Monthly Archives: April 2013

Academic and Research Libraries Group visit

A post by Sarah Wolfenden and Katie Flanagan.

On 18th April, we welcomed members from one of the CILIP special interest groups: the Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG) London and South East Division, who travelled all the way up the Metropolitan line to have a tour around Brunel University Library with Sarah Wolfenden and to hear Katie Flanagan talk about the Special Collections. One of them had already spent the morning getting acquainted with the Brunel Library Inter Library Loans system and she’d had such a good time that she’d come back for more!

The visit started off with a tour around the Library with Sarah, the Subject Liaison Librarian for the School of Social Sciences. They were particularly interested in how our reservation system works as well as really liking the idea of the Pod on the ground floor, where students can make enquiries, with one person stating “it looks like you’re offering a really special service to the students”. The group visited the various floors of the Library, trying out the various QR codes dotted about to sounds of “ooh, isn’t that useful”!

ARLG visit

After half an hour or so, we made our way to the Research Commons to meet Katie and see her in action. She discussed in detail the collections, the work needed to look after them, how she promotes them both internally and externally and showed us all some of the materials used to package them. We also got to see some of the variety of the collections, (including a chair!), various examples of signage and the downsides of using staplers – if you don’t know, why not pay a visit to the third floor to find out? The visitors asked lots of questions, and we were able to highlight our use of LibAnswers for enquiries. At least one of them will be going back to their manager to try and implement it at their workplace.

The feedback from the group was all positive and comments mentioned that they had learned new things about promotion, about managing reading rooms and had improved their knowledge of Special Collections in general. All in all – a good afternoon was had.

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Writing back – local women writers take inspiration from the archive

A guest post by Emma Filtness.

I have spent many happy hours over the past three years absorbed in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, amused, moved, shocked and entertained by the life stories of a select few of the women contained within. Dr Claire Lynch introduced me to the archive, which has since come to form an integral part of my Creative Writing PhD, so when Claire emailed me about a project that involved a combination of rooting around in yet another special collection and creative writing, I was more than a little intrigued.

Brunel University Library’s Special Collections is currently the home of SALIDAA, the South Asian Diaspora Literature and Arts Archive. SALIDAA was awarded lottery funding to run a heritage project, ‘Mummyji’, which would consist of a range of local activities including workshops in schools, author talks, readings and events in libraries in and around Slough, plus a series of women’s community creative writing workshops. These writing workshops were to be run by Brunel in collaboration with SALIDAA, and they were looking for volunteers to run the sessions.

The idea was to recreate and update the original Asian Women Writers Collective (AWWC) – sorry about all the acronyms – by providing local women of South Asian heritage, or women with a link to or interest in South Asian culture, with a place to meet and write and share their work-in-progress, with the aim of producing work of publishable standard for an edited collection.

Myself and two other women writers ran eight workshops in total, beginning with an introductory session early February and ending with a reading party at the end of March, where each woman shared her “best” piece of work aloud to the group. The six sessions in between we split between us. Shaheen Hashmat ran two lovely sessions in which the women took trips down memory lane and explored their childhoods and family homes, among other things, in their writing. The final two sessions before the reading party were led by Anujit Kaur, who did some crucial work on editing and polishing work for submission for possible publication.

Emma teaching the group

The middle two sessions were mine. For the first of these, I led the women up to the Research Commons and Special Collections where SALIDAA resides, where we met with Katie Flanagan, Special Collections Librarian, who gave the women a crash course in handling and working with archive materials. I showed the women some examples of the creative writing myself and other colleagues had produced in response to the Burnett Archive, to give them an idea of what was possible. I had developed a lesson plan of sorts, with some tips and advice on how to find inspiration in the archive and how to translate your observations and responses to the archive materials into written creative outputs.

The women were given time to explore the archive, with the focus on the materials of the original AWWC deposited with SALIDAA. They were encouraged to take notes (with pencils, of course), write down words and phrases that jumped out at them or resonated somehow, to take photos of anything particularly visually stimulating, to make a note of any feelings, memories or ideas conjured up by interacting with the materials. We each then took turns sharing what we had found and what had interested us with the group.

For homework, and in preparation for the session the following week, I asked the women to think about what they would like to write about in response to their tactile session with SALIDAA. We began the following session back in our workshop circle, with each woman announcing what she was going to write (poem, short story, autobiography about/inspired by…). The women were then given the majority of the session to draft their written responses to the archive material. This included poetry inspired by words in spider diagrams found in Maya Chowdhry’s beautiful notebooks, stories inspired by photographic stills of a play production, self-reflective pieces of non-fiction exploring a theme or idea and much more.

Maya Chowdhry’s notebook

For those who were a little stuck, I recommended that they write a story, poem or personal response inspired by a list of interesting words and phrases I ‘borrowed’ from Maya’s notebooks:

  • Grieving
  • Secret – lie – tell – reveal
  • Good hurt
  • I think I’d like to live in the past
  • To seal the heart is to be a man
  • Impulse, innocence, uninhibited
  • Desire beyond identity
  • Dancing/movement
  • Tell stories

Towards the close of the session, some of the women shared snippets of their newly-created poetry and prose, and some gave constructive feedback: “I really like your use of repetition of…”, “perhaps if you make it clearer at the beginning that…” but most just offered smiles and encouragement. The women are now preparing to submit their work at the end of the month, when it will be considered for inclusion in an anthology (watch this space).

Preserving community heritage and culture

Recently two community groups from Slough visited us in Special Collections. They were here specifically to find out more about preserving their heritage and culture for future generations of their families, as well as researchers. For many members of the groups it was their first visit to a university library or art gallery.

We started off by looking at the variety of collections housed here at Brunel. This includes the more obvious book and manuscript material, but also posters and other ephemera from the Transport History Collection, as well as the occasional piece of furniture, and even a costume worn by Ram Gopal from the SALIDAA collection.

Showing off one of our railway posters.

Showing off one of our railway posters, with a chair from the same collection also on display.

One of the groups looking at some of our railway posters

Looking at items from the Transport History Collection

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Looking at the materials that make up a book.

                                                                    Once we’d looked at the variety of items in the collections, we discussed how best to care for them so that future generations will be able to see them too. This included talking about how paper is made and how this affects how well it has survived, how to handle books and manuscripts to avoid causing more damage to them and safe ways of packaging items to keep deterioration to a minimum.

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Demonstrating the use of Melinex sleeves in preservation

We also talked about how the items are used in research, why people might want to use them and what to do to arrange a visit to a special collections library or archive.

Finally, both visits ended with a trip to the Beldam Gallery, part of Brunel University, where the participants enjoyed an introduction to the current exhibition, Suspense,  from the University Curator, George Mogg, followed by a well-earned cup of tea in the Eastern Gateway building.

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George Mogg introducing the Beldam Gallery exhibition