Learning from the experts

One regular occurrence, no matter what the age of your collection, is finding a book in need of some sort of repair. Whether it’s become overheated and dried out, with random pages falling out, or if it’s “shelled itself”, with the whole cover block detaching from the pages, there’s always a book that needs some attention. My problem is that I’m not skilled enough in this area to know what sort of repairs are possible, and where the line is between me being able to do some basic repairs, and when a book needs to be sent off to the book binders for some expert attention. 
Luckily, the binders we usually use, Downie Allison Downie, run a variety of classes on all elements of book making and repair. My colleague and I were able to go along to one of these classes recently, carrying a few sad examples each of books in need of repair. The way we spilt the carrying weight, I had the hardbacks with me, and my colleague had paperbacks in various states of dirtiness and collapse. I’m going to show you what I had to do to repair my pile of books…and why I am even more in awe of the skill of the bookbinders at DAD!    

The hardbacks pile

I had four books with issues – two old books that needed their spines/boards replaced or repaired/had sprung overly open and the sewing had started to become loose (and one of those had also suffered from some historic munching by a bookworm on the spine and front board); one that was in danger of having the spine break off, and one modern one that had a single loose page which we wanted advice on refixing properly.

My colleague and I were art of a class of about eight people, with two teachers, John and Mia. The ration of students to teachers meant we had lots of individual attention, which was essential – the range of books being brought for repair was amazing, from historic family bibles to bound collections of early motorcycle magazines and rare books on gardening and British moths and other insects, and specific advice on how to deal with each of them was needed. So, when I say “I did X, Y or Z”, what I’m really saying is “John and/or Mia told me how to…” – they’re the ones with the amazing skills here!

So….I started with the two “sprung” books – this involved taking them completely out of their original shells.

Removing the boards and spine from one of the “sprung” books

Bookworm damage on spine and edge of front board

Once the “shell” of the books had been removed, the old glue and paper from the spines needed to be removed too.

Taking the crumbly old paper bonded to the old glue off

Taking off the old fabric strip on top of the stitched spine

After clearing all the old glue, paper, and “stuff” off the spines, it was time to pull the relaxed pages back into a semblance of tautness again. This involved using whip stitch on the front and back sections of the book. There was a manoeuvre involving knots, and wrapping the thread around the needle that made sense at the time, but I guarantee I couldn’t replicate now. But it worked well to pull the book together, especially with the book that had a loose front section.

Whip stitch
Whip stitch securing front and back sections to main block

Meanwhile, my colleague was also hard at work. She had a paper-bound book/pamphlet which (for reasons we shall not question) held the contents of legislation relating to taxation on beer in Edinburgh from the 17th and 18th centuries. This wasn’t something to be rebound, but it was fairly dirty and had pages earmarked by folding, and we wanted advice on what to do to with it. She was set to work to carefully lift surface grime and dirt from this by carefully cleaning each page with an absorbent sponge/rubber (don’t ask me the proper description for it other than it was gentle and safe!). Yes, I am mean and took photos of her while she was hard at work!

Careful removal of ingrained dirt in pages

I have to say, it took a while but the end result was impressive! The booklet now feels less….well…manky!

After doing the whip stitching I measured up, cut and glued new custom-size end papers on to the front and back of the text block. Then a new fabric covering was put over the spine, attaching on to the new end papers.

New fabric covering on spine, new end papers in place on front and back

Then, I got to vent some frustrations! The books were held tightly in a heavy duty metal clamp, and the spines needed to be hammered back into the curved shape that a book spine should sit in. So….I got to hit them them with a hammer, yay!

Book clamped in place, ready for spine to be hammered

Meanwhile, my colleague had been hard at work too. After cleaning every single page of the “booze book”, she had then been busy with the other paperbacks. Two of these had dried out, and pages were either already falling out, or were about to. She carefully detached each individual page from both volumes, then (I may have missed some information here as I was doing my books, so forgive me any errors) she…erm….glued on the fabric spine? Sorry – I was engrossed with stitching and hammering at this point! But she was super focused, lining up pages with careful concentration!

As for me, my books had to be left overhanging the edge to preserve the curve of the spine, while I worked on the other bits.

Book resting while overhanging desk edge

Next, the spine needed to be replaced. This was done with some thin card, and it needed to be measured up against the size of the original book.

Card, cut to matching width for the spine 

Then, I had a moment where I had to lay bits on top of bits, while going “HOW THE HELL DOES THIS WORK THEN!?!?”

Moment of confusion and self-reassurance – card spine now also cut to matching length

Luckily, John and Mia were there to explain and reassure. Otherwise, I may have been tempted to start whimpering….

Meanwhile, John had also been advising on how to stop one old book’s (Report of the Trial of the Dynamitards, in case you were curious) spine label from popping off. Turns out, its thick paste. Wipe it on with a sponge, then wipe the excess off, and leave to dry. Voila! Turns out, it also slightly cleans it in the process too – who knew that book was so manky? (not me).

Hammering the corners back into shape before stiffening them with paste 

Leaving front and spine to dry after pasting

John had chosen a close match in buckram fabric for each original cover, and these needed to be cut to size for each spine. The card for the spine was glued on to the buckram, with overlap at all sides.

Spine card, lying on buckram

Earlier, I’d carefully eased up the spine edge side covering of the original boards. This left space on the original boards for the new buckram to be pasted on, with the original cover material being smoothed down on top of the new material, and burnished to minimise the visibility of the overlap point.

Spine in place between old covers. Original cover material on right has been glued down over new buckram, yellow underside of cover on left is showing before being glued down over new buckram 

Both books needed this treatment – the fadedness of the original cover on one book was quite impressive!

New spine in place, with both covers glued down. Bookworm damage to cover visible on the board on the right. 

The original spines now needed to be fixed on to the new spine sections, after being trimmed to remove any trailing edges or threads.

The detached and trimmed original spines – one with a fair bit of nibbling from a bookworm at the top right
My colleague was also working her way through her pile of paperbacks, and was moving on to making brand new hardback covers for these books.
My colleague being instructed on how to put her collection of loose pages into a new hardback cover

Just to prove that I was there myself…. 

The top says “I have no idea what I’m doing and that’s kinda the way I like it”. A phrase I aim to live by. 

Once the spines were dry, I moved on to securing the book into the shell by gluing the end papers and text block on to the boards and the spine, and that was mine…done!

Recovered books, with glue drying
Don’t they look nice?

The final hardback rebinds
I took the opportunity to shift the bookworm damaged cover page from being a front cover to being a back cover, to make it less obvious. The spine of that book had to be trimmed to be narrower than the original to get back to a solid piece of fabric, so it’s not a perfect match, but it’s now secure and won’t deteriorate.
The other book could be trimmed more exactly, making it a very close match to the original size, and making it look almost as if it hadn’t been touched. 

Finished, rebound books

This isn’t everything about the day, as my colleague had further work on the previously-paperback-now-hardback items she’d been dealing with, doing foil lettering, clamping, burnishing, and who knows what else, but that’s her story, not mine!

It was a busy day but the time flew by – we were always hard at work on some element of the complex process of repairing our hardback and paperback books. And what I’ve learned from the day is…repairing old books is definitely best left to the very skilled staff at Downie Allison Downie! They were brilliant teachers, and full of patience with our class! If you get the opportunity to go to one of their classes, do it….even if it’s just to gaze in awe at the knowledge and skills of the teachers!

Opening the doors

Last month, for the first time ever, my library took part in Doors Open Day. My organisation has taken part in DOD for many years, but the library had never been involved before. From my first days in the library, I was aware of the need to raise its visibility, both internally, and externally. We’ve been working hard internally to raise awareness of the service, so that was being dealt with. To add to that, taking part in Doors Open Day seemed to be a good way to show the public more of what goes on in the organisation, and what resources are available to the service users.

My colleague and I worked hard to make sure that the library would be an interesting destination, and the public would know about it. Because the library is in a secure area, the only way to visit was to book onto one of the two tours running throughout the day, and choose at the end to come to the library. We made posters to leave at the booking desk, and another popular visitor area, to tell people how to get into the library. We put signs up in our windows, which many members of the public passed on their way into the building. We told other members of staff about the activities and items we had in the library, so they could tell the public. We’re unsure whether it was the effect of this promotion work, or just general curiosity about the existence and work of the library, but visitor numbers exceeded our expectations – we suspected maybe only 5-10 visitors would continue on past the end of the tour to the library, but in the end at least 20 visitors per tour came to the library, meaning at least 200 people visited the library on the day.*

We restricted access to anything beyond the main ground floor corridor – we couldn’t allow visitors to go where we couldn’t see them, so we had to keep them in this space. To block access to the rest of the ground floor, we used roping, kickstools, and…Magnus.

Magnus, our skeleton staff. Many people think that Magnus retired from the Assistant Librarian role, but we know better…

So what did we have for visitors to do and see int he library? We had three desks to use for display in the ground floor space, and we used each for different purposes – one for an activity, one for display only, and one for browseable texts. We also used the library service desk to display additional items, and freebies for people to pick up. A window hosted a display usually managed by another department, but which we used this year, and which worked well with the materials we had to show.

Unfortunately my phone camera doesn’t cope very well with the contrasts between the areas of dim and bright light in the library, so these photos make it look like there were some very bright lights on the books, when they weren’t anything like as bright as that!

Ink, quills, pen pot, calligraphy examples and an original, hand-annotated copy of a text

At the first desk, we were hosting the materials which another department usually displayed, on technology through the ages. These materials included old quills, ink pots, document bundles and handwritten ledgers, along with a typewriter, floppy discs and dictophones, and these were placed in the empty window space above the first desk. To complement this, I bought quills, a dip-nib pen and nibs, and calligraphy inks. These were put on the desk in front of the technology display, with a layer of blotting paper, laminated example sheets of calligraphy, and a pile of squares of paper, to allow visitors to try their hand at writing with quills and nibs. This proved to be hugely popular, with all ages of visitors – frequently, people were already trying out the quills even before I had welcomed them to the library and invited them to try them! Almost every person who visited the library left with some sort of inked item: the Chinese ladies’ names were particularly impressive, as was the beautiful poem about souls left behind by one visitor.

Historic texts on display on book pillows

We had a display of some of our older and more interesting texts from the special collection on the second desk. This included a 1699 text by George MacKenzie on “Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal “ which discusses the crime of witchcraft in some depth (accompanied by a modern English translation by me of the first few witchcraft pages), a text open at a 1665 case of son of a William Wallace trying to claim his inheritance, a text from the 1800s on the trial of Lord Melville for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, a Latin text from the late 1600s, a copy of Regiam Majestatem from 1609, with additional annotations, a book on “the Douglas Cause“, and a selection of other interesting books. After this picture was taken we also added a selection of handwritten deeds from 1700, with beautiful handwriting. Although the library has many modern texts, and electronic resources, we felt that they aren’t as interesting to the public as “old stuff”!  The materials on this desk were the source of most questions from visitors, with people wanting to know about book ages, authors, history, contents,the legal system, the handwriting, and all sorts of other random things!

Books on the crimes, the law and notable trials

 We had a third table, with dictionaries of crime for people to look up the changing penalties for certain crimes. There were also exampes of books about practitioners of the law, and how they view themselves (the Punch drawing about the absurdity of women barristers was well liked – apparently, they’d just have their silly little heads turned by fashion) and materials on notable trials, including one being re-enacted on site that day. These were for visitors to flick through themselves,

The library service desk was used to display a large volume of the record edition of the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, with a Glendook duodecimo edition for comparison.

Magnus checking the card catalogue for overdues

We had a tour group arriving approximately every 20 – 25 minutes, with the visitors able to stay up to 15 minutes in the library. As the library is in a secure area, someone was needed to escort visitors from the library and the building when they wished to leave. My colleague took this role on, and was busy constanly going back and forth as people requested to leave. I therefore was responsible for doing the talking – not a job I’m generally particularly keen on, and it was quite challenging – getting the attention of an unknown group, who were leaving at random times, and trying to explain the different desks and their contents to them, along with answering totally unpredicable questions. I think I got into the swing of it quite quickly, and I got quite a few laughs from the visitors – one even said I’d made a location and information that could be dry and boring into something interesting and fun, so I’d say I got away with it!

It was great to be able to speak to members of the public about what the library and the library staff do, and they had some interesting questions, which put my general and legal knowledge to the test! Some I knew, some I didn’t know and have found out, and some I’ve yet to check.

  • Where did you get the quill pens from? And the ink? 
    • Feathers I bought on eBay and cut myself, and calligraphy inks that work well with dip-nib pens from Cult Pens
  • Who was the last person to be tried for witchcraft?
    • Helen Duncan, during WWII
  • Was the law to prosecute witches still in force?
    • At the time – I don’t know, probably not! Now – I know it was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 (probably something to do with Helen Duncan, but I’ve not had time to check this)
  • Which court room would trials for treason in the 1700s been heard in?
    • I’ll need to double check this one, but renovations in the 1800s mean I’m unsure without checking about which courtrooms were where
  • When were women first allowed to sit as jurors?
    • I’ve not had time to properly check this yet, but I suspect it was at the same time, or soon after the point when we gained the right to vote. It may have been the Representation of the People Act 1918, or the Equal Franchise Act 1928
Also, there were some unexpected things: someone was so keen on the quill and ink that I decided to give them a few of the spare feathers, to take away and showed them how to cut the shaft to be able to use it to write with. Another person was so fascinated by the translation of the witchcraft text that he asked if he could take it? We were happy to oblige, and printed ourselves another copy. Someone else wanted to understand and discuss the comparable points of Swiss and Scots law. An English-qualified retired legal practitioner wanted to know what the equivalent of Halsbury’s Laws of England was, as she’d never known but assumed it existed (it’s the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland). Magnus also was occasionally “interfered” with by visitors, and I sometimes spotted people taking books off the shelves which had a rope in front of them to discourage that. As they weren’t special or unusual, I wasn’t concerned about this, but it was surprising to me that people would touch things that were obviously meant to be off-limits. I suppose I’m just not used to how odd the public can be!
Overall, it was a hectic, exhausting, but very fun day – I’ll definitely be taking part again next year – will you be visiting?

* This is just an estimate – we were way too busy herding people to be able to count them, especially when two tours colluded and we had 40+ visitors in the library at once!

Relaunching a library service

What do you do when you decide to do what is verging on library-based insanity, and basically scrap your current library service, and relaunch everything – physical layout, LMS, and classification system? In my case, spend a year, planning, developing, preparing….and then a frantic few weeks hauling stock!

The background to this apparent madness is this: when I took on this role I inherited a library using a layout that didn’t seem to make sense, a classification system I wasn’t familiar with, and an LMS that had been in place for 20 years but didn’t seem suited to our needs. As I was new to the library, a major part of the time I had available while settling in during my initial few months was dedicated to exploring how well these things were working, both for users, and library staff. I had the benefit of my colleague also being new to the library, only a few months after me, so together we looked at these issues with fresh eyes.We came to the following conclusions:

  1. The physical layout over the three floors was not intuitive, and separated core materials over multiple floors, which led to confusion for users and extra travel around the library.
  2. The classification scheme was more suitable for a large library in a common law jurisdiction than a medium sized one in Scotland. Materials on the same topic were split by jurisdiction into different locations in the library, which was confusing for users and did not allow users to browse easily.
  3. The LMS was more suited to a large institution than one the size of my library, and had accumulated too many errors in records to be regarded as reliable. It was also overly complex and difficult for library staff to use, and far more expensive than equivalent products with better functionality

So, what was my solution to these issues?

  1. I decided to change the way the library was physically laid out. This was linked to the classification scheme.
  2. I changed the classification scheme from Moys, to one developed in-house for Scottish law firms – this scheme allows far better browsability of the shelves, and is designed to incorporate the specific legal terms and issues unique to Scots law.
  3. I worked with Procurement to identify and implement a new LMS, which halved the ongoing costs of the system, and gave library staff a greater ability to manage materials effectively.

Well, those are the main points of my relaunch plan. The actual implementation takes a little bit more effort than that!

  • I needed to adapt the classification scheme I had chosen, and update it – it was developed in the 1990s and some of the terms used in it were very dated. It was also originally developed for use in a commercial law firm library, and therefore neglected most areas of criminal law – this whole area needed to be expanded massively.
  • I wanted to be sure the subject terms we would use would reflect current legal terms in use on standard legal databases. I downloaded a standard legal taxonomy from a large publisher, and went through it methodically, pulling out the terms I knew we would use, and adding in some Scottish-specific ones. This was imported into the new LMS and allows us to tag materials consistently, and in a way that users would recognise.
  • I’ve been working with the Assistant Librarians (there’s only one AL, but one is on maternity leave, and the cover librarian has picked up where the initial one had to stop) to import the records for all of our textbooks from COPAC, and catalogue them in the new system. We have at least 3,500 textbooks and 45,000* other items in a variety of locations (both in the library and in a multitude of sub-sites within this building and others), so our focus has been on getting the core textbooks onto the system. I made the decision that we would also be cataloguing the contents pages from the textbooks, to make sure that the books and their contents were findable through the LMS in a variety of ways.
  • The AL and I have manually added hundreds of staff/users on to the system, and monitor staff bulletins to ensure that new staff are added as soon as possible.
  • I measured every shelf in the library, and every law report series/run of primary and secondary legislation/journal volumes, to calculate how much shelf space they’ll take up, then drafted a detailed plan for exactly where they’d go on the ground floor in the new layout (I ran out of time to do the same for the other floors).
  • We decided on what items can be sent to our storage and archive rooms, to reduce duplication in the collection.
  • The three staff currently in the library spent many hours mapping the old classification system to the new one, to enable us to relocate the textbooks from their old shelfmark to their new one more efficiently .

Since last week, my colleagues and I (the excellent Assistant Librarian and a fabulous intern) have been working on the actual physical relocation of stock. We’ve now got the ground floor rearranged to its final layout, have moved half the stock from the mezzanine floor to new (temporary and permanent) locations, and we’re now ready to do the big shift of the textbook stock. This is where the users are going to see the biggest change, as almost everything on this floor will be changing its location.

We’re now in the quiet period for my workplace, and luckily we have had the extra help of that fabulous intern – having three people work on this has been so helpful, and we’ve got about half of the stock-moving done in a week. Since I estimate that we’ve moved about 8,000 volumes in the last few weeks, and we probably have the same to move again before we’re done. It’s physically demanding and exhausting, but it’s satisfying to see things taking shape.

Despite me having tried to explain what we were doing in the library and why to a variety of people in advance of this move, it’s only now that people can actually see for themselves how things have changed that they’re beginning to see what I’ve been talking about. Already we’ve had positive feedback, which is very good to hear – it’s been a LOT of work to do this, and knowing that users are happy with what’s been done is a great vindication!

It’s not finished yet either – once we have the bulk of our textbooks on the LMS we’ll be officially launching the new system to users, and training them on the new uses of the system – they can see their own account to check what they have on loan, see who has the items they want out on loan, request books of photocopies be sent to them, and all sorts of exciting new things that just weren’t possible before. The relaunching of the service continues…

So, what would I advise if you were planning to do something similar in your service, that on first glance seems to be verging on masochism?

  • A core part of this relaunch was the new LMS. Take the time to find out the detailed specifics of how you can buy a new or replacement service – despite trying to get this sorted out early, not having been involved in a public sector procurement process before I had no idea quite how long it would take – what is simple in the private sector (“this is the best product for our needs”) becomes an epic and labyrinthine process (“we need a new LMS…this is what an LMS is”). I had trialled a variety of LMS, expecting that I would be able to then select the most suitable one, only to find that all my efforts had to be scrapped and I had to start again, and work in a very convoluted structure. So – seek advice early! I did, but unfortunately, what I was told was incorrect, so – seek advice early, AND get a second opinion on that advice too!

  • Despite all my best efforts of measuring, and matching, and over-estimating, and allowing for expansion space….things haven’t gone quite as hoped with how materials fit on the shelves. This has meant making some ad-hoc decisions on temporary new locations, and will mean another phase of stock moving will have to come later. So – even if you think you’re giving plenty of space…give more.** And have a fallback plan in case of overspill of stock if the estimates don’t work out.

  • Things will always take longer than you think – I wanted the new LMS to in place and being catalogued onto by September 2015, but due to a variety of delays, it wasn’t partially ready until December 2015, properly useable/staff being trained until February 2016, and our old LMS went offline at the end of January 2016. This meant we had only a few weeks to try and get stock onto the new system before it went live and our old one became inaccessible. Needless to say, this was NOT ideal! It also pushed back our stock move plan from spring 2016 to summer 2016.

  • Don’t get distracted – the AL and I keep on finding things that need sorted as we look closely at the stock while moving it*** and have to keep reminding ourselves of our priorities – just get things moved, THEN you can fiddle with them.

  • Ask for more storage or disposal boxes than you think you need, because these sort of stock moves also include some informal stock reviewing – I’ve decided to send a variety of things for disposal (no, we didn’t need that partial third set of those law reports), and others to storage (SIs and SSIs are not something I expect to need regular access to). However, I had only requested enough crates for what I had already decided to send elsewhere, and additional items needing moved weren’t accounted for. The lack of crates to put things in for these purposes means stock sitting temporarily on trolleys until we can get

  • We weren’t able to get internal physical help for this stock move (it would have been available to us), as so many of the move decisions were based on knowledge only I had in my head, and because we kept having to make ad-hoc decisions, it would take as long for me to instruct someone who was helping to do it, as to do it myself. I hate having to work like this – I try and share my knowledge with my colleagues as much as possible, so this was not a natural way for me to work. It also meant I needed to be constantly involved, which was difficult to balance with my normal demanding workload. If you have the time to plan something like this, try and factor in writing up detailed instructions/guidance for anyone who’s offered to/been instructed to help.
*To be honest, it’s probably actually far more items than that – we just keep finding more stock in random locations!

**How can something that took up 30 inches of shelf on one floor take up 40 inches on another floor?

*** Why were the loose parts from that volume from 1991 not sent for binding? Does this volume need a repair on the spine? Everything is so dusty, should we be cleaning these?

And now…time to get these empty bookshelves filled up!

When mentoring malfunctions

Mentoring’s one of the standard activities that you’ll come across in the information profession. We’re very caring and sharing like that, wanting to support people in their professional development.

As you start your career as an information professional, you’ll regularly hear the advice: get a mentor.
Or, as you advance in your career and seem to be doing well, you’ll be advised to become a mentor.

This is fine: yes, both being mentored and being a mentor can be excellent relationships, and very useful for both parties involved. But…..mentoring relationships are like any other relationships: they can go wrong. And they can go wrong in a whole lot of ways.

I’ve heard of mentors and mentees whose relationships have malfunctioned due to mismanagement, wrong focus, disinterest, and inappropriate behaviour. Like any other relationship, bullying and abuse can happen in mentor/mentee arrangements, but it can be very difficult for the participants to escape the relationship.

However, this seems to be the side of mentoring that isn’t ever discussed. There’s plenty of guidance and information out there to help you with finding a mentor, or to help you to get involved as a mentor, and to tell you how positive a relationship it will be. But there seems to be no guidance for when either the mentor or mentee want to go their separate ways. There’s also no discussion (other than in whispered asides, or confidential chats with trusted contacts) that identifies those participants in mentoring relationships who should really not be allowed to participate in any others due to their actions. This can leave those who’re stuck in a bad relationship feeling that it’s their fault that it’s not working, as it seems to work well for everyone else.

So, what are your options if, as a mentor or mentee, your relationship isn’t working? Well…you can confront the person causing the problems, and get the issues out into the open. That might work, but it might also blow up in your face, and cause all sorts of further problems. So it doesn’t seem that direct confrontation is the best way to manage failing relationships. Additionally, if you’re a mentee you’re often in a position of vulnerability – your mentor is likely to be further advanced in their career, has a lot of professional contacts, and will be well respected. You might feel you won’t be believed if you tell anyone about the issues. As a mentor, you may feel that others will think you’ve let down your mentee if the relationship isn’t working, and it could impact on your professional standing.

I don’t have a solution for this problem, but please feel free to leave comments and make suggestions of your own. Have you been in a bad mentoring relationship yourself? What would you suggest could help when problems arise? Do we need more involvement from professional mentoring scheme arrangers, maybe by creating compulsory review points during mentoring arrangements, when participants can step back from/leave the relationship, with no explanation needed? Should there be some professional penalty for abuse of mentoring schemes? Should there be a whistleblowing option for these schemes, so vulnerable participants can flag up the actions of the other participant, and trigger a review from the scheme arranger?

How can participants in mentoring relationships get out of them when they go wrong, and how can people who are acting inappropriately in a variety of ways in mentoring relationships be prevented from continuing to do damage?