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Cataloguing: not really scary….

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As first year student librarian, the thing that caused me the greatest anxiety was cataloguing.

I understood the reasons and theories behind it; to help people retrieve information about resources in a library from a list, and from various points of access, and that a person called a cataloguer usually did this job. (This ABC-CLIO-ODLIS article provides a great definition). While I had a tenuous grasp on the basics, could navigate my way around a MARC record, and on a good day, I could remember what AACR2 stood for, the idea of applying my fresh knowledge in a workplace was a bit nerve wracking.

So signing up for a RDA webinar, run by the Schools Catalogue Information Service was a great opportunity to learn more about how cataloguing was changing in school libraries.

A bit of background: the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) is a subscription based cataloguing service for schools, where school libraries can copy catalogue records into their library management system, rather than doing it from scratch. This service is critical for schools as it limits the time spent on original cataloguing, leaving more time for librarians to focus on developing programs and educating students.

RDA or Resource Description and Access replaces AACR2 (or Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, the second version). Basically AACR is a set of rules used for describing an item in a library catalogue. AACR was written before technology, so can run into issues when a cataloguer needs to describes something digital like an e-book. RDA has been written to replace the old system and bring it up to date with new technology.

The Webinar I attended was run by the Australian School Library Association(ASLA)  and involved representatives from SCIS discussing how their organisation was addressing the change to RDA and what this would mean for librarians responsible for cataloguing in schools. They described RDA as ‘resource description for the digital age’ and explained how RDA would use carrier, media and content to describe resources, rather than the physical description currently used. Practically, librarians could expect not to find a GMD (General Material Designation) when the new standards were implemented and that certain phrases such as ‘second edition’ and the Bible would no longer be abbreviated.

As a student, I found it reassuring that there was this kind of support available to librarians when changes in standards are made. It not longer feels like I will be turned out into the big bad world as a fresh librarian and expect to know every single standards and cataloguing method there is off by heart. There is a network of people and organisations out there working to educate and support librarians.

The other thing that I found reassuring is that the librarians attending the webinar were happy and comfortable to ask questions and to share the knowledge and information that they had. Maybe this reflects the core function of a librarian: to provide people with access to information. It is clear that this flows into professional development as well. There is an eagerness to share information willingly, and to support other members of the profession. This is not the first time I have encountered this. During both of my professional placements (as a part of my university degree, I am expected to complete a certain amount of professional placements in different libraries), the librarians I worked with were happy to share knowledge and answer endless questions, even the really stupid ones (‘what’s a call number?’ after I had spend an hour sticking them on books! *facepalm*)

So the moral of this story is that if you are a newly enrolled LIS student, its ok not to know what the number of the publisher field in a MARC catalogue is, because there is always someone out there who can help you. My advice as someone who is very close to graduation is to find a mentor who you can mine for information, and not to be worried that you don’t know everything after your first term. Also, after a while, cataloguing actually becomes really satisfying and just a bit fun.



Public libraries, e-Books and UX design

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Have you ever tried to download an e-book from your public library website? What was your experience? Did you find what you were looking for easily and could download it efficiently ? Or did you struggle to decipher file formats and instructions?

This post will focus on how libraries can provide simple and efficient access to e-books on their website, given the multitude of formats, platforms and e-readers available. It will look at the design, content, formats and platforms offered on public library websites, and the aspects of these sites that lead to a positive or negative user experience. It will then look at user experience design as a possible tool for libraries and librarians to assist creating website that are easy to use for patrons.

While this post will obviously be aimed at librarians, I hope it will also help IT staff tasked with designing or maintaining a public library website, as well as other information professionals, such as teacher librarians who might be struggling with e-resource access. Hopefully, it will also help e-book readers to understand how libraries structure their e-lending websites and the reasons behind some of the seemingly arbitrary rules and methods of delivery.

There is no getting around the enormity of this issue! There are a multitude of factors which influence how public libraries design and run their websites and how e-books are lent to library patrons. User experience design is also a broad set of principles and practices and applies to both websites and manufactured products. To help simplify these issues (and to stop you nodding off!), I have created a series of videos to outline the issues and their possible solutions. I have also restricted my discussions to borrowing fiction e-books, rather than access to electronic databases and journals.

Chapter 1: E-books and public libraries

Chapter one will look at how an Australian library is offering e-books through its website.

You will also get to meet Bob.

Picture of an old man with an e-reader

This is Bob



 Chapter 2: User experience design

What user experience design? This video will outline the basics of user experience design. As the video will mention, it is a very broad topic. if you would like to do some further reading, I have listed some resources at the end of this post.


Chapter 3: Public libraries and e-Books: how does UX design fit in?

The second chapter looked the basics of user experience design and how it focuses on the emotions the user experiences when they are interacting with a product, and how designers might approach a project with this in mind. This chapter will consider how these elements may be incorporated into a library website to help patrons access e-books in a simple and efficient way.

So there you have it! I warned you it is a broad and complicated issues, and not something that can be solved easily or quickly.

If you didn’t have the fortitude to sit through my fifteen minutes of video, here are some takeaway points;

  • Delivering e- books to patrons is complicated and often dictated by the e-book vendor or publisher, who may apply restrictions on the books available and how they are accessed.
  • UX design is about the emotional interaction a user has with a product, not aesthetic design or functionality.
  • Consultation with the user is critical at all stages of the design process
  • Libraries and librarians may not have control over how their websites are designed and managed, therefore making it difficult to design to their users needs.
  • A UX designed library website might be flexible, small, not for librarians and be able to communicate efficiently in a limited time frame.

If you would like to read more about Digital Rights Management, you can read about it here. The  IFLA E-lending Background Paper gives a good overview of the current e-lending landscape and how it affects libraries.

These are the books and articles mentioned in the videos. Unfortunately some of them maybe behind a paywall, but your local library or university library may be able to provide access for you.

Chapter 1

No shelf required : e-books in libraries.  Edited by Sue Polanka. Sue also has a blog that is worth reading.

E-books as a collection and a service: Developing a public library instruction program to support eBook use. By Brendan O’Connell and Dana Haven

Library e-books: Some can’t find them, others find them and don’t know what they are. By James A. Buczynski

The e-book revolution : a primer for librarians on the front lines. By Kate Sheehan.

I found this book extremely helpful, easy to read and current (published 2013).  Highly recommended  if you are thinking about implementing e-books in your library, or studying.

chapter 2

What Is User Experience Design? Overview, Tools And Resources. By Jacob Gube. This is a great article. Smashing magazine has a multitude of amazing articles and books on a variety of UX topics.

The elements of user experience : user-centered design for the Web . By Jesse James Garrett.

A project guide to UX design : for user experience designers in the field or in the making. By Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler

Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences. By Allen Jesmond and James Chudley

User Experience (UX) Design for Libraries. By Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches

Chapter 3

Some of the resources in chapter 3 are the same as those used in chapter 2, so I haven’t listed them here- you can find them in the chapter 2 list.

Lessons from Steve Jobs: a digital framework for tapping into patrons’ emotions. By Helene Blowers

UX Gardens. By Robert Fox.

Public libraries and E-books: after a tumultuous honeymoon, seeking a stable marriage. By Devin Crawley

Reference BackTalk: Testing, Testing: Virtual Reference UX. By Stephen Francoeur






Genre wars.

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In August last year (yes, it has taken me a while to write this post!) I was invited to attended an event presented by the English Teachers’ Association of Queensland. The aim of the event was to give english teachers an overview of shortlisted book in the Children’s book council of Australia’s Book of the Year award and was presented by the Young People’s Librarian at the Toowoomba Regional Library, Liz Derouet.

Liz outlined each book and gave some personal comments about what she thought of the writing, plot and her experiences reading the book. She was well informed about each novel and it was clear that she had read most of the books, although she did admit to listening to the audio versions during her morning and afternoon commute to save time. The list of books was extensive, and as I flipped through the numerous pages of notes, I ashamedly realised that I had not read one of these books. Not a single one.

Time for a confession. My reading habits are very… escapist. I pretty much live on a diet of fantasy and science fiction, with the occasional Billie Letts book (My favorite is The Honk and Holler opening soon. There is something about her feel-good depiction of American poverty and heartache that just gets me everytime). I have preferred this genre since I was a kid, and while I did diversify my reading at times (I spent one summer reading every Kinky Friedman book I could get my hands on), I always strayed back to the dragons and space ships. Who knows what influences or experiences lead to a particular reading preference? It never really bothered me. Until now. Working in a secondary school library meant that I was frequently asked to recommend books, or for books that are similar to other books. This was fine if  the kid was into Raymond E. Fiest, but anything else? Forget it! I had no idea.

So then began the genre wars. I made a concerted effort to read books that were not fantasy/sci-fi. I started with Margo Lanagan’s Sea Heartsnot a complete departure, but a start at least. This book is amazing. Please go and find a copy and read it immediately! Lanagan has created a whimsical, but dark tale about greed, love and loss, in language so beautiful it will make you weep. Seriously. It is that good.  Not a bad start, I thought, to my foray into other genre

Cover of Sea hearts by Margo Lanagan

Cover of Sea hearts by Margo Lanagan

Lets just say, since then, my reading habit strayed back to the escapism, just the young adult escapism I can borrow from the library.

I think the idea that has made me struggle with diversifying my reading, is the contrast between reading as a form of enjoyment, and reading as professional development. I definitely see the need to read widely as a librarian, so that we can make informed recommendations and to better understand what our users are interested in. We also need to read to ascertain whether certain titles are suitable for young audiences especially in a secondary school library (I am not talking censorship here, there are just some books that seem suitable, but are  not appropriate for teenagers. Sometimes the only way to make that decision is to read the book).

Despite the stereotype; Librarians do not spend all day reading. It is not our job to read every book on the shelf, rather,  it is our job to know our collections and to be able to link users with resources that are meaningful to them. Reading every book that we think our users would be interested in is impossible and illogical, and would take us away from the fundamental elements of being a librarian.

So maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up about my reading choices, which are in essence a form of relaxation, along the same lines as yoga or gardening. However, I think it is vital to be in touch with what is popular or seminal in the reading lives of our users. During my time as a fledgling librarian, I have learnt that it is vital to establish and maintain a network of people and resources who can help you stay informed. Suppliers, colleagues and events, such as the one I attended, and the the students/users themselves all assist in developing an understanding of what is needed in a that particular library.

Are you a librarian/Library sciences student? I would love to hear about your reading habits? Did your habit change after you become a librarian?


Picture books in the high school library: Fantastic or foolish?

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While reshelving book the other day, I overheard one girl question the necessity of picture books in a high school library (I am a library aide at a secondary college). ‘We are in high school,’ she exclaimed. ‘Surely we are too old for picture books!(or something to that effect)’. One of the librarians calmly explained that we keep a collection of pictures book for our ESL and learning support students, and for a unit of English where students explore picture books.

Picture books provide other curriculum benefits as well. Susan M. Landt in her article about using picture books in Geography points out that picture books are a great way to engage student and to introduce certain topics and subjects. She goes on to say that picture books are often thought of as being redundant after students are advanced enough to read novels. Trevor Cairney believes  this tendency to see picture books as childish ignores the complex themes and literacy and visual devices that authors and illustrators use. He promotes the continued use of picture books as supporting literacy and creativity;

‘Picture books are important for children ages 0-12 years, so don’t neglect them or disregard them in a perhaps well-intentioned, but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember books are foundational to language writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text’– Trevor Cairney

I would go further than this. I think that picture books have merit for all ages, not just those aged 0-12, and not just for those who are studying writing or language. As an artform, picture books often give an insight into an aspect of the human condition, history, or natural history which can be forgotten or overlooked in the adult world. Picture book illustrators and authors have a fantastic ability to refine stories into a form that is clean and relatable. Combining this form of storytelling with illustrations provides an extra level of meaning.

I think it would be fair at this stage to point out that I have a background in the visual arts,  and have a passion for illustration of all kinds. I will freely admit to spending more time looking at the illustrations than I do reading the text. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Children’s book illustrators (the accomplished ones, not the Disney spin-offs. My intense dislike of Disney picture books is a whole other post!) are often overlooked as artist, and while their subjects and style can be a bit cutesy at times, their skill and imagination is awe inspiring. Here are some titles that I am loving at the moment:

‘Peggy’ (Anna Walker, Scholastic)peggy

Peggy is a story about an adventurous chicken who strays into the city and has a day of fun and new discoveries, but is glad to finally find her way home. The illustrations are soft watercolours embellished with graphite, coloured pencil and collage. The pages alternate between full page illustrations, storyboard like grids and small drawings on almost blank pages. This style of layout gives the book visual variety and combined with a repetition of graphite lines, gives a sense of movement to Peggy’s journey.



‘Octopuppy’ (Martin McKenna, Omnibus Books)


Octopuppy (not to be confused with Octomom!) tells the story of Edgar, who really wants a puppy, but ends up with Jarvis the octopus. Jarvis refuses to act like a dog, despite being entered into a dog show, and embarasses Edgar, by juggling, playing the piano and ballet dancing in front of the judges and other contestants. The illustrations in Octopuppy are digitally produced and consequently are more polished than the hand drawn illustrations in ‘Peggy.’ However, McKenna’s attention to detail really makes the story of Jarvis and Edgar come alive and the fanciful end pages showing Jarvis in a variety of costumes is  endearing.



‘Laika, the astronaut’ (Owen Davey, Allen and Unwin)


If you have a soft spot for dogs, this book may bring a few tears to your eyes. It is the true story of Laika (pronounced like+a) the stray dog who is recruited into the Soviet space program and  lost in space on her first mission. There is a beautiful, heartwarming twist at the end which I won’t spoil. The illustrations stick to a muted palette, but this choice suits the retro style of the illustrations perfectly.





‘The Rules of Summer’ (Shaun Tan, Lothian)


I have had a bit of an art crush on Shaun Tan for a while now, all thanks to this book, which I initially didn’t like much at all. While I enjoyed his quirky and beautifully rendered illustrations, I found the storyline annoyingly unfathomable. But, after reading it a few times, I decided that it was a story of a little boy who makes mistakes, pride, apology and forgiveness set in a bizarre and colourful world.




We all have fond memories of picture books from our childhood. Being read to by a parent or grandparent, or endlessly pouring over a favorite. Why does this have to stop in adulthood? Next time you are in a book  shop, why not buy a picture book all for yourself? I say be selfish! don’t give it to the kids, keep it as a special gift to your imagination and sense of joy!


Libraries Dewey it better…..

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A couple of months ago I had a interesting conversation with a company rep about the Dewey Decimal systems in schools. He was very critical of some school decision to remove the Dewey Decimal system from its shelves, and sometimes even the books as well (you can read about that here).

I don’t remember ever formally learning how to find books using Dewey, but after two undergraduate degrees and most of a master’s degree, and a job as a library aide, navigating Dewey  comes  as second nature. However, I can definitely see how attempting to find a book in the non-fiction section can be daunting, especially to those who are still learning about numbers and the alphabet.

There is much discussion in the Library and information sector about the relevance of Dewey, particularly in the primary school library. Holli Buchter in her article ‘Dewey vs. Genre Throw down’ ( my apologies to those who are unable to access this article) outlines how her school replaced Dewey with a genre based system, which organises non-fiction based on its subject. Kaplan’s (et al) article, ‘Are Dewey’s day numbered?’ also recounts how a primary school abandoned Dewey for  a similar system.

Both articles are enthusiastic about the increased patronage and circulation after the change to a genre based system and recount how students were able to navigate their way around the non- fiction without the help of the librarian. Buchter’s article explains that  this experience of success for students helped to alleviate feelings of failure and anxiety created by the confusion of the Dewey system and  creates seamless links between classroom learning and research. Kaplan (et al) mirrors this idea, saying that students achieved an ‘aha’ moment when they found the information they were looking for independently.

These libraries are identifying a need in their client base and being flexible and creative in their solutions. By doing this they have achieved an environment which supports the student’s learning and develops a safe, interesting place where students can delve deeper into the subjects that inspire them. However, what happens to these students once they move beyond these libraries? The library experience (hopefully) doesn’t end in primary school. How will these students cope when they move into High school, or  public or academic libraries?

While Dewey can be daunting, even to those who are used to it, it does provide the library with a consistent  way of organising resources. Shirley Bateman also points out that Dewey is universal, meaning that students can conceivably access information in a variety of libraries and  it can accommodate a multitude of subjects in a detailed way.

Maybe the Dewey vs Genre argument can’t be solved with a black and white solution. Maybe some libraries need to the strictly DDeweyewey, while others need a Genre system or a combination of both. The ultimate goal is to achieve an environment where the clients are able to find what they need, and provide an enjoyable (or at least satisfying) experience. I think, however, that school libraries need to be mindful that they are establishing the habits of future library users and that Dewey is likely to be in that future.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with Dewey? Would you prefer a browsable, genre based system?

The Article: An academic journey

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photoWhile craft, sewing and food are definitely a time consuming passion, my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science often takes centre stage. This semester, I have had the opportunity to devote all of my time exploring one issue; seniors, social technology and public libraries. The inspiration for this project came from helping a couple of seniors in my life through their technology use and witnessing the problems and barriers they faced. The project involved interviewing seniors to find out exactly how they use social technologies and then comparing the results to the programs that public library offer.

Developing a project from scratch presented several challenges. The research problem needed to be succinct and focussed, meaning that the multitude of ideas I had identified in my initial thinking needed to be pared down. The aim was to clarify my thinking and to sift out the central themes that could lead to a tidy article and be interesting enough keep focus over the duration of the semester. This was achieved in the project, however, at times I found it very difficult to funnel the large amounts of information I was dealing with into tight parcels of information that supported the overall premise of the project.

The other challenging aspect of this project was process of initiating, setting up and conducting interviews. By nature, I am a fairly solitary being and usually choose to do things by myself if I can. For this project, I had to cold call strangers, explain my project and what I wanted from each participant, and follow up on calls and emails if people didn’t reply. This process was definitely out of my comfort zone, but an important learning curve in terms of what I am actually capable of. I think sometimes the important lessons learnt don’t necessary come from the topic or the task, but a realisation that you are capable of things that were previously thought uncomfortable and avoided.

The advantage of devoting an entire semester on one project is the depth of understanding that is developed about the topic and the insights that this can bring. Before I began this project I had a static view of what a senior and technology looked like. It was a person who had no interest in technology and was fearful of how it worked and what its use meant for society. Actually talking to seniors about their technology use showed me that in reality, seniors had complex views of technology and were largely positive about the effect it had on their lives. I think that this is an essential lesson for a new librarian. Client’s can’t be taken at face value, they each have unique information or entertainment needs which should be met on an individual basis, not with a blanket solution.

At the end of this semester, I am a little bit brain dead, but glad that I decided to undergo this project. It was interesting (and at times scary) to be on the other side of producing an academic article, after spending so many years relying on them to learn and finish assignments. I have an intense appreciation for the time, effort and energy that it takes to arrive at the final five thousand words.

A big thanks to Zaana Howard for the support and mentorship this semester. Thanks also to Paul Edwards and Amanda Fitzsimon for their encouragement, and of course, to all my lovely participants for their time!

Crockery Memories Project

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For a while now, my art practice has dealt with memories and how textures, especially from tresured articles of clothing, can evoke memories. Here is an excerpt from my artist statement

“Life is a complex gathering of memories, and not always memories of important or life changing events, but the textures, smells, feelings and dreams of everyday existence. Memories are often impossible, hazy fragments that are not structured along a linear timeline, but an assortment of jumbled occurrences that are sometimes confused with dreams, day- dreams and stories. These tangled thread combined to form a life lived”

fancy huh?

So my new project is an extension of this and will include the memories of meals and the implements and containers we use/ used. I have some fond memories of cooking when I was a child and being allowed to experiment and make a mess. I also have some great memories of great (and not so great meals….thinking of the time Mum mistook rose hip jam for Pasta sauce… love you Mum, if you are reading x) meals shared with family and friends.
BUT to do this I need your help!
I am after images of crockery/serving dishes/ platters/cups/ pattern or colours that remind you of meals shared, in childhood or otherwise. You can share your images on instagram on the hashtag #crockerymemories
i will post photos of the resulting artworks as they are made

Can wait to see your photos!