this blog, but Innerpeffray was different. The access to materials, the ability to browse at my leisure and not be treated like a potential criminal, the sense of being able to enjoy a book the way they might have in the 17th century and be another reader of historical texts rather than a viewer or historical objects; it made a difference. Where I paid little attention to special collections before, I now have an experience-backed perspective. I disregarded archives as a career path because I saw them so secluded, so removed from the energy that is scholarship and learning. What I wanted out of librarianship was to have an impact; archives seemed more about basements and dark backrooms and simply fawning over materials. I like David Lankes and his insistence we shift our emphasis away from materials and onto learning. Yet, if librarians and archivists can use these precious artifacts to create a transformative learning experience (as we did at Innerpeffray) the results are truly life-changing. So in my professional practice, keeping an eye out for ways to engage the public/students/faculty/researchers with special collections will now be on my mind. It would not have been before had I not had this experience.
Reflection and analysis
This section of the journal examines my experiences in Scotland information centers in a more critical way and proceeds according to themes and questions rather than chronological order. While I’ve teased out themes from the discussions I’ve had with various information practitioners in Scotland below, the separation is artificial. These aspects of librarianship overlap and intersect, each affecting and affected by one another. Beneath them all, I believe, is the trajectory of providing access and responsibly managing change. I see it everywhere, in the Scottish Film Archive’s web site, educational partnerships, and move to Kelvin Hall; in Edinburgh Central’s repository of publicly uploaded materials; in the Library at the Gallery of Modern Art’s (GoMA) free 2-week visitor’s cards; in the Glasgow Women’s Library’s all-encompassing access mission; in St. Andrews long operational hours and academic liaison team actively assessing student needs; in Glasgow University’s free access to magnificent special collections; in the Library at Innerpeffray allowing the public to handle precious books; in Glasgow School of Art’s using yellow spine labels to respond to their dyslexic population; also in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s building local indexes according to the particular facets students might need (instrumentation, gender in script, etc.). The SLIM trip’s method of binge-visiting results in an abundance of information and experience that, when reflected upon, reveals many similarities amongst Scottish institutions, but with those in the U.S.A. as well. At first I felt obtuse for not identifying strong differences between library services in the UK and the U.S.A.; as if I wasn’t asking the right questions. But as Dr. Smith said, when dealing with human information need, it might be stranger to find a method of library service that is different from the practice of focusing on user needs.
So if I saw nothing new, how could this experience make me a better librarian? For one, it opened up an an interest in and respect for archives and special collections. These two aspects of librarianship never interested me; I’ve always had teaching and information literacy central on my radar. These experiences have shown me the value of preserving precious items for scholarship and cultural edification. No doubt in professional practice my new mindfulness for this aspect of library service will broaden my thinking, programming, teaching, problem-solving, and professional relations.
Also, the fact that libraries in Scotland are working through similar problems with similar guiding missions isn’t a disappointment: I didn’t think I’d find a magic fix the Americans just hadn’t heard of yet. It’s reassuring to know that in the global information age, other places on the globe are doing the same things as we are. Not that it’s identical, or there’s no differentiation in populations, but the priorities are equivalent. I think it means the topics I’ve been studying in my degree program are right on track with the necessary skills in the global information environment. I also benefitted from seeing such a wide swath of information organizations back-to-back, many of which I would not have visited in the course of my daily routines. My perspective has been broadened and I have a new well of experiences to draw from in my daily praxis.
Facilities. The architecture of Scottish cities can be 1,000 years old; preservation is a topic not limited to collections but to buildings themselves. Each center we visited had its own bargain struck between development and preservation, which resulted in access, storage, and space use issues. The Edinburgh Central Library building, for example, is listed as a category B by Historic Scotland, which comes with its own set of restrictions as to what modifications can be constructed. Therefore, despite its 11 stories it has only stairs, making all but the first floor inaccessible to those not able to make the climb. This isn’t as common in the U.S. Their workaround is to bring items downstairs for these patrons, however, that requires known-item searching. Serendipitous discovery and browsing of floors 2-11 are impossible, and Karen O’Brien acknowledged this imperfection is one of the challenges of operating in such old, although marvelous, facilities. The price of historical architecture is limited customization. The music library and children’s library had previously been located in separate buildings from the main library, but were integrated last year, resulting in a threefold increase in customers (patrons). This matter of convenience proved to be a significant barrier to access. It is likely that in a few years, Emily Munro at the SSA might be reporting similar effects regarding the move from an industrial park to a downtown pedestrian hub. The UK’s precious facilities also necessitate policies which might in the United States be viewed as anti-patron. That is, there are policies of no food or drink in places where students might be studying for long periods of time. Glasgow University and St. Andrews have offset this problem by providing lockers (at a charge to the user) as well as nearby cafes. The theme of trying to provide modern services that are accessible and practical within very old buildings was a running theme throughout the trip.
Creativity and visioning in economic recession. The Edinburgh Central Library recently completed what Martina called the “aspirational document” National Library Strategy alongside the Carnegie Trust. In a sustained economic recession, she said, reflecting upon vision and goals becomes an important survival strategy. The 27 ‘branch’ libraries in Edinburgh operate in what Martina called a “responsive” way to their immediate communities, reducing overlap in collections and making services more relevant to daily users. This was one example of how UK libraries are reacting to a changing environment. The SSA’s move to a more central location is another.
National public record. Many of the information professionals we spoke to expressed a general national initiative to preserve Scotland’s historic record. Scottish-related materials were often given a first priority in archives. Aileen Paterson at Scottish Screen Archive remarked how when processing donations to determine which films the Archive will retain, a prioritization system must be in place. In the SSA’s case, it is driven by the institution’s mission as well as the film’s physical condition. Aileen described the collection’s mission as being somewhat of a Scottish public record, with Scottish content being the defining feature of retained items. “All things Scottish–they love the queen,” she said. The primacy of national relevancy evidences a place-driven ethos. The SSA, as one arm of the National Library of Scotland, exists to collect and preserve materials that inform the national history and consciousness. Karen O’Brien at Edinburgh Central Library picked up this thread of maintaining an unbroken historical record for future citizens when she described her own collections policy. “I don’t care what format it is,” Karen said. “We’re keen to acquire digital materials. In the future, they’ll look back and se a 50-year gap because people don’t save things like they used to now.” These librarians are building their collections for both the present and future Scottish patrons. Access and preservation are equal priorities. Being a public-facing entity, Karen’s guiding maxim at Edinburgh Central is practicality: will it work in action? Emily, on the other hand, is achieving access by building long-term partnerships with other information institutions such as Glasgow University. The Glasgow Women’s Library also makes exemplary efforts towards making the library’s collection reflect the nation’s history specifically. When they found no relevant titles on women immigrating to Scotland, they wrote their own book, She Settles in Shields. While many of the archives we visited contained artifacts from all over the world, there was a strong current amongst information professionals to maintain the specifically Scottish materials collections.
Silence. Multiple libraries we visited were unapologetic about the silence policy in their spaces: Edinburgh Central’s Karen O’Brien noted that the culture there is one of constant noise, therefore people look to the library to be a refuge from that constant bombardment. St. Andrews, too, built silence into their library policy and spends significant effort enforcing that norm, so important it has been found to be to their students. In the U.S.A., the trend is moving away from enforced silence in libraries towards learning commons with a focus on group study. In the U.S.A., Sh! is a dirty word in the popular library literature, although there are advocates for retaining the silent-study dimension of libraries. I personally believe Glasgow University, having much more space than these two libraries, solved the issue beautifully by accommodating both desires: the lower two floors are learning commons with the highly circulating collections and cafe, whereas silence is enforced in the upper floors for those seeking to do deep study. University of St Andrews has a dead-silence rule in their post graduate reading room, which really makes the place different than all other library spaces. Other spaces, like Glasgow Women’s Library and Library at Innerpeffray, are laissez-faire about the silence question. They act more as hubs for engagement and for people to intersect over their common interest in the collections and, as Adele said, peer learn.
Proof of residency vs. services to visitors. I visited the library beneath the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). My experience at the Library at GoMA (which was outside the official SLIM visit itinerary) suggested the UK is better equipped than the USA to provide services to temporary residents and visitors. I was surprised at how little personal information they required of me for a temporary card: merely an identification (I offered my state drivers license) and typical residential information. The temporary patron status is automatically purged from the ILS in 2 weeks, and includes not just computer access (which the librarian commented is often used to print boarding passes), but also borrowing privileges. The general practice in the USA of public libraries requiring residential information to obtain a library card discriminates against underprivileged sub-populations like homeless and immigrants, although I realize the necessity of maintaining accountability for borrowed materials. Also, if people can be patrons without residing in the county (or city, or state, or country in this case) which funds the library, the library will have greater demand than resources. How do Glasgow Libraries do it? From a funding perspective, proof of local residency makes sense. From a professional values perspective of access and diversity (because many marginalized populations form the body of what we call diversity in the USA), it has complications. My main takeaway from the Library at GoMA is contemplation on how libraries with large visitor populations manage services and balance funding. When I lived in Hawai’i I encountered this question, and Hawai’i’s solution is to charge $10 for a visitors card. This infuriates American travelers accustomed to free American public libraries, but it makes sense when you consider the local taxpayers would be funding a disproportionate amount of usage for non-residents. I think the UK is similar, but I wonder how they budget for it? Perhaps they reason this openness pays off in hospitality to visitors and travelers to such a degree that it justifies the expense and potential lost materials. Then again, University of St Andrews also would have allowed me to borrow, for a slight fee. I think that’s a reasonable expectation and frankly quite generous.
Copyright. While I am not a copyright expert, it arose as a topic at the Scottish Screen Archive and Edinburgh Central Library, the latter focusing on digitization of art books. Karen O’Brien described how a new act of Parliament, considered a major landmark of progress towards broader access to materials under copyright, now allows the library to operate a single computer terminal where patrons can view digital images. Emily Munro noted copyright is “different than in the United States. We encourage people to donate their materials rather than deposit them.” These fine-print distinctions can mean the difference between making a film viewable or not, and while the Archive exists to preserve, Emily noted, “We can’t really preserve without providing access.” Therefore, the publicly-minded mission can be curtailed due to copyright complexities. Copyright is a huge issue at the Royal Conservatoire, where performances require purchased permissions, and if the library wants to record those performances as a sort of institutional repository, the rights game gets even trickier. This is an added level of responsibility to a position such as Caroline’s.