Book History Seminar: Volunteers and Volunteerism

Our final Book History seminar before the summer break addresses a hot topic.

On Monday 17 May, Katie Flanagan will discuss the role of volunteers within historic libraries, and will ask how this affects diversity within the profession and where should the line be drawn?

Katie is a Special Collections Librarian and volunteers as Honorary Librarian at Kedermister Library, a 17th century parish library still in its original setting. A Chartered Librarian with 20 years’ experience working in historic libraries, she also has extensive experience both as a volunteer and managing volunteers.

Details and booking: https://beginningcataloguing.teachable.com/p/bookhistory-seminar-may

Documentation or Artwork? Event Report

On Monday, Gustavo Grandal Montero (UAL) led a fantastic Book History Seminar in which he asked the question ‘Documentation or Artwork? Neo Avant-gardes and Printed Matter in the 60s and 70s‘.

In it, he shared examples of artists’ books and materials, some of them well-known and in codex form, like Ruscha’s Twenty Six Gasoline Stations and Roth’s Collected Works, and others more experimental, like Aspen’s use of different media to push the magazine form and Lippard’s use of index cards to record the 955,000 Exhibition.

Gustavo made the point that as well as stepping away from the codex form, the 955,000 Exhibition cards moved away from the sequencing of the artists’ book. Lippard included a title page and bibliography, but the cards are unnumbered and contain an instruction to shuffle them, so each time we encounter them, we do so in a different order. On Monday, we saw Gustavo moving through the cards to find these “standard” bibliographic details. If sequencing is a defining feature of the artists’ book as a form, what are Lippard’s cards?

The glib answer would be documentation, but actually, they are not, quite. In March 1969, Lippard wrote to a range of artists asking them to participate “in a large exhibition at the Seattle World’s Fair Pavillion, opening Sept. 4, 1969, it will also go to three other museums on the West Coast.” In the end, the submissions led to exhibitions in Seattle (‘55,087’), Vancouver (‘955,000’), Buenos Aires (‘2,972,453’) and Valencia, California (‘c.7,500′). Lippard took the titles from the cities’ population figures, and described how “Each of the catalogues consist of randomly arranged index cards designed by the artists themselves.”

Gustavo described how the cards are, in fact, more than catalogues. As we can see from Lippard’s original invitation, she asked conceptual artists to supply her with instructions she could “execute with the help of friends and volunteers,” and her intention was always that “projects can be changed for each city … (cards will probably be added each place)”. Cards were most definitely added, and given that she assured artists they could “tell me how you’d like what information and reproduction on your card”, it’s clear that the cards themselves are artworks constituting part of a larger artwork that is the 955,000 Exhibition.

Gustavo highlighted other artworks from Chelsea’s collections, and given that we planned this talk during lockdown when we thought it may have to be more conceptual itself, it was wonderful to see shelves of artists’ books over his shoulder in the special collections room, and even better to see him turn the pages, unfold the posters and, indeed, shuffle the cards of the printed matter he’d selected for us.

Image: shelves glimpsed over Gustavo’s shoulder at Chelsea, over my computer screen (which clearly needed a bit of a clean – sorry).

Systems Matters

Our general seminar for May will be led by Beginning Cataloguing Associate Binni Brynolf, on the ever-green topic of ‘Systems Matters.’

Binni has worked in libraries for more than twenty years, mostly in systems and team leadership roles, and is currently employed as a Digital Resources Librarian.

They have a track record in selecting and implementing new library management systems and over the years have established strong relationships with software providers, and in the seminar they will discuss the things we need to consider when choosing, designing or updating our library systems in order to ensure all our services are accessible and inclusive.

Details and booking: https://beginningcataloguing.teachable.com/p/general-seminar-may.

Event Report: Unpacking My Library

On Wednesday, Jacqui Grainger led a seminar in which she revealed her findings during the RUSI Library redevelopment and her PhD research into the “lost” RUSI Museum.

During the Royal United Services Institute’s building redevelopment, it will gain an extra floor, but its Library is in storage and so closed to members, and when it returns its collections will be one fifth smaller.

As well as packing the Library, a lot of Jacqui’s recent work on extending RUSI’s asset register, which originally was focused on fine art, but now includes a much wider range of materials.

This range was increased recently upon the discovery of a “secret” (previously unknown in recent times) cupboard containing some wax seals, as well as candlesticks and some binding tools.

This isn’t the first sent of items to be “lost” by RUSI. In the 19th century, despite spending its acquisitions budget only on military models for teaching purposes, the Institute received so many donations from across the British Empire that its public museum became a popular attraction in London’s burgeoning tourist market. Objects were listed in its original documentation under the headings Ethnology, Natural Science and Military. It came as no surprise to Jacqui to read that in its sale in the 1860s many of the materials were bought by Augustus Henry Lane Fox, who later changed his name to Pitt Rivers and whose collection was foundational to the Oxford Museum.

Jacqui is investigating the RUSI Museum and its history as part of an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Westminster. She is currently researching whether the museum’s objects can be seen as “an authorized biography of Empire.” Her results should be significant in terms of the decolonization work that is so important for us to understand our national past and its impact on the wider world and, indeed, Britain’s own citizens.

Our next Book History Seminar takes place on 19 April, when Gustavo Grandal Montero will ask, “Documentation or Artwork? Neo avant-gardes and printed matter in the 60s and 70s”.

Documentation or artwork? Neo avant-gardes and printed matter in the 60s and 70s

We are excited to welcome Gustavo Grandal Montero as our speaker for April’s Book History seminar.

New art practices from the 1950s onwards moved away from traditional media, exploring language, performance and new technologies. Concrete poets, Fluxus or conceptual artists, among others, used the book as a medium for (distributed) art, as well as a vehicle for documenting it. These experiments with the form and function of printed matter fundamentally changed our understanding of both contemporary art, and of books and other publications,in ways that still resonate today in our digital/postdigital culture.

Gustavo Grandal Montero is a librarian and special collections curator at Chelsea College of Arts and Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London (UAL). Trained as an art historian, he writes and presents regularly on art and librarianship topics and has contributed to a range of academic and professional journals (Artist’s Book Yearbook, Blue Notebook, Communications in Information Literacy, Print Quarterly, etc.) and monographs (Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship, Please come to the show, etc.). He is a PhD candidate at Central Saint Martins (UAL) and Editor of the Art Libraries Journal (Cambridge UP).

Details and booking: https://beginningcataloguing.teachable.com/p/bookhistory-seminar-april.

Event Report: From Cataloguer to Manager

We started this month with a seminar led by Helen Williams (LSE Library) on making the move From Cataloguer to Manager. Harriet Notman has written this event report summarising some key points.

Helen Williams, Metadata Manager at LSE Library, recounted her career journey from public libraries, to business research, to working in higher education and specialising in metadata, to becoming a manager. The seminar was broken down into three parts. Helen’s background, how she moved into a management role, and how the role changed over time. Helen ended her seminar with a look at strategic focus in her department.

Background

Helen started her career working in public libraries in her local area. After her degree in English Literature, she worked for small charities and then studied for her library qualification. Her first professional post was at the Institute of Directors, having been offered the job due to her research skills. Broken down this job was approximately 80% business research and 20% acquisitions and cataloguing. Even though cataloguing was only a small area of focus for this research role it gave her enough experience to draw upon to move into a more specialised role in metadata.

Helen worked for the Institute of Directors for 3 years and then applied for a position as an Assistant Librarian for LSE’s bibliographic services, which she remained in for a number of years. Helen had found her niche in cataloguing and metadata. She instilled in her talk that metadata is a fast-paced area of librarianship. There are constant changes in this field and this allows those who work in this field to build up their skills.

Moving Into Management

In 2014 Helen applied for a Metadata Manager role at LSE. At this point in the seminar Helen gave some great advice on job applications. Her main message was to apply for jobs that you are interested in even if you don’t meet the full skillset. She emphasised that doing this works well for moving up the ladder. No one may apply who has the full skills listed in a job description. Helen also highlighted that employers may be open to training and development for areas that you are lacking in as an applicant. She also mentioned the importance of transferable skills and to be honest in your interview, but to draw on comparable experiences. For example, Helen hadn’t managed in a library environment before, but had at a children’s holiday club. She drew upon this experience and it paid off.

Helen was successful in her application and became the Metadata Manager. An internal move was good for Helen as it meant already knowing the place and the people, but of course she was now in a different role with different responsibilities. It wasn’t only metadata that she managed, but people too. Helen explained the layers of her role from running a vital part of the library, to advocating for her team, alongside focusing on the wider remit and institutional strategy. Building an external support network, Helen found, was extremely useful for moving into a management role. Having others to bounce ideas off, talk to about new challenges, and ask for advice, was very important. 

People managing is one of Helen’s biggest joys. An important part of management is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being aware of these whilst managing. Also, in moving to management Helen not only had line manager responsibilities, but multi-layered managerial responsibilities. Managing people who also managed other people. One aspect Helen emphasised was how important communication is. Even things as simple or as small as letting your team know there’s no new developments in an area you’re working on is vital to ensure your team know that you still have oversight of a project. Again, something as simple as making sure your team can see your calendar and know where you are is lets your team be aware of where you are and so they can find times to contact and talk to you. Making time for your team is something Helen makes sure she does frequently. Not just in terms of work, but also getting to know people personally. Helen promoted that being interested in your colleagues led to a feeling of being more valued and engaged.

Alongside being a metadata manager Helen advised us to take full advantage of exciting opportunities that present themselves. This also helps grow your network and support group. Helen has managed to gain some fantastic opportunities in the library world, including sitting on the Cataloguing and Indexing Group (now Metadata and Discivery Group) committee and writing peer-reviewed articles. Recently, she found herself to speaking at a research library conference for Latin America in Chile (from the comfort of home) with an audience of 750 attendees.

How the role changes

In terms of how the role changed over time it was fascinating to see Helen’s growth in responsibilities as her career moved forwards. Before being in a managerial role cataloguing was a large part of what she did at LSE. For example, creating records from scratch and being very hands on with systems. With the move into a management role there came with it a broader view of department and more of a focus on horizon scanning and developing projects. Helen no longer created metadata records and did a lot less with the metadata collection. She did, however, allow others the space and support to develop as experts in their area. Helen knew she had to let go of aspects from her previous role to allocate her time and progress as a manager.

She grew her managerial skills by being able to have an overall view of her team and leave the team to be experts of specific areas themselves. Helen covers a lot in her role and explained to us some of the new areas she was working on in light of the pandemic, including looking at the library’s capacity for occupancy. Being in a managerial role can allow you to get involved with lots of different areas and usually at a wider, more institutional level.

Helen ended her presentation by explaining her Strategic Focus for her team. Having a strategic focus is about having an eye on the horizon and when to make appropriate changes, Helen explained. Metadata encompasses more areas than physical resource metadata, but for the LSE team links to research metadata, the REF, working with datasets, DOIs, and working with the digital library team. I came away from this seminar understanding Helen’s metadata expertise, and those of her team, is adaptable and can be applied to many different areas. Also, the importance of having a base of knowledge in an area and how that relates to managing a team and the skills to develop. Following Helen’s varied career showed just what career opportunities can be available.

Following the interest in Helen’s purpose tree that she shared during this seminar, Beginning Cataloguing is working with her and previous speaker Emma Booth (University of Manchester) as well as Jennie-Claire Crate (University of Kent) to develop a workshop on Demonstrating the Value of Your Metadata. Watch this space, our newsletter, Instagram and Twitter for further details when we have them.


Event report: Katharine Schopflin on Organisational Knowledge

Our General Seminars aim to provide cataloguers and other interested information workers with insights from colleagues working in metadata and beyond.

In this event report, Dr Veronica Pizzarotti (University of Manchester) shares some thoughts on Dr Katharine Schopflin’s recent seminar on organisational knowledge.

I found the Organisational Knowledge seminar delivered by Dr Katharine Schopflin in February very useful and informative. From the very beginning of her presentation I realised very clearly that I did not really have an accurate idea of what Knowledge Management is.

Katharine’s presentation was very engaging and applicable to every organisation as, using her words, Knowledge Management is everywhere. It is centred on people and goes above and beyond the organisation of information.  As the event summary on the Beginning Cataloguing blog puts it, “Knowledge Management claims to be the art of making organisations perform better by finding and exploiting employee knowledge and expertise and controlling the information they produce”.

A few examples where Knowledge Management is employed in an organisation are websites, directories, company drives. It is helped by technology, but technology alone is not sufficient for an effective Knowledge Management policy and engagement.

Katharine explained why it is important to manage knowledge. Effective Knowledge Management enables employees of an institution or company to find out the processes underpinning every aspect of their organisation. This is very effective in combating the ‘silo effect’: in today’s organisations people tend to focus on their own job and do not necessarily have the resources and time to engage with different departments, leading to individuals not having a clear idea of what other employees do and, in a similar way, people at the top of the managerial hierarchy do not necessarily know the details of what their departments do. The implementation of robust and effective Knowledge Management policies requires a culture change that will not happen quickly and can only happen if people in leadership start it by leading by example.

Katharine explained that it is common for organisations to employ knowledge managers but at the same time she stressed the importance of collective responsibility and how everybody can be a knowledge manager in their place of work. How to be a Knowledge Manager? Katharine provided examples of knowledge management activities that everybody is probably already doing without realising it.  A few of these quick wins are: knowledge sharing in the workplace, projects showcases, clear links between activities and organisational priorities, and events.

Katharine concluded her presentation with a few aspirations that I re-write here as a takeaway for myself and the readers of the blog: an intranet, new starters process, projects follow up and transfer, active communities of practice, knowledge tools to help people work. These examples portray really well the interdependence between technology and peoples’ behaviours that was a recurrent theme throughout the whole presentation. I used the examples and tips provided to reflect on my role as an information professional and within my organisation, how I relate to colleagues in my team and in the rest of the library, my own knowledge sharing practices and how to make them more effective.  Katharine’s talk also made me see some interactions with colleagues in a different light and has been extremely useful in making me more proactive bringing forward new ideas. This process of self-reflection has also highlighted some areas (in both my personal and professional life) I’d like to work on, and suggested ways to do so. Thank you, Katharine, for giving me so much food for thought!

The next in the General Seminar series is also led by one of our Associates: in ‘Creative Digital Experiments with Collections’ on 21 April, Ash Green will share a variety of inspiring examples and highlight how online mapping and narrative tools can provide visitors with a new digital route into your collections. Do join us if you can.

Creative Digital Experiments with Collections

Ash Green profile picture

The next seminar in our General Series will be led by Ash Green on 21 April.

Libraries and heritage organisations with a strong focus on collections and curatorship are now using technology to re-work and curate their physical collections in creative and engaging new ways. During this live-only seminar, Ash will showcase a variety of inspiring examples and highlight how online mapping and narrative tools can provide visitors with a new digital route into your collections.

Ash Green is a qualified librarian, with over 20 years’ experience working in public and academic libraries. This includes over 15 years cataloguing, classification, related acquisition experience, and systems work in this area.

They also have extensive experience supporting digital library services offers and resources, including website, social media, and app development and implementation.

Further details and booking: https://beginningcataloguing.teachable.com/p/general-seminar-april

N.B. Subscribers to Beginning Cataloguing Monthly will receive a discount code for this seminar in the next issue, which will be sent out at the end of March. It is free to subscribe to BCM, and we never use your email address for anything other than sending out the newsletter itself.

Event Report: German Bookbinders in London

As with all our seminars, this one was live-only, and this event report highlights some things that struck me from Karen’s wide-ranging and detailed presentation. If you have a chance to hear her speak on the topic, please do – this blog post is no substitute for the information she shared in her talk.

From the point of view of librarians at the coal face of cataloguing book collections, one of the most important messages came in response to a question about identifying bookbinders. The British Library’s online database, https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/Default.aspx, is a fantastic free resource, but sometimes there is no substitute for inspecting a binding in real life. Karen reminded us that the British Library has a collection of rubbings of bookbindings that its staff can access, and so encouraged us to contact them if we have tried all the online resources and come up empty. It’s certainly true that this is an area of Bibliography and Book History in which there is no substitute for seeing many, many examples in order to be able to make an identification with any level of confidence.

Karen herself has studied bindings over a long career, and those she presented today were mainly from her work on the Grenville Library at the British Library. This provided her the opportunity to see first hand the range of luxury bindings produced by German nationals in London for Grenville, and sparked an interest that took her to explore those in the libraries of other well-known collectors.

Famous binders for whose work we should look out include Johann Andreas Linde, Johann Ernst Baumgarten, Christian Samuel Kalthoeber, Charles Hering, and, of course, Charles Lewis. The last of these was responsible for many of the bindings in Grenville’s collection and became the pre-eminent bookbinder of his day.

If attending her seminar or reading this short event report has whetted your appetite to know more about bookbinding, Karen is teaching the Rare Book School’s online Introduction to Bookbinding this summer.

Unpacking My Library

Jacqui Grainger

Our March Book History Seminar will be led by Jacqui Grainger, the Librarian of the Royal United Services Institute, which is currently undergoing a major move.

Jacqui writes, “Learned societies – and think tanks – in historic buildings periodically get to the point where a complete refurbishment has to happen. This involves a lot of planning and preparation for packing up and moving collections to storage that I won’t bore you with; it also creates an opportunity for finding ‘stuff’ that adds to the greater whole of the heritage and legacy you are managing. This talk will focus on the things I have found in dank basement corners, secret cupboards in paneling, and cupboards within cupboards.”

Jacqui Grainger is Librarian of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a Techne AHRC CDA candidate at the University of Westminster, researching the history of the ‘lost’ RUSI Museum. She is the chair of APML, the Association of Pall Mall Libraries and on the committee of the Historic Libraries Forum. Her research interests include histories of collecting, women’s writing, women’s history, identity and memory.

Registration: https://beginningcataloguing.teachable.com/p/bookhistory-seminar-march

N.B. If you are a member of APML and concerned about the registration fee, please contact Jacqui, who has a code for free attendance for some APML members.