Blockbuster: the best library school you’ll never get to attend

BlockbusterHow a part time job while at University taught me everything I needed to know for a career in libraries

With a new job on the horizon I suppose it’s only natural to look back and reflect on the experiences that have led me to this point in my career but what I’ve realised is that so much of what makes me good at my job today was learned while working part-time at a video rental store!

I feel a little sad that I’ll be one of the last generation of Blockbuster librarians (and/or library assistants) to graduate from the best library school you’ll never get to attend.  So here are five things you could have learned from the Blockbuster library school:

1. Welcome to the world of Library Management Systems

486DX with MS DOS promptAside from actually working in a library Blockbuster provided the ideal introduction to some of the processes and principles involved in operating a Library Management System.

Although terribly antiquated the system allowed us to create accounts for customers, issue and return items, check account history, pay fines and search and manage our inventory,

And like with most library systems the desire to hurl the whole thing out the window was never far away.

2. Customer service skills (the hard way)

Groundskeeper Willie. by Simpsons-Addict on DeviantArt

Groundskeeper Willie. by Simpsons-Addict on DeviantArt

There’s nothing quite like being shouted at by an angry Scotsman at 10pm on a Friday night over a £1 late charge to help you develop your customer service skills.  But in many ways it was the perfect preparation for dealing with those few grumpy students and academics who don’t quite understand that it’s their responsibility to return items on time and not the library’s.

Likewise calling people to remind them that the film they borrowed is now a week late was an often humbling experience but really helped perfect my telephone voice.

Retail jobs can sometimes expose you to the best and worst of human nature especially around the festive period but being able to deal with a variety of people with different needs and expectations is a crucial skill that Blockbuster really helped me develop and one that can’t be learned in a classroom.

3. Dealing with new stock (or it feels like Christmas)

The arrival of new stock always feels a little like Christmas. There is much joy to be found in opening boxes of brand new books and freshly sealed DVDs not only because of the promise of stories yet told but also it means you have first choice on all the new arrivals.

PresentsHowever the process of unpacking and making that stock available requires you to work through a set of very specific procedures to ensure an accurate inventory and also so there are no issues when someone actually tries to borrow an item.

Once again Blockbuster was the ideal place in which to learn and develop the skills required to do this well.

4. How to find stuff

Finger face with a questionThis really covers two different areas:

1.Helping the customer find what they’re looking for
After a few months at Blockbuster you’d be able to help a customer find something with even the vaguest reference:
“Have you got the one with the guy from the thing?”
“Sure. It’s right over there”

By talking to the customer (and because you’d watched virtually every movie in the store) you’d be able to make recommendations based on what they’d watched and liked previously. But it’s that ability to listen which is the real key in working out how to best help the customer in front of you.

Shelf reading2. Physically locating the item
The system clearly states that you have one copy of ‘Zombie Librarian’ in the store and it’s your mission to find it as quickly as possible. Having spent hours alphabetising the collection you soon develop an almost sixth sense when it comes to locating items that are out of place and these observational skills will serve you well when it comes to shelf checking your library collection.

5. Teamwork

I count myself as very fortunate that for the most part I genuinely liked and enjoyed working with my Blockbuster co-workers.

As with most jobs your working experience is influenced hugely by those you work alongside on a day-to-day basis and what I believe helped make us a good team at Blockbuster was that our eclectic mix of interests and life experiences meant that as a team we had a huge amount of collective knowledge. From the horror fan to the world cinema aficionado all tastes and genres were covered.

Even if we didn’t always get along our love of movies held us together and I learned that it’s really important to have a shared vision or a common interest to ensure everyone works together for the good of the store (or library).

The end of an era!

I can’t deny I love being able to instantly access a movie on my TV without ever leaving the sofa but scrolling through the Netflix catalogue doesn’t quite have the same satisfaction as wandering the aisle of the local video shop on a quest for entertainment.

However It’s not all bad. At least they were able to turn my old store into a Morrisons local because what the world needed now more than ever was another supermarket. Sigh.

DIY RFID key fobs: a no/low budget approach to library design

One of my summer projects involved devising a system that would allow us to issue laptops on a self-service basis but with no money for a fancy system linked to our LMS I decided to borrow (steal) an idea from Exeter University and create key fobs that would provide access to individual lockers.

If eight years of working in a library have taught me anything it’s that there’s not much you can’t make with a laminator and a little bit of time so with no budget, not knowing how the system would work and wanting to customise the design as much as possible I decided to have a go at making my own RFID keys.

And here they are!

Laptop locker keys

Granted they are not as durable as a professionally made, hard plastic alternative but they look pretty good and for virtually no cost other than a little bit of time they solved a problem.

There are a number of different ways you could make keys with card, paper or plastic but here is a step by step guide to my method.


Before you start there are a few things you’ll need. You can find most of these lying around somewhere in your library:

  1. Barcodes or use to create one
  2. Computer software to design a template – Word, Publisher, etc
  3. Guillotine (optional)
  4. Hole punch
  5. Key rings (you can get 100 for around £2 on eBay)
  6. Laminating pouches
  7. Laminator
  8. RFID tags
  9. Scissors

Step 1. Create a template

Design two separate boxes for the front and back of your key fob. These should each measure 10cmx6cm to provide enough space to insert a standard size RFID tag. Leave a margin of at least 1.5cm on the left and right so there is enough room to punch a hole in later.

Here is a link to a blank Publisher template you’re all welcome to use:

Key template in publisher

Step 2. Printing

Print a copy of your template and cut out the individual keys.

DSCF0002Step 3. Folding

Fold each strip in half and add an RFID tag as close to the left hand fold as you can.

RFID tag placement

Step 4. Arranging

Arrange the keys inside a laminating pouch leaving plenty of space between each one.


Step 5. Laminating

Feed the laminator


Step 6. Cutting

Cut out the individual keys using scissors so you can round the corners and avoid any sharp edges


Step 7. Punching

Punch a hole in the right hand side of the key. If your hole punch looks similar to mine set the slider to A6 to line up the hole and avoid punching a hole in the RFID tag


Step 8. Keys

Add the key to the key ring and feed the hoop through the hole.



Each of our laptops already had a record in our catalogue so all I needed to do was associate the key with the corresponding laptop barcode and they were ready to go.

The design of the keys has changed since this was first posted but if interested you can have a look at the following blog post to see how the self-service system works:

Thanks for reading!

Five things I learned from my year (and a bit) as an eresources librarian

All Tomorrow's Parties' End of an Era 2 @ Camber Sands, 11-12/2013August saw my temporary contract providing maternity cover for the eresources librarian come to an end 😦

Despite ups and downs it was by far the most interesting, challenging and fun year (and a bit) of my working life.

Some of my highlights included (in alphabetical order of course):

  • Contributing to the successful implementation of a self-service system
  • Designing a series of FAQ pages inspired by the excellent Portland State Library DIY project
  • Designing a whole bunch of interesting marketing materials including fold-up leaflets, postcards, posters, a roller banner and instructional videos using freely available resources
  • Implementing a self-service locker and laptop service
  • Learning how to use and manipulate the library management system
  • Overseeing the digitalisation and copyright administration of nearly 500 scanning requests
  • Redesigning the library OPAC and reading list pages
  • Setting up this blog and actually writing a few posts that people have apparently found interesting

I feel I learned a lot during my time as an eresources librarian but here are five things I’d like to share:


A customer focused approach is more important than an having an IT background User Experience, after Andreas Vesalius Don’t get me wrong, obviously the more technical knowledge and expertise you have the more you can do personally to customise and tailor your systems and platforms to suit the needs of your customers. However all the technical knowledge in the world is useless if you don’t have an understanding of how those systems are actually being used.

You might be lucky enough to work in a library which has a web designer and/or IT team on hand who can look after all the technical details but if not there are loads of websites (and eBooks) out there that can provide basic CSS and HTML advice which can help you make changes to appearance of the OPAC, Libguides, login pages or a link resolver screen.

The point is you don’t need to be an IT expert to be an eresources librarian but you do need to understand how your systems are being used and be willing to take the time to investigate how you can make them work better for your users.


You can’t escape the stats!

Happiness StatisticsDB1s, JR1s, BR2s, footfall, page views, books borrowed, survey results, Sconul, costs per use, etc., etc. etc. There is no escaping the fact that virtually every aspect of the work done in an academic library from deciding which journals to renew to what time the library should close is underpinned by statistical data.

Failure to understand or simply ignore the importance of stats is asking for trouble.

While you may never enjoy compiling and analysing statistical data bear in mind that being able to use and understand that data may be the difference in whether or not you get the go ahead for your next project or idea.


There’s usually a compromise

CompromiseUnless you’re very lucky there will usually come a point in any project where something doesn’t quite work as you’d hoped. There may be technical or budget limitations that prevent you from doing what you’d initially hoped.

Often these stumbles and initial failures can provide opportunities for creative solutions you wouldn’t have otherwise considered but if not then we should be the ones faced with the compromise not our customers.

If that means doing something manually you’d hoped to automate then that’s what you do!

An eresource librarian’s job is to make it as easy as possible for library users to find and access resources and if that means a little extra work then that’s the compromise you make.


No budget is not an excuse for a lack of creativity

eBook GuideNot only is there an abundance of free online resources nowadays that allow you to create anything from animated cartoons to professional looking infographics and posters but even the humble Microsoft Publisher can be used to create virtually any style of leaflet you can think of without the need for any real graphic design skills.

You don’t need to be original just browse Pinterest for inspiration and try and recreate a layout you like the look of.

A few of my favourite free online resources include:


Librarians are awesome!

Librarians-Rock-by-GoneReadingI am consistently impressed and inspired by the work being done by fellow library professionals across the world.

Through Twitter, Jiscmail, ListServ, customer forums, and even casual conversations at conferences the willingness to share knowledge and experience means you can find the answer to virtually any question you may have.

No matter what you’re faced with someone out there has probably been in the same position and in my experience will be willing to go out of their way to help for little more than a thank-you and perhaps the promise of future cake should you ever meet in real life.

I feel proud, privileged and lucky to work within a profession filled with so many conscientious and inspiring individuals and I only hope I continue to do so for a long long time.

Increasing the visibility of reading lists in Heritage Online

During last summer (2013) I talked to the librarians quite a lot about the reading list feature in Heritage. We all agreed it was potentially really useful and certainly a lot of staff time was spent creating the lists and updating the links.

However for those who did stumble across the tiny link on the Heritage homepage they would suddenly find themselves faced with a huge page of hyperlinks containing all the different module codes and titles. If they were lucky and scrolled for long enough they may even have found a list they wanted to look at.

Old Heritage reading list

The Plan

We devised a two-part plan. Firstly we would go through and re-organise the lists, remove any old modules that were no longer taught and re-structure each subject section.

The second part was to make the lists more visible on Heritage online by changing the library news section to include links to all the reading list subjects.

Repurposing the library news feature 

Library newsPreviously all reading list links were added to a single library news page which is why we only ever had one main link. So after identifying every subject area instead of having one huge reading list ‘news’ page I instead created 15. One for each main subject as well as a browse all section which would take you to the top of the page.

This has two main benefits. One is that it allows you to link directly to individual subjects and two it is a lot easier to make changes and updates to these smaller html files rather than navigating one huge file.

As the newest ‘news’ item added will appear at the top of the page you need to create these pages in reverse order to get them to appear alphabetically.

The Layout

DanceI created a simple HTML table to help ensure a consistent layout for each subject area on the page.

I’m fortunate that we have some brilliant images for our subject guides so I was really keen to use them within the reading list page as an additional way to promote their existence to students.

The other main addition was the use of a background colour for the first row of the table as a way to break up the individual subject areas. The colour used also corresponds with the colour-coded classmarks and shelf signage that relate to this subject area.

To create the links I followed the instructions on the following Heritage helpsheet: Catalogue Groups for Reading Lists

(I’ve added some links to my HTML code at the bottom of the page)

With so many subject areas and so many modules this ended up being a huge webpage so by adding an anchor <a name=”top”></a> to the last news item: ‘Browse all UCS Ipswich reading lists’ I was able to add a ‘Back to top’ link after each subject area. <p><a href=”#top”><strong>Back to top</strong></a>

The final step was to change the name from ‘News and Information’ to ‘Reading lists’. This is done by editing the Pagetext.txt file and further instructions on making this change are available on the OPAC Widgets helpsheet.

After all the changes above our Heritage homepage now looked like this:


This represented a good step forward as previously the library news section was totally irrelevant and now it was being used to display the reading list links in a much more prominent way.

However despite making the changes actual usage of the reading lists was still incredibly low with around 3% of the total page views. I was also increasingly beginning to dislike having this long list of words taking up half the homepage.

The next step

As I was learning more about Heritage I realised that I didn’t actually have to use the Library news widget at all. Instead I could simply create my own custom widget. This would then allow me to structure the list in a different way to make them much more visible:

New reading lists

To make these links work I had to go back and edit all the individual library news items and add anchors to all the titles I wanted to link to. For example: <h1><a name=”FineArt”></a>Fine Art</h1>. Then in my custom widget I just needed to add the following link location to the text and image:

Then in the Enquiry menu I simply un-ticked the library news and ticked to enable my custom widget.

Following this change usage went through the roof! Well maybe not quite but it now accounts for about 7% of our total page views (3500 page views since January 1st 2014) but still it’s a considerable improvement from where we were a year ago.

Changing the library news section, removing the ‘Quick links’ and ‘Most popular’ widgets and a few other changes I may write about at a later date have left us with a very different catalogue to the one we had a year ago and although far from perfect I have really enjoyed poking around and seeing what I can do.



Final thoughts

The reading list feature of Heritage is a useful tool to help students quickly locate items needed for their module and can also be a useful for library staff to identify the usage of items associated with a particular module. However it is still little more than a list of books with no indication to the student of what is essential reading. Nor is there any way to indicate key chapters or weekly readings.

Looking to the future we have tentatively looked at some of the reading list software out there from Talis and Rebus but unfortunately the cost is likely to be prohibitive at least for the foreseeable future.

So I’ve begun my own investigations into whether I can devise an alternative solution that will replicate all the key features offered by a reading list program without the price tag.

To be continued….


HTML Code:

Basic HTML Table:

Custom widget HTML code:

Subject example (library news):



I’ve found some awesome Creative Commons Music so maybe you won’t have to


To me music is an incredibly important part in making any kind of video whether it’s a film or an instructional tutorial and although some may not have even noticed I honestly believe the library videos I’ve made wouldn’t be half as good nor would I have enjoyed making them half as much without the music.

the-free-music-archiveOver the last few months I’ve spent quite a lot of time on the Free Music Archive website looking for suitable background music for the tutorial videos I’ve been putting together and I love it because there is just so much brilliant (free!) music out there which I never would have discovered without it.

So the purpose of this blog is simply to share some of the music I’ve found in the hope that others will not only enjoy it but will potentially find something they can use in their own projects.

It’s an eclectic mix which may reveal more about my own musical tastes than I should let on but the quality particularly from Dexter Britain is just phenomenal.

It’s in alphabetical order by song title because I have a weird thing about A-Z lists. I’ve used Soundcloud to embed the audio but if you click the song title you can find out a little more about the licensing info and download a copy for yourself.



“Adventure, Darling” (by Gillicuddy)


“Bronco Romp” (by Waylon Thornton)


“Chasing Time” (by Dexter Britain)


“Collapsing Time” (by Dexter Britain)


“Computer” (by State Shirt)


“Country Trouble” (by Dexter Britain)


“Divider” (by Chris Zabriskie)


“El Tranvía” (by Jenifer Avila)


“Forced Through Time” (by Dexter Britain)


“Kopeika” (by et_)


“The Lost Ones” (by Dexter Britain)


“Lover, etc” (by The Nighttime Adventure Society)


“Mariachi Bandits of Gatling Gun Ridge” (by krackatoa)


“Night Owl” (by Broke For Free)


“No Slow Dancing” (by Austin Leonard Jones)


“Second Class Citizen” (by Dexter Britain)


“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” (by Ending Satellites)


“The Time To Run” (by Dexter Britain)


“Veloma” (by Fabrizio Paterlini)


“What’s It All About” (by Dexter Britain)

Paying homage to Portland State’s Library DIY

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I hope the following will serve as the biggest compliment I can give to Meredith Farkas and Portland State’s brilliant Library DIY.

Library DIYFor anyone who hasn’t come across this project yet Library DIY forms part of the Portland State Library’s website and is  designed to mirror a reference desk transaction with a system of small, discrete learning-objects designed to give students the quick answers they need to enable them to be successful in their research (Farkas, 2013).

Meredith sees DIY as a respect for the home-grown and the figured-out yourself versus the expert-created or the expert-answered (Farkas, 2013) and part of the beauty of Library DIY is that it gives those who won’t or don’t want to ask for help the ability to go out and find answers for themselves.

How it inspired me

a light bulb moment by shrinkin'violet

a light bulb moment by shrinkin’violet

Back in the summer of 2013 I was becoming increasingly involved in updating and editing the library webpages and I was hearing plenty of feedback from staff and students that although there was a lot of really useful information on the site it was difficult to find.

There had also been feedback that students didn’t know how to get from the Summon search pages to the library web pages or in some cases had trouble finding an email or phone number if they ran into problems.

As I was thinking about what I could do to try and address these problems I came across the following blog post: Library DIY: Unmediated point-of-need support. To say it was love at first sight may sound a little clichéd but it was certainly a ‘light-bulb’ moment.

Find your question?

Lacking time, IT skills and dealing with a restrictive content management system I knew I wouldn’t be able to do anything on the same scale as Library DIY. However I was inspired to try and use a similar framework to create a kind of online library help desk which could provide answers to our most frequently asked questions.

Instead of being a standalone system my version would predominately act as a gateway to the library website.

The first task was to collate all our frequently asked questions so I trawled through the library inbox making notes of all the questions that kept coming up again and again, I got feedback from colleagues, looked at survey results and also used my own personal experience to put together a mind-map which would form the basis for creating the additional webpages:

Library helpdesk MindmapOnce I knew the basic structure I created a welcome page with links to the key sections:

Online Helpdesk

We had a lot of the answers already on our website and with time not really on my side it seemed slightly unnecessary to re-create content that was already available. So where I could I linked straight from a question to the relevant page on the library website. This meant adding a lot of anchors to existing pages but was considerably quicker than re-creating the content.

UCS Harvard

The downside to this is you come away from the helpdesk pages but this was a compromise I had to make.

For each section I also created an answers page which is where I could add information that I couldn’t link to on an existing page:


To make the new helpdesk pages as accessible as possible I updated the default help link in Summon, created a new footer in our Library catalogue and also added the ‘find answers’ image below to various library webpages.

Group of images

What does success look like?

I feel unsure about the success of these pages. I’ve had good feedback from staff who have found them useful and the students I’ve shown have also been positive.

Looking at the numbers the pages went live toward the end of September 2013 and between the 1st of October and the 1st of March have had 755 page views. This obviously doesn’t sound like a lot but outside of our Summon, database, journal and referencing pages we don’t get many page views. So actually for this period the ‘Online helpdesk page‘ was the 32nd most visited library webpage. Again that doesn’t sound great but we have over 500 individual webpages.

So that’s 755 page views we wouldn’t have had before the pages went live which is roughly 5 visits a day. Out of those visits even those who weren’t able to find an answer will hopefully at least have been able to find out where they could get more help from.

Future developments

It was exciting to hear recently that the Library DIY infrastructure has been open sourced and it will be really interesting to see how other libraries use and adapt it to meet their needs.

We’ve had discussions with our IT department about potentially creating a library website in Drupal so there may be one day in the future when I can get my hands on the real thing but if that doesn’t happen I would at least like to incorporate the DIY philosophy into a more dedicated help section on our website.

There will always be those who prefer to send an email, pick up the phone or come and see us in person but there are also some who want to have the opportunity to find the answer for themselves and I think anything that potentially makes this journey easier can only be a good thing.

For now I consider this my little homage to Portland State’s Library DIY – it’s not as polished, it’s not as extensive but it’s mine and I think it’s very much in the DIY spirit that Meredith talks about.


Farkas, M. 2013. Library DIY: Unmediated point-of-need support. 7th February. Information Wants To Be Free. [Online]. [Accessed 16 March 2014]. Available at:

Farkas, M. 2014. Library DIY infrastructure has been open sourced!. 28th February. Information Wants To Be Free. [Online]. [Accessed 16 March 2014]. Available at:

Making videos, telling stories

With the upgrade to Summon 2.0 back in September 2013 I was faced with having to update some of our video tutorials. The previous videos were made using the traditional screen capture and commentary method – all very useful. All very instructive.

However I had two concerns about doing like for like remakes. Firstly I hate the sound of my own voice so the idea of recording a voiceover and then having to listen to it let alone share it with others wasn’t something I was very keen on. Secondly I find screencasts incredibly BORING and actually finding one you can sit through let alone enjoy is really difficult. So I wanted to try something a little different.

The inspiration

Don’t get me wrong there are some great video tutorials out there. University of Sunderland for example have lots really useful screencast style short videos and I particularly like the following from Arizona State University and Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries:

Finding these and others almost made things worse because I knew I didn’t have the time or resources to do something similar and every day I kept seeing the Camtasia icon on my desktop silently mocking my attempts to avoid the inevitable.

Created-Using-PowtoonThen one day I came across a short animated video that caught my attention and at the end of the video the words: “Created using PowToon” popped up and I knew this was just what I had been looking for.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of PowToon before it’s an online presentation tool that allows you to create free animated videos and presentations just by dragging and dropping characters and objects. Finished videos can then be exported straight to YouTube.

My videos

The main goal for my first video was to present Summon in a fun and engaging way and even if the only thing people remembered was how to find Summon on the University website that would be enough for me to consider the video a success. My approach however was maybe a little unconventional.

youtube by Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

youtube by Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

I had a series of images in my head I knew I wanted to use but essentially it all began with the music. I’d found some fantastic creative commons stuff on which I knew would be perfect. So instead of merely being an afterthought the music became the main creative inspiration behind the whole video. It helped me determine what movements the characters should make, how long each scene should last and how the transitions should look.

I had lots of fun with the first Summon video, received positive feedback from colleagues and apparently it even got shown during a Summon demonstration at the National Library of Scotland.


So feeling encouraged to continue with PowToon I tried to focus my next series of videos on answering one question while still including music and some hopefully humorous touches (well humorous to me anyway):

How to renew a book online:

How to search for a journal article in Summon:

How to refine your search in Summon:

I was now starting to feel a little more confident and decided I really wanted to tell a story. So once again I started with a simple question: “How do I find databases relevant to my subject?”

In truth this could have been a 20 second video featuring nothing more than a few mouse clicks but where’s the fun in that. So instead I devised a scenario in which in order to rescue his girlfriend the main character has to access an English database. This of course sounds utterly ridiculous but was my attempt to try and use the power of storytelling to answer a simple question in an entertaining way.

Again I got more positive feedback and we even got a mention from ProQuest:

ProQuest Tweet

I fully accept that there will be people who think these videos are silly, amateurish and largely unhelpful but the point is that with the amount of free resources now available there is just no excuse for producing videos that do little more than bore your audience. Why not try something a little different?

Sadly I haven’t had time to work on new videos lately however with ProQuest moving LION onto a new (and much better platform) I will once again be faced with having to re-make a Library video. At this point I have no idea what I’m going to do but I’m sure I’ll have fun experimenting.

The Music:
Searching Summon: ‘The Lost Ones’ by Dexter Britain, available under Creative Commons Attribution license at
How to renew a book online: ‘Computer’ by State Shirt, available under Creative Commons Attribution license at
Finding journal articles parts 1 and 2: ‘Kopeika’ by et_ available under Creative Commons Attribution licence at
Finding journal articles part 3: ‘Mariachi Bandits of Gatling Gun Ridge’ by Krackatoa available under Creative Commons Attribution Licence at:

Why I love Pinterest and hate new book displays

To put it mildly I’m not a big fan of new book displays. I can see they may have a place in public libraries and bookshops but in an academic library it seems pointless. Ours is largely ignored and those who do stumble across it almost never take anything for fear of disrupting the carefully arranged shelves.

Yet with the amount of money we spend on books I do believe it’s important to promote our new titles but to me Pinterest provides a free, interactive and visually more interesting way to do this instead of some Ikea inspired shelves and a stack of paperbacks.

What’s the point?

Funny Confession Ecard: The cure for boredom is Pinterest. There is no cure for Pinterest...

If you’re not familiar with Pinterest it’s essentially an online pin board where you can collect and organise images or “pins” of anything you like. Pins can be uploaded from a computer or directly from a website and added to boards usually based around a particular theme.

Now I use Twitter all the time to find out what the cool librarians are doing, I use Facebook if I want to share photos of my cats but Pinterest is where I go for inspiration and to me above all the other social media platforms Pinterest represents the most natural home for libraries because at their core surely all libraries want to be seen as a source of inspiration.

New Book Boards

I began by looking at how other libraries were using Pinterest to display new books and my initial findings were disappointing. Some boards contained images repined from Amazon or a publisher’s website and one library actually photographed each book as it arrived and then uploaded an image.

Taking photos may work if you have a small number of books and pinning images from a website may be quick but both are really quite unhelpful if you actually wanted to reserve the book. Firstly you would need to leave Pinterest, then find the library website, then the catalogue, and then re-search for the book.

So it was really important to me that if I pin an image of a book it needs to go straight to a library catalogue record or in the case of some eBooks directly to the eBook itself. There should be no need for additional searches. Someone sees a book – they click the image and they can get it. Luckily Pinterest makes this surprising easy.

Creating and organising boards

Pinterest BoardBefore you start pinning you need to create some boards. People can choose to follow individual boards so you can make them as specific as you like. As my purpose was to promote our new books I created boards for each of our different subject areas. In some cases where there was a crossover in terms of content (and to ensure that every board had a good number of pins) I combined areas so Art, Photography and Digital Media became one board and likewise Psychology, Sociology and Criminology.

To start you might want to create a ‘Secret board’ which will only be visible to you and anyone you invite. This allows you to add images and ensure you have enough content before making it public. The downside is that even when a secret board is made public the images won’t appear in a follower’s feed.


After creating some boards the next step is to identify the books you want to pin and which board they should be pinned to. This can be a little tricky at times and may require a degree of personal judgement as certain books can cover a range of subject areas.

To help with this process I designed a report which could be exported from our Library Management System which would not only give me details about newly arrived items but also which budget they were purchased from and their classmark.

Pinterest report

If the book doesn’t match the budget then I use the dewey number to determine which subject area its most suited to.

So the boards are all set-up, we know what we want to pin and where to pin it. We’re almost ready to start but the next thing we need to do is install the Pin It button’ which will allow us to quickly and easily pin images from webpages.

Pin it

Our library catalogue includes book covers provided by syndetics and this means that any catalogue records containing an image can be ‘pinned’ with a link back to the catalogue record. Genius!

However not all our records have images so there are often certain items that can’t be added.


1. Search for a book in the library catalogue

2. Highlight the book title

Pinterest book

3. Hit the ‘Pin it button‘ in your web browserPin it button

4. If Pinterest detects an image(s) it will ask you to choose which one you want to pin.

5. Pick a board and you’ll notice that by previously highlighting the title the description field has been pre-filled in with the information


6. Hit ‘Pin it‘ to finish

Now if someone clicks that image from Pinterest they will be taken directly to the library catalogue record.


Now we have boards full of books we can also start promoting them outside of Pinterest and one way to do this is by embedding the boards into a website. Firstly you need to be registered as a Business Account which will then allow you to make buttons and widgets.

I’ve embedded new book boards into each of the relevant subject guides and I think it provides a nice visual way to promote new ‘subject specific’ items and as new content is added to the boards in Pinterest the embedded image in the subject guide updates automatically.

That seems like a lot of work

I started the UCS Library account back in May 2013 and the amount of time spent working on it has varied a lot over the months as other work has taken priority but at the time of writing we have nearly 1600 pins which works out at around three a day.

The initial board creation and account set-up can take a little time but I probably don’t spend much more than an hour a week in total.

To be continued…

While the initial plan was to use Pinterest to promote new books actually this might just be the tip of the iceberg as Pinterest potentially provides a whole new way for people to discover library content.

The ability to upload an image and then add a custom link means you can create database and journal pins that link directly to a provider’s website via an institutional login page so Pinterest could potentially become a Library discovery tool in its own right.

More importantly can I take a sledgehammer to the new book display yet?


If you’d like to have a look at the UCS Library account here is the link:

I would also love to hear from anyone else using Pinterest either for work or pleasure. Please add links to your account in the comments section.

Do I like lists because I work in a Library or do I work in a Library because I like lists?

I’m a bit of a sucker for lists particularly those random blog posts about the top five films featuring squirrels or the best places to live if you like cheese.

Luckily life in a Library consists of all kinds of lists – readings lists, journal lists, databases lists, order lists but perhaps the most important is the ‘to-do list’. WP_20140224_001Written on the nearest piece of scrap paper for me this is scribbled list of things I would like to get done during the day (or week) outside of the general day-to-day tasks.

A lot of times it’s more aspirational rather than attainable but it’s useful to have something to refer back to during those rare quiet moments when the phone isn’t ringing and the inbox(es) are clear.

The A-Z list and the Library

I also like A to Z lists in fact one of the first things I did when I got this job was to change the default sorting order on the Library catalogue so results would appear alphabetically by title. It bothered me more than it probably should have when they previously sorted by ‘Author’.

A-Z of the Library (smaller)

So this love of lists and ordered results made me think that actually an A-Z list might be a nice way to promote some of our key library resources. The tricky bit was choosing what to leave out but a list quickly came together in my mind and I was then able to create a simple image and an accompanying blog post: The A-Z of UCS Ipswich Library. Since November 2013 it’s had nearly 900 views and is actually the 3rd most popular post on our blog ever.

Some weeks later I found I wasn’t alone in my thinking when I came across the following post on the Voices for the library’ blog: which focused on a session held at Library Camp East where participants were asked to create an A to Z list of words that reflected the positive activities and values of libraries. Check out #LibraryAtoZ to see what a couple of other libraries were able to put together.

So in closing I would suggest that anyone looking for a simple and effective way to promote the range of resources, services and facilities they have should indulge in their own love of lists and see what you can create. It’s a lot of fun and you may even surprise yourself by just how much you have to offer your customers.

Designing and selling t-shirts on Zazzle


Back in 2012 largely inspired by my own cats and the desire do something a little creative I began designing and selling t-shirts on Zazzle.

For those who have never heard of Zazzle it’s an online retailer that allows you to buy and sell custom designed merchandise (clothing, mugs, posters, etc.) and because it provides both the tools for creating your product and the marketplace all you have to do is upload a design and then choose how much profit (royalty) you want to make.

You don’t have to be a great artist in fact some of the most popular designs are just words. It costs you nothing but a little time so I would encourage anyone with an idea to give it a go. 

It’s never going to make you rich but its great fun and when someone actually buys one of your designs it’s a great feeling.

Get designing!

My T-Shirts; 

Abbey Road Cats Tee ShirtsAbbey Road Cats Tee Shirts by Black_Cats_Rule
More Abbey road T-Shirts

Badly drawn cat! tees
Badly drawn cat! tees by Black_Cats_Rule
Browse Zazzle for another tee
Evil Genius Cat T-shirt
Evil Genius Cat T-shirt by Black_Cats_Rule
Browse zazzle for a different t-shirt