5 Nov 2019

Casted Librarians: Library Education in Bavaria, Germany

Guest post by Magdalena Rausch, academic librarian in training, Hochschule für den öffentlichen Dienst in Bayern, Munich, Germany, training at University Library of Bayreuth.

Courtesy of Author
(Magdalena recently undertook a three week internship at UCC Libary. She kindly presented to library staff on LIS education in Bavaria, Germany. Since it was such a fascinating eye opener of a talk I asked would she write up a short piece for Libfocus. She kindly did... now over to Magdalena...)

The library education programme of Bavaria is one of a kind – it is a dual system of education and integrated in the civil service system of the state. First of all, there are three levels of librarianship: level 2 (called “FAMI”), level 3 (called “QE3”) which requires you to have graduated from secondary school, level 4 (called “QE4”) which requires you to at least have a master`s degree in a subject of your choice. FAMIs can either train to work in public or academic libraries, as both areas are strictly separated, QE3 is studying to become trained academic librarians and QE4 will become subject librarians.

There are a series of steps you`ll be required to take to start your course of study in level 3 – I like to compare it to a casting: there are a number of jobs available in the state funded libraries of Bavaria, so the state will look for exactly as many people as are needed to fill all vacancies, therefore the number of candidates has to be reduced a couple of times, so you will need to pass a number of tests to advance to the next round of casting and finally be able to study library science.
Courtesy of Author
First, all candidates without A-Levels will not even be able to apply. Secondly, all candidate with A-Levels and German citizenship will need to take the civil servants test – a standardized exam everybody who wants to work for the state of Bavaria will have to take, future policemen and future librarians alike. Pass the test and you will be ranked according to your score and your A-Level grades. In the third round, the best candidates of each department will be invited to a structured interview of two hours where their social competence is put to test. Pass the interview, be ranked high enough and you will be able to study library science at the university of applied science for the Bavarian civil service in Munich.

Of course that seems like a lot of requirements but as soon as you’ve passed those tests and begin your course of study you will be a civil servant of Bavaria and will be paid accordingly even while you`re still studying (this will also result in you having to stay in Bavaria for five years, if you don’t want to have to pay back your debts).

Now this course of study will take you 3 years, 1 of which is spend working at your training library (which you unfortunately might not get to choose) – either one of the University Libraries of Bavaria or the Bavarian State Library – you will be able to learn the theoretical basics of librarianship, make experiences abroad during internships and finally graduate as a trained academic librarian!

Courtesy of Author
More good news: you also will most certainly get a job as an academic librarian because they have only casted as many people as they need to fill the vacancies!

17 Oct 2019

Towards open science - Stockholm University Library (Erasmus Exchange, 23-27 September 2019)

A good few weeks ago I attended and contributed to the Erasmus staff week for librarians at Stockholm University. The full programme is available {here}. See also speaker profiles {here}.

In short, the experience was most rewarding from a professional development but also a personal perspective. I met a bunch of really interesting and like-minded librarians from all over Europe. Many thanks to SU Library for organising and hosting.

Instead of critically expanding on delegates' professional contexts, experiences and  insights around scholarly communications, I thought it would be more productive to let their presentations speak for themselves. Below is an overview of the week's programme with contextual links to (all) presentations embedded in their respective titles.

Separately, I pushed out the below follow-up questions to my colleagues.
  1. What is your professional opinion about Plan S?
  2. Is your institutional repository Plan-S ready?
  3. Can you describe your research-assessment regime at your institution (at researcher and institutional level)?
  4. Do you provide incentives to academics within your institution for publishing research via the open access route (gold/diamond/green etc.)? If so, what are they?
Responses can be viewed {here} - many thanks to everyone who kindly responded.

Towards open science...

Monday 23rd September
  1. {Lecture} Open Science: facts, opportunities and challenges (Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director)
Tuesday 24th September
  1. Vienna Technological University, Austria
  2. University of Cologne, Germany
  3. Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany
  4. Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary
  5. Kozminski University, Warszaw, Poland
  6. La Sapienza University, Rome, Italy
  7. University of Zagreb, Croatia
  8. Kauna University of Technology, Lituhania
  9. Mimar Sinam Faculty of Fine Arts, Istanbul, Turkey
Workshop 1: Research Data Management services at Stockholm University
Workshop 2: Workflows for OA agreements and APC management at SU University Press (see also notes)

Wednesday 25th September
  1. {Lecture} National Coordination of Licence Negotiations - Advancing the transition to Open Access - A view from Sweden (Kunglia Biblioteket)
Thursday 26th September
  1.  Pablo de Olivade University, Sevilla, Spain
  2. University of Navarra, Spain
  3. Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal
  4. ENSSIB, the French National School of Library and Information Sciences, France
  5. University of Akureyri, Iceland
  6. Rejkjavik University, Iceland
  7. Dublin City University, Ireland (see also Bibs & Refs)
Workshop 1: Stockholm University Press: Starting up a university press
(see also SUP's BPC quote form); (see also Marketing Guidelines for Authors and Editors)
Workshop 2: The consequences of cancelling the agreement with Elsevier

Friday, 27th September
  1. {Lecture} Open Science: a Researcher's perspective

Wilhelm Widmark / Överbibliotekarie

9 Oct 2019

Journals and the quest for a sustainable delivery .

Guest post by Paul Newman. Paul works as a library assistant with TU Dublin Library Service - City Campus. He has travelled extensively and lived to tell the tales. He finds the plastic / environmental situation rather concerning...

In this blog post, I will look at issues of plastic used in the delivery of Academic journals to the library, from the supply side chain to the manufacture of plastic as well as the environmental consequences.  I will also investigate paper, as an alternative to plastic, from a manufacturing and environmental point of view.  Finally I will see if th ere are any solutions to the problem.

Every day in the library, there is a new delivery of journals from various publishers and distributors.

These are often shipped labelled and in a plastic bag/sleeve.  We cut open the plastic and begin processing the journals.  However, the plastic in question is not being recycled and instead is going to landfill/incineration.  As this is just one branch of the TUDublin library system, the total amount arriving in all the libraries is much greater than the example shown in the photo.  In an attempt to rectify the issue and perhaps have paper used instead for shipping purposes, I contacted some of the publishers of the journals and some of the distributors too.

(Fig 1) TU Dublin Aungier Street - one week's plastic from journals (pic: Eaodaoin Ryan)

Both parties expressed sympathy for our plight and offered assistance.  However, both are effectively trapped in the system.  The publishers send the journals/newspapers to large distribution companies who sort and package it.   One publisher who was concerned about the environmental impacts of the plastic was told by the distributor that the plastic used was recyclable.  However, the publishers own city council’s recycling website stated that they don’t accept soft plastic for the recycling bin and that the nearest recycling nearest recycling centre was nearly a kilometre away.  A distribution centre who printed information that the plastic could be recycled on the address sheet was contacted and informed that neither their local recycling collection nor their local recycling centre accepted low density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic for recycling.  Here in Ireland, as it is not possible to recycle this type of plastic, we have to bin it.  One of the direct mail distributors had looked into using potato starch wrapping for the journals but as it was three times the cost of plastic, they kept with plastic.  A journal publisher offered to post them to us outside the normal distribution system, in a paper envelope, but said it would cost £4 minimum per issue to do this.

And that is part of the problem.  Everyone is trapped in the system, chained by the supply chain logistics. The distributors achieve large discounts from the postal/courier service which is why the comparative cost of the publishers mailing it to us in an envelope instead is much higher.  The distributers, competing to offer the best pricing, source the most economic, in the short term, mailing covers.  The manufacturers/wholesalers of LDPE material present their product in the most environmentally friendly way.  For instance, the Weifang Huasheng Plastics Products Company, on their Alibaba page, announce that they are “committed to developing environmentally friendly plastic bags.”  And this is the way plastic is being marketed now, as it has to overcome all the bad press recently.  Now there are biodegradable plastic products.  However, there are a lot of claims and counter claims about how much and how well this type of plastic degrades.  Is it a solution or just a case of putting lipstick on a pig?

As the plastic industry is putting forward an image of itself as environmentally friendly and  our suppliers and their distributors are using this to feel that these products are solutions not problems, we will look at how plastic is created.  Plastic can be transparent, have a nice feel and be hygienic but looks can be deceiving.  While it might seem with all the environmental concerns that plastic may be a thing of the past, in the US, for instance, there is $164 billion being invested in new plastic production facilities[1]Much of the plastic is sourced from fracked shale gas.  As this increase in supply needs to be sold, the US now ships gas to Europe where, for instance in Scotland, there has been a huge increase in plastic production. However, all this fracking is causing environmental and social problems. In, her article, Drilling and Consent, [2] Ellie Bastian notes how in the US, 650,000 school children live within a mile of a fracked well, while the industry itself and a republican majority senate committee in Colorado voted to defeat a motion to widen the required distance.  She writes how problems from fracking wastewater and evaporation pits kill half a million birds a year while also contaminating the land and nearby streams.  This wastewater is also a chemical soup containing heavy metals and radioactive material amongst other chemicals.

(Fig 2) Oklahoma Earthquakes 2018 - Sept 2019
(Fig 3) Oklahoma Earthquakes 1980s

In his article “Oklahoma earthquakes and the price of oil” [3] Travis Roach writes that earthquake activity in Oklahoma is 300 times the historical average and is mainly the result of fracking wastewater injection.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland [4] did a report on the effect of earthquakes on house prices in Oklahoma and found that there were increased insurance costs due to homeowners having to cover for earthquakes which were not needed before and that in the worst affected areas there were house price falls of between 3.4% and 9.8%.  In an article on Psychosocial Impact of Fracking [5], Hirch et al note that fracking usually happens in poorer areas, thus worsening the quality of life for those who have a lower quality of life index anyway.  They describe the effects of ‘negative externality”, meaning that those living in fracking areas are paying an additional cost for the activities of others, costs which impact their social life, the community, tourism, conservation and agriculture.  They cite a couple of studies which showed a “collective trauma” and “widespread social stress” as a result of fracking.

Meanwhile, the oil industry news site, oilprice.com, reports that the benefits outweigh the negatives: that gas is clean, with little groundwater contamination and environmental consequences and concludes that shale gas is needed for energy security, economic prosperity and a cleaner environment.  The author wonders why people are not demanding that cars be banned considering the slaughter on the roads instead of protesting about fracking.

The industry is now promoting itself as clean and environmentally caring.  Plastic is recyclable and now there is an increasing amount of biodegradable plastic coming onto the market.  This is quite a controversial issue as there is still a lot of debate about whether the products are actually biodegradable. The Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association [6] acknowledges the existing problems with plastic, such as the 150,000 tons dumped in European seas each year which decompose into microplastics, but claim that the solution is to redesign plastic itself.  This is normal LDPE, which has chemical additives that allow it to be broken down by micro-organisms combined with oxygen.  They will not breakdown, for instance, while buried in a landfill as they need oxygen and the right type of micro-organism or fungus to decompose.  While the plastic industry extolls the virtues of oxy-biodegradable plastic, Recycling Magazine [7] reports that Spain, France and Italy have already banned oxo-degradable plastics.  There is a lot of lobbying going on from the industry who have heavily criticised the EU over the proposed ban as part of the EU single use directive and lobbying by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  We do have a publisher who sends us journals with a message on the address slip informing us that the plastic used is biodegradable. Technically it is, but we are unable to place it in a suitable situation where this will occur.

We did suggest to some of our suppliers that a paper envelope might be a better alternative to plastic, and there was a commitment from one publisher on that, but at quite an additional cost.  Then there is the environmental cost of paper.  Is it as clean as it looks?  It appears not.   In his article The Environmental Sustainability of Paper [8], Smith outlines some of the problems such as the heavy use of chemicals including “chlorine, mercury, absorbable organic halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, and caustic soda”, the pesticides used on forests, the wastewater issue, that it takes 17 watts to produce 1 piece of paper. The American Chemical Association in a paper titled Plastics: An Energy-Efficient Choice [9] claimed that in 1990 alone the use of plastics versus alternatives resulted in enough energy savings to provide power for 100,000 homes for 35 years.  However, paper is actually bio-degradable, and is made from renewable resources something the petro-chemical industry cannot say.

So, a journey that started off as a suggestion to use a more sustainable option for the supply of journals turned into an investigation into fracking, earthquakes, oxy-biodegradable plastics, the paper industry and the logistics of journal distribution.  Though the distributors claim to be eco-friendly, they are foregoing other, more environmentally friendly, materials because plastic is cheaper, we have seen that there is are hidden costs.  There is the cost of pollution caused by fracking, the reduced value of a family home in Oklahoma, the social cost paid by low income families, the collective traumas affecting communities, earthquakes, environmental problems.  Paper too has problems but seems to be the lesser of two evils. Could going completely digital be the solution. However there are the associated problems of server farms gobbling up electricity…….

It would ease the problem if our refuse collection service accepted LDPE plastic for recycling but at the moment it is not recycled.  The Irish Independent [10] reported that the government wanted to ban non-recyclable plastic by 2030.  Government targets for 2030 include “ensuring that all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable.”   Can we presume that this means that there will be recycling facilities for LDPE?  Should we be moving away from the petro-chemical industry and forgetting about plastic products regardless of whether it is recyclable or not?  Why should we need to wait until 2030?

While a small library on its own might not be able to have much leverage to achieve this type of change, as we have seen in the case of TUDublin City Campus Aungier Street, perhaps on a higher level, on a consortium level of some sort, it might be possible to pressurize suppliers now.  An additional factor might be to use the greater economies of scale to bring down the additional cost of non-plastic wrapping.

(Fig 4) TU Dublin Compostable packaging screenshot
We can see that TUDublin used compostable wrap, with recycling instructions, for their student welcome pack.  It can be done and, after all, the suppliers and distributors of journals will have to change anyway.  So why not start now?

  1. Centre for Environmental Law: How Fracked Gas, Cheap Oil, And Unburnable Coal are Driving the Plastics Boom.
  2.  Minnesota Law Review (2017) Drilling and Community Consent: How Oil andGas Boards Can Address the Public Health ThreatsPosed by Fracking / Ellie Bastian
  3. Energy Policy(2018) Oklahoma earthquakes and the price of oil/ Travis Roac
  4. Ron Cheung, Daniel Wetherell, and Stephan Whitaker (2016)  Earthquakes and House Prices:Evidence from Oklahoma  [Federal Reserve Bank of Cleaveland Working Paper 16-31]
  5. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction (2018) Psychosocial Impact of Fracking: a Review of the Literature on the Mental Health Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing / Jameson K. Hirsch & K. Bryant Smalley & Emily M. Selby-Nelson3 & Jane M. Hamel-Lambert  & Michael R. Rosmann5 & Tammy A. Barnes6 & Daniel Abrahamson6 & Scott S. Meit & Iva GreyWolf &Sarah Beckmann9 & Teresa LaFromboise
  6. Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (2019) Comments on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 
  7. Recycling Magazine (2019:2) ECHA withdraws its intention to restrict Oxo-degradable plastic under REACH
  8.  Graduate Studies Journal of Organizational Dynamics (2011): The Environmental Sustainability of Paper / Richard Smith
  9. The American Chemical Association: Plastics: An Energy-Efficient Choice [https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Plastics-An-Energy-Efficient-Choice/]
  10. Irish Independent 16/09/2019 Plastic straws, cups and cutlery to be banned by minister /Caroline O'Doherty.

Fig 1: Eadaoin Ryan, TUDublin, Aungier Street Library.
Fig 2 and 3 : Govt. of Oklahoma, United States.
Fig 4.  Still from video curtesy of Brian Gormley, TUDublin.

30 Sep 2019

Dabbling with the Demonic: Creating Embedded Learning Experiences in the Library

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mutant Enemy, 1997.

The Winning post in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2019. This post is by Emma Doran working as a library assistant at Maynooth University Library

I’m sure when many of you picture magic, demons and libraries together in the same context, the epic feats of Harry Potter or the acting exploits of Anthony Head in his longstanding role of Giles, on the TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer springs to your mind instantaneously. I know I was certainly enchanted by the world of libraries and in particular the special collections department of libraries, mainly as a result of watching these movies and shows where magic imbued the collections and adventure lived a page away if one dared enough to open the book. But imagine if we as librarians could bring this sense of adventure and involvement with our collections to the students we interact with on a daily basis. If we could entice them to actively delve into the usually “restricted section” of our libraries and put these primary sources of information we so lovingly conserve to work. Now that would be magical!

A selection of books from the witchcraft collection laid out for students to explore during the class. Image taken by Emma Doran © Russell library

How Can We Do This?

At MU Library we are encouraged as library practitioners to think up ways of integrating and embedding our collections into the learning experiences of our users. This practice not only enables us to meet and contribute to the strategic aims of the institution, but empowers us to develop information-literate graduates and broaden the student experience with hands-on active learning for our users. Very recently I was able to experience my very own “Giles” moment, by utilizing our collection of witchcraft and demonology books when a group of second year undergraduate history students visited our library for an embedded learning experience. By incorporating our special collections early printed books into the module HY283: Witchcraft in Europe c.1450-c.1650, we were not only able to provide the students with access to primary sources they needed to investigate as part of their final assignment. But we were able to use the collection materials to engage with the students and academic staff to provide a ‘hands-on experience, and the act of leaving the classroom to visit a new space.’[1] The module, taught by Professor Marian Lyons, explores the phenomenon of witchcraft in Europe during the era of the Renaissance and the Reformations Scientific Revolution, when thousands were executed for practicing witchcraft and consorting with demons.

De la Demonomanie des Sorciers, by Jean Bodin published in Paris, 1580. Image taken by Emma Doran © Russell library

Fortalicium Fidei, by Alphonso de Espina published in Nuremberg, 1485. Image taken by Emma Doran © Russell libraryDisquisitionum
During the session students were split into two groups and my colleague Barbara Mc Cormack (Special Collections Librarian) and I were able to speak to students taking the module about the physical makeup of the items in the collection and how they came to be in possession of the library and also the historical context of the items in the collection in relation to their topic of study. Some of the materials we were able to showcase in our class were notable resources such as: The Fortalicium Fidei, known to be the first printed work to contain a description of witchcraft, The Formicarius, by Johannes Nider, the second book ever printed examining topic of witchcraft and a selection by popular authors on the topic such as Jean Bodin and Martin Antoine Del Rio. By teaching the students in this manner and allowing them access to explore the materials, we were able to provide an opportunity for the students to engage with historic primary source materials and contribute to their broader understanding of the history of witchcraft and demonology in Europe, by concentrating on a variety of sources held by the library for consultation.

Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex, by Martin Antoine Del Rio published in London, 1608. Image taken by Emma Doran © Russell library

In preparation for the class, I also developed a finding aid for the students to help them in terms of navigating the collection, as the books that form the collection are housed in two separate library locations across the campus. In feedback received from the students we learned not only was the experience useful in terms of identifying and consulting sources they needed for assignment work but that engaging with materials such as the early printed books, created an exciting and dynamic learning opportunity that would not be easily forgotten and left the students excited for more.

A section of the finding aid I created for students attending the class

As library professionals we are becoming more progressively aware of the benefits students can reap from the incorporation of our collections into the institutional curriculum and of how doing so can facilitate the development of critical and research skills such as handling, preservation, consultation and the ability to cite accurately.[2] Bringing this class to life with my colleague, Barbara and the lecturer in charge of the module was an extremely satisfying experience both as a library professional, keen on the development of students in my care and as an avid fantasy nut who always dreamed of fighting the forces of evil one book at a time.

De Praestigiis Dæmonvm, by Johann Weyer published in Basel, 1563. Image taken by Emma Doran © Russell

[1] Hubbard, M. and Lotts, M. (2013). Special Collections, Primary Resources, and Information Literacy Pedagogy. Communications in Information Literacy, 7:1, p. 34. [online]. [accessed 15 May 2019]

[2] McCormack, Barbara. (2016). Embedding unique and distinctive collections into the curriculum: Experiences at Maynooth University Library. SCONUL Focus, (68), 77.

24 Sep 2019

The challenge of student engagement: a sloth’s perspective

Runner up post in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Awards 2019. This post is by Susan Murphy, working as a library assistant at TU Dublin Blanchardstown

I am a member of the student engagement team at TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus Library. Our aim is to engage the students who make use of our library, be it in person or online. We want them to enjoy their library experience and to view the library as a safe, welcoming space where they can both further their studies and enjoy some fun interaction. What could we do, we wondered, to achieve this purpose?

Enter José.

Figure 1: José, our library mascot

José Garcia-Lopez is our exchange student from Paraguay. He may be a sloth but he is far from lazy! He came to the library in September 2018 and has been making his presence felt throughout the academic year. He hangs out in the library a lot but he also visits other parts of the campus and even makes some field trips on occasion.

Figure 2: José marking World Stationery Day

Figure 3: José visiting SciFest                                        Figure 4: José at the seaside for Mother Ocean Day

Some of José’s interaction is very simple. Sometimes he sits on the library desk holding a sign offering everyone free hugs. The students have really responded to this and we are happy that José has been able to offer them a nugget of comfort during stressful times.

Figure 5: José offering free hugs

José’s friendly face appears on a lot of our library signage so students regularly see him on the walls and pillars and have grown used to having him around.

Figure 6: José on our library bookmarks                                                                         Figure 7: José on our library posters

I maintain the Blanchardstown Campus library blog (publishing new posts every Tuesday and Thursday) and many of José’s antics tie in with the monthly blog themes. For example, April was Garden Month so José took the time to visit the Horticulture compound on campus to learn more about water conservation and building bug hotels. These types of posts are a good way to make students aware of what else is happening around campus and it’s possible to tie them back to the library too, in this case by informing students where they can find the Horticulture books in the stacks.

Figure 8: José and a water reservoir                                                         Figure 9: José and a bug hotel

José also likes to mark special dates during the year. Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day were two of his favourites.

Figure 10: José celebrating Valentine's Day                         Figure 11: José celebrating St Patrick's Day

What was especially significant about these book structures in terms of student engagement was the fact that a student stopped to watch us build the shamrock and then made her own suggestion for what we could build next – a throne for José in honour of the final season of the TV show Game of Thrones! We were delighted to have such student interaction and naturally obliged. This structure really captured the hearts of the students, with many stopping to comment and take photos of it.

Figure 12: José's very own Iron Throne

Examinations are an inevitable part of the academic calendar. The exams period can be a stressful time, but José was there to provide support and advice to anxious students.

Figure 13: José says 'Hang in there!' during exam time

These days, technology is an inescapable part of people’s lives so we have made sure to connect with students online as much as in person. José’s activities are widespread on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where he garners likes and shares/retweets each time something new is posted.

Figure 14: José is a big fan of the Harry Potter books which he read during Library Lovers Month

Figure 15: José helping to highlight the national Be Media Smart campaign (which garnered a like from RTÉ!)
We are delighted to say that José is a very recognisable figure around campus now. Even staff members know who he is and a colleague from TU Dublin City Campus coined the phrase ‘#josérocks’, which we now include in every social media post. José’s influence is only growing and we look forward to seeing how he continues to flourish next year!

Photo credits: Timmi Donald (figures 1-2, 4-12, 14-15), Anne Greene (figure 3), Susan Murphy (figure 13). All photos are property of TU Dublin Blanchardstown Campus Library.

17 Sep 2019

A fantastic photographic find: Countess de Markievicz

Third place post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. This post is by Saoirse Reynolds, working as a Library Assistant at the National Library of Ireland.

“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” Countess de Markievicz

Late last year I joined the Special Collections team in the National Library of Ireland. The team is responsible for developing and managing the library’s collections of manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, maps, prints and rare and antiquarian books. It is also responsible for onsite access to special collections via the reading rooms in Manuscripts in 2/3 Kildare Street and the National Photographic Archive (NPA) in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Luckily for me I was placed to work between the Manuscripts department and Photographic Archive so I have exposure to a wide range of interesting material.

One of my favourite parts of being a library assistant is the hands-on experience working with collections. There is often some mystery to solve or special find to make. One such instance happened to me a few weeks ago.
Among my other duties, I am working on a project rehousing and listing a recent donation to the National Library. This collection is vast, and it includes glass plate negatives and positives, prints, albums and lantern slides.

After an initial appraisal of the collection and report, it was decided to rehouse and list the glass plate negatives and positives. While carefully rehousing the glass plates, I came across three glass plate negatives of Countess de Markievicz and her dog Poppet: two 17 x 22 cm and one 17 x 12 cm. They were housed in original envelopes from the Poole Collection. See images below:

Original Poole envelopes: ‘2732 Countess de Markievicz’, ‘2733 Countess de Markievicz’, ‘D 4843 Countess de Markievicz’
I thought it was unusual that they were in their original envelopes and felt that I had never seen the images before. So, in consultation with the NPA team, I checked the catalogue to find that the plates had been recorded on the NLI catalogue but were designated as not currently available.

Digitally produced positive image (on the left) from glass plate negative (right) using a smartphone. Countess Markievicz with dog Poppet - standing
So far I have only been able to find a full match online for one of the glass plates which is unattributed. For the other two I have only found partial matches sitting down and standing.

Digitally produced positive image (on the left) from glass plate negative (right) using a smartphone. Countess Markievicz with dog Poppet - sitting
My research into the Poole Index Books shows that the photos were commissioned around the 3rd of November 1917. You can see in the images below ‘Countess de Markievicz’ written into the book on the top right hand page along with the date.

Creation date based on date photographic order was placed; recorded in Index Book of the A. H. Poole Studio as: 3 November 1917.

Countess Markievicz was born Constance Georgine Gore Booth and was a revolutionary and a politician. She was famous for her role in the Easter Rising in 1916, and was involved in the planning of the rising. She became a commissioned officer in the Irish Citizen’s Army and was a founding member of Fianna Eireann and Cumann na mBan. Markievicz commanded Irish Citizen Army volunteers in St. Stephens Green along with Michael Mallin during the rising.

Upon surrender, Markievicz was arrested and sentenced to death but instead got life in prison because of her sex. She was first brought to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She was released from prison in June 1917.

Markievicz was a trained visual artist and was very aware of the impact of the visual on political discourse. Her earlier portraits captured her privileged upbringing and lifestyle. In later portraits she presented herself as Joan of Arc, an icon of the suffrage movement and as a militant republican. These images created her identity in the public eye.

“Countess Markievicz, her dog ‘Poppett’, Theo Fitzgerald and Thomas McDonald, members of Na Fianna Eireann, photographed at Waterford in 1917.”
In these photographs Markievicz is wearing military style clothes but not the Irish Citizens Army uniform she has worn in previous photographs. She is in a long skirt and military top - it may have been her uniform for training na Fianna.

My background and interest in Irish history was essential in initially identifying the glass plate negatives and bringing them to the attention of the NPA team. Finding them was also very exciting and reminded me that the work I do as a library assistant is a great privilege. I hope I go on to make many more discoveries!

It has been established that these were part of the Poole Photographic Collection and can now be made available and digitised. They will fill in gaps in the collection and in the life of one of Ireland’s most iconic women.

The images will be available in the coming weeks at:

  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Countess de Markievicz. [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000593241 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Countess de Markievicz. [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000593242 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Cabinet commissioned by Countess, 143 Leinster Rd,.... [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000684094 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Lissadellhouse.com. (2019). Countess Markievicz | Lissadell House Online. [online] Available at: http://lissadellhouse.com/countess-markievicz/ [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Poole, A.H. (n.d.). Index Books.
Images taken by myself, all images reproduced with permission from the NLI.

9 Sep 2019

On the Road: The Maynooth University Ken Saro-Wiwa Travelling Exhibition.

Fourth place post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. This post is by Louise Walsworth Bell, working as a Conservator at Maynooth University Library.

Personal photograph of Ken Saro-Wiwa
By kind permission of Noo Saro-Wiwa
I’m a conservator at Maynooth University. I’ve worked here for 18 years and continue to be amazed and inspired by the sheer breadth of the collections held in the Library and their relevance to the issues of today.

It is both an honour and a challenge to work preparing travelling exhibitions. These allow us to bring our unique materials to the public. I was thrilled to be involved in the Ken Saro-Wiwa Travelling Exhibition: ‘Ringing the Ogoni Bells’, which went on its first national tour in January, first stop: Athy Community Library.

The Ken Saro-Wiwa Archive is an incredibly inspiring and varied collection. At its core are the personal letters from Saro-Wiwa to Sister Majella McCarron (OLA).

These letters and poems are available on open access as Silence Would be Treason.

Letter from Ken Saro -Wiwa to Sister Majella Mc Carron dated 35/7/1994
Copyright Maynooth University Library
Ken Saro-Wiwa was an author, poet, playwright, and environmentalist from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Concerned about the environmental destruction of his homeland Ogoni, he established MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People).

Sister Majella McCarron
Copyright Maynooth University Library
Sister Majella McCarron, originally from Fermanagh, worked as a missionary in Nigeria. She provided invaluable support to the Ogoni people and Ken Saro-Wiwa in the struggle to highlight the environmental destruction of their homeland. The then Nigerian military government arrested Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues and placed them in military detention. From there Saro-Wiwa wrote to Sister Majella, his letters smuggled out in breadbaskets. Sadly, despite Sister Majella’s effort and international outcry Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues were executed in November 1995. In November 2011, Sister Majella donated the archive to Maynooth University. The correspondence is further enriched by photographs, poems, and audio recordings.

Photographs showing destruction of Ogoni Lands in the Niger Delta 1990’s
Copyright Maynooth University Library
Photographs showing Irish protests: Afri Famine Walk and Sister Majella speaking at the Afri Walk
Copyright Maynooth University Library
I find the letters particularly poignant in that they are one-sided. While Sister Majella retained the correspondence she received, her letters to him are sadly lost… yet the 28 letters in our archive capture a real sense of the man, his true literary talent and the issues for which he campaigned.

With travelling exhibitions, we don’t send the originals. The Special Collections and Archives Team reproduce these items to scale for loan. We are not pretending that the items are original, but it is important that we harness the power of the visual in drawing readers into the contents of a collection. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s talent is as identifiable as his handwriting.

Excerpt from one of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s last letters to Sister Majella McCarron. Undated.
Copyright Maynooth University Library
As a conservator I am regularly asked to work on items; stabilising them for access or exhibition, rehousing collections that are compromised by their current condition and preparing works for digitisation. It is key in this work to maintain a sense of the item itself, not to remove the character that an object’s life has imprinted upon it… to maintain the authenticity of what the collection offers: uninterrupted and intact. However, I rarely get to read the items that I am working on. I could tell you what damage they have suffered in minute detail and what treatments I undertook to counter this, but the content itself may pass me by entirely.

As I worked on the facsimiles, trimming each reproduction to the edge of its page or support I was drawn into the depth of this collection. At the time of writing, Saro-Wiwa was on death row and yet his words reach beyond the page and his lifespan and speak to us directly. Whatever demons he faced in that time of uncertainty, he believed in peaceful protest, he believed in the Ogoni people and the importance of their culture and beyond all, he believed that the struggle for environmental justice is wholly worthwhile.

Equally, the sense I have of Sister Majella through her recordings on the Maynooth University Library Ken Saro-Wiwa Audio Archive helps place the plight of the Ogoni against an Irish backdrop, adding such a rich relevance to the collection as a whole. Creating public awareness of the collection is an honour and in this time of environmental challenges remains as relevant today as it was at the time of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s life.

The exhibition ran for six weeks in Athy. It was opened by the Lord Mayor of Kildare, Seán Power, with Sister Majella McCarron as guest of honour.

The exhibition will travel to Wexford, proposed dates are:

  • Gorey: 25 May – 4 June
  • Wexford: 10 – 30 June
  • New Ross: 1- 13 July
  • Bunclody: 15-31 July
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s cap
Copyright Maynooth University Library