British Library Day One: Orientation

My last post promised updates on my student placement at the British Library (which, to answer many questions on the subject is not just ‘a library in Britain’ but the national library).

Posting had been delayed due to my initial concerns about mentioning people without their express permission (was told this is ok if not mentioning their surname), and later, wanting to make sure my work was graded before I posted. Finally, of course, I was just bogged down in all my homework, but I shall endeavor to post the diary up now, with a bit of a delay between each post. I really enjoyed the experience, and it has definitely fueled my passion towards my future career. Below is my account of my first day.

I was a bit unsure about my schedule on the first day, and thus turned up an hour and half earlier than expected. My supervisor Lynn came down to get me and gave me a mini tour while we were waiting for security to be ready for me. She seems lovely, and hadn’t scheduled too much for me today because she hadn’t known if I would be jetlagged, and also didn’t want me to get information overload.

This turned out to be a good thing, because stress about my placement the night before (and noise) had given me a pretty bad sleep, and I was (discretely) yawning all through the occupational health and safety briefing. I got my security pass at the end of it, with no picture because I’m not staying long enough, and headed back up to the science department. I can see it’s going to take me a little time to learn how to fully navigate places, but that’s ok because people seem willing to lend me a hand.

I shadowed the science reference desk until lunchtime, which essentially meant putting on an observer badge and watching them deal with what few queries came along. Leslie was looking after me at the desk, and in the hour/hour-and-a-half I was there only 4 queries came in – two of which Richard took. Leslie gave me a brief overview of some of the resources the catalogue holds, and the services provided, and we discussed a range of topics including the changing nature of the industry.

Lynn asked Richard to escort me to the lunch room, and we had a chat over sandwiches. He, like many of the staff have been working at the library for a long time (over 30 years in his case!) proving a very small staff turnover – however everyone seems to be concerned about the ongoing budget cuts which keep being enforced by the government. So far it hasn’t seemed to affect staffing; just resources, but it may only be a matter of time. This is especially troubling when one takes into account the ailing state of public libraries in the nation, and the fact that what was once a library of last-resort may one day become the only library (if you’ll excuse my dramatics). In recent years, the library had loosened its reader requirements and the influx of students, especially, has some more prestigious clients complaining. This has prompted the library to think about restricting the requirements again, but may leave some researchers without a place to go. I can see they will be in a tough position in years to come.

After lunch, Lynn showed me some of the disability equipment, including text to voice equipment, specialised keyboards, and magnifying/text enhancement devices. I was pretty impressed with this, and couldn’t help but think of someone I used to be friends with, and who is probably completely blind at this stage. I hope he has access to things like this at home.

Since we’d gotten ahead of schedule with my early arrival, Lynn and I had a chat up her office for a bit, then she let me leave early as there was nothing left for me to do.


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