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Creating screencasts

Last term I went to a presentation about using screencasting technology in various ways to support teaching and learning. It was delivered by Dr Emma Mayhew, a lecturer from Reading University, and was mainly attended by lecturers and learning technologists from the arts and social sciences faculties here at Leeds. The talk was interesting on two levels: not only for the information on screencasting, but also because I haven’t spent very much time “mixing” with groups of academic staff, and it’s good to see things from a different point of view sometimes.

Emma’s presentation started off with the assertion that modern students suffer from information overload, need more flexibility in their learning and want to access information in different ways. To try to meet these needs she has started to use videos to support her teaching. So far she has created screencasts to advertise modules, to explain concepts in lectures, to describe things like essay marking criteria or plagiarism rules, and to give feedback on essays. She has even used them as substitutes for meetings with her colleagues! Here’s a collection of screencasts created by Emma and her colleagues from the University of Reading as part of their GRASS project.

In a nutshell, screencasts are videos of your computer screen, usually with a voiceover as well. You can record yourself clicking around the desktop or going through a full-screen presentation, and you can (depending on what software you use) record yourself using a webcam at the same time, so your face shows up in the final video. Most of the screencasts on the GRASS website are Prezis with voiceovers, but there’s also a PowerPoint one (with webcam) and one demonstrating a piece of chemistry software.

The (anonymised) essay feedback videos, which I found really interesting, were made by recording the desktop and a webcam feed simultaneously – so you could see the lecturer scrolling through the essay in her browser and speaking to you about it at the same time. These aren’t available online but you can read more about them here and a similar scheme from Cardiff Uni here.

Emma showed us lots of online resources you can use to create presentations or videos, including Prezi, Powtoon and Videoscribe (subscription-based with free trial). She uses Camtasia (subscription/free trial) to create her videos, although there are plenty of other services out there (including Jing, which is free but has limited features). Emma also pointed out a couple of websites where you can download pre-prepared backgrounds for Prezi, including Prezibase and Prezzip (doesn’t have many free ones). I was surprised by how willing she was to pay for templates and software subscriptions rather than relying on free alternatives, although I’m not sure if this is just me being a skinflint! I imagine some of the subscription costs (e.g. Camtasia) might be paid for out of the GRASS project fund.

I asked about accessibility, as I am currently creating my own videos and have been thinking about including transcripts or subtitles as an alternative for people who aren’t able to watch them. Currently the GRASS videos don’t come with transcripts or subtitles, but apparently they have considered filming someone doing British Sign Language to accompany some of their videos. I think this is an unusual approach and am slightly wary about not providing a text-based alternative to videos, as not everyone who can’t watch a video can use BSL. I was interested to hear that one of the lecturers involved in the project found video feedback really useful, as he is dyslexic and prefers speaking over writing. I had previously thought of videos as being quite time-consuming and a lot of effort for staff to create, so it was good to be reminded of situations where they are actually the easy option.

There was a discussion around licensing issues with screencasts and online presentations, and this was the bit where I found it really… interesting… to be the only librarian in a room full of academics! I’m not sure everyone in the room was on the same page about copyright, Creative Commons and “fair use”, and there were some quite dodgy statements being made. (N.B. I’m not accusing anyone involved with the GRASS project of any licence infringement!)

Someone also asked about how to get more “traditional” colleagues on board with this sort of thing. The recommendation was to get them to write a short script and then to offer to video/animate it yourself, removing some of the hassle. I quite liked this idea, although you can’t start offering to do everyone’s videos for them all the time, due to not actually having unlimited time. But it’d be a good start – saying, for example, “I’ll help you make this first one and show you how easy it can be, then you can try it for yourself”.

Although I have made short screencasts before, I thought this session was quite a good refresher, and I learned about some new (to me) resources. I’m currently working on short informational videos for my current job and have been feeling quite creative since I saw the sorts of things Emma and her colleagues have made. Hopefully I’ll be able to share the results with you soon!

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February Training Session (finally)

A couple of weeks ago now I attended another training session – this time it was the annual staff updating session. This was a chance for library staff to learn about some of the recent developments that have gone on in the library, which is quite interesting for us at the “satellite” sites who don’t always get all the news filtered through from the main library. It was advertised as a hands-on session where we’d learn about new technologies, and the topics covered were going to be quite varied. In reality, there were maybe a few too many topics, as we did not manage to get through everything, but some of what we did hear about was quite interesting.

We started off with an overview of the developments at the main library, which has recently undergone a refurbishment on the ground floor, and will be undergoing more work to make it ready for extra stock to be moved in during the summer. The facts and figures were interesting – it costs a lot to refurbish a library, and there’s still a lot to be done on a fairly small budget before the other libraries start to move their stock in during the next 18 months.

We looked at the recent developments with the catalogue – we now have a lovely mobile version with all the functionality of the normal one, and there are neat little shortcuts you can use while searching that I didn’t know about, such as writing “Location:Gaskell” in front of your search terms to limit your results.

We then heard about the Customer Service Excellence award, which we are the only department of the university to hold, and had a short quiz on service level targets, which was interesting as some of them were not quite what we expected – although perhaps that’s down to our relative lack of experience.

The next topic was plagiarism and referencing, which started off with a short quiz on Harvard referencing, which I did quite well on despite never actually having used it before (I used another referencing system during my degree and it’s subtly different to Harvard). We also looked at the punishments for plagiarism offences, which again were quite surprising – who knew you could commit multiple plagiarism offences and still be allowed to stay on your course?!

We also looked a bit at podcasting/instructional videos; this is something that is a large part of my job, so I was quite interested by this section. We heard about the MMU Libraries YouTube page, which is being promoted more and more in an effort to raise awareness of the help and guidance we provide (and to increase the pageviews, which are quite low at the moment). We discussed the pros and cons of podcasts – pro: bitesize chunks of information, con: no opportunity for Q&A, etc – and also had a look at podcasts and videos produced by other libraries, to see what’s going on. Some of these were really good, such as this one or this one, but some of them made people cringe, such as the Librarians Do Gaga video. It’s interesting to see the range of styles and production values across library videos – some of them are really slick, while others… not so much. I like to think that ours at MMU are comfortably mid-range.

We then heard a little about informal learning, which is learning that doesn’t take place in formal settings such as classrooms. This was quite interesting to me, as I am often teaching myself new things in my spare time, exploring subjects and falling down Wikipedia holes. It was suggested that things like podcasts can help with informal learning, but the main point of this section was social learning, and how interacting in social media can be valuable in learning. We looked at some websites which analyse information on Twitter and other social media sites, and discussed whether we would actually use these. The websites I liked the look of were Topsy and SocialMention, both of which do real-time searches and provide various ways to analyse the results you get. I think I would mainly use websites like these for personal interest, like “how many people are watching Great British Bake Off right now?”, but can see value in them for people like journalists, who can use them to gauge reactions to major events. I’m not sure I could see myself using them for academic research, as I’m not sure they’d work as well for that sort of thing. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong if you’ve got evidence to the contrary though!

Disappointingly, we did not have time to talk about Open Access, which I understand is a big talking point at the moment for academic libraries. I don’t know very much about it at all, so I’m sad that I missed out on a chance to hear about what it is and how it affects us at the university. Hopefully during the rest of my year here, and my MA course, I can get to grips with it.

All in all, this was quite a mixed session, as I was already familiar with some of the topics, and the things I would have liked to know more about were passed over quite quickly or missed completely.  But I picked up some good tips and tricks as well as some inspiration for my podcasts, so it was useful in parts!

Our next session is on social media in libraries, which should be good, and it’s a NoWAL session, so there are networking opportunities to be had too. Stay tuned for a write-up of that!

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What’s been happening?

It’s been a little while since I last wrote anything, and that’s partly because I forgot, and partly because not much has happened. Recently I’ve been doing a lot more of the same stuff at work – withdrawals list, podcasts, rinse, repeat. I got some feedback on my last set of podcasts which was basically “too small, too blurry, too quiet”, so I’ll need to redo them this week. I finally finished the large chunk of the withdrawals list that I was given, but it’s not the end – I’ve got roughly another 150 pages to go, but I’m taking a break from that at the moment as we have a new toy to play with at the library. It’s called a Digital Library Assistant and looks like an alien ray gun. It reads RFID tags inside books on the shelf and generates a list of exactly what we’ve got, which is really useful for when the stock gets moved to its new home in 2014. However, we’re having some teething problems with it, in that it seems to not have recognised everything on the shelf, so I’m going round the stock finding books that it missed so we can work out what happened there. It’s almost identical to my withdrawals task, but it feels different, so I’m enjoying the “change”.

Other things I did this week and last:

– Fill in a book order card for the first time in months, completely mess it up and have to start again. Argh!

– Receipt and process 3 parcels-full of new books, which weighed a ton. One of the books was tiny – about 5cm by 10cm, spiral-bound, 30 pages long. Very cute, but very fiddly when it comes to getting a stamping sheet inside.

– Create new shelf-end signs for the book rooms, to make it a bit easier to navigate the shelves. They look great, but I had some trouble getting the old ones off – I had to take a ruler and scissors to a few of them to lever them off as they’d been stuck down with miles of sticky stuff, and in the small book room I had to use a screwdriver as they were screwed on. This caused a bit of a panic when I thought that I had accidentally dismantled a shelving system, but turns out the shelves are just wobbly anyway. Phew.

– laminate a LOT of things. As well as the shelf-end signs, I made new “New Books” signs and one explaining how to locate books. That all adds up to a lot of plastic pockets to fight with.

– digitise a book chapter for someone, get to page 26/30 and very nearly press the “cancel” button on the scanner. Almost had a heart attack.

– not much else! It’s slow at the moment, but we’ve got new students in, so there’s a lot of teaching and a lot of people needing help at the enquiry desk. Every so often we get floods of students coming to the counter after their induction session, all wanting their PINs for their library accounts. We’re heading towards dissertation season, so things will pick up soon.

– on Friday and Monday I took annual leave, and went off to a tiny village in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales for some much-needed fresh air. Here is a picture of said air (and some scenery):

Here is where I was at the weekend. Bliss.

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Just brilliant. We watched the Super Bowl on Sunday night, and I was really glad to have Monday off to recover! Tuesday was hard going at work, but as I have Wednesday mornings off, I am feeling very refreshed and relaxed now.

It’s been mentioned that I might do a blog post for some friends of mine about my job and future plans, which will be nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but I’ll post a link to that for you if it happens.

That’s about it for now – hopefully something interesting will happen soon, and then these posts will be a bit more interesting!

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I Got Skills, They’re Multiplyin’

Excuse the terrible title but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I’ve been doing some self-reflection lately, because it is a Thing Librarians Do, and it’s good for personal and professional development and stuff. Not that I’m a professional yet, but I like to get into habits early. So I thought I’d just write down some of the things I’ve achieved so far as a Graduate Trainee, so I’ve got a record of them for later on.

I think it’s amazing to look back at what I was like when I started this job and compare that to how I am now. I have always thought of myself as someone who is quite confident and self-sufficient, but obviously when you start a new job in a field you have no experience in, you’re not going to be relaxed and confident straight away. In fact I’d go as far as to say I experienced some “culture shock” – I’ve never worked in a library or indeed any kind of office environment before so there was a lot of adjusting to be done. The development from September to now is huge – I’m a lot better at dealing with customers and their enquiries, and that’s just the start of it. I think the most important thing that’s happened is that I’ve actually learned what it is that librarians do all day. I’m not talking about any of the stereotypical images here – they don’t just stamp books, or “shh” people, and they definitely don’t sit around behind the counter reading books all day. I’ve learnt about cataloguing, book ordering, budgeting, management, teaching, stock maintenance/editing, and much more. Here are some of my highlights from the last few months:

I made some instructional podcasts! One is here and there are two more waiting to go up.

I learned to digitise articles and chapters using online software, I reorganised the filing system and wrote an instruction manual detailing the digitisation process from start to finish. I also helped with a project to stamp all the copies of books that have had chapters digitised, and record the progress on a spreadsheet. Librarians love spreadsheets.

Digitisation

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I wrote a helpsheet about accessing theses and articles online, which is available at the enquiry and issue desks for students to take. Sadly it’s not online for me to show it off to you (but the information is).

I’m still doing this mammoth withdrawals list. It’s really useful work (so I keep reminding myself) as we prepare the library stock for the move to All Saints in 2014, as when I’m finished, we will have an accurate count of how many books are in stock here. I’ve found a few that were “withdrawn” but still sitting on the shelf, so it’s a good way of creating space and keeping things tidy.

I’ve attended training sessions which are giving me a great insight on how the library works, including ones on policies and procedures, customer service skills, presenting, teaching InfoSkills, and Endnote. I’ve also been able to go behind the scenes at Library Support Services and Special Collections to hear about the work they do.

I’ve sat in on teaching sessions, both inductions and InfoSkills, and have helped out with hands-on sections in these sessions, helping students work through the tasks we set them. In March I’ll be team-teaching a session, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve done some networking – not much, admittedly, but I am part of some groups on Facebook, connecting with other library trainees, and I follow other people’s blogs and Twitter accounts. This is all helping me get an idea of what’s happening in the wider world of librarianship, with updates from established professionals, students and other GTs. I’ve also met some library people face-to-face!

I’ve learned the basics of Talis, the library management software, and can now issue and discharge books like a pro.

I’ve created and updated reading lists, keeping them up-to-date with new books that we get in stock.

I’ve learned to receipt new books, adding them to the system and checking that their details are correct.

I’ve helped people with enquiries, which can range from “how do I use the printer” to “how can I find articles on my really obscure dissertation topic” to “where is the nearest NHS walk-in centre”.

The other day I used the typewriter for the first time. I’ve never used a working typewriter before and I quite enjoyed it – even if my first go didn’t quite work properly! Here is my first ever attempt at making a spine label for a book with the typewriter. I had to do it again after I realised I hadn’t done the letters in capitals:

My first attempt at using the typewriter

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I’ve probably left loads of stuff off that list, but it’s long enough already for you to get an idea of how much I’ve learned in four and a half months. I think the main thing is that I’m a lot more confident in my abilities now – I don’t have to ask other people for confirmation that I’m doing the right thing as much any more (although I still ask about the really weird stuff!). I’ve also got over my fear of speaking to people on the phone, which is handy. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with my progress and am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year will bring.

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January News

So I’m at the end of week 19 already. I’m more than a third of the way in to my traineeship now, which is crazy. This week the university started advertising for next year’s graduate trainees, which made me think about how different life is now from a year ago. I was so stressed out last year, after having finally chosen a career path, and then finding it actually really difficult to get a job that would get me into librarianship. I sent out tons of applications, and it was quite demoralising to get rejection letter after rejection letter (or worse, silence). And look at me now! I’m here in Manchester and I’m loving it. I won’t say I’m loving every minute, because I definitely did not love discovering that part of the ceiling had fallen in on Monday morning, and I won’t pretend I’ve loved every single second of this withdrawals odyssey, but on the whole I am absolutely ecstatic to be in this job. If you are reading this and considering applying for my job, DO IT. It’s been a great learning experience.

Anyway, what did I do this week? Take a wild guess. Yep, more withdrawals. This project is taking a long time but it’s the sort of job where it’s easy to measure progress, so it doesn’t feel like it’s interminable (well, only a little bit). I’ve almost finished checking the books in the small book room (small room, not small books), which means I’m just about up to 302 in the Dewey sequence. In terms of physical location that feels pretty good, but in reality I know I’ve got about 300 pages of the spreadsheet to go, so I’m not kidding myself that I’m going to be finished any time soon. We’re getting a placement student in February so I will be able to palm some of the workload off onto him/her. I’ve said before that I don’t mind doing this stuff, and it’s true, and that’s partly because I get to explore the shelves. I’m finding all sorts of weird stuff up there, including an English-Chinese dictionary of psychology (we don’t have the Chinese-English part) and the Handbook of Butter and Cheese Making, which is really out of place in a nursing and psychology library! We’re considering compiling a list of our favourites. I’d be interested to hear from any other library people who’ve discovered interesting titles on their shelves. Anyone?

I haven’t been doing withdrawals completely non-stop this week. It was back to term-time hours this week so I got to spend part of Monday on the enquiry desk, which is one of my favourite parts of the week. Helping people is an easy way to feel good about yourself, so 10.45-12.45 on a Monday is basically a two-hour feel-good fest for me. I did have some odd enquiries this week, which made it an interesting session. One girl kept topping up her print allowance without ever being able to actually use the money, which was a strange one.

The other thing I’ve mentioned which happened on Monday was my discovery of the leaky roof upstairs. As I’ve said before, the building is lovely but very old and absolutely falling apart. The poor thing needs some good care and attention, although sadly I think it’s going to be abandoned after the university vacates it next year. So on Monday morning I went up into the small book room to get some withdrawal work done, and realised I could hear a dripping noise. And there was debris on the floor, and wait, was that a large damp patch on the carpet? *eyes creep upward* Oh… Half a ceiling tile was missing. Annoyingly there’s not much that can be done about this, it seems, and so we just have to hope it doesn’t rain too much! The books are fine, thankfully.

Monday was pretty hectic all round – it was the first day of term, and loads of assignments were due in. There were absolute hordes of students coming through the library and just hanging around near printers and stuff. There wasn’t as much chaos as some hand-in days, although apparently the printers did go offline for a bit in the evening, which must have been nerve-wracking.

The rest of the week has been fairly normal; I’ve had some stints on the issue desk and lots of time for withdrawals, and that’s pretty much it. On Friday we went to a training session on Endnote Web, and while it was good for me to learn how it works so I can help students on the enquiry desk, I’m still not convinced I will ever use it for myself. Plus, it didn’t work as seamlessly as promised with the library catalogue, so I’m not sold on its usefulness.

Next week I’m going to shake things up a bit and record a couple of podcasts, which will break up the week a little. It’s been a while since I’ve had more than one thing on my to-do list!

Everyone’s talking about the potential for a snow-day in the next couple of weeks. I’d like to see a little bit of snow, but not so much that it gets inconvenient. Snow for weekends only, I think. We shall see what happens – I’m not sure a heavy snowfall would be good for the structural integrity of the poor old building!

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Busy, busy

So, we’re now into Week Ten (!) of my graduate traineeship. It’s flying by! I’m almost exactly a fifth of the way through now. I can tell that I’ve learned a lot,  not only because I’m a lot more confident answering queries and working on the issue desk, but also because I wrote the world’s longest personal statement for my MA application to Sheffield (which is all done and dusted now, hooray!). I had tons of examples of attention to detail and good research skills, not to mention communication skills. Hopefully everything I’ve put down (plus the fact that I’m doing a GT-ship) will persuade them to let me study there next year.

Last week was reading week, which meant that all the students went on holiday or slept or whatever else students do on reading week (I wouldn’t know, I never had a proper one) and so the library was very quiet all week. I also finished (finally) the digitisation renewals, which meant that I had nothing on my to-do list all week either. All in all, it was quite a dull week, but I got a lot of straightening and shelving done. Things picked up towards the end of the week, as my colleague Mark has enlisted me to help demonstrate the digitisation process to the Senior Library Assistants, and we spent a good few hours showing them how to use the website to enter all the information and upload the PDFs. Although I am looking forward to being able to share the workload when it gets heavy, it did feel a bit silly telling three other people how to do it when I’d just run out of things to do myself. Luckily, on Friday afternoon a lecturer sent through some emails requesting some changes to her reading lists, which means I now have 15 new digitisations to process. Lucky me! I’ve also been tasked with writing a manual giving step-by-step instructions for the whole digitisation process, and next week I’ll be sorting out the paper copies of the digitised articles. I’ve also identified some other areas of our digitisation records that could do with a tidy-up, so I’ll be nicely busy for the next few weeks, hopefully.

Last week, after a month of working on it (on and off), I managed to record a version of my Anatomy.tv podcast that I was happy with, and which was almost under 3 minutes. I would have got it done a lot sooner if I hadn’t lost my voice! It’ll be uploaded to the library website soon, so I can share it with you and you can all hear my voice telling you how to use a database. I’ve got a new podcast to work on soon, but I haven’t been told much about it yet. Hopefully it’ll be about a database that’s a bit more conventional than Anatomy.tv, and it won’t take me ages to do all the screenshots.

A couple of weeks ago we went to an induction meeting for new university staff, which was quite good, especially the talk about the history of the university. We found out that the logo is made up of six spades representing “hard toil and entrenchment” which is… nice? Here’s a link to it so you can see for yourself. It was interesting to hear about the university’s admissions process and how student numbers have been affected by recent government changes, just for a bit of “inside information” about how it all works and the challenges faced by the administration. I still feel like a student sometimes, so to hear about what goes on behind the scenes is fascinating.

Next week I’ve got a training session entitled “Dealing with Difficult Customers” which sounds like it’s going to be really helpful, as we’ll be looking at case studies from the library and learning about policies and procedures. I sort of wish this had been our first training session, though, as we’ve had a few people in the last two months that have been difficult to deal with! It’ll be good to get some reassurance that I know what I’m doing (vaguely) when I’m on the issue desk. We’ll also be meeting some librarians from other organisations to hear about their work, which will be interesting as I don’t really know a whole lot about opportunities for librarians other than academic or public libraries.
I’m also attending a few infoskills sessions this week, which I’m looking forward to, as you get an insight into what’s going on in people’s minds as they ask all sorts of questions! It’s also good to see the different types of sessions that the library offers, be it a library induction or an in-depth look at a particular database. Plus, it’s always good to get a bit more experience!
I’m off to Chorlton tonight to hopefully catch some fireworks (not literally) which will be nice. So far this week I’ve only seen fireworks out of the corner of my eye, or from very far away, so I’m hoping I can actually get a good view tonight for once. It’s going to be absolutely freezing though!

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Day Five

Day Five heralded my first TGIF moment of my career; I was so tired by the end of the week I could barely stop yawning!

I had an easy start to the day on the counter, with hardly any customers to deal with. Afterwards, I went up to Room 203 and learned what has been happening at the library with stock editing. In 2014 Elizabeth Gaskell Campus will close and the faculty will move to a new site currently being built. The library will merge with the central library at All Saints, but there’s not a huge amount of space at All Saints as it’s already merged with another site and will be merging with two more around the same time as Gaskell. This means that we are having to cut down our stock hugely to be ready for the move. Some of the librarians are investigating each book on the shelves, working out how often it’s been lent out and when it was last borrowed, to decide whether it’s worth keeping or not. There are already quite a few empty shelves and there’ll be a lot more by the end of the year. The  books that are candidates for withdrawal go to Room 203 to be sorted out, and either they are deemed worthy of keeping or they are condemned to boxes which go off to a book-selling company. Books to be sold have their front pages removed and processed to make sure they’re taken off the catalogue, and this turns out to be what the morgue and graveyard used to be for. It’s a bit less macabre than what I’d originally thought! When you’re working in a building that looks like this, though, you can’t help but wonder…

Found on Google

The middle of the day was spent watching podcasts to learn how to make them myself. I’m starting work on my own podcast soon, so need to work out the sort of things I should say in it, and the visual style I should be aiming for, in order to make my podcast easy to follow and really accessible. I also spent some time getting familiar with the database I’ll be making a podcast about, and discovered some quite gruesome dissection pictures on it. I think the challenge is going to be keeping the disgust out of my voice when I narrate the video!

I then did some digitisation work, filling in request forms and spreadsheets and copying articles. I managed somehow to pull the lid of the photocopier off while copying a giant journal and was horrified at the thought of how much that would cost, but thankfully with Arlene the Principal Library Assistant’s help I managed to fix it before anyone else noticed! It’s quite frustrating not being able to stick with a digitisation request from start to finish but, unfortunately, until I get my email account up and running I can only do parts of it on my own.

The last hour of the day was supposed to be for me to learn about RFID tagging, but it only took Catherine five minutes to explain the whole thing for me. RFID tags are little stickers you put in the back of books and they are programmed with the book’s barcode and other information so that if you hold up a scanning device to a bookshelf you will instantly be able to see everything that’s on the shelf (and work out what’s missing), a bit like they do in supermarkets. This will come in really useful when the stock moves across to All Saints. The actual tagging process takes about 30 seconds – scan the book’s barcode, place a tag on the special programming mat, stick the tag in the book. Done! I did about 50 books while sitting at the issue counter chatting to the others – quite a relaxing end to my first week as a GT.

All in all I had a great first week; I really feel I’ve learned loads already and I know there’s a lot more to come, along with a lot more students to help. Some of the students are back already and the library is steadily getting busier (and noisier) but the real inundation will be next week. Bring it on!

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