Autumn 2014: Children’s issue of Refer Magazine: call for papers

YLG London and ISG are currently working together to create a special issue of Refer magazine devoted to children’s reference issues. This publication is due to be published in October 2014, and it is intended to feature a variety of articles dealing with the various problems and solutions which are encountered when providing under 18s with answers to their reference enquiries.

Articles for Refer are written by professionals such as yourselves. We are interested in submissions dealing with areas you have working knowledge of, and which you feel comfortable writing about. We have also compiled a list of various ideas which you are also free to pick from, if they are something you are interested in exploring. The current ideas we have are:

  • Homework clubs and how to provide appropriate reference services for them
  • The use of Encyclopaedia Britannica by children
  • Tutors who use the library service for excluded children
  • Gamification in libraries, and the role of reference books
  • Wikipedia and its role in learning, and the skills which are needed to use it properly
  • The difference between academic levels (GCSE, AS, A) and how this changes students use of reference materials
  • Volunteer libraries and reference enquiries
  • Teaching children how to use internet services (google, askjeeves, Wikipedia, etc) properly
  • Promotion of reference materials in libraries
  • Reviews of particular reference books – or series of books – which you have found particularly useful
  • Teaching LIS students about children’s reference issues
  • Enhanced eBooks and the reference sector
  • Organising reference materials for greater user involvement

While not a comprehensive list of the areas we are interested it, this is designed to hopefully seed ideas, and to show the sort of issues we are hoping to explore.

We hope for articles to be around 600-1500 words long, and those chosen will cover multiple perspectives in this challenging field. Articles will need to be fully submitted by early September, but please let us know what you intend to write about before then so we can begin to look at planning the issue.

We are also interested in hearing from teachers and other professionals working with young people about their expectations of children’s reference services and of course from young people themselves. It would be great to include quotes in any articles or indeed create them jointly with professionals or clients.

All questions can be directed to:

Jonas Herriot at,

Helen Edwards at


Oxford Dictionary of Journalism

Tony Harcup.

(Oxford University Press, 2014

The only problem about the late Nick Tomalin’s 1969 assertion that rat-like cunning was one of only three qualities requisite of a good journalist – the others were a plausible manner and a little literary ability – is that it’s pretty damaging to the reputation and standing of the average rat. The RSPCA will probably mount a campaign. Rats get a bad press – ask James Cagney, who in any case was misquoted – though enquiring minds might wonder what’s so particularly cunning about the little blighters, anyway.

Tomalin’s job description appears, under R, in the Oxford Dictionary of Journalism. The rat-like cunning quote, it says, is “particularly beloved of old-school journalists who dismiss the value of journalism education and reject the idea that journalistic skills can be taught.” The notion of hackademics (qv) is seldom absent for long from Tony Harcup’s timely addition to the Oxford’s ostrich-egg oeuvre. He is, after all, a senior lecturer in journalism.

So, hot metal staples like death knock, doorstepping and, yes, Street of Shame, sit a little uncomfortably alongside latter-day concepts like technological determinism, cultural imperialism and reflective practice – all of which, apparently, are now taught to aspiring journalists. It’s unclear if they’re taught how to write and, if they are, how high the success rate is…

Harcup manifestly knows his subject. If not quite allowed by his editors to express an opinion – inconceivable in more traditional dictionaries – then frequently he hints at one. The style’s effective.

Those of us from the Dotheboys Hall school of journalism, raggy trousered practitioners from a two-up, two-down in the Street of Shame – and with an outside netty down the yard – might find his road map of a rapidly changing world especially useful. Churnalism, we learn, is the practice in battery hen newsrooms of simply recycling what arrives electronically at one end and is sexlessly re-laid at the other. Bigfooting is what happens when a star name is allowed out to cover a major story on another guy’s territory. Astroturfing – nice one this – is the false representation of grass roots support for a campaign or idea.

The dictionary also notes that the cuttings library was known as “the morgue”. Such places now rest, their sepulchred treasures seldom disturbed by the technologically literate.

Among all the reflective imperialism (or whatever) it’s comforting also to find room for the much-traduced apostrophe – and here he clearly speaks from exasperated experience. “An important punctuation mark, the misuse of which is common among those training to be journalists.”

Wisely, incidentally, none of the big footers is identified. It is a dictionary of terms, not of individuals. No names, no rat pack drill.

Unlike other Oxford dictionaries, the paperback may not be a doorstop but it is certainly a mile post. Journalism has travelled far since Nick Tomalin’s observations in the Sunday Times. Whether it has changed for the better must be left to those adept at reading between the lines. Tomalin was killed in 1973, while covering the Arab-Israeli war.

(Mike Amos MBE, The Northern Echo)

Mike Amos started his journalistic career on the Northern Despatch before moving to, and staying with, The Northern Echo until his recent retirement. He was awarded an MBE in 2007 for his services to journalism in the North East. Mike continues to write for The Northern Echo in a freelance capacity.


Search: Theory and practice in journalism online

Murray Dick

Palgrave Macmillan, 2013


Dick Murray’s book explores the theory and ethics of searching while also including practical guidance on using different tools and approaches for the twenty-first century journalist. The text is ideal reference material for students and journalists.

Journalism in the digital age is explored against the topical issue of ethics. Information overload is also identified as a key challenge facing journalists today and other problems include lack of time and as a result reliance on popular search engines such as Google which raises concerns over personalised results, censorship and commercial interests.

The first chapter provides an introduction to searching theory with practical tips that are ideal for students. In the second chapter Murray includes real life examples when discussing metasearch engines and semantic, virtual, social and mobile searches. Readers can keep updated on developments through a list of websites, including Phil Bradley’s Weblog. The invisible web, the material that a general search is unable to retrieve, is the focus of the third chapter and contains advice on how to use subject directory portals, directories, industry vortals and gateway services where specialists can help with research.

Murray charts the effect of social media upon journalists’ relationships with sources. Chapter four cites social online tools that offer a means for sourcing opinion, expertise and first-hand experiences while also considering the issue of privacy. The theme is continued in the following chapter which explains how journalists can use social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, to make contacts and source news.

Chapter six provides practical tips on finding and using multimedia, while also examining the legal and ethical aspects, including intellectual property rights and contempt laws. The seventh chapter discusses the ‘beat’, the routine the journalist follows each day making contact with organisations in search of news. He explores ‘verticals’ including Google News, Digg and reddit. Verifying online sources and advice on how a journalist can identify a hoax, concludes the book. Search: Theory and practice in journalism online is a comprehensive reference source that is ideal for journalism students and experienced journalists who wish to develop their digital skills. (Lynsey Blandford, LSE)


The 21st century journalism handbook: essential skills for the modern journalist

Tim Holmes, Sara Hadwin and Glyn Mottershed

Pearson, 2013


The 21st century journalism handbook is primarily an introduction for students training in newspapers, magazine and online reporting. It has a colourful and magazine-styled layout that creates an engaging and modular textbook. The work covers the core principles and practices for today’s journalist and incorporates theory with case studies and practical exercises to help readers learn and develop skills. It is written by experienced journalists and teachers of journalism which is evident through the style of the textbook. There are key points summarised at the end of each chapter and a companion media and journalism website with links and resources. The structure of the book is suited to students dipping into sections to quickly retrieve facts.

The book begins with an exploration of the development of print media, including an overview of legal frameworks and current challenges. Research skills, interview techniques and an introduction to social media and data journalism form the second chapter. The writers offer practical and personal advice by sharing experiences of disastrous interviews. The section on news writing, which opens with a case study of a high profile murder, guides the student through the methods of writing a clear story. Feature writing is also explored in terms of how to find ideas, research and develop them into an engaging piece.

The writers widen their perspective and explain the processes involved in organising production on a modern publication. They identify important skills for the future, including web management, and video, audio and social media skills. The role of the sub-editor and the different demands of print and online offer an interesting insight into another role within the profession. Specialist journalists in diverse fields ranging from business to the arts are also covered. The subject of convergence, the coming together of different media platforms, is examined in terms of how the journalist must now use traditional print skills and be prepared to experiment with new technology. The textbook also provides useful bite-sized guidance on law, regulation and ethics, in particular Freedom of Expression and the Human Rights Act. The final chapter on career development will benefit students with advice on work experience and training, and those near graduation who will be interested in the section on job hunting, CVs and interviews. Building a reputation and creating your own business concludes the textbook, which provides a frank yet inspiring introduction to journalism. (Lynsey Blandford, LSE)


Illustrating Shakespeare

Peter Whitfield

The British Library, 2013


In recent times we have been taught that Shakespeare’s texts can only be fully experienced through performance. Peter Whitfield’s book disproves this assumption and collects together a range of illustrations by great artists of the last four hundred years that have been inspired by watching and reading Shakespeare’s plays. Reading through the book is comparable to walking through an exhibition that charts the history of Shakespearean iconography. It is an informative and stimulating reference work that provides an academic perspective on the tradition of illustrations.

Whitfield’s selection of images provides a comprehensive overview of the different eras and artists’ styles. He uses these different artists, eras and editions of the plays as sources for essays exploring aspects of the illustrations of Shakespeare’s plays. The format of the book is useful for students and academics as it offers an insight into how different periods interpreted Shakespeare. There is a large section on the Victorian vogue for Shakespearean art, particularly the paintings of Millais and other Pre-Raphaelites as well as the more mainstream traditions. The chapter on Blake and Fuseli’s art and its exploration of the play text also inspires readers to search beyond the book for other examples of their work.

It is a hardback book with generous yet carefully selected full colour illustrations. The writing tone is from the perspective of an art critic, which by necessity leaves other viewpoints unexplored such as how the image and text interplay. The images are also important artefacts that give us an insight into the performances of the time. Peter Whitfield’s book Illustrated Shakespeare gathers together illustrations which individually and collectively reveal the vitality of the dramatic experience of reading and watching Shakespearean performance. It is a significant reference book for art and theatre historians, as well as literary researchers and those performing or producing Shakespeare’s plays.  (Lynsey Blandford, LSE)


1940s Fashion: the definitive sourcebook

Emmanuelle Dirix and Charlotte Fiell

Carlton Publishing Group, 2013


A comprehensive visual guide that fully lives up to its title as the definitive sourcebook. With an extensive range of Illustrations and previously unpublished photographs, the work also features the designers and fashion houses that shaped the style of the period. The 1940s’ wartime utility style is as equally represented as post-war glamour, all of which are worn by models and Hollywood stars of the time such as Joan Fontaine. The book provides a cultural overview of the time including the taste for fur and the use of textiles such as Dupont rayon.

Images are accompanied by annotations concerning designers, date, season, fabric and style. The introduction explores fashions by nationality including “make do and mend” in Great Britain and the French occupation fashions of Spring 1940. The photographs and designers’ drawings are arranged within the categories of daywear, outerwear, eveningwear and accessories such as handbags, hats and shoes, which in turn are organised by season. The book is not just a documentation of the glamour or elite fashions that many popular works focus on, it also includes promotional images of patterns for outfits that were on sale to the general public.

The photographs of models, debutantes and actresses wearing the fashions are complemented by illustrations that were used to promote the designs. The patterns for sale reflect how fashions reached women who could not afford the couture designs and instead made their own versions. The selection of sources would be particularly interesting to fashion students or historic costume designers wishing to ‘unpick’ the designs so that they can recreate authentic shapes. The book is an essential reference source for exploring the styles, textiles and culture of the 1940s fashion scene. (Lynsey Blandford, LSE)


Public Sector Information in the Digital Age

Steven Hartshorne, SCOOP

The May meeting of SCOOP saw the delivery and discussion of two presentations of considerable interest to librarians in the information sector. The first, unfortunately not given in person but presented to SCOOP as a Power Point slideshow, was by Aniela Kaczmarczyk of the Tinder Foundation. The subject was the Society of Chief Librarians’ (SCL) Public Libraries Universal Information Offer (PLUIO), for which the Tinder Foundation has been commissioned to create a workforce development programme. Key to the SCL’s offer is the role of public libraries in the government’s Digital By Default agenda, particularly where the programme of welfare reform and the move to increase online interactions with government departments has put pressure on already stretched services.

The statement issued by the SCL makes the case thus:

“The PLUIO seeks to position public libraries so that they are seen as one of the natural places to offer support to citizens accessing government information and services, and so result in the commissioning of public libraries by Government.” The statement’s final phrase is somewhat ambiguous. It could either mean there may be a will to build new public libraries, or (sadly more likely) an intention to give public libraries more work to do which was formerly performed by other elements of the public sector. The brief that Tinder was given looked to address a number of primary concerns: The Tinder project sought to address the following concerns:

  • A need to increase staff awareness of the content and scope of government websites.
  • The need for increased skills in the area of referral and signposting.
  • Training in the awareness and use of local websites and information sources.
  • The need to address the needs of particular user groups and the complexity of their needs.
  • Increasing awareness of the shifting context of information, services and the development of electronic transactions.
  • Resolve anxieties about time, confidentiality and responsibility.

The outcomes of the training programme are that staff delivering the offer:

  • Are confident and enthused about their role as a digital champion in a public library.
  • Can demonstrate their knowledge of online government and information services.
  • Recognise the importance of their role in future policy.
  • Can identify and recommend appropriate steps for their customers.

The staff training, composed of five modules, will be delivered via a combination of face to face sessions and an e-learning package, with a network of regional representatives to mentor trainers who will cascade the learning packages to the workforce. The content of the modules did cause some concern, as a central element of libraries’ ability to deliver this offer, training in how to deliver digital skills, is included as an optional module.

The consensus was that any attention given to staff training in the areas of welfare reform and Digital By Default was welcome, but nevertheless, a number of issues were raised:

  • Staffing did not seem to be addressed anywhere in the planned programme. Since many library authorities have lost staff trained in information and reference roles, it would be difficult to see how this offer could be provided within existing staffing levels. The same could be said for releasing staff from frontline duties to undertake the training in the first instance.
  • Although the details of the training have yet to be finalised, it was felt that the necessity of accessibility requirements to be factored into the training of staff and the delivery of the programme needed to be acknowledged.
  • Confidentiality was alluded to in the consultation, but there are considerable problems around the use of volunteers in handling confidential information.
  • There is potential for public libraries to work with specialists in other sectors that don’t seem to be included in the programme.
  • The members of the committee who work in public library organisations commented that much work had already been done in this area by individual libraries and there was some concern that this had not been taken into account by Tinder.

A final point made during the discussion was perhaps the most pertinent one: since this activity in the library sector is in order to enable the public to access government services and comes as a direct result of government policy changes, surely there is a clear case for the government to fund it?

The second presentation was given by Graham Francis, an Associate Product Manager with the Government Digital Service (GDS) with responsibility for the Gov.UK website. Graham explained that the team with which he works essentially decide what tasks the Gov.UK site should do and what the interface should look like. The driving force of the development of Gov.UK was Martha Lane Fox’s report Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution and her subsequent work on rationalising government web sites. The underlying principle of the site is that users shouldn’t have to understand how government works in order to get what they need. The site has been “built around the needs of users” and the site’s structure is designed around the transactions that members of the public have with government departments and agencies. It was at this point that some members of the committee raised the point that the needs of users in the official publications (OP) community didn’t seem to have been addressed particularly well.

For example, when searching for specific publications, some metadata (for works such as HC and Command Papers) does not appear in the initial search results, which can make locating the specific documents problematic. The site also uses the term ‘Policy Paper’ to cover a range of document types, which again isn’t helpful.

Certainly specialist browsing is not well catered for on the site although the improvement of this is a project priority. One problem is the potentially unhelpful terminology (what is the difference between ‘Publication type’ and ‘Official document status’?) There also seems to be no indication of other sources of OP material, such as the National Archives and Parliament.

Another issue some users had with the site is that currently the datasets provided on the site are not available in open data formats, although Graham assured the committee that work was ongoing to address the situation.

The final slide of the presentation described the Government Service Design Manual which is a key element in the government’s Digital By Default strategy and will no doubt influence the format of official publications in the future.

Graham assured us that GDS encourages feedback, although some members of SCOOP had noted that it was not always acknowledged or acted upon.

The content of both presentations generated a great deal of discussion, both during the meeting and in subsequent correspondence. It is clear that the issues raised by both projects will impact the way in which the public and workers in the information sector access official publications in the short and long term. The emphasis on transactions and services rather than access to and retrieval of information does present a number of challenges to users. This would suggest that the necessity of trained information professionals to mediate for them is not going to go away in the age of Digital By Default.

Request for information

Please find below a request for information on behalf of Sharron Wilson, the Serials Librarian at the Advocates Library in Edinburgh.

“The Advocates Library obtains bound volumes of legislation via Legal Deposit. We are very aware at present that there are major delays in the production of UK Statutory Instrument and Scottish Statutory Instrument volumes – mainly due to budgetary constraints. These were last produced for 2009 and 2008 respectively. We are having to cope with a huge number of archive boxes of all of the loose parts. I am trying to establish if I anyone else in a similar position? If you obtain the bound volumes of UK or Scottish SIs can you please contact me directly?

With thanks in advance.”

Sharron’s contact details are:

Sharron Wilson, Serials Librarian,

Advocates Library, 11 Parliament House, Parliament Square,

Edinburgh, EH1 1RF.Tel: 0131 260 5617


Journalism: the Other Information Profession

DHelen Edwards: Editor Refer

Like librarianship journalism is concerned with finding and communicating information on things that matter to people.   Social media is having a huge impact on how news is created and reported. For librarians working in information services looking at how journalists approach social media can offer an interesting alternative perspective.

Inspired by the free course Community Journalism from the University of Cardiff offered on the MOOC platform Futurelearn this is a short introductory overview of a journalist’s perspective on social media. It also draws from the BBC Academy of Journalism which has a section devoted to social media skills and the work of journalist and media tutor Susan Grossman.

Finding Stories

Speaking in March 2014 Sunday Times journalist Eleanor Mills describes how Twitter has transformed the news. Twitter is now the first source many journalists look at for breaking news, so much so that if a story only appears on the newswires it has the chance of being missed. Mills believes it is the brevity and immediacy of Twitter which gives it its huge power and the fact that it is in the public space and that, in many ways, “Twitter curates how we see the world”

Twitter monitoring tools such as Netvibes, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Trendsmap, Twitterfall are recommended to keep track of multiple alerts by helping to sort and search through tweets, tweeters and hashtags on a breaking story. Tools such as Storify go a step further. They help users to curate stories on a topic from multiple social media platforms, build a context and provide a narrative.

Finding people

Journalists are very focused on people: finding experts, witnesses and people impacted by news events. Journalism tutor Susan Grossman presents a pyramid structure for researching people. At the top are professional bodies and trade associations who can help identify experts who can then be contacted to provide quotes. Tools like Followerwonk and SocialMention can be used to identify people who comment on specific subjects. Professional tools like InkyBee (free trials available) take this even further by helping to track bloggers and influencers by criteria such as size of audience, level of engagement, frequency and recency of posts and numbers of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Free web tools like PIPL WebMii are useful for checking people out, to collate their web presence and get a broader view of their expertise. Advanced Search features on Twitter can help identify people in a particular location and Facebook Graphs can be used to find people who have moved from one area to another – all useful for getting local opinion on news events.

Using data

The Open Data Initiative means that official data is increasingly available to the public over the web. is now the portal to over 9000 government datasets. This notion of transparency lies in the belief that if the public are aware of how much government is spending, how well it is meeting its targets in areas such as health and education or transport, then it will drive public service reform. It opens the door to an army of armchair auditors who can scrutinize how government actions affect them down to the level of their street. There is also the belief that open data will increase innovation and encourage new businesses to be created using the data. Britain is not alone in its championship of open data. In 2013 the G8 signed the Open Data Charter which set out the 5 principles for access to and release and re-use of data.

Open data provides many new opportunities for journalists and even a new speciality -data journalism. Journalists use data to research their community, create niche blogs and stories and use data to illustrate key points. It makes it possible to add a local dimension to national stories – see Damian Radcliffe 5 Ways Hyperlocal Sites can do more with Data


The use of social media has brought new issues of verification and authenticity. The revolution in Iran was one of the first newsevents that relied heavily on Twitter reports. Some of these turned out not in fact to be accurate. Journalist Alex Murray speaking on the BBC Academy of Journalism site believes verification is now an important part of every day journalism. He describes his own experience of how images submitted, supposedly of the Concordia before it sank in 2012, were really of another ship in New Zealand in 2008.

Metadata can be useful for checking the authenticity of images. Tools such as TinEye enable a reverse image search to find out where an image actually came from, how it is being used and if there is a modified version of it. The BBC Academy of Journalism recommends using Google Streetview to check out photographs of places by matching landmarks – monuments, street names – and checking weather reports to ensure they correspond to the date in question.

While librarians may not be making the decision as to whether to use images and video in news reports these examples are vivid illustrations of authenticity issues that apply also to other types of research.



Services for Journalism and Creative Writing Students at City University Library

Alexandra Asman, City University 

In my role as the Subject Librarian for Arts at City University, London I support the departments of Journalism and Creative Writing, acting as the first point of library contact for the school which also includes Music, Translation, Publishing and Cultural Policy. I liaise with the departments to actively engage staff and students with the library service and the collection, working with academics to select resources and build up high quality collections and providing information literacy training and research support services to its staff and students.

Journalism is the largest of the departments I support with over 190 undergraduate students studying for a BA (Hons) Journalism and 250 postgraduates studying a range of courses such as Financial, Newspaper, Magazine and Investigative Journalism.

Along with the basics of searching databases and accessing online journals, the skills required for searching newspaper databases and AV resources are all delivered in information literacy training in the first semester of year one for undergraduate journalists. After that we have traditionally offered 1:1 training sessions and reference services for those who need support further down the line. The most requested training sessions tend to be on searching Nexis UK to find specific news items or country information.

The most popular reference resources for undergraduate journalists are the newspaper databases, Nexis UK, Factiva and Press Display which provide student with access to over 20,000 international news sources. In their 3rd year students are also asked to analyse newspaper content in its original print format and this is where our subscription to the digital archive of the Daily Mail and The Times comes in useful. As there is a broadcast element to the degree, the TV recording and media archive service, Box of Broadcasts, is a popular resource for academics and students alike. Academics can create playlists of clips of radio or TV programmes to align with their weekly lectures and students can record and store news reports or documentaries to analyse in their assignments. This resource has especially taken off in the modules looking at conflict reporting and environmental journalism and in recent weeks I have supported students in finding European news coverage of the crisis in Syria and of the 2013 UK flooding for their dissertations and final projects.

Postgraduate journalism students come from a range of different academic backgrounds, perhaps relating to the specialism they have decided to study. They may not have studied journalism before and their library support needs are therefore more varied than at undergraduate level. Training sessions for postgraduates take place in the first semester of their programme. After a general introduction their sessions quickly become much more focused than those given to undergraduates and are concentrated on the specialism of the MA. For instance students on the MA Science Journalism are taught to use Web of Science and Financial Journalism students are introduced to the financial resources available at City such as Bloomberg and IKON. Examples of complex postgraduate research enquiries include a student asking for help to find statistical immigration information on Sri Lankan refugees who came to the UK, Germany and Denmark between the years 1983-1988 for which we searched OECD iLibrary and an investigative journalism student researching the coverage in the British broadsheet press of the troubles in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1970s and 80s.

Unlike Journalism, the Creative Writing department specialises only in postgraduate master’s courses covering literary novels, crime novels, narrative non-fiction and play and screenwriting. All of the programs demand the completion of a full-length play, novel, screenplay or non-fiction book meaning the range of resources and the type of help they require will vary immensely depending on the individual. During the first term the students will be familiarised with searching databases such as Academic Search Complete, Art Full Text, and JSTOR and introduced to Box of Broadcasts, Drama Online and Nexis UK. However, as the outlines for their final projects advance, particularly where they are research related, they are encouraged to book a 1:1 training session or contact me via email to explore further the resources we have that can support their development. The emphasis their programmes put on using information resources in a creative and imaginative manner, and using research materials in an analytical and informed way, makes this kind of close engagement a very rewarding part of my role.

Whatever programme students are following, and whatever their level, my aim is to help them to become independent learners able to use resources open to them confidently and effectively

Teaching Information Literacy in an Arts University

Ian Badger, University for the Creative Arts at Canterbury

I have a humanities background and while working at an arts university I have learnt and developed knowledge of the subjects I support. This worried me when I first started at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA), but I soon became familiar with art resources and I have picked up knowledge through answering queries and running information literacy workshops.

When I started at UCA it was difficult to obtain information from the courses. I had to pester academics for reading lists and generally only saw the assessments for units where I would be delivering workshops. All this has changed since the increase in use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at UCA. I have access to the units and courses for every subject I support, which means I can access all of the information provided by the academics for students. Information found on the VLE includes unit briefs, course handbooks, lecture slides, hand-outs and timetables. The VLE has proven to be vital in understanding the courses and with it the needs of the students. Using this information effectively, I can be proactive in offering support for units where students will need to carry out research. I can also pass information onto the Collections and Discovery team who purchase physical and electronic stock to ensure that we have the correct resources to support the course.

Using information gathered from the VLE, I have been able to deliver focused information literacy sessions. The majority of the sessions I deliver support students when they are undertaking written assessments, such as essays and dissertations. In order to make the sessions relevant, I develop the activities so that they can be used in their assessments. By completing a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector course I learnt that if activities are linked to assessments students will be more motivated to complete them. During a workshop with 1st year Architecture students, they were asked to find three articles relevant to their essay question. I asked the students to send their bibliographies to me, so that I could collate the bibliographies and upload them onto the VLE. The students could see the value in this as by completing the task they would be helping to create a larger bibliography which they could then view to find material relevant to their assignment.

I am also involved in delivering workshops to support the practical units, where assessment is not a written assignment and students tend to use information in a more creative way. To support Interior Architecture and Design students who were experiencing difficulties with writing up their design projects, I ran a session with the Learning Development Tutor, who covers academic writing and study skills, on how architecture articles are written in journals. The students were shown how to locate articles on architecture projects and then asked to evaluate some text. The session ended with the students creating a piece of text describing the library, they then took photos to illustrate their writing. We also ran a session for Extended Diploma students who were creating animations for UNESCO’s International “Arts for Peace” Festival, which required them to research the meaning of the key theme words of their animations in Oxford Reference Premium.

I am based in the University Library at Canterbury UCA and I am part of the Learning Enhancement & Support Team. The team is formed of a Learning & Teaching Librarian, a Learning Development Tutor who is responsible for language and study skills, a Careers & Employability Advisor, Dyslexia Advisor and a Learning Support Manager. The aims of the team are to enhance learning, teaching and research, and to develop new approaches to curriculum design and delivery which embrace inclusivity, utilise technology, embed employability and promote academic and information literacy. There are huge benefits to the students at UCA by working so closely with other professionals. In particular by working collaboratively and delivering sessions with the Learning Development Tutor we can offer more comprehensive sessions and support. A recent session we delivered to 1st year Fine Art students followed the process of creating an essay. We started by showing them a past essay, they then carried out some research to add to the argument in the essay, finally they added citations and bibliography to the essay. By working together we can combine the different aspects of finding, evaluating and using information into one session that reflects the real experience of writing an essay. This puts the skills into context, rather than teaching them separately and leaving it to the students to fill in the gaps.

At UCA we subscribe to over fifty online resources as subject area of the arts has numerous resources which are essential for students. Many are general and can be used by students on most courses at UCA, such as Art Full Text and Oxford Art Online. Specific subjects, for example architecture will have key resources such as the RIBA Catalogue and the Construction Information Service, which are essential to their subject but are not relevant to other students. The scope of student essays can be a particular challenge to librarians. A recent class of Architecture and Interior Architecture and Design students had a choice of three essay questions. Students who chose one question on ‘transient event and actions in cities’ could base their argument on a variety of topics which would affect the resource they would need to use.

Third year students researching their dissertations need assistance to select from a variety of resources. Their dissertations are predominantly art-based but touch on a wide variety of subjects from current affairs, politics, the environment and psychology. The selection of resources is a key issue in my role and the students find it frustrating having to deal with different interfaces and access points. We are currently looking at discovery tool products which will make my role easier as those students confused by the variety of resources and who carry out their research on the Internet will be able to locate and access relevant peer-reviewed sources quickly.

Effective information skills workshops are a huge benefit to students. To make them effective it is important that I keep abreast of what is happening on the courses, this can be done by viewing course announcements, lecture slides and assessments on the VLE. Working with colleagues that are specialists in other areas has been enlightening. Their experience can lead to more effective sessions, as combining specialisms makes learning easier for students as the support they receive is comprehensive. It is essential to continue to develop my skills through gaining qualifications and attending courses, and to keep updated on how workshops are being delivered in other institutions.




A Haven for the Insatiably Curious: Writers and the London Library

Amanda Stebbings, The London Library


A haven for the insatiably curious, or a treasure-trove of knowledge, the London Library has always been at the heart of cultural and literary life since it was founded by the writer and thinker Thomas Carlyle in 1841. It is difficult not to wander through the bookstacks wondering how many scholarly revelations have been made or fiendish fictional murders plotted within these walls. Today, we count many distinguished writers and journalists as members and the role that the Library’s collections and ever-helpful staff has played in their work can be seen in the frequent acknowledgements we receive:

“The London Library is my favourite place in the whole of London. A unique resource and a wonderful place in which to read and research.” (John O’Farrell)

As an institution the London Library is unique and members each have their own experience of it. For some, it is a calm place to work. Following an extensive refurbishment programme the Library has five designated reading rooms and a range of individual writing spaces fitted into nooks and crannies throughout the building. An informal community of writers has developed at the Library and they relish the opportunity to work amongst their peers.

Amid the cram of London, this building has been a refuge and a tonic. The Library has also been, on a much more practical level, my office. Granted it’s a communal office, but I work better there than anywhere else. I can’t quite describe the peculiar little skip of joy inside me when I enter the Library’s front door, but I get it every time.” (Nikki Gemmell)

Whilst the main Reading Room is a silent reading area where electronic equipment is not permitted, the use of technology is encouraged throughout the rest of the Library, with wi-fi coverage and free access to a very wide range of electronic resources including JSTOR and the recently added 17th-18th Century Burney Collection of Newspapers. The e-library is one of the most rapidly expanding collections, available for members both in the Library and remotely via our website (

“I use the Library as a secondary, and occasionally a primary, source for research, and I also love to write there, its atmosphere being perfect for work. It is the only library I know which grants every reader open access to the book shelves, and this is invaluable if you are writing and suddenly need to research something unexpected. It has made the process of writing more enjoyable and less solitary, as I have made new friends there and there is always an opportunity to discuss one’s work with other writers, or just have a good gossip.” (Christopher Simon Sykes)

For other members, it is the depth and breadth of our collections that is the draw. We hold over one million items, 97% on open access and almost all available for loan. Here you can find recently published volumes shelved next to books from the 1730s. Our periodical holdings cover 750 current titles as well as backruns of over 2,000 titles, many of which are now discontinued. The focus of the collection is arts and humanities, and we are especially strong in history, topography, philosophy, biography and religion. There are over fifty languages represented on our shelves, with particular strengths in French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish literatures.

The Library’s unique classification scheme was created around the collection by Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright (1893-1940, our longest serving Librarian to date). Having despatched the arts and humanities books to their appropriate areas he was left with some 40,000 volumes which formed the wonderfully named Science & Miscellaneous section, and one fortuitous result of this scheme is the element of serendipity that it introduces. There are not many libraries where books on Butterflies sit next to Camels, or Dentistry to Devils, or even Housing next to Human Sacrifice. It is this juxtaposition that can lead writers in different and unexpected directions, creating connections that they had not considered.

One of the Library’s greatest resources is its staff, and our specialist team are not afraid to tackle the tricky enquiry. Recent enquiries have covered the peasant costume of medieval Spain, historical uniforms of the Hungarian army, and the various patterns to be found on larks’ eggs.   It is a service that is greatly appreciated by the members who visit the Library and by those who use our postal service.

“I was researching Vichy France for Charlotte Grey. The only reliable history was by the American historian Robert Paxton…He said that two out-of-print French novels of the late forties had some flavour of the period, but that was all. I was living in France at the time. I faxed the London Library more in hope than in expectation. Both novels arrived by post within the week.” (Sebastian Faulks)

Membership of the Library is open to all, and at less than £40 per month is cheaper than most gym fees.   Here you can exercise your mind and then your body, if you wish, walking the eight floors up to the Members’ Room from the Basement. The Library has introduced a number of initiatives to ease the financial burden, such as reduced fees for young people and the spouses of members, and supported membership through the London Library Trust for those to whom the membership fee would be a barrier to use.

And as for the fiendish fictional murders, maybe someone has beaten me to it…

“How is the Library different from others? Open stacks…but ours are more magical, sinister and beguiling than anyone else’s. I always thought that ‘Murder in the London Library’ would be a promising book – with victims being squished in the rolling shelves of Periodicals, and electrocuted pulling the light cords in Biography, trapped for weeks in Religion or German Literature before anyone noticed – it has great potential.” (Artemis Cooper)