Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Library day in the life : round 8 (Monday 30 January 2012)

The "Library Day in the Life" project, coordinated by Bobbi Newman, runs twice a year: librarians, library staff and library students share their day, or week, through various media (blogs, Twitter, photos and videos).

I am rather late to the party here, as although I knew that round 8 was happening on Monday 30th January, I didn't join as that day was scheduled as a teachers' training day at my son's school, which meant I couldn't be at work. Then I realised that the project is running for the whole week, so I did sign up, but, as yet, I have not added my details to the project wiki, as there always seems to be someone else editing it, and only one person can do it at a time. Details, details ...

I'm one of those awkward part-timers who is never there or always in the wrong place on any given day. I work the equivalent of three days a week, spread over four days, and I have two roles, one third as Subject Librarian for the School of Welsh at Cardiff University and two thirds cataloguer. In practice, the boundaries are quite blurred. Both functions used to take place in the Arts &Social Studies Library, but in 2004 cataloguing was moved to an office block a couple of miles away to make room for the new Special Collections & Archives (SCOLAR). To complicate matters further, I catalogue material in SCOLAR, which often means being back in our old, transformed, home, as the nature of the material is such that it isn't advisable to move it around too much. So, two roles, in three locations.

Monday 30th January:
I took this day off as annual leave because of the school INSET day, but I did take some paperwork home with me and went through quite a heap of queries, emerging at the end with a pile of paper for recycling and a totally tidy set of different coloured plastic wallets with remaining work items nicely sorted. Not exactly a typical day's work, but worthwhile! I also made the mistake of looking at my work email late in the afternoon while not in work, which can often lead to stressful moments (being in possession of the facts but without the tools to deal with things). In this case, there was an email from a tutor who is teaching a module beginning this week, who had just realised that we have only three copies of a Welsh play published in 1982, which she would like 32 students to have read by next week. Would it be possible to make copies or obtain copies of the play somehow?

This is not an uncommon scenario with humanities subjects in general, and Welsh in particular. Publications tend to have a very limited print run, and by the time they are wanted in a university they are often out of print. Commercial interest decreases, whereas academic interest grows, over time. We do aim to buy every adult novel, book of poetry, and published play where possible, so we have a very wide range of Welsh literature, but we do not buy multiple copies unless or until they are requested (by which time, in publishing terms, it is often too late) - otherwise we would need a very much bigger library! Plays in particular are very ephemeral publications: not many make it into the canon.

Because of copyright restrictions, we are not allowed to copy whole plays without permission, so I sent a "holding" email to the tutor promising to deal with this in the morning, and explained the copyright rules. I reflected on the gulf between the students' expectations and the reality of needing to work both within these rules and in the context of a market which doesn't put out of print 30-year-old Welsh plays very high on its list of priorities.

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