Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Inter-library loans - a French fairy tale

Here is the post I had submitted for the CILIP Blogger Challenge. If you haven't yet, you should go and have a look at the highly commended entries, they're really great!

[EDIT:] If you want to go further, here is a page in English about Sudoc by Émilie Liard (who I mention further down this post). And here is the page (in French) where she links to all her posts on the subject (she published a couple new posts since I wrote this article).

I’d like to tell you a story. It involves a charming prince, a troublesome monster and an army of determined villagers. It's also about inter-library loans.

Our story begins in France. As a French librarian, I'm well placed to tell you that libraries there are rarely praised for anything. We look over in awe at the UK’s 24/7 opening hours in university libraries, your idea stores and how you’re ready to fight to keep libraries open despite budget cuts. But I also think there might be a thing or two you could learn from how things are done on the other side of the Channel.

When I started my first library job in London, I was shocked to discover that librarians here weren't participating in a shared catalogue with other HE libraries – something I’d taken for granted while working in France. So how, I asked, do you fulfil inter-library loans? Well, "inter-library loan" often seems to be a synonym for "asking the British Library if they have it". I learned about SCONUL and its access scheme, and about getting records for documents from other sources. But, to me, it still felt like something was missing.

Nostalgia overwhelmed me, and I began thinking of le Sudoc...


Once upon a time, in 1994, on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in the lovely town of Montpellier, was born l'ABES.

This elegant acronym stands for Agence Bibliographique de l'Enseignement Supérieur, France’s bibliographical agency for higher education. Its first aim was to create Sudoc, Système Universitaire de Documentation (universities system for documentation), which it did in 2001, after a seven years of incubation.

Le Sudoc grew up fast. It's become a giant of a catalogue, to which over 1400 higher education and research libraries contribute. Today, it hosts over ten million records of documents, with their exact location (down to the shelfmark) all over France. Its OPAC is easily searchable, and there’s a mobile version proposed too. Through its network of libraries, users from everywhere can access a fully integrated system for inter-library loans, which is called PEB (for Prêt Entre Bibliothèques) in French.

Also, having this huge shared catalogue allows HE librarians to spend a lot less time cataloguing: on a good day, this means checking that your document already exists in the database, that the record contains no mistakes and then just adding a mention at the bottom basically meaning "we have it too!".

It's an amazing tool and treasured by students, researchers and librarians alike.


But le Sudoc has a dark side. Behind the princely, charming exterior, lurks a fanged beast from a bygone age, ready to thwart many a noble quest.

Its main problem is its back end, which is not quite as handsome as its friendly user interface.

The database is accessed through a software right out of the 90s, called WinIBW (or, once you're acquainted with it and it’s just died in the middle of a two-page long record losing the information forever, you're more likely to call it "Putain de Bordel de Winnie de Merde!" – a phrase that’s a little too indelicate to translate here).

You can have a look at its interface here to get an idea:

WinIBW is ancient. It's unintuitive and crawling with bugs too.

One of my favourites is "le bug de la ligne 16", which occurs because, in an earlier version, lists used to appear in pages of 16 items. So now, once in a while, when you click on an item past line 16, it will display the record corresponding to the one on line 16. Charmingly eccentric, perhaps. But it quickly becomes tiresome.

The records are displayed in UNIMARC, a 1977 version of MARC mostly used in France. The data capture area is basically a blank screen where you can write your record entirely by hand. Not super-helpful when you're new to cataloguing. It's been made slightly better by the creation of helpful macros that will automatically add the fields most often used for the type of document you're creating. But if the field you need doesn't appear, you're on your own.

If, as I explained above, le Sudoc has made it quick and easy to catalogue new, commonly used documents, it loses all its advantages when you have to retro-catalogue older items. Yes, some of your 19th century books might have been catalogued already by someone else, but for most of them, you're going to have to create your record from scratch, taking your chances with the temperamental WinIBW interface.

Also, as is bound to happen when you've got thousands of people working on one common tool, there are lots of duplicates. Once in a while, campaigns are led to remove them, but a week doesn't pass when you have to send messages to other libraries asking them to check if they're sure that their new record isn't really a duplicate of an existing one. And you can expect to receive your fair share of the same kind of requests, of course.

Finally, not everything's rosy on the users' end either. To get a loan, you must be affiliated to a library. The book you ask for will arrive to the library, not on your doorstep. And it can take quite some time to arrive, since there's usually only one ILL officer per library, to take care of all the requests and scan them or send them by post. And it can be a laborious task. ILL officers have to keep up with the loans by hand, and since it's a library-to-library service with no direct contact with the end user, sending reminders for late documents can be a challenge. Perhaps inevitably, there’s unrest…


For years, the library villagers lived with le Sudoc’s half-prince, half-beast nature. They nurtured it the best they could. But back in their homes, in the dead of night, they would talk. Had the time come to slay the beast within? Or could it be tamed?

Has the story so far convinced you of how impractical and complicated this all is? Have you pictured thousands of French librarians pulling their hair out in despair after falling victim to another of Winnie’s bugs? Do you wonder why they haven’t tried to escape??

Well, the answer is, I think, there’s an element of Stockholm Syndrome. We wail and whine and despair, but we go back to the task. We find the ancient interface "charming" and "vintage" – in many ways, we truly are captivated. We often just laugh sadly when the next bug strikes. The adversities of the system have actually brought us together in a community of traumatised cataloguers.

In French university libraries, when you arrive on your first cataloguing job, you're sent on a three-and-a-half-day course to be introduced to the great Winnie. You come back, now an official member of the WinIBW's cult, with a folder full of documentation and a new mantra: "F1 for help". From now on, you're going to hit the F1 key approximately every five minutes to get to the online help and check all the crucial information on the various UNIMARC fields and subfields that’s missing from the software.

If F1 is not enough, you can then ask on the (also ancient, but still very active) "Sucat" mailing-list. But even better than this, is the Twitter community of French librarians. Over the years, I’ve submitted dozens of weird cataloguing questions and got an immediate answer almost every time. We also got into the habit of live tweeting some of our cataloguing sessions. This is a great way to share professional practices and stimulate discussion on some particular cataloguing points.

Tweeting librarians are also very often blogging librarians, and they like to share their tips and tools. For example, Pierre Marige created an online tool to check some key points of new records and shared it on his blog. There’s also Emilie Liard, who, earlier this year, stirred up ideas for how to improve WinIBW in one of her blog posts. She then submitted the suggestions to the ABES group she works with, which is now thinking about what to do next.

So will there be a happily ever after? WinIBW won't be around forever, but le Sudoc hopefully will, and it will get bigger and better. The French library folk are stuck with their charming beast for now, and will treat it with as much patience and good humour as can be mustered.

Of course, the scythes and pitchforks are kept nearby just in case, but the day to use them hasn't arrived yet. And they know that if they keep talking, keep working, they’ll be stronger for sticking together. The le Sudoc story is far from over and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter will bring...

This blogpost has been kindly edited by the fantastic Anthony Farthing.

Creative Commons License
The above picture is by Pier-Luc Bergeron. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Rebus: Tutorial - Creating online tutorials for you own resources

Earlier this month, I went to a Lib Tech Meet at Cilip's. An array of different people did three or seven minutes presentations on topics relating to the use of technology in libraries.

So here is the three minutes presentation I did (slightly re-arranged for Web use - the initial one had much less words on it!).

If you want to have a look at Guides on the side, here they are.
And here is where you can get more info on Rebus: Tutorial.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Identity, gender and libraries

Today, my French blog turns 3 years old! To celebrate, I decided to translate one of my most popular (and personal favourite) blogpost (original version here). I wrote it after attending my first ever librarian conference at Paris Book Fair in 2012.
Two and a half years later, I own up my librarian identity with more strength, but I'm still churned up by all those questions...

I didn't count how many of us were there, that Monday, pressed against each other to be reassured by our governing body on the future of our profession. So, I didn't count, but it was absolutely obvious. There were only women. Well, there was a handful of men, including two on stage, but the feminine mass was unbearable. And I felt a powerful uneasiness yelling in my head that I wasn't supposed to be here. I should have known, though. I know the numbers. But it was the very first time that I was witnessing an actual librarian gathering, and I was shocked.

I'm really annoyed to admit it, but I'm deeply ashamed to have a girl's job. It might go back to my science studies during which, each year, the proportion of female students diminished. I felt at home amongst my male peers, I was happy to be on my way to a man's job (I don't have any numbers, but let me assure you that Earth sciences researchers are mostly male), to show them all, to corrupt the system, to indulge my pride. But I finally understood that muddy outdoors research wasn't for me and a part-time job as a library assistant led me to Higher Education libraries.

Higher Education, that wasn't that bad. Research libraries were even better. Anything not to become a "kid's librarian". I'm not maternal, I'm not girly, I don't like pink. I don't identify with female professions, and children librarian seems to be in the top three of girls' jobs, amongst kindergarten teacher and nurse. And housewife. So, when I got a new job in Higher Education and was asked to take on the "youth literature" collection, it hit me hard.

But why? That's so stupid! I'm ashamed of a job I love! I'm ashamed when I think of turning towards public libraries so as to move back to my mountains more easily. Ah! I was good in school, I should have gone for a man's job, opening the way, thwarting the glass ceiling, rather than going for lower female tasks! I'm ashamed, when I introduce myself, to say what my job is. It sounds like a failure. I'm "only" a librarian. So, very fast, I add: I work for a university! I work with students and professors! I'm not that librarian, the one who reads to inattentive classes, who shush children from behind her desk! No, that's not me! No! No?

But why do I have, engraved in my brain, all of those idiotic prejudices? I do rationally know that public librarian is a great and indispensable job, made of communication and popularisation, and I'm sure I'd love to do it, to make it mine. It actually was one of my ambitions, when I began thinking about going towards information sciences: how great would it be to popularise the sciences I love so dearly in a public library! How I would like to promote reading and culture in my town!

So why are those sexist pictures pinned on the walls of my brain? Why "youth librarian" stays a female noun in our mental dictionaries? Where are the men? Show them to me! They should give themselves up! They should promote themselves! They should tell us of their joy and pride to do this wonderful "girl's" job in those numerous public libraries around the country! They should reinvest those professions from which they had withdrawn, taking with them the value, the prestige, the big names and the high salaries. Let us have some real equality, a world where caring or meticulous jobs are really welcoming all genders, where little boys can look after dolls and dress in pink without being pointed out by the rest of their community.

In the end, I feel guilty to think that much about it. As Caitlin Moran, I'm asking: "are the boys doing it?". Are the boys worried about the gender balance of their professions, do they spend hours banging their heads against walls to try and decide if, by choosing the job they chose, the lifestyle they live, the shoes they wear, they aren't deserting their gender, they aren't letting their comrades down? No, do they seem to say, too preoccupied behind their computers, behind rows of cots, behind the wheel of their lorry, crouching in front of the 305.42, looking for a missing book.
"Then, we can use the technical term, and call it bullshit."
They don't care. So we shouldn't care either. And move forward, rather that staying there pondering over and over. Let's just hope that our daughters may never feel this stupid failure feeling when choosing a job that is neither male nor female. Just a human's job. And, what's more, a really cool one.

Licence Creative CommonsPicture taken myself at the Père Lachaise, Paris, in March 2012.
Both text and pictures are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Stationery Love

At first I read Library Goddess's post on "The Power of the Post-It", then came Twinset & Purls' one about her notebooks, and the sparked conversation on Twitter, #stationerylove.
So, really, I couldn't resist.
I've written a little post about my organisational tools on my French blog, last August, but didn't translate it for one reason or another. So, maybe the time has come to tell you here about my notebook compulsions...

I've been on the lookout for the perfect organisational tools for quite a while. It's quite an obsession really. I like to be on top of things, and that means that I need to always remember what, when and how... From a medical appointment to my writing projects or the training sessions I'm giving at work. I don't feel good if everything's not under control.
So I've tried a lot of online stuff, like automated to-do lists or specific apps... But, as much as I like a good spreadsheet, for my day to day mess, that's not working for me. The only digital thing I've stuck with is Google Agenda. It's the first thing I look at on my phone or when I open my computer, even before my emails or Twitter notifications...
But for all the rest, I'm a paper girl.


A long time ago, I decided to use only one journal for both my personal and professional stuff. I tried to have two different ones but I really prefer being able to write down everything in one place: if ideas for my grocery list come up in the middle of the day, it goes in my journal. If I remember an activity I wanted to try with a group of students in the middle of the night, it goes in my journal. Everything goes in the same place, so it's a bit of a mess, but at least I'm sure to have everything on hand.

My current journal, decorated by my lovely sister, Julia.

Why a paper notebook? Well, first because it's pretty. (Yes, it counts. A lot.)
And because it enables me to draw a little, to create mind maps and even to some art journaling when I feel like it, without having to try to find and learn to use the best software for whatever I want to create.
Also because I love writing by hand. I think better when I'm writing. Moreover, I write a lot during my commute and, you can say whatever you'd like, typing on a virtual keyboard isn't the most practical thing ever.
Finally, I'm a much faster note taker when I jot them by hand during conferences and workshops. Because I love abbreviations and big arrows that go all over the place. So I tend to think that it's worth it to have to type it all up when I come back from a study day. And that's always good to get some order back into the sometimes sibylline presentation structures of some speakers...

A bit of mind-mapping in an old journal.

To-Do Lists

One of the most important part in my journal are the weekly lists that I update every Monday when I arrive at the office. On a double page, I write down on one side my professional to-do list and on the other my personal one.
For my pro one, I use the technique of the Bullet Journal.
I tried their index system but quickly gave up: I just don't have enough pages about particular themes for it to be worthwhile. I might try and use this technique instead, that I learned about through @LibGoddess and @alkegw. It's simple and elegant. But for now, I use bookmarks made of masking tape. It's pretty and I don't have to number all of the pages anymore.

Masking tape bookmarks in one of my last notebooks.
The monthly calendar is not that useful to me either, since I'd rather use my Google Calendar and other paper stuff, but I really like the idea of the monthly to-do list, in order to highlight the big projects coming up.

Calendar and to-do list for August.
So one of the only things I've really kept is the "Bullet List" technique of the Bullet Journal. You do circles for meetings, squares for to-do items and sub-lists when there are several things to accomplish for one single project. I used to add colours by theme (Chartership stuff in light blue, training sessions in green...) but now I use colours to highlight urgent stuff instead (see below). And I use different types of pens to distinguish my professional lists (in felt pen) from my personal lists (in ball point).

My To-Do Lists from last week.

Finally, to decide on the priority level of tasks in my list, I use this technique: the idea is, instead of doing the easiest or least unpleasant first, to go through your to-do list by following this model:

To adapt this model to your own job, replace "training" by your main mission.
I do first things that would go in the area #1: those who will have the most impact on my training with minimal effort. Then I go to area #2 (high impact but lots of effort), #3 (low impact and low effort: those are often the most amusing tasks) and finally #4 (low impact, lots of effort).
Sometimes, I highlight my priority tasks with little stars in front of the bullet. Just because. And sometimes, I do low importance tasks before higher impact ones, because I'm just human and nobody's perfect. And it's much funnier to update the library's Twitter rather than running after unwilling tutors who don't want their students to be trained on EndNote.

The right journal

Last, I wanted to say a few words about choosing the right journal. I began with Moleskines, which are beautiful and practical but so damn expensive. So I moved up to random ugly notebooks that I found for free. But ugly doesn't do it for me. I want beautiful objects to write in. Beautiful and cheap. So, when my relatives aren't giving me beautiful journals (like the one at the top of this post), I try to diy my precious notebooks. I just buy a £2 notebook from Sainsbury or wherever and I cover it with beautiful paper from Paperchase and lots of glue.

One of my latest journals, hand covered an all pretty!
I'll keep doing it for my next journals except that I think that I'm going to move to 100 pages notebooks (instead of 200) so as to make my handbag a little lighter...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Library anxiety

This post is a translation from Thomas Chaimbault's post in French, "L'angoisse de la bibliothèque". His blog, Vagabondages, is an essential one in the French libraries' blogosphere. He writes about libraries and information sciences, mostly from an Higher Education point of view (he is in charge for information skills training in an Higher Education setting, in Lyon). If you can read enough French, I definitely recommend to add his blog to your reader and to follow him on Twitter!

In 1986, Constance A. Mellon formalized the concept of library anxiety.

This anxiety is supposed to be concerning quite an important number of readers, to various degrees, and would refer to both an anxiety of the library as a place (in its size, its fitting, its organisation and the classification of its documents) often considered as unclear, and of the library as a mean to find resources (services, resources, training...). It's a strong psychological barrier keeping students from using the library in an efficient manner, on site and online.

The Anxiety of Searching for a Book, UCLA

1. Theorizing Library Anxiety

In her grounding article (which at least, formalized the concept, since other studies had already showed some apprehension of the public), "Library Anxiety: A Grounded Theory and Its Development", published in College and Research Libraries in March 1986, Constance A. Mellon describes a study carried out over two years about the students' feelings when beginning a library search. The results are clear: 75% to 85% of students mention a feeling of fear when using the library for the first time and this feeling is even more present when the time comes to do a search. An analysis of personal writings of students allows her to also identify recurring themes of fear, confusion, of being of out of their depth, lost, without resource, still at that fateful moment of the information search. It's by connecting those anxiety feelings linked to maths or tests that she coins this notion of "library anxiety".

This anxiety can be translated in several ways:
  • Fear of the library as a place, often described by its impressive size;
  • Not knowing where to find information, nor how it's organised;
  • Lack of self-confidence concerning how to conduct a search;
  • Fear of the librarian him/herself with a refusal of asking for help;
  • Feeling like they're the only one not to understand how the library works;
  • Feeling of paralysis when starting an information search.

From there, students seem less focused on their work and can't do their searches correctly. Mellon specifies: "Students become so anxious about having to gather information in a library for their research papers that they are unable to approach the problem logically or effectively". It can even result, according to the research of our American colleagues on this topic, in the failure of obtaining a diploma (Onwuegbuzie and Jiao, 1998).

Without going that far, other researchers have shown since then the permanence of this negative feeling towards libraries (Bostick, 1993), while Jiao, Onwuegbuzie and Lichtenstein fleshed out the concept, explaining that those feelings could have cognitive, affective, physiological and behavioural consequences directly interfering with the carrying out of informational tasks (Jiao, Onwuegbuzie and Lichtenstein, 1996).
This anxiety is considered as a unique phenomenon, specific to the library environment and not in connection with the general anxiety linked to the first years of higher education. Even though it has been suggested that some of its dimensions, like asking for help, can be linked to character traits independent from libraries, no empirical proof has been provided to support this proposition.

2. A measurement scale

In 1992, Sharon Bostick proposes a measurement scale to detect and evaluate the potential anxiety caused by the library on students. This scale identifies several areas carrying anxiety:
  • Barriers with staff: staff members are perceived as intimidating, inaccessible and anyway too busy or having other more important tasks to do rather than helping readers;
  • Affective barriers (perceived informational skills): the student feels incapable of doing searches and of using the library as a place for resources, this feeling being reinforced by the idea of being the only one to be lost and confused;
  • Being comfortable within the library (as a physical space): a feeling of comfort, security, of being welcome in the library, also linked to the layout and furnitures favouring or not how students are welcomed in the library;
  • Knowledge of the library (internal organisation): the student doesn't understand how the library is organised, doesn't feel familiar with it, feels frustrated;
  • Mechanical barriers: feeling linked to the machines, equipments, computers... A student having a hard time using machines is susceptible of developing a deeper anxiety.
[download the Bostick scale]

In 1997, Owuegbuzie adds:

  • Resources anxiety: frustration related to the resources availability, especially linked to not finding full-text during an online search.
Several research studies have then focused on this anxiety's origin, trying to detect direct or indirect antecedents. If no direct antecedent was revealed, several indirect antecedents were then proposed, with situational, contextual or dispositional (that the student brings herself) origins.

Source: Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Application by Anthony J: Onzuegubzie, Qun G. Jiao, Sharon L. Bostick

Among those variables, Jiao and Onwuegbuzie mainly identified:
  • Low level of perceived social acceptance;
  • Social injonction for perfection;
  • Academic procrastination;
  • Bad study habits;
  • Low reading skills;
  • Learning style;
  • Low computer literacy;
  • Low hopes to overcome hurdles linked to goals' pursuit;
  • Social interdependence.
Some of those research studies identify a complex link between this library anxiety and other anxieties linked to higher education, research, public communication; a whole set affecting the student more or less directly.

Source : Library Anxiety: Theory, Research, and Applications by Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, Qun G. Jiao, Sharon L. Bostick

3. Fighting against library anxiety

Studies trying to reduce library anxiety focus on how to make the library more acceptable, comfortable for students by giving them either the skills to develop their knowledge of the space and self-confidence, or to reassure them concerning the normalcy of the phenomenon and explaining strategies to use so as to overcome its negative effects.

The idea is to work on the training provided, regarding its content as well as the librarian's attitude. Indeed, better trained students will feel more familiar with the space and will see their anxiety limited. More broadly, it means making it easier to meet professionals, getting students to understand and know that there will always be someone to welcome them, answer their questions without judging them and supporting them in their searches.

Simply recognizing such an anxiety helps reducing it. Thus, several proposals have been drawn up:
  • Recounting this feeling or similar experiences with more or less humour through videos or discussion sessions between students;
  • Telling students that bad experiences at various levels of information search are normal;
  • Talking about this kind of anxiety during training sessions.
But generally, the idea will be to get the library to become a friendly space, turned towards its users, to work on librarians behaviours, to provide a positive experience of the library as a space and to reinforce training sessions. So nothing extraordinary.

Several libraries actively work on the topic and don't hesitate to follow up on students who could be victims of this anxiety. For example, the Washington State University's library proposes a specific libguide giving leads on how to apprehend the library better or playing on the librarian's stereotypes.

Actually, we're doing the same and are also working through digital mediation to improve the user's experience, and thus to reduce this anxiety linked to the library. It goes without saying. But it's better to say it anyway.

To go further:

Monday, 22 September 2014

Low-Tech Information Literacy Training Sessions

I'm lucky to work in an institution that receive quite a diverse public. Actually, a lot of my students follow their courses part-time and have been working for several years.
With them, a problem I encounter quite often, is a weak computer literacy, which keeps them from using many of our resources. And since I don't have the possibility to up their level directly, I have to get creative...
Here are the methods and the tricks I use to take their needs into account during my training sessions, in seven points.

- Know who you're talking to. I systematically send a questionnaire the week before the training session, so as to ascertain the level of the students. I don't ask them what they know how to do (do you know ho to...? > yes / no / I'm not sure) but how confident they are regarding different tools (how do you feel about...? > very confident / confident / not really confident / what is that?).

- Create level groups. If possible, dividing the students in level groups is so much better!
I either ask them to sort themselves in different groups on their own (it does work quite well) or I divide them myself, based on their answers to my questionnaire.
Hence, I get to isolate the weakest students and I can spend some time, at the beginning of the session, to check that they do know how to use Firefox (yes, indeed...) and how to find the library's website before doing anything else.
With the other groups, I'm going to be able to go faster and see more things.

- Learning without the stress of the tool. The important bit that I'm trying to pass onto my students, is not how to use a particular tool (it's part of it, but it's definitely not the first point on my list), but the method behind it. This is where the transferable skills lay, that will enable them to use, not only this particular database, but all similar databases (for example).

So, if we're getting away from a particular tool to go towards the abstract concepts behind it, we can get away from the computers to play with more physical materials, like graphics, "hands on" activities or other pedagogical tools.
And that's really good when you're talking to people who get extremely stressed out when using computers. It enables us to talk calmly of a particular concept, to make sure that they understand the basics before going back to the computer to apply it.
Other use: to give a class in a room with no computer, where the students won't get a chance to try out the tool immediately. It allows us to make sure that they, at least, got the concepts.
And it works even with the most computer literates, who shouldn't need this crutch to understand how to write a search equation, for example. In my feedback survey, the hands-on activities I propose always are what the students liked best in the session.

So what does it look like? It can be worksheets such as the "Good Search / Bad Search" which I talked about in my post on active pedagogies.
It can also be real little board games created to illustrate a particular concept, group games, puzzles, do-it-yourself activities... I'm working on a number of them and I will present them here once they've been tested on my students.

- Take your time. According to my feedback surveys, even when I put a lot of simple activities in a session, the students tend to think that the lesson was at the right pace. So it's best to go as slowly as possible and let them play with the concepts during pedagogical activities rather than going as fast as possible to try and see as many things as possible in a record time: taking your time is never a bad thing.

- Finally going back to the computer. At one moment or another, you do need to let go of your little papers and go back to the computer screen.

If the group has a weak level and is fairly homogeneous, I'm going to go as slowly as possible and see very little things. The idea is not to overwhelm them, but to make sure that they get confident enough to be able to reproduce the simple steps that I'm going to show them.
I show each step one by one on the main screen and wait until everyone has been able to do the same on their computer before going to the next step, even for the most elementary things such as clicking a button...

If I wasn't able to divide the class in level groups, I ask a colleague to come and help me. She's going to check on the weakest ones and help them while I present more advanced functions to the others.

- Photocopies, photocopies everywhere. What's the use of having course materials online if the students have a hard time accessing them? For the computer literate students, the question is moot. But for the others I'm now systematically going for printed copies.
I always have better feedback when I give out old-fashioned paper handouts. Of course, I put everything online as well and send them an email with the links just after the session.

Other example: when my feedback survey was online, only 25% of the students answered it. Now that I give out printed copies for them to fill in before leaving the class, I have 100% responses!
Okay, it's bad for the trees... But I have yet to find a better alternative.

A last point:
- Training the teachers. I systematically ask the teachers to come to the training session with their students: more often than not, they need it more than them! It's particularly true of those who don't want to give me too much time with their classes: they often don't even know of all the knowledge and tools we can give them. And sometimes, their computer literacy is not very good either...
For those who can't come, I propose to go directly to their office to train them. I will get them all!

Creative Commons LicenseThe above picture is of Phil Gyford

It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The London Library

This year, I've been visiting many libraries in London, partly to be able to add those visits to my Chartership portfolio, but mostly because some Cilip branches organise regular visits of very different libraries, allowing me to quench my library-curiosity very easily!
But among all of those that I have visited, the one that made the deepest impression on me has been the London Library. If you've got the occasion, try and go to one of the free tours they organise every Monday, it's really a sight to see!
But let's begin with the beginning...


The London Library was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841. He didn’t like the British Library, thinking it was too noisy and unliking having to ask librarians to access books. He decided to create a library that would feel more like a home library, or maybe like a club.

The issue desk in 1935. Photo Credit: Sylvia Lewes


The London Library’s collections count over a million books. None of them are weeded except for duplicates of non popular books. Around 70% of the collections have been entered in the OPAC but the rest still waits to be retrospectively catalogued and (hand-written or typewritten) paper cards still need to be used to search it.
The first librarian devised a classification system specific to the library. It is alphabetically classified by subject titles, which shall be easier for non-librarians to use and encourages serendipity by putting next to each other very different kinds of subjects.

The collections focus on humanities, especially literature, history and art. Collections in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian are particularly important.

The book collection includes books dating from the 16th to the 21st century. Approximately 8,000 new titles are added to the collections every year, requiring the Library to find a further half-a-mile of shelving every three years. This, combined to the lack of weeding, explains why the Library has had to expand a lot since its first days, to the point of occupying a whole block of buildings in central London. With the recent addition of the T.S. Eliot house, they estimate to have enough space for the next 25 years. After that, they might have to build extensions above their present buildings.

In its “Times room”, the London Library has collected all editions of The Times since its opening. Its current collection of periodicals exceeds 750 titles and back runs for over 2500 further titles many of which began in the 18th century. The Library also subscribes to over 200 online versions of its journals, augmented with access to JSTOR.

Acquisitions (for periodicals as well as for books) are made upon demand of the Library’s members and to complete gaps in the collections. The Library also receives numerous donations from living or deceased members.

Bookshelves in the oldest building.
Photo Credit: Christopher Simon Sykes


97% of the collections are in open access, which means that the innumerable floors and rooms of archives are freely accessible to members. All shelves are low enough to be accessed without help by most. An interesting particularity comes with the aeration system devised during the construction of the oldest Victorian building: to let the air flow freely, the archives floors are made of wrought iron with big gaps (you can see them on the picture above) which allows to see through the many floors of the building.

Desks and chairs are intersped around the library, but there are also specific study rooms, including a silent one where laptops are not allowed and strict silence must be respected at all times. Free Wi-Fi is provided throughout the library.
Many members use the library as their office, coming in everyday at fixed times and using always the same desk. Apparently, writers particularly enjoy to thus feel less alone in their solitary work.

One of the reading rooms. Photo Credit : Philip Vile
Members living within 20 miles can have on loan up to 10 volumes. If you live further away, you can have 15 volumes. It is possible to borrow a maximum of 40 volumes upon extra payment.
The normal load period is two months. Renewals are possible if the volumes are not requested by another member.

Bags measuring more than an A4 sheet of paper and the depth of a hardback book must be left in lockers provided in the Issue Hall. Clear plastic bags to carry your items are freely available at Reception.


Being completely independent, the London Library relies solely on membership, donations, fundraising and the prudent management of its capital resources. It receives no government or statutory funding.

The library has had a large number of famous members who have played a central role in the intellectual life of the nation (Agatha Christie, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle, T.S. Eliot, Winston Churchill, …). For a long time, membership was only accessible to men but it now boasts that membership is open to everyone.

Individual annual membership is £475 pa. It is payable monthly and a 50% rate is accessible to 16 to 24 year-old. Prospective members unable to meet the full annual fee may be eligible for Carlyle Membership, where assistance can cover 30 to 60% of the annual fee.

A reader, in 1935. Photo Credit: Sylvia Lewes

My Opinion

The London Library presents itself like a wonderful study library, focused on its members' comfort (with its silent room, open access, extended loans). Its list of members and presidents is very impressive and the buildings do give off an historical and literary feel.

But as much as I would like to use it as a reader, some of its professional aspects do seem quite unappealing: I’m thinking in particular to the daunting prospect of the extensive retrospective cataloguing that has to be achieved, and to the policy of not weeding anything. If it pursues along this way, the London Library is bound to be confronted to structural issues due to sheer lack of space to welcome its ever growing collections.

All of the pictures in this blogpost come from the London Library website and are protected by copyright. You can find here the historical pictures and here the recent pictures.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Start-of-Term and Library Induction

It's back to school time! I don't know about you but I spent most of the summer preparing how we're going to welcome our new students when they will arrive mid-September. So it's the perfect time to go over the different methods we can use to pass on to our new readers the necessary information for them to use our services at the best of their abilities.

The guided tour still reigns

If you've got the human resources to do so, giving guided tours of the library on enrolment day is really ideal. It combines direct human contact (you talk with them, they can ask questions), and a context less favourable to mid-day naps than the conference in a lecture hall...
In my library, it's unfortunately impossible. First, our space is so small that giving tours wouldn't make much sense. Second, we just don't have enough woman power to deal both with registration and potential tours.
The problem is that tours are extremely time consuming and repetitive (the groups need to be small enough to be able to go around quickly and without too much noise, so you have to do it ten times a day). So it's not always possible to set up for librarians, nor to insert in the students' busy schedules.

The self-guided tour

It's been on my list for years, but I still haven't had the occasion to pull that up. It's great for quite big libraries and allows you to be really creative!
The idea is to give students some material (paper instructions, podcast, tablet app...) that will entice them to go around the library (you can use baits such as hidden chocolates in the stacks... and the visit becomes a treasure hunt!) and teaching them at the same time what they need to know about the premises (using panels, QR codes linking to short videos or audio files...).

I went to one of Phil Bradley's workshops this year and saw him demonstrate the augmented reality app Aurasma. When you capture a trigger image (for example an image set up in a strategic point of your library), it automatically opens a link or a file (a video for example). This would be ideal for this kind of self-guided tour, using tablets loaned by the library or the students' own smartphones (they would just have to download the app).

Class intervention

Another classic of the library induction is for a librarian to come to the lecture hall during enrolment day and give a short talk. The problem is that you usually only have a few minutes and that the students are so overwhelmed with information on that day that you can expect... that they won't remember anything.
Which is why we should try and make something a bit memorable so that, even if they don't remember our opening times or how many volumes they can borrow, they will have a positive vision of the library and its librarians, which will make them more susceptible to come to see us and ask us questions.

The cephalonian induction doesn't need to be presented anymore but I saw a presentation of a colleague who created a twist: instead of handing cards to students with questions on it, she created a big cardboard die for them to roll. They then have to read the question written on the top side. It's really playful and well received, even with adults. The only problem is that you can get the same side several times, so you have to roll the die again. And, if you don't want to spend hours on a geometry problem, you're going to have to limit yourself to six questions.

I personnally would like to play Library Bingo with my students. Two possibilities: you either give them bingo cards with, instead of numbers, logos related to the library. Then you get your presentation going (like this Prezi from Zoe Thomas) and the first one to get all the logos on her card wins.
Or you can ask students to create their own bingo card by writing down, for example, six resources they think they can find in the library. Then you show them your list of resources (starting with the hardest ones...) and the first one to get all of their resources mentioned wins.
In both cases, you explain as you go the significance of the logos / how to access the different resources. The material investment is minimal: you can print bingo cards yourself and you just need a PowerPoint presentation. And the public stays attentive as they want to see if the next item will be on their card. Apparently, it works even better if there's a little prize for the winner...

Online induction

A last possibility would be an online induction. It's a good way to reduce the anxiety of those intimidated at the idea of going to a library (yes, I hear they exist) and especially to reach out to those we wouldn't have the occasion to meet live, because of time constraints, of multiple campus complexities, long-distance learners or students with a disability.
It can be a virtual tour, using pictures or videos associated to different rooms a bit like this virtual visit of Gloucestershire university.
But more than places, we also need to present services. Here again, possibilities are infinite, from a nice prezi to induction videos. It would be great to be able to use different medias so that future readers could get the induction they would be the most comfortable with.
I'm personally working on some induction videos for the students I won't be able to see directly (some groups have a very tight schedule) while creating specific sections on our Moodle especially for them.

And you, how are you going to welcome new students this year?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Active Learning in Libraries

Just as most librarians, I haven't received any initial training on teaching techniques. Nonetheless, particularly in Higher Education, many of us have to regularly give training sessions to students of various levels. In my case, this is my principal mission within my institution.
I see post-graduate students and people doing CPD, most of them for a one-shot session (though, I'm working to make that change...) during which I have to make sure that, from now on, they will be perfectly autonomous for their literature searches. It's ambitious. And there is really a lot to teach them in a few hours gleaned from the course of a kind tutor.

Self-train thyself on training others

So I'm trying to train myself as much as possible, through "train the trainer" courses or well-chosen readings. In particular, I went to an exciting workshop by Andrew Walsh on creating games to use in libraries. On this occasion, I discovered his book, Active Learning Techniques for Librarians (1), an incredible resource full of activities ideas to use when giving training sessions to students.

Active learning means involving the learner in her learning, giving her a more active role than the one she's usually given in conference-type courses. Now, that active dimension should allow the learner to retain information and skills better.
Since librarians usually give one-shot sessions and that we probably won't see those students ever again in training, it's all the more crucial to make sure that they actually remember what we're trying to teach them!

Moreover, active training allows us to assess the students' understanding during class, giving us the possibility to give them live feedback on their performance. For example, it's going to be much easier to identify people who haven't really understood a point, and to explain it again, differently, so that they can correct their mistakes.
Finally, a normal person being only able to really focus for a very short periods (usually, a few minutes), scattering a session with active learning activities allows for a change of rhythm, a sort of  break, to get back afterwards with more focus.

But what does it look like?

Andrew Walsh and Padma Inala recommend to use their activities all along a session. For example, we'll begin by breaking the ice with something a bit funny, allowing us in a same shot to send a message about what we expect from the group: don't get asleep, don't get scared, you're going to have to talk and draw and other stuff, but it all should be okay... During the session, we carry on with a few activities going over each point of the program. And we finish with a last activity allowing us to check on the knowledge of the students or to make them reflect about their new skills.

So, all of this is all very nice, but in reality, are we just reinventing the wheel, trying to give exercises and assessing learning? For sure, a little. But that can't be too bad, can it?
Above all, aren't we going to play the role of the annoying teacher wanting students to participate at all costs when they'd just like to sleep quietly? Danger is real. Personally, I was mainly scared of looking ridiculous with my kindergarten games.


But I tested for you active learning techniques on a class of eight PhD students last month. And they loved it. I made them laugh with my spoof activity and the feedback forms they filled in were full with positive comments. So, there is hope.
I'm going to keep testing those techniques with other classes and I'll keep you posted.

A few examples

Meanwhile, here are a few examples of activities I liked, from Walsh and Inala's book. I tested some of them and I will try out the others very soon.

"What's your favourite?"
Choose a question (for example, "what's your favourite database?") and put it up on a wall. Beneath, put up several papers corresponding to the different possible answers (one for each database your students can access for example). When the students enter the classroom, before they sit down, ask them to cast their vote by putting a sticky note beneath their answer. It's very visual and it's a good conversation starter.

"Make a Spoof"
Ask students to work on a spoof subject in groups. For example, I asked my PhD students to write down five things that would allow them to do the worst literature search ever...
Quite good as an introduction, so as to get them to start thinking about the topic of the course.

"Good Search, Bad Search"
After having shown students how to do a perfect literature search, give them an example of a "bad search" and have them discuss in pairs:
- How come this is a "bad search"?
- How could they make it better?

"I will do it"
At the end of the session, ask the students to write down what they're going to do in the coming weeks to put into practice what they learned. Have them write down their names and email addresses. Send them a scan of their form the next month, asking them if they actually did what they said they would and if you can help them achieving their goals.

(1) Walsh, Andrew and Inala, Padma (2010) Active Learning Techniques for Librarians: Practical Examples. Chandos, Cambridge. ISBN 9781843345923 

Photo : Brook Ward
This picture is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

I translated this article from my French blog: Pédagogie active en bibliothèque.

Friday, 29 August 2014

New Beginnings

Asphalt on a rainy day. Because that's my favourite cliché about London.

I can't believe I haven't written here for so long. But I think I know why: when I created this blog, my main goal was to recount my journey as I was trying to emigrate. And I thought I would have lots to say about having actually succeeded in emigrating, about the difference in the countries, in the libraries, in the way of life. But actually... I don't.

If there is one thing I have learnt in those past few months of living in London, it's that life isn't that different between London and Paris. One is a busy European capital. The other is a busy European capital. The only differences are only anecdotal.

  • What I don't miss from Paris: le métro, its smell of piss and that feeling of oppression when riding the busiest line, pressed against strangers.
  • What I do miss from Paris: my family, friends and colleagues. Obviously.
  • What I enjoy most about London: meeting other friendly librarians (yes, I'm looking at you, Twitter folks); watching Doctor Who live without having to deploy treasures of technological imagination; walking around the city.
  • What I don't enjoy about London: giving so much money to the TFL.
  • What has changed for me since January: I've stopped getting almost hit by cars because I was looking at the wrong side of the road; my knowledge of London's airports has drastically increased (Heathrow, I love you); I'm now really settled down at work.
  • What hasn't really changed since January: all the rest. I'm still me!

Overall, I do think that my quality of life has drastically improved since I live in London. Thanks to its numerous parks and the kindness of its inhabitants. (Yes, I confirm, Londoners, even if they are far from perfect, are much much much nicer than Parisians. Believe me.)

So now that that's settled, let's close the chapter of changing countries and changing life. And let's go back to library stuff. This blog will now officially become "just another library blog". :)

Friday, 24 January 2014

"Are you settled down yet?"

Since I've arrived in London, the one thing people have been asking me constantly, almost everyday still, is "have you settled down?".
Since day 1, my answer has been a resounding and unwavering "yes". Though its meaning has evolved for me everyday.
Day 1: "Yes, I only had one suitcase so it was quite quick really, I don't have that much stuff."
Day 3: "Yes, I've just bought myself fluffy pillows, I'm going to sleep so much better! All is well in the world!"
Day 5: "Yes, I now have a bank account AND a working mobile phone, I'm ready for whatever comes next!"
Day 11: "Yes, I'm planning for my first training session with some students, I really love this job!"
Day 15: "Yes, I've met new faces through my rowing class, I now know more people in London than I can count on my fingers!"
Day 19 (today): "Yes, I've begun working again on my Chartership, it feels so good to advance again on that project!"
You can keep asking me that question, I think I'll keep finding new explanations to the heartfelt "yes" that comes out of my lips before I'm even able to think about it. Yes, I'm settled down, London is my new home and I love it.

Although, I'm still not really sure what "settling down" actually means. Is there a finish line somewhere, shall I be counting how many new friends I've made or how many times I've taken the tube? Shall I look forward to the day when I'll know where every single item is in Sainsbury, when I won't have to check a map before heading outside in London?

Really, I think I'll keep settling down till the day I leave. I would need many lifetimes to exhaust all of London's quirks and possibilities. And I hope there always will be one more thing to do to feel even more comfortable and at home in this changing city. Forever ascending on the asymptote, ever so slightly.

Licence Creative CommonsThe above photo was taken by myself in London, in January 2014.
This photo and text are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.