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It doesn’t seem like long ago that I was writing with excitement about taking up a role on the SLA Board of Directors. Today, I’m writing with regret about stepping down.

It doesn’t seem long ago because it isn’t, really. I’ve served two years of a three year term, and stepping down a year early sticks in my throat and hurts and feels an awful lot like failure.

But it also feels like a new beginning, because it is. I’m pregnant, and we’re expecting our second child in the spring. I’m extremely excited and unbearably nervous: a baby took up all my time and effort, and a toddler takes up all my time and effort, so what on earth are you supposed to do with a baby and toddler at once?

Cope, of course. Because coping is what we do. But there comes a point when you have to admit that you can’t cope with everything, not all at once, and – what’s even harder – admit to yourself that there is no shame in this.

I haven’t quite got the hang of that second bit, yet. Because I am still ashamed. I know that I have made the right decision, to step down from the SLA Board. Those of you in SLA will know that it’s a challenging time for the association, full of great change, and a time when they particularly need leaders who can give their full and best effort and attention to SLA. I won’t be able to.

I could cope. I could stay on and do the minimum. I could put aside time for Board calls and delegate bedtimes and then get called away and have to go, because when your baby has vomited more milk than you realised could fit in their stomach all over themselves and their cot and is now cold, wet, and hungry again, you don’t wait until someone proposes an adjournment. I could agree to take on the extra work of leading implementation teams and taskforces, with the best of intentions. I could put undue pressure on my Board and association colleagues when they have to pick up the slack, because I can’t do it all.

And SLA doesn’t need me, specifically. No-one is going to cry themselves rigid because I’m not on a conference call, or run towards me at conference shouting ‘Bethan! Beeeettthhaaann!’ and then cling to my leg and refuse to let go. SLA needs good people, and it has them, on its Board and its staff and in its membership. I have every confidence that Karen Reczek (who will take up the empty Board seat in January) will serve SLA at least as well as I could have, and very probably much better.

But it’s not just about the pull between parenthood and professional involvement. I am absolutely not saying ‘I have kids, so I can’t do this.’ It’s about things that happen in your life, and knowing that when some things come in, other things have to be let go. It’s certainly not unique to having children: your life can be equally changed by illness, grief, by caring for others or yourself, by moving house or falling in love. Things happen. Things change. And you have to change with them or you risk falling apart.

While my priorities have changed, it’s not that I don’t care anymore, but my time is full, and, more importantly, my brain is full. I work on four services/projects at work now, and I have multiple SLA responsibilites, and a CILIP Chartership mentee, and family and friends and a home and a half-written probably-abandoned nanowrimoproject and so many books to read and… I care about all of these things. They all enrich my life. I want to do them all. But I can’t. I’m already finding that I’m making mistakes, underperforming not just for SLA but at work and at home. They may not be big omissions or errors (I forgot to put the bins out this week), but they’re there, and they matter. An email I forgot to send has hurt someone, and that failure is going to stay with me for a long time.

[Please don’t think that I’m putting all of this down to SLA vs Life. I have a list of ‘things that I cannot possibly do all of and stay sane’. It includes (but is absolutely not limited to):

  • Be brilliant at my job
  • Be an amazing mother
  • Cook delicious and healthy food
  • Keep a beautifully clean and tidy house
  • Be top of my fitbit friends league chart
  • Be professionally involved and up-to-date with everything in the library, archive & HE sectors
  • Learn to do something really cool, like crafting maybe? Or become an expert in something interesting to talk to people about at parties. That I don’t go to. But I’d be really fascinating if I did.

Most days? I don’t even manage one of these.]

So if stepping down is the right thing to do, why the guilt? Why the shame? Because, of course, I feel like I should be able to do it all. I feel – don’t laugh, please – that I’m letting feminism down by stepping back from a professional post because of domestic concerns. I compare myself with people who I know are hugely overworked, and who I tell that they should do less and take breaks because they need time for self-care if they’re not going to burn out – and I think ‘but they can do it, so I should be able to!’. I compare myself to Victorian working-class women, the kind of people you find in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels – you know, 12 hours in the factory then home to look after seven kids, one of them a cripple, while making beautiful lace to sell and teaching themselves natural history. I am fully aware of what a ridiculous person this makes me.

Of course, that isn’t all of it. There’s the fear of laziness, too. The voice that tells me that I should be working all the time, that time spent on things for my recreation and relaxation is wasted, unjustifiably self-indulgent. Pregnancy actually makes this one a bit easier (‘but baby needs me to sit on the settee with a stack of biscuits and a Margery Allingham!’), but although I do my best to remind myself that my physical and mental heal and weal are not luxuries, it’s a constant battle to make it stick. I am trying to teach myself this: you do not have to come last.

And: you do not have to be defined by your duties. And: do not be ashamed of joy, of seeking it and making the most of it.

I’ve just written a post for the SLA blog (in my role as candidate for board of directors), about what being a member of SLA has done for me, personally and professionally. In, it, I said:

Winning an SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA), attending conference, and working with the SLA Europe board made a huge difference to how I viewed professional associations. Before this, I’d thought along the lines of ‘what can my professional association do for me?’. My gratitude for all SLA and its members had done for me in my ECCA experience flipped this to ‘what can I do for my professional association?’.

This made me think of this post by Emily Wheeler. Emily’s main point is about CILIP’s current fee structure, and how unfair it seems that the membership bands stop at £17,501, and that everyone over this pays the same (which I totally agree with – but, with my new ‘thinking about things on an association-level’ hat on, I’d suggest that before any changes are suggested to the current fee band structure, CILIP would need to do a salary survey, and work out how many members they have in various bands over £17,501 (eg £25k+, £30k+), and how much a rise in fees for these bands could sustain a reduction in fees in lower-bands, while not producing a drop in overall membership income. So while I do think it needs to change, I don’t think it’s a particularly quick job).

As part of thinking about the fee structure, the question arises of ‘what do you get for your money?’, and Emily rightly points out:

The saying goes that if you put more in to CILIP, you get more out. But not everyone has the time, transport or money to get involved in committees, special interest groups, conferences and so on, which means that through no fault of their own they’re not benefiting nearly as much from their membership fee – they’re essentially getting a very expensive magazine subscription.

Now, I agree with Emily, and I started nodding in agreement, thinking how lucky I was that I was able to be involved with these things – and then realised that, although my work and personal circumstances would allow me to be, I’m actually not involved in any of these things for CILIP. Serving on the Future Skills project board is my only CILIP committee work. I’ve never been to a CILIP conference that I haven’t been speaking or working at. I’m a Chartership mentor, but this is done remotely, and takes less than an hour a month.

I have got benefits from all of these, it’s true, but none of them are why I’m a CILIP member, though I guess the mentoring comes closest. It’s hard to define, but I guess I’m a CILIP member because it feels like my professional responsibility to be. I’m lucky enough to have the time and the money to afford CILIP membership and involvement. I’m one of those fortunate souls who would be moved into a higher bracket come a fee restructure – and, entirely honestly, I wouldn’t mind, especially if it would mean I was paying the same proportion of my salary as someone on a lower wage.

And what do I want to get for my money? Well, I don’t mind at all if the only concrete return I get for my membership is access to Update and the right to use the postnominals MCLIP. I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t even get that, or anything – as long as I felt that CILIP were using my membership fees for the greater good, to support other professionals and further the cause of library and information provision in the UK.

Let’s just take one small ‘for instance’ from some of the stuff CILIP does to support individual professionals and their development. CILIP often covers the expenses of invited speakers at its events. Do I want my membership fees to be used to enable someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend and present? To help them share their knowledge and gain professional experience? Absolutely! Do I want my membership fees to be used by special interest groups to offer bursaries to those who can’t afford to attend events? Yes! Do I want my fees to be used to help underwrite the cost of providing training and events for Chartership candidates? And providing access to free careers advice for those who need it? And access to journals and databases for those who don’t have access through their employer? Yes, yes, yes! I can’t reach out and help each of those members who need it individually – but I can help CILIP provide services which support them all.

In short, I’m a CILIP member for the same reasons I’m a member of my union: because I believe in (most of) what they do, and how they help people who need it. I don’t (and may never) need that help myself, but I’m very happy to help those who do, and help to provide a strong voice to say ‘We stand for this. We care.’

Of course, you may disagree that CILIP adequately supports and promotes the profession. That’s absolutely your right to believe so. And I know that I am very lucky to be able to make this kind of idealogical investment, and I’m not out to chastise or castigate anyone for not doing so. But I do believe that we are, at heart, a profession which is about providing support where it is needed, and membership of professional associations is one way for me to do that.

There was an article flying around twitter recently about why reading the news is bad for you. I, umm, didn’t read it. But then I don’t read a lot of things. I strongly agree that purposefully avoiding the news (or at least certain types of it) can make you happier. Reading about something that doesn’t directly affect you and which you can’t directly affect will make you angry to no good purpose. And why waste your life being angry about other people’s opinions? There’s plenty of stuff out there that’s worth being angry about.

Filter bubbles are supposed to be a bad thing, but only if you get the filter wrong. I agree that’s it’s not conducive to a healthy mind to filter out dissenting voices and viewpoints – but there are certain things which I feel a better person for filtering out.

So I don’t read:

1) Celebrity news. My knowledge of celebrity culture has gone down since I started getting my news from the internet. Most of my celeb knowledge comes through the weird and wonderful filter of twitter (who’s Harry Styles? Someone people like to tell about their dead pets)

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? The internet is full of celebrity news and gossip. Without it, there would be nothing left but cats, bacon, and this gif. But you can choose not to read it. When I was consuming my news in print, I would sometimes read celeb stories. Why not? It’s there on the page, and it takes 5 seconds to skim. But now if I want to do a five-second skim to see who [x] is dating, I have to click on the article to do so. And the stats counters don’t care if I don’t really want to read it. they don’t care if I was reading it ironically. they don’t care if I was only reading it so I could go ‘oh em gee guys, I can’t believe they’re publishing this crap.’

And I don’t want them to publish that crap. Not on serious news sites. It’s not news, and I’m not going to validate your claim that it is by giving you that click.

2) True crime – reports of murder trials/investigations, “terrorist plots”, manhunts. All that sensationalist stuff. This I avoid for a couple of reasons: one, I don’t want to encourage sensationalist reporting. And two, I don’t need to know the details of a tragedy to mourn for it. I don’t need to know what the weapon or the motivation was, and I certainly don’t need to know how the victim’s mother looked in court, you ghoulish bastards.

Leave people alone to mourn as they need to, and part of all of us will mourn with them, whether it’s headline news or not.

3)The Daily Mail. Whatever they try. Nuff said. (Want a more eloquent explanation of why you shouldn’t? Read this)

4) Linkbait articles. You know, the ones with the headlines that seem too good to be true. And they’re not just done by content farms, desperate for clicks.  Otherwise reputable publications are guilty of it, too (I’m looking at you, Nature). These are one of the hardest to avoid, because they’re often difficult to identify, so I try to use the lovely and knowledgeable people on my twitter stream to help curate – if lots if them are reading & retweeting, it’s probably worth my time (or it’s about cats. or gin). To add to the power of a timeline full of information professionals comes the fab @HuffPoSpoilers , who selflessly read the Huffington post linkbait articles and post the main details, along with the baiting headline.

So, four things that my internet existence (and life in general) is better off without reading. But, contrary to all received wisdom, I do read…

The comments. I know you’re not supposed to, but you find so much of humanity in them, in all its best and worst. Take youtube, for instance, supposed to be the pit of all that is worst in internet comments. If I didn’t read the comments, I’d never have found the video where someone mentioned that this song was played at his dad’s funeral, and the other comments were sincere sympathy and offers of support. If I didn’t read the comments, I’d never have had to confront the intellectual snobbery that made me surprised that the Daily Mirror comments section  attracts better written and  less knee-jerk comments than the Guardian.

Yes, some comments are stupid. Yes, some comments are purposefully trolling. Yes, some comments make me swear, shake angry fists at the screen, and despair of humanity. But there’s beauty and wit and intelligence and joy in there, too. And they’re the voice of the people (or at least a vocal subset thereof), and that’s something I don’t want to filter out.

I recently started seeing a new dental hygenist, and amid the panoply of dental paraphernalia, she said to me that she had one quick and simple tip, the easiest and fastest way to help keep your dental health: after brushing, spit, don’t rinse.*

How obvious! I thought, how simple! Sometimes you just need an expert to point out these elegant little tricks. And I thanked her, and went away with my new brushes, and my new techniques, and my new knowledge that ‘spit, don’t rinse’ was the way forward.

And I went home, and dutifully used my new brushes and applied my new techniques, and at the end I rinsed my mouth out, exactly the same way as I’ve done twice a day every day for the past 30 years.

Oh well! I’ll get it tomorrow. After all, I’ve managed with the new brushes and the new routine, and that’s a much bigger change. This is so simple! So easy! I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it in no time.


Into work in the morning, and the first thing I do is click to open my emails. As they load, I think ‘oh no! I wasn’t supposed to be doing this now.’ I work best at the end of the day, and can find mornings drifting away in an orgy of unproductive reading and clicking. My solution is simple and easy: do some work as soon as I get in, before I open my emails or twitter or my blog feeds. What can possibly be so important it can’t wait?

20 minutes of routine work to start the day and I’m instantly in a more productive groove. I’ve achieved something. The day is off to a good start. All it takes is that one small, simple change of not clicking the outlook icon as soon as my PC boots every morning. How hard can it be?


As an information professional, I’m worried about my day-to-day information retrieval. I want to move away from the domination of Google for my casual searching. I’ve heard good things about Duck Duck Go! Let’s change my default search engine. That’s a quick, easy change, which can improve my day-to-day search experience. So I make the change in my browser and my clickto extensions – and then a few weeks later I reinstall my PC. Time to make that simple change again…


I have failed to make all three of these changes. I still rinse after brushing. Outlook is still the first program I open in the morning. Google is still my default search engine. Why? What’s wrong with me, that I’ve failed to make such quick, simple, easy changes? I’ve coped with much bigger things.

The answer, of course, is that what’s wrong with me is how I’m seeing these changes. They may be simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. They’re difficult precisely because they’re simple. Things that require thought are often easier to change, because you have something to change: a process, a way of thought; something that involves a major change has more indicators to remind you of the change.

How you see a challenge will change how you face it. You’re more likely to spend time thinking about major challenges, working out how to tackle them, reminding yourself that this thing has changed and you must do these things in response. A quick, simple, easy change? Well, it’s quick, and simple, and easy. Why would I need to think about it?

So now I’m forcing myself to give these changes the respect they need. I have spent 5, 10, 30 years doing the things that need changing. They may only be a simple behaviour, but they’re an ingrained one. To borrow the metaphor from this post (about learning as bug fixing), these changes are a patch: they may only be a few lines long, but they will fundamentally change my source code. And you should never take rewriting your source code lightly.

So: I have three fundamental changes I want to make to improve my productivity and general well-being. they may be a bit of a struggle, but I’m sure I’ll get there. After all, who said change would be easy?

*It keeps the fluoride in, dontchaknow.

I’ve recently discovered Memrise, a site that’s designed to encourage learning (particularly of languages), by gamifying the process. They use ‘brain science’ (honestly, their words) to encourage learning and retention. One of the key factors in this are ‘mems’:

Mems is our natty word for the morsels of interesting and relevant information you see beneath every word on Memrise. Mems can be mnemonics, etymologies, amusing videos, photos, example sentences: anything which helps connect what you’re learning and bring it to life.

I think of mems as the sticky note attached to the new word or fact – and the weirder, the better. The more unusual or amusing the mem is, the more likely you are to recall it and its associated fact. I first came across this idea during maths in school, when we were told to come up with our own silly phrases to remember SOHCAHTOA. I’m still resentful that they said mine was ‘too silly’, and made me learn Silly Old Harry Caught A Haddock Trawling Off America. Ok, I still remember it – but I remember mine better, and without having to think ‘it was a fish that began with h. What fish begin with h? And anyway, what’s silly about catching a haddock?’

And I’ve definitely been finding the slightly more obtuse mems the most useful, such as ‘a woman and a shameful kangaroo‘ for cooked rice. Ok, I don’t see the kangaroo myself, but I remember that someone else did.

I often find myself putting my own twist on the mems that other people have provided. For instance, my personal mem for ‘vorrei’ is ‘Ketel One’, based on this mem, but adding the fact that the specific Ray I’m buying a drink for is Ray from Achewood*.

But the stickiest mem I’ve found is this:

It´s all very well being told details to remember (these are useful too), but I need something to jog my memory that relates to what they look like and links it to the name. So for this one, imagine the tune to California Dreaming, but with the first line going:
“Alder leaves are round…”

I defy you to ever sing California Dreaming the same way again…

Memrise also allows you to create your own courses, and it looks like some teachers are using it to reinforce learning for specific courses. I’ve found GCSE RE, Australian Year 10 Chemistry, and B6 Biology.

If you can get student take-up, this seems like a great idea. Thinking library/info lit specific, you could create a course to teach specific styles of referencing, or Dewey/LoC/classification system of your choice (though I’m not sure anyone actually wants to learn the Dewey classes). Personally, I’ve run aground on the mountain of ‘mems for MARC fields’ (my best attempt so far. Seriously. It’s hard.)

Thinking about what makes a good mem has made me think about learning, and my teaching/presenting style. I’ve realised that what I’m doing when I add images and text to my slides (such as here or here), what I’m actually doing is trying to add a mem to the slide. I usually think of the key point that I want people to take from the slides, then find an image to reinforce that point. I prefer interesting and slightly unusual images – if people remember the image, they’re more likely to remember the point.

I think this is what sits behind using battledecks to reinforce learning. In that post, Ned mentions that feedback from students suggested he use more ‘funny’ clues – again, it’s those odd and unusual ones that get people hooked.

So I’m definitely going to be thinking more carefully about the images I choose for my presentations from now on. I need to make sure that they’re not too personal (Ketel One) or only memorable because you don’t understand them (shameful kangaroo). I’m aiming for the ‘alder leaves are round’ gold-standard of mems – catchy, almost universally accessible, and pretty much unforgettable.

I’ll leave you with a mem that could double as library marketing

el libro (book): books in libraries are free, bro!!!

*If you don’t know Achewood, you should totally clear some time to go read it. But maybe not at work. Start here.

Dear librarianship,

We began our affair back in the heady days of 2006, when I was a young and naive graduate trainee. You opened my eyes to the delights of information provision. I’ll never forget the buzz I got from our simplest activities together. Even adding titles to reading lists took on a magical glow. I woke up every morning with bluebirds blithely singing in my head. ‘I love libraries!’ I would think. ‘And they love me!’

We took our relationship to the next level, and I committed to library school. I was certain that I wanted to spend my whole life with you, that you were the one and only profession for me. I was filled with curiosity to find out more about you, to know everything there was to know, and with each new discovery my love grew.

My first professional post came in 2008, and I bustled around making it nice and cosy and comfortable, a place where we could be happy together. I carried on learning new things about you, and although we settled into a routine, there was always something exciting happening, something to make me think every so often ‘I love this profession!’

But, over time, things have become a little stale. Things don’t thrill me as they used to. You’re still a big, important part of my life, but something’s changed.

Librarianship, I’m cheating on you with writing.

I didn’t mean it to happen. Writing was my first love, but I thought it was just a childish crush, something that could never happen in the real world. Then we met again recently on the internet, and we just clicked.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, and I worry about my techniques. Am I being clumsy? Too clichéd? And will writing ever love me the way you do? But I just can’t help myself. I’m writing every day, and I could sing for the joy of it all.

I’ve tried to keep you apart. Librarianship fills my day, and writing my evenings. But I know one day you’ll collide, and I thought it was kinder to tell you now.

It’s not you, it’s me. And I would never have dared think of it without the opportunities and challenges you’ve given me. You’ve given me the strength to dream that this might be possible.

I’m not planning to commit to writing full-time. Probably never. But I felt it was only fair to let you know that you’re not number one in my heart right now. It might be a fleeting madness. I may come crawling back, looking for committee-posts to fill my fiction-less evenings. I hope that you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.

I’ll always be interested in what you’re doing, and I honestly wish you well. I hope we can still be friends.

And we’ll always have twitter.

XOXOXO, Bethan

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Douglas Adams

Of all the many way I wish I could emulate Douglas Adams (everything except being dead), the one that’s occupying me most at the moment is this famous quote on deadlines.

It’s not that missing a deadline makes me panic. Thinking that I might miss a deadline makes me panic. Thinking about how much work I have to do to get things done before deadlines makes me panic. Missing a deadline? That’s a whole way beyond panic.

Despite now having set deadlines for other people, and knowing how arbitrary they can be, how there’s usually slippage built in, how missing them or having to extend them is usually not a problem in any way whatsoever (and certainly not worth the stress I put myself through), I still treat deadlines as gingerly as a hand-grenade with the pin held in by chewing-gum and hope.

It’s all part of the worrying tendency I’ve been trying to cure myself of, of ‘bending over backwards to let others walk all over me’. I will go out of my way to inconvenience myself before I inconvenience others. I’ll automatically give myself the worse end of the deal, and assume that your unhappiness or inconvenience outweighs mine. (I know this is not a healthy personality trait, and might be some kind of odd reverse egotism. I’m working on it…)

One of the things this leads to is me holding myself to higher standards than I hold others – which, of course, is just another way of saying that I assume that other people are less accommodating, less understanding than I am. If someone misses a deadline for me, or asks to extend it, do I get angry with them? Do I curse and moan? Do I instantly swear never, ever to work with this awful, unprofessional person again? Of course not. So why do I assume that that’s what people will do if I miss a deadline?

I’ve been feeling a bit down recently, a bit over-burdened, and have been worrying (again) that I don’t have time to enjoy what I’m doing. When I sent off the very final version of my book, all proofread and indexed, friends asked me ‘what will you do now, with all this free time?’. My gloomy answer: catch up on all the other work I neglected while I was working on book. I’ve been feeling so pressured to concentrate on my other commitments that I haven’t taken any time to celebrate my success, to sit back and reflect on what I’ve achieved.

But where is the pressure coming from? I know that if I just asked for an extension, just told someone that I’ve taken on too much and need a break, just managed to get down off my bloomin high-horse long enough to actually ask for help, people would be fine, and helpful, and supportive. Because we all know the feeling. We all know that life takes over, or you just need a break, and can’t do everything you’ve said you will. It doesn’t make you a failure; it makes you a normal, fallible, healthy person.

So this pressure I’m feeling is all from me. I feel like I think I’ve been riding a tiger, but really it’s just a painted carousel tiger, lent fierceness only by sheer momentum and my own over-active, over-anxious imagination.

I need to find the humility to admit that I can’t do it all, and the courage to ask for help. Most importantly, I need to remember: the tiger is only in my head.

In a development that has surprised me greatly, I’ve recently started including a decent amount of exercise in my weekly schedule. I’m enjoying it much more then I expected to (it seems I have a weakness for group dance!), and find myself actually looking forward to my gym trips.

But there’s only so much time in the week, and there are plenty of other things I want to do with that time. And those things aren’t ‘watch bad daytime tv’, ‘listen to dance music’ or ‘compile a mental list of different types of effort-grunt’. I want to read! And you know what? I can, and do!

Most of the machines at the gym have a handy little ledge on the control panel, conveniently situated at eye level, and just the right size to rest a kindle on. This is where the kindle is really coming into its own. I don’t have to worry about trying to prop the pages open, or hold a paper book with sweaty hands. I can read the kindle without holding it, alter the text size so I can find the right balance of ‘readable from a distance’ and ‘don’t have to turn the page too often’. If my current read isn’t very gym-friendly, I can switch to something else (I find light reads work best). And it means that I’m virtuously doing exercise, while making sure I don’t lose out on too much precious reading time!

I’ve not seen anyone else at the gym with a kindle, but people do take magazines, and once I saw a girl with a paperback, so I’m obviously not alone in combining reading and running (well, more accurately walking/shuffling/panting/collapsing in heap).

So, in honour of World Book Day – where’s the strangest place you read? The oddest thing you multitask it with?

What would I really like my librarian legacy to be? Well, pretty much this:

The antipodes of a Dryasdust, his human interest in books made him an ideal librarian, and his courtesy and helpfulness were outstanding features in a personality of singular charm. The whole bookish world looked on him as a friend.

This is from an article on Richard Garnett in the 11th ed Encyclopaedia Britannica (my current bed-time reading*). Garnett’s other achievements as a librarian at the British Museum are noted – reviving the publication of the catalogue and introducing the sliding press – but it’s his personality that shines though the article, and shows that good librarians have always been about more than books.

But as an interpreter, whether of biography or belles lettres, who brought an unusually wide range of book-learning, in its best sense, interestingly and comprehensibly before a large public, and at the same time acceptably to the canons of careful scholarship, Dr Garnett’s writing was always characterized by clearness, common sense and sympathetic appreciation.

A helpful, friendly scholar with a knack for making knowledge accessible? Sounds like my type of librarian.

*it’s actually jolly interesting!** Possibly made even more so by the slight sense of danger in reading a century-old work of reference. What can I trust? Does this reveal more about the society/culture than the subject? Are the Greek footnotes actually some sort of elaborate code?
I’ve been reading quite a few old referency-type books recently, and have a big pile of notes and highlights on my kindle for when I eventually get round to blogging about them properly.

**no, I didn’t start at A. Nor am I planning to slog my way through in order to ‘Zymotic Diseases’ (no zythum?). Where would be the fun in that?

I was saddened to hear the news of the death of Anne McCaffrey. She’s one of the authors I grew up with, and last night (no doubt along with many others) I reached for ‘Dragonflight’ to begin a memorial re-read.

I did the same earlier this year, following the death of Diana Wynne Jones. I re-read many favourites, and discovered some of her books for the first time. As part of this, I read ‘Archer’s Goon’ for (what I thought was) the first time.

It wasn’t the first time. I’d forgotten almost everything about the book, but the names prompted some stirrings in the back of my memory, little snippets of deja-lu. The line ‘Dillian farms law and order’ hit me like a punch to the gut. Of course she did. She couldn’t possibly do anything else. I knew this; I’d always known it.

I’ve re-read many half (or totally) forgotten books before, but I’d never had such a visceral, physical reaction. The whole book was like a series of body-blows. It was exhausting and exhilerating, and all the while things hung at the back of my mind, emerging fully-formed a page or two before the denouement in the text.

So I searched my shelves, expecting to find a battered old copy tucked away. I found it quite odd that I could remember nothing about the physicality of the book – no memory of cover art, or spine on my neatly alphabetised shelves. It must have been a library book.

But how will I know? I envy the current and future generations of library users. They can electronically access their borrowing record. They can see (or will be able to see) what they were reading when they were 7, 8, 9, 19, 29. They can jog their memory, or escape into the past.

Catalogue permitting, anyway… I’ve just checked my borrowing history on the Manchester Libraries catalogue. After all, they’ve been online for a while – surely I can go back a few years down memory lane, at least? Not so! I can go back a year at most, and there’s only a list of loans and reservations. No loan dates. Manchester Uni is much better – I can see my loans going right back to when my card was issued in 2006, and see issue and return dates for all items. So why not for Manchester Libraries? They must have the data – why aren’t they letting me use it? It’s my data.

We talk about making the most of the data that we have, but we also have to remember to allow users to make the most of it, too. For nearly three years, I’ve been recording every book I read (I predict 2 reactions to this: ‘that’s so sad!’ and ‘hey, I’ve been doing that for years!’), and I’d love to use my library data to help me go back further, and fill in some of the gaps. I want my library to help me record and celebrate my love of reading.

And boy, do I love reading. There’s that phrase which chases us around the libinfosphere, a variant on:

‘You don’t become a librarian because you like books.’

Well, actually, many of us do. Let’s be more accurate:

‘You don’t become a good librarian because you just like books.’

You become -and stay – a good librarian by liking other things, too. You like people; computers; metadata; gin. You have a passion for teaching or research. You see the void which exists between a person and the information they need, and you have to fill it.

Sometimes, that void is filled by books. Sometimes it’s filled by information about books. Don’t put barriers in the way of either of them. Don’t make future generations crawl around in the electronic equivalent of a dusty old storage room, hunting through obsolete data formats. Don’t make them have to put in a request.

I have a vision, my friends. A vision of a future in which no-one will have to wonder when they first read ‘Archer’s Goon’. And we can make it happen.

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