My placement with the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project

This is a repost of the blog entry I wrote for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project’s Safe and Sound blog.

Glasgow is a long way from Australia.

Yet when I had to choose a library for the industry placement part of my Masters of Information Management at RMIT University in Melbourne, my heart leapt at the possibility of doing it at the National Library of Scotland.

Blame Iain Banks, Trainspotting, and Chvrches. I have a massive soft spot for Scotland.

My background is in IT, and I’m interested in how technology can help libraries make their collections more discoverable. After a lot of emails, staff at the National Library of Scotland found the perfect placement for me: the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

The diagram I drew to help understand the OUSH workflow.

It’s a huge project, led by the British Library, to digitise, preserve, and put online half a million of the UK’s rare and unique sound recordings. The National Library is the project hub for Scotland, running out of their Kelvin Hall branch in Glasgow. The sheer amount of material that needs to be catalogued means that volunteers play an important part in the project, and my placement would be similar to the work the volunteers do.

I expected to learn about digitising audio tapes, cataloguing them, and clearing the copyright.

I didn’t expect to learn the difference between a Flying Scot (a type of bicycle made by David Rattray and Co.) and the Flying Scotsman (Graeme Obree, a record-setting cyclist famous for his homemade cycle Old Faithful).

I didn’t expect to learn about the hierarchy of roles a young glassmaker at Edinburgh Crystal worked through in their career, from taker-in to gatherer to ball-blower.

I didn’t expect to learn about the Craigo jute mill, or the inventor of the disposable nappy, or how to tell a Ross Records cassette from a Beechwoods Records one by their catalogue numbers.

An archive box of cassettes and minidiscs.

But you can’t describe recordings without listening to them. Some of this knowledge I picked up from the interviews themselves. Some of it I learnt by frantically Googling to try and understand what the interviewers were talking about – there’s a lot of detective work in cataloguing.

And as I’ve worked my way through these collections, I’ve developed an odd, protective love for them. Scottish fiddle music may not be my favourite type of music, but I can see the similarities between a self-released cassette of Strathspeys and reels with a hand-drawn cover and the DIY punk music that’s more my tastes.

My placement has covered the technical aspects of digitising collections that I expected. I spent an afternoon with the audio engineer, learning how much manual work goes into handling open reel tapes. I learnt the workflow that will turn Excel spreadsheets into metadata accessible via the British Library website. And I’ve sat in on head-scratching discussions on how to convert files and metadata formatted for one computer database into files and metadata that can be used by a different computer database.

Me wearing my UOSH volunteers t-shirt.

It’s been fascinating and educational. It’s knowledge that will help me in my career as a systems librarian. And I’ve met some wonderful and dedicated people.

The thing I come back to, though, is the realisation I had working my way through the boxes of oral histories and traditional music. These collections aren’t just tapes and boxes and Excel spreadsheets. These are people sharing the culture that they love.

It’s been a privilege to play a part in helping them.

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cardiParty: The Museum of Broken Relationships

(I wrote this review of last Friday’s cardiParty as part of an assignment for my Masters. I thought I might as well repost it here.)

Last Friday  I attended a tour of the Museum of Broken Relationships organised by newCardigan.

NewCardigan describe themselves as “a social and professional group for people who work in galleries, libraries, archives and museums – and for those who like hanging around with GLAM types.”

One of the events they organise are monthly cardiParties, which are a tour of a library, gallery or museum, followed by drinks, dinner and socialising at a nearby pub. I’ve been to several cardiParties in the past, including tours of PBS FM’s music library, Incendium Radical Library in Footscray, and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in St. Kilda.

This month’s cardiParty was a tour of the Museum of Broken Relationships exhibition at No Vacancy gallery. I noticed quite a few RMIT students were there.

Me being me, I livetweeted the tour. (Me being me, I left my glasses at work and so it’s full of typos.)

The Museum collects items and stories that mark the end of relationships.  It started as an art installation by an ex-couple, but now it’s a physical building in Croatia, with exhibitions that tour the world. The items are mostly pretty humble: a jar of buttons, a dress, a handful of lollies. The stories range from the funny to the heart-rending.

The No Vacancy gallery manager gave a talk that covered the history of the gallery, her career, and the story of the Museum of Broken Relationships. We had some time to explore the exhibition. Then the newCardgian committee raced through their Annual General Meeting, including announcing their new President. 

Business concluded, we all decamped to the Moat for food and drink. 

Which is an important part of cardiParties. Seeing different institutions and hearing about the philosophies behind them is fascinating. But sharing a drink and chat with fellow GLAMers is what builds a community.

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The Dangers of Donations

Interesting article from the University of Melbourne’s Pursuit magazine about how China and Russia are using museums and galleries as a way to expand their soft power in diplomatic relationships:


(This white paper defines soft power as ‘the ability to influence the behaviour or thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas’ )

The soft power article made me think about this Guardian article about Harvey Weinstien and how ‘ostentatious, targeted philanthropy’ was one of the ways he tried to repair his reputation.

Are international art exchanges neutral? 

Or is there an ethical dimension to participating in these programs? 

China jails democracy activists. The Russian government is accused of killing journalists. Is collaborating with K11 or the Hermitage also whitewashing the crimes of these regimes, in the way Weinstein tried to whitewash his crimes?

From the Guardian:

 ‘In Weinstein’s case, intended beneficiaries were, effectively, cast as accomplices in Bloom’s Rose [McGowan]-persecution schedule. But at other times they might be helping purge historical links with, say, Vladimir Putin, with fascist organisations or with discreditable financial practices. You sometimes get the impression that, usefully for donors and their advisers, complacency on this point, and carelessness about complicity, is most likely in organisations whose motives are unassailably pure and high-minded.’

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A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies

I read this short story about libraries, and reading, and escape last year. It came across my Twitter feed again, so I reread it.

“He reached towards the book and the book reached back towards him, because books need to be read quite as much as we need to read them…”

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow.

(I love this story, but there are a few elements in it that make me cringe. The comment from A bad librarian articulates them. Read that too.)

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His Dark Materials trailer

The BBC have released a trailer for their adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.

Allow me to summarise my reaction: Lyra! Lyra! Lyra!

I hope this is good.

Actually, I’m quite pleased that there’s now a TV version as well as a movie version, because it emphasises these are versions Lyra Belacqua, rather than the real one who lives in my head.

Lyra is oddly precious to me.

It’s some combination of wanting to be her, in her bravery and fierceness, wanting to protect her, wishing perhaps that I had a daughter like her, and simply wanting to admire her.

Bonnie Mary Liston’s excellent essay ‘The wildness of girlhood’ starts with quotes from Emily Bronte and Catherynne Valente, but it made me think of Ms. Belacqua.

“Every four years or so, the young girls of Athens between ages of five and ten would go into the woods to make sacrifices to Artemis, run races, dance and live like bears. Literally. They were called arktoi, which means ‘little bears’, and they were supposed to run around pretending to be bears, wearing special bear skins…”

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Twine as teaching tool

Twine is tool for creating choose-your-own-adventure style text games.

I’ve just played a fun example of using Twine to educate people about the work cataloguers do: the Cataloguing Game by Victoria Parkinson.

I like it because it gives you a gentle but hands-on experience of what it’s like to catalogue a book. (It also gives you a choice of hot chocolate, coffee or tea.)

I’ve played a few Twine games, but I haven’t seen many educational ones like this. A quick google pulls up a few articles about using Twine and interactive fiction in the classroom:

Outside the classroom

I currently work on a software support desk, and I’ve idly considered replacing our troubleshooting flowcharts with a Twine game. Past a certain complexity, flowcharts get too hard to read, whereas a Twine game limits you to exactly the choices you need to make. Maintaining it would be the hardest part.

I made short Twine game years ago, just to test it out, based on something that happened to me on a tram: Bystander

I’m really like the work Tegean Webb does. Start with Young Spells, about teenage girls preparing a witchcraft ritual.

And my first real introduction to Twine was the bizarre and surreal Mastaba Snoopy. Perhaps not really safe for work, or sanity.

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Post-NLS9 Report

I went to Adelaide for NLS9 – the ALIA New Librarians Symposium.

It was the first time I’d been to an NLS. I also had a horrific cold which sucked the energy and the extrovertism out of me.

I felt a bit like this frogcake:

Squashed, green, and about to be eaten

I’ve created a Twitter Moment with all my tweets from the conference, so I’m not going to spend too much time repeating them here.

In my last post, I wrote down what I hoped to get out of NLS9, cold notwithstanding. Here’s how I went…

Goal 1: Three useful ideas

I wanted to gain three ideas – skills, practices, ideas or tools – that I could use in my career. I think I got that.

#1 – The Effective Way to Speak Truth to Power

In her talk on being the new kid in town, Jessica Howie explained that research has shown the most effective way to argue for change in an organisation is to first have built a reputation for excelling at your work.

That makes sense. There’s no point in trying to tell a company how to do things better if you haven’t first proved you know what you’re talking about.

(There are, obviously, problems with this when it comes to reporting harassment or abuse: new starters are vulnerable because they haven’t built up a reputation yet, and the quality of work often suffers if someone is being harassed. You still need strong organisational procedures that can counter this bias.)

#2 – The Annual Report

Deborah Brown from Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney talked about how she creates an annual report for her library to show how it supports the schools strategic goals, and demonstrate its value to staff, students and the community.

She uses Venngage to create lots of punchy, colourful infographics – there’s some examples in my Twitter thread.

The big lesson here: it’s not enough to just do a good job. You need to be able to sell your value to others.

It’s also a useful tool to track progress. I left the session thinking about writing a personal annual report record how I’m going in my personal goals.

#3 – Talk with marginalised groups, not on behalf of them

This came up in Nikki Anderson’s talk on Deviating With Diversity, and Craig Middleton’s keynote on queering museums to make them more inclusive.

If you want to include marginalised communities, you need to spend time talking with them, and listening to them, and earning their trust.

Related: I picked up a copy of Making Spaces Safer by Shawna Potter while I was in Adelaide. I’m not sure when or how I’ll get to use the advice it contains, but it seems like one day it’ll be useful.

Goal 2: A better understanding of the sector.

I’ve never actually worked in a library. I even contributed a comic about it to the NLS zine. What did I learn about the industry at NLS(?

I learnt there are a lot of passionate librarians determined to make their libraries more inclusive.

I learnt that there are still lots of historical obstacles to that goal, from subject headings in metadata to the fraught relationship between Indigenous and settler ways of knowing.

I learnt there’s an ongoing need spruik the value of libraries.

And I learnt that there’s a certain anxiety about the future of the profession. We were told we should learn how to code, that we should focus on the work that can’t be automated.

What wasn’t discussed was whether there will be a future…

No libraries on a dead planet

While I was at NLS9, Professor Jem Bendell posted A Year of Deep Adaptation. Deep Adaptation was his paper that argues that societal collapse due to climate catastrophe is now inevitable.

I haven’t read that paper yet. I don’t feel strong enough.

But there’s no point planning out a career in the library industry if there’s no libraries left to work in. At some stage I’m going to have to read these reports, and think about what this means.

One of my goals for NLS9 was to touch base with my motivations. This has to be part of it.

Okay. After that cheery thought, here’s a panda from Adelaide Zoo…

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What I hope to get out of NLS9

Me at Adelaide Zoo - a bald man with a tartan scarf, looking a bit tired, but with some nice trees in the background.
Me, looking tired.

I’m in Adelaide for NLS9 – ALIA’s New Librarian Symposium.

I feel a bit… unprepared.

If I was prepared, I’d have read the program and worked out which sessions I want to go to. If I was prepared, I’d be feeling energetic and extroverted and ready to engage. If I was really prepared, I’d have brought copies of my zines to give away in lieu of business cards.

Instead, I spent the last week in bed, besnotted.

Conferences, symposiums, festivals: they can take a lot of energy. And I’m not feeling very energetic right now.

The last few months have been draining, and I’m still at the tail end of this cold. I feel less like networking with peers or engaging with exciting new ideas and more like curling up somewhere warm and hibernating.

Oh well. It is what it is.

I may skip some of the social events, I’ll almost certainly fall asleep in some sessions, and I will definitely forget people’s names.

But there’s still things I want to get out of NLS9.

They are:

#1 – Three useful ideas

Conferences are full of ideas. I’ll be looking for 3 ideas, practices, tools or skills that I can follow up on and use in my professional career.

#2 – A better understanding of the sector

I’m changing careers from IT to the library sector. But I’ve never actually worked in a library. So I’m always looking to get a better understanding of the industry.

  • what do we do well?
  • what do we struggle with?
  • what are the opportunities?
  • what are the needs?

And above all: what can I contribute to the industry?

#3 – Touching base with my colleagues

I’m hoping to meet new peers in the library sector. But I’m not as far into the extroverted-networking mindspace as I can be.

So a more reasonable goal is to touch base with my friends in the sector, most of whom I only chat with on Twitter.

#4 – Touching base with my motivations

I’m halfway through my Masters of information Management. It’s probably going to take another year or more before I finish it, since I’m only studying one subject per semester.

It’s feeling like a slog at the moment.

So I’m hoping for a reminder of why I chose to change careers into this industry.

Back when I started my Masters, I wrote about my motivations in the post Career as a Question. It might be good revist that post after NLS9, to see how much still holds true, and how much it needs to change based on everything I’ve learnt so far.

Because I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time for reflection after the conference.

That’s how it works, right?

Capybaras at Adelaide Zoo. I envy them, and their naps in the sunshine.

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Roundup: Teenagers and YA articles

It’s been an emotionally exhausting few weeks. My father passed away. The funeral was on Friday. I’ve been on leave from work, missed class at uni, and haven’t touched my Koha project.

But I’ve been reading a few articles about YA and teenagers. Which is broadly on topic for a library blog. So here’s a roundup.

Let’s Update Those YA Lit Articles with Current Titles, and more suggestions for how we talk about YA lit in the media

From Karen Jensen for the Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Twilight and The Hunger Games are ancient history in terms of books teenagers are actually reading, buth they’re still the most commonly referenced titles in articles about YA. Karen Jensen’s article lays out some rules for writing more up-to-date articles:

  • Include authors of colour — Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give has been on the NYT’s best seller list for over two years
  • Get actual data: NYT best seller lists and library circulation records show what teens are actually reading
  • Distinguish between the books actual teens are reading and the books YA fans are reading: there’s a lot of adults who read YA, and they skew the data

Teenagers are better behaved and less hedonistic nowadays

An older article, from the January 2018 edition of the Economist.

Teenagers around the world are drinking less, smoking less, and having sex later than teenagers were last decade. They also tend to find it easier to talk to their fathers, but feel lonelier and find it harder to make friends at school.

Theories as to why: parents have smaller families, and so spend more time with their children, teenagers are interacting more through smart phones and less face-to-face, and increasing ethnic diversity mean there are more teens surveyed who come from cultures where drinking and sex are frowned upon.

The sources for the article are the WHO’s Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children report and the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment.

Teen boys rated their female classmates based on looks. The girls fought back.

At a high school in Maryland, male students had circulated a list that ranked the female students in order of their looks. A group of female students complained to the school administrators. The administrators investigated, and gave one male student detention.

Unsatisfied, the female students rallied together to demand more action. The result was a two-and-ahelf hour meeting between male and female students where the girls explained why they felt so violated, weekly meetings to plan ways to prevent this happening again, and senior students visiting junior classrooms to talk about toxic masculinity.

“Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal,” Schwartz said. “I was their friend, but I guess also a number.”

The killer quote for me:

“Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal,” Schwartz said. “I was their friend, but I guess also a number.”

‘Be urself’: meet the teens creating a generation gap in music

The Guardian has an article about the “underground bedroom pop” of young women, many teenagers, writing and recording music for YouTube.

I’m not sure any movement can still be called underground if it’s being reported in the Guardian. But I’ve come across this genre in my wanderings through YouTube, primarily Dodie and Tessa Violet. (I’d recommend Dodie’s angsty ‘Burned Out’ and Violet’s boppy ‘Crush’ if you want to somewhere to start.)

There’s a definite aesthetic to this bedroom pop. White walls. Fairy lights. Cute but relatable performers. A hint of mental health problems. Ukuleles. It reminds me heavily of the booktuber aesthetic.

It’s interesting. But it’s all so very, very… nice.

I wonder if there’s a dark version of this? Teens making bedroom black metal and garage goth? Or am I just showing my age?

Do teens get pushed out of YA when it’s called a genre?

From Kelly Jensen for Book Riot.

There’s a statistic that 55% of people who buy YA are adults, not teens. Jensen argues that thinking of YA as a genre rather than a category sidelines the very teenage readers the books are supposedly written for.

Author, editor and agent Danielle Binks has argued that YA is a readership not a genre.

I agree there is an issue with adults crowding out teens in the field (see my Teens to the Front manifesto from several years ago). I’m less convinced that YA isn’t a genre. Crime is a genre about crime. Romance is a genre about romance. YA is a genre about being a young adult. It has its own history, set of influence, rules and conventions.

(I’ve also yet to come across a definition of genre that I think accurately defines how genres actually work, from creators to retailers to consumers. One day I’ll take a stab at it, but it will involve explaining fuzzy set theory, so today is not that day.)

(Also: Jensen throws in the blithe assertion that Horror is a mood, not a genre. This might come as a surprise to all the scholars and historians of the genre.)

Students sexually harassing teachers

The YA community often talks about how awesome teenagers are. It’s important, though, to remember that teenagers are not an homogenous mass.

There’s a wide variety of teens. And some of them are complete shits.

Clementine Ford reports for the Saturday Paper on the problem of female teachers being abused, threatened and sexually harassed by male students, and the lack support provided by administrators.

A recent survey of almost 2000 members of the Australian Education Union (AEU) found just over 50 per cent of respondents had “experienced, witnessed or supervised someone subject to sexual harassment” while working in the education sector.

Women accounted for 80 per cent of those sexually harassed during their education careers. In 90 per cent of cases, the perpetrator was male. Those most likely to be targeted in schools were women aged 25-29 years old. Within this demographic, almost half of those reporting had experienced sexual harassment in their current workplaces.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the survey findings, though, was the hesitancy most respondents felt in reporting harassment to school administrations. Two-thirds of education providers reported feeling worried they would be unsupported and potentially exacerbate the situation, or even risk unemployment. These are legitimate fears, particularly in an increasingly casualised teaching profession.

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