17 May 2017

Review of an Exchange



Guest post by Lisa Spinder. Following her receiving of an MA in American Cultural History and German as a Foreign Language Lisa started as a student of Library & Information Services, at  University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Legal Affairs in Munich 

In March 2017 I had the opportunity to spend an entire 4 weeks at the Boole Library of University College Cork. Everyone at the library was very welcoming and made sure I would gain as much insight into their work as possible.

My schedule had emphases on three main areas, which were Archives, Special Collections and the Online Repository. Additionally, I got to spend a few hours in most of the other departments of the library, thus getting a pretty good picture of how the library functions as a whole, what the current challenges are and how the library is integrated into the library system and into academia nationally and internationally. I learned a lot about libraries and librarianship in Ireland in general, which was great because this made it possible for me to see similarities as well as differences to libraries in Germany.

In the Archives and Special Collections departments of Boole, archivist Emma Horgan and Special Collections Librarian Elaine Harrington introduced me to their unique collections and made sure I became familiar with a variety of their materials.

Working my way through quite a few old plans, maps and other outsizes from the Bantry collection, I discovered how the holdings of the Bantry estate changed during the first half of the twentieth century and learned of fishing restrictions that were marked in sea and river charts of West Cork. Depending on the state they were in, the maps had to be wrapped in mylar and/or acid-free paper to ensure their conservation. Due to their sizes, the flattening of some of the maps before they could be wrapped provided quite a challenge that could only be met with the help of lead snakes and weights.
In addition to the landed estates that make up quite a few of the Archives’ collections, the library holds a number of collections by scientists, scholars and authors that are in any way connected to Boole Library, most notably George Boole himself, the inventor of Boolean Algebra. He is responsible for the Boolean operators that form one of the bases of every library catalogue or database search.

A challenge every library faces today is the shortage of storage space. One of my tasks was to check the printed holdings of serials in the reference collection of the Special Collections reading room against their online availability. Whichever serial is available online would be a candidate to be moved to the closed stacks, thus gaining some space on the shelves in the reading room.
Elaine also showed me how she introduces students to Special Collections. Depending on the focus of the class, she chooses fitting examples from the various collections. Using these examples as props, she familiarizes the students with the extra care in handling some of the material requires, and makes them see how they can make use of the many resources in Special Collections.

The emphasis the library puts on the services it provides for the students is great. Talking to the liaison librarians I learned of their work in teaching classes on information literacy, always making sure to cater to the specific needs the students of particular subjects might have. In addition to that they are responsible for all sorts of online content that helps the students improve their research skills. I especially liked the libguides that make it easy for students to get started with their research. For each field, there is a libguide online that brings together the most important resources for that field, such as the major databases and online journals. I liked the role of the liaison librarians a lot. Liaising with the academic staff is important to any academic or research library and it seems to me many libraries ought to put a little more effort into it. It also makes sense to me to put a great emphasis on teaching information literacy in classes and individually, since it is one of the core skills an academic (or pretty much everyone) should have and the effort will definitely improve research output sustainably.

Boole Library has taken it upon itself to promote (green) open access among their researchers and scholars. Breeda Herlihy introduced me to the department of Research & Digital Services and the workflows in getting open access content into their online repository CORA. I was able to learn hands-on how to handle metadata and how to feed it into the repository as well as getting more familiar with the Dublin Core standard and the handling of csv-files.

I also had the opportunity to spend some time with the librarians working in acquisitions, in cataloguing and in collection development & management. The workflows there reminded me a lot of those I know from German libraries. The only major difference is that Germany integrated their acquisitions and cataloguing workflows a few years ago.

The challenges libraries face with the high prices for journal subscriptions and consequently most of their budget going into serials seem to be the same everywhere. Processing purchased as well as donated books and keeping track of legal deposit copies also works rather similarly. It is interesting to see the close link to the UK – the Irish Copyright Act entitles the British Library as well as four other libraries in the UK to receive one copy of every book published in Ireland.

A highlight was when Martin O’Connor and Ronan Madden let me sit in on their radio show Shush! – Sounds from UCC Library on UCC radio during my last week. Even though they didn’t make me talk into the microphone (which I was very thankful for!), I was able to engage via Twitter, learning a little bit of social media use hands-on. A library radio show is definitely something more libraries should consider. Shush! is on every Monday from 11-12 and a podcast of the show is available afterwards.

I want to thank everyone I met from the Boole UCC Library staff, especially Martin, Emma, Elaine and Breeda, for making my four weeks in Cork an insightful and rewarding experience.

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