British vs American Driving – Part 1

I am preparing for the British driving test, or as I’m referring to it now, The Test. If you get the sense that it should be feared, well you wouldn’t be far off the mark. I learned how to drive over 10 years ago in the US. I completed a two-week driver’s ed course and passed my test in Louisiana. However since I am not a Commonwealth citizen, I have to take the British driving test because I’ve been here longer than a year. The Test entails, I’m told, a minimum of twenty driving lessons with a driving instructor to prepare, a theory test, a hazard perception test and the practical driving test. I reckon the whole endeavour of The Test will cost several hundred pounds depending on how many lessons I take. The Test (particularly the practical test) is so difficult that a lot of people never bother learning to drive or fail it multiple times. Getting your driving license is a rite of passage in America so it’s very unusual to meet adults here who can’t drive. However the public transport system is so good you can get away with it.


Needless to say I’m not thrilled at going through this rigmarole, but it has had its funny moments. Mostly at the expense of the highly-regulated, jargon-laden, handholding apparatus that is the UK Highway Code. But before we go on a tour of that, first some general principles of British driving I’ve observed and/or been enlightened to by British people.

First, in the UK, as many of you know, they drive on the left – the opposite of continental Europe and pretty much every other country on the planet.[1] When discussing this with British folks, they – on principle – do not refer to countries who drive on the other side as driving “on the right” but as driving “on the wrong side”. I think there are historical reasons for the arrangement based on fighting on horseback, but I daresay that the majority of us will take being told we’re “wrong” in good spirit…

Second, people who drive automatic transmission cars are generally considered second-class citizens / sissies / loaded. I have witnessed many an instance of ribbing, teasing, skepticism and disbelief of automatic cars. Well that’s merely anecdotal evidence, you say, but actually, this phenomenon is all formalised (perpetuated?) in the licensing system.[2] If you pass your driving test in an automatic, you can then only drive an automatic. If you pass your test in a manual, you can then drive both a manual and an automatic. I know it makes sense, but honestly I don’t see what the fuss is all about. In the States you get your licence and can drive whatever car you like and you probably wouldn’t drive a manual if you didn’t know how. Automatics for the record now get better full economy than manuals.[3] The only real downside is that they are more expensive to buy in the UK (hence people who drive them being loaded).

Not really sure what's going on here. Roundabout in Swindon UK.

Not really sure what’s going on here – mini roundabouts plus a roundabout?? This is in Swindon UK. Credit- ‘Roundabout’ by born1945, Flickr CC-A license.

Third, roundabouts. There are lots of roundabouts. Traffic goes around them clockwise and I am still working out how the multi-lane ones work. British folks without fail will sing the praises of roundabouts and cannot believe it when I say that there were only two in a city I used to live in (Jackson, MS). Well one, because the other one was technically in another county.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone – don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness and all that. The next post will be a tour of the Highway Code and comparable American driving customs.

[1] There are quite a few who do drive on the left but I got to 75 or so before realising that this list separately lists states and territories (e.g. Wales, Jersey, Scotland, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland) which are actually all part of the United Kingdom (which is also listed). Countries who do drive on the left are mainly former colonies of the British Empire, such as India.

[2] Driving an automatic only is termed a “restriction” on your license, cf. and

[3] According to my husband who did his PhD on car engines.

Library School – Collection Management

This is the second of two posts covering the modules I completed in Semester 2 (Spring 2015) of library school. The first was on the Organising Knowledge module. Here is my general post about the librarianship course.

Collection management is considered a core skill in the librarian toolbox and encompasses developing and maintaining collections (physical and digital), understanding your users and their needs, the actual selection, acquisition and processing of the items, and the promotion and evaluation of your collections. I enjoyed this module because it addressed the classic principles of collection management and also wrestled with tough/emerging issues in the field such as censorship, the hybrid library and preservation of electronic material.

The format of the module was similar to others where we had course workbooks to work through, discussion board posts and readings in the set textbook, Collection Development in the Digital Age (2012) edited by Maggie Fieldhouse and Audrey Marshall.

The book was on the whole very good. The chapter on outsourcing (D. Edmonds ‘Outsourcing in public libraries: placing colleciton management in the hands of a stranger’, pp. 125-136) and subsequent discussion board posts were thought provoking. The chapter addressed the growing trend of outsourcing collection development in public libraries.  Instead of library staff selecting, processing etc. new stock, this process is outsourced to save money. The arguments against outsourcing mainly centre on loss of local input in the stock selection process and homogenisation of stock across the country. In other words the concern is that outsourcing does not address local needs and that suppliers tend to choose only bestsellers with wide appeal rather than niche or local interest books. The entire chapter was very defensive, positioning itself from the vantage point of protecting a ‘core professional activity’ and described collections as the ‘heart of the library’. When collection-centric attitudes such as this continue to be held, I get seriously concerned for the future of libraries. Considering the severe cuts in public funding, perhaps it’s time to embrace some change and the chapter actually presents good evidence for the efficiencies and savings that can be made by outsourcing. Anyway off my soap box…


Hybrid libraries = print and digital collections. Credit: ‘Kindle and a book’, by Mobil Yazilar. Flickr CC-A.

Hybrid libraries were another hot topic we discussed. ‘Hybrid library’ is the the term used to describe the middle ground we currently occupy between the print, hard copy environment of the past and the potential for library collections of the future to be totally electronic or digital. Hybrid libraries have both print and digital collections. In the music library, this is definitely the rule, as printed sheet music is still preferred by musicians over the current options for electronic music scores (e.g. digital music stands). A university library in Texas made headlines a few years ago as one of the first libraries with no physical collections (it’s all online). This however is still by and large the exception rather than the rule. The module underlined the conclusion that collection management is undergoing many changes as libraries shift their focus from being places to access stuff to places to learn. It will be interesting to revisit this topic in even 10 years’ time.

A quick word about the assignments. We completed a resource guide (bibliography) and report that addressed all aspects of collection management. I also included a Pinterest board as part of my resource guide, as it’s a good virtual browsing tool if you also include links back to your catalogue. We also had to submit a PowerPoint presentation that basically summarised the report, with the idea of it being something you’d use to persuade managers to develop your collection.

Library School – Organising Knowledge

I’ll be writing two posts continuing in the library school module recap vein. They will cover the modules I completed in Semester 2 (Spring 2015). Here is my general post about the librarianship course.

Organising Knowledge is the first module in the lineup. This was not one of my favourites, but it was redeemed by the assignments as usual. They were well thought out and offered a lot of latitude in pursuing a topic that was of interest to me or relevant for work.

The course content covered ground that had been done in other modules, so that felt a bit same-y. However looking at information behaviour again was helpful as a prelude to studying information retrieval. Having done a postgraduate degree already, I found some of the information retrieval section old news. We covered citation styles, how to evaluate sources and completed several searches on online databases. However it was good to think critically about the systems themselves, i.e. how is the database structured? What are the search facilities available? The longest chunk of the module was on organising knowledge and covered indexes and catalogues…and I actually have yet to finish that section because I had to abandon it in order to complete the assignments!


Database Diagram FAIL by Tony Buser. Flickr CC license.

The assignments were very helpfully spaced out with one due in the middle of the semester and the second one due at the end. The first assignment was a bibliography on a topic of our choice and also an analytical report. I did mine on jazz resources since this is relevant to my work. I found this assignment very counterintuitive because I could easily find a multitude of sources but the point of the work was to demonstrate your facility with searching strategies. The goal was not the sources themselves but rather how you got to the sources. So instead of finding material in my usual manner, I had to self consciously use various search techniques (Boolean logic, browsing, chaining, etc.) to show my capabilities which I guess was a good thing to push my boundaries. I also got to explore some new databases such as Zetoc and Times Digital Archive and I enjoyed researching the literature on searching and information behaviour to support my discussion.

The second assignment was an essay addressing a challenge facing information storage and retrieval and how this is being addressed. This was a research-driven assignment and I chose information literacy since it’s an area I’m interested in. People are doing interesting research in this area and there are many good solutions to try out when addressing challenges mainly relating to finding and using information in an academic/university context (the rest of us are apparently content to just muddle through the first few hits on Google). For example a study by OCLC (1) found that users overwhelmingly tend to start their information search on a search engine like Google rather than the library website and rely on common sense to evaluate websites. Clearly libraries can play a role here in educating users in an a university on the why and how to critically evaluate sources, not to mention how to find the results you need beyond simple keyword searching. This whole topic was fascinating, I’d recommend the research on the ‘Google Generation’ by Rowlands et. al (2008, 2011) and also Assessing information needs in the age of the digital consumer (2009) by Nicholas and Herman.

One final thing, the set textbook was Introduction to modern information retrieval (3rd edition, 2010) by G.G. Chowdhury. It was very scholarly but some of the content seemed out of date, especially considering it was updated in 2010. We covered CD-ROM databases (anybody remember Encarta??) among other things that I didn’t know were still around. Despite needing some updating, this book is a comprehensive reference book for the subject.

(1) OCLC (2011) Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community A Report to the OCLC Membership. Available at: (Accessed: 19 May 2015).