Thursday, July 4, 2013

A visit to Cecil Court

On 20 June, eight special collections librarians from libraries around London and the South East gathered in Cecil Court, just off Charing Cross Road in London. Cecil Court, occasionally known as Booksellers Row, is filled with antiquarian and other booksellers who have held out against the tides of Amazon and London rent prices. We were met by ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association) Council Member Laurence Worms and promised a glimpse into the world of buying and selling rare books.

The trip was organised in part at concern that many librarians haven’t had a chance to build relationships with booksellers, and Laurence introduced us to no fewer than seven different booksellers’ shops. Each told us a bit about their speciality, from the children’s classics of Marchpane to the modern first editions of Goldsboro Books – both of which had a few of us reaching into our pockets or even library funds. We saw the first atlas printed in English and discussed satirical maps at Tim Bryars, climbed down into a Dickensian basement full of sheet music at Travis & Emery and discussed catalogues of vice books – gambling, gay literature and westerns – at Natalie Galustian Rare Books.

We had been promised the opportunity to ask any question about the bookselling trade, and those we met answered our questions with as much honesty as possible. Frank discussions of pricing and the problems/opportunities of the internet took place alongside fascinating conversations on the history of mapping in Antwerp and the market for children’s books in China and Japan.

A trip to Cecil Court – and the opportunity to learn about and from the booksellers located there – should be a must for any rare book or special collections staff. I've already put it to use, purchasing a few small bits for the Museum of English Rural Life Library and dealing with a volume of Dutch maps found in our collections. Many thanks are due to the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the ABA for organizing this one.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'One is most amused': Running the Queen Victoria’s Journals editathon

(this blog post was first published on the Wikimedia UK blog)

Queen Victoria (via Wikimedia Commons)
‘This book, Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it.’ 

So began the young Victoria in 1832, beginning a lifelong habit – and providing fodder for researchers around the world interested in areas as diverse as music, art, politics, food and the Empress of India herself.

As Communications and Social Media Officer for the Bodleian Libraries , it was my job to find ways to get the word out and help our audiences engage with the Queen Victoria’s Journals project. The project, a collaborative effort between the Bodleian Libraries, the Royal Archives and information company ProQuest, has made Queen Victoria’s diaries available online.

The Bodleian Libraries communications team had already begun to consider how we might create stronger links with the Wikipedia community – we’ve been chatting to Wikipedians in Residence and working with local editors to improve collection-related content. Engaging with the Wikipedia community seemed like a great way to put the Journals material to use as well as to help us develop relationships with Wikipedians in the area, and we decided to run a Queen Victoria’s Journals editathon to coincide with the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birthday on 24 May.

The project’s timing meant that we had a very short window in which to organise an event, but we went ahead. We quickly pulled together some promotional material and got curators lined up for the day, then spent about two and half weeks promoting the event. The help of Wikimedia UK was crucial in getting the word out and making sure everything was set up correctly, but we also advertised within the University and to various Victorian research groups.

We ended up with 14 participants (5 virtual, using IRC to ask questions) as well as curators and staff who came by to answer questions and facilitate. We were lucky enough to have Wikimedia trainers Charles Matthews and Doug Taylor join us, and they provided one-to-one support to the new editors – including the Director of Records for the Royal Household, who was roped into making his first ever edit! Our curators began with a quick intro to Queen Victoria’s journals and the Journals website, and then we dived right in.

The day was a success in terms of articles edited (38, including 3 new ones); Wikipedia is now the 2nd-highest referring site to the Journals website. It was also a relaxed opportunity to engage with the Wikipedia community and to introduce new ways of exploring our collections to those who know most about them. We look forward to hosting another event in the autumn – next time, with kids!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Digital Know-how Day Takeaways: UX for Libraries (or why your user rules your world)

This blog has been occasional at best for the past few years, but I am trying to return to it more regularly. There's lots to write about, but perhaps over the course of a few posts. Although I'm still at the Bodleian Libraries as Communications & Social Media Officer, I'm no longer working for the Conservative Party Archive. Instead, I'm job sharing the position of University Museums & Special Collections Librarian at the University of Reading (super exciting - loving it so far!).

One of the best training/CPD events I've been to recently was my colleague Alison's Digital Know-how Day on UX for Libraries. UX is an increasingly hot topic for libraries (or perhaps I should say it's an increasingly 'duh' topic for the web world and a 'just getting started topic for libraries'? Perhaps that's unfair). As part of the Bodleian Libraries web redevelopment project (first few websites up! see, the project team has spent some time considering how best to figure out what our users actually want and need from our sites. I've learned about and helped with user testing, focus groups, card sorting and more. They all boil down to this: your user (reader, visitor, whatever) is a real person, who is trying to do a real thing or build a real experience. HELP THEM. Web design isn't about colours, or logos - though those things are important. It's about people.

'It's designed so that whatever you do, you'll get the mushroom.'
--Shigero Mayamoto (via Matthew Reidsma)

The day provided a good mix of details and theory, with presentations from Tom Grinsted of the Guardian, Matthew Reidsma (Skyping from a corn field in Michigan), Martin Bazley and Ruth D'Arcy-Daniel as well as some quick fire presentations from me and a few other staff members and a live user testing session.

Key takeaways:

  • Web work and understanding your users is an iterative process. It's constant! That's a good thing!
  • Don't be afraid to show people an unfinished product. Even a paper version can yield great feedback (and save you money and time in changing a finished version). Just don't launch a half-baked product that doesn't work; people would rather use a limited version that works great than a full product with lots of bugs.
  • Make data-based decisions: Hypothesise, launch, test, revise, repeat.
  • It's important to use different types of testing or statistics, qualitative and quantitative, to support your work. Online analytics are great, but your users don't exist in an online vacuum, and neither does your organisation. Use guerrilla testing - it can be a great way to get some fast answers! 
  • Stop designing based on what you 'think' users should be doing. Historically, this is a problem for librarians; we often feel the need to 'help' people do the 'right' thing. Teaching people to use a catalogue is great, but you shouldn't need a guide to your website. Like Super Mario - you learn everything you need to in the first 20 seconds of the game (props to Matthew Reidsma for including video games in a library talk).
All in all, an illuminating day, and lots to keep in mind over future projects, both in Oxford and at Reading. I'll be thinking about how this applies to the Reading SC website as I learn more about its content, and we're addressing the Bodleian Libraries SC sites over the coming months and in preparation for the opening of the Weston Library.

If you want to hear a bit more about the UX day in full, check out the full Storify.