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Behind the Scenes: Shadowing and Hosting between a Bodleian Library and a College Library

This year, many Graduate Library Trainees expressed an interest in shadowing a fellow trainee from another Oxford library. Colleagues from Bodleian Staff Development worked to facilitate this and fortunately Leanne and I were able to spend an afternoon at one another’s workplace. Leanne is the Graduate Library Trainee at Christ Church (ChCh), one of Oxford University’s largest colleges, while I’m the trainee at the Radcliffe Camera, home to the Bodleian’s History Faculty Library (HFL).

Christ Church’s Main Library Building

View of the Radcliffe Camera from the University Church

The nature of each traineeship can vary considerably depending on the remit of the library, its size and the nature of its collections. These differences are magnified when the logistical and operational nuances distinct to each library are accounted for. Shadowing at another library provides an opportunity to experience these differences in context, to consider some of the factors impacting other library services and to critically reflect on the practices of the libraries we normally work in.

After our afternoons of shadowing were over, we decided to write a joint blog post to recount our experiences, using a Q and A as the basis for encapsulating our opinions. Suffice to say we had fun!

Christ Church Library and Bodleian Library Stamps next to each other in the same book.

Why did you want to shadow at the library you chose?

Ross Jones, History Faculty LibraryHaving spent the majority of my time working and studying in the Bodleian Libraries, I welcomed the opportunity to experience the day to day goings-on of a college library; I wanted to learn about the parameters a college library was expected to operate within and how this might affect the services they are able to provide. Given the familial nature of a college environment, I was also eager to discover what kind of learning cultures a more insular and exclusive library service helps to inspire.

Leanne Grainger, Christ Church Library: As a trainee in a college library I was keen to shadow a trainee within the Bodleian Libraries to find out how the experience differs in a larger library team as well as within the larger Bodleian Libraries’ structure.

What were your first impressions of the library?

Ross says: Friendly and ambitious. Oxford is saturated with historic buildings and architecture of seemingly every kind. This has led me, albeit guiltily, to become a tad indifferent to the awesome facades boasted by the libraries of many of the older Oxford colleges. To me, the most impressive feature of a library is the service it provides and I was struck first and foremost by the welcoming personalities of Christ Church’s library staff and the grand designs they had for improving their service.

Leanne says: Grand. Iconic. Busy – especially considering it was vacation! The History Faculty Library  is currently situated in the Radcliffe Camera, a well-known landmark in Oxford, which is beautiful both inside and out. Even though I was shadowing Ross during the vacation it seemed pretty busy and I imagine it is an extremely popular study space within Oxford.

The Lower Camera Reading Room at the HFL.

What did you find to be different in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The book-request service. Having secured a generous budget for purchasing, one of Christ Church College Library’s many strengths is its ability to provide students a significant stake in its Collection Development Policy by allowing them, in a sense, to build a reader-curated collection. If a student needs it and the library doesn’t have it, you can be sure a copy will be bought (within reason of course!). I was amazed to learn that the record time for fulfilling a request was just a matter of hours, with staff going above and beyond to deliver the requested item to the reader at their desk.

Leanne says: That anyone with a reader’s card can use the library!  It has a diverse range of readers to cater for, and even has a section of the library that is a laptop free zone for readers to use to get away from the noise of keyboard tapping! As a college, the library is predominantly only for our own students and has no where near as many readers. With a larger team at the HFL, Ross covers the front desk on a rota, usually about 3 hours a day, which is quite a lot less than the half day if not the whole day I usually work at the front desk!  A bigger team also seemed to mean that everybody has particular roles and responsibilities, whereas I find I get to do a bit of everything. The HFL also seemed to not be as involved in acquisitions and cataloguing as at ChCh, as these are done centrally within Bodleian Libraries.

What did you find to be the same in comparison to your own library?

Ross says: The day to day challenges of working in an 18th century building. Where spiral staircases and galleries abound there will invariably be a multitude of issues with running a modern library service. Facilitating access for mobility-impaired readers, shelving in precarious positions and struggling with antique furniture and fixtures were all too familiar aspects of library work at Christ Church.

The spiral staircase in the East Library at Christ Church

Leanne says: I feel like I can only think of more differences! However, it was fascinating when similarities popped up. Redirecting tourists at the front desk, rather packed lost property shelves and a Library of Congress classification system were all very familiar! A lot of the routine tasks such as the processing of books felt similar too. The book covering in particular, with book sleeves for dust covers and lamination of paperbacks (but I’d highly recommend commando covers!).

What aspects of shadowing did you enjoy?

Ross says: The variety of environments. With Christ Church boasting an upper and lower library, a separate 24-hour Law library, the Allestree Library, a variety of rare book rooms and an archive room hidden away at the top of a tower, it’s a wonder Leanne and the rest of the team manage to keep on top of it all! With everything as spaced out as it is, I imagine resources are stretched pretty thin at times, but having a backstage pass to it all for the day made for a truly enchanting experience.

Christ Church’s Upper Library as viewed from the Gallery

Leanne says: I really enjoyed exploring the space and learning about the HFL being a library within a library – the HFL doesn’t own the space it’s in, the Bodleian does! This has drawbacks in terms of having space to expand into, which is a huge issue even for libraries with their own space. There is overlapping of the HFL collections and the Bodleian Library collections in the Gladstone Link, which is underneath the Radcliffe Camera and between the two libraries, which was interesting to get my head around! I enjoyed getting to be a part of the daily delivery of books from the off-site store at Swindon, there are some interesting things that get delivered. I also like that I was able to process a new book that now has its shelfmark written inside in my handwriting.

Overlap of collections in the Upper Camera (HFL books on the left and Bodleian books on the right) .

What benefits do you feel are unique to the trainee role of the library you visited?

Ross says: As Leanne says, working at a college library tends to involve a little bit of everything. At the History Faculty Library, where roles are more compartmentalised, my main focus is Reader Services and this means chances to work with bibliographic records are few and far between. At Christ Church, Leanne often creates and edits holdings records, which is a useful transferable skill to have when it comes to pursuing a career in libraries!

Leanne says: The trainee project that Ross has taken on this year I feel highlights a unique aspect to the HFL – that it is a subject specific library in History. Ross is looking into improving the provision and accessibility of the History set texts, which I think is a useful and transferable experience. For example, Ross has carried out a survey of the students who need to use these texts to find out more about how and if they use them. I especially feel that the most unique feature of being a trainee at the HFL is it being a library within a library. Learning to navigate the different collections of a shared library space and getting to observe and learn how those collections an d that space is managed I think will be uniquely valuable experience.

What ideas or procedures might you think about implementing in your own library after visiting?

Ross says: Minor cosmetic changes to improve the readability of shelf marks. The library staff at Christ Church have used an ongoing reclassification project as an opportunity to trial some simple and effective ideas to improve the browsing experiences of readers. In retro converting the classification sequences in the lower library to Library of Congress, staff at Christ Church have decided to print out shelf mark labels on yellow stickers rather than white ones to aid those readers with dyslexia or Irlen syndrome. They also print their labels so that the first line of each shelf mark will appear at the same height on each book spine, regardless of how many cutter numbers a shelf mark might have. This makes it easier to follow the sequence along the shelf. Every little helps!

A shelf of books with their new Library of Congress shelfmark labels at ChCh.

Leanne says: At Christ Church Library we are already looking into using the bindery where Ross sends worn books to be rebound. I talked to my Librarians about the system that Ross uses to regularly send books that are in need of TLC to the bindery and we’re now looking to adopt a similar strategy to be more efficient with our rebinding budget. Talking to Ross about his trainee project has also inspired and motivated me to look into improving the promotion and visibility of collections that are particularly important to students, including the accessibility equipment we provide.

A shelf of newly rebound books at the HFL, fresh from the bindery.

Can you describe the library you visited in one word?

Ross says: Wonderful

Leanne says: Matryoshka

Michaelmas Reflections from the Law Bod

As I post this, there is a mere few hours left of Michaelmas term and it boggles the brain as to where the time has gone! Reading back on my first post from over two months ago has got me reflecting on how much I’ve learned since then and how comfortable I now feel in a building that has been slowly revealing its character to me. These dark, gloomy mornings must be making me emotional!

As I am based in the Information Resources team, my tasks this term have been mainly book processing, serials processing for the New Journal Display and reclassifying part of our collection. This is broken up with a several 2-hour shifts a week on the Enquiry Desk which have been great for interacting with our regular readers and learning about their area of research, as well as aiding newer readers in navigating our, often confusing, collection. I have only just gotten to grips with the layout of our ground-floor rolling stacks, and not embarrassed to admit I had to consult a map a few days ago while shelving after becoming baffled as to where the usual home was of an old, secondary collection Criminology text.

A rare sunny and quiet morning in the Law Bod. View into the main Reading Room from the Gallery.

My IR (Information Resources) work is varied and allows me the privilege of handling almost every book that comes through the library – be it through Legal Deposit, purchase or donation. Some days I’ll find myself 5 minutes into reading a book that I had intended only to skim through while stamping and tattling. Who knew law could be so interesting to an English Literature and Art History graduate?!

One of the more difficult, but very informative, tasks have been the reclassification of our Roman Law collection. My language experience has certainly come in useful as the texts are predominantly in German and Italian, but it is often hard to decipher the nuanced meanings between certain words when you are deciding on specific shelfmarks, as many words can be similar in language but mean very different things in a legal context. One language which would have been useful to be familiar with is Latin, but I decided against studying it on the belief that it would not help me while being a tourist… However, now that I am learning tonnes about Roman Law and its apparent influence on our own Common Law legal system, I can impress anyone while travelling with the Latin terms for various contracts and criminal activities, because I hear people love to talk about Stipulatio and Damnum Iniuria Datum on their holidays, yes?

‘Furtum’ is the Latin legal term for ‘theft’ in Roman Law …but of course you already knew that.

Speaking of summer holidays… the stormy, winter weather has brought the library alive with the howling of the wind circulating around the building and the thunder of the rain on the slanted roof windows. The noise is almost biblical when the rain is pouring and it still excites and awes me when it is in full force. I am really getting familiar with where the best seats are, which of our four floors is the least chilly and the quietest areas of the library, which is useful when suggesting places for readers to park up with their books for the next 8 hours. I have also aided a student in using our microfilm reader, which was a nice departure into the past from a standard query of how to search for legislation on an online database.

Best seat in the house. This nook can be found on our Gallery level, tucked between carrels with a lovely view.

Finally, our training sessions this term have been so interesting and varied, and extremely useful for day to day library work. Seeing the other trainees almost every week has been so great for catching up and reminds me that I’m not alone in being thrown into so many new experiences. I am so looking forward to heading back up north to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay, but I am also welcoming Hilary Term in the New Year and wondering what new challenges and opportunities it will bring. We still have a few weeks left until the Law Bod closes for Christmas, but Merry Christmas when it comes and lang may yer lum reek!

Elizabeth Piper, Oxford Union Society Library

Good morrow! I’m Elizabeth and I’m the trainee at the Oxford Union Society Library.

It’s an older photo sir, but it checks out…

The Union is cunningly hidden off Cornmarket Street with another entrance on St. Michael’s Street and acts rather like a private club for its’ members- people come here to work away from colleges or distractions from roommates and the like, although the Union bar is in the room next door so distractions are never that far away! The library houses about 46,000 books which makes it one of Oxford’s smaller libraries, but it makes up for that with some incredible murals and a painted ceiling from the pre-Raphaelites showing scenes from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur. Unlike other libraries, it holds the largest collection of travel guides and fiction (outside of the Bodleian, naturally!), but unlike the Bod, all of these are borrowable.

Oxford Union Society Library

This is the Old Library which was the old Debating Chamber and now the Main Library

There are four of us who work here and we have the luxury to have an actual office just off the library, so we’re allowed tea at our desks! This is a luxury I never had when working in Christ Church, where I worked for a few years in the Main Library, and also producing an item-level catalogue for one of the special collections called The Portal Papers which is a collection from the Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force from World War Two. These are the papers that really sparked my interest in libraries. I had previously served in the RAF and seeing how records that were classified as Top Secret had been protected and kept hidden away, just waiting for a time when they were able to be used and read again is absolutely fascinating to me. Some of the papers had not been looked at since Portal looked at them and finding that information for the first time just hiding in plain sight in a grey or blue archival box looking completely innocuous on a shelf is, I think, quite exciting. And that is just one collection- knowing that libraries are full of collections just like this just waiting to be found made me apply for the Masters programme in Library and Information Studies at Aberystwyth which I am currently doing via distance learning at the moment.

Sir Lancelot mural

Nice detail of the murals

My days in the library are generally spent learning super in-depth how to catalogue, although there are other duties as well. I am the minutes secretary for the Library Committee which decides which books should be kept and which to be withdrawn- there is a “one-in: one-out” policy when it comes to acquisitions here. The members are in charge of our policies, budgets and acquisitions as a general rule, and members can range from a first-year undergraduate to a senior life-member who has been a part of the Union for the last seventy years. It is a style of management I haven’t come across before in Oxford libraries. The other bonus to working here is getting to go to the debates or to hear the speaker events- only recently, I got to see Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle while they were at the Union which was incredibly exciting.

All in all, this is a great place to work! 🙂

Sally Hamer, Wolfson College Library

Hello everyone. I’m Sally, and I am spending my Traineeship at Wolfson College. I am originally from Germany, but I moved to England five years ago to study History at the University of Essex. It was there that I initially thought I would aim to become an archivist. Over my time at Uni that goal became somewhat buried under the cumulative stress of studying and forging a path for myself, and I completely forgot this was something I had originally wanted to do. After my undergrad, I moved to Oxford and decided to pursue postgraduate study, settling on a Postgraduate Diploma in Anthropology from Oxford Brookes University. After the stressful last year I had had during my undergrad, my year at Brookes reawakened my passion for academic learning and the preservation of knowledge. This is when I realised that I wanted to work in Librarianship, and surround myself with the environments and people who had brought me so much joy while engaging with them.

I then undertook an internship at Magdalen College Library in order to find out whether Library work was really for me, and found that I loved everything about it. My supervisors there were incredibly kind and generous with their time and knowledge, and it is through their guidance that I arrived at Wolfson as part of the Bodleian Library Trainee Scheme.

The beautiful Wolfson grounds.
From the College website: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/colleges/wolfson-college

My team at Wolfson is very small, comprising only of me and the Librarian, and as such I essentially fulfill the role of Assistant Librarian. This suits me really well, as it means that I am entrusted with a fair amount of work and responsibility, while still being encouraged to engage as much as possible with any and all training opportunities that cross my path. In my first month here I have already attended talks on Open Access, assisted the Bodleian’s Education Librarian with teaching, and joined a Resource Workshop at the Social Sciences Library, alongside the official training sessions provided by the Bodleian. This is allowing me to gain a broad insight into Information and Library Sciences, and to understand what topics I am more interested in than others.

Our Jessup Reading Room.

Aside from my day-to-day tasks, I am largely responsible for project-managing the processing and storage of several large bequests made to the College, comprising several thousand books. It is my job to make sure these items are sent to external cataloging, then processed and stored at Wolfson. I understand that completing this project will take me the better part of my year here, as more books arrive from the external cataloging on a fortnightly basis for me to get on with as speedily as I can.
I’ll let you into a secret : this is my favourite job here at Wolfson! I find the processing of books very satisfying, and I get to have a look at dozens of fascinating volumes every day, so I could not be happier.

The boxes and shelves in my office holding items from bequests to the College waiting to be processed and shelved.

Wolfson is a Graduate College situated slightly outside the city centre, and as such benefits hugely from quiet roads and beautiful surroundings. Working at a Graduate College is wonderful, as everyone you engage with on a daily level is deeply committed and passionate about their research, making for highly interesting and varied conversation and engagement. Wolfson is committed to its values of community and egalitarianism, and I have definitely felt very welcome here. So far, I am really enjoying my time at Wolfson and at training with the other Trainees – I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring!

Visit to Oxford Central Public Library, Emily Delahaye

This week, we were invited to Oxford Central Library to meet the library staff there, and discover more about the workings of public libraries. Many of us have never worked in a public library before, so it was great to see another type of library, which was simultaneously similar and different to our own libraries.

First, we visited the children’s section of the library. This is an amazing resource for the children of Oxford – with the arrival of the era of self-service machines, the librarians have been able to cut down on the size of the help desk, meaning that there is more space in which children can read and play. We heard about how the library staff hold ‘rhyme time’ sessions here for the children, which involve singing and stories, and which go down very well with the audience. In response to the multicultural population of Oxford, the library has also held story time sessions in different languages, ranging from French to Czech, which have proved popular too.

Next, we visited the music library, which is very well stocked and even contains a piano, for readers to use and on which to try out sheet music! The library has a large number of scores that it loans to local choirs in Oxford, as well as play scripts, CDs, and books on music and musicians.

After that, we entered the main section of Oxford Central Library. When the self-issue machines came in, the librarians were also able to revamp this section. In the atrium, there are new book displays, designed by the company ‘Opening the Book’, which specialises in creating library furniture that will make the books it holds more attractive to readers, for example by displaying certain books’ covers, instead of their less artistic spines. The library chose to move many of its popular items into this new section in the atrium. This was so that during the peak lunchtime hours, readers would be able to pop in and find something interesting to take away, instead of  having to go deep into the library.

During the tour we heard about how the Oxfordshire libraries operate in tandem – readers can borrow books from one library in Oxfordshire, and then return them to a different one, if that is more convenient. While this creates more work in transporting books, it makes life much easier for the readers around the county. This is similar to our libraries in the university – even though readers can’t return books from a different university library to another, we still need to communicate with each other all the time and work inside a much larger team, than just that of our specific library.

The main difference between my library and Oxford Central public library was the content, as we specialise in business, management and economics resources, instead of covering a wider range of subjects. We also serve a much more narrow type of reader. However, like in the university libraries, Oxford Central library provides both physical and electronic content for readers, so in this way, the method of providing information to readers is similar.

Thank you to Oxford Central Library for having us over for the tour!

Visit to Trinity College Library, Cambridge

On a gloriously sunny Saturday a group of trainees ventured to the Other Place to meet with our Cambridge counterparts and have a nose around their libraries. After a lovely cup of tea, our first visit was to Trinity College, where Harriet Hale, the current trainee, showed us round.

Trinity is the largest of the Cambridge colleges, founded by Henry VIII in 1546. Two existing colleges were combined to form Trinity: Michaelhouse (in existence since 1324) and King’s Hall (originally established by Edward II in 1317). It is stunningly beautiful – if I had been a student there, I’m not sure I would have ever managed to get much work done because I’d have been too busy gazing around in a gormless fashion!

The Wren Library (image from Trinity College Cambridge website: www.trin.cam.ac.uk)

The library can be found on two sides of one of the courts. The Wren Library is situated above the colonnades where Sir Isaac Newton (a member of the college) is said to have conducted experiments on the nature of echoes – quite a claim to fame. It was also interesting to hear how the colonnades were used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in World War 1 – we even got to see some photos showing the rows of beds along the corridors, with the courts simply blocked off by a temporary wall.

We headed first to the working library, which is spread over the Reading Room and Lower Library. Stocking books for all undergrad courses, it was full of hard-working students getting ready for Finals. All loans are issued at the desk by humans, and they have a large team of librarians to keep on top of this. As well as books and journals, there is a large selection of DVDs available to borrow, and it certainly seemed to be a very busy and popular library. We had a quick peek down in the Stacks as well, which were lovely and clean (something I’m not used to), and contained some rather unusual holdings: a collection of skeletons and even a couple of brains that students can borrow!

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

We then moved on to the ridiculously impressive Wren Library. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed much of the furniture within the library), it was completed in 1695, and is simply stunning. It contains the manuscripts and early printed books that made up the collection in 1820, along with other special collections, such as medieval manuscripts, a large section of Sir Isaac Newton’s own library and much more! On display was a First Folio, a beautiful map, some fascinating notebooks belonging to Newton, and A. A. Milne’s manuscript for Winnie The Pooh. A very grand stained glass window at one end depicts the presentation of Newton to George III (with Francis Bacon looking on approvingly) and there is a rather fabulous marble sculpture of Byron, another alumni, created by Thorvaldsen and originally intended for Westminster Abbey. However, due to his tendency towards scandalous behaviour, the Abbey refused to accept the statue and so he now gazes down on hard-working students and tourists alike. No sign of his pet bear though…

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

I really enjoyed the tour of Trinity’s libraries: it was great to see a beautiful example of a special collections library sitting alongside a bustling, working college library. I really liked the way the two were accessible to the college members, and how open the Wren was to non-University visitors – sharing a resource like that sets such a great example. The Union Library is of interest to a great many people from outside the Union, and I am always pleased when people are excited to come and visit it – fostering interest in any kind of library has got to be a good thing in the current climate!

Many thanks to Harriet and her colleagues for letting us invade.

Emma Jones, Jesus College Library

Image

The Fellows’ Library

Hello! I’m Emma, this year’s trainee at Jesus College. I come from a background in Medieval Studies at Birmingham, where I got bitten by the rare books bug while studying manuscripts and early print. Volunteering on Nottingham Castle’s social media this year also got me enthused about making hidden collections accessible. This is my first library job, which is both daunting and exciting!

So far, I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the Meyricke library. It’s mostly used by undergraduates, so the quiet period before term starts is the perfect time to do this. I’ve begun working through some books donated by a retired Fellow, which is giving me plenty of practice with SOLO. At the moment, we’re also giving tours of the Fellows’ Library (see image) to past Rhodes Scholars, It’s a good opportunity for me to learn a bit about the history of the library, and to see how visitors engage with the works which are chosen for display.

As well as this, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a presentation on parchment making by the Oxford Conservation Consortium, as well as a tour of the Museum of the History of Science’s library. It’s great to work in a city where there are so many people working with books who are willing to share their expertise. And so far I haven’t been disappointed by the librarian stereotype of indulging in tea and delicious cake! I’m looking forward to being able to deal with more readers when term starts and hearing about everyone’s experiences throughout the year.

Tour of the Bodleian Library

Last Tuesday we had our second trainee get together when we were treated to a tour of the Bodleian library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Gladstone Link, as well as a wine reception at the Divinity School. It was very exciting seeing behind the scenes at these grand libraries!

Old School Quad

Old School Quad

As there are quite a few of us, we separated into two groups and our tours took different routes. In my group we looked around the Bodleian reading rooms first. We heard from our excellent guide all about how books are sent from the remote storage facility in Swindon (which we will be visiting this year!), and the different ways readers can collect their requests once they have arrived in Oxford. We then headed outside to see the Radcliffe Camera (currently undergoing some construction), and travelled back to the Bod underground through the Gladstone Link. I really liked the reader space in the Link, which was very modern compared to the reading rooms in the Bod and the Camera but which still had the traditional stacks, designed by William Gladstone himself.

The Bodleian Library at Sunset

The Bodleian Library at Sunset

Afterwards, we went to a reception in the Divinity School, the university’s first purpose built teaching room which was constructed in 1488. We were joined by senior members of the Bodleian library staff and were given a very warm welcome. The librarians present all wished us well for the coming year, and were very encouraging!

 

Emily Delahaye, Sainsbury Library (Saïd Business School)

Said Business School Amphitheatre

Said Business School Amphitheatre

Hi there! I’m the graduate trainee at the Sainsbury Library. A bit on my background – in July I graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in History. I had no experience of working in a library prior to starting this job, which I was quite worried about! However, I worked in a department store for two and a half years so I have good experience of customer-service and managing stock. I have also done two work experience spells in archives (Westminster City Council and the National Theatre’s) and it will be very interesting to compare these with working in a library.

So far I feel I have settled in well – my colleagues are all very nice (and patient!) and the Sainsbury Library is a very lovely environment to work in. It’s very modern in terms of it’s design (especially compared to other libraries in Oxford!). As well as having a huge range of books, the library also subscribes to many various electronic databases. These are very popular with the students because they provide up-to-date information on markets, companies and industries. As a history student I never got the chance to work with these resources at LSE so I’m very keen to find out more about them here!

It was great meeting all the other trainees at the first session last week – we all come from such different academic backgrounds so it should make for an interesting group! Looking forward to sessions to come, as well as all the tours of the different libraries that we have been encouraged to set up.

Join the conversation with Twitter – an RSL event

Hi everyone, Kat from the law library here again. On Wednesday, I attended a lunchtime talk at the Radcliffe Science Library entitled ‘Join the conversation with Twitter’. It featured three speakers talking about the use of twitter by libraries, and I found it really interesting, so much so that I thought I’d share some of the things I took away. You can see a synopsis of the talk on the RSL’s Facebook page.

First, Michael O’Hagan (@OHaganMichael) talked about the research he did for his library school dissertation, which was a study of academic libraries using twitter. He looked at lots of different academic libraries’ twitter analytics, and tried to get a picture of what they used twitter for, how much interaction there was with other people, who those people were, what the interaction was about, and how popular twitter seemed to be as a method of communication. Personally, if you’d asked me to guess the answers to these questions, I might have pessimistically expected a lot of interaction and followers to be other librarians and libraries, and for there not to be much interaction with genuine readers. So I was pleasantly surprised when he explained that, actually, there seemed to be quite a bit of interaction with readers asking questions and giving feedback about library services, which is a promising sign that Twitter is a good method of communication. He also had quite a bit of advice about how to use Twitter more effectively in libraries, based on the most successful institutions he’d looked at. This included:

  • Tweet frequently! Also, given that it’s very easy to miss things on Twitter if you follow lots of people, if there’s something you really want people to notice, try tweeting different phrasings of it several times over the course of a day.
  • Follow other feeds that are part of your institution: Oxford University, the Bodleian, your department or faculty, academics who have professional twitter accounts. Then retweet things you think are interesting or relevant. This starts a conversation with other twitter accounts which may have larger or different followings, which can help to increase your exposure.
  • Keep track of what people are saying about you – if people reply or retweet anything you post then Twitter will let you know anyway, but it’s worth looking for indirect references (for example, if someone just writes ‘law bod’ in a tweet but doesn’t use @thelawbod). You can also search by location to restrict to mentions in Oxford.
  • If readers have specific questions about the library, respond as quickly as possible. Twitter comes with the expectation of immediate response, which can be a problem if you’re not checking it regularly.
  • However, don’t be creepy! If someone refers to your library in a conversation but isn’t asking a question, then maybe don’t jump in – it is going on in a public space, but having an institutional account reply to a twitter conversation between a few readers might be a bit much!
  • Use pictures and links – tweets with these are more likely to be retweeted (unsurprisingly) which increases the number of people reading them.

Next, Isabel Holowaty (@iholowaty) gave a presentation with tips and advice about using Twitter from her use of it for the History Faculty Library (@HFLOxford). She also showcased using an iPad to present via a projector, which was very cool! She recommended using a programme/app which allows you to see information about several twitter accounts without constantly signing in and out (which you have to do on the twitter website), and showed us HootSuite, the one she uses. This allows you to link all sorts of different social media accounts: different Twitters, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, even WordPress for blogs, and produces columns showing feeds for each of them. You can pick what appears in each column, for example your sent tweets, mentions, retweets or direct messages, and can search your different accounts, save searches, and tweet from any account. It definitely seemed like an alternative to just using twitter’s website (which is what I currently do), because it saves you from having to sign in and out to change account. I would be a bit worried about accidentally retweeting or following someone from the Law Bod’s account rather than my own, though! HootSuite also allows you to schedule tweets for a later date, which I thought sounded useful as well. At the Law Bod, we’ve just started a Twitter rota (more below), where different staff take a morning or an afternoon and tweet a few things they think are interesting. I’ve found since signing up that quite often I have all these ideas throughout the week and then on Monday afternoons: nothing! It would be great to be able to schedule some that aren’t time-dependent when I think of them to go out on Monday afternoon, and then just check them over on the day. Isabel also advised searching for your library to find indirect references, including all possible misspellings of Bodleian! She also pointed out that if your library has a blog, and new blog posts get tweeted about, it’s worth coming up with a punchy title, otherwise your tweets look a bit boring.

HootSuite for @thelawbod

HootSuite for @thelawbod

Lastly, Penny Schenk (@galoot) talked about my library, the Law Bod, as a case study of an academic library using Twitter. She explained that we’ve recently started a Twitter rota, and that this has massively increased our activity on Twitter, and also the variety of different things we tweet about. We try to follow mostly organisations rather than individuals, to ensure things stay professional. The rota means that we hopefully tweet every working day, which has definitely helped increase our following. She also suggested using the ‘follow friday’ meme (where Twitter users suggest a person they follow who they think writes interesting things) to build conversations with other users.

I found the talk really interesting, and definitely think the Law Bod should take everyone’s suggestions on board. I’ll by trying out HootSuite, and retweeting more things from the Law Faculty, the Bodleian, and Oxford on my Monday afternoon slots! Judging by the History Faculty Library’s almost 2,500 followers, frequent, interesting, varied tweets and retweets with links and pictures seem to be the way forward.

Thanks for reading and, if you like, follow @thelawbod or me, @kastrel (although be prepared for anything from cross stitch to formula one, as I tweet on all sorts of things).