Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Mice or Lions?

We are constantly being told that the library is the heart of the school, the key to learning, good qualified librarians are vital to the progress and advancement of the educational vision of the country, but who is saying this? Is it just the polemic of closeted librarians sitting in their echo chamber repeating the same thing over and over again to their own audience with a few celebrities and authors waxing lyrical about the joy of reading and their fond memories of libraries as a source of inspiration. So why isn’t the message getting through to the schools and colleges who seem to be hell bent on chipping away at the priceless resource that they possess. Undermining their own foundation and leaving a hollow space. If we want an outstanding label for our institution, don’t we need an outstanding library?
There seems to be little awareness of what an incredible resource the library represents. How we can support independent learning, improve engagement, improve attainment, provide a safe place, boost literacy.  
We have huge resources in terms of print and online resources and staff with the skills to assist with the use of these resources.
 There is a gulf between the library and the chalk face. How can we bridge this gulf?

Partly I think it is a failure of communication and librarians are probably not completely innocent in this. There is a tendency to hide away in our libraries, not necessarily connecting with teaching staff or management staff if we can possibly avoid it. We are a strange hybrid, the students see us as staff, the staff see us as technicians who stamp books. We might see ourselves as the custodians of knowledge and the facilitators of research, but that is not the image we present to the world. Self-promotion does not come easy to us, but it is something we need to learn. Especially if we are to protect the precious asset of the school library from the eroding tides of cost cutting and rationalization. Librarians are not naturally charismatic, we don’t stand out, if anything we prefer to hide, like library mice. (I know there are exceptions to this, I am really talking about myself here). But what is needed in this current environment is not mice, but lions! 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Future of Libraries in an Electronic Age

Can libraries continue to function and serve their purpose as a repository of knowledge and a heart of research in a digital age? Why use books when you can Google it? Why come to a physical place called a library when you can access the internet from the comfort of your PC? These are the kind of questions being asked of the library service at the current time and I will try to answer them according to my own knowledge and experience.
Libraries, as learning resource centres, are responsible for the provision of resources of all kinds. Increasingly these resources are digital. It is vital for library staff to be conversant with these.  As well as an impressive collection of print resources, in the ENSFC library we have 18 computers. These carry the potential to access vast amounts of information. However there are dangers inherent in this boundless access to knowledge. It is not just a question of quantity of available information, but its quality and reliability. Most people are aware of the limitations of Wikipedia. It is often the first point of call when researching a subject, but how far can such a resource be trusted? How many students are tempted just to cut and paste (maybe altering the wording a little bit in the belief they will get away with it). It is partly the librarian’s task to educate students about the nature of information available and how they can learn to assess its worth. Google something and you can be swamped in an ocean of references most of which will be irrelevant, some will be misleading, in the often vain hope of finding a glint of gold in the bottom of the pan. Librarians can provide the guidance needed to get authoritative, useful materials without drowning in a sea of irrelevancies.
Part of a librarian’s task is in selecting and enabling student’s access to the most trusted and reliable sources available. By providing this service the Learning Resources Centre becomes a place where students can start their research from a strong position. The Moodle library page is becoming a useful portal to a range of paid for resources  including The Oxford English Dictionary online, The Times digital archives 1785-1985, Infotrac  newspapers, Up to date issues  statistics for the social sciences, Philip Allan Update review magazine to support a range of A level subjects, and free resources such as  including 3000 eBooks through  the Jisc ebooks for FE project ebray, and  which allows access to literally millions of scholarly papers. I have recently added a link to an Open University resource called “being digital” which offers good step by step advice on using the internet for research and the values and pitfalls of social networking.  New resources are continuously being added as they become available. In some ways the problem now is not the quantity of quality resources, but in enabling students to structure their research questions to make best use of what is available.
One area in which the print resources of the library excel is in the matter of art materials. We have a large collection of big format art and photography books which are in constant use. However, the internet can also give access to a huge number of visual resources. Another link I have just added onto the library Moodle page is the – giving access to over 184 collections many from major museums and art galleries. You can view them on your screen in fantastic detail or even walk the corridors street view style (but without the crowds).
Academic libraries are places where students can work in a supportive environment where excessive noise and disruptive behaviour is discouraged .Libraries; especially academic libraries have always been places where individuals can receive guidance as to how to access the information they need.

The future
What I have just described isn’t the future, it is the present. Libraries are changing and it is vitally important that we embrace change and the huge new possibilities and opportunities which are presenting themselves.
Primarily we need to ensure that the students receive training in the use of information services. They need to be well versed and familiar with the dangers and pitfalls of relying on poorly referenced materials gleaned from the internet. They need to know where to go to find accurate and reliable data, correctly cite their sources and avoid plagiarism.
Also students need to know how to structure their research so they are not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material available.
We must be open to the use of social networking applications. This may be controversial and there are strong arguments on both sides. Many feel that social networking is largely negative in an educational setting, merely providing distraction from the tasks in hand. Therefore access to face book and twitter are often blocked on college computers. However, it is important to be open to the positive aspects of social networking that the value of collaborative working and research. It is clearly an area about which there will continue to be a great deal of discussion in coming years. I use both applications to keep up to date with news of book awards, specific authors, literary events and news and innovations in the learning resources sector.  I follow other librarians and information professionals and subscribe to several blogs which provide useful ideas and suggestions from the experience of others in this sector. Useful and entertaining news items often find their way to the Moodle book news forum.
We must also be open to including more eBooks in our collection. The ebray is a trusted source for nonfiction, but perhaps we should consider sourcing more fiction books online?  I have included a link to on our library page and read an interesting article recently about the use of kindles in a school’s library to encourage reluctant readers. This remains an area of debate. However I am deeply committed to the promotion of literacy and anything which supports reading is to be encouraged.
Books are not dead; they are merely a part of the resources the library provides.

 “The evidence continues to accumulate that libraries – and their librarians – lie absolutely at the heart of 3rd millennium learning organisations: a place for scholarship, a place to escape into adventures, a place of discovery, a place to share and explore, a place for deep thought, a place for surprise and above all a place without limits. The best schools have libraries at their centres not as some sad throwback to an earlier age but as a clear and evocative prototype of what ambitious learning might look like in this century of learning.”
 Professor Stephen Heppell (quoted in )
Pam Riley
Learning Resources Coordinator
East Norfolk Sixth Form College

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Starting a Book Club and Creative Writing Group

Starting a Reading and Writing Group in a Sixth form College

Why do it in the first place?

Was it:
  • ·        Part of a well-planned literacy strategy based on research and well known educational values?
  • ·        Response to requests from students for such a club in keeping with the college’s policy on promoting extra curricular societies?
  • ·        Just for fun?

I do ask myself the same question.

The notion of a well-planned literacy strategy is a slight exaggeration. I have plans, but putting them into practice has not always turned out as I might have wished. I must declare my self-interest. It isn't worth getting into something which is not mandatory unless you are going to enjoy it. I am super lucky; propagating my obsession is actually part of my job. It is why I am a librarian. Running a book group actually gives me the right to talk about the amazing books I get in for others to enjoy. Once I made it clear that I could get books in on request, some students became my best friends. I helped them by providing the next big YA thing or manga, or whatever, and they helped me to build up an exciting and varied collection of relevant fiction to appeal to a wide range of young people.

There was another stream, the writers. The original idea for a creative writing group came about for a few reasons. I was once approached by a shy student who told me she had finished writing a book and didn't know what to do with it. At the time I pointed her in the direction of the writers and artists handbook of which we had a very out of date copy, but felt my response had been inadequate. I know from experience how difficult it must have been for her to ask me, as if writing a book is confessing to a crime. Then I asked students in a library user’s survey, to suggest activities that they would like to see in the library. The responses included a number of requests for both a reading and a creative writing group. I also discovered a battered copy of a home produced anthology produced by a creative writing group a few years previously, it had been done before..

It was clear to me that students with a desire to pursue creative writing would benefit from having a space where they could come and share their passion without fear of ridicule and discouragement. I was unsure as to how it would work out and whether we would have one group for readers and one for writers and even if we would have enough interest to sustain either or both.

 I launched the idea with trepidation and not much hope, as my attempt to set up something the year before had completely flopped. I advertised a lunchtime meeting in the cupboard-come meeting room tucked away behind the issue desk and settled myself in to wait for someone, or no one to turn up.

To my amazement, they did. We had to move the meeting into the main library and I took 18 names at the initial meeting, with several others sending apologies but expressing interest. I had 23 students interested in either a book group, or creative writing group or both. I was amazed and scared. How would I choose what we did? I didn't want it to turn into an extra lesson; I had envisioned a small lunchtime club with its content and direction dictated by its members.

I managed to get the use of a classroom close to the LRC which had a screen and computer if I wanted to show any youtube clips or film trailers. We started as a joint reading and writing group but after a while it was obvious that the groups had very distinct aims and we split into two, the writing group meeting every Friday and the reading group meeting on alternate Tuesdays (to give a chance to finish the chosen books)

Reading Group.

The first issue was book selection. It was important that this come from the students. I had some vague ideas about shadowing major literary prizes such as Man Booker, or even the Carnegie, but in the end I left it open to the group. I asked them to write down the books that they would like to see in the book group, either books they had read which they would happily recommend to others or books they would like to read. I went through the list and identified the books mentioned more than once. The first list was as follows:

·        The Hobbit -Tolkien
·        The Book Thief - Marcus Zukas
·        The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
·        Dancing Jax - Robin Jarvis
·        Divergent - Veronica Roth

We met every two weeks, the numbers did decline but that was expected. I had made it clear from the outset that I did not want the program to become a burden and they were welcome to dip in and out as their coursework allowed. It has settled to a comfortable, variable half dozen and we are now embarking on the second selection again selected by the group members:
  • ·        The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  • ·        Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough
  • ·        Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
  • ·        The Woman in Black- Susan Hill
  • ·        Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  • ·        The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

I am in the process of setting up a forum on Moodle to allow the group members another way of discussing the books. I am asking them to give each book a rating (1-5). Where 1 is rubbish and 5 is brilliant so that at the end of the year we can announce the college book club winner.


I am delighted with the success of this small group but with some reservations.
I have provided a friendly, non-threatening lunchtime club for committed bibliophiles, but am very much aware that this could be seen as a relatively exclusive, even privileged group.
It does not constitute a literacy policy. I am not reaching reluctant readers. I am aware of this and am aiming to expand to develop a more positive outreach, using schemes such as the six book challenge. I already have contact with a couple of manga fans who are helping me develop a small collection. Quite apart from my book club members, my policy of getting books in on demand has led to me buying in a lot of popular dark romances, and middle range fantasies aimed at boys such as the Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford and the One Piece Manga series by Eiichiro Oda. This has certainly won me some friends even if the choices may not seem too intellectually demanding. My policy is always primarily to encourage reading for pleasure.

The Creative Writing Group

This was the most challenging project from my point of view and I have relied heavily on suggestions from the students themselves. Two of the group had already been members of a creative writing group at their previous school. Some of them have also tried nanowrimo and one is a member of a creative writing group at a local public library which has provided useful contacts.  It has been a steep learning curve. All I had to guide me has been my enthusiasm, writing workshops from the UEA creative writing course and materials from the web. We meet weekly, up to half a dozen members with some overlap with the book group.
We do short workshops and each week there is an opportunity for a member to share something, but this is not compulsory and my aim is to help the members build their confidence to the point they feel able to do so.  I see it as a kind of writer’s self-help group.
 I did start with the hope that we might produce an anthology, but currently I am happy if the participants are enjoying the group, having the opportunity to discuss different approaches to creative writing and experimenting with the workshop activities. Each member is encouraged to bring a notebook and regard the workshop activities as a way of building up a reference of starting points which they could build on at home if they felt they wanted to.
Again, we have a small friendly lunchtime club. Whether it is benefiting their future literary aspirations I have no idea. I hope it is at least helping them to build their confidence in their art.
Both groups are experimental. I am hoping to build on them to create a more student centered community in the LRC. Two members are now doing a small amount of work experience in the library and we are planning on some events for book week in March.

Hopefully I will be able to report on more reading and writing activities over the next few months. Please comment, or post suggestions.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

recent reads

I am currently reading les miserables. I started reading it after seeing the film because I realised how ignorant I was of the original. I am unexpectedly hooked, just making me realise what a fantastic creative job the writers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg did in adapting it to a stage musical and subsequent film. The atmosphere and flavour of France at a time of upheaval and the interior life of the key characters makes compelling reading. I found my understanding of the emotion and conflict expressed so eloquently in the songs and music of the film was greatly enhanced by reading the book. If you enjoyed the film, try the Victor Hugo original, you will not be disappointed.  

Monday, 28 May 2012


Thing 3
It was interesting to revisit this area a year later. I Googled myself and found myself along with lots of other Pam Riley’s. I didn’t find anything too worrying fortunately; I haven’t had a miss spent youth on Facebook. Although I have identified another Pam Riley in the UK library world in North Wales which I suppose could give rise to some confusion. I maintain that online presence is not something you can design, it evolves from who you are.  

Why Blog?

Why Blog?

I started blogging last year as a result of CPD23. My experience over the last year has been mixed. My main problem has been trying to decide what I have to contribute? I am a lowly library assistant in a sixth form college library working alongside staff who have been here for years, but are not “ into” the library professional world. I have registered for chartership and have a mentor in another college but contact is limited because of work load. I must confess I do feel a little isolated. I also subscribe to the east of England cilip group but most activities seem to be based in Cambridge. I attended a portfolio workshop there but it is a bit of a trek. Why does nothing ever happen in Norwich? Also I did not find blogging produced a waterfall of useful and friendly contacts I had hoped for. I am mostly to blame for this. I have not been reading and commenting on enough blogs, and my tagging has probably been less than it should be. Also I realised that I wanted to blog about things other than library, and felt it was important to make a clear distinction so that people who just want library stuff don’t have to plough through my accounts of youth activity holidays, being the parent of an autistic child, church stuff, what my dog has been up to … you know the kind of thing – that is why I renamed my blog (Pam’s Library Blog) with the intention of starting other more focused blogs on other areas when I get round to it. 


·         Good way of focussing thoughts and clarifying ideas.
·         Read many interesting and informative blogs


·         Too many blogs out there already, can mine contribute anything new? Often feel as if I am dropping words into an ocean, or talking to myself. 


I can see the potential in blogging even if it is just a way of keeping a record of what I am doing in my own library and my career development. If it is useful to other people, then so be it. If not, then it is still useful to me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dewey Mashup


Cataloguing mash up in a sixth form college library

Currently in our library we have an "evolved" system. Basically we use Dewey but try to adapt to increase usability and access to resources. So I suppose we could be described as having a mash up - relying on signage to help students browse creatively but having the Dewey numbers to help locate specific texts. Inevitably there are conflicts but hopefully the system is working and we are always open to suggestions from staff and students.

Non Dewey

Reference Section

We have a reference section containing encyclopaedias, large format reference books and Big Dictionaries – these are classified according to Dewey but located in a separate section (partly for practical reasons due to the physical size of some of these books)


Fiction is classified alphabetically by author. Over the last two years we have been experimenting with genre and sub-genre groupings on rotating book displays to encourage browser uptake. I would say this has been successful in encouraging the leisure readership although inevitably any attempt to classify books in genre is fraught with problems.  I tend to work on the idea of what is the first thing you think about when you see this book. Is it a crime thriller or a historical novel? The problem is that many books could easily fit under several headings.
 We have tried to be led by our clientele and as a result we have teased out Dark Romance (Twilight and similar stories), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Youth Fiction (Young Adult ), Chick Lit, Graphic Novels and Horror.  We already had separate sections for quick reads and short stories. This is a work in progress and I am sure we get it wrong frequently but hopefully it will encourage browsers to find the kind of book they enjoy easily. The rest stay in the main collection if they do not fit comfortably into a genre.

Coloured Stickers

Careers and Higher Education Shelves – Green Stickers
Located in its own area this is particularly necessary as Dewey often tends to put careers books into individual subject areas which not easy for careers browsers.
Staff Development Shelves – Lilac Stickers
Here we place books bought for staff use which if we were ruled by Dewey would be scattered all-over the library. These include books and materials on teacher training, class management, class planning, special needs and the use of VLE for lesson planning.
 Self-Development and Study Skills Shelf – Orange Stickers
This shelf carries everything from memory training, stress management, study skills advice; self-help guides and is invaluable in the exam season but often hidden away in psychology or other places.

Alphabetical Shelves

 Biography and autobiography are shelved together alphabetically with a distinctive spine sticker. We also have a rotating book display for recent or topical biographies
Books about individual artists are shelved alphabetically under the single number 759. The books have a yellow alphabetical sticker on the spine
Photographers are likewise shelved alphabetically under 779 with alphabetical white stickers on the spin.
Poetry at 821, again alphabetically arranged as are playwrights at 822 with the exception of Shakespeare who has a whole area to himself
Graphic Artists are currently arranged alphabetically with a silver spine sticker 741
Fashion Designers are currently being arranged alphabetically at 746.92 with a pale pink sticker

Now to Dewey

Some subjects group well in Dewey, some do not. When you are trying to make the library stock as accessible as possible to students it is sometimes preferable to group subject areas in such a way that they can browse. Most people prefer to browse, unless they have been given a specific title to find or are well into academic research. As such it has been necessary to compromise adherence to the strict tenets of Dewey to a certain extent. Obviously some of our students will eventually go on to higher education where grounding in Dewey will be advantageous but we have to balance that with the demands of our intake.  Most of the teenagers who come to our college are not habitual library users and are often put off by the library image of exclusivity and rigid behaviour. This is something we are trying to counter be creating an atmosphere which is open, friendly and accessible and for it to be obvious where different books can be found. For this reason we have tried to create clear signs and maps and are working on developing a lively and entertaining library induction for all students and staff. It is something we are trying to develop and expand to try to overcome the barriers to using the library. We also try to encourage use of the VLE which also gives the students direct access to the library catalogue and a considerable number of eBooks and other online resources.


Trying to combine Dewey with a browsing system is a challenge to ensure that resources are easy to find. A confusion of systems can make for miss shelving and students searching for books by number when they are stickered.

Solution- Clear labelling

Some Dewey categories are not used, mainly because we hardly ever have any books falling within the categories and it is easier to group them with books with a user group which includes them. An example of this is manufacturing. Usually books in this category have been ordered by the design department and for that reason fit better in 745 or there about, rather than 620.
We try to accommodate members of teaching staff and help them to encourage library use among their students but occasionally there is conflict. Occasionally they consider part of the library to be their exclusive domain and want to dictate their own system. Such situations require careful negotiation or total chaos can ensue.  One example of this was the public services section which was scattered around 363, whereas most of the students involved were also the main users of books on outdoor pursuits. As a result all books connected with public services are now automatically shelved at 796.
Some categories have been changed or simplified to reflect the size and focus of our collections. The head of psychology had very specific headings which she wanted represented in the shelving of psychology books. This did not always tie up with the Dewey designations for those books but made more sense to her students and the modules she was teaching so we compromised.
As a result of this we have developed a Library Cataloguing Guide to clarify the system we use in our Library and help guide other staff if they are involved in classification of stock. It is under constant review as we spot historical inconsistencies or see ways in which it can be improved. I have included a copy of its current form. (3)
I have also included links to two articles I found useful and interesting when researching this. The Glade system developed at Darien Public Library as described by Barbara Fister in the Library Journal (1) and the news story in the Chicago Tribune (2). Both describe situations which seem to show Dewey as out-moded, especially in a public library scenario. I work in the world of education at a sixth form college where we have the dual pressures of wanting to make the library accessible and easy to use whilst also introducing students to the more rigorous demands of  higher education research. For these a familiarity with Dewey Decimal System is a necessary discipline. It is a bit of a balancing act and requires constant monitoring of the needs and requirements of both staff and students.

1. The Dewey Dilema. Fister, Barbera. 12/01/2009, s.l. : Library Journal.
2. Who's killing the Dewey decimal system? McCoppin, Robert:. s.l. : Chicago Tribune 18/02/2011, 2011. 2.
3. Library Cataloguing Guide. Riley, Pamela. 2012.


If you have any suggestions for a lively and entertaining library induction which would be suitable for 16+ students I would be very grateful. Also if you have any other comments on cataloguing I would also welcome them (just please don’t send the Dewey police!)