Mining Librarian becomes singing librarian…

So work and play have collided quite a lot recently.  2015 is the bicentenary of the Heaton Colliery disaster and there is a whole programme of events; I also live in Heaton and sing with Heaton Voices…  So on Saturday I will be at the concert as both the Mining Institute Librarian (selling books, promoting library etc) but also as part of the choir!  Should be a busy evening.

On top of that, I was lucky enough to be able to sing with the backing choir with North East Socialist Singers for the Institute’s first CD production!  Thanks to an Arts Council England grant, we have had a singer-songwriter in residence, Gareth Davies-Jones, who has produced a whole album of songs relating to the amazing resources in the Institute, and I got to sing on Master Shifter and Gresford.  The Seam has been a fantastic project and I’m going to be speaking about it at NAG conference this September too.

Finally, I get to do my own gig!  I play and sing as part of Euphoria and we’re on as the support act to Assembly Lane with Moonshine Stragglers at the Bridge Hotel on Thursday 7th May at 7:30pm.  It’s our first gig together so all a little nervous, so all support would be appreciated!  Tickets £5 on the door.

01 A4 folk train US song poster April 15(1)


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“How does a multi-venue exhibition really work and what are the partnership benefits?”

“How does a multi-venue exhibition really work and what are the partnership benefits?”

This training day at Segedunum Museum focused around the three previous successful ‘dispersed exhibitions’ ran by TWAM in partnership with other smaller institutions and the National Portrait Gallery to bring national collections to the region.

Dispersed exhibitions place one image or exhibit from a set in each venue, encouraging the visitor to seek out further items at the other partnering venues with unified panels and publicity and central management of the exhibition as a whole. Each venue could then choose whether simply to display the one panel or whether to add further materials around the topic.

The most recent example was WallFace, in Autumn 2014. Despite a £10k marketing budget, I have to say that I did not personally see any publicity for WallFace although I may not have been in their target audience. I have never had a great enthusiasm for Roman history; I prefer the more recent past.

I was surprised how easily they had overcome some large hurdles which I would have assumed were insurmountable for small institutions relating to national loans. Many environmental problems had been solved by the TWAM conservation team creating individual Perspex cases to contain the images which also removed the necessity for constant invigilation. They did admit that the paperwork is still hefty but they had offered smaller institutions help to deal with the documentation. The process was also simplified by TWAM receiving and condition checking the entire group of loans which also substantially reduced the courier costs.

The goals of the exhibition were also interesting; WallFace did not aim to particularly increase visitor numbers but to add value to the existing visitor experience and to encourage some people to visit one or two extra venues. The understanding from the beginning was that very very few people would visit all ten portraits in the exhibition; I found this odd as I would feel I hadn’t really succeeded in seeing the exhibition without seeing all ten. This may be the completist collector in me…. The real goal behind the exhibition was to trial partnership working and improve relationships and connections between the different Hadrian’s Wall sites. They are then using the experience of WallFace to do a much larger project in 2017 which will aim to increase and develop the audience attending the sites.

WallFace also allowed them to develop events and education around the exhibition. The learning and participation work was done by Conchie & Co who asked schools what they needed most. The answer was Key Stage 3 resources so Conchie then linked the exhibition into the KS3 Art curriculum and was lucky enough to find a school who had decided to base their year around Hadrian’s Wall! Part of the end result has been a single unified website for educational resources around the wall including not only such practicalities as where to park your coach, but also a “homework help” section specifically designed to help the pupils with the independent research required in KS3. Conchie summed up by saying it was crucial to find a way to meet the needs of the school, then grow their needs to also meet your objectives.

Bill Griffiths (Head of Programmes, TWAM) ended on the key messages that dispersed exhibitions are a real, reproducible model for the future for the museums sector but the key to successful working in this way was understanding that it was about co-ordination not control, and equality of all partners. He believes WallFace shows what can be achieved with the true spirit of collaboration!


The day was well worth attending, even if simply to give myself some time to think about exhibitions and how the Institute can tackle this in the future. I felt the event was sadly under-attended with only about 20 people in the room, at least 9 of whom were speakers. I will be interested to see how the concept of dispersible exhibitions is developed in the future; and should one relevant to the Institute come up, I would certainly investigate the possibilities. The only remaining difficulty for a small institution I believe would be security and insurance which was touched upon but not fully developed. I would be interested to know the actual cost (in both money and time) to one of the small institutions involved in a previous dispersed exhibition before I would be willing to sign up!

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“Down the Mine” – Orwell

One of the joys (or not, depending) of managing volunteers is that they often bring you things to read/see/admire that they feel should interest you.  In some cases, it’s their holiday photographs, but today it was an article by George Orwell.  I had no idea that Orwell had published an article entitled “Down the Mine” and it has some wonderful quotes explaining coal mining for the beginner.  My favourite is:

“Coal lies in thin seams between enormous layers of rock, that essentially the process of getting it out is like scooping the central layer from a Neapolitan ice.”

He is hugely sympathetic to the physical demands of the work of the miners, and praises their strengths and abilities.  All in all, one of the better items I have been presented with to read, and I can recommend the volume of essays, entitled “Inside the Whale and other Essays”, as a introduction to mining as it was in the 1930s.

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DCRM(B) course – In Newcastle thanks to CILIP and the Rare Books and Special Collections Group

A course I really want to do – actually in Newcastle! (1/4/14)

This all started quite a while ago when the CILIP RBSCG tweeted “Where should we run training outside of London?” and I immediately said “NEWCASTLE!” and offered them a barter – free room for free place?  It all took a while to organise, but eventually today it all came together beautifully.  The course was not just full, it was over subscribed so we stretched it to include another two places and it was everything I needed it to cover.

Instead of all of us going down to London, Hugh Cahill came up from Lambeth Palace Library and Iris O’Brien trekked up from the British Library to give us the high speed, idiot’s guide to DCRM(B).  It was designed for cataloguers who use AACR2/MARC already but want to know how to expand their rare books records to be more informative and useful for their users.  Helpfully, for those of us on a low budget (aren’t we all?) DCRM(B) is available free on this website which is a great start – actually being able to access to rules (unlike the RDA Toolkit – far, far out of my budgetary range but that’s a whole separate discussion).

We started with the Objectives and Principles which I hadn’t ever really properly read, I realised.  I had always leapt straight into DCRM(B) with a specific question of “how do I record this awkward element of X early book” rather than looking at the rules as a whole and understanding the ideas behind it.  So I highly recommend reading through those and actually thinking about the end user that you are cataloguing for rather than just cataloguing it for other cataloguers.

Next up was transcription issues (punctuation, 23 letter alphabet and nasty abbreviations).  I feel I need to check my ISBD punctuation crib sheet and ensure that I have all of those correct too.  Luckily, not many of my books are early enough to have the 23 letter alphabet but apparently there’s a helpful conversion table in the rules for those of us who don’t meet it very often.  Again and again came the need to provide multiple versions of the title in 246 to help users find it without knowing the exact title of the copy in your hand.

So into the 245 field: main lessons were

  • all from the title page
  • No abbreviations
  • Can’t omit any of the first 5 words (really, would you want to??)
  • ALL contributors/authors (no rule of three – also gone in RDA which I feel is a good thing)
  • Do not omit titles of nobility (oops…)
  • Don’t add accents which aren’t in the original (even if they would be there in modern French)
  • If the SoR is grammatically linked to the title (i.e. in genitive case) then you can’t move it.
  • If the author is given elsewhere in the book, don’t put in 245c but DO make a 100/700 access point and a note.

Area 2: Edition (250)

Transcribe EVERYTHING and avoid abbreviations.  Even if it takes several sentences.  And an impression may equate to an edition for handpress books so you might need to include that here too.

Area 4: Publication (260)

Full transcription again.  Prefixes, phrases, addresses, sold by.  The lot.  “Printed at the x for the y near z”.  Multiple 260a’s for all those extra place names but try and maintain the order on the page.  That’s MUCH more than I was previously putting so this was probably the steepest learning curve.  Particularly when they added that we should have the whole date in 260c including the days and months if they give it on the original and any “in the year of” or “anno” text as well.

Added Entries (700)

This was probably my biggest shock/change/sinking feeling moment – you need a 700 (ideally!) for everyone involved in the creation of the book.  The publisher.  The bookbinder.  The bookseller.  Eep!  That’s a lot of extra authority records for our system and a lot of extra added entries.  I can see why; it’s a neat idea for someone tracking everything published/sold/bound by a particular person but it’s just a whole new thing for me to do which I have somehow completely missed.

Formats, Signatures and Cancels

Then after the big shock, came the maths and the practical exercise.  Now maths is not my strong point.  Not even basic arithmetic to be honest so this was tricky.  It was all to do with understanding how the book was put together from folded sheets of big paper.  From hearing the explanation I now know that I would have made a lousy printer as I would have definitely got confused and got my text upside down at least once in every form.  Utterly impossible and I now have a lot more sympathy with printer’s errors. 

We folded a sheet to understand how you get folio, quarto and octavo then we looked at signatures.  No, not the sort you do with a pen to write your name (I thought we had skipped quickly on to provenance at first…) but the little letters at the bottom of a page.  A1, A2, B2 – that kind of thing.  They’re to help the bookbinder get the pages in the right order when they put all the gathers (folded bits of paper) together and we can describe it on a catalogue record.  I would explain further but I haven’t found superscript on here yet which would make it difficult and I’m not sure I’m the best person to describe it.  Try Gaskell instead if you need to know.  Needless to say this is where the maths came in (turns out I can’t multiple 8 by 7…) but I did understand the underlying principles.  And in the handouts there was a handy chart to check whether the number you think you should have according to the signature matched the number given by the page numbers.  Hurrah, someone else did the maths!

Cancels are new corrected leaves inserted because there was an error.  Look for the stub where the original page was cut out, added hints could be if the page didn’t line up or was different paper with the chain lines going the other way.


The physical description should include all leaves including unnumbered sequences.  Also keep that end user in mind; people are often more interested in the provenance, annotations, bindings, stamps and shelf marks than they are in the actual main body of text.  After all, they probably got that online already…

300a: Transcribe the page numbering.  Even lower case or capital roman numerals should match the original.  Add “28 plates (1 folded)” type phrases for illustrative plates.
300b:  What’s an illustration?  A major picture.  Not a printers device.  Can also say what the production process of the illustration was (e.g. woodcut) if you know.
300c: height in cm plus (fol.) (4to) (8vo) in brackets afterwards to record the format.

We covered format earlier in the session although I will admit to still not feeling entirely confident with describing that one.  Perhaps with a little more practise and the helpfully provided cribsheet.  Also, it’s not something which has featured in any of our existing catalogue records so I’m not sure I should start including it.  How useful can it really be to a user?  After all, they know the height of the item so it doesn’t tell them anything extra there.  I think I need to be more convinced of it’s usefulness, particularly as it would take me a great deal of time.

Adverts: include the pages of adverts in your 300a if they are integral to the publication, so if they’re the same pagination (fairly obvious and I would have automatically included them in that case anyway personally) or in the same gathering as text or the same signature sequence.  I also add a 650 in house subject heading of “advertisements” thanks to the number of enquiries I have had relating to adverts for things.  It’s quicker in the long run, believe me!

Volumes: Bibliographic vs Physical.  You’re recording how the publisher issued it, not how some Victorian binder thought it should be later on.  So hence you get “3 vols in 5” where they have been split or “8 vols in 4” where they have been merged.


All the way through the day, both Hugh and Iris said, “and you would add a note about that” and this is where we came to the 500s and all those notes.  So in a whistlestop tour of the 500s we had:

  • Signatures.  Note if considered important – and always for incunables – particularly if your sequence doesn’t match those in the published bibliographies.
  • References (510) – put them in if you have used other sources to provide your info.
  • Subject headings.  Important if the keyword search is limited by archaic terminology and non-standardized spellings.
  • Provenance (561) – give names, what evidence, location in the volume, date (if ascertainable) and relation to the book.  Add 700 headings for any of the people mentioned giving their relationship in 700e and remembering to put in your local library code to show it’s copy specific.  Things like “armorial bookplate of William Marsden on pastedown”.  or “bequest of Mr Smith (booklabel)”. All very helpful if (God-forbid) one of your books gets stolen and you have to prove that it’s that specific copy now on sale down the road….  Good message for senior management: “Good cataloguing is good security”
  • Binding (563) – materials, decoration, fittings, end papers and pastedowns, headbands, date, place, binder’s name, references, repairs.  Quite a long list and don’t forget your local library code again.
  • Other copy specific info (562).  Imperfections/misbindings.  Variants.  Interleaving.  Hand colouring and Bound with (Such as “bound with 17 others, first item is X and spine reads Y”.


The first (very positive) thing Iris had to say about RDA is, you don’t have to do it!  DCRM(B) is a valid standard in it’s own right.  Equally she recognised that many people will be working within institutions which are moving towards RDA and they are working towards DCRM2 which would be a consolidated set of rules (for maps, serials etc as well as books) that would fit in with RDA.  A big job obviously and also hampered by licensing complications as they would like to provide it free online however that’s tricky with copyrighted RDA text.

DCRM(B) only covers the descriptive elements of a catalogue record so you can still happily use RDA access points without calling it a hybrid record.  You can also make hybrid records and there’s some helpful guidance about that here called the BIBCO standard record. It gives the RDA rule number and the MARC code too.  In hybrid records you will follow the transcription rules in DCRM(B) but within an RDA framework so the record must have two 040e’s – dcrmb and rda to show that you’re following two sets of rules.  It means you will have the RDA fields 336, 337 and 338 and you would be using 264 instead of 260 and giving “pages” and “illustrations” in 300.

We finished off with some practical exercises (be warned, if you host one of these you have to find some early example books for everyone to try out their new skills!) and in the process I found out a few new things about items in my collection.  I had no idea, for instance, that one of the plates in my copy of The Natural History of Staffordshire included one plate which was actually a pencil sketch copy of the original – done in 1778.  I had never noticed before!  Clearly shows the importance of checking every plate in a rare book carefully.  I had simply checked that there was something pictorial opposite every page that the index said there was a plate.  Didn’t really look at it any more closely than that.  Seems I now need a 700 entry for the artist (who helpfully signed his work).

So where do I go from here?  I’m planning to revisit my early printed books (which I had to find for course materials anyway so I know where they are) and check that the records are full enough adding more edition, publication information and lots of 700s all round.  Then I will have to look at the Tracts collection and deal with the complications of “bound with” in a major way.  I assume I create one record per item and add a note to say where it physically is.  That seems to be the overriding message – add a note!


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Folk music and archives combined…









Isn’t it nice when your job and your hobbies come together?  My day job is librarianship but my evenings are often spent with folk music.  Last night I went to a show which beautifully combined the two – The Full English at the Sage Gateshead.  They used material taken from the new online archive developed at the English Folk Dance and Song Society and brought it to life on stage.  Big screens showed linked photographs of collectors, singers, or just connected images.  They even played along to old footage of morris dancing, and used original wax-cylinder recordings to springboard into their own tunes.  There was also new tunes written by Nancy Kerr, inspired by the collections.

Overall, it felt like a real “show” – time and effort had clearly gone into arranging it and it was definitely worth while.  I’ve been a couple of disappointing gigs at the Sage recently but this one felt like value for money.  Best of all, they finished the show with a singalong chorus number, and even displayed the words on screen to help us all join in!

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Sustainable Collections Care 16/10/13

Environmental impact is a big watchword these days, but I will admit I hadn’t thought of it in relation to collections care.  All this dehumidifying and lighting and heating that we have to do to make collections accessible and safe has an environmental impact.  It also has a financial impact too thanks to the rising energy costs.

This (free) training day at Bede’s World was provided by the Conservation Advisory Network and covered:

  • Sustainability at the Bowes Museum (Jon Old)
  • Saving money and the environment, solar panels and LED lighting in a Grade I listed building (Dennis Jones, Durham Heritage Centre)
  • PAS guidelines and how they can be effectively used to reduce energy usage (Dawn Bradshaw, TWAM)
  • Museum and Gallery lighting with LED technology (Dave Warburton, Concord)
  • The National Trust’s approach to Environmental Sustainability and Collections Care (John Wynn Griffiths)
  • Biomass Heating (Edward Milbank, Pennine Biomass)
  • Going for Gold – how to become a gold rated ‘green’ museum (Helen Marrit, Killhope)

LED lighting was a big topic and kept coming up through most presentations.  Our lighting is largely big fluorescent tubes (which we hate and would love to replace) and a few (energy saving) ordinary bulbs.  In the long term, yes, I would love LED lighting and movement sensors.  In the mean time, we are trying to train staff and volunteers to switch off lights and we’re experimenting with turning less lights on in the main library.  I used to just switch them all on regardless every morning, now I do half and see if the day is bright enough to manage without.  Like many environmental measures, it requires a bit of thought and a little bit more time.

“Green Teams” were also mentioned a few times which is the idea of having a group of staff who are really committed to being environmentally friendly.  Killhope try and recruit new members of staff straight into the Green Team so they have ecological working practices taught from the start of their career at the museum.  At the Institute, it is largely me and Simon, but he has definitely brought greener practice with him.  We now recycle (although this entails taking your washed out yoghurt pots home again as the City Council doesn’t provide business recycling bins) and we also are more aware of switching off machines and screens completely.

It was heartening to hear that the new specifications for environmental conditions are more relaxed.  The new PAS 198:2012 has made guidelines more achievable thanks to doing a lot of work into whether broadening the parameters would damage collections.  There is also a switch to considering items separately rather than as collections.  There’s new emphasis on thinking about what the building can achieve on its own – do you need the machines year round?  I found this an interesting thought.  I automatically run dehumidifiers 24/7, 365 days (or as near as I can get it) but do I actually need to?  With seasonal variations, probably not.  I should pay more attention to the meters and the RH levels before I switch them on.  I know that our stores will never get too dry (lower limit still 30%) so I tend to run them “just in case” when I could save energy, and the environment, without them.

We all smiled when Dawn mentioned the safe working limit for employees was 16 degrees.  I think it’s a given part of the job that we all end up working in cold environments.  Many of us have old (therefore cold) buildings plus a deliberate aim to keep stores cold (7-14 deg in winter) so we all end up cold too!  Several galleries suggested 18 degrees as their aim for the public spaces (given that visitors will probably be wearing coats and moving around).  Later in the winter, perhaps I will do a post specifically on tips to keep warm!  We were certainly sharing ideas on our table!

Biomass heating wasn’t such a hot topic for me, it did look like a great option if you’re currently on oil or electric heating, but if you can get mainline gas, that’s still cheaper.  I did love their solution of installing web-cams into fuel stores so they can check how much you have left without you having to go and look!  Really using the advantages of technology to make life easier.

Finally, Helen from Killhope gave lots of examples of how they have become a greener museum.  One I hadn’t considered was purchasing sustainable office and housekeeping supplies.  I don’t think much thought is currently going into that here, and perhaps we could shift to some more environmentally friendly options.  There’s LUSH soap in the staff kitchen already – there’s a start!

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Miscellaneous CPD/children’s literature events

You know how you go to an event and you promise yourself you will do an interesting blog post about it tomorrow?  But tomorrow various busy things happen and you get to 5pm and you’ve done many things but not a blog post.  So I’m going to try and do a catch up post of several of those events…

Peter Hunt (12 Feb 2013)
Ransome’s Rivals: Arthur Ransome and Children’s Literature of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

It was slightly stunning to meet the author of so many of the children’s literature textbooks who was talking about lesser known books from between the two golden ages of children’s literature.  This time had previously been described as “dull” and “retreatist” but it was now been reassessed.  After all, it includes many memorable books and writers – William, The Hobbit, Mary Poppins and Arthur Ransome to name a few.  The prevailing idea before was that children’s fiction of this era was ignoring important social movements.  Hunt has struggled to find children’s books of the era which refer to things such as the Spanish Civil War.  But does that prove they are “retreatist”?

Publishers did ask some writers to ignore the Second World War, however there were also incredibly popular books which focused on the war and it’s repercussions such as Visitors from London (Kitty Barne), I go by Sea, I go by Land (P. L. Travers) and We couldn’t Leave Dinah (Mary Treadgold).  This shows children’s fiction was fully able to take on the war and produce stories which were popular with readers both at the time and afterwards.

Brian Alderson “How are we doing, Miss Butler?”: the children’s literature collections of the Robinson Library
(17 April 2013)

The lecture was preceded by a quick introduction to a new AHRC Cultural Engagement funded project to research Brian Alderson’s own archive and collection of children’s books as well as his own stories and recollections relating to those collections.  This was described by Dr Kate Wright and Dr Tara Bergin and it sounded an absolutely fascinating project and I think many of the audience really envied their jobs over the next three months.  They are aiming to digitise selected items, create a websiite and record some of Brian’s stories into an oral archive.

Brian then took the floor to talk about what had been the Joan Butler collection at Herfordshire County Libraries.  He was disappointed to discover that many of the early eighteenth and nineteenth century books had disappeared before it had reached Newcastle but he still had some interesting pieces to talk about.

Sarah Brown “I am Malala” Annual Fickling Lecture (25 April 2013)

Sarah has blogged herself about giving this lecture and even kindly includes the full text which is wonderful for those who couldn’t make it to Newcastle.

Sarah emphasised first the importance and the power of stories and their impact on the world in which we live.  She quoted Pullman’s lovely idea about the space between the reader and the book where your own ideas are given back to you clarified and magnified.  I could immediately relate to that feeling.  She continued the theme by affirming that literature and reading is not just a way of passing time, it was about finding meaning and books can teach children complex moral lessons.  Stories have the power to tell us who we are.  This is why the most terrifying thing for the Taliban is a girl with a book…

This led neatly into Sarah’s focus for the evening of education and the need for every child around the world to be in education.  There is a goal set by world leaders in 2000 that all children should have a place in school by 2015 but currently that goal is still 61 million children short of being met…  So the campaign is on to force world leaders not to forget their promise at A world at School

She wasn’t asking for our money, just our voice.  To sign up to receive the newsletter, the tweets and to forward them to our followers and friends.  Simple and effective.  So do go and read the speech and sign up.

Brian Alderson “Enid Blyton and the big red ledger” (22 May 2013)

This lecture was held at Seven Stories who also kindly allowed us to visit the Enid Blyton exhibition (including sitting in the Noddy car…) to see the huge range of work Blyton created in her 600-700 works.  Brian emphasised however, that the thread running through all her work was Education.  She was trained as a Froebel teacher and one of her earliest efforts was a Teachers Treasury with ideas for work, stories, poems and plays.  One unusual element was “Unfinished Stories” to be used for teaching narrative.  A very forward thinking idea!

Natural history also runs through her work and she clearly believed that children should have a knowledge of animals, birds and the countryside.  Even her Nature Readers are constructed around a story with an accompanying reference book to give the detail.  She is converting instruction into a narrative.  Brian also highlighted the immense variety in how her work is illustrated.

He then talked about the problem Blyton posed for librarians and their worries that there would be no urgency for a child to read anything else and her storytelling was limited in what it had to offer.  After all, it was generally 2 boys, 2 girls and an animal in her adventure series with minimal differences between them.  Oh, and the animal usually rescues the children at some point….  Brian asked “What did these children go on to read?”  Well, as a Blyton child myself, I went on to read an awful lot but I do still have a love for series fiction.  Perhaps that’s a Blyton legacy?

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