Notes from the second meeting of the Kent Special Collections, Local Area Studies and Archives Forum

Yesterday, I attended the second meeting of Kent Special Collections, Local Area Studies and Archive Forum, which was held at The Historic Dockyard in Chatham. The meeting was preceded by a tour round the new galleries at the dockyard – Command of the Ocean, about the glory days of the British Navy and the ships that made these possible, including a ship whose remains were found buried underneath a floor at the dockyard. It was amazing to see those massive beams of wood lying there after all this time and to think about what adventures they must have seen and experienced as part of the ship. We then walked almost the length of the dockyard (quite a long way) to our meeting.

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The Dockyard Gate

This was my first time meeting most of the people present – there were representatives from the Drill Hall Library at the Universities at Medway campus, Medway Council Archives and Local Studies Centre, and the Historic Dockyard. It was really interesting to hear about what’s happening at other archives/special collections in the area, and useful to be able to talk about our struggles at [my place of work] because it turned out that some of the problems we experience are shared by other places. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised! One particular ‘problem shared’ is that we would like to promote and increase usage of our archives and special collections but at the moment they are not properly housed or cared for (we don’t have the resources in terms of place, human beings or expertise) so we are not really in a position to have people using them on a regular basis. I’m hoping that we will be able to at least try to tackle this problem in the near(ish) future, but it is a bit of a long-term goal at the moment.

Norma from Medway Council shared information about projects going on there: the archives and local studies collections are due to move next spring so they are in a bit of state of limbo at the moment, but they are still putting on exhibitions – the next one starts on 30th June and is about the ‘Men of the Medway Towns in World War One’, focussing on events that took place in 1916 – the Battles of Jutland and the Somme.

The meeting was an excellent way to get to know about other archives and special collections in the area, and we decided that it would be a good idea to perpetuate this knowledge by gathering together information about our archives and special collections into some sort of document, preferably one that be accessed online. Amelia from the Drill Hall Library is going to try to collate this information together and make it available. In addition, we all agreed that it would be good to share projects  – if we all happen to be working on the same topic we can try to work together and share resources so that we’re not duplicating ourselves.

The meeting was followed by a visit to the Dockyard’s archives and library and reading room, which was a lot bigger than I expected! It was a very interesting afternoon and really good to meet fellow special collections people. We are not alone!

FRBR for the Terrified

On Monday, some colleagues and I attended the FRBR  for the Terrified workshop at the University of Kent, Canterbury. It was facilitated by Robin Armstrong Viner, Head of Collection Management at the University of Kent.

Although I’ve been reading a fair bit about RDA (Resources Description and Access) (which is based on FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) principles) over the last couple of years, I haven’t had any training in RDA-related things since we touched on it in the Music Cataloguing for Beginners course I attended in 2011. It was good to have the opportunity to learn about FRBR itself, something with which I wasn’t very familiar at all. I was slightly daunted by it before the session, but, while I still need to make all the information stay in my brain somehow, I feel that I understand it much better now!

The workshop was mainly a PowerPoint presentation, to which I added copious notes, as fast as I could write them down (as is my wont), but we also had a couple of practical exercises to do. I think these were the most helpful parts of the workshop, as we had to really think about and apply the FRBR principles in ‘real life’. I particularly enjoyed the Harry Potter-related task, when we had to arrange cards representing a variety of Harry Potter-related items to their correct part of the “Bibliographic Relationships” table (p. 4 of the PDF).

It was all a good reminder of why I enjoy cataloguing so much. I love the way it makes you think differently about what might be considered normal everyday objects; what they really are, where they’ve come from, their relationships to other things. Learning about FRBR, I found I was having to switch on my ‘cataloguing brain’, which was great!

I don’t know when I will have the opportunity to practically apply what I’ve learned, as it is unlikely that my workplace will be implementing RDA anytime soon; but I was glad to have the opportunity to do some professional development and at least gain some theoretical grounding in these important changes to cataloguing practice.

Thank you to the lovely people at the University of Kent for a most interesting afternoon…not to mention some tasty cake!

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We were given a very useful list of bibliographic references. I won’t include them all, but here are a few links to FRBR and RDA-related readings and resources available online:

I apologise for all the acronyms in this post!

House of art & knowledge

This afternoon a small group of librarians had a little outing to the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge in the fair city of Canterbury. The Beaney, as it’s known for short, is named after Dr James Beaney, a philanthropist and former resident of Canterbury, who left the city a bequest with which to build “an institute for working men.” This became the Beaney Institute and served as Canterbury’s museum of local history and its public library from 1899 until 2009, when it was closed for a major re-development funded by £13,000, 000 of Heritage Lottery Fund money.

The re-developed Beaney continues to house Canterbury’s public library and museum, but also now includes the city’s tourist information office and extended art galleries and also includes space for special exhibitions. Today, we had a guided tour of the building, most of which I’d never been into before. I’d been to the public library and a couple of the gallery spaces, but hadn’t been upstairs to the museum rooms at all.

We started off by going into the library, and looking briefly at the self service machines there. These are RFID -compliant machines, and are used to both issue and return books. If a book is OK to be re-shelved it goes onto a trolley, and if not it goes into a book box/bin to be collected by library staff and dealt with. I did wonder how often things get put on the trolley when they should have gone into the book box, and vice versa!

Next we went upstairs in the library to look at the local studies sections and, interestingly, the registration rooms. As well as performing the usual array of library duties, library staff at the Beaney are now also dealing with registrations of births and deaths, which I must say seems like an odd combination of work, but I’m sure the council(s) know what they’re doing (?)…Anyway, there are little rooms set aside for the registering of births and deaths, and people who formerly worked as registrars are now also employed as library staff. Sadly, the library is not licensed for weddings! Maybe one day…

The local studies sections were quite busy with people – in fact the whole library was bustling – and the rather messy shelves were evidence of the fact that the library is heavily used, a fact backed up by statistics read to us by our guide. I’m afraid I can’t remember the figures at the moment, but they were pretty high, both in terms of visitor numbers and the how many books people borrowed. The local history section contains some fairly old books (1700s) locked away in cabinets, and many books about the local area that I think my mum would like to get her hands on. After the local studies section, we went down into the children’s area, which was free of children at that point, but apparently gets very busy at Baby Rhyme Time – so much so that they have had to increase the number of sessions offered in order to be able to fit everyone in!

Finally in terms of the library area, we looked at the ‘talking books’ and large print books, which are heavily borrowed by sight impaired and blind people; as well as being taken out to housebound folk by library volunteers. I was reminded again what a valuable service public libraries provide.

After looking around the library, we went to have a nose around the staff areas, which are in the basement. I must admit I felt rather sorry for the staff, but at least they have a few home comforts  – a small kitchen and a place to eat lunch (although I wouldn’t blame them if they’d rather go outside). Then, we went upstairs and had a look at the two gallery rooms at the front of the building. These house a variety of paintings and drawings. I particularly like the large cow painting by Thomas Sidney Cooper, the sheep drawing by Henry Moore (in the Garden Room) and a drawing by a local artist I really wish I could remember the name of (in the Front Room). I’ll have to go in and look at it again.

We then went upstairs to look at the other gallery and museum rooms. They are all full of fascinating, and sometimes bizarre, things, e.g. a mummified cat in the Ancient Egypt display. I particularly liked the Drawing Room, which houses displays of paper- and book-based art. There were some intriguing items in there that I’m planning to go back and look at when I have more time. However, I think the highlight of the gallery/museum space was the charming, interesting and amusing temporary exhibition Through the Magic Mirror: The World of Anthony Browne – and we got to see it for free, which was a bonus.

And that was the end of our visit! The Beaney is most definitely a fine example of a house of art and knowledge, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in Canterbury. And of course, it contains lots and lots (and lots) of lovely, amazing and interesting books that you can borrow – free! Sometimes I am slightly overwhelmed by the brilliance of public libraries.