Thing 4 (and a month’s worth of excuses)

Thing 4 of the 23 Things course is all about communicating visually. The task is to download an app on your mobile, either PhotoFunia, Quik or Ripl, experiment with the various editing features and then share the resulting image or video on social media. As I’m a little behind with my blogging, MA work AND Things, I’m going to mash them all together in this post.

Since my phone is old and cracked and full of pictures of my cat hanging upside down from the furniture, I very rarely use apps. Fortunately, I found the PhotoFunia app to be extremely easy and fun to use. Although I was initially drawn to the naffer effects – such is my taste – plenty of the effects looked modern and professional, producing the kind of image that would be perfect on my library’s Facebook page, especially during the Friday afternoon anything-vaguely-bookish-goes slot. I’m now planning to incorporate the app into an upcoming teen book club meeting. While playing around with an app may seem like a minor thing, it is another little step beyond my comfort zone.

And now for the excuses…
It’s been over a month since I returned from the Study School for my distance learning MA. Back then, I thought I’d be preparing to write my first assignment by now. I’m not. In fact, I’ve barely finished the first unit. I have reasons though. Legit reasons. PhotoFunia knows the score. Let the power of PhotoFunia compel you!

1. I needed the *right* time to start


I got back on a Thursday night. I needed the weekend to decompress, to recharge my introvert battery under a duvet of cats and books. Monday was the day to start. Mondays are symbolic, after all. But Monday is a work day. And I’m always tired on a Monday. Maybe I should wait until October? October is very symbolic.

2. Work sucked


For various reasons, I had a pretty shitty month at work. I was, to paraphrase Sookie St. James, smad. Would a bad working environment spur me on to study? Would I rise above the library politics and Elle Woods the hell out of this law degree?! Well, no. I would put my module book on the table in front of me and watch as the cats took turns to sit on it.

3. I wanted to see my boyfriend


My boyfriend, who in this (labelled for reuse) image is played by Billy Boyd and the wing of a large bird, lives in Oxford. I live in Stoke. These two places are not close together, geographically or spiritually. Because he keeps me in Nerds and hair-related compliments, I tend to travel down to Oxford fairly regularly. This is lovely, obviously, and vastly increases my chances of bumping into Philip Pullman and weeping on his shoulder and/or shaking him down for Book of Dust spoilers. It is also time consuming and although I always think I’m going to study on the coach, I never actually do.

4. I got a UTI


OH, THE PAIN. PLEASE LET ME STAY HERE, THE LADIES TOILETS IN MARKS AND SPENCER, FOREVER. This was my first UTI. There was no celebration. There was, however, a solid 10 days of wooziness, back pain and drinking my own weight in water.

5. My cat broke the internet


My cat likes to chew through one wire or another roughly every four to six weeks. It’s her thing.

Okay. They’re not the best reasons. Or excuses. I don’t have a child or a third cat to look after. But I do have the internet now! And it’s October! And I have been studying. Sitting down, without distraction, and getting on with it, even if only for a few hours, has made me less afraid of the whole thing. Reading through the module has given me a better sense of where this course is going, the shape of things to come. Besides, my excuses – and I’m sure I’ll have many more in the future – largely fall in the Fear of Failure category. I don’t need a photo modified fortune cookie to tell me that.






Thing 3: Picture This

In my library authority, we are in possession of a badge maker. It is a glorious device, capable of creating nifty looking badges at minimal cost. The first time I wielded the badge maker (not unlike Furiosa and her steering wheel) was for a space-themed story and craft event. The event was being run by a librarian who, though exceedingly lovely, tended to be a little zealous about copyright. She seemed so pained at my Doctor Who trail and its liberal use of Oods and Daleks that I didn’t dare show her the TARDIS badges I’d already made. Feeling guilty, I set about designing my own badge. I found a vaguely spacey background on Morguefile and then, because I lack imagination, searched for ‘green alien’ on Google Images. It threw up a lot of men wearing body suits but eventually I found the child-friendly alien for me. As a further concession to the librarian, I filtered results by usage rights, selecting one that had been ‘labeled for reuse’. I’m not always so conscientious.

Enter Thing 3. How did I not know about (or at least not regularly use) image banks such as Flickr and Pixabay? They are fantastic resources! Once I got my head around the different types of Creative Commons licence, I had a blast trawling through (cat) images on Flickr. I used Pixabay the next day at work, selecting this golden monkey for a His Dark Materials poster:


Not quite sneaky enough to Mrs Coulter’s daemon, but I respect his style.

Even this small glimpse into image banks and licensing has made me understand the librarian a little more. In the future, I look foward to exploring further resources, using images in a more ethical and copyright-abiding way. With the possible exception of Ciarán Hinds circa Captain Wentworth images. Those are for my personal collection

Thing 2: This one time, at Study School, I learnt…

This year, because it looks pretty fantastic, I’m taking part in the Rudaí23: 23 Things for Information Skills course. This post is Thing 2. Join in here:

There Is No Librarian Type

On the train to Wales, I was on the lookout for library types. The kind of person who might wear a cardigan over a cardigan on a hot summer day or tidy the book shelves in WHSmiths because my God, they’re a bloody mess. They’d probably wear glasses and have the posture of lifelong bookworm. Over the week, as I met more people from my course, I realised how limiting this preconception was. Yes, there were people who might get asked, as I once did, where the pens are in Waterstones (“You don’t work here? You look as if you work here.”), but there were also lots of other people. All kinds of people, of different ages, backgrounds, nationalities and tattoo coverage. There was no set type. Public, academic, medical, law, prison, school — we all came from different sectors and had different amounts of professional experience. While it was a little intimidating (one guy once worked at the motherloving TATE!), it was also extremely cool to hear about other experiences and realise, yet again, how far-reaching and exciting librarianship can be. With or without a cardigan.

Everybody Is Nervous

My boss always says that people who work in libraries are overqualified. We have degrees and sometimes postgraduate degrees. We’ve probably paid more for those degrees than we’ll earn in a depressing amount of years. We know our stuff. Yet despite this, everybody on my course was nervous about starting again. People were worried about finding the time to study. They worried about word counts, report writing, submission deadlines. The course is largely self-directed, and while five years might seem like a yawning great amount of time, most people wanted to complete it sooner. Want to see a magic trick? Then divide two years into six core modules, two electives and a dissertation. I call it How to Make Your Sanity Disappear. Ta-da!

I come from an English Literature background, with a bit of Film Studies and Creative Writing thrown in. The essays I wrote back in the day were rambling, pretentious, pun-ridden nightmares. If I had a pound for every metaphor I threw in, I could pay half my course fees. At study school, we took a look at some example reports. Reports. Factual, succinct reports. Did I mention these reports were made of facts?! When I first complied my CILIP Certification portfolio, I struggled to keep myself in check. At times, it felt like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, compelled to add more, more, more to my shopping trolley of horrors. Even after significant editing, my portfolio was wordier than I imagine most markers can stand (I have yet to find out if it’s passed…). Am I capable of changing years of academic habit? Is librarianship a discipline too far removed? Will I ever be able to ask rhetorical questions again?!

Cataloguing Is Fun

Maybe it’s because we had some ace tutors, but the modules I presumed to be dry — such as Information Organisation and Retrieval and Information Services: Planning for Delivery (also my OkC username) — were actually fun. I’m… excited. I want to learn more. I want to get stuck into Studies in Management. What are these words and why am I typing them?

How Soon Is Now?

Study School is over. I have my first module. I have a new ring binder. I have at least one working pen. So… let’s do this thing? Yes. LET’S DO THIS THING.

Miscellaneous Findings 

My personal tutor has a Dachshund puppy. He (the puppy) has tiny wrinkly legs and tried to eat the toggles on my coat. His name is Magic Jason. There is a chance I’m remembering that wrong but the joy of knowing a Welsh sausage dog might be called Magic Jason surpasses my need for accuracy.

I cannot read a map, especially if that map is in Welsh.

Aberystwyth is a very pretty place.

There are a lot of gingers studying to become librarians. Like, a disproportionate amount. Could it be a sign? And if so, a sign of what? Discuss.

Distance learning, here I come!

In under two weeks, I shall be going to Wales. It’s okay, they know I’m coming. I’ve even started practicing spelling ‘Aberystwyth’ correctly in case I’m given a spot test. Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth University. Aberystwyth University where my study school is being held. Aberystwyth University where I shall learn how to become a LIBRARIAN!

In two to five years. Hopefully.

Going to a new place, especially one where I’ll be required to think and interact, rather than spend twenty minutes hugging the walls and then slinking off to hide in the toilets, is scary. It’s fine though. I haven’t done a scary thing in a while and I’m sure to have hidden reserves, like a squirrel before winter. The study school, an important part of my distance learning MA, is, after all, just the start of the Scary Stuff. It’s a gateway scare. After that, comes the hard stuff. Here are a few things I’m afraid of:

Money (lack of)

When I first applied for the MA, the plan was to spend a year or so saving up. With luck, I’d have a few grand in the bank, more than enough to pay for the first modules (thankfully A-b-e-r-y-s-t-w-y-t-h give distance learning students the option to pay per module). That was last year. 2016. There was no good luck. I deferred until the following September. Fast forward to August 2017. I’ve spent the last few days doing my version of sums: ‘If I don’t get made redundant, and if I acquire a taste for powdered soup, and if I don’t have a car/house/life disaster then maybe, just maybe…’ Pursuing a postgraduate qualification is expensive, that’s obvious. The question you ask yourself, as you balk at your account balance, is: ‘Is it worth it? Will it make me happier and more employable in the future?” Answer: I ruddy well hope so.

Graphs (abundance of)

Will it involve… graphs? I don’t know why I have an irrational fear of graphs (or herons, for that matter), but I think they represent things I don’t quite understand, like maths and fax machines. As a public library assistant, I get to do plenty of frontline tasks. I’m well-versed in customer service. I can shelve like a damn pro. But I don’t get to do, or even really see, the nuts and bolts of librarianship. The CILIP conferences I’ve attended, and all the cool library folk and accounts I follow on Twitter, have exposed me to so many different things, all these fantastically clever and exciting parts of the library world that I never knew existed. It’s like reading and loving a standalone novel by a new author and then being told that they’ve written twenty more, series after series. There’s so much to learn. Will I be able to catch up quick enough? Will this course, with its steep learning curve, ever become less intimidating?

Age (excess of)

Let me quote what a dear friend said to me recently:

“I can just imagine the Freshers looking over at you in the bar and wondering who let the middle age woman in!”

Let me now assure you that said friend’s testicle retrieval operation has gone quite well.*

I am 29 years old and I’ve finally figured out what I want to do. Although my late blooming librarianship does not bother me too much — I think it’s one of those careers that people do tend to stumble upon or else can only afford to pursue after years of working in paraprofessional roles — I am annoyed that I’ve wasted so much time. My competitive spirit, my inner Tracy Flick, wants to get ahead, earn a decent salary, gain job security. I want the job I’ll hopefully be qualified for in five years.

Technology (the need for)

I’m writing this on a battered eight-year-old MacBook. It gets very hot, it makes a lot of noise and it has a worryingly co-dependent relationship with its charger. I love it, quite ardently, and dread the day it finally gives up. I have previously used lack of money for my aversion to new technology. I don’t know how to use one of those, I bleat. I couldn’t afford anything like that. While true, this is also an excuse. If I really wanted to, I could figure it out. When my walls got damp, I spent weeks reading up about penetrating damp. I could recite a textbook example of wet rot (less sexy than it sounds). These mental blocks I have — to technology, to unknown sectors, to people — are absolute buggers to get rid of but they are, in a way, what libraries are all about. Embracing them isn’t a desirable quality on the person specification, it’s an essential quality. A big part of this course will be pushing myself to be less small-minded, less scared. Even of the Scary Stuff.

* You know I stole this line from Ms. Perky.

Dance of Joy, Dance of… Sustainability?

I have a leaky roof. It’s not the main house, but rather a conservatory nailed to it by a previous occupier. It was his terrible gift, his doll under the floorboards, destined to wake up, twenty years later, and wreak havoc. Or some really shitty DIY. Anyway. If you know me in real life, you’ll know this already. Over the past year, I’ve been under a fairytale curse. If I don’t mention the leaky roof at least twice a day, my mouth will fill with thistles. Working in a public library is a lot like living with a leaky roof. For the first few years, you don’t notice the warning signs, the weaknesses in the structure. You have a place to stay that’s fun and interesting and occasionally filled with people you really quite like. It’s such an improvement on places you’ve lived before, that you don’t complain about how little money you have coming in. This is my third year as a library assistant in a public library. I’m starting to see the water stains.

On Thursday, I finally finished my CILIP Certification Portfolio! Like Numfar, I did the Dance of Joy. Huzzah! On Friday, I felt depleted. Rumours of branch closures, veiled references to ‘joint working’ and ‘colocation’, were again circling. In order to be completely watertight, my roof, according to the many men who have inspected it, needs a massive cash investment, a complete renovation. The best thing to do, they all agreed, would be to take it down. In the future, my little branch, and the others like it in my authority, are likely to be closed, or considerably compromised, in order to secure the position of the larger libraries. I get the logic. Why risk the whole structure leaking when you could knock down its most vulnerable, and seemingly expendable, parts? You’ll still have a house, right? You’ll still, to throw the roof analogy aside, be fulfilling your statutory duty to provide a comprehensive library service. There’s a new buzz word in town. Let me introduce you to SUSTAINABLE. It’s going to be one hell of a Get Out of Jail card.

I didn’t intend to start my first post with a rant. Most days, I like my job. I love public libraries. When run properly — and some are run with such innovation, creativity and love to deserve an infinite supply of slow clapping kittens — they are irreplaceable. Expecting public libraries to remain open, with paid staff and reasonable opening hours, shouldn’t be a utopian ideal. That it is, is a sadder state of affairs than this micro rant can cover. With 8,000 plus library staff out of their jobs, it seems petty to moan about the lack of career progression in mine. I’m going to do it anyway. I am a library assistant in a small public library. I work, on average, 23 hours a week. This is due to decrease. I deferred my place on a distance learning MA course last year due to lack of funds (and no funding options). I’m due to start this year, next month actually, aware that nearly all my salary will go on paying the fees. Fortunately, I can do this on a module by module basis. As long as I don’t need to pay bills, run my car, feed the cats or, you know, fix a leaky roof, I should just about manage it (unless my branch gets closed down, in which case, my line will be FUUUUUUUCK). It’s a risk, yet without a professional library qualification, I’m unlikely to progress any further. I want to commit to this field, despite the uncertainty and the panic and the frustration and the sadness. So, yeah, cheery first blog post complete! Hello, library people!