British Library Day Ten: Odd Jobs and BIPC

05/07/2013

The meeting I was supposed to attend in the morning had been cancelled or rescheduled, and so I did a bit of ordering for Lynn in the morning in between sessions working on my presentation. Lynn is slowly trying to track down some books which have gone missing. During some office spring cleaning, a box was found with many ‘missing item’ forms which had never been followed up. This box was from before the move into the St Pancras building, and some of the forms date back to 1985.

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The Midnight Zoo – Sonya Hartnett

Published 2010

Sonya Hartnett is well regarded as one of Australia’s literary treasures, so it may come as a surprise to learn that before now I had never been able to finish one of her books. The Midnight Zoo is set in what is probably World War One, though the conflict is never specifically named, and follows two Romany brothers, Andrej and Tomas, as they with their infant sister stumble into a demolished village. Untouched by bombing, the only structure left in the town is a zoo, and the children’s story of loss and uncertainty is soon paralleled by that of the animals they come to befriend.

Much of the story is told through vivid flashbacks, recollections or dream sequences, which somehow seem to ground the work at the same time as emphasising those elements which give it the feel of a modern day fable. The boys’ separation from their parents is especially vivid amongst the backdrop of a zoo full of talking animals.

Hartnett folds the more fantastical elements of the novel into the story seamlessly. The reader doesn’t question the existence of these things, especially in a world which has already been turned upside down, although I do question the wisdom of introducing the ‘horseman of night’ when he doesn’t do anything except interrupt the narration occasionally.

This novel has an incredibly deft touch with prose. The language is smooth, and lyrical and the story simple, yet effective. Though the novel does use some vocabulary which may be tricky for more inexperienced readers, it just begs to be read aloud.

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Airman – Eoin Colfer

So during my last semester at university I decided to do a class on recreational literature for young people. One of the major assignment was to keep a reading journal of ten young adult/children’s books. They list of books had to have been published 2008 or later unless permission was granted, and I needed to have some internal theme  or guideline to what I was picking. I decided I wanted to read books with boy protagonists, as I felt I hadn’t read many in a while. I’ll be posting the small reviews in dribs and drabs, but here is the first*: ‘Airman’ by Eoin Colfer.

Eoin Colfer’s ‘Count of Monte Cristo’-like offering is as different from his famed Artemis Fowl series as chalk is to cheese. Set at the turn of the 20th century, in the middle of man’s race to flight, the novel follows young Conor Broekhart. Raised alongside the Princess of the tiny island sovereignty he lives in, Conor and his tutor are obsessed with cracking the secret to machine powered flight. This idyllic life is shattered completely when the King is murdered, and Conor framed for the crime. Sentenced to life imprisonment on the notorious island prison and diamond mine of Little Saltee, the only way Conor can survive is by dreaming of his escape, and planning his first flight.

It took me a few pages to adjust to the language in the novel, which has an authentic, almost formal feel to correspond with the time it is set.  Colfer’s writing also includes some delightfully witty turns of phrase, which provoked a smile even in some of the most dreadful and dire situations.

Our dashing hero is really put through the ringer in this story, and yet his cleverness and tenacity make the reader love him even more.  Conor is a nuanced and carefully fleshed out character, and though he doesn’t always make the right decisions you really ache for him to win, even if winning means running away. Even the criminals of the piece are well drawn, and perhaps could have gotten away with their crimes had they not been blind to their own fatal flaws.

Perhaps this book is appropriate for more experienced readers than its placement in the junior (younger children) section of the library would suggest, due to the complicated vocabulary and frankly grim prison scenes, however I could see a precocious younger reader enjoying the book as well.

I really could not be more impressed with this book if I tried, especially given it was an impulse read.

*The first as listed in my diary, but I arranged them alphabetically and now can’t remember what order I actually read the books in.

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British Library Day Nine: Shadowing, Aleph presentation, Collection Support

04/07/2013

This morning I was with Paul again, this time in Science 3. I should note that the number refers to the floor level, not the number of reading rooms the area holds; so science has a reading room on level two and a reading room on level three. This reading room was supposed to be a little busier, as apparently it is common for Thursday to be ‘Chemistry Day’ meaning a lot of researchers come in about chemistry. Unfortunately we didn’t have even one query while we were up there.

Instead, Paul discussed a reader order from the day before, which had failed because the item couldn’t be found. This was most likely an error with data (apparently a common issue, with different people treating objects differently in the system etc), but the patron was sent to the medical library down the road for a copy of what they were after.

They’d also finally found the book that patron from last week was looking for and put it aside.

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British Library Day Eight: Asian and African Studies and Social Sciences

03/07/2013

I started today in the Asian and African reading room. Lynn wasn’t there in the morning so I made the executive decision to take myself down, and when Paul went past I asked him which floor the room was on. He kindly took me down there. Hedley, the manager of the reading room, showed me around. The room is small compared to some of the others, with only 90 seats (though I think the maps room might be smaller) and it is long and skinny. Another thing differentiating the Asian and African reading room from the others is the presence of art and ephemera in the room. There are portraits  on the walls ,and ornamental boxes, as well as model ships (yay, ships!).

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British Library Day Seven: The Basement and Maps and Manuscripts

02/07/2013

I got in this morning a bit too early for my session, and so did a bit of spreadsheet work for Lynn before it was time to go down to one of the basements. The spreadsheet was tracking physical reader numbers over the month and I just had to copy data, but it was good to learn that the library keeps track of these things. At 9.45 Lynn took me downstairs to meet Vince, who was going to look after me in basement 2. I got signed in (because it is a special area so they need records for security, and for fire safety). The basement is perhaps even more maze-like than the offices.

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British Library Day Six: Science Reference and Office Work

01/07/2013

When I got in this morning there was a note on my desk saying the schedule had changed and I was now working in the social sciences team, and that Claire would take me across. The plan changed again just as I was ready to go down, and I ended up in the science reading room again. The team was a bit understaffed today, so there was the thought I might be able to answer some queries myself – a bit exciting, and a bit nerve-wracking.

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