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Academic and Public Libraries: a Comparative Experience by Elena Focardi

Category: New Voices

This New Voices post was written by Elena Focardi, a recent graduate of Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde. She is currently working at South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Ltd. as a Librarian (Information Services).

Lanark Library

I started working in libraries 2 years ago: the 2nd of October 2017 was my first day at Lanark Library as a Library Assistant. Before that I studied at Strathclyde University, attending the MSc course of Information and Library Studies.

Maybe because I am so passionate about libraries, and Information Services in general, but I’ve found working as a library assistant at this particular library to be such an amazing experience.

Lanark library is located in the Lindsay Institute on one of the main streets of Lanark. The building is Victorian and the library is spread over two floors: the main floor has two big rooms, one with the reception desk and Fiction books, the other with Non-Fiction books and 6 public PCs; the second floor has a meeting room, the reference section and a further 5 public PCs, plus the room with the reserve stock. In the mezzanine there is another extensive room dedicated to children, with fiction and non-fiction children’s books; at the same level there is the Local History Room with all the material regarding Lanark (from maps, to minutes of the Royal Burgh of Lanark, to books written by people born in this place, and more!).

I loved the daily tasks of tidying books, the interaction with library users, the regulars coming in for a chat, or those coming from far away (North America, Australia, New Zealand) asking to do research on their Scottish ancestors. But it was not only that. In the current socio-economic climate, there is a great need to keep public libraries alive, by ensuring they move with the times. Hence, the need to come up with events to attract library users and non-users.

New College Lanarkshire – Library and Learning Centre

My job at the Library and Learning Centre as Library and Learning Centre Assistant was short but very interesting. The LLC is spread over two floors, with mainly non-fiction books (there is a small collection of fiction books on the second floor) and a total of 65 PCs for students’ use. Compared to my previous job, this was more dynamic. The time I started, it was already the end of the semester so it was becoming quieter. But I got to experience the process of the stocktake (using a small mobile scanner) and the different summer tasks of the colleagues (like updating the available e-resources). In collaboration with a colleague, spurred by a project to help in the development of digital skills from North Lanarkshire, we used the College learning management system (Moodle) to create an interactive course for students with the intent of providing them with the necessary tools to improve their digital skills, using different media (texts, videos, quizzes).

Differences & Similarities

I enjoyed both these experiences. From what I have said earlier, it is clear that the two environments are different. In a public library there is a set of tasks to be carried out daily that involves, mainly, the maintenance of books, regardless of the season and, being a public service, efforts have to be made in order to guarantee some cover for at least 6 days a week, closing only for those public holidays such as Easter, Christmas Day, Boxing Day etc. A bit of control is given over the cataloguing process, however this is mainly centralised to one of the bigger libraries of the circuit where all the new acquisitions are catalogued by the same person. The individual libraries are given the task of changing the location of the book, once received in the branch. In the public library there is no control over the library website: all the necessary changes have to be approved and made at Council level, through the IT department of the same. While this is an understandable precaution so that not everyone can add to the libraries’ webpages, this considerably limits the control over the promotion of what is happening in the libraries.

In the College, the library was open 5/7, with longer closing times for the major holidays. The Library and Learning Centres of the different campuses are in charge of the cataloguing of new material, both hard copies and e-resources (which I believe is a great opportunity for the staff to gain experience in cataloguing). The fact also that the LLC staff can work on the college website, updating what this has to offer as well as, in my case, creating something new and useful for the students, makes working in the Library a dynamic experience.

However, at the end of the day, there is one aspect that is common to public and academic libraries, the most important in my opinion: and that is being there for the users. It is the trait that I have experienced in both these two environments, as an assistant. It doesn’t really matter that the user is asking for the latest James Patterson book, or a book on Python for their HNC/HND Computing course, or if they need help with logging onto the PC or with printing/scanning: there is a person in front of you who needs help. And you are there for them because you have certain expertise. This does not change.