Disposal of Special Collections

It was thoroughly invigorating being able to attend the Historic Libraries Forum Annual conference on Tuesday. It is not every day you can attend a conference on the topic of “guarding against the disposal of collections” with a long list of guest speakers from special collections.

We had a Pressi presentation from Katie Flanagan (who was ill and couldn’t attend but still sent a copy of her speech) setting the scene about the need to build awareness of inappropriate disposal of special collections and the need for libraries to become watchdogs of this active through increasing social media campaigns. Also highlighting the idea about having a more pragmatic approach to ensure that there are less secretive sales of books and keep collections together in the public domain, if they do indeed need to change hands. 

After such an introduction I just knew I was in for a good debate. A lot of problems that libraries face is the need for more storage and space and the lack of money to invest in core library collections. I was therefore completed enthralled by the following speech from David McKitterick, keynote speaker on this topic. After speaking at length about the University of London blunder to sell several Shakespeare’s folios to where public opinion through newspapers and social media mobilised to act on the provocation of such a valuable collection, David laid out some truths that some libraries try heavily to avoid or are in denial about.

Whether it is the story of Wigan Public Libraries or Birmingham Law Society, quite simply all libraries have to discards books! However, he pointed out that libraries change with each generation and it is important for collection policies to be updated to reflect this. Lastly, he pressed the matter that we as librarians should remember that libraries are not museums. Where museums have “one-off” special items that can never be duplicated or found anywhere else in the world; books have a contextual value in a holdings collection. Therefore, it is important to avoid bulk selling decisions without consultation as it is most likely result in wasteful mishandling by the library and antiquarian booksellers that acquire them or lead to auctioning in fear of scarcity of space which may only raise funds and create space for the short-term. 

Trends in the Library and Information sector

So, we kicked off the m25 Consortium of Academic Libraries event “Study Library and Information Science ... and Beyond” one-day conference with Stephen Pinfield (Sheffield University). Considering the growing demand for technology affecting traditional librarianships, it is no wonder Stephen decided to highlight these trends to potential library students.

A good place to collectively look at changing trends is IFLA’s “Riding the Waves or Caught inthe Tide?” trend report and ACRL Top 10 trends in Academic libraries. There points overlap over the following issues I am about to mention.

Due to new technology, information is more readily accessible than ever before but the cost is the increasing limitation such as licensing, subscriptions and polices being put in place. Many could argue that more technology has attributed the move to open access and online education within universities but it also means that librarians are now expected to become “intermediaries” to guide users on how to use the new technology. Furthermore, with the growing demand by students to access material online we have this growth development in digitalisation. I argue it a good thing until you think of things such as digital preservation. There is an uncontrol risk of lack of leadership in ensuring digital content is preserved because as it is on the "cloud",  so it is out of the universities hands. However, it is the complete opposite. More knowledge is needed to understand network systems and cloud technology within the new generation of librarians.

So this clearly, conjure up the question of, "what information is retained on the cloud when retriving information?". Surely, when leaving being such a digital footprint there is an increasing risk of data protection and need to redefine privacy policies in collection management and storage. The practice of allowing your users (students in this case) to tailor collections within patron driven e-book acquisitions, maybe good for library usage statistics and service delivery but the cost is the simple question of, "is there really a need for an acquistions specialist or librarian altogether?". Which leads to the longest trend of all - reduction in staffing levels.

With all of these points there are some clear discussions for debate but the current trend that really appeals to me from listening to Stephen, is the one of data curation. There is now more of an opportunity for librarians to move away from typical roles as more is being invested into researching data management and creating space within librarians. Libraries now have to battle against other libraries to demonstrate their user value to the ones making financial budgeting decisions. With us being hyper-connected societies where social media such as Facebook and Twitter, blogs and mobile environments can give librarians a voice to adovate for libraries, we have truly become part of the global information economy that relays data to deliver content. 

So, what does this mean for the average hopeful pursue a librarianship? There needs to be more a focus on new roles in the current economy such as clinical librarians, systems librarians, digital curators, information literacy educators and informationists. Quite simply if you want to concentrate on rare books modules and cataloguing, well good-on-you but you are going to need to gain other skills to stay within the job market. For example, learning about research data management, project management, relationship/supplier management and marketing. Conservely, there is also a need for soft skills such as problem solving, counselling, teaching, teamwork and the "mindset" to demonstrate your competency for being proactively flexible with a global perspective in getting involved within the sector.

So when you get asked in you university interview, “How will each LIS course equip me to work in the current & future information environment?” you’re definitely not going to be caught out when you know the underlining trends affecting you, your career and respective library. 

Innovation in Conservation Presentation

Well I have had a busy Tuesday last week. I started off the day cataloguing and then proceeding to spine labelling, before being swamped on the enquiry desk with 4 hours worth of enquiry retrievals. Then to top it all off, I had to make my way to King College University to attend Hugh Phibbs talk on "Innovation in conservation mounting and framing" before running to my Japanese class.

According to Mr. Phibbs, one of the most important forms of preservation is that of paper, because it forms the memory of the human species. In the 21st century, content is gradually becoming paper-less and preserved through digital means. However, this form of content has a finite shelf-life, whereas paper has infinite use when preserved in its original state. Therefore, there is a need for transparency in the ways in which paper can be preserved. 

The materials used in preservation are made of three things: cellulose (plant changed to paper), animal (vellum from calfskin) and synthetic materials. Hugh went on to describe a millennia of history in the ways in which items have been preserved and found in present day. 
  • Salt - It doesn't oxidize and keeps out forms of biology thus preserving contents.
  • Clay- Holds enough oxygen within it to preserve animals (e.g. bone and impression) in a fossil form.
  • Sub-marine preservation in either alkaline or acidic water has kept sunken ships in great condition.
  • Drying/ice preservation as a form of mummification (e.g. the mummy or mammoth).
  • Volcanic ash - carbonized paper in a way that allows you to still read the imprint of text.
Therefore, no matter the environment, anything can be preserved. However, he states that book preservation is the best form of paper conservation, as he quotes Christopher Clarkson (a book conservator) "best of all is the book". A book that has a thick cover with metal clasps hinges put the paper inside under pressure and acts as a press to reduce distortion/deformity, limit light thus reducing paper discolouration, gives support on shelves and finally reduces the threat of mould on page edges.