Graduate Trainee Project: Reclassifying pamphlets

I finished my last day at the SSL yesterday. I’ve had an amazing time there, and I am very sad to go. The original idea for this blog post was a reflection of the past year as a graduate trainee, but I soon realised that was too huge. I have done so much over the last 12 months, including visits, training sessions, and projects, not to mention all the new skills and information I have learnt, so I decided to split it into smaller chunks.

When I helped out with the interview days for the next set of trainees, a lot asked me about our projects, so I thought that would be an excellent place to start.

A few of us have written short posts about our projects at (apologies for the ugly long links, my laptop is refusing to insert links), and there are some of our presentation slides at Because of that, I won’t go into too much detail about the actual work involved, as Lauren and I covered that in our blog post already.

The project was to reclassify pamphlets from an in-house classification scheme designed at their previous home, the International Development Centre, to Library of Congress classification, which is used for the main run of books in the SSL.


A selection of the more photogenic pamphlets


The pamphlets live in their own section in the library, which is between the periodicals and working papers. To be honest with you, they weren’t much used, and in fact Lauren and I didn’t know where the section even was until we started the project. Hopefully reclassification will make the section easier to navigate, and it will be used a bit more.

The planning involved in the project was actually pretty straight forward. We discussed with the Cataloguer what would be involved, and ran our decisions past the Social Sciences Librarian. After that it was mostly a case of getting on with the work, and tackling any problems as we got to them.


Working out a shelf mark range for a box could often be headache-inducing


My expectations of the reclassifying were quite wrong. I had thought it would be a lot of technical work, with MARC records and cataloguing terms I wouldn’t understand, but actually I really enjoyed it and found we often raced through this part. Choosing Library of Congress shelf marks was a great opportunity to do decision based tasks, which aren’t often given to lower level library staff. It also meant I tried something I probably wouldn’t have gone for off my own back, because of my preconceptions of classification work, that it very technical and not something I would be interested in.

When I left last week, Lauren and I had completed a bay of pamphlets. We worked out that we had reclassified, processed and re-shelved approximately 1110 pamphlets, a very satisfying number.


The pamphlets section - we completed the first bay by the end of the year

Drawing the line with customer service

There’s sometimes a difficult distinction between helping a reader out, and doing everything for them. I had this problem last week, and I’ve been mulling it over. I decided to blog about it because the experience was something new to me.

An elderly reader, visiting from another university, asked for my help locating a book. Since it was quiet, I took him to the shelves myself and found it. He then asked if I could look something up on the catalogue for him, and mentioned he had help from another member of staff the previous day. I knew who this was, and that she was away that day, so I was prepared to have to help him a little more than most readers as she had.

Basically, after helping him look up some shelf marks and printing a journal article, he then asked me to fetch books from the shelves and photocopy chapters from them. This is not something we do as library staff, as it takes far too much time and the library is too busy. However, since the other member of staff had done this the previous day, the reader now expected it. It was a bit of a snowball effect.

I have no problem that the member of staff had decided to do his photocopying, as she had spent an awful long time trying to teach him how to use the copiers (which are not the most intuitive machines), and had decided it would take less energy, time and effort to do it herself – fair enough.

I photocopied one chapter for the reader, but I felt I should not have done; I was already uncomfortable with the amount I had done for him, so I asked he come back later to fetch his copies. I then went and had my much delayed tea break. After this, he actually needed help again, but for attempting to make copies on his own! Seeing my opportunity, I fetched those books I’ve found earlier, demonstrated how to copy, and set him up to do the rest for himself.

I had been feeling quite stressed about the whole thing during my break. I felt I should have told him flatly ‘no’ to making copies for him, but had instead told him to come back later and collect them at the desk. When I asserted myself and asked him to make the copies himself (but helpfully showed him how), I felt elated.

I should point out the reader was a really lovely guy, which contributed to my admittedly delayed decision not to do all these tasks for him. It’s also really difficult when another member of staff has set a precedent (which was the right decision for her in the circumstances of the previous day). It’s very hard to draw the line, particularly when each task is a small one; “Oh thank you for that, perhaps you could do one more thing…?” They can easily build up, and at what point do you say “actually, no. That’s one thing too many”?

I think making that distinction is something that will come with experience; Maybe being able to tell when a reader is that kind of reader!