Tag Archives: LMH

Classification and cat pictures

In a previous post I promised to introduce some new members of the Lady Margaret Hall team: Benny (the college cat) and Beyonce, Michelle and Kelly (the college rabbits) have been doing a wonderful job in their roles supporting welfare in the college. Recently though, there hasn’t been as much grass poking through for them to snack on, as LMH has been covered in snow. This is giving the college a cosy, festive feeling even though we are already halfway through term, so in this post I thought I would give an insight into what went on in the library over the winter vacation. (And of course, there will be some photos of Benny and the LMH bunnies.)

LMH's snow-covered meadow.

The wildflower meadow has been transformed once again, this time into a snow meadow.

While the library might be fairly empty of students over the vacations, there are still plenty of tasks to complete. There are heaps of books hurriedly returned before the end of term, and headphones, socks, and even a pomegranate that have been left behind. But it’s also a chance to catch up on projects that we have less time for during term. Over the recent holidays, this meant an opportunity to start planning and researching the graduate trainee project (which I’m hoping to base around library accessibility issues) as well as an upcoming exhibition showcasing some of our rare books. It also gave me time to make a start on the process of reclassifying a section of the library.

As I have mentioned before, I’m interested in medical knowledge and information, so my supervisor and I decided that it would make sense for me to re-evaluate the healthcare section of the library. As Amy explained in her post, the main part of this process involves analysing books in this section and assigning them a new shelfmark, based on a more current classification framework than they were previously organised by. So what is classification?

Cartoon elf posing in a card catalogue. Subtitles read: 'I love a good subject-based classification system. [chuckles]'

Alfur the paperwork-loving elf from the Hilda comics and Netflix show is a big fan of information classification, but what is it? [Source: Hilda by Luke Pearson]

Classification is a way of organising knowledge. The idea of sorting library materials into classes has been around for centuries – it’s present in the 7th Century BC Library of Ashurbanipal clay tablets – but collections have not always been arranged in the most helpful order. In a modern library, classification systems create a logical layout for browsing, as well as assigning each item a place so it can be easily found. A classification is attached to the item based on its form and contents, and this correlates with its place in the shelving order. The shelfmark or call number can also include other information: publication date, author, title, edition, volume, copy number, height, acquisition number…

There are various systems of classification, and different Oxford libraries use different systems. Some have their own unique system; several others use Library of Congress. Each system has advantages and disadvantages in its usability. Each also derives from its own specific time and place, and therefore reflects cultural ideas about the value of and relationship between areas of knowledge.

Three lop-eared black and brown rabbits grazing grass.

Beyonce, Michelle and Kelly are very happy, attention-loving bunnies with plenty of space to hop around in. Here they are having a chat about their favourite classification systems (probably).

For example, the Library of Congress system, widely used in North American academic libraries, arranges materials in a way that does not reflect Native American and First Nations worldviews or allow for the diversity of these cultures. It also places Native cultures in the ‘History’ section despite these cultures still being present today. Librarians designed Indigenous classification systems in response. Several of these have been adopted in Indigenous collections, such as Brian Deer Classification which was developed by Kanien’kéhaka Mohawk librarian Brian Deer in Canada in the 1970s.

At LMH we use Dewey Decimal Classification, developed by American librarian Melvil Dewey between 1873 and 1876 – but like many libraries we adapt it to our particular needs, and our law collection operates a separate system. As the name suggests, the style of Dewey Decimal uses numbers. Each main class of knowledge is given a ‘hundred’ number, such as the 600s for ‘Technology’ in the 23rd edition of the DDC schedules. Within that, the ‘tens’ are divisions under this umbrella: 630 for ‘Agriculture’, for example. Each of these is broken down further into sections, giving us 636 for ‘Animal husbandry’. At this point, if we wanted to be more specific, we could start to add decimal places. 636.8 is (domestic) ‘Cats’; 636.82 is ‘Shorthair cats’, like Benny.

Black and white kitten looking a bit shy.

Benny D Cat helps LMH’s junior dean in her student welfare role.

However, books that take different approaches to the theme will be in different places: our book on cats in mythology is in number 398, while if Benny wrote an autobiography it might be placed in 920. There are often multiple possible classifications for a book: How broad or close does it need to be? Where should it go if it spans several disciplines? Where would our readers expect to find it? Which of our existing books should it be classed with? And then there are tables allowing further expansion of the number, based on facets like location and time period.

Black and white kitten (Benny) peering out from under a chair.

We’re hoping that Benny might visit the library when he gets used to venturing outside…

To complete the shelfmark, we add the first three letters of the author’s last name, and other fields if necessary. If we had two copies of Benny D Cat’s autobiography, they might be labelled 920 CAT (A) and 920 CAT (B). This new style of shelfmark is another reason why we are reclassifying our collections; previously we arranged items by acquisition number. By arranging by author and year we hope to group and order our materials in a way that helps our readers navigate them. It’s also an opportunity to cover faded shelfmarks with more legible labels, and to weed out old editions of textbooks that are no longer being borrowed.

Plastic skeleton contemplating an empty bookshelf.

Freddie the library skeleton is getting used to the relocations.

Some of the reclassified books are moving to completely different locations, causing a bit of an upheaval in the medical sciences room. But by the time the bunnies are hopping around in the sun again, our skeleton Freddie might be looking less confused about where all the books have gone.

Visible and invisible marginalia

October: there’s a new month to write on the bookplates. On one side of the library, the wildflower meadow has been mown for the winter, while on the other side squirrels chase each other around rings of crunchy leaves arranged by the gardens team.

Autumnal tree with arranged circles of fallen leaves, and red brick buildings in the background.

LMH’s grounds change with the seasons. (That’s the library in the background.)

I’m enjoying the increase of students that comes with the start of the academic year; that moment where you help a reader find the information they need is one of the most rewarding aspects of library work. Inductions have been delivered, and students are beginning to remember where the book returns box is and how to persuade the self-issue machine to scan their library cards. And when the staff can’t be around, hopefully our updated guidebooks are helping the students to navigate the library, as well as the re-designed signs giving (hopefully) helpful hints at the point of need.

Desk with pile of books, library stamp, and 'October 2018' handwritten on printed bookplates.

Books waiting for their bookplates.

But in those quiet weeks before the students returned, much of my time was spent digging through multiple sources of book donations. I never knew quite what to expect when I opened each slightly musty box. Some were simply labelled ‘Odds’.

Donated books, in contrast to books that have only ever belonged to the library, bear more of a trace of an individual reader’s life. They are depositories of nicknames, Christmas cards, and unofficial reviews in biro (‘not as awful as I expected’). I found newspaper clippings, postcards, and typewritten author correspondence about nuns.

New marks and notes are not encouraged in library books: we are trying to preserve our collection for future readers. Our books are full, though, of invisible notes. Library books are no less brought alive by readers; readers, in turn, are marked by the new information from the books. Whether an inspiring autobiography from Our Shared Shelf (more on that in a later post), a textbook that completes the final lines of a coding project, or a dictionary flicked open to a new favourite word – books are interwoven with readers’ lives. Book donors’ more apparent interactions with the physical items are a reminder of this.

Resin skeleton with fake cobwebs, plastic spiders, and a pile of DVDs.

Freddy with his pick of Halloween DVDs.

But anyway, that’s enough sitting around romanticising circulation. Libraries may be vessels of new ideas, old ideas, rediscovered ideas, and disproven ideas, but they are also full of day-to-day tasks. This week, as it’s nearly Halloween, I’ve been busy helping Freddy the library skeleton keep our display stocked with horror DVDs, Gothic tales and plastic spiders. Signs need laminating. Acquisitions need classifying. And I’m also meeting some exciting new ‘colleagues’ who I’ll hopefully be sharing photos of in the next blog…

Emmy Ingle, Lady Margaret Hall Library

Me in the very intriguing Briggs Room, where the rare books live.

Hello, I’m Emmy and I’m the current graduate trainee at Lady Margaret Hall Library, one of the college libraries. For my first post, I thought I’d give an introduction to how our library and its unique personality fit into the 100+ Oxford libraries. I’ll also tell you a bit about my own interests and experiences within libraries and information, which are a little different from an academic library.

‘Filled with volumes of every kind, handsomely bound without, and full of useful learning within…’

 

…is how an early student described the original LMH library. It’s large for a college library, and there is a historical reason for this. LMH was founded in 1878 to allow women to study at the university; previously, colleges only admitted men. Early LMH students were heavily discouraged from visiting the Bodleian Library (where they might encounter boys!) and consequently they relied on a comprehensively stocked college library. One of the things I like about the college is how they continue their history of access and inclusivity, for example through the Foundation Year programme.

1879: the college’s first nine students. [Source: LMH]

This slightly larger collection includes  a rare books room (having lived surrounded by the history of the Pendle Witches for the last few years, I’m excited to meet the witchcraft books). However, we’re still smaller than the faculty libraries, and being part of a small team means I get to do a bit of everything – from the expected (turning the photocopier off and on again) to the more surprising (competing on the library’s Giant Jenga team and definitely not cheating).

LMH Library from across the wildflower meadow.

So how did I end up here? Saturday afternoons spent helping out at my local Sue Ryder shop were my introduction to systematising written materials: sipping tea in the stock room, I’d sort bin bags of dusty-smelling books into alphabetised piles. Later, I became interested in the information side of things. Between university lectures I volunteered with the student charity Sexpression:UK, who facilitate workshops in schools around PSHE topics. This made me reflect on where the young people I was working with sourced knowledge and information, and how they were (or weren’t) being encouraged to evaluate it.

Having developed this interest in information in health contexts, I looked for some work experience with Library and Knowledge Services at my local NHS trust. Besides trying out shelving, the label machine, and other more traditional library activities, a clinical setting presents more unusual opportunities. I found myself testing wet-wipes with nurses, learning my way around a forest plot, and listing as many synonyms as I could find for ‘hip operation’. Healthcare knowledge and information is an area I’m hoping to become involved in following the traineeship, so I’ll probably talk a bit more about what this entails in another post.

Freddy doing a bit of shelving.

Having looked at the past and the future, I’ll leave you with what’s currently going on in the library at this time of year. Students are about to resume their studies. This means there are inductions to prepare (which may involve jelly beans and our resident skeleton, Freddy) and the latest textbooks to process. Meanwhile, the library pages in my notebook are already filling up with events, meetings and scribbled ideas. I’m looking forward to sharing them on here as they happen.