Back to School reflection: What I did on my holiday

After a good amount of time off work over the summer holidays, I am happy (if a bit nervous!) to be returning to the school library tomorrow. I had a lot of plans for when I was off, and some of them I completed, some of them I at least started, and many of them I didn’t get around to. Either way, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the summer before the new school year washes all of it into oblivion.

School’s out for the students

The students finished their school year on Friday 9th of July, but I still had a lot to complete so I spent the following two weeks in the library most days working on four main tasks.

Firstly, I shelved almost all of the books and music that had been building on the Covid quarantine shelves. That was quite a lot of work, seeing as so much music was returned last-minute, and I’m still getting used to the layout of the chamber music library (where we have shelves and shelves of parts in brown envelopes). Full disclosure, there are a couple of items that have been left so that I can ask my ever-helpful evening staff where the music should go!

I catalogued and processed a huge pile of music. We had received a fantastic donation of beautifully bound full and miniature scores from a member of the public. They are in such good condition that I have decided to add all of them to the library stock (replacing tatty copies where possible), but with probably over a hundred items in total, getting through it all is quite a task. I made a dent, but never fear, there’s still plenty of cataloguing waiting for my return tomorrow!

I also did my best to spend the remaining library budget, having been advised if I don’t spend it I lose it. The students can look forward to a few more books, some replacement music for lost copies, and eight lovely new pairs of headphones – enough for every library computer. I don’t know where the previous pairs kept disappearing to, but I think it might be worth creating a headphone sign-out sheet, to make sure these new ones are always returned.

My biggest challenge in the weeks leading up to the end of term, and the two following weeks where I was in the library on my own, was creating lists of all of the music that was still out to school leavers and would need to be tracked down. This task was particularly difficult because, despite being a music school where ensemble music is in high demand, the library system software we use cannot track multiple borrowers. This means that every set of music is only ever out on one borrower’s account (regardless of how many parts there are). Although we try to keep a manual record of who has which part, with over a thousand outstanding items at the end of term, going through every single envelope to notify students of their unreturned music was a huge job – and certainly not one I want to have to do every single summer. I only just managed to get it all completed in time to send out final warning emails to all the students before I left for Scotland, but I’m going to have to work out a better system for future years, or I might have a nervous breakdown!

Four crates full of brown envelopes
All of the empty envelopes still waiting for parts to be returned to them!

Visiting my parents!

After all that stress, I was super excited to travel back to Scotland to visit my parents for a few weeks. It was so nice to see them again, and my sister, Jenny, was there too for part of my trip. On my first night, Jenny introduced me to the anime Assassination Classroom, which is about a group of school students trying to assassinate their evil yet adorable teacher: a betentacled alien that plans to destroy the world if his students don’t kill him first. It’s surprisingly good.

The weather was gorgeous every single day of my visit, so we did a lot of outdoor activities. One day we walked along the beach for a forest/water walk in Greenock and ate ice-cream and another day we went to a market in Helensburgh where we listened to Glaswegian busker Maryjane singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen (in the middle of a heatwave). My dad and I went for a 50km cycle along the River Clyde, which was super fun but also extremely tiring, and at one point I fell off my bike. Although I’m pretty sure I hated everything and everyone by the end of it, it was great to cycle with my dad again and we both really enjoyed it.

On another beautiful day we visited my aunt and uncle in Stirling where we walked around the King’s Knot and learned the story of the Stirling Wolf. Apparently, during a Viking raid, one of the raiders accidentally stepped on a wolf causing it to howl out and wake the sleeping Anglo-Saxon garrison. This gave the garrison time to prepare for the invasion and force the Vikings to retreat. And now the howling wolf emblem can be seen all over Stirling. How bizarre is that?!

What is property? Property is stress!

After my visit to my parents, I still had three weeks left of summer holiday, and in this time Calum and I wanted to make some headway into buying our first home. Calum took a week off work, so we set up a meeting with a mortgage broker and started looking at properties. In total, I was able to arrange eleven viewings although five of them cancelled on me before the viewing could take place. Calum and I attended three of the remaining viewings together, and I attended three on my own because Calum had to go back to work. Although it was quite frustrating and extremely stressful, there were still some good parts. On one extremely wet day, after a viewing, Calum and I visited Worsely Village, where we walked around the Tudor-style streets and along the canal in the rain. There were even some cute metal ducks!

Even with the support of my parents (who were great at sending me suitable houses that I might have missed), and Calum (who did everything he could while also working full time) and the mortgage broker (who’s invaluable advice was fantastic help), I found the entire process really grim. I looked at house websites for hours ever morning, calling up estate agents to try to arrange viewings only to be told the houses were already under offer, or they were no longer accepting viewings. Not to mention the palaver navigating the disgustingly stupid system of Freehold vs Leasehold housing (don’t even get me started).

But eventually, less than a week ago, we got an offer accepted. Hooray! It’s a nice house, in a pretty area, and well within our budget, which is fantastic. We will probably need to do some work on the bathroom, because for some reason quite a few houses in Manchester (including this one) have a toilet with no sink next door to the bathroom with the sink in it. This feels very disgusting to us, and we’ll need to get that changed, but otherwise the house is great. It has a lovely shed for our bikes, and a nice big living room, a pretty kitchen and a utility room where we can put our washer/dryer and install our first dishwasher (such luxury!). There are also two relatively big bedrooms. Calum’s has a wee cubby area where he will be able to set up his workspace, since he is planning to work from home more often, and mine has a huge built-in wardrobe and a cosy alcove where I think I’ll be able to fit my bed.

So that’s pretty exciting, and all we need to do now is meet with our mortgage broker again, set up our solicitor, get a survey from our mortgage provider and a homebuyer’s report, exchange contracts and keys, get a new bathroom, move all our stuff across to the new house, and move in. Easy-peasy.

SLA ‘New To School Libraries’ Webinar

Earlier this month, I attended an online webinar for new school librarians, hosted by the School Libraries Association (SLA). On the whole, I think it was pretty useful: it gave me cool ideas for how to use social media to promote the library; info on the different kinds of documents (policies, reports and plans) that a school library should have; suggestions for clubs and events the school library could run (I quite liked the sound of a graphic novels club); information on arranging the library layout (display spinners are your friend!); and advice on eBook providers, unions, stock weeding, and using book and publisher fairs to pick up library goodies like bookmarks and posters. But the flashiest idea I’ve worked into my library so far was inspired by a demonstration of how to make short showcase videos to let students and staff know what items the library has in its collection.

As a specialist music school, Chetham’s has a lot of international boarders and so the school celebrates Chinese New Year. About a month ago we were asked to see if we could do anything to contribute to the celebration, so I picked out a few China-themed books, with the intention of making a library display. However, since most of the students are studying from home at the moment, and haven’t seen the Burns display yet, I decided to instead make a video showcase that they could watch on Twitter. The webinar presenter suggested using the free software Animoto, but I used Movavi pro, which I already owned and which up to now I had mostly been using to make fan music videos for the Cats (1998) musical. Click on that link at your own risk(!).

We had plenty of relevant non-fiction books, but I was a little surprised by how few fiction books I could find set in or about China, or even just featuring Chinese characters. I think my difficulty can partly be attributed to my still being pretty unfamiliar with the library stock and partly to the shallow descriptions in our library catalogue entries (which I am slowly working to improve), so I am sure that I missed some potentially suitable items. But I still found it odd that the collection was so sparce, especially seeing as the school does have quite a lot of Chinese students.

I was doing a fiction shop anyway, because Scholastic had a sale of 10 My Story books for £6.99 (what a bargain, amirite?), so I purchased a few books to boost the China collection, including a very nice picture book about the Chinese Zodiac story. I added them to the Chinese-themed books, music and DVD that I had already set aside, and took photos of them dotted around the stacks. I then edited the photos into a slideshow with public domain music. I downloaded a Chinese New Year resource pack to make the video fancier and more coherent. I even edited the music a little because I only realised after I’d already created the jump-cut section with the non-fiction books that there should probably be some kind of introduction.

Overall, I’d say for my first library video the showcase worked out okay, and I had fun making it. It took roughly the same amount of time to create as a physical library display would, and it was more likely to be seen and enjoyed – particularly during the current lockdown. It received a fair amount of engagement, including some likes from teachers and students, which made me very happy. Although I probably won’t be creating videos a lot, they are a good tool to have in my kit to make everyone aware of the stock we carry. And I’m pretty excited to see what else I can do with them!

A Man[chester]’s a Man[chester] for a’ that

Earlier this week it was Burns Night – the first one Calum and I didn’t celebrate in Scotland. Manchester is only a 4-hour drive from my parents’ house in Glasgow but, I think like a lot of distances during the current pandemic, it sometimes feels a lot further. Don’t get me wrong, I am super grateful and happy to have my current head librarian role at Chetham’s School of Music – the kids are great, the staff is lovely, the work is fun and I’m in the very enviable position of having a permanent position in my dream job before I hit thirty.

But I miss Edinburgh. I miss my family and friends. I miss the comfort provided by first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s open explanations and conscientious decision-making. I miss uncrowded streets and parks, and generally better Covid compliance. I miss prevalent recycling bins and a proper pelican crossing system and standard bus fares that you can just contactless tap without needing to tell the driver where you’re going. I miss the security of knowing that most people around me will be anti-Brexit and have left-wing politics. I miss proper cycle lanes and conscientious drivers and being half an hour walk from the beach.

Nonetheless, Manchester has its good points. People are generally more friendly and helpful. We deliberately chose to live in Prestwich, which has a whole network of parks. And I did find what might be a cycle path the other day. The trams are fantastic and punctual. It has all sorts of Communist history (Calum and I went to see a statue of Engels’ Beard over the Christmas break, and the public library next door to my school has ties to Karl Marx). I’ve met lots of people in Manchester who are pretty left wing and anti-Brexit (and Manchester does have a Labour mayor) so I’m probably being a bit over-cautious about Mancunian politics. And, most importantly, it’s where Chetham’s School of Music is situated, and I’m super loving working there!

Although there were no Ceilidhs or parties with friends or public events, Calum and I decided to celebrate Burns Night anyway. I was working that day, so I wore my tartan pinafore, and I’d made a library display celebrating Burns Night. I lined the bookshelves with tartan fabric, and I used some of the remaining fabric along with some pipe cleaners and coloured tissue paper to make a highland dancer and thistles. I was surprised that the school library didn’t have any Burns poetry, so my mum donated one of her copies to the school, and in the same package she sent me her haggis piggybank that I put on the display as well. The lockdown has meant there aren’t many kids in the school right now, but I have still received three compliments on the display so far – which made me very happy.

When I got home from work Calum was wearing a suit and his tartan bowtie. We had haggis, neeps & tatties ready meals for dinner, and listened to Celidh music on Spotify while we waited for the microwave. We also danced a little – although neither of us could remember many of the steps. For dessert we made cranachan by layering Muesli, double cream, raspberries, and honey – Calum’s was prettier than mine, but they both tasted good.

Calum’s was way fancier than mine…

After dinner we browsed the internet for video games set in Scotland. I was excited (if a little bemused) to discover that there were three different video games based on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds (one set in Glasgow). Like, not merely the H. G. Wells book, but the 1978, synth-heavy, prog-rock opera concept album of the book. There’s a ZX Spectrum survival game, a real-time strategy game for PCs, and a vehicular combat third-person shooter for Playstation! Isn’t that utterly delightful? Don’t you feel the world is a little bit awesomer just knowing that these three separate, entirely different games exist?!

For some ungodly reason, none of these games were available to buy on Steam, so we watched the Disney Pixar Movie Brave instead. We’d both seen it before a few times, but it holds up to repeat viewing – I particularly enjoyed the mischievous baby princes, the cute will-o’-wisps, the crazy bear carpenter lady, and Patrick Doyle’s atmospheric score (although I do have to wonder why none of the characters sing – isn’t this supposed to be a princess movie, Disney?).

Overall, I enjoyed our Mancunian, indoors Burn’s Night (and day). It was quiet and a bit haphazard, but it was fun and reminded me of home. I am looking forward to being able to attend Ceilidhs again, though.

…Wait. Does Manchester even have Ceilidhs?!

[*Quick Google Search*.]

Turns out: yep!

You can’t really see it very well, but we’re both wearing dark tartan.

Kirsty Morgan Music in sunny Manchester, outside Chetham's School of Music

Guess who’s the new librarian at Chetham’s School of Music?

Hey, guess who’s moving to England! Spoiler alert: it’s me! I’m going to be the new librarian (well, “Head of Learning Resources”) at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. And I’m super looking forward to it. Okay, sure, I’m a bit nervous, but I’m mostly excited. It will be a chance to combine my enjoyment of music librarianship with a person-facing role, which I think will be great.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve very much enjoyed working at the National Library on their Music Retroconversion Project. I’ve learned so much about music librarianship and cataloguing and libraries. And it’s been fun to work on a project that has a definite endpoint and final product. I was also given the opportunity to write three blog posts about the project for the National Library’s Blog – which was really cool. However, I did miss getting to interact with library patrons – they make every day different and I like helping people find what they’re looking for.

Moreover, working in a music school library has kinda been a background totally-never-gonna-happen-fantasy dream for me since university.

Tag Cloud Schema

When I was studying my ILS Masters at the University of Strathclyde, we were assigned to create “schema” (i.e. different models of organising knowledge) for a set of 10 items. I chose a collection of showtunes for solo voice with piano accompaniment, and arranged them in ways that would best suit a hypothetical Musical Theatre School Library. It was one of my favourite assignments because, aside from the obvious perk of working with showtunes for uni credits, I found it really interesting to think about what information would be needed by the school pupils if they were looking for audition pieces. I enjoyed the problem solving aspect of arranging my schemas to suit that. Things like key, range, time-signature, tempo, voice type, number of bars, etc. didn’t obviously fit into the standard bibliographic categories, so I chose models that gave me the freedom to customise.

This was the first spark that made me think it would be really cool to work in a music school library, but I didn’t seriously think that could happen, since there are very few such jobs in the country. Therefore, imagine my delight when JUST as my National Library contract was coming to an end, the position at Chetham’s School of Music was advertised!

Chetham’s Library

So, obviously I applied and was pleased when I progressed to the interview stage. I travelled to Manchester by train for the interview, and it was my first visit to Manchester ever. I was so excited. I went down the day before and stayed at a nearby Travelodge. That evening I had a sausage supper from the local chip shop, and the staff there were super friendly and wished me luck for my interview. I completed the interview while wearing a mask (which was definitely an experience). And the people at Chetham’s were all very lovely and the school was this really pretty castle-like building in the centre of Manchester. What’s more, the school shares a site with Chetham’s Library, the oldest free public reference library in the English-speaking world. I didn’t get the opportunity to visit it because it’s currently closed, but I will at some point because it looks just like something out of a fantasy story. I’m sure there’s all kinds of magical tomes and cursed writings and probably a ghost or ten hiding among the stacks!

Anyway, shortish story shorter, the people at Chetham’s School liked me and offered me the position and I start in November! How utterly, awesomely, amazingly super is that?!! Yay!