Monday, 2 September 2019

CLG Membership Renewal 2019-20

It is the time of year now to renew your membership to the Cambridge Library Group, and maybe ask a colleague to join.
Over the past year we have run monthly events including talks on professional resilience, on temporarily working in a bookshop as a holiday, and what is like to be a prison librarian.  A visit to the Library at The Welding Institute was very popular.
The 2019-2020 programme is suitably varied and exciting –, talks on copyright, local history, reflections of the University Librarian, humanitarian work and an insight in to the work of the librarian of the new Royal Papworth Hospital.
Membership fees have not increased – full members £10.00, retired/not working members £8.00
You can either pay by cash, cheque (payable to the Cambridge Library Group) or by bank transfer (sort code: 30-91-56 Account: 04016121)
Group membership form:
**We are offering special group rates if your college/department/line manager pays for CLG group membership.  Some colleges already do this, by enrolling all their library staff, and it is a great way to invest in staff development.  This year we are offering discounts  - the more staff you enrol, the cheaper it gets – see Group membership form for details.
Information on all Cambridge Library Group events can be found at:
To try and be ‘greener’ we are not sending out programmes.  Please contact, if you would like a printed copy.
Membership of The Cambridge Library Group represents excellent value for money.  
We look forward to seeing you at events over the next year.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

June Talk: Prison Libraries, HMP Thameside

The CLG is a group that can bring us into very different worlds that are a step away from the academic world many of us work in. We were very lucky to have a group come to us to tell us about the world of Prison Libraries from both sides.

Neil Barclay is the civilian librarian working at HMP Thameside in South London and he kicked off the evening with a wonderful introduction as to the way his library works, what it does and the whole range of services and events that they offer.

Under his leadership the Library has doubled it's lending numbers since 2013 and has 7000 titles for 1230 prisoners. Prisoners work in the Library in order to help with their return to work upon leaving as you might expect but the range of schemes is immense. Literacy skills, prison mentoring, art therapy every 2 weeks, drama and scriptwriting, book club, street poetry, film clubs, Library magazine
(Booked) and a number of visits from a variety of well known authors that has brought a lot of attention, support and funding for the work he
and the prisoners do at Thameside. It's not all about money but the organisations supportive management as well. Hearing everything that happens in his library you really go get the level of effort and dedication Neil has put into his work.

And this was totally backed up by the kind words of the other speakers that followed Neils talk.

From Left to Right
Graham, Matt, Simon and Neil

Simon Ramnet told us that being locked up is bad enough but it is psychologically drastic and he told us about two other prisoners who never came
out of their cells once they were unlocked. Just stayed inside. If you don't open your doors there is something wrong there.

As an orderly Simon had more freedom and was able to take books around to people. One of the prisoners who never came out slowly started to be interested when he heard speaker 2 had books. Over the next few weeks this prisoner opened his door and became visible. The other prisoner never opened his door and never came out. Until his body was brought out.Books are not a silver bullet but someone staying inside their cell only have their internal thoughts.

"A book is a window to the outside world, when you have one you are controlling a passage to a world and better things and dreams, bruisers
crying as they've managed to write a story to their kids, the excitement of reading our own stories and poetry"

Matt Foster-Smith started by saying "Neil saved my life too".
Prisons are dehumanising places, no normal clothes, grey drab tracksuits. Working in the prison library then going back to your cell and watching Shawshank Redemption is irony.

It is a private prison and the library is the same so they have their own budget and as such are very different entities to state funded prisons. Thameside's library is in a new building which is in the centre of the prison and acts as a hub with people going through it to other things. 

And simple things like it snowing and staff can't get in means that prisoners don't get let out of their cells. They get given several days food at once and left on their own in the cells and having your head in a book is the way to escape those situations.

Prisoners have a right to access to library books not libraries which can have a massive difference where you can end up with just a line of
books in an understaffed library.

A prison is a closed economy as it only has what is there to use, books are often used for trading so they do go missing. But in some prisons the only books you will have access to as a prisoner is the bible in the chapel.

You needed to show compassion and empathy to prisoners as we are all one mistake from being in the same situation. And Neil's contribution to a lasting rehabilitation  through caring where they go from now not the weight of their past activities.

From Left to Right
Matt, Simon, Neil and Graham

Graham Coster is not an ex-prisoner, he is someone who volunteers running the reading group for the last 5 years. There are 3 groups a month and they have the same system as any reading group you or I might go to, without the wine.
He works for a non-profit organisation that runs groups in about 50 prisons (there are 120 prisons in the UK, 14 of which are private).

They cater for readers of all levels but do need to include everyone  to give people a voice and time to express their opinions and need a peaceful and orderly environment in which to show those opinions. It encourages an empathy with your fellow man and gives you the chance to learn of other people's experiences. Each member of the group gets to keep the book and so build up their own library and the books become a physical part of their lives.

Getting books sent to the Library is hard depending on security and the way the prisons are run. Some prisons will basically just accept something for you but just go into your property box for when you leave. If a book is sent in it needs to come from Waterstones, if it comes from Amazon it will just be turned back. Checking packages sent into the prison requires staff time so can easily take a very long time if it happens at all.There is a list of banned items provided by the government but often it is at the discretion of the governor, examples of banned books are 48 Rules of Power and books on hypnotism. Also books can be restricted for specific prisoners if they are connected to the crimes they committed. 

We were given a wonderful insight into the world of HMP Thameside from a librarian, a volunteer and two ex-prisoners who really gave us a very
detailed view of what the Library means to all of them from their different points of view.

Many thanks to all our speakers.

Thank you to Kevin Symonds for this write up. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Trials, Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 3

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Katherine Burchell, English Faculty Library (@katherinehelen_)

When I was asked to speak about my experience of Library School I jumped at the chance. I saw it as a great opportunity to talk in more detail about why I chose to study at Sheffield and my recommendations for those who are thinking of going to Library School. It was also a chance to gain more experience of public speaking, which I plan to use as evidence in my later my Chartership portfolio. 

Deciding to apply to Library School was a very early decision that I made in my career, after only having worked in libraries for 3 months. I had always known that I wanted to do a Master's, so it made absolute sense for me to pursue a course in the area that I was extremely interested in and in the field that I knew I'd most likely end up working in and enjoying. I chose to study with The University of Sheffield as I knew that I wanted to continue to work full-time whilst studying and a distance learning course was the only way that I'd be able to do this. The course also had been recommended to me by a few people that I already knew in Cambridge were doing it and the way that the course was taught through "live" lectures appealed to me as a good way to learn. 

There was a good selection of optional modules to choose from, such as Academic and Workplace Libraries to Public Libraries, as well as core modules, which were of interest to me. Although there were good modules, there did seem to be a lack of "practical" elements, such as teaching and information literacy on the course. These are things which I am now seeking to learn more about and gain experience of through work and outside of the course. 

After having completed the course in September 2018, it has given me a lot of time to reflect on the course and its usefulness. I overall would definitely recommend doing a Master's in Librarianship, however, I wish I'd known that there were other ways in to the profession, without having the Master's. If I had known about CILIP's Certification or Chartership options, then I may have explored these and then considered a Master's in a slightly more focused area of Librarianship. That having been said I would not change anything about doing the Master's and now doing Chartership, I see this as an opportunity to guide me into the next stage of my career.

Once again, thank you to the CLG committee for their continuing support and for giving me a platform in which to speak and grow in confidence. I would be very happy to answer any questions about the course and library school, so please do contact me via my Twitter, linked above.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 2

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Matthias Ammon, Modern and Medieval Languages Library (@DrMammon)

Matthias works as Research Support Librarian in the Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics Library, where he also manages the German and Film Studies collections. He was previously Project Coordinator in the Office of Scholarly Communication and has worked as an invigilator and Library Assistant in several faculty libraries. Matthias recently submitted his final assignments for a Postgraduate Diploma in Information and Library Studies at Aberystwyth University. He tweets @DrMammon
I would like to thank the Cambridge Library Group for giving me the opportunity to talk about my experience of library school. For me personally, in hindsight doing the degree was probably not the right decision. I started it out of a desire to learn more about librarianship and in order to qualify for higher-level positions. About halfway through my course, when I had worked in library assistant roles for about five years, I got a (higher-level) job in Cambridge’s Office of Scholarly Communication (what one might call a library-adjacent position) on the strength of having done a PhD and some voluntary PPD. This then turned into my current role as Research Support Librarian in the arts and humanities. Working in this area, I would have liked at least the opportunity to learn more formally as part of my degree about some of topics that I had had to learn ‘on the job’; a non-comprehensive list would include teaching (in its broadest sense), digital humanities, scholarly communication (for instance the academic publishing and rewards system), data management, data visualisation etc. These are all perfectly viable topics for a mostly academic Master’s course and are all librarianship issues of increasing importance – without wishing to sound heretical, it is perfectly possible today to be an academic librarian without knowing how to catalogue or how to write a collection development policy.

My scepticism may in part derive from my own experience on my distance-learning course at Aberystwyth which included a lot of course material that felt outdated, but I would encourage anyone interested in a career in academic librarianship to at least consider an alternative qualification path by for instance working towards CILIP certification and chartership first and figuring out which area of librarianship you might want to go into and then doing a more focussed further degree relating to that area a bit later, whether it is in teaching, special collections or scholarly communication. Of course, it may not be possible for everyone to get a foot in the door in the first place or to get a position where it is possible to experience a variety of aspects of librarianship but the broad ‘library degree’ may not be the best kind of preparation for your dream library job.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School: Part 1

Trials Tribulations and Applying to Library School - A talk by 3 former library school students

Post contributed by Piotr Czosnyka, Medical Library (@PiotrCzosnyka)

It was exciting and a bit scary to be asked to speak to the members of the Cambridge Library Group (CLG) about why I choose to apply to University College of London (UCL) to peruse a MA in Library and Information Science. Public speaking is never a walk in the park, no matter how many times I done it. It is an opportunity to further or develop skills, and this is partly what CLG is about. It is a platform that amplifies the voice of information professionals. On a selfish note, participating in CLG events gives me yet another iron on the fire, maintaining my personal career development. It is also essential to highlight the changing role of a librarian into an informational professional. So, debunking the delusion that many still have in our society that a room full of books is a library, nothing can be further from the truth. An empty room with a librarian is a library.

It’s not just about ME (as the ego is not your amigo), because here in Cambridge we work as a community in a rich landscape and it is not often that we get to meet our colleagues in an informal capacity. What do I mean? Working with someone who was a stranger before simply for the joy that that the labour brings is a good way to get to know somebody. Therefore, after the work is done you have a pro bono feature of knowing a new person.  Working alongside my esteemed colleagues Katherine and Matthias was a gas and a hoot, because we are different, we all did slightly different courses. Hence we aimed to present a balanced set of arguments for why you may wish to choose to attend Information School. This decision is not to be taken lightly, the financial burden alone is enough to put anyone off, because of the context of austerity, brexit, economic uncertainty, the digital divide, and did I mention the Chinese and American trade war? Times are hard, everybody is feeling the pinch.

I choose to attend UCL, because my core values of promoting literacy, knowledge, civil rights matched up with that of the institution, and I believe that in the information age of the 21st century information professionals are responsible in providing equal access at the point of entry to knowledge and thus power. UCL was founded on the ideas of meritocracy and the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. To advance as a civilized species we need librarians, information professionals, but remember this: how you wish to call us is not as important as what we do. Simples.

Thank you to the committee and the chair of CLG.