Yesterday, we went to Oxford for the afternoon for a library trainees reunion. It’s now just over ten years since we began our traineeships in various libraries in Oxford, so we thought this year would be a good time to finally try and re-convene. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to track down everyone, and some people couldn’t come, but a few of us gathered to eat cream teas (or pizza, or an interesting mixture of both) and go to the pub. It was a nice, nostalgic, afternoon and lovely to see people again.
I’ve spent almost all day putting new book orders onto the library system. Needless to say, it’s not been a very exciting day! I managed to catalogue two things – one score and one short loan photocopy. I also spent some time on the desk, attempting to help people, but otherwise I was sat at my computer typing in orders. Meanwhile, the hill of boxes in our office grows ever larger. It’s now piling up further along the window. I worry that one day we will go in to work and find that we can no longer see out of the window due to the mountain of boxes blocking the view.
I believe we have until the end of the week to put all the orders on the system, and then, presumably, we will have to start opening and emptying all those boxes, which means lots of invoicing ahead for the bibliographic team, and probably not much cataloguing for me for a while. I don’t really want to think about how much cataloguing will be piling up in the meantime, and then there’s the periodicals, who are assistant-less unless I can escape from the orders and the invoicing and the cataloguing as I still haven’t been replaced (I know that sounds odd, but hopefully you know what I mean). One of the pool staff has been stepping in when he can, but he still hasn’t been given the right permissions on the system to be able to do the job properly!
It’s all rather frustrating. But still, it’s only work and there are more important things in life, after all.
I’m not entirely sure if it’s still the holidays, the beginning of term or exam time – or possibly all three of those at once, but the Shiny New Learning Centre has been awash with students and, more to the point in this case, books for the past week.
On Tuesday, we arrived to find the returns machine, which I think I’m going to start calling the Machine of Doom, had stopped working (probably due to being too full of books) shortly after all the library staff left for the long Easter weekend. Hence, we saw before us a room full of full bins*, which then became a room full of full trolleys and bins as we decanted all the books on to trolleys, but as fast as we could do this the bins filled up again with more people returning books…Then we also had to check that all the books that had been put through the returns chute (which security staff are supposed to open when the Machine of Doom stops working and their are no library staff around) – this meant checking them all by hand in case anyone had incurred fines due to the MoD (sorry) being out of order (although we forgot this at first and merrily put them into the MoD before we realised, but we had the receipts so we can check through if there are any queries) and then we completely ran out of trolleys and had to resort to dumping books in the bins until we could do enough shelving to free up some trolleys…and so on. It was a bit like a labour of Hercules. Well, not quite, but it felt like it at the time when we could see no end in sight and people just kept on returning books. It was not fun.
It calmed down a bit today and we now have some free trolleys. Hoorah! Sorry, this post is probably rather boring and meaningless to anyone who doesn’t work in a library. It may well also be boring and meaningless to anyone who does!
The library has been full of people – to the grim, as my mum would say. This is good, but not when they leave lots of mess and books everywhere and we have to try to tidy it up when we don’t have enough time or people to do this properly. Also, the e-library (online resources) is a bit broken.**
Also, it is That Time of Year, when all the books people have ordered come in at once – or at least that’s how it seems. There are so many boxes of new books in our office we could build a very decent fort if we put our minds to it. I’ve been doing things with invoices and cataloguing books today. I hadn’t done much with invoices until yesterday, so I hope I’ve been doing it right! There are many DVDs to catalogue. They take quite a long time to do, although I’m getting faster at doing them. I just have to remember the ‘h’ sub-field and it will all be OK. Maybe.
*Returned books go into the machine on a conveyor belt and are sorted into bins (which are the same as potato farmers use for putting potatoes in, or so I’ve heard) depending on which floor they belong on and then put on trolleys and taken up to the floors.
**It’s actually fine once you get into it, but to do this you have to click on a link that says it’s not secure, which no-one sensible would usually do, and did anyone tell students or non-library staff about this until this afternoon after it had been like this for several days? Erm…
Today, I had planned to do several things when I got into work. Unfortunately, I didn’t do them and instead spent most of the morning looking for missing books. Some of the books are ones that people say they have returned but are still on people’s records and we can’t find them anywhere in the library, one was a book that is on a person’s record but she says she never took it out and then there are the other ones that should be on the shelf, according to the catalogue, but are nowhere to be found.
Where do all these books go? In some cases the books people swear they returned ages ago are miraculously found when they receive an invoice for a replacement copy of the book, but there are still some cases where I believe the person genuinely has returned the book and it’s just vanished without it ever being taken off their record. Staff error can be blamed for the books not being returned properly, but then where do the books go? Regarding the books that are marked on the catalogue as being on the shelf but can’t be found in the library, these, too, were often there all along and someone just hasn’t looked properly. But there are also genuine mysteries of missing books that are never solved. Could there be a library equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle somewhere out there?
Another odd thing that has been happening recently is that CDs and DVDs have been found to be missing from their cases. This does, of course, occasionally happen if people forget or ‘forget’ to put them back in the case before returning them, but last year we came across about two instances of this in the whole year. I know because they sat in my pending tray for months. This year, during the past few weeks alone, we have had about ten different CDs or DVDs go missing from their cases. The weird thing is that the cases have to be opened in order for the person working on the issue desk to return the item, so surely they would notice then that the disc is missing. But some of these missing discs are only discovered to be missing when some poor person wants to take them out on loan. It is strange and rather frustrating.
Talking of looking for things, I also spent too much of my lunch hour looking for my line manager. Why is it that managers are never there when you need them but appear all too readily when you would rather they were miles away? Humph. Oh well, at least it’s Friday.
1. Do you remember learning to read? How old were you?
No, I don’t remember learning to read, but then again I don’t remember much about my early childhood. I think I vaguely remember my mum reading stories to me at bedtime and I remember that at my second primary school the reading scheme was based on characters called Johnny Red Hat and Billy Blue Hat and some other people wearing coloured hats, possibly.
2. What do you find most challenging to read?
I must admit that I am still intimidated by very long books. I find it harder to motivate myself to read them, for some reason, whether or not the language is particularly difficult. Books that I haven’t chosen to read, such as recommended reading for a course or books that have been on the 800s trolley that I would never have chosen to read otherwise.
3. What are your library habits?
I work in one! I occasionally borrow books from libraries other than the one that I work in, but mainly I borrow books from the Library of Doom. It’s convenient, what can I say? I am not a very good borrower and often incur fines, which I pay. Sometimes. My classic moment as a Bad Borrower was when I borrowed a book on How To Improve Your Memory and forgot to take it back!
4. Have your library habits changed since you were younger?
Yes, I suppose so, especially in that I didn’t work in one when I was younger! My mum made sure that both I and my brother became members of our local library as soon as we were old enough to do so, so we used to borrow books regularly, as far as I can recall. We used to take part in the summer reading schemes at the library. I remember one that was to do with the Aztecs, which I found quite exciting at the time!
5. How has blogging changed your reading life?
Well, I suppose once I told people about reading things on the 800s trolley I committed myself to that, so blogging has changed my reading habits in that way.
6. What percentage of your books do you get from new book stores, second hand book stores, the library, online exchange sites, online retailers, other?
Oh, dear, a maths question. Erm…New book stores, 25%, second hand book stores, 10%, the library 80%, online exchange, 0%, online retailers, 30%. Oops, that adds up to more than 100% doesn’t it? Well, you get the idea and I’m too tired to work it out properly.
7. How often do you read a book and not review it on your blog? What are your reasons for not blogging about a book?
Quite a lot.
I don’t always have very much to say about a book I’ve read and even if I do I find it difficult to express my opinions in a way that means that other people will actually understand what I’m trying to say. I’m not very good at giving my opinion about anything like that (films, books, music), really. If you ask me about something and I liked it I’ll usually say it was good. This could mean anything from ‘I thought it was wonderful’ to ‘I thought it was OK’. Not very helpful, I’m sure you’ll agree. In some ways, I find it easier to say why I didn’t like something, but I don’t really like to talk about things I don’t like in my blog because I think I whinge about things too much anyway and I’m afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. Yes, I am oversensitive. Or something.
8. What are your pet peeves about the way people treat books?
Leaving them face down and open is a very bad thing to do. Sometimes I can almost hear the poor book squealing with pain as its spine breaks. Sticking things inside them that should never go anywhere near a book is also a cardinal sin. Bending down the corners, writing in them (although I did this to a great extent during my A Levels), I could go on…
9. Do you ever read for pleasure at work?
In my first library job I did. It was a lovely, quiet, graduate library, a librarian’s heaven. I (and the other library assistants) used to read at the issue desk. We were eventually discovered and given some work to do, but never mind. Now I do not read for pleasure at work unless during my lunch hour or before 9.00am.
10. When you give people books as gifts, how do you decide what to give them?
I think that I somehow feel that, as a librarian, it is my duty to buy people books. This could be seen as a contradiction, I suppose, but I’m too tired to go into that now. Anyway, I buy people books quite often. Sometimes it’s because I don’t know what else to buy them, but even if this is the case I always take care to buy them a book that I think they will enjoy.
In order to decide on the book, I will consider other books I know they have read it the past and see if I can find any similar offerings. I might try and find out which books that do and don’t already have. Sometimes I buy people books that I think they should read, and just hope that they like them, which might be a bit selfish of me. At other times, when I’ve just read a book and really loved it I feel the need to share it with someone immediately, so I will give it away to someone else. Sometimes I give people books that remind me of them or of some shared experience.
It does depend a lot on the person. There’s obviously no point in buying someone a book that I know they would never read, even if I think it’s worth reading. For example, I would never buy my dad a fiction book. He claims to have only ever read one fiction book in his life, King Solomon’s Mines, which he had to read at school. However, he would enjoy a non-fiction book about trains, ships or film-making.
Mum, on the other hand, will devour anything in a book jacket, within reason. She is open to trying new authors and new subjects, but I will still try to buy her books whose subjects fall within her favourite categories of reading matter.
Erm…have I gone on too long? Better stop now. I suppose the short answer to question 10 is: it varies.
Aggh, it’s 8pm and I haven’t even started writing yet! I made a few notes on the train home, but whether or not they will bear any resemblance to the finished post is questionable.
Today’s topic for consideration is the wonderful world of bookshops, or at least some snapshots of my small corner of it. I have always loved books, and therefore, by extension I suppose, both libraries and bookshops.
The first real bookshop I ever visited was a small independent bookshop in my home town. By ‘real bookshop’ I mean a shop dedicated to selling books and nothing else. Being well-stocked with decent children’s books Mr Q’s bookshop was an Aladdin’s cave for a small bookish person. I think it was possibly the only proper bookshop in my small town back in those days. W H Smith’s may have stocked a few books, but nothing to compare with the treasures to be found within Mr Q’s bookshop.
Mr Q was (and is – he still owns the shop) an unusually tall man with a very serious manner who could be slightly intimidating to a small child. However, he was also the holder of keys to a world of adventure, knowledge and escapism so he wasn’t all bad. As I got older I used the bookshop more and more, discovering the delights of being able to have any book I wanted ordered to Mr Q’s for collection (this was in the days before Amazon and we didn’t have a computer at home until 2005 anyway) and I still try and buy at least some people’s Christmas presents there every year. Despite Waterstone’s now having a presence in the town Mr Q is still soldiering on as an independent bookseller, although he has branched out into bulk textbook ordering and delivery in recent years in order to keep afloat.
When I left home for university I didn’t use bookshops quite so much as I had done previously, not having enough money to actually buy many books! Instead, I used the lovely libraries, which could thankfully be relied upon to provide all the textbooks I needed for my various courses.
However, when I started working as a graduate trainee librarian in Oxford bookshops became significant in my life once again. Not only were there plenty of them around, which was wonderful, but one particular bookshop had a direct effect on my future life. Borders bookshop in Oxford is where Mr C and I met regularly for hot chocolate and chats, encounters which led to firstly a good friendship, then something more and, four and a half years later, to marriage. I love that bookshop! I don’t have any particular affection for Borders as an organisation but the memories attached to the Borders on Magdalen Street are very precious.
I wonder how many cups of hot chocolate, tea and coffee Mr C and I consumed in Borders that year? I also used to go there for lunch on a regular basis, which was a stupid thing to do as I didn’t have any money at the time. Graduate trainee librarian’s posts do not pay well, unless you work for a law firm. We still like to go back to Borders every time we visit Oxford. Despite the fact that it is an evil multinational company it does have lots of things (CD’s, stationary, hot chocolate) that I really like in it, as well as bringing back happy memories so the pull is quite strong.
Blackwell’s bookshop is another Oxford-based delight. I remember the first time I went into the basement. I don’t think I could quite believe how many shelves there were and how many books were on those shelves. Just thinking about it is making me feel blissful. You can really get lost in Blackwell’s. Ahh, the theology section… Oh, dear, I must get back to the present day!
*Drags herself back to the present*. Today I had the pleasure of visiting Waterstone’s in the city where I work. I am quite fond of this branch of Waterstone’s, mainly because of the staff who work there. They are always friendly and chatty without being annoying, and, nicest of all, they seem to enjoy their work.
This afternoon I walked into the shop having completely forgotten the author of the book I wanted to buy. I had been hoping that the book would be in the same place where I had last seen it a week or so ago, and I could remember the title and what the cover looked like, so I thought I could seek it out. However, it wasn’t there, so I was a bit stuck, as all the books are, sensibly, shelved by author. I wondered around the shop like a lost soul. I’m rather afraid that I was talking out loud to myself as I was trying to remember the woman’s name…North…Norton…erm…
In the end, I decided to ask for help. Usually I hate asking for help in shops, or indeed anywhere else, but at least I had had prior experience of the friendliness of the staff here, so I was brave and asked one of the people behind the counter for help. She was sympathetic to my plight – I admitted that I was “having a memory blank” (which I don’t think is actually a coherent sentence, but never mind) and she said she knew the feeling and found the book for me straightaway. Just in case you were wondering, the author’s name didn’t begin with N at all! Hooray for friendly bookshop staff! Of course, had I gone into a library I would have found the staff to be just as helpful and friendly. Just thought I had better point that out.
Perhaps ‘my life in libraries’ will be a topic for a later post…