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Central Saint Martins

Alex Duncan

Assistant Academic Support Librarian
Central Saint Martins
Person Type
Alex  Duncan



What’s your background?

I come from a Humanities background- my BA was in Theology at the University of Nottingham.
From a young age I knew I wanted to be a Librarian, so after university I spent a year as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. After work there, I came to CSM as a Collection Development Library Assistant, only initially intending to stay for a year to save money to study abroad. I found I enjoyed working in an art library so much that I never managed to leave, or go back into Law Librarianship like I’d planned.

To make the most of the opportunity, I decided to study my MA in Information and Library Management part-time. Four years after arriving here as a Library Assistant I finished my MA and qualified as a Librarian. I was incredibly lucky that a Subject Librarian position here came up just at the right time, and even luckier that it specialised in my favourite areas of the collection: Fashion and Textiles. I’m now in my third year as the Fashion and Textiles Librarian here at CSM. The main focus of my job involves working closely with the Fashion and Textiles courses but I also work a lot across the collections. I do a lot of collection development work in general as to me the collections are at the heart of any library.

What’s your typical day?

In a typical day as a Subject Librarian I would spend some time selecting new books in my subject areas. I also might have Information Skills sessions  to plan or deliver (where I teach students to research using our resources.) I might also be working on the subject guides for Fashion or Textiles; these are new online guides for all disciplines which we’ve collaborated on with Subject Librarians across UAL.

However, all Subject Librarians here wear many hats, so on any given day I would also be spending time on the Information Desk, devising or working on special library projects, or trying to put as many books in order on trolleys as I can. I also help manage the shelving staff, so I spend a fair bit of time wrestling with shelving administration. And emails of course! I spend a lot of time receiving and sending emails...

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Book shopping. I love that someone is willing to pay me to buy books and I love the way we build our collections at CSM; for us it’s about pushing all the boundaries, not just sticking to the standard texts. We’ve always had a collection policy at CSM that favours breadth of collections rather than multiple copies. It’s great because it gives you more of a chance to experiment and push yourself to explore your subject areas.

What advice would you give to students about using the Collections in the Library?

Sometimes students get very engrossed in their own subject areas, so they might get to know the collections within their subject reasonably well, but don’t always take advantage of the variety of subjects we cover. We have an incredibly varied collection, including lots of very obscure sample magazine titles that we go out and actually buy from shops. It’s so worthwhile for students not only to research across disciplines, as it’s in-fitting with the ethos of the college, but also to take their research beyond the walls of the library. My advice? Be curious.

Who’s your favourite artist/designer etc?

I’m a big fan of Salgado for photography, I especially like the fact he’s a constant source of inspiration for the Fashion students when they’re researching  a subject like workwear. My favourite fashion designer is McQueen. He was just an exceptional artist. One of my favourite items in the library is the Visionaire McQueen tribute issue, it’s a collection of striking images on loose paper pages embedded with wildflower seeds.

What other fashion themed special collections does the library hold?

Aside from our extensive Visionaire collection we also hold VHS/DVD copies of every CSM Fashion Graduate Show since 1979, and of course we have the Materials Library - a tactile collection of samples available for students to browse and get inspiration from.

What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had?

Back in the days of Charing Cross I was once asked, by an elderly and extremely polite Fine Art student, if I could explain to him how people took crack. It transpired that it was genuine research for a painting in which he wanted the subject to be using crack but wasn’t sure if it should be smoked and if so in which apparatus. Needless to say that was one of the few requests I haven’t been able to help with.

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