8 Aug 2018

CLEANING SHELLAC RECORDS IN THE DIT CONSERVATORY LIBRARY

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library

This post by Sharon Hoefig, DIT Library was placed second in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Towards the end of 2016, the DIT Conservatory Library undertook a project to clean and rehouse a large collection of Shellac (78 RPM) records and their corresponding sleeves. This undertaking was part of a larger project to conserve, catalogue, digitise and make accessible the historical shellac recordings of the Caruana Gramophone Collection. The Caruana Gramophone Collection consists of a near-complete run of the bound Gramophone magazine and a collection of 10-inch and 12-inch records collected by Frank Caruana to correspond with the magazines. A numerical sequence, devised by Mr. Caruana links each of the records to the relevant magazine and many of the sleeves have also had cut-outs of reviews or photos of the performers from other publications affixed to them. As most 78s were issued in relatively plain paper sleeves with no accompanying information, these additions make the sleeves in this collection particularly interesting and as worth conserving as the records themselves. We had never cleaned 78s before and so the task was a learning experience which proved enlightening, interesting and … dirty.

What is shellac?
All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library
Images of lac beetle taken from Maxwell-Lefroy, H. (Harold). Indian Insect Life : a Manual of the Insects of the Plains . W. Thacker & Co., 1909. Available at https://archive.org/details/indianinsectlife00maxw  
Before describing the cleaning process, it’s worth answering this question as whenever we mention the project, this the first question asked. Shellac is a resin produced by the female lac bug on trees in India and Thailand and from the late 1800s until the advent of vinyl, it was used to produce the majority of gramophone records. In fact, in the 1930s it was estimated that half of all shellac used went into the manufacture of gramophone records. Shellac records are rigid and brittle. They don’t flex like vinyl, they break and chip easily and the grooves are susceptible to groove wear through surface contamination.

Why clean a shellac record?

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library
Our shellac records were certainly suffering from surface contamination. Most of the records were housed in standard open-ended sleeves and had gathered A LOT of dust over their many years. As well as accumulating dust and dirt, shellac also suffers from a gradual embrittlement over time. The embrittlement causes fine particles to be shed from the disc after each playback.The dust, dirt and shellac particles become trapped in the grooves causing the stylus to jump and skip during playback and scratching and wearing the grooves, effectively deleting the information they contain. The importance of removing this material is therefore clear.

How do you clean a shellac record?

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library
Removing material trapped between the grooves is tricky. A dry brush will only remove dirt sitting on the top and it may even make matters worse by moving that dirt into the grooves. Residue water may cause swelling or leave behind particles floating within it. Fortunately, we were able to borrow a Keith Monks machine from RTE. The Keith Monks record cleaner was developed in the 1960s for BBC engineers and they are still used in the BBC record libraries today. The machine consists of a top deck with a turntable, 2 brush blocks and a vacuum arm. The internal components include the motor, vacuum pump and fluid dispensing system. The machine looks more complicated to use than it actually is but it did take us a few attempts on some old practice records to get it right. 

Our work process

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library
We had 600 records to get through within a limited time frame. After a bit of trial and error the following work process proved most efficient for us: 
  1. Dusting. We used a dry brush to brush dust from the record label and a microfiber cloth to gently clean it. 
  2. Wetting. The record was then placed on the machine, the brush lowered into place and water pumped through it. The machine was then turned on. The record turned on the turntable while the wet brushes cleaned it. 
  3. Drying. The suction arm was then moved into place and the nozzle positioned on the record just outside the label. The machine was set to DRY and this time as it turned, the nozzle vacuumed up the remaining dirt and water. 
  4. Cleaning the sleeves. While the record was drying, we used vulcanised latex sponges to gently clean the sleeve and a dry brush afterwards to remove any crumbs. 
  5. Re-housing. The clean record was then placed in a custom-made archival folder and stored in an archival box. A piece of archival card was placed inside the sleeve and the sleeve was then placed in a mylar pocket and stored in an archival box. 

Repeat x 599

Rewarding

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library
The work was dirty and at times a little monotonous but it was also rewarding. The rewards are summed up in these before and after images. The middle photo is of the jar of vacuumed up dirt and water from the Keith Monks machine!


i: This estimate was published in The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912-1954) in 1937. The article is available online on the National Library of Australia website. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/55073762# 
ii:  https://cool.conservation-us.org/byauth/st-laurent/care.html 

All photographs are author’s own and © 2016 of Sharon Hoefig and DIT Conservatory Library. Images of lac beetle taken from Maxwell-Lefroy, H. (Harold). Indian Insect Life : a Manual of the Insects of the Plains . W. Thacker & Co., 1909. Available at https://archive.org/details/indianinsectlife00maxw  

1 Aug 2018

LIBRARY ANXIETY

This post was placed joint third in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 
This post is by Maolsheachlann O'Ceailligh, UCD Library

Earlier this year, I helped facilitate a workshop in which students drew up “journey maps” of the way in which they went about researching their projects. It was a very interesting project for many reasons, but one aspect in particular stood out to me-- the frequency with which the students mentioned the anxiety and stress they felt when pursuing their research, especially at the beginning of the project.

 Reading up a little on this, I discovered the concept of “library anxiety”, which I’d never heard of in sixteen years as a library assistant. I mentioned this on Facebook, and one of my friends (based in America) told me that she suffered from this condition and avoided her university library where possible. She wrote: “The people who work there are generally unhelpful and I have no idea how the system for the books actually works. So I can't find the sources I need, the staff can't help me, and even if I find my sources through hours of looking, I don't know how to get them reshelved. And I'm an introvert, so that much talking to people and/or looking like an idiot is too much for me.” I was especially surprised by this as I know she is a high-achieving student. In fact, as I was to learn, high-achieving students are particularly prone to library anxiety. In fact, every element of her comment, aside from the remark about reshelving, reflects common themes in the literature on library anxiety.

An extreme example of library anxiety. Picture courtesy of Joey Bartlett,

The term was introduced in a 1986 article by Constance Mellon, and has been frequently discussed in various academic articles since then. The main features of library anxiety are that the student feels overwhelmed by the size of the library, doesn’t know how to begin to seek information, is reluctant to approach library staff, and believes that other students are more knowledgeable about the library than himself or herself. In Mellon’s initial study, a staggering seventy-five to eighty-five per cent of students reported feelings of anxiety in their initial responses to library research.

When I reflected on my own experience as a library assistant, I recalled much that tallied with this finding. Yes, students very often apologize for “bothering” library staff. They very often preface very ordinary questions with statements like: “This is probably a stupid question, but...” They very often comment on the sheer size of the library.

Though I had become used to such interactions, I had no idea that library anxiety was so widespread and so frequently studied. One phenomenon that I had frequently observed might have tipped me off, perhaps-- the fact that it is only ever a minority of the student body who become familiar faces at the service desk.

Students often complain that university libraries seem huge. Stock photo, creative commons

Furthermore, I realised how difficult it is to tackle library anxiety when I remembered some of the measures which my own library had taken to reach out to students. Some ten years ago, we instituted a “library rover” scheme whereby library staff walked the floors of the library and approached library users, rather than waiting for them to approach us. This was a frustrating exercise as very few users took up our offers of help. Eventually the scheme was discontinued. More recently, we have tried various ways to make library orientation more welcoming and informal, such as disseminating information in the form of quizzes and other games. This has had some success, but only a very small minority of students ever take it up. What else might we do?

Perhaps one approach that might be taken is to emphasise the informational role of library service desks. Indeed, the ambiguity of the terminology used for library service desks is quite telling. Are they “issue desks”? Are they “service desks”? Are they “information desks”? Branding them clearly as information desks, regardless of what other services they perform, might be a good way to make them approachable to students. As well as this, it might be helpful to explicitly convey the message, through signage and online, that any question can be asked at the information desk and that there is no such thing as a stupid question. (One library in Wisconsin has the words “Ask Here” hanging over the issue desk in large letters.)

Given the complexity of university life, many queries will inevitably have to be directed elsewhere. It’s important that students are not sent on a wild goose chase at these times. Academic libraries therefore have an interest in lobbying for a culture of greater openness and availability across the university. I doubt I am only the library staff member who experiences “inter-departmental anxiety” when it comes to helping students with non-library queries!

PRESERVING IRISH VOICES: THE IRISH POETRY READING ARCHIVE

This post was placed joint third in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 
This post is by Laura Ryan, UCD Library

Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, refers to Ireland as “a country of and for poets” – a sentiment I would not understand upon finishing the Leaving Certificate English course. I could recite Kavanagh, Frost, Rich or Yeats, or release a well-rehearsed spiel on their meanings picked from course books and class notes but on completion of the exams, my attitude towards the world of Irish poetry was apathetic at best. A class of secondary school teenagers taking turns at reading lines from ‘The Road Not Taken’ had never really done much justice to Frost.

 At university, I chose no poetry modules until my final year when one particular class caught my eye: Modern American Poetry. It was the first poetry class I had encountered where we listened to contemporary poets reciting their own works. Simply put, it changed my mind about poetry. I witnessed a rawness of emotion, a certainty of rhythm. I came to understand how some poets have a truly distinctive voice, giving life to the poetry itself.

My poetry education came to an abrupt halt at that point, as I went on to complete a Masters in the History of Art before stepping into my role with UCD Library. I brought with me skills in customer service, financial administration, and photography (among others) and I happily put these skills to good use. It came as quite a surprise when a request landed on my desk: assistance was needed in the administration of the Irish Poetry Reading Archive (Taisce Aithris Filíochta na hÉireann).

Irish Poetry Reading Archive Promotional Material courtesy of UCD Library Outreach Department

The Irish Poetry Reading Archive is a repository of recordings of Irish poets. They each select eight of their own poems to read, for which they give a brief note of context – detailing their influences, intent or inspiration. We make the recordings available for free via the Archive’s YouTube channel, and the video is preserved within UCD’s Digital Library. We store a signed collection of the published works of these poets, and the books remain accessible to our users. The poets also provide us with handwritten manuscripts of their poetry, available to readers via our Special Collections Reading Room.

Part of my personal work with the archive involves acting as liaison to poets, being their first point of contact and arranging anything necessary for recording sessions. I have acquired a unique view on their feelings towards Irish poetry and with regard to the archive itself. With print runs of poetic works often being quite small, our archive works to preserve as much as possible. Many poets have informed me that they are grateful that their work is being stored securely and will be accessible to future generations of readers and poets alike.

From the archive: Handwritten manuscripts of poems by Jessica Traynor, Michael Longley, and Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

I believe poetry is integral to Irish traditions. Our oral heritage is still alive and well, and we have a duty to preserve it as much as those who first documented Irish song, poetry, and folklore. In my time with the poetry archive, many of the poets have recited works influenced by current or recent affairs – including the movement to Repeal the 8th amendment, the homelessness crisis, poverty, Direct Provision, and the Tuam Mother and Baby homes to name just a few. It offers an insight into the current challenges, wrongs and rights of this country, explored through poetry in a very candid, honest way. Some of our recordings situate themselves in specific spaces in time and I hope will provide an understanding of our current world for future generations.

The project has changed my personal relationship with poetry, and I hope that my work aids in the preservation of Irish voices not only for future generations, but also for current students of Irish poetry. Over the last number of months, we have recorded poets who feature on the current Junior Certificate curriculum. We will work to make their recordings accessible to schools, so that students can experience how the poets read them and the individual qualities a poet’s personal voice provides. Education has changed greatly even in the few years since I have left school, and we hope that our multimedia archive will aid in teaching of poetry.

Don Share was absolutely correct in referring to Ireland as a country of poets. I should know – we have a long list of poets recorded, with an ever-growing list of those we are yet to record. When he said it was a country for poets, I believe that is where our library should play its part, by continuing our project to capture as many voices of Irish poetry as we possibly can.

I am a small part of a much larger team that includes staff from UCD’s Media Services, our Special Collections, Collections, Outreach, and Research Services departments, and of course the gracious contributions of Irish poets.

References
Share, D. (2015). Don Share: ‘Ireland was and remains for me a country of and for poets’. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/don-share-ireland-was-and-remains-for-me-a-country-of-and-for-poets-1.2329231 [Accessed 7 May 2018].

Posted on Wednesday, August 01, 2018 | Categories: