Thursday, April 19, 2012

Your Voice - What is the Best Part of Working in a Library?

M. Johnson, Branch Librarian, Children, Teens, and Family at Crowfoot Library, is a very passionate advocate for public libraries.  She lists the following as the best parts of working at a library:

·         Hearing children laugh

·         Giving nods of encouragement to customers and having them return to the library to tell you that they have been successful i.e. they got the job, improved their health, met new friends….

·         Being witness to the full range of the human condition and human emotions

·         And, educating and encouraging lifelong learning.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Your Voice - What is the Best Part of Working in a Library?

C. Almiron, Reference Assistant at Crowfoot Library, asserts that working at the library is a great job because:

·         You're paid to learn--we take training to use databases, give great storytimes and tours, teach technology courses. Many of these things can be used in our personal lives, not just at home. You also get to do things you never thought you could do. I, for example, never thought I'd do major event planning.

·         You become much more aware of what's going on in your community. Publications like the Calgary HeraldFFWD, and Avenue tend to write about big events. Working at the Library, you become even aware of the cultural organizations and agencies that are running worthwhile programs and events. Most of which are free!

·         What you do actually matters and makes a difference in people's lives. Promoting literacy in all its forms is very rewarding.

·         And, other people think you're lucky to work at a library. There's a perceived charm and romance to certain jobs, like working in a candy store, the zoo, or being a journalist, that might have nothing to do with reality, but people get excited when they hear what you do.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Your Voice - What is the Best Part of Working in a Library?

S. Regnier, Reference Assistant at Crowfoot Public Library

The best part of working at the library is that she gets to learn something new every day through her reference interviews with customers with varying information needs.  She completed a degree in Geography, because she wanted to study the world, and now, in her chosen profession, she is "literally surrounded by the whole world, in books and other sources of information."  In addition, she really appreciates the democratic and open nature of the public library.  In her words, "it is a public library, open to everyone."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Library Tourism – Biblioteca Nacional Jose Marti – Havana, Cuba

Madelaine Vanderwerff

The National Library of Cuba is located across the street from the Plaza de la Revolucion, the administrative centre of Cuba, an expansive public square where in the past over a million Cubans have congregated for rallies and political addresses by Fidel Castro and where one can revel in the towering Jose Marti Monument and the behemoth iron image of Che Guevara that dominates the side of the Ministry of the Interior Building.   It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Havana and I had made the assumption that since the library was in such close proximity to such a popular tourist area it would be easy for me to go inside and take a tour.  After all, it was on my “to-do” list. 

When we entered the library we had discovered that the elevators and most of the floors open to the public were under renovation and they were not doing tours or admitting members of the public at that time.  I started to snap pictures of the famous foyer that is often used as an art gallery before my camera was confiscated by a security guard.  As we were pleading to have it returned to us, and perhaps because of the crestfallen and distressed look that I was brandishing, the International Librarian who just happened to be passing by intervened, convincing the guard to return my camera.  He repeated that the library was closed to the public at that time, and as I was about to give up my partner explained that I was a librarian from Canada and just wanted to look around.  A twinkle of comradery appeared in this man’s eyes and he simply said “come with me”. 
Madelaine Vanderwerff

We followed him into a room at the first floor.  The librarian quietly whispered that there was a convocation ceremony taking place and 6 people were receiving what we in Canada would consider a doctorate in Librarianship.  He explained that some of the provincial universities offer special training via the Ministry of Culture and the National School of Library Technicians.  Those who receive doctorates or the degree of licenciado (an equivalent to a Bachelors degree in Library and Information Science) do so through extensive research and training through the National Library.  What we were witnessing was something rare as very few are afforded the opportunity to complete their doctorate in Cuba.  We sat in the back and quietly observed a couple of the elated librarians receive their parchment as their friends and families applauded with pride. 

We were then led to a beautiful spot on the main floor where I was able to ask questions about the collection and the history of the library.  The National Library was initially located at the Royal Force Castle in Old Havana and was founded in 1901 but the decision to move it was brought upon by the issue that the Castle was too close to the water and the event of a natural disaster could ruin the entire collection.   The 17 story building was constructed between 1952 and 1959 and after the Revolution it became an architectural symbol of universal access to information and also became a means to disseminate revolutionary ideals and to serve as a repository of Cuba’s historically significant documents related to history, literature, music and science.  The first 3 floors (are normally) open to the public while the remainder of the library consists of closed stacks that can be accessed by book runners when an item is requested by a patron.   The closed stacks house a significant rare book collection including a 15th century publication printed on Gutenburg’s original printing press, a photo library, a map collection,  a music library, 17th and 20th century engravings,  many sections devoted to Cuban history and folklore,  the Alexander Pushkin Russian Room and an art room.  I asked about the names engraved in the marble on the exterior of the building around the entrance, mistakenly thinking that one of the names read Findley (as in Timothy) but the librarian corrected me an told me that it was Carlos Finlay who was a famous Cuban scientist and that all of the names etched into the building represented names who were thought to have made a significant contribution to education or the arts in Cuba.  He did however say that many foreign authors have donated original drafts and manuscripts of their works to be kept and preserved in their special collection (and the most commonly requested work is of course that of Ernest Hemmingway).  I was curious about what type of work the “international librarian” did and was beginning to assume that he was in charge of touring around foreign visitors and answering their silly questions.  This was not what he did at all, as he was mainly responsible for the international component of their collection, mostly foreign government documents as the library serves as a repository for many divisions of the United Nations (UNESCO, WHO, FAO).   This man was just a genuinely nice guy who wanted to make an unexpected colleague feel welcome!

I had come equipped with a lot of questions, many of them related to commentary by Robert Kent and the Friends of Cuban Libraries who have criticized the American Library Association as well as the Cuban Government and the National Library of Cuba in their role (or lack-there-of) in the persecution of independent librarians in Cuba (To see more about this visit  This is essentially all I knew about Cuban libraries before this visit).   But honestly, once I was there in the beautiful atrium foyer, exchanging professional stories with this kind man who took a half an hour out of his life to play host to me I forgot all about my controversial line of questioning.  This is probably why I never pursued investigative reporting.   And as I am also a government librarian who works primarily with government documents, he surprisingly had more questions for me than I had for him.  Library talk.  As I left I did feel a little pang of jealousy as his library is a beautiful marble clad 50’s retro building surrounded by palm trees and as I write this there is currently a foot of snow outside my library.  And no palm trees.  But since the visit to Jose Marti National Library I have tried to extend the same courtesy to library professionals who venture into my workplace providing tours and attempting to offer similar hospitality that I received that day.   I strongly recommend to anyone who is in Havana to visit the National Library.  To learn more about the Cuban National Library (and to book a guided tour in advance…he had mentioned that the tour for visiting professionals is a bit more in depth and they will pull some neat stuff from the collection for you as well) go here.

By Madelaine Vanderwerff

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oh, the Things You’ll Find When You Dig Into Special Collections

 Photo Credit, breahn, Flickr
I was recently discussing the Thomas Mawson Collection at the Canadian Architectural Archives with a friend. This conversation got me thinking about all the neat special collections and archives around Calgary.

So, here’s a brief - and woefully incomplete list - my favourite local special collections.

Vienna on the Bow

A personal favourite is the collection of drawings by Thomas Mawson, envisioning early Calgary as “Vienna on the Bow”. This is one of several great digital collections presented by the Canadian Architectural Archives.

The story behind this collection is fascinating. Particularly, how these images came to the CAA:
... in 1976, Cary and Louise Lehner, of 629-9thA Street NW in Hillhurst, began renovating their garage. As Cary Lehner tore down the walls, he realized they had old drawings on the inside.
The boards supporting the drawings had been nailed up with the images facing inward and the space filled with wood chips for insulation.

After restoration of the found drawings at the Canadian Conservation Institute, the collection came to the CAA.

Catalogues: More than Fun Fashions from the 1970s

10 years ago, I was able to extensively explore The Glenbow Museum Library’s collections while on a practicum. I discovered all sorts of nifty things in the stacks: newspapers, art catalogues, directories, school books and more!

However, it’s the thousands of sale and trade catalogues, that still stick in my memory. Flipping through department store catalogues to see the changes in fashion across the decades certainly has its appeal - when are zoot suites coming back? - but, what really struck me was the breadth of services, machines and materials available to people living on the Prairies, via mail order.

I wonder if anyone has done a comparative study of early 20th century mail order and 21st century Internet buying?

SAIT and Community History

When you look at the growth and development of SAIT, you’ll also see the growth and development of Calgary. The SAIT Archives holds material detailing the history of Calgary’s oldest post-secondary institution: student newspapers, year books, academic calendars, lots of photographs and more neat stuff.

Among that neat stuff: a photo in a student paper showing Joni Mitchell when she was attend the college and a giant slide rule.

Currently, there is just a small sample of photographs available online from the SAIT Archives. Be sure, however, to watch for an extensive photo archive to be launched early in the new year.

Just One More

The Panda Collection of architectural photographs, also at the CAA, occupies a special place in my memory. I got to work with this collection while doing a Museum Studies practicum a few years ago and loved the photos of mid-twentieth century Canadian buildings and communities.

by Kristian McInnis

Monday, March 12, 2012

Your Voice - What is the best part about working in a library?

Question: What is the best part about working in a library?

The best part about working in a library is that you are able to over-ride your own late fees.

Just kidding.  (Kind of)

I would have to say that my job is awesome because no two work days are the same.  I do a lot of reference desk work so every day brings new clients, new questions and new challenges.  My role at the library encompasses a variety of responsibilities including reference, research, instruction, community outreach, special projects and supervision just to name a few.  But definitely, the most satisfying part about working in a library is when you have helped someone find exactly what they are trying to find and for about 5 minutes you walk around feeling like a superhero.    

- Madelaine Vanderwerff

Monday, March 5, 2012

Health Database Training at SAIT

On November 28th and 29th, Dave Weber and I, librarians from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology delivered training sessions for library staff on the use of the health databases available at  SAIT Library We thought a brief overview of this session would be of interest to the library community.

A common reference assistance issue is finding professional/technical research for students that use popular/consumer terminology when describing their research topic. The example that initially pointed to a need for handling consumer terminology and dedicated staff training was “Chronic Stomach Pain” when the student is really after articles on “acid reflux”. We wanted to provide staff with steps to convert this consumer lingo into the proper medical terminology and then proceed onto searches in the databases for relevant articles.

Our example for the session was a student who comes to the information desk needing help finding articles on “hockey head shots”. Two databases that are open access that can help in clarifying consumer terminology are MedlinePlus ( and PubMed Central Canada ( “Hockey Head Shots” results in no hits on MedLinePlus but gets 10 direct hits in PubMed Central Canada. “Hockey Head Injury” gives you the word concussion in MedLinePlus and using concussion points you in the direction of several relevant hits. 
Quertle ( is a search engine designed to search PubMedCentralCanada. While “Hockey Head Shots” resulted in no hits in Quertle, using different words such as “concussion” and “injury” resulted in relevant results. Quertle was the only database that I have tried that leads you to the proper medical term for acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) when you search for “chronic stomach pain”. 
Based on this example, we have found that PubMed Central Canada, MedLinePlus and Quertle are very useful when converting consumer terminology into medical terms.
For our example, once we had medical terms such as concussion or post-concussion syndrome for the topic of “Hockey Head Shots” we could check the medical term within a medical book of terminology or dictionary. 
By searching “Medical Terminology” in our catalogue, we found a number of physical books in our collection as well as eBooks (call number 610.14). “Medical Dictionary” also in a number of physical and eBook hits. 
From there we encouraged staff to try both the official medical terminology as well as the consumer terminology in our academic health databases.

by Jason Kuffler