New job in a school library

In January I started working in a school library. It’s my first job in a school library – previously I worked for a publisher. The school is an independent secondary school for girls in North London. It also has a junior school, which has a library with its own librarian.

The library I work in is for all students from Years 7 – 13. It has fiction and non-fiction books (classified using the Dewey Decimal system), DVDs, newspapers, magazines and subscriptions to electronic resources, including JSTOR, the Economist, the British Medical Journal and Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are two librarians – myself and the senior librarian. The senior librarian is based in the Sixth Form Centre where she supervises the sixth form study areas.

The library space is generous for what is not a very large school campus. It is also in the middle of the school so easily accessible. The fiction area has comfy chairs and bean bags; the non fiction area has space for quiet study and six computers. There are also two ‘seminar rooms’ for group work or meetings.

My main duties are answering user enquiries about the library and its resources, processing circulation transactions, overseeing the study areas, providing library inductions and routine shelving and stock tidying. Promoting reading for pleasure and reading around one’s subjects are also part of the job, which can take the form of giving book recommendations and contributing reviews to a blog on the Virtual Learning Environment, Firefly.

My first two terms in the job were very much about learning the ropes. Coincidentally, the Year 7s only began to have full access to the library when I arrived (due to building work in the previous term) so I gave them inductions at the same time as I was learning my own way around. Each Year 7 class has one 45-minute lesson in the library a fortnight where they are shown how to use the library, contribute book reviews to Firefly, use the online resources and more. Some sessions pupils are just allowed to read, especially around exam time.

In April, our LMS supplier, Access-It, gave a workshop at the school on a new version of the software that will soon be released. The new version will have more options for how to customise the OPAC. For example, it will be possible to add a blog to the homepage and it will be easier to catalogue electronic resources. Comparing the OPAC to OPACs for university libraries has been interesting. Certain features – such as visual search (allowing you to search using a visual symbol rather than a keyword, like in the International Children’s Digital Library) – show the ways in which systems can be geared specifically towards younger users.

The school runs a scheme whereby all pupils are lent an iPad throughout their time at the school. I see a lot of children opting to read books on their iPads but there are also plenty who still choose to read physical books. The library is considering introducing a scheme which would allow pupils to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from Haringey’s digital library service.

Next year, plans include organising author visits and taking part in the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme. This scheme allows pupils to shadow the judges of the Carnegie Medal by reviewing books on the judges’ shortlist. They can post reviews to the scheme’s website and find out about other school groups taking part in their area.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my first two terms a lot but still have a lot to learn. Questions I have been pondering over the summer include the best way to introduce DDC to Year 7s, how to create more space for certain collections, how to encourage reluctant readers, how to develop the comics and manga collections and more. As I embark on my first full academic year with the school I should have lots to reflect upon in this blog. I have also started contributing book reviews to Good Reads (to share some of the reviews I’m giving to pupils), which can be seen on the right-hand side of this blog.

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Innovation and the future of the book

Very belatedly, I’d like to write about the last two sessions of the module ‘Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society’ which I took earlier this year. In the penultimate session, we had two speakers – Matt Finch (@drmattfinch) and James Baker (@j_w_baker). And in our last session Alastair Horne (@pressfuturist) gave a presentation. The common theme was innovation in libraries and publishing.

Matt Finch, a writer and educator, wrote his PhD on the Warburg Institute, a research institute in London that focuses on the study of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, described by the New Yorker as the world’s weirdest library. This library apparently arranges its collection by the ‘law of the good neighbour’, which apparently means that each book should be able to ‘stage a conversation with its neighbour: ask a question, provide an answer’ (Steinberg, 2012).

Matt’s talk was entitled ‘Words and Pictures, Space and Play’ and focused on how comics, storytelling and theatre can be used in libraries. For example, in Parkes, New South Wales, public and school libraries hosted retailers and comics creators in Australia’s first rural comics festival. And in another public library, Matt staged a live-action zombie siege where participants got to decide the outcome of the story. This was in a library that only opens four hours for one day a week so the event was great for raising awareness of the library. Matt emphasised that no extra money was spent on the event either – they worked with what they had. Another community project in public libraries that Matt was involved in was the over-18s Dark Night: Library Burlesque festival, which featured comics, cinema screenings, cabaret evenings and more in partnership with Auckland’s public library service.

James Baker is a curator in the Digital Research team at the British Library. As such he has been involved with projects such as the Million Images from scanned books project. This involves releasing images from digitised books in the British Library’s collection onto Flickr – you can see their photo stream here. I particularly like the fancy letters you get, such as:

11140592193_cca9b30ebe_m   11145712576_af02111e9a_o

James also talked about text-mining tools for humanities research, citing Google’s Ngram viewer and the Infectious Texts project as examples. In his slides he showed us a graph created using the Ngram viewer of the use of the word ‘prison’ in books on Google Books. It showed sharp rises in the use of the words ‘prison discipline’ in the mid-nineteenth century and ‘prison camps’ in the mid-twentieth century, which could reflect societal preoccupations with prison reform at these times. James’s work on personal digital archives – i.e. laptops and phones belonging to writers deposited at the BL – was also fascinating to hear about.

Finally, in our last session, Alistair Horne, who works on innovation at Cambridge University Press, lead an interactive session on ebooks, publishing business models and more. We covered so much that I think perhaps the best would be for me to give you a flavour of the discussion through a few questions and some of the answers we came up with. Alistair’s blog is well worth checking out for further information.

Why are ebooks cheaper than print? This was a bit of a trick question as actually ebooks are sometimes more expensive than print. There is an expectation that ebooks should be cheaper and when Alistair probed us about this we realised it was because we assume that ebooks have less production costs. But actually it turns out that ebooks have similar production costs to print books – they’re just different. So instead of having to pay to store books in a warehouse, for example, you’re having to pay for space on a disk or in the cloud to store files.

What ebook subscription services currently exist? I’ve found three so far: Oyster, Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.

How do these ebook subscription services work financially? The customer pays a monthly subscription ($9.95 for Oyster, $8.99 for Scribd, £7.99 for Kindle Unlimited) in exchange for access to vast digital libraries (between 500,000 and 1 million books depending on the service). In the case of Kindle Unlimited you also get free access to Audible audiobooks. The range of books might sound huge but it’s important to remember that not all publishers are signed up to these services so it’s worth checking which publishers are available before you sign up.

Imagine that you are a) a publisher; b) an author; c) a reader. What do you want from a subscription model? What are your fears? As a publisher, I would have mixed feelings. On the one hand it might make my authors more discoverable and increase sales of their work. On the other hand, it might decrease print sales or ebook sales via other platforms and negotiating fair royalties with a giant like Amazon might not be easy. As an author, I would be interested in a new way of making my books available to readers. However, I might have similar concerns to publishers about royalties. I might make comparisons with Spotify, which offers a subscription model for music streaming. Spotify pays artists $0.001128 per play of one of their tracks, which means they have to get lots of plays to make it worthwhile (Guardian, 2015). I might also worry that less well-known authors would be harder to discover by users of subscription services as they’d be sharing shelf-space with thousands of other authors. As a reader, I’d want a subscription model to mean that I could access books on any device, offline as well as online. I’d also want as wide a range of content as possible, including front list titles from a range of publishers. Otherwise I might think that free elending via my local public library would be a better option.

References:

Michael P. Steinberg, 2012. The Law of the Good Neighbor. Common Knowledge 18.1: 128-133. Project MUSE. Web. 17 Jul. 2015. <https://0-muse.jhu.edu.wam.city.ac.uk/&gt;.

Guardian, 2015. How much money do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube? Web. 17 Jul. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube

Links from Matt Finch’s talk: Matt’s blog | Tabletop superheroes game | Comics grid | Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

Links from James Baker’s talk: Slides | James’s website | The Mechanical Curator

Links from Alistair Horne’s talk: Internet of Things