Sunday, 16 February 2014

Safari :An exhibition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat, especially in East Africa.

Being a good librarian I'd be amiss if I didn't start a post like this with a good old fashioned Dictionary definition. However, it was the famous Bear Hunt book that really came to mind when the idea of a Library Safari was broached, swiftly followed by the line  "Lions and Tigers and Bears..."

The name meant I'd heard it all by the time the day of the CILIP SW Library Safaris came round. Whether we were taking nets? If the library could expect a new Zebra print rug afterwards? Did I have a good pair of binoculars? 

But the fact is that these Safaris, an opportunity to  find out how libraries work and about the teams and people that work in and run them, were inspired. With five running across the region the attendees were given an unrivaled insight to what it means to work in information and library environments. 

On paper the Bath Safari was fairly traditional. More so than some of the other safaris.  Two HE libraries, a FE college and Bath Central. Academic and public, maybe the most obvious of the many information roles available. Certainly the roles that I was most familiar with when I first considered librarianship. After all, how many of us have been influenced by positive experiences in public libraries as children before recognising the value of academic libraries to our studies as young adults. 

Because the visits were so traditional I wanted to make sure my presentation (due to be delivered at the start of the day)  covered a wide range of routes into the profession.  If you are interested in this, a slightly edited version, (minus a slide with career history from my team) can be found on this Prezi :

In reality the Bath Safari turned out to be far from traditional. Starting at the heritage site of Bath Spa University the tourists got to visit what I consider to be one of the greenest and most creative of university campuses. It is also, in contrast to the site at the University of Bath, one of the smallest universities in the country.  This meant that the participants saw how, despite operating on a much smaller scale, the library provides 24/7 access to IT and study resources for students. With the safari coinciding with a CLA visit it was also a chance to broach the subject of ethical and legal use of information within the profession, something that for the newcomer can often be a minefield

At the opposite end of the spectrum the safari next made the trip over to larger University of BAth where STEM research is paramount and the explorers met with individuals in both non traditional and traditional roles. This included the team working on a project that will ensure  research data is safeguarded and preserved for our future researches and students. Also, they gave us Licorice Allsorts, demonstrating that all good meetings should involve cake or sweets of some sorts. 

From University of Bath we travelled to Bath Central Library, a city centre location that I had used personally while completing my Chartership portfolio. Highlights here included items such as a human skin bound copy of Machiavelli's The Prince as well as the extensive Juvenile collection in the stacks. Much of this collection, while not particularly rare or valuable, represents an insight into the book both as an object of desire and as a piece of literature, reflecting past social norms. More importantly the safari participants were introduced to the range of services offered by public libraries, including story time, children's services, archives, volunteering, audio books, book clubs and access to free wifi and computers. It was also here that, for the second time during the day, they were shown that the most obvious route into the profession, that is the post graduate qualification, isn't the only option available.  

Leaving Central Library we made a dash across a very soggy Bath (pun intended) to City of Bath College to meet with Naomi Elliot, Head of Library and Learning Resources, our final stop of the day. Here we all had our eyes opened to the range of services offered by an FE library including literacy support, in the form of the Six Book Challenge, learner support, through the provision of a  traditional library service, (books, magazines, IT, enquiry services) and technical support, including a IT support desk provided by students training in IT. We also had a demonstration of their online streaming system that includes the recording and storage of student performances and presentations.

As coordinator of the Bath Safari the only awkward part of the day was at the beginning. That period when people are arriving, drinking tea and coffee, and generally NOT TALKING AT ALL. It's so rare for me to go to an event nowadays, even as a relative new comer to the south, that I'd forgotten how difficult these situations can be. As such if I was involved in this  event again I would certainly find some way to break the ice at the initial meet up, possibly by the option to create name badges, such as is often used at Library Camps, or, conversely by a more structured meet and greet that would take us straight into the formal part of the day. 

With hindsight I would also factor in a break in the afternoon. I should have realised that anyone aspiring to work in the information and library sector would need regular access to tea. As a consequence by the time we reached City of Bath College everyone was desperate for a sit down and ready for a brew from the college cafe. Luckily this was something we were able to accommodate due to the fortunate timing of buses earlier in the day. I would have hated to impact on Naomi's enthusiastic tour due to the lack of tea!

I've yet to receive comprehensive feedback from the overall event coordinator. However for me, all the work and effort that had gone into the day was made worth while by a comment made as we left City of Bath College. It is this comment that I will leave you with, in the hope you will either be inspired to run your own Safari, or consider a career as an information and library professional.....  

"I am so excited about becoming a librarian now"

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