What’s it like to work at Goldsmiths Library? 

Ellen Haggar, who is currently studying for an MA in Library and Information Studies at UCL, spent two weeks with us at the end of April to gain work experience in an academic library. This is Ellen’s account of her time here: 

“What kind of library do you want to work in?” This is always the question other librarians ask me upon learning that I study Library and Information Studies. To be honest, I still don’t have a clear answer. I usually reply with, “Oh, I’m open to anything!” Uninspiring, but true. Some people on my course know exactly what they want to do after they finish – work in a special collection or a law library. I’ve only ever worked in a public library, and so I wanted to use my two week placement to try out something new.

I’ve always had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be interesting to be a subject librarian – to combine my BA in English and Creative Writing with my library qualification, and help students studying English Literature. So when UCL placed me at Goldsmiths, I was excited to see the day to day working life of a subject librarian.

The first day was like the first day of any new job, crammed with introductions, tours, health and safety and shadowing various people. I was instantly struck by the impressive facilities, and the bustling yet relaxed atmosphere of the ground floor, which is a social study space. Everyone I met was interested in my course and happy to help. The first day provided me with an overview of the library and the Reader Services team, who are responsible for the help desk, stock circulation and user experience. As part of the Reception Team in my previous job, being on the help desk is something I really enjoy and have experience of, and definitely something I miss. The rest of my placement would be full of new experiences with the subject librarian team.

Goldsmiths currently have a team of four subject librarians, each responsible for a number of subjects. I think my favourite part of the placement was seeing how the librarians engage with students. A significant chunk of their time is dedicated to leading workshops on academic skills such as referencing, a subject that could be very dry, but is critical to success at university, and so the librarian’s knowledge and genuine desire to help shines through, leaving the students feeling more confident in their abilities. Something else that struck me about Goldsmiths Library was the enthusiasm for getting students involved. Each year the library runs a Library Student Rep Programme, which gives students practical experience working in a library, as well as the opportunity to purchase books for their course. I attended the debrief meeting in which the students gave their feedback – they all seemed to really enjoy and value the experience. I thought it was a brilliant idea and definitely something I would have done back at university – I was quite jealous!

Another aspect I found really valuable was looking at budgets and usage statistics. As someone who endured secondary school maths with a constant headache, I never thought I would admit that statistics and budgets would be interesting. But it is definitely something I need to get my head around for the future. I was given a mini-project looking at the usage and value for money of an e-resource – it was really valuable experience and helped me to think more about library budgets and getting the best out of resources. Tip – learn to love spreadsheets and graphs!

So, what kind of library do I want to work in? Certainly, subject librarianship still calls to me, and I am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to see a subject librarian team at work. But any role where I can help the library user, and feel like I’ve made a difference, surrounded by lovely colleagues is the perfect role for me.

 

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Up close and personal with an exhibition:

As a history student, I have always been fascinated by exhibitions. Learning about the topic of the exhibition is quite remarkable. When I was asked to help with one at my placement, I jumped at the chance.

The exhibition I helped for was on the Balkans. Preparation for it took up two of my daysexhibition_1.png at the placement. Firstly, I had to do a bit of research on the Balkans. If I did not know anything about the Balkans, how was I supposed to find sources for the exhibition? Once that was all sorted out, I looked through the special collections and library catalogues to find sources. In order to keep track of the sources I found, I made a table. These tasks marked my first day working on the exhibition. The next day was a lot more varied. I was moving around, which was a nice change from having my fingers glued to the keyboard. I had to physically collect the sources; most of which were luckily in Special collections. The exception were 2 vinyls from the vinyl collection in the library. I spent about an hour trying to find the vinyl collection, only to find one was not available. I actually checked their availability on the catalogue before I went, just in case anyone was wondering. This part was right up my street: I had to analyse the sources to see if they were suitable. I kept most of the sources, apart from a few books and letters. The letters were very difficult to decipher — rich coming from me with my handwriting. When I eventually did decipher them, I found them to be irrelevant. Was it a waste of time deciphering them in the first place? Maybe, but if the source turned out to be detrimental to the exhibition, I would have slated myself for being so lazy.

exhibition_2Setting up the exhibition was the highlight of my day. It was a lot harder than I first anticipated. Getting the books to stay on the pages I wanted them to required a lot of DIY on my behalf. I eventually figured out the solution: making a stand out of foam blocks, binding together the blocks and book and then taping them together. I was pretty impressed with my efforts. They were not on the same level as many other exhibitions I have been to, but ju st being able to help with an exhibition was so enjoyable. I tried my best to present the items in an organised and creative way. The images of Balkans dancers were my favourite source. The women resembled dolls and I could hear the instruments, probably because I listened to Balkans music the day before. The other sources used were books on Balkans textiles, a CD and the vinyls mentioned earlier.

If asked to help at an exhibition again, I definitely would. It teaches you a lot about how to be selective and creative. When you see the joy the exhibition brings to people, it makes all of the work that goes into it 100% worth it.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

Passion for fashion?

Clothing. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Basic necessity? Maybe my livelihood? Everyone has their own view on the matter. The one thing that is certain about clothing is that it is a hot topic. Visiting the textiles collection at Goldsmiths made this more apparent.

The Textiles collection is housed in Deptford Town Hall, which I think is a pretty good match. Nothing but beauty surrounded me upon entering the collection. Fabrics, fashiontop guides and clothing filled the archives. I was blown away by the phenomenal attention to detail that went into the clothing available. The stitching was great, and the prints were stunning. I am particularly in love with embroidered garments, and there were so many. There was one outfit; it looked almost tribal in design. It was beautiful. The embroidery was so elaborate. I wonder if anyone else wanted to wear the outfit — I certainly did. The price of similar clothing in shops can have a maximum price range of well into the thousands. Why should self-expression come with such a high cost? It is because the 21st century likes to associate itself with being very fashion forward.

laceA lot of the prints in the collection are making a resurgence into fashion today. Some never even left — plaid and lace for example. Elegance is the word I would use to link together all of the old fabrics. Would I use that word today? Maybe not as much. I commend people who take risks, but some risks are just too much. I am a firm advocate of body confidence, but what is up with those see-through jeans? You might as well wear only your underwear, especially since they are not cheap. If your see-through jeans are your favourite clothing item, then good on you. Each to their own.

The one downside of the clothing in the collection was the limited options available for skirtwomen in England, predominantly in the 19th century. They all dressed in similar coloured and styled clothes: suede skirt suits with crisp white shirts. There was no real sense of individuality — more a sense of professionalism. That is the biggest change from the 19th century to now. Clothes are more powerful as instruments of our identity. They reflect what we stand for. I wish there was a compromise between the two generations: individuality, decent prices and informed fashion choices.

The Textiles collection taught me a lot about the importance of clothing, and moreover, the shift in the use of clothing from the 19th century to now.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

 

You call that art?

 

Art is subjective, but what isn’t? There are multiple artistic styles: realism, impressionism, abstraction, to name a few. Different people have a personal connection to the style, or styles, that appeal to them the most.

I am not an art connoisseur. I know what you are thinking; I knew the names of different artistic styles so I must be. A quick Google search can turn any amateur into a professional. I have always had a deep appreciation of art. I am in awe of people that have a flair for art, since I cannot even draw 2 circles that are the same size. Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves, and art is a way for others to appreciate that self-expression. In a lot of ways, images can illustrate more than words. They can implicitly address certain issues, and are open to interpretation. Words are used so often and without thought that they lose meaning. Images are not always easy to decipher — there lies their beauty, but also their downfall.

I know that art is so vast, but some pieces of art make me question how selective art should be. If I was confident enough and had contacts, I am sure I could blag my way in getting some of my work into the Tate. Take Anthony Hill’s “Diagonal Composition,” on the left, for example — yes, it is aesthetAnthonyically pleasing. However, on a serious note, could they not have found anything better to display on their website? I could have drawn his piece, and that says a lot. I am sure a backlash of angry fans of Hill are waiting to attack me, but that is my view. For me, realism is my favourite style. I like when you can identify what is happening in an image fairly quickly. The fact that subjects of realism were predominantly from the lower and working classes appeals to me even more. When I look at realist art, I am truly dumbfounded by how incredible the artist is. I can compare the image to its counterpart in real life to see how life-like the image is. HopperEdward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, on the right, is one of the most iconic realist paintings. Looking at it, I feel like I am standing on the street looking into the bar. I can imagine the smell of gin lingering in the air. It is a scene that we would often encounter on a regular basis in reality. The painting is pretty simplistic, but makes viewers think. Why is one man sitting alone? Who are the couple? Are they even in a bar? We may never know the answers to these questions. However, that is art. It can excite and baffle you at the same time.

Sometimes it is so easy to discredit creative subjects, since we are constantly told they are “soft” and won’t get us anywhere in life. I fell into that trap in the past. Being at Goldsmiths, a university which strives on creativity, it is hard to ignore the beauty and relevance of art. Art does not have a correct answer. Does that mean it is of less importance than biology? Certainly not!

We should not be afraid to excel in what we are good at. Whether it is mathematics, history or art. Everything that we do will contribute to society, so it should not matter what we study or appreciate. Since you are at Goldsmiths, why not take the time to explore the artistic talent on offer. With alumni including Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley, it would be a shame not to.

 

This blog post was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed a placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.

So you want to be a cataloguer?

When I think of cataloguing, the first thing that springs to mind is Argos. I used to go there so many times as a toddler, watching my dad navigate through the pages quickly to buy me masses of toys. Toys I got bored of playing with after a day. I never thought about how catalogues were created at that time; neither did my dad. To be fair, I was 6 and my dad was in a rush.

Getting to help catalogue the Women’s Revolutions per minute collection has provided me with a crash course in cataloguing. The Women’s Revolutions per minute collection is essentially a collection of music composed, produced and performed by women. If you have time, you should definitely visit Goldsmiths Special Collections to check it out.

Moving swiftly on, the system I use to catalogue with is called CALM. I find that pretty ironic as using it makes you anything but calm. As many people who have catalogued before know, it is not the most stimulating job. It is pretty straightforward — especially since I have catalogued for the majority of my time at my placement. One of the biggest positives of cataloguing lies within its simplicity. After a long day of extensive researching and writing, it is a nice break. I have learnt that if you want to be a successful cataloguer, you have to follow three steps. Number one: get into a steady rhythm. Once you get the hang of cataloguing, you should be able to catalogue fairly quickly. Having a steady pace will also help to build up momentum, meaning you can catalogue more entries. Number two is make sure you fill out fields accurately. When you are in a rush to catalogue as fast as you can, it is easy to make errors. I know that feeling all too well. My cataloguing task at the placement revolves around me changing the field artist to creator, and choosing the option item from a drop down list. After I while, I would get complacent and accidentally add the wrong field or delete a field. The panic added a new lease of life to me, and I managed to correct my errors. So, lesson of the day is do not think you are too good for any task. Even if a task is easy, it does not mean you get to be complacent. The final step is take breaks after a prolonged period of cataloguing. Yes, take breaks. It is often so easy to get lost in the process that you forget to stop for air. As everyone already knows, staring at screens all day is not a good idea. A break away from a task is never a bad thing — it means you will be more alert after your breaks, rather than having to be peeled off of a table from exhaustion.

I have a great appreciation for cataloguers: cataloguing is time- consuming. So whenever you are looking through a catalogue and moan because you cannot find an item, think about how a cataloguer would feel when making that catalogue.

 

This blog was written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed her placement at Goldsmiths Special Collections.