MOP (Massively Observed Penguin)

Mass Observation? Sounds fishy to me! But no, it’s not about surveillance, CCTV or Big Brother.

Back in 1937, social research organisation “Mass Observation” called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12th May (the day of George VI’s Coronation). The resulting diaries provided a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and have become an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of the era. The original project was continued until the early 1950’s, with diaries being kept by all kinds of people.

In 1970, the Archive found a new home at the University of Sussex, and was opened up as a public resource for historical research. The Archive holds all the material generated by Mass Observation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s and 1960s. It is now a charitable trust in the care of the University, and is housed at The Keep as part of the University’s Special Collections. In 1981, the original Mass Observation idea was revived by the Archive. Through the press, televison and radio, new volunteer writers or ‘Mass Observation correspondents’ were recruited from all over Britain, and their work continues today.

Mass Observation repeated its annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK this week, on Tuesday 12th May 2015. The diaries received will be stored in the Archive at The Keep and be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning including academics and students, schools, writers, producers, artists, community and special interest groups and the general public. We have access to the Archive electronically here: (you’ll need to be on campus or using web proxy to get in to it though!)

As a group of us from the Library are planning a visit to The Keep during the summer, we thought we’d engage with the diary concept. And here, for your enjoyment (and by popular demand via Twitter), we present our Library Penguin Pablo’s Mass Observation Diary…

12th May 2015

Pablo in Book Sorter5am: We’re open 24/7 at the moment, so there’s never really a time when there aren’t students in the Library. I keep an eye on them in the early hours of the morning (from a distance of course) just to check they’re all OK. Nothing to report this sunny dawn other than plenty of heads down revising, so I retreat back to my nest for a quick nap before the Library staff arrive.

8am: The first Library staff arrive. One or two give me a pat on the head as they come in. I quite like that.

8:45am: There are more staff here now. They’re busy clearing books which have been left around the library, and pushing them through the sorter. I like to watch the sorter in action, and see the books travelling along the conveyor belt until they reach their destination. One day I’m going to ride on that conveyer belt. But ssshhh, don’t tell the Library staff.

10am: The Library is definitely much much busier now. There aren’t many seats free, and the laptops for loan availability screen is already yellow, meaning there aren’t many of those either. There’s a pretty impressive queue at the café too. I’ve been told to cut down on the caffeine (can’t imagine why) so I fill a bottle from the water fountain instead. It’s sadly lacking in plankton.

penguin chat11am: I’m manning penguin-ing the online chat service between 11 and 12, so I take my seat at the computer. They’ve let me have a cushion so I can reach the keyboard; apparently office furniture design isn’t done with penguins in mind. A few minutes in, and someone comes online to talk to me! I answer their question, and get some really useful feedback to pass on to my supervisors. There’s a friendly human librarian here to help me out, and I let her deal with the phone calls. The hour rushes by, and before I know it the next person on duty arrives. That’s how most work is done around here, on a rota with plenty of swapping about so we don’t get bored.

12 noon: A quick waddle around the building reveals that midday refreshments are underway. Luckily the majority of students are sticking to sandwiches (fish paste, yum!!!) so I don’t have to ask anyone to take their contraband hot food outside. We’ve got a lovely park outside, with benches. I often wonder why the students don’t take a break and go outside when it’s sunny like this. Sandwiches in the outdoors taste so much nicer, and you get some fresh air too!

Let me in - the back doors are never opened1pm: Picnic time. I’m taking my own advice and eating my mackerel salad outdoors. There are lots of birds in the trees, and even the odd squirrel to watch running around. The people who look after the park have done a brilliant job with the flowerbeds, and there’s plenty to look at. Sadly the big bouncy thing from last week is gone though, so no more playing on that for me…

3pm: *yawn* the mid-afternoon urge to snooze is setting in. Maybe I overdid the mackerel. Must stay awake though. I’m starting to understand the cans of energy drinks I see dotted around.

4pm: waddle….waddle…peck…waddle… waddling around the Library, pecking at a pastry…peck…must not drop crumbs…28a

4:10pm: There seems to be a bit of shelving building up, so I take a small trolley off to re-shelve. Being a (mostly) flightless bird, I do find the higher shelves a challenge, so I prefer to do this on the ground floor where most shelves are lower. Some students don’t realise they can take books off the shelving trolleys if they need them, so when one asks me if he can I’m almost over-enthusiastic! One for you is one less for me to put away!!!

5pm: The Library staff start leaving. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go somewhere else to sleep, but other times, when it’s raining, I’m glad I don’t have to! This afternoon it’s still sunny, so I pop my head outside for a fresh air top-up. Officially my day ends now, but I know I have a long night ahead, keeping an eye on the evening readers, the night-owls and the panicking. It’s a tough job, but I can do it!

35b9pm: The evening staff are leaving now, and the admin area is silent. Silent, perhaps, except for the gentle snores of a small cuddly penguin. I’m not sleeping, I promise. I’m just dozing. I’ll be up and about later to check on those students who are making a night of it. Right after I rest my eyes…






Penguin book cover from

Photos of Pablo by University of Portsmouth Library

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