Tag Archives: research

Thrills & Spills in ILLs

You know that awkward moment? The one when you’re walking along the street, or browsing through the supermarket, maybe you sit down on a train, and you look to the right, and there’s that face; you sort of recognise it, can’t quite place them, you smile, there’s a little eye-recognition and then Oh god, dammit, why didn’t I just look away or pretend that I… “So, hey, hi, how are you, good to see you, how long has it been?”

Oh come on, we’ve all been there. Like 10 minutes ago, when I saw the WordPress bookmark, tried to log-in, forgot my password, reset it, and then discovered to my horror that I haven’t posted anything since 2012!

Very poor.

Anyway, I’ve been spurred back into action. I’m back on the horse, all dusted down and reinvigorated with professional blogging related impetus.

By why I hear you cry?!

Well, since my last post I’ve rotated again, and am now working in Inter-Library Loans and Acquisitions: and on Friday we had a lovely visit from some colleagues at another University library who came to see how we do ILLs, and it was so nice to share some time with colleagues who seemed genuinely interested in our work, and it made me want to write about it.

I think my motivation also stems from the fact that due to some ongoing pressures at work (we won’t mention the dreaded ‘R’ word), the fact that we had a great day and seemed to make a good impression spoke volumes about the character and professionalism of the fabulous people I work with- that even in the face of testing times, our spirit remains undiminished. Sigh.

ILLs is great. My ILLs manager is a legend in the field, known by name and for her inimitable style, and we have a lot of fun. Whilst she seems baffled by the fact, like my predecessor, I rather enjoy posting Jiffy bags, sticking labels and stamping things, I marvel at the substantial number of variables associated with the job and her ability to remember them all.

ILLs is at the same time idiosyncratic, processional and completely ad hoc. One minute I’m sending through a straightforward request to the British Library, the next I’m exchanging pleasantries with a librarian in Germany. You spend a lot of time communicating with people- students, lecturers, librarians- and a great deal of time chatting with each other, sharing progress on orders, and laughing in the face of ‘rules’.

One of the things I have noticed, and wasn’t necessarily expecting, is that ILLs is often the first port of call for people using the Library for the first time. This puts us in a unique position, as it’s our job to not only solve an inquiry, but to make a good impression and do the best we can to direct staff and students to the other services and resources we have to offer. I actually spend a lot of time helping people with using databases, Google Scholar, promoting our Librarians, Subject Guides, and other facilities like the British Library or the public library.

ILLs also pushes you, in the sense that if you like problem solving, you’ll want to keep searching, to check SunCat or WorldCat again, to challenge your stamina and professional resolve. I think my competitive side, that intrinsic feeling of determination not to be beaten, particularly by the system, is often tempered by a ‘need by’ date, or the fact it’s 5.45 and it’s still bugging me.

I couldn’t begin to cover all of the things we do, even though I technically only do it two days a week- but Friday’s visit reminded me that what we do is interesting, fun, and above all quietly satisfying; we help people find the information they need, often by hook or by crook (if ‘by crook’ means emailing an author in America directly and hoping beyond all hope that politeness and a good spell-check might just do the trick…).

Given the uncertainty zeitgeist that seems to perpetually plague both us and the sector in general, I would feel sad if my time in ILLs heralds the end of my Library experience. I hope the old adage about an ‘ILLs wind blowing no one any good’ doesn’t come to pass.

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Theses Just The Beginning

Let’s talk about Theses, or “Fuds” as my manager calls them. Think about it…

Until I started at my present job, I never really thought about the fact that PhD and Masters theses were submitted to academic libraries and catalogued in the same way that books were. Obviously, I’d seen hard-bound theses before (at least, I think I had…) but I’d never really paid that much attention to them. People write their dissertations, I thought, and then just sort of handed them in.

Imagine my surprise when I found out this wasn’t the case!

In my present guise as a cataloguer, it is my responsibility to catalogue and process our theses submissions, and I actually rather like doing so. There’s something satisfying about opening up these grand texts, casting my eye over the research and tremendous commitment on display, before adding them to our system for others to peruse. It goes to the heart of academia, to the exchange of information and ideas, themes which sadly are becoming increasingly dismissed in favour of targets, money and statistics. Universities and libraries should be about something more than just churning out graduates.

Of course, I can’t lie, some of the titles I encounter look extremely boring. But every now and then, a little gem passes in front of me, with a catchy title or intriguing premise, and I marvel at the work and dedication needed to produce such results. My particular favourite so far was a music PhD.: a volume of research, plus CDs and a dozen pamphlets filled with scores and lyrics, beautifully illustrative and full of artistic ideas, experiments and above all passion for a subject.

What I actually do to/with the theses is rather clinical- tattling, barcoding, data-inputting. Sometimes, especially with the music ones, I actually feel a little guilty about writing and sticking things on other people’s work, like I’m flagrantly scribbling over canvasses in the National Gallery or defacing a textbook (things which of course I NEVER do).

What’s interesting about theses though is what happens afterwards. In many ways my role is secondary to the work of our Online Repository team, who receive the electronic copy and add it to our institutional resource. Suddenly, the tangible, physical thesis transforms into this fast, fluid, open access resource, available to researchers, students, academics and the public worldwide.

As a media studies student, I’m fairly familiar with some of the debates surrounding the evolution of new media technologies, and it will be interesting to look back in a few years time and reflect on the ways in which open access information has changed our world.

But for now, all I need to concentrate on is sticking, scanning and stamping, in the good old-fashioned library way.

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