Monday, 19 December 2016

Telling the Stories of York

Sarah Griffin writes about how we produced a beautiful book featuring some of the treasures of our collections.

This particular story starts when the previous University Librarian, Stephen Town, asked me if I would prepare a short leaflet that would be image heavy and text light, and would be something that could be handed out to visitors and other people interested in the unique and distinctive collections at the University of York and York Minster Library. I worked with Sarah Slinn and Alexandra Medcalf from the Borthwick team, photographer Paul Shields, and designers Karen Smith and Jessica Stephens; we chose a few gorgeous pictures, wrote a few lines and thought we had completed our task. However once Stephen saw the initial idea he knew that we could go bigger and better and produce something much more substantial.

At first the plan was to produce a "Treasures Book", showing the highlights of the collections. It was certainly no hardship selecting stunning and internationally significant items for this. We decided on a telegram from Ghandi, theatre designs for an Alan Ayckbourn play, a hand coloured edition of the first printed atlas, a child's scrapbook from 1819 and many many more diverting and exciting items.

However as we went through the selection process we gradually realised that something else was going on. I know myself that if I go on a visit or a guided tour, it's always the stories that I remember. Sometimes I have no idea of dates or even the context of what I’ve heard, but the stories around an object stay in my mind and encourage me to go and find out more. That is what we decided to try and capture in the book and, from that moment, Stories of York really began to take shape.

York is full of great stories but our starting point obviously had to be the collections at the Borthwick, Special Collections and York Minster Library. There were some easy choices, arsonist Jonathan Martin was an obvious one as the collection is particularly rich down at the Minster, and we also had some fire boxes in the Raymond Burton collection.

York and chocolate cannot be separated and the Terry's and Rowntree's archives at the Borthwick had so much wonderful material that it was a hard job to decide what not to use. Here's a couple of the ones we reluctantly left out! Leaving things out was probably the hardest part, the book is 100 pages long but could easily have been a 1000.

Interestingly there were also things we were determined to include that in the final cut didn't quite fit. We wanted to tell the stories of the Mount School and the York Musical Festivals. There is wonderful material in the Mount archive and in the Raymond Burton Collection but we couldn't pull out that all important story. However we haven't given up so watch this space for a follow up!

Producing the book, discovering more about the stunning collections at the University and York Minster and being able to share some of their stories was a joy for all of us, and I hope that everyone else will get as much pleasure out of the Stories of York.

Interested in reading more? You can buy your copy of our book online or in person:

Friday, 2 December 2016

Getting to know you

Jackie Knowles, Head of Customer Services, explains how we put our customers (that means you!) at the heart of our developments.

Next summer it will be twenty years since I qualified as an 'Information Professional'. Reflecting back on the years since I landed in the world of libraries I personally have changed enormously, just the usual list of becoming older, (a bit) wiser, finding more grey hairs and wrinkles etc. However, more notably the environment I work in, and libraries themselves, have significantly changed around me along the way. There are the obvious changes; computers have replaced typewriters, furniture is no longer uniformly brown and we've got far more sophisticated electronic resources than the CD-ROMS I used in my first job. But alongside the obvious there are also the more subtle changes that have taken place in our attitudes and ways of working. When I first joined the profession there was a strong focus on staff being 'professionally qualified' librarians and a strong theme was that we, as professional staff, knew best about what to provide for our library users. This wasn't incorrect, and I'm sure plenty of good things were going on in libraries at the time, but today the relationship we have with our customers is much more central to our service planning than the use of our own expertise. Asking our customers what they would like to see us provide, and how, is now paramount to our success.

A watershed project

In 2012 we introduced our Flexible Loans here in the Library and for me personally that was a watershed moment when the penny really dropped that we were able to do things differently and with success. At the time we embarked on the project to design a new way of lending books to our users we threw out the rule book and set about the challenge of designing a loans model which actively sought participation in the design process from our user community.

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."
Ernest Hemingway, Author and Journalist

Listening to our users and feeding their ideas and preferences into our resulting service development became our primary aim. This contrasted starkly with the way things had been done previously when loans review projects had usually been structured around library staff locking themselves away in darkened rooms to complete the work required. The end result of those old style reviews was usually a few minor changes on the loans model - 20p on a fine here, a new loan category there - things that really lacked the impact we wanted to see. But it was "job done, see you again in another few years for the next review".

With Flexible Loans we really changed our approach and as a result I believe we really changed the impact we had. The model has resulted in a much more customer focused method of loaning books, and while it isn't perfect, it works well and ensures that our book stock is working hard and getting circulated to those who need it. Our flexible loans work inspired us to think differently about how we work with library users. Since then we've put the customers at the heart of everything we do and we have seen the same principles used in the loans work be adopted, adapted and taken to new heights across all our areas of activity within Information Services.

A credit to the team

Sitting in the background of this change to the way we worked, both driving and guiding our customer engagement, has been our work on implementing the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) framework and accreditation. To find out more read the story of our accreditation in a previous post of mine. CSE is the tool we have embedded across Information Services to support our desire for continuous improvement. We’ve held the standard for over four years now and we use it to monitor how we are doing when it comes to our customer service skills, as well as our customer focus. It has prompted us to ask ourselves what else can we do to further improve our engagement with our customers. As such is providing the context for some work we are doing this year to explore, formalise and expand our customer engagement strategy.

Writing our engagement strategy

During academic year 2016/17 we are writing up our engagement strategy. We're not even sure we want to call it a strategy at this stage, but we know we want to discuss what customer engagement means to us. We are asking ourselves what we do, why we do it, how we do it and how we might want to measure it. We want to understand the skills and techniques our staff need in order to do customer engagement well. And then we plan to write all that down so we can share our thoughts with each other and our customers. It is worth noting that our definition of customer is quite wide ranging, we apply it not only to the people who come through our doors or request our help but also to each other and colleagues we work alongside across the University - those we call our internal customers.

Grab & Go!

As part of background research for working on our engagement strategy we are doing some customer consultation during November and December and will be asking for the opinions and ideas from our users about a range of initiatives we're working on in Information Services. This consultation will take the form of one of our 'Grab & Go' surveys, a technique where we 'grab' someone to ask if they can spare a few moments to answer a few questions, give them a very short questionnaire to fill out and then let them 'go'.

By doing a high number of grabs and keeping the questions tightly focused we can create efficiencies and gather opinions and ideas on a wide range of topics all at the same time. This year along with the question about how important engagement is to customers and how they would like to us to engage with them, we are asking about new user induction, our Digital Skills Guide, our Customer Charter and the Service Standards we set ourselves.

Tell us more

If you see us out and about doing our Grab & Go please do spare us a few minutes to let us know what you think. Alternatively if you'd like to get in touch to comment on our engagement strategy, or any other area of our work, we have our feedback scheme available or you can email me direct, see box below for further information. So go on, do your bit to help shape and build our services in a way that puts you at the heart of what we do.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Knowing what you think

Joanne Casey explains why your thoughts matter to us, and reports on changes made in response to feedback.

We are a customer-focused service, and we work hard to ensure that what we offer - in the Library, IT Services, or the Archives - meets your needs. So getting feedback from you, whether it's positive, negative, or a request for a new service, is important to us. It helps us to find out more about what you want and to identify how we can make improvements to our services.

How we gather feedback

We collect your feedback in a variety of ways; by email, in person, on comment cards, via Facebook and Twitter, or on the new comments board at the Library entrance. We respond directly to any comments that are submitted with contact details, but we also bring all the feedback together in a monthly report, reviewed by managers, and decide how we can act on it.

The well-used Library comments board

What happens next?

We look at what you tell us, we discuss whether improvements are possible, and we respond.

If we can change in response to feedback, we will...

In the past year, we have:

  • Adjusted loan limits, so that you can now borrow up to 75 items at a time (previously 50 items)
  • Increased the initial loan period from four weeks to eight weeks
  • Edited the wording on the renewal screen in My Library account to make the renewal process for interlending items clearer
  • Begun providing IT support in the evenings and at weekends, and introduced an appointments system for more complex IT queries
  • Increased student spaces in the Library buildings, by opening up former staff offices and the old IT Support Office for student use, as well as opening up the meeting rooms on the second floor of Fairhurst to be used as study spaces in the evenings and at weekends. Over the coming year, it’s likely that other staff will move out of the Fairhurst and these spaces will also become available for study use.

...but sometimes we have to say no

The answer to your comments won't always be 'yes', but if it is 'no', we'll explain why.

For example, we've had a few requests for a microwave in the Library. There are lots of reasons why we can't provide this; the lack of a suitable space, problems with keeping it clean (it's not the responsibility of University cleaners to clean kitchen equipment), and cost (a standard domestic microwave wouldn't be a suitable choice). However, we've passed on this feedback to the University, and there's now a discussion underway about allowing students who live off-campus to access College kitchens.

We've also had lots of feedback about our turnstiles, and we know that several of you don't enjoy having to scan your cards to leave the Library. However, the information that we collect on use of the Library - how long people spend here, which departments or student groups are using the Library most, when people are most likely to come in - is really valuable to us in identifying how we need to develop our services (rest assured, we don’t retain any personal data from the turnstiles). So, whilst we understand how you feel, this isn't something that we plan to change.

The positives

We get lots of good feedback, about our staff and about our services. This matters to us, because it shows what we're getting right. We always make sure that these comments are shared both to managers and teams, so that our colleagues know that they're making a difference. Recent highlights include:

  • Thanks as ever for the super speedy response! 1
  • Thank you for the years of endless support #uoygraduation 2
  • A huge thank you to @UoYITServices who have been brilliant helping with our move. Great team!
  • Exceeded expectations, teaching was excellent and fun 3
  • Brilliant library and very helpful staff. I just love wandering around exploring the books and journals on the shelves. A great atmosphere for learning.
Thank you all, and keep telling us what you think!

More information

Who the compliments were for, where not stated.
  1. Library Twitter feed
  2. Library
  3. Borthwick Institute for Archives
Find us on Twitter:

Friday, 11 November 2016

Improving the Electronic Texts Service

Ben Catt explains how the introduction of the CLA Digital Content Store has led to enhancements to the Electronic Texts Service.

One of the many ways in which the Library can provide students with easy access to essential reading is through the Electronic Texts Service. If a book or journal is only available in print then teaching staff can request a digitised version of a key chapter or article for their resource lists. This is useful for both campus-based and distance learning students, especially for large courses where print availability is limited to one or two copies. Requests are easy to submit through our reading list software EARL (the deadline for Spring Term resource lists is Monday 21 November) and the Library produces over 2,000 scans each year. Our scans are high resolution and use optical character recognition for improved accessibility.

The process behind this service has been improved for the 2016/17 academic year thanks to the introduction of the Digital Content Store, a platform developed by the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) to help the Library streamline resource list digitisation workflows. Copying extent limits have also been increased from 5% to 10% per publication for each module (or one chapter/article, whichever is greater). This will provide the Library with greater flexibility to fulfil requests whilst complying with the CLA's Higher Education scanning licence.

Another major benefit of the DCS is that the Library can share digitised content with other participating Universities (currently 60 institutions across the UK) provided that they own or subscribe to the title, to save duplication of scanning. It also integrates the Enhanced Higher Education Supply Service (EHESS), offered by the CLA and British Library for supplying copyright-compliant, digitised content where we do not have an original print copy in our collections (or if the items are on loan, in-use or missing). The DCS also aligns with processes involved in the Library's new permissions clearance pilot service, whereby we can contact publishers directly to request digitisation permission if a title is excluded from the CLA licence. This will significantly increase the scope of digitised publications the Library is able to provide for course reading.

On the surface, the process for staff to submit digitisation requests remains unchanged. However, behind the scenes the DCS can automate a range of Library processes such as ownership verification, licence compliance checking, and annual reporting tasks. The DCS is integrated with the Library's resource management system (Ex Libris Alma), containing the data behind our collections which displays in YorSearch. This streamlined, cohesive approach will increase the responsiveness of the services the Library can offer, in keeping with our principles of providing efficient access to resources in high demand.

We welcome any feedback from staff and students on the DCS (or the Electronic Texts Service in general):

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Battle of the Somme: part 2

Our understanding of the First World War has been shaped by the numerous artists, poets, writers and composers who recorded their experiences of the fighting. In the second of two posts, Ilka Heale highlights some of the men who fought in the Battle of the Somme (1st July - 19th November 1916).

Image of Robert Graves: [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Poet and novelist, Robert Graves (1895-1985) is probably best known for the I, Claudius novels. In the First World War he fought alongside another war poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967).

During the Battle of the Somme, Graves was struck by an exploding shell a few days before his 21st birthday leaving him so badly injured that he was reported dead by his commanding officer. However, by the time his obituary appeared in the British press, Graves had miraculously recovered. He was soon well enough to return to the front a few months later. Surviving the war, he went on to live until the age of 90.

William Noel Hodgson (1893-1916) was also a poet. Known as 'Smiler' to his friends due to his sunny disposition, he volunteered on the outbreak of the war in 1914. This poem Before Action was written in the weeks leading up to the Battle of the Somme. His battalion was ordered to advance across the downward slope of a hill, in full view of German trenches on three sides. They knew how slender their chances were. On 1 July 1916, Hodgson was killed in the opening minutes of the advance.
Taken from William Noel Hodgson: the gentle poet by Jack Medomsley.
Seen as a plea for courage in the face of death, this poem was originally published on 29 June 1916 in the weekly paper The New Witness. Hodgson died two days later. Hodgson's posthumous volume Verse and Prose in Peace and War, published in 1917, was so popular it ran into three editions.

John Buchan (1875-1940) was the author of the Thirty-nine steps, one of the most famous and influential adventure stories of the 20th century. During the First World War, Buchan worked at the War and Foreign Offices and was appointed Director of Information making a major contribution with the innovative use of propaganda. Published in 1916, Buchan wrote The Battle of the Somme, First Phase claiming that the battle was so successful that it marked the end of trench warfare. However he failed to inform his readers that of the 110,000 British soldiers who fought in the Battle, over 57,000 became casualties and 20,000 were killed on the first day of fighting.

Starting in 1914, Buchan also wrote the extensive Nelson's 'History of the war' published as a monthly magazine. This book, published in 1917, was intended to be a companion to the monthly volumes of 'History of the war' as it contained sketch maps illustrating the battles.

Herbert Ward (1863-1919) was a British sculptor, illustrator, writer and explorer. As Ward was too old to enlist in the army, he served with the British Ambulance Committee. Wounded at the front and mentioned in dispatches in 1915, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his work removing wounded soldiers whilst under bombardment. He died, partly as a result of his injuries, in August 1919.

Image from Mr Poilu by Herbert Ward
Mr. Poilu: notes and sketches with the fighting French was published in December 1916 as a tribute to the French as worthy allies. As described by Ward in chapter 1, Poilu was a nickname given to French soldiers. The illustrations, chiefly monochrome, depict not victory but land despoiled and soldiers standing alone, their faces all aged by a war which must inescapably be fought despite the losses already incurred.

British Composer George Butterworth (1885-1916) was best known for The Banks of Green Willow and his musical settings for the poems of A.E Housman.

Written in 1913, The Banks of Green Willow is a short pastoral idyll. It has become almost a symbol of that long-lost halcyon Edwardian age, as if Butterworth were transcribing the disappearing world around him.
 Butterworth had joined up at the outbreak of war and during the Battle of the Somme was awarded the Military Cross for capturing a series of trenches near Pozières. On 4th August 1916, his unit was ordered to attack a communications trench and despite successfully capturing it, he was shot by a German sniper and died on 5th August.

There is an exhibition of items from the University Library's collections on the ground floor of the Fairhurst Building. To find material on First World War, search YorSearch, our Library catalogue.

The photographs of the books in the University Library's collections were taken by the University photographer, Paul Shields.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Battle of the Somme: part 1

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme (1st July - 19th November 1916) one of the largest battles of the First World War fought on the Western Front. In the first of two posts, Ilka Heale highlights some books on the subject in the University Library.

At 7.30am on Saturday 1st July 1916, the opening British and French attack was launched near the River Somme in Picardy, northern France. The battle was fought in three major phases and several battles: at Albert, Bazentin Ridge, Fromelles, Delville Wood, Pozières Ridge, Guillemont, Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Transloy Ridge, Thiepval Ridge, Ancre Heights, and at Ancre.

This was the 'Big Push' and was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and to end the war. It was also one of the bloodiest battles. By the end of the fighting on the Somme, the British Army had lost over 400,000 men for an advance of a mere six miles. Between both sides, over 1,000,000 were killed or wounded. Practically all were infantrymen.

We are fortunate to have a collection of books about the First World War donated to the University Library by A. J. Peacock. Alfred James Peacock (1929-2004) was an educationalist and magistrate who completed a doctorate at the University. He also published a biography of the York "railway king" George Hudson. With an interest in the First World War, Peacock led annual tours of the battlefields.

The photograph above is of a young officer giving his men some final instructions before going into the battle. Taken from The war illustrated album de luxe: the story of the great war told by camera, pen and pencil edited by J. A. Hammerton (published in London by Amalgamated Press, 1915-1919).

The following quote (taken from The Imperial War Museum book of the Somme by Malcolm Brown) about the opening attack on the first day of the battle was written by an anonymous British eyewitness. He was writing about the part played by the 1/1st Welsh Heavy Battery (Territorial Force).

The extract below, from Orders are orders: a Manchester Pal on the Somme, is from an account written by Private Albert William Andrews of the 19th Battalion Manchester Regiment. A Manchester Pal, Albert recalled the first day of the Somme in his memoirs written in 1917 while convalescing from shell shock. You can also read his memories of Saturday 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Monday 3rd July, 1916

"On the Monday I was put with others burying the dead and this was when we realised the cost of our victory. The first Tuesday the roll was called there were too many that did not answer. Burying your own lads is not a job that I want again, some seeming by their looks to have died very easy, others very hard. [....] The job consisted of ….. taking their equipment off and emptying their pockets. You put the contents in the gas helmet satchel and hand this to the Officer who is with you, giving the man's name, number and Regiment if possible."

British troops advancing under shell fire 1 
On 12 August 1916 Friedrich Steinbrecher, a young German officer, wrote home saying: "Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word."

There is currently an exhibition of items from the University Library's collections on the ground floor of the Fairhurst Building; this will remain in place until the end of November (although it will be briefly removed between 19 and 28 October). To find material on the First World War, search YorSearch, our Library catalogue.

1. British troops advancing under shell fire - a British Official photograph taken from The illustrated war record: of the notable episodes in the Great European War

The photographs of the books in the University Library's collections were taken by the University photographer, Paul Shields.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Flying squirrels and medieval knights: the John Heath Collection

Matthew Wigzell explores the recently catalogues John Heath Collection

Tales of a medieval knight, the writings of a Swiss pseudo-scientist, and an illustration of the hooded flying squirrel. There may seem to be no apparent link, but all of these can be found in a wonderful new collection of books recently added to the Library's Special Collections.

The collection was amassed by former British diplomat Sir John Heath (1922-2009), who acquired examples of books illustrated by his ancestors, including the well-known engraver James Heath (1757–1834). The books were left to the University in Sir John's will and have now been fully catalogued and made available for study.

The collection, which is a wonderful glimpse into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, has books on a range of different subjects, with a particular focus on literature, early travel writing, and scientific subjects such as zoology (with some amazing illustrations of exotic animals).

As an added bonus, many of the items have been ornately bound, making this a research resource with great potential for those interested in the art of fine binding, antique book illustration, engravings and portraits.

We have also been recording unique information about items in the collection, including the presence of bookplates, signatures and other provenance information. We have a full set of Bell's Poets of Great Britain passed down through three generations of the Kirby family for example, and many of the books in the collection have personal reminders of former owners.

I have picked out three striking books from the collection which came cross my desk during the cataloguing process.

First up is The history of the valiant knight Arthur of Little Britain: a romance of chivalry. A medieval epic originally written in French, the book follows the hero Arthur doing battle with knights, dragons and other beasts, storming castles, and foiling dastardly plots at the royal court (think Game of Thrones written in Middle English). More striking though are the image plates; beautiful hand coloured book illustrations which show scenes from the text. They have some great details, and some of the battle scenes are surprisingly graphic - seriously, take a look.

My second selection is an odd book on physiognomy - the 'science' of assessing a person's character from physical characteristics, particularly the face. Essays on Physiognomy was written by Johann Caspar Lavater, a Swiss writer and philosopher, and gained something of a cult following thereafter. Containing a series of engraved portraits, the accompanying text describes the character of each portrait, and analysis of different parts of the face.

One unfortunate chap (pictured left) is characterised as having a face showing "Corrupt rudeness, and malignity, contemning morals. Natural power degenerates into obstinacy, in the forehead. Affection is far distant from this countenance. Insensibility usurps the place of courage, and meanness the seat of heroism…. The thing most pitiable in this countenance is an expression of the conscious want of power to acquire the degree of malignity it may wish, or affect to possess".

Even animals don't escape scorn. The hammer-head shark being "a monster, 2. How infinitely distant from all that can be called graceful, lovely, or agreeable! The arched mouth, with the pointed teeth, how senseless, intractable, and void of passion or feeling; devouring without pleasure or satisfaction! How inexpressibly stupid is the mouth of 3, especially in its relative proportion to the eye!".

The final example comes from a multi-volume set, General zoology or systematic natural history, by George Shaw. The set has some brilliant early 19th Century illustrations and descriptions of exotic animals, manly only recently discovered by explorers in Australia. The books describe a wide-range of mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes and reflect the growing interest in zoology and recording of the natural world. My favourite is the truly terrifying Hooded Flying Squirrel.

There is also a wonderful anecdote about the platypus, and Shaw's (who was keeper of the natural history department at the British Museum) initial reluctance to include it in the book. The specimen at the museum was "the only one which had been seen, [and] it was impossible not to entertain some distant doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal … and there might still have been practiced some arts of deception in its structure … Two more specimens, however, having been very lately sent over from New Holland, the suspicions before mentioned are now completely dissipated".

All of the books in the Heath collection can be accessed through the Borthwick Institute for Archives, and can be found in the Library catalogue. From the Advanced Search option, you can perform a provenance search for John Heath.

Hopefully researchers and students find them as interesting to study as we did to catalogue.

All photos taken by Paul Shields.