The Sheffield Experience

I was delighted to be invited to speak to this year’s cohort of Graduate Trainees at the University of Oxford about applying to library school, specifically about my experiences studying at the University of Sheffield. I was one of three former-trainees reflecting on our library school experiences at different institutions, and we were joined by Stephen Pinfield, senior lecturer in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, who discussed the important factors to consider when choosing a course.

The Mappin Building. Sarah Grice, Flickr

The Mappin Building. Sarah Grice, Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

My own presentation was biased – I am distinctly pro-Sheffield, but I hope I was balanced enough to give the trainees a realistic idea of what studying there is like. I thought it might be useful to others to include some insights from my talk, as well as reflecting on how it went. Below is an edited version of my presentation. The pictures I’ve included are the ones I used as my slides.

The course

A wind tunnel we built in the Archives module, to dry out flooded books

A wind tunnel we built in the Archives module, to dry out flooded books

I was impressed with the range of modules, allowing me to choose a selection that was some stuff I knew I’d want or need for my career, as well as stuff that’s just interesting.

I did feel, once I was in my first job after the masters, there could’ve been more on teaching. It was covered a little bit, but I didn’t come out feeling fully prepared to take on that responsibility of teaching.

There was a lot of group work, which usually fills everyone with dread. The tasks themselves weren’t that bad (though sometimes felt a bit irrelevant), but inevitably once or twice you’ll get the odd person who doesn’t pull their weight. It can be difficult to fit group meetings with everyone’s schedules, especially if you have group where some are part-time or travelling in from elsewhere. That’s absolutely no one’s fault, it’s just something to be aware of.

Sheffield 10 milesInterview

I did have to have an interview, but it really wasn’t that bad. They gave me a free lunch (and I was encouraged to take cake home with me) – the lunch wasn’t the main reason I chose to go to Sheffield, but it definitely made a good impression – and the interview itself was more of a chat to see if I was right for the course and the course was right for me.

The university

Obviously your interaction with the university and the student union will vary if you’re part-time or traveling in, but since I was full-time I was able to enjoy being a student again. The student union is really impressive and regularly wins awards. And I couldn’t talk about the librarianship course and not mention the library. The infamous Information Commons, or IC – Super modern, bazillion floors, all kinds of work spaces for quiet study, comfy sofas, and everything in between. Open 24/7/365, you can eat in there, it even has showers. It’s an experience. Oh, and the building is bright turquoise. They are constructing another information commons, so I’m interested to see how that turns out. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the IC, but it was always rammed so obviously a lot of others are.

The view from Mam Tor in the Peak District

The view from Mam Tor in the Peak District

This was the gist of my talk. On the day I managed to forget to mention most of the negatives of my experience, but many were things mentioned by the other speakers anyway. I also spoke a bit quick. I think I’m out of practice now I don’t do so much training and presenting.

It was lovely to meet the trainees. I got a real hit of nostalgia, especially when I left them at a pub we used to frequent after training. I remember finding this session useful when I was a trainee, so I hope I was as useful to this year’s.

Sheffield: the best bits

Not a librarianship post, but this may be of use to upcoming Sheffield library-schoolers.

My housemates and I have started to compile a bucket list of things to do in Sheffield, so thought I’d share, in no particular order, a few of my favourite places in Sheffield.

The Winter Garden

Image credit:

The Winter Garden is a beautiful and impressive building. It’s a lovely place to stroll through when you’re in town, or to cower in to avoid the rain!

This lovely indoor botanic garden is in the centre of the city, and also has access to the Millennuim Gallery (and a Fancie cupcake stall; see below!).


So many flavours!

There are three Fancie shops in Sheffield (and I noticed the cafe in the Students’ union has started selling them too). I usually visit the one on Sharrow Vale road, but the one in Meadowhall shopping centre is very convenient too!

These beautiful cupcakes are so delicious, but be prepared; you may feel a little sick after finishing a whole one!

Revolucion de Cuba

Prohibition style cocktails

If you like cocktails and you like tea (I’m assuming you’re probably a librarian, so let’s say you do), this is the place for you! Prohibition style cocktails served in teapots – what fun!

This bar is also well located, as it’s close to uni and just off West Street, probably the centre for student night life.

The Peak District

View from Treak Cliff Cavern in December

Sheffield is so well located for getting to the beautiful Peak District. Buses and train go regularly, so it’s easy to explore and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

This photo was taken when my housemates and I visited Treak Cliff Cavern in Castleton at Christmas, for carol singing in the caves. Buxton’s also lovely – and on a very bouncy bus ride from Sheffield!


That’s me!

Climbing is huge in Sheffield, I suspect because of its proximity to the Peaks.

One of my housemates went indoor climbing regularly, so I recently had a go to cross it off the list!

It was a lot of fun, and I’d definitely go again if I get the chance. There are climbing societies at the university, so that’d be a great way to get involved or to try for the first time, which I highly recommend.

Sheffield Botanical Gardens

Image credit:

The gardens, which are free, are a lovely place to have a wander. Try to find the bear pit!

The Gardens are close to the student villages, so are easy walking distance and a great place to go when you have visitors (or build snowmen in the winter!).



Feel free to comment with your favourite places in Sheffield if you’ve visited before, or ask any questions about it if you’re thinking of coming here to study.

24 Hour Opening – Some Thoughts

There’s some very interesting discussion going on over at the fantastic blog Don’t Call Me Miss about the merits/issues of 24 hour library opening hours. I commented on the post with some of my initial thoughts, and my experience of the Information Commons (open 24/7, 365 days a year) here at Sheffield University, but I wanted to write a longer musing here.

For me, this issue goes back to that old chestnut: student expectations.

Students are paying higher fees than ever before. Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually mean the universities are getting any more funding; these higher tuition fees are subsidising lowered Government funding. However, all the typical undergraduate sees is that they are paying more, so they expect more from the service. This includes being able to use the library whenever, and however, they want. I realise I sound quite negative, but I don’t mean to be. Library staff have always had to struggle with user expectations and what the library can realistically offer.

I feel I am personally in an interesting position right now, as I currently have a dual position as a librarian (or near enough…) and as a current student. I can see both points of view (not to say librarians don’t see the students’ point, of course!).

The Information Commons

Personally, I am really not the pull-an-all-nighter kind of person, but a lot of my friends say they work better in the evening and at night. The library is somewhere they can go to revise that isn’t full of distractions.

The IC – open 24/7, 365 days a year. Credit:

The Information Commons (IC) is one of the libraries here at Sheffield, and has been designed for all learning styles. As such, it caters for the night owls; there is a cafe, comfy seating, and even showers! This is obviously good in some ways, but I feel it doesn’t necessarily set a good example for students by perpetuating the idea that one should cram all night.

I also think in some ways, the IC is setting an example for other libraries. The IC is often praised for its innovation and style, but 24/7×365 is part of that; perhaps saying other libraries should follow the lead? I don’t know, its hard to make a judgement like that, so I’ll leave it as an open question.

Volunteering in Sheffield

After hearing about the Conversation Club on Tuesday, I decided to go along to the session on the following Friday. I am not a spontaneous person, so this was very much out of my comfort zone, especially as I knew it would involve communicating with people of varying levels of English. However, I was brave, and it’s always rewarding to do things that challenge you.

I arrived quite early, so I was feeling a bit awkward, but actually it gave me time to sit down with one of the organisers and find out a bit more about the club, the English lessons they provide, and the charity ASSIST who run it. This prepared me for when the rest of the club arrived, as it was very noisy and busy. Everyone was very welcoming, which is probably to be expected since it’s organised around chatting!

I chatted for a short while with one man, though I didn’t find out where he was originally from, about cycling and painting. When he went into the English class, I chatted with a lovely man from Saudi Arabia. An older lady from North Africa chatted with us, which was quite useful as they both spoke Arabic, so if there were any difficulties in communication we could work it out! I then listened to her read out loud, helping out with pronunciation and any words she did not understand. After this I realise how difficult it is to describe English words. Things like “such a…”, or “really”. And of course, trying to explain librarianship is difficult! Luckily, most of the people had heard of or used libraries, so ‘library’ was a word they could understand.

I am currently writing an essay on public library services for UK ethnic minorities. Although the Conversation Club isn’t run by the library, Burngreave Library advertises it, and there is a library drop-in session on the Conversation Club’s Wednesday event. One of the organisers told me about the 3 Book Challenge sessions she runs in Burngreave Library, and I’d love to help out but it’s unfortunately when I have a class. Perhaps I’ll be a bit more flexible next term when I’m doing my dissertation. I hope to go to the Conversation Club again, though it’ll be sporadic as my Fridays are looking pretty full. They didn’t seem to mind though, as most people come and go anyway.

I felt really good afterwards, feeling I had been brave and spontaneous!

National Libraries Day at the Sheffield Central Library

Today is National Libraries Day, a day of celebration and support for libraries across the country, which also marks a year of protests against library closures.

Sheffield Central Library hosted events throughout the day, aimed at all types of library users. There was singing and playing for children, a creative writing workshop, and a tour for those interested in how the library works and what services they offer.

A newspaper from 1820, including stories about a mysterious power outage in the gas lamps, and vice in central Sheffield.

I went on the tour, which was a great insight into what the library can offer, but also the parts that you wouldn’t see as a regular user. We saw the main reading rooms, such as the Children & Young People’s Library and the Local Studies Library, where we were able to look at some old photographs, newspapers and maps of Sheffield.

The tour guide informed us about some of the services they offer, including Picture Sheffield, a database of digitised images, and Help Yourself, which provides information on all sorts of groups and organisations. The library also has the largest Climbing collection outside of the National Mountaineering Library, which must be very popular in this part of the country. We also saw the stacks, of which there are two levels under the library, and the ‘Strong Room’ where all the valuable and precious material is kept. It looked like a prison cell, with bars and a huge metal door! Here the tour guide showed us some rare material, including a hand-illustrated prayer-book from 1490, and a metallagraphica from the 1670s, in which the author explains metals are living things that grow back when you dig them up!

I also went along to ‘Quiz a Red Hat’. The Red Hats (named after the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph) are a group of retired librarians who meet up regularly, connected by their experiences working in libraries. It was wonderful to chat to these ladies, who somehow knew we were all librarianship students as soon as we said hello. We must give off a librarian aura! Hearing about Sheffield libraries in the past, and their experiences working in different types of libraries around the country, was a lovely experience.

Throughout the day there were musicians and singers performing in the foyer, which was a lovely background to the events and set the tone as a celebration of the library.

Shiny Shiny! A 3D metalwork collection

After a half day visiting the library at Sheffield Hallam University (post to follow soon), I attended a lunchtime talk entitled ‘Objects in 3D: Creating a virtual metalwork collection’, given by Lucy Cooper, Curator of Metalwork at Museums Sheffield. The talk was at the Millenium Gallery, here in Sheffield, which is just across the road from Hallam.

The Metalwork collection consists of about 13,000 items, 9000 of which are cutlery and flatware, and the remainder is holloware, such as teapots. A large number of the pieces are in store, and the metalwork team try to provide access to them when they can. However, this is often difficult. For example, items taken out for special events must be able to withstand being handled.

The metalwork collection is divided into three types. Firstly, the old Sheffield plate, which is silverlike, but with a base layer of copper, and was invented in Sheffield. There is also the stainless steel collection, which is largely focused on the last 100 years, and is quite a modern collection. It includes items designed by David Mellor, who is a bit of a legend in my book (he designed traffic lights. TRAFFIC LIGHTS). thirdly, there are several hundred items from around the world, such as cutlery sets from other countries.

Indian card case from the late 1800s: Museums Sheffield

The aim of the digitisation project was to get some of these items into the public eye. About 1000 objects will eventually be in the online collection. Sheffield Hallam University approached Museums Sheffield with the idea to create 3D digitised images, and with their help they procured funding from JISC for 5 months work.

Choosing the Objects

This was the part that Lucy found most fun!

The team tried to select objects that had little exposure in the past, but were stars of the Sheffield scene. The also chose objects that they would be able to contextualise with written information on the website.


Scanning an object takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on the level of detail. This means they worked through about 20-30 objects per day, over a period of 2 or 3 weeks.

The scanner was attached to a fully moveable arm, meaning they could move the beam around the object while it remains perfectly still. A full scan was taken, including the underneath of items, so a lot of museum foam was used to create supports for those objects that couldn’t support themselves, or were perhaps delicate.

One of the unforseen issues with scanning was that the beam would reflect from pieces. As such, they decided to select duller objects, such as those made from other metals to silver, or items which needed cleaning.

The images are minutely accurate – the tiny bumps that appear on the scan image, are the tiny bumps on the real thing. A lot of museums stop just before this point, but Lucy wanted, if possible, a replacement for seeing the object in real life.


These were taken so they could be put together with the scanned image, to create a complete 3D visualisation.  Photos needed to be taken from multiple angles, and needed to map exactly onto the scanned images. according to Lucy, this process, interestingly, probably took as long as scanning the items.

A mustard pot from the early 1800s

Problem Objects

SOme of the items had too many gaps in them, and the scan beam got confused. As a result, it is difficult to unpick the layers and correct the data. Lucy felt this was a real shame, as there are some beautiful pierced Sheffield plate fruit bowls that she would have loved to have included, but the image just would not have worked.

Model Formats

The scan images themselves were too large to be hosted on the web, so had to be compressed. This sadly losses some detail, but they have kept some archival large files at the museum.

There was also a process of quality checking before putting them on the website, and about 20% of the models needed correcting.


The objects are arranged into thematic categories, such as food, drink, tools, etc. The images appear instantly, so do not need to be downloaded, and can be manipulated – you can zoom or turn the object. SOme research information has been added to the object, and there are also learning resources available for download for schools.

What next?

Lucy wants to integrate the objects into the main collection search. She would also like to be able to repeat the process for more delicate, fragile, or damaged objects. In the future, improved technology would also facilitate enhanced details, such as hallmarks.


I really enjoyed the presentation, especially when Lucy demonstrated the teapot-cum-photoframe. It was interesting to attend a talk aimed at the general public, but on a topic that is also very relevant to LIS.

Oh yes, I remember why I want to be a librarian!

This post is about a visit to two local libraries last week in the Sheffield area, as part of my masters. The visits were great, and really reminded me what great work libraries can do (hence the title).

I’m really sorry, but this post is quite hefty!

The first visit was to Chapeltown Library and Children’s Centre. The library is co-located with the Children’s Centre, and has a large community room for use by different groups, such as baby weighing, or breast-feeding advice. The library was really nice, and has aged well considering the building was erected in the 1980s. It had a feel very much like the public library I used to work at during Sixth Form College, as it was a similar size. The visit involved a quick look round, then a  discussion about the library and Sheffield libraries in general. The library has self issue machines which operate using RFID. These have proved a success, with very little complaint from the public. This was amazing to me, as I worked in Mersea Library when they implemented RFID, and the public, although on the whole please with it, were quite vocal when they disliked it. I also sympathised with the library staff, as I know how much work must have been involved, as I’ve been there myself!

After another look around, we got back on the coach and drove to the public library at Southey Owlerton, which is very new and impressive. It is part of the SOAR (Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration) project, and it is located in The Learning Centre. The building was lovely and bright, and the layout of the library really made good use of limited floor space. We were given a quick tour by the acting manager Daryl (who had amazing dreadlocks). The building has many great ‘green’ features, such as motion detecting lighting to save energy, and a ‘green roof’ which is a wildlife garden covered in wildflowers (currently covered in logs and dirt). The library has several schemes to get users involved through volunteering, for example children can help out adults at IT classes, and the building as a Learning Centre has several classrooms and an IT suite. It seems very much embedded in the area, and was built with a huge amount of consultation with the local community.

After our tour we went up to one of the rooms for tea and biscuits, and for a discussion with Daryl, the Head of Services and his soon-to-be replacement. I was really honoured that they took time out to take part in the day, and I really hope they all enjoyed it as much as I did!

This discussion was fantastic, and covered a huge range of topics. We covered the current economic climate and it’s impact on Sheffield libraries. It seems that they are doing better than most, but have still have to reduce staff numbers, and will have to reduce opening hours in the future.  We were also informed about the planning and building of the new library, and the consultation with the public. It was really interesting to hear that in the past changes to libraries were often done behind closed doors, and the public just had to deal with it. With this new library, the community were asked ‘what makes a good district library?’, and the ideas were stemmed from their opinions.

Another in-depth topic was the classification vs categorisation debate. Currently, Sheffield libraries categorise their fiction and non-fiction sections in community libraries. This is because their experience has been that users come to the library to browse, making the ritual of finding a shelf-mark on the catalogue and searching out that one particular book redundant. Instead, they can find a section they enjoy and books similar to it in the same area, i.e. Romance, Westerns, Science Fiction etc. However, the central library in Sheffield does use the Dewey Decimal System, because of the sheer size of stock.

Someone asked whether they felt there was a particular demographic they were not reaching, or were actively encouraging. The Learning Centre is a very new library, and as such they have been able to start from scratch. They are much busier than the previous local library in the area, and feel they have attracted a much larger demographic – success! However, a problem they felt was that there is quite a clear divide between different groups of users and the time of day. For example, during the day they get many adults in the library, but at 3.05, when the school just across the road lets out, the library is chocker with kids. This is absolutely fantastic, especially getting teenagers in, but it does mean adults are a little put off using the library at this time. The team are working to resolve this issue, though it does seem to be quite a small problem considering the successes they’ve had, in my opinion.

Ok, I really should stop there, or else I’ll be gushing about libraries and ‘dishy Daryl’ for weeks. I really enjoyed these visits, and they reminded me a lot of the visits on the traineeship at Oxford. I was particularly flattered that such senior members of the service came to meet us and discuss all things public libraries.