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Fionna Black, Language Resource Library, University of Glasgow

Category: Meet our Members

This blog is part of our Meet Our Members series, focusing on different members and their careers.

I feel I should start my Meet Our Members article with a profound or witty quote in a foreign language, but I don’t speak any foreign languages. Only schoolgirl French which even then took hours of private tutoring for me to pass my O Grade (thanks Dad!). So why and how am I heading up a Language Library?

Reading other blogs from librarians working in legal, health, art and academia very few, if any, will have degrees in these subjects and that’s where our librarian skills come in allowing us to work in any subject area. Within any subject, you will become familiar with the specific reference tools, but these can all be acquired. I would encourage new librarians or those changing jobs to look outwith their current remit.

My first full-time permanent graduate job was in Ove Arup and Partners (now Arups) consulting engineers. I worked with another librarian to manage their libraries in Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow and South Queensferry. Working in the commercial sector everything had to be done yesterday, costs had to be justified and you worked until the job was finished. I found the move to academia very strange with numerous committees meeting to approve changes, deadlines being weeks or months in advance and some staff being away for the entire summer.

My position within the University is rare as the Language Resource Library (unlike the University branch libraries of Dental, Vet, Chemistry, etc) is independent of the University Library being financed from within the School of Modern Languages and Cultures (SMLC). The LRL uses the same circulation system as the University Library (Sierra) so I am in contact with the Digital Library Team. I also meet regularly with the College Librarian who covers modern languages and members of the Cataloguing Team who manage the LRL cataloguing. Being the sole member of staff in the LRL interaction with the above teams is essential for professional development and to stop me speaking to myself all day!

Our library users are all University staff and students holding a current matriculation card, this includes students enrolled in courses through the University’s Centre for Open Studies (adult education courses). Members of the public can also join the Library for an annual fee. At present we have a core external membership of around a dozen users. Previously SMLC was an IELTS test centre attracting many short term (4 month) memberships to allow access to our IELTS materials. Since closing the test centre external membership – and income generation – has declined sharply.

SMLC caters for the University pre-sessional students. This group, of mainly Asian students and students from the Gulf States, join courses running throughout the academic year to improve their English before commencing their studies at UK universities. The bulk of these students will attend the 5 or 10-week courses over the summer when there can be over 1,000 students using the Library facilities – of course, lots of people think nothing happens in University libraries during the summer.

The LRL has collections for many languages with the majority being the most popular taught languages of French, German, Spanish, Portuguese & Italian. SMLC also has an active Slavonic Department and the Library has substantial collections of Polish and Czech language materials. I’m told we have the largest collection of Czech DVDs outside Prague. Our first Macedonian film Honeyland arrived this week.

The department teaches many film courses. Among the more interesting ones are Zombies and Terror, Vampires and Vampirism and Transnational Constructions of Gender (no, I’ve no idea either) as well as more standard subject areas of Representations of the Spanish Civil War, Resistance to Fascism and Representing Disappearance. Although many films are available commercially, I enjoy the challenge of tracking down hard to find titles and contacting directors or distribution companies to obtain copies. Most are very helpful, but no, I wasn’t paying one company $400 to stream a 20-minute film.

Over the last 18 months, I have been stock checking the entire library collection, updating, replacing and withdrawing stock where necessary. Language changes constantly and old stock is not relevant to students trying to learn a language and obviously constant use leaves the stock in poor condition. Many of the books currently being replaced contain online links rather than being accompanied by CDs as in previous editions, reducing the need for racks of CD storage in the Library.

I joined CILIP (the Library Association as it was then) as a student and mainly used its training and networking facilities. I had cause to contact their free legal service for members and was impressed by the speed of response and advice provided.

I love showing librarians round the LRL and if you ever want to visit please email me:

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