Lessons from a Wee Visit to a Scottish Library

Main building

The University of Glasgow, photo taken by Chris Eaker

Earlier this week, Joanna wrote about her experience at a small library in Florence, Italy. Last week, my wife and I travelled to Scotland. Our home base was Glasgow, but we made day trips to other places, such as the Isle of Skye, Oban, Inverness, and Edinburgh. Scotland is a beautiful country in both its landscape and the friendliness of its people. And Glasgow is a working city, not a tourist city like Edinburgh, so it’s unpretentious and fun. For the most part, it was a vacation, but it also served to strengthen my library and information science education.

Ever since I decided to enter an LIS graduate program, my wife and I have visited university libraries everywhere we travel. We’ve been to libraries all across this country from South Carolina to Kansas to California. So when we decided to go to Scotland, we said, “It wouldn’t be a vacation if we didn’t visit a university library.” So we ended up visiting the University of Glasgow library. The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451. It amazes me to hear that since our country wouldn’t even be founded for over 300 years after this library was started. It was a beautiful campus buzzing with students — all holding umbrellas to keep dry in Glasgow’s notoriously wet weather. The most educational part of visiting Glasgow’s library was seeing its classification system. As we explored the stacks, I didn’t recognize the classification system. It was one or two letters followed by three or four numbers, plus a Cutter number. It looked like the Library of Congress Classification system, but I thought that was unlikely. I knew it wasn’t LCC when I realized the letters spanned the alphabet even within one topic, such as music. So I inquired at the circulation desk. The student working the desk didn’t know, so she asked someone else. That person didn’t know, so they both asked a third person. Finally, someone figured it out — it’s a customized, home grown classification system for just that library. I knew that libraries had home grown classification systems a long time ago, but didn’t know it still happened. It was interesting to see and get outside of my Library of Congress/Dewey Decimal world here in the states.

Eilean Donan Castle

Another thing I have always tried to do when I visit other universities is make contact with someone there who is doing data curation and try to set up a meeting with them to learn what they’re doing at their library. I did the same thing in Glasgow, but instead of meeting with someone within the library, I met with some people from the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), a partnership among the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Bath. Here in the states, if you’re into data curation, you read many of the publications put out by the DCC, which are extensive and comprehensive. We develop a perception that they are way ahead of us in the UK regarding data curation. But in talking to the DCC representatives, it became clear that while the DCC is publishing lots of guidance documents, the data curation landscape is not much different than here in the US. Researchers and libraries are still trying to wrap their heads around what it all means. They said they think the US is ahead of the UK in offering services to researchers on university campuses. They said in the UK, they are just beginning to engage the university stakeholders in developing services. It was encouraging to see that we aren’t far behind, after all.

The lessons I took away from these meetings and encounters are two-fold:

  1. Everyone is experiencing the same challenges, but are working through them slightly differently. There is much room for international collaboration.
  2. The way we do things here isn’t the only way, or even the best way, but is a different way.

What experiences have you had that opened your mind within your library and information science education?

2 replies

  1. Cool to read about the classification system of the GU lib. I’ve been studying here for four years now and never realised the system here was unique! It’s always fun to read what people from outside say about your own environment, glad to read your visit to Glasgow was a success!


  2. I also visit libraries when I’m on holiday! I went to Portugal this year and visited the University of Coimbra’s Biblioteca Joanina. It was built in 1717, so really interesting and very different from modern university libraries.

    The University of Leeds is another library with its own classification system. I used to work there and found it really easy to use – items are divided into subjects (so English, Modern History, Civil Engineering, etc) and then further classified using letters from A-Z and numbers. As part of my traineeship there I got to create my own classification for a new section on study skills, which I found really interesting.

    As Leeds was the first library I worked in, I now find I can’t get along with Dewey as it seems like too many numbers!


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