Category Archives: What do librarians do?

What do librarians do? Day Five – children’s librarian

Children’s librarians work to engage with the local community and encourage parents and carers into the library with children of all ages. (Image c/o Ross Belmont on Flickr.)

The following post was written by Kelly Millership, a Children’s Librarian in Wandsworth.  Here she explains how she encourages children into the library and how she works with the local community.

I have various regular activities that form the structure of my working week. During term time one of the most important parts of my job is visiting local schools to deliver outreach sessions; over the past couple of weeks this has ranged from visiting nursery and reception groups to deliver storytimes  and delivering whole school assemblies to award children with their Summer Reading Challenge certificates. I have been in post for one year now and have got to know lots of teachers and children so visiting them, talking about books and libraries and being called ‘Library Lady!’ across the playground is a lot of fun.

As well as going out to schools I see roughly 4-5 class visits into the library a week. Monday afternoons is key stage 1 and we usually spend about twenty minutes looking at picture books that relate to their current curriculum topic. They then explore the library and choose books to take home or back to school. On Tuesdays and Fridays Key Stage 2 come in and we do a range of things which always include reading aloud and discussing a book or story. Where I can, I relate the book to the current class topic, so last week we looked at Anthony Horowitz’s series of Myths and Legends books for a year 5 group learning about the Greeks. I also try to deliver library skills sessions to older primary school age children and we could do anything from looking at the differences between fiction and non-fiction, to navigating dewey, to looking at genres. Class visits are perhaps one of my favourite things as it is a joy to see the children getting excited about taking a book home. The Horrid Henry, Wimpy Kid and Rainbow Magic shelves get regularly wiped out but I really hope and think we are providing something for everyone.

Aside from schools one of the main parts of my job is to engage as much of the local community with the library as possible and increase visitor numbers and issue figures. To this end, I visit the local children’s centres and do rhyme times at creches and toy libraries. I have also spoken to parent’s forums about library services, ‘Bookstart’ and the importance of reading and singing with your children. I do two storytimes and one baby rhymetime a week which are a very popular service in Wandsworth. These activities attract parents and carers with young pre-school children; it’s a very nice thing to issue a library card to a 3 month old baby and see them leave with a touchy feely board book to chew at home.

School holidays bring a change of focus and its important to offer a fun holiday activity for children to get involved with. This past half term has seen the library decorated with ‘Handa’s Suprise’ fruit baskets for Black History Month and dangly Halloween pumpkins and witches. A big focus for children’s librarians during the long summer holiday is of course the Summer Reading Challenge and lots of time was dedicated to preparations for this and then statistics and evaluation afterwards.

When I’m not delivering these sessions or preparing for them then I am either thinking about stock management or reports and statistics. As I am new in post I have spent a lot of time this past year really getting to grips with the stock in my library; weeding and luckily lots of buying. There are two different types of monthly lists that I order from which include pre-publication stock and stock lists on approval that the supplier puts together. I order from both of these each month in fiction and non-fiction. I also spend time putting together specific orders for things I think are needed or will be popular with the local community. After a visit to a Somali parent’s group at the local children’s centre I ordered new dual language stock that would be useful to this user group. There are lots of ways to keep up with children’s publishing and ensure a varied, relevant collection and I visit specialist bookshops, read blogs, newsletters, subscribe to mailing lists of publishers, booksellers and other librarians. I also attend a monthly teenage book group and have picked up so much information from this and read some fabulous crossover fiction.

I think over the next couple of months I will be spending some time preparing for the FAB book awards which is a teen book award voted for by children and young people. I am going to try to get a local group involved and promote the award across library branches. My working week is full and varied and having so many different things to think about really draws on my planning and time management skills. I think a children’s librarian post gives you the opportunity to use many of the skills of a library professional but also has the added benefits of meeting so many enthusiastic borrowers in a range of settings and being able to talk regularly about books and reading. If you are happy one day to be reading about learning development and the next to be ripping up tissue paper for a craft activity then Children’s Librarian is probably the job for you.

What do librarians do? Day Four – Royal Academy of Dance Librarian

The RAD has an extensive archive containing a wide range of materials. (Image c/o Pat McDonald on Flickr.)

The following post is provided by Helen Doyle, Assistant Librarian at the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). Here she explains why dancers at the RAD need a library service.

“A dance library? But why do dancers need books?”. That’s the usual response I get when I tell people about my job. I’m the Assistant Librarian at the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), one of the world’s most influential dance education and training organisations. Established in the 1920s to re-invigorate dance teaching within the UK, the RAD now has its own ballet examination syllabus which is taught worldwide. Our founders were the greatest ballet experts and dance teachers in the world at that time and, over the years, we saw through our doors many more amazing dancers covering important roles within the organisation (like presidents and vice-presidents). This means that we in the Library have to juggle multiple roles – part HE institution, part specialist collection, part archive, part museum – and I think it is this that makes us unique.

First and foremost we are a specialist research collection, providing a comprehensive dance library for scholars and researchers. Our main remit is ballet and contemporary dance, but we have resources on nearly all types of dance in some shape or form. Dance resources present a particular set of challenges, not least how they’ve changed over time. During the mid-C20th, for example, essays were published in praise of the various prima ballerinas of the day; these days dance works tend much more towards the theoretical (gender in dance, for example). Then there’s film of dance, now more prolific than ever with the advent of DVDs and YouTube. Despite the difficulties presented by copyright, this is a very valuable resource. In dance, films have an obvious advantage over books: even the specially-designed dance notation systems force a moving medium (dance) into a static one (paper).

All this requires a good knowledge of what’s out there and a creative approach to searching for it. It also requires a good eye for detail: we have a dozen copies of ‘Cinderella’ on DVD and video, but all featuring different companies, productions and dancers. Woe betide anyone who confuses two prima ballerinas!

Because we have just the one main subject of DANCE, much of what we do is specific to us. The main classification schemes are just not detailed enough for our needs:  instead we adapt a particular scheme to fully reflect the nuances of the subject. We follow our own cataloguing rules as well. This gives us total control over the organisation of the collection, but it requires a huge amount of work in terms of classifying, cataloguing and processing.

However, that’s not the whole story. Although we are primarily a research collection, our largest user group are our students. We support 10 educational programmes, all of varying lengths (from 6 weeks to 6 years) and study types, and starting at different times of the year. We have around 120 undergraduates onsite, but also hundreds of learners worldwide studying in any one of 7 languages. This produces a lot of library work! We take in all the reading lists for the modules on each programme and order books, catalogue articles and alter loan periods accordingly. We also arrange the necessary copyright licensing and clearance to allow us to digitise extracts and articles, and maintain a selection of online resources via Athens. The students need books which are not dance-specific in areas such as anatomy, education, music and research methods, and juggling this in terms of budgets and shelf-space, let alone keeping the collection relevant and focussed, is a job in itself! There’s the day-to-day issuing/returning/shelving aspect as well, of course, and we are the first port-of-call for students needing help with assignments.

We also have an extensive dance archive. There are the archives of the RAD itself – we catalogue, house and provide access to previous editions of syllabus books and AV material, as well as official reports and our in-house publications.  We have a number of ‘special collections’ from the greats of ballet, such as Fonteyn and Diaghilev, and we house a number of other dance-related archives, belonging to people from dance critics to members of the organisation. We deal with several types of material – paper of varying qualities, photographic film and negatives – covering C18th to C21st.

With such a rich archive of material relating to the dance world, it is important that we can find things easily! We’re converting spreadsheets and holdings files into databases, which are much more searchable and detailed and (we hope) will eventually be online for people to search for themselves. This will be a fabulous step forward, allowing us to finally showcase the richness and depth of the collections, but it all takes time. We’re using the opportunity to clean and rehouse the material as well.  The collection also includes a fair share of 3D objects, textiles and ephemera, everything from early C18th playbills to costumes to stained glass windows. I would tell you about the preservation and display work that goes into these, but I’ve not got the room!

So what makes my library unique? The hybrid mix of what we do – we are an independent library and archive collection for use by researchers, as well as an HE provider and key dance organisation working at a global level.

And why DO dancers need books?  Because the books (for which, read “huge range of resources”) enhance our understanding  and appreciation of the heritage of dance and its place in our culture. And there’s so much information available that it’s a full-time job keeping up with it.

What do librarians do? Day Three – school librarian


Hobbes – the library tiger making full use of the library resources!

The following post was contributed by school librarian, Nicky Adkins. Here she explains the vital role libraries and librarians play in education.

As with most librarians, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘So, do you just sit around and stamp books all day?’ And the answer is sadly not. We have two part time library assistants who I line manage, and a team of around 14 sixth form librarians who take a regularly timetabled shift at the issue desk during break and lunchtimes, when the library is so busy it’s not physically possible to run it with just two members of staff. As well as them, I manage a team of parents and younger student volunteers who assist us with reshelving, processing new books and keeping the place clean and tidy.

Keeping the stock up to date and relevant can be a challenge on schools’ ever decreasing budgets, but we do have the advantage of a very specific age range of users and a clear idea of what they want. However, within that is a very wide range of abilities; we have some new students come to the school with high reading ages but also some who are functionally illiterate. We also have some students with English as a second language and various special educational needs. Differentiating the stock to ensure that we can cover every student can be difficult, so I’m always on the look out for appropriate resources and keep up to date with educational trends and intervention strategies. Curriculum developments and syllabi seem to shift almost every week, so it’s up to me to ensure that we evolve with it. I check this through research and discussions, as well as by collaborating with every subject area to ensure that we’re stocking what their students will need. Then there’s ensuring that it’s all in good condition, easy to find, etc. Cataloguing takes some time!

Managing the space can be quite tricky, as the library is used for such a variety of things. The space is bookable for lessons, and we see Key Stage 3 English classes on a regular basis. We’re also open during break, lunchtime and after school every day until 5pm and are often insanely busy during these times, with very large numbers of students descending to do homework, research and catch up. As in any area of a school, behaviour management is very important, particularly in such a busy and comparatively under-staffed area. We have established very high expectations of our students’ behaviour and they have responded incredibly well, with very few problems arising. But when they do crop up, it’s down to me to deal with it, whatever it may be.

One of my roles within the school is to lead the way with research skills and information literacy, which we start in Year 7 and really emphasise during GCSEs. I deliver training to staff in these areas, and create resources to support teachers and students, such as how to evaluate web resources and how to reference effectively. I also directly teach information literacy classes when teachers are not too familiar with it. I’m also an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) supervisor, so I guide sixth form students through their projects and grade them, attending standardisation meetings each year. We also run the careers library and ensure that students have the right resources to guide them into their lives beyond school.

Encouraging reading for pleasure is a huge part of the work we do and reaches well beyond the curriculum. We ensure that all students have access to reading material that engages and excites them, from graphic novels to prose classics. Every form room has its own mini-library of books for students to borrow and adopt, and we run a programme for Key Stage 3 students (years 7-9) to help encourage them. This year we’re also launching a Year 7 parents’ reading group, designed to get parents reading and talking about books. I make sure I’m available to speak to parents on parents’ evenings, review days and also via email. Many of our student reading groups are run by sixth form students, and I support them with resources and organisation. We also shadow several book awards over the course of the year and have a large group of very involved students who read, review and spread the word about reading all around the school.

The library is very involved online, and our Twitter account (@RPS_Library) in particular has given us a great connection with parents, students and the wider community. Through this we’ve had contact with authors, publishers, artists and many others. We’re known around the school as early adopters of new technology and were the first department to buy in ereaders and have the school’s first iPad for staff and student use. I am also responsible for maintaining and updating the curriculum area of the school website.

As a truly cross-curricular area, we have the opportunity to offer a wide range of learning for our students. The library is home to a group called the Nerdfighters, (for more information, please see here) who undertake projects in areas of personal interest. They’ve produced work on rollercoasters, which resulted in a trip to Alton Towers to test out their findings, the (apparently inevitable) zombie apocalypse, vampires, random acts of kindness, cakes, toy mice, anything and everything which just doesn’t quite make it into formal lessons. What typifies all of their work is that it is excellent, and way beyond what is normally produced by students their age. It is a true community of the nerdy and a little bit odd; they’ve formed a strong, inter-year group who support each other both in and out of school. We also host a group of enthusiastic knitters, crocheters and crafters, and see regular chess and Yu-Gi-Oh battles.

Each year we take part in NaNoWriMo and currently have around 40 students all working to produce a novel in a month. Writing clinics are held every lunchtime and after school for the whole of November. Through the Young Writers’ Program we manage a virtual classroom as well as supporting them in school. It’s a crazy time but one of my favourites!

The library also plays an important role in the pastoral care of our students. Those who have taken exams early or cannot cope with some lessons come to us to make good use of their time. We have strong links with the whole of the pastoral team as well as with curriculum areas, so often see a side of students that no one else gets to see. Some of our absolute stars are those who are constantly in trouble elsewhere but really shine when we can give them the opportunity. Though this is a point of contention in some libraries, I see it as a very important part of what we do. We are a safe space for students, always open, always welcoming, with understanding staff who do not have to exert the same pressure to produce results that teachers do. Libraries are often said to be the heart of the school. I think that’s true.

What do librarians do? Day Two – NHS Librarian

Health professionals rely on the expertise provided by NHS librarians to aid the treatment of patients or to research rare illnesses. (Image c/o bored-now on Flickr.)

The following post was submitted by Lesley Firth, an NHS librarian.  Here she explains the vital role of librarians in the National Health Service.

Health libraries and librarians are vital to the support of evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidence-based practice (EBP). EBM and EBP is “the process of systematically reviewing, appraising and using clinical research findings to aid the delivery of optimum clinical care to patients” (from What is Evidence-Based Medicine?).

I work as an Assistant Librarian in an NHS library. My job is to ensure health professionals have access to the best available information so that patients receive evidence-based treatments and care. Health libraries are essential to this provision and without them health professionals would have another burden on their shoulders; how to find the best information fast?

So, what do health librarians and health libraries do that is so important?

I conduct literature searches for staff which involves searching online for guidelines, published research and systematic reviews (which are generally considered the strongest form of evidence-based medicine) on many different topics. Staff then go on to use this information to develop guidelines and policies; treat patients directly; research rare illnesses; or publish their own work. Many of the results of a literature search are not fully and freely available to staff because, although health library services try to make as much online content available by buying access to journals and databases, budgets will only stretch so far. When staff are faced with information that they can’t access the library will make an inter-library loan request to places such as the British Medical Association (BMA) or the British Library. Without the expert help of health libraries many health professionals would be unable to access this wealth of information either through lack of time or skills.

I quality check all new and updated clinical guidelines and policies. This involves making sure authors use up to date, relevant references; write full and complete information; use accurate spelling and grammar; and that each document complies with the Trust’s formatting standards. These documents are then ratified by relevant groups and committees and come back to me for publishing on the Trust intranet. During publishing I re-check the documents, add keywords to the publication page and ensure that each document is added to its relevant specialty’s Intranet page. All of this is essential to patient care because my accurate checking and publishing ensures that all staff have access to well-written, up to date information about treatments, patient care and patient safety.

Often health staff are very enthusiastic about learning how to find relevant evidence-based information themselves. Again the library is essential in providing this training and as part of my job I conduct regular information skills sessions. I show staff the range of online resources available to them, how to search them effectively, how to access the results and how to appraise basic health information. My colleague takes staff through more advanced critical appraisal training which equips them with the skills to assess the credibility and relevance of different kinds of clinical research. Developing a health workforce that is information literate is essential to excellent patient care and one which health libraries are experts in.

I hope this short introduction to some of the work health librarians do emphasises how vital health libraries are to all aspects of health care provision and patient care in both the NHS and the wider health sector.

What do librarians do? Day One – Specialist Research Librarian

The BLDS is the biggest research collection on economic and social development in Europe, and provides support for a range of global projects. (Image c/o NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.)

The following post was submitted by Rachel Playforth from the British Library for Development Studies.  Here she explains her work and the impact it has across the globe.

I work at the British Library for Development Studies, which is the biggest research collection on economic and social development in Europe. Partly funded by the UK Department for International Development for a variety of global projects, we also support the research and postgraduate teaching programmes of the Institute of Development Studies where we’re based. This means that my day to day work is a combination of the local and the global, and being part of a small library team (13 staff) allows me to do a bit of everything.

I’m currently in the role of Repository Coordinator, working with research institutes in Africa and Asia to digitise their publications and make them freely available under a Creative Commons licence via our open access Digital Library. A typical day on this project might involve talking to partner institutes by email about progress, supervising the work of my project assistants on scanning, uploading and metadata creation, and contacting potential new partners. In this role I’ve also been helping to develop and launch our own institutional repository, which is at the stage where I’m doing a lot of promotion, advocacy, training and trouble-shooting! Working on open access projects like these is a new area for me – we certainly didn’t learn about this stuff when I was at library school 8 years ago… But exploring the world of open access has reinforced the importance of libraries in removing barriers to information and participation for developing country researchers, who have been excluded both financially and culturally from traditional scholarly publishing.

My other main role is cataloguing and subject indexing – part of our mission to profile indigenous research and improve access to development information involves creating very rich catalogue records, right down to article level for some journals. The subject headings we use are from a specialised thesaurus and learning enough about each (often unique) item to apply the right subjects is one of the most intellectually stimulating part of my job (although some of our more theoretical econometrics journals can be a little dry if I’m honest…).

Unlike some cataloguing specialists in larger libraries, I also work on the circulation/enquiry desk rota (1 or 2 hour-long shifts in a typical day). I love meeting the students and researchers of the Institute, who come from all over the world and bring an amazing range of experience with them. It’s also very satisfying when I issue a book to a reader who has found it because of my cataloguing efforts! We have a close relationship with each cohort of MA students and I deliver inductions and user support/training throughout the year, offering tailored search skills sessions and advice on information sources.

We also offer various free services to remote users, such as the document delivery service which I help administer. Through an online ordering service I send copies of hard-to-find journal articles, chapters etc to libraries and research organisations in the developing world (costs covered by the Global Development Network). We’ve also started offering a similar service as part of a project building the writing and publishing capacity of climate change researchers in South Asia. Although the scanning and admin involved in this can be time-consuming, it’s really rewarding when I know I’ve made a print article from our shelves available to somebody on the other side of the world.

Other bits and bobs that make up my day to day work include: maintaining physical archive collections, giving tours for visitors, managing our Twitter account and monitoring other social media, assisting with book selection and acquisition, working on funding bids and cross-institute projects, sitting on my trade union branch committee, climbing up ladders in the basement to retrieve obscure UN publications… it’s certainly never boring!