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).

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.

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.

Event Report: Ahava Cohen on Internationalising RDA

As a background to a fascinating discussion on the Internationalising of RDA, Ahava shared that she fell in love with RDA as a student, but Hebrew language materials were not covered. Over the course of her PhD, she talked to RDA decision-makers and realised that until she started asking them about it, Hebrew hadn’t been on their radar.

Rather than seeing this lack of awareness as off-putting, Ahava realised that there was an opportunity – within the Israeli and Hebrew cataloguing communities and within the RDA cataloguing community. She’s now the Head of Hebrew Cataloguing at the National Library of Israel and the Chair of Eurig (the European RDA Interest Group), and its back-up delegate to the RSC (RDA Steering Committee).

The RSC has a page on its website dedicated to its Internationalization Principles, which opens with the paragraph:

The RDA Board’s vision for RDA is a global standard enabling discovery of content. Despite ongoing revisions to remove the Anglo-American focus present in the original RDA Toolkit, the Board acknowledges that this perspective remains in some elements and instructions. The Board is committed to improving the international focus of RDA.

It struck me listening to the rest of Ahava’s seminar just how much we owe her for her dedication to engaging with the wider RDA community, not just with regard to the languages in which she catalogues herself (Hebrew, Arabic, Cyrillic (Russian, Ukranian), and English), but in working to open out discussion beyond the groups who have traditionally engaged with RDA (and before it the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules).

One of the key surprises to some attendees at our seminar was that RDA triples (based in turn on RDF triples) do not equate to the structure of some languages, including Hebrew. So whenever we see a presentation that discusses subject, predicate and object (the three forms of triples) as intuitive, we should be aware that they are only intuitive for some, not all, language groups.

Other interesting examples included the measuring of timespans (midnight-midnight vs. nightfall to nightfall); capitalization (not all languages have capital letters), tribal names, and the numbering of leaves and pages. Ahava gave the example of the form Talmud leaf 1A, leaf 1B and so on, which is exactly the sequence any scholar in the field would expect it to be given, where RDA would give preference to a number of pages.

There are also issues around language “ownership.” Who “owns” French? France or Quebec?

If you are interested in these issues, you might like to read the report Ahava prepared for the RSC on Western and Christian Bias in RDA. If you are active in cataloguing and have encountered examples of bias, you might contribute to this ongoing survey Ahava is running.

As Violet Fox said to Ahava on Twitter after her seminar, “Thank you for sharing your efforts so far. I’m glad to have you leading this important work!”

Event Report: LGBTQ+ Publishing History

On 13 January, I attended the Book History Seminar on UK LGBTQ+ Publishing History.

The speaker was Christopher A. Adams, a writer, bibliographer, and doctoral student whose dissertation subject is British queer fiction publishing from 1945 to 1967 (when homosexuality was partially decriminalised in British legislation). This was a really fascinating talk on the hidden history of queer books in Britain. We were given lots of examples which were immediately added to my reading wish list, and we had ample opportunity to ask questions as well.

Continue reading “Event Report: LGBTQ+ Publishing History”

Event Report: Print Making Techniques in Book Illustration

After the winter holiday, Yvonne Lewis shares what she learned at Krystle Attard Trevisan‘s Book History Seminar in December.

Curiosity about the holdings of the National Museum of Malta aroused my interest in this seminar. I’ve been to many talks on print techniques over the years, so was expecting to come away as baffled as ever about how the ink ended up on the paper in most cases. It is very difficult taking someone’s spoken or written description and turning it into images of how the processes work in your head. Letterpress I can imagine, but it gets more complicated when the speaker is trying to describe the various different offset techniques.

I was pleasantly surprised to come away feeling much more enlightened. As background introduction, Krystle took us clearly, but rapidly, through the many centuries of printing history, from Chinese woodblocks, through the various hand-presses, to modern photographic printmaking. Each phase was accompanied by close-up images of the finished product, plus supporting material on individual techniques. Both were extremely useful in showing the difference between copperplate and intaglio for example.

In her day job, Krystle is in the process of cataloguing c. 4,500 prints. As she demonstrated, use of a microscope or the zoom feature on a modern phone allows her to investigate the images more closely in order to identify the technique used. This must be invaluable as many of us have struggled in the past to be confident in our assessment of images when the maker has been a master of their technique. I do hope that Krystle will do more talks or seminars on printmaking techniques. Although images of her slides are imprinted on my brain, I’m sure a refresher will be required at a future date. One day, perhaps, a good excuse to visit Malta.

Yvonne Lewis

Event Report: Exploring Digital Classification Games

At the end of 2020 I ran a workshop focused on creating digital classification games as part of Beginning Cataloguing’s online course offer. During the session I showed the participants how they could create a prototype classification game on their Android devices from a template game I had created. I had intended showing iphone users how they could do the same, but I discovered quite close to running the workshop that the app I was using on my Android device wasn’t fully compatible with the iphone version of the same app. However, I’m now looking at converting the app so that iphone users can run it too.

I used Pocket Code for the session. This is a block-based coding tool for Android devices and iphones, that allows you to create games and other mobile apps for free, without having to type in lines of programming text. I designed the prototype game loosely around the retro style video game, Pong. In this instance the player is presented with an image on the screen, and they have to tap on the corresponding Dewey Classification number bouncing around the screen to score a point. I find that interactive activities make learning easier for me. I also like things to be fun. So, that’s why I created the prototype game.

Through the session I showed the participants:

  • How to use Pocket Code.
  • How to run and play the prototype game I created in Pocket Code.
  • How the game programme is structured.
  • How different coloured code blocks allow you to do different things. eg move an image around a screen; test if the phone screen was tapped; add points to a players score, etc.
  • How to adapt the programme to their own library classification scheme and needs.

I highlighted some of the behind-the-scenes coding. But I tried to avoid going into a lot of detail, as I wanted to focus on the key areas they could adapt to create a game that would support classification training within their own library services.

The idea isn’t to replace classification training with simple games, but to help users get to know classification identifiers or numbers in a scheme for a library they use, in a playful way.

At the end of the session I wanted the participants to be able to go away with a few key thoughts:

  • That games are useful in this context.
  • It’s possible to make a prototype game cheaply & quickly. It isn’t overly complicated to create a game like this in Pocket Code, or to develop ideas around using technology as a way to make something interactive that will enable others to develop their understanding of your classification system.
  • You can use a tool like Pocket Code to develop simple games for other parts of your library service training too. eg stock management.

It was fun running the session online. I enjoyed both introducing the concept of a digital library game to the participants, and the discussions it generated during the session. Thanks to everyone who attended, and Anne for her support before and during the session.

Ash Green

The Unwritten Book (General Seminar)

Yesterday, Yvonne Lewis shared the story of ‘The Unwritten Book’ – the evidence William John Bankes left behind him of his travels, and, in particular, a set of lithography stones intended for publication in a book that was never printed in the end.

There are many reasons that these stones are both interesting and mysterious, but the greatest mystery is why they exist in the first place. Lithography was invented in Munich in 1798 by Alois Senefelder, and as Michael Twyman points out in his core text on the topic, “the lithographed book is almost as old as lithography itself” (p. 15). One of its leading proponents in Britain, Charles Hullmandel, set up his press in 1819, and so Bankes’s travels (circa 1815-17) coincided with the very earliest period of English lithography. Hullmandel’s marks appear on the back of the stones, and, as Twyman asserted in a paper he gave in 2016, “Hullmandel can be linked with the stones now at Kingston Lacy in several ways. First and foremost he owned them all, at least initially. Secondly, he made the drawings on some of them himself. And, thirdly, wherever a printer’s imprint appears on a stone it is his.”

Continue reading “The Unwritten Book (General Seminar)”

Making Manuscripts (Book History Seminar)

Last week saw the first of our Book History Seminars, led by Sara Charles (Teaching Manuscripts) and I took the Chair’s prerogative to write the event report.

Sara is part of a growing number of researchers who unite their love of making and their love of research by using historical remaking in their academic work. From Alan May’s experiments in making printing presses through Joumana Medlej’s Inks and Paints of the Middle East (and her forthcoming Wild Colours: Seasonal Inks and Paints) to Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen’s Hortus Floridus Iessi, people are finding more and more imaginative methods to engage with the ways in which early books were made.

Continue reading “Making Manuscripts (Book History Seminar)”