15 Aug 2018


This post by Victoria Archer, Queens University Belfast Library was placed Joint First in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle. 
Paul Coelho, Brida – 1990

 Here, in my university library we go by a way of life entitled Task Rotation.

In theory it allows all of us to gain experience and knowledge in every area of the Borrower Services workload. Three times a year we learn how to manage a new sphere of library life and impart to the colleague stepping into our shoes all of the wisdom and expertise we have accumulated during our four-month reign. We curate and update our clipboards to make sure the most critical information and mystical secrets of our task are embodied within their sacred, silvery clasp. And then, when training is complete we hand them over, along with all of the highs, the lows, and the quirks of our old life.

There is much lively debate with regards to the pros and cons of task rotation within academic libraries. Overwhelmingly though, despite arguments it is time-consuming and lacks efficiency, it appears that there is much support for its benefits. In Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study (2009) Sally Earney and Ana Martins concluded that:

 job rotation demonstrably improved the skills and motivation of the majority of the rotatees… job rotation fosters employee learning (Campion et al., 1994), improves motivation or reduces boredom and fatigue (Walker and Guest, 1952; Campion et al., 1994) and enables firm learning (Ortega, 2001; Ericksson and Ortega, 2006).

It is with a heavy heart then that I adjust my tortoiseshell glasses and begin to relay to you the story of my fall from grace

It has been one glorious year since I started to work for Queen’s University Library. Upon arrival my transition from working in the public libraries was an exhilarating and relentless barrage of learning and information. Gone were my days of issuing, discharging and tidying books for a small library attracting perhaps 100 people on a normal day.

The imposing façade of the McClay Library – Winner of The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Award 2013

Here I was standing behind the Borrower Services Desk of an institution where the average daily footfall hits 10,000; being educated on how to navigate the intricacies of a library with over a million books.

Nine months in I had graduated to one of the most complicated tasks of all – Inter Library Loan Reporting. With each task rotation my role had become more challenging, complicated and involved and I loved it.

Organisation is key: some of my beloved stationary
I had a diary overflowing with reminders, tips and weekly updates. I had colour-coded lists of libraries and their lending time frames. I got to know Library Assistants on first name terms from all over the UK and Ireland, and the Top Tips section I created for my clipboard extended over 4 pages. Every day was adrenaline fuelled and essentially, I felt like the Wolf of Wall Street; only with more books and decidedly less money.

Teamwork makes the dream work: my wonderful colleagues at QUB Library
Perhaps you can see where this is going.

Time for task rotation came, and I was to be forcibly removed from my Inter Library Loan position; banished to the realms of in-house notifications. My colleagues consoled me and as the final day of my task approached I prepared to part with my high-flying role and cherished clipboard.

I won’t say it didn’t look suspicious when the two colleagues taking over my duties were both taken mysteriously ill in the first week of task rotation. There were whispers that my passion for my work had gone too far, and I will admit that extra week was enjoyed with a bittersweet abandon.

After two months of my new task I am inclined to agree with Earney and Martins. The variety of our rotation allows for a much more interesting and diverse career long term, where we are always learning and facing new challenges.

That said – here I am, patiently awaiting the day when the Inter Library Loans come back to me.
And what have I learned? Don’t poison two people at once, it looks incredibly dubious.

Earney, S., Martins, A. (2009) ‘Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study’, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41 (4), pp. 216-224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000609345089
Photos: Author’s own


This post by Ronan Kelly RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Library  was placed Joint First in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Earlier this year I joined the Heritage Collections team in the RCSI Library. On a daily basis I help with inquiries from within the College and from the general public. Another ongoing task has been the preparation of a booklet on medical instruments and innovations associated with figures from RCSI. From the College’s point of view, the booklet represents a moment of reputation enhancement: an opportunity to showcase one aspect of RCSI’s 234-year contribution to medicine in Ireland.

There will be ten entries in the finished booklet, all quite varied, ranging from the late eighteenth century – Samuel Croker-King’s (1728 – 1817; first President of RCSI) improvement to the trepan (basically, advice on how to drill a better hole in a head) – to the middle of the twentieth – Terence Millin’s (1903 – 1980; President of RCSI) retropubic approach to transurethral resection of the prostate (I’ll spare the reader an image of that).

Title-page and plate from Croker-King’s Description of an instrument… (Dublin, 1791), RCSI Heritage Collections
Individually, these stories are fascinating and distinct (although as I researched each one the overriding question in my mind was whether it dated from before or after the discovery of anaesthetic…). But as the project wraps up I’ve taken a step back to ask myself what the discoveries have in common – and it seems to me that three interesting themes, or lessons, emerge. Despite the RCSI origins, these lessons are not necessarily medical and so I submit them here in the hope that they will inspire others regardless of their field of endeavour.

Lesson 1: Stealing is good
Invention, or innovation, can often be the repurposing of something already in the world. Consider, for example, the case of Richard Butcher (1819 – 1891; Fellow and President of RCSI). Surgery in Butcher’s time involved a lot (really, a lot) of amputation; indeed, a surgeon’s reputation often rested on their speed with the blade. But the sharp edges of sawn-off bones were extremely painful and slow to heal – until one day Butcher observed how cabinet-makers executed intricate or curving cuts by using a particular implement whose blade could be rotated to any angle. In his mind, he swapped the nice piece of furniture for somebody’s mangled limb and lo, his adapted version – known somewhat unfortunately as Butcher’s saw – was born.

Plate from Butcher’s Operative and conservative surgery (Dublin, 1866), RCSI Heritage Collections

Plate from Butcher’s Operative and conservative surgery (Dublin, 1866), RCSI Heritage Collections
Another repurposing happened with that most universally recognised instrument of medical practice, the stethoscope. Its invention is credited to René Laënnec, who in 1816 was inspired by the sight of two children sending acoustic signals to each other using a length of wood. He found that mediate auscultation – using a rolled-up sheet of paper to listen to a patient’s internal organs – produced louder and clearer sounds than the previous practice of immediate auscultation (placing one’s ear directly on the patient). With the advent of rubber, Arthur Leared (1822 – 1879; Licentiate of RCSI) developed this into the binaural version – meaning it had two earpieces – that we know today. Leared brings me to the next lesson…

Lesson 2: Don’t be shy
Having invented his binaural stethoscope, Leared showed it off briefly at the Great Exhibition of 1851; he then sailed off to serve in the Crimean War. When he returned he found that someone who ‘admired’ his invention at the Exhibition was now manufacturing and selling very similar binaural stethoscopes. Belatedly, Leared wrote to The Lancet to set the record straight, but it is his rival’s version that set the industry standard (see Lesson 1).

Leared’s binaural stethoscope from Down’s catalogue of surgical instruments (London, 1906), RCSI Heritage Collections
Something similar happened to Francis Rynd (1801 – 1861; Fellow of RCSI), inventor in 1844 of the hypodermic syringe. He neglected to write up his work and soon enough near-identical inventions appeared in Edinburgh and London. Finally Rynd staked his claim in 1861, when he published in a Dublin medical journal a fuller account of his earlier innovation. Coincidentally, following his sudden death, the same issue of the journal also carried Rynd’s obituary. Don’t let this happen to you!

Rynd’s hypodermic needle featured in RCSI promotional material (©RCSI)
Lesson 3: Keep trying
Failure need not be failure – or, to put it another way, failure is only failure until it is a success. This cheering lesson is exemplified by the uncheering story of 14-year-old Mary Ann Dooley, who suffered an accident working in a paper mill. She was brought to Robert McDonnell (1828 – 1889; Fellow and President of RCSI), who performed Ireland’s first blood transfusion in order to save her. Sadly, Dooley died the next day (‘without pain, and quite conscious to the last’), but McDonnell remained optimistic about the practice. He designed his own transfusion apparatus and went on to save many lives.

McDonnell’s transfusion apparatus, RCSI Heritage Collections
Space precludes sharing the lessons learned from Tufnell’s bullet scoop, Daunt’s lithotome or O’Halloran’s cataract knives – except to say we should all be very thankful for anaesthetic. RCSI Heritage’s next project will be on the influenza pandemic of 1918; no doubt there will be lessons there too…

Butcher, Richard. ‘Mr Butcher’s cases of amputation – use of a new saw’, Dublin quarterly journal of medical science 12.23 (1851): 209 – 23.
Croker-King, Samuel. A description of an instrument for performing the operation of trepanning the skull, with more ease, safety and expedition, than those in general use (Dublin, 1794).
Leared, Arthur. ‘On the self-adjusting double stethoscope’, The Lancet 2 (1856): 138.
McDonnell, Robert. ‘Remarks on the operation of transfusion and the apparatus for its performance’, Dublin quarterly journal of medical science 50.2 (1870): 257-265.
Millin, Terence. ‘Retropubic prostatectomy: a new extravesical technique’, The Lancet 249 (1945): 693 – 696.
Roguin, Ariel. ‘Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781–1826): the man behind the stethoscope.’ Clinical medicine and research 4.3 (2006): 230–235.
Rynd, Francis. ‘Description of an instrument for the subcutaneous introduction of fluids in affections of the nerves’, Dublin quarterly journal of medical science, 32.1 (1861): 13.
Rynd, Francis. ‘Neuralgia – introduction of fluid to the nerve’, Dublin medical press 13 (1845): 167-168.

8 Aug 2018


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


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


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!


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.

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: