A Visit to the London Libraries

Back in June, the trainees were given the exciting opportunity to explore four libraries in London: the Reuben Library at the British Film Institute, the Natural History Museum Library and Archives, the Guardian Library and Archives, and the London Library. A huge thanks goes out to all of the library staff for guiding us round, answering our many questions, and giving us an insight into the wider librarianship sector. Continue reading to find out who we met, what we learned, and to see some pretty pictures we took along the way!

Reuben Library, British Film Institute

Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library

The British Film Institute (BFI) can be quite tricky to find, tucked away in the side of the Southbank Centre. However, we all made it there eventually, and were met in the Reuben Library’s reading room by Sarah Currant (Senior Librarian for Reader and Mediatheque Services), who chatted to us about the library and how it works alongside other areas of the BFI. The library can currently be accessed for free, with no need for any sort of membership card – we were really impressed by this, as well as the decision to make the space less intimidating by installing a large window in place of the foyer wall. Working in Oxford, we tend to encounter a fair amount of ‘threshold fear’, so it’s always nice to see somewhere acknowledging this in their accessibility measures.

The glass fronted reading room, with the BFI Reuben Library displayed boldly on the glass. Inside you can see shelving and comfy red chairsSarah demonstrated the BFI database to us, which allows users to search the name of a film and be presented with a page summarising all the related items held by the library. This includes details of books and articles in the collection, as well digitisations of relevant ephemera. Historically the BFI maintained collections of press cuttings, usually based around specific films; many of these have now been digitised, along with copies of programme notes from every time a film is shown in one of the BFI theatres. The copyright procedures around this sounded similar to the Bodleian’s electronic legal deposit situation – although the BFI does not hold the copyright to everything it cares for, these materials can be accessed through the reading room computers (as opposed to being freely available outside of the library).

The BFI National Archive is one of the largest film collections in the world, covering both 120 years of British film history and the wider world of international cinema. Although the library itself is not directly involved in conservation work, Sarah told us a bit about some of the challenges of this particular area – for example, cellulose nitrate film, which was commonly used until the early 1950s, is both highly flammable and difficult to extinguish, as the nitrate part essentially provides the fire with its own oxygen supply. Individual reels were commonly stored separately, to prevent one fire from destroying the entire sequence! Official HSE advice for dealing with cellulose nitrate film recommends contacting a film archive such as the BFI, as this will be better equipped to deal with such specialised materials. With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the BFI frequently becomes the custodian of film collections on behalf of other institutions.

One thing we didn’t manage to see on the day was the BFI Mediatheque, a space which allows visitors to watch various films from the archive. The material on offer ranges from modern and classic films and television to the ‘Britain on Film’ historical collection and, incredibly, digitised versions of early cinema from the 1890s. It’s certainly a uniquely impressive collection, and it was fascinating to hear how the library – whose actual holdings aren’t so different to the books, journals, and digitised materials we encounter in our own libraries – works with the rest of the organisation on events and exhibitions to help make these materials accessible to a modern audience.

Natural History Museum Library and Archives

Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library

LIBRARY sign displayed over doorwayThe Natural History Museum (NHM) is an iconic London tourist attraction, with visitors flocking to view the beautiful architecture, amazing animals and even a dinosaur skeleton if you’re lucky (see Dippy’s return). However, few are aware of the extensive library collection within, supporting the work of the museum scientists, postgraduate students and external researchers alike.

Huge bookcases and a first floor balcony, filled with multicoloured volumesArriving at the staff door, we made it past security and were greeted by Hellen Pethers, Researcher Services Librarian, who took us through the entrance and directly into a beautiful room marked ‘Library.’ This was previously one of five onsite reading rooms within the NHM, back when each room was dedicated to a specialist subject. Now, following the creation of a singular public reading room upstairs (for user convenience), this room is used solely by staff and for the storage of collections.

Hellen proceeded to tell us a little about the history of the Museum, from the initial collection work of Hans Sloane, through to the petition for a conglomerated collection by Sir Richard Owen. The latter’s work resulted in the construction and opening of the NHM in 1881, a beautiful building designed by Alfred Waterhouse and often referred to as a “cathedral to nature”, with its detailed engravings and terracotta designs paying homage to the natural world. The NHM has continued to expand, with new buildings and spaces created to further the study of natural history – emphasising the importance of the NHM building and its collections as a centre for research.

Museum librarian Mr Woodward Bernard Barham and his staff, 1909
Museum librarian Mr Woodward Bernard Barham (seated right) and his staff, 1909 © Natural History Museum

This is where the librarians come in, developing library collections to ensure that scientists and researchers have access to the relevant material and resources to support their research. This is a role that librarians have officially played within the Museum since the introduction of the first librarian, Bernard Woodward, in 1903. Woodward was given a huge remit, with a budget to collect all relevant materials, and he even introduced a classification system that is still used for specific collections today.

With the collection policy that no material should be removed from the library — so that scholars can track the progression of thought in a particular field – collections have expanded rapidly, now totalling over 1 million items. This includes a wide range of modern collections, e-journals, e-books, databases, rare books, manuscripts, art, and maps. Books are borrowable by staff, as well as the over 400 scientists associated with the museum, but the collections are also consulted by external members, who can access the reading room by appointment in specified opening hours.

Speaking of the public reading room, this was the next stop on our tour and an opportunity to see the public face of the NHM library. As readers request material in advance, many of the tables are pre-prepared with required resources and equipment, with the material ready to collect behind the enquiry desk. At the NHM, all library staff are scheduled to complete shifts on the enquiry desk, which Hellen explained is a great way to interact with readers and become familiar with the collections.

An open book. On the left page, an illustrated drawing of a room where people are making pasta. On the right, Italian text, describing how to make pasta specifically for nightingales.
“To make the pasta to feed the nightingales”

The final stage of our tour took us through the bookstacks and up into the Special Collections and Archives room, where we met Rosie Jones (Special Collections Librarian) and Emma Harrold (Museum Archivist) – the latter being a previous Bodleian trainee!

After discussing both of their routes into libraries/archives, Rosie treated us to a tour of a variety of material from the NHM special collections. This included:

  • A copy of Pliny’s Natural History Manuscript (Historia Naturalis) – the NHM’s oldest book!
  • A book with a recipe describing how to make pasta for nightingales (pictured).
  • A book of beautiful animal drawings (pictured).
  • A box of detailed wooden stamps (pictured).

    A detailed coloured drawing of an 8 foot long Rock Python
    The mighty Rock Python.
  • Drawings created on Charles Darwin’s voyage around the world (pictured). These were quick sketches, with the intent to be finished and coloured at a later date. Unfortunately the original artist died on the journey, but other artists were able to complete his work, and engravings were created so the illustrations could be reproduced.

Following this, Emma took over to speak about the role of the NHM Archives, particularly the relation between preservation efforts and advertisement.

Documents concerning the formation of the NHM, personal papers of significant individuals associated with the building, and various other collections are kept by the NHM Archives in an effort to preserve the history of the museum – a vital part of Emma’s role in maintaining relevant and extensive records for researchers and NHM staff alike.

Wooden blocks engraved with objects and animals from the Natural World
Wooden stamps

These collections span from Alfred Waterhouse’s original designs for the terracotta animals, through to photographs of Pole expeditions and photography competition winners from the 1980s. In recent years, certain pieces from the NHM archives have been used for advertisement of the NHM, with historic images and previous promotional posters reused for their latest campaign. This allowed the Museum to broadcast the range of collections whilst highlighting the vast history of the NHM – an incredibly effective campaign.

For more information about the NHM’s vast collection, you can check out their website and twitter below:

Website: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/library-and-archives.html

Twitter: NHM Library&Archives (@NHM_Library) / Twitter


Guardian Library and Archives

Juliet Brown, Old Bodleian Library

The Guardian Library isn’t what many would consider a traditional library, certainly not when compared to the historic academic libraries of Oxford. Situated within the Guardian headquarters in central London, this library primarily consists of the personal wealth of knowledge and significant research skills of the two librarians working in the building. For our tour we were met by Richard Nelsson, one such librarian, who led us through the bustling office space to a large meeting room, where he spoke to us about his role as Information Manager.

The Library

A view round the corner, showing large computers, desks, and a poster of Greta Thunberg on the wallAlthough the current library team is extremely small, Richard was keen to show how libraries have played a significant role throughout the history of the Guardian. Before the internet, up-to-date information was still necessary to produce informative and accurate stories, but how were journalists meant to know everything published on a particular topic? This is where the librarians came in – a team responsible for sorting through all the papers published that day, cutting out individual articles and filing them in folders differentiated by topic. For example, a single article on the miners’ strikes may go into folders on trade unions, conservative party policy, and civil protest. This collection, informally titled a clippings library, would then allow journalists to access published information on a particular topic by locating the relevant folders.

With the growth of the internet, these folders have become less heavily relied on, and the role of librarians has adapted to suit the changing needs of the organisation. Richard emphasised that librarians are still vitally important to the research needs of journalists, as they manage various information sources (including online databases, e-subscriptions, and e-books) and perhaps most significantly, provide a tailored research service. This includes finding quotes, locating relevant people, providing background information, and checking facts and statistics. Richard stated that it can sometimes be challenging to narrow down a vague enquiry, but that the variety of information and requests make it a very exciting role – if occasionally high-pressured, as journalists tend to work to tight deadlines.

The Archive

Three Cross Street Journals and an introduction to the Guardian Archives guideFollowing this talk we were introduced to Emma Aitken, one of the Guardian archivists, who spoke about her role within the organisation. This principally includes:

  • Research: Although the archives team functions under the umbrella of the Guardian Foundation, they work closely with the Guardian research team to provide images, films, audio recordings, and various other materials for the newspaper.
  • Enquiry work: particularly relating to photographs/images in the collection, though she also receives those concerning the social history (where ephemera might be used) and for fact checking purposes.
  • Collections management: managing the online catalogue, as well as the material kept in the two onsite stores (the first for paper, objects, and materials; the second exclusively for photographs).
  • Technical tasks: transcribing material, completing digital preservation projects, as well as taking responsibility for binding and storing previous volumes of the newspaper (for preservation and conservation purposes).
  • Engagement: Managing the movement, display and loaning of material for exhibitions, as well as giving talks and presentations for interested parties (including school groups … and us!).

The Tour

Following these presentations, we were first shown to the Archives workroom, where we saw a curated collection of material kept by the Guardian Archives. This included old copies of the Cross Street Journal, preserved video advertisements, old editions of the Guardian and Observer newspapers, correspondence from WP Crozier’s personal archive collection (Guardian editor 1932-44) and even pieces of the Edward Snowdon hard drive! The Guardian Archives collections can be accessed on their website or via their twitter.

Richard then proceeded to give us a tour of the office space, where we could see different departments hard at work. One trainee was particularly excited to view the audio department, where a podcast that she listens to was being recorded! Overall this was a brilliant opportunity to gain insight into an area of librarianship none of us had previously explored, and a lovely way to spend an afternoon.


London Library

Jemima Bennett, New College Library

The library entrance, up 5 stairs
The entrance to the library

Given the smart location of the London Library in St James’s Square, at least one of us was feeling slightly overwhelmed and underdressed for a tour of such a beautiful building. We’d been somewhat misinformed that it resembled a Victorian gentleman’s club, but how happily wrong we were!

Founded in 1841, the London Library (the largest lending library in Europe) is notable for its motivation to preserve the history of the library while simultaneously remaining contemporary, with a refreshing focus on diversifying its membership and collections. The library collects in a range of areas but mainly caters to writers. Collections tend to focus on the arts (the library’s website (londonlibrary.co.uk) lists these as History, Cultural Expression, and Thought & Life), with an emphasis on books you might not easily find in a high street bookshop. It has an impressive list of former members – we climbed a staircase whose walls were star-studded with portraits of great cultural figures, from Virginia Woolf, to Edward Burne-Jones, to Bram Stoker, all previously members of the library.

Other highlights include:

  • Looking through the grated floors to the basement
    The view through the floors to the basement

    a bookcase of miniature books. This collection consisted of around 350 books printed between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, all under five inches tall – some were under three!

  • An unexpected thrill of library-scale adrenaline in the back stacks. Nineteenth-century ventilation and lighting technology meant that, for all seven floors of the stacks, the floors are grated – you can look through them all the way down to the basement…
  • The classification system. Librarians always love a classification system, but this one was particularly fun. Created at the end of the nineteenth century by the London Library’s librarian, Sir Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright, this classification system was designed to fit the range of books that the library owned at the time, and has changed very little since. As a result, alongside the more usual headings of ‘Literature’ or ‘History’, you can also find ‘Science and Miscellaneous’. And further, within each category, subject headings are ordered only alphabetically. This is particularly joyous in Science and Miscellaneous, where books on crystallography sit in happy incongruity next to books on cycling.
  • The Reading Room. Even by Oxford standards, this was beautiful – a lovely, quiet, peaceful, book-lined space.

Entering the London Library is like entering The Archetypal Library, with over 17 miles of brightly coloured books on shelves, including some printed in the eighteenth century, labyrinthine bookstacks, and hidden nooks and crannies all over the building. In keeping with the whole feel of the library, the building retains many fascinating historical features: we saw some World War II reminders to ‘Turn Off The Lights’ stencilled onto the walls. The atmosphere is almost other-worldly. We all came away from the visit with a sense of having had a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening afternoon, thanks in no small part to our wonderful tour guide Yvette Dickerson, one of the Member Services team.


Visit to the Inns of Court Libraries

Planning the trip

Heather Barr, St Edmund’s Hall Graduate Library Trainee

Lucy showing us the shelves that house the 1800s collection
Lucy showing us the pre 1800s texts

One of the really great things about the Oxford Traineeship programme is that we get to spend time as a cohort training (and socialising!) together. It is wonderful to have a ready-made network of other early-career librarians, and to be able to learn from and share with each other. I know that I have felt exceptionally lucky to work alongside the other trainees, and I have really valued the chance to learn about the workings of different libraries across the university. So, when Abi Cass (Bibliographic Services Librarian, Gray’s Inn) was looking for visiting opportunities for the Graduate Trainees at Gray’s Inn, London, I was immediately keen to get in touch! Abi and I organised a tour-swap, giving the Inn trainees an opportunity to visit a variety of Oxford libraries and a group of Oxford trainees the opportunity to visit Gray’s Inn. In addition, Abi even negotiated the Oxford trainees a free lunch at Gray’s Inn, and visits to the Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple Libraries as well, which was extremely generous. Six of us made the trip to London, where we were hosted by Lucy Fletcher (Graduate Trainee, Gray’s Inn).

A personal highlight for me was Lucy’s excellent overview of the history and role of the Inns of Temple (of which Gray’s Inn is one of four). Historically, it was the Inns which provided legal education. Today, it is still only through membership at one of the Inns that you may train to become a Barrister, and they each provide teaching support, scholarships, and – of course – libraries of resources for their members.

A statue of Francis Bacon in front of the ivy covered facade of Gray's Inn Library
Francis Bacon in front of the library


Gray’s Inn Visit

Elizabeth Dawson, All Souls College Graduate Library Trainee

A view of the reading room from the first floor gallery
Overlooking the main reading room from the gallery

We were met by Lucy Fletcher, who started her traineeship in April, but nevertheless gave us a great tour of Gray’s Inn Library and an overview of how the Inns of Court work. There are four Inns of Court: Gray’s, Lincoln’s, Inner and Temple, each of which has its own legal library. Not coming from a law background, I was interested in how barristers and law student use the space, and how much they used those pesky law reports that I am always processing in the college library I work in! In academic libraries, we have seen a decline in use of physical law reports, in favour of online versions, but Lucy informed us that barristers still frequently use the physical copies. They need to submit the original page numbers of the reports to the court and online versions are not reliable – so many would prefer to photocopy the physical copies.

The blackened facade of the only building to survive the blitz, still located in the main square. Where Charles Dickens worked as a clerk.
The original building where Dickens worked as a clerk

I was struck with how similar the architecture of the Inn and the library is to Oxford colleges. Even their terms have the same name! Although, there have been law clerks on the site of Gray’s Inn since the 14th century, the library was rebuilt following heavy damage during the Blitz. As well as the main library, we also visited the stacks upstairs, where the less heavily used and some of the pre-1800 texts are kept. Dusty, secret areas of libraries are always exciting places to visit, and we were even lucky enough to glimpse the historical plans of the building.

Another thing I found surprising was how the Inns are used as venues for other events – not just for the lawyers. Historically, Gray’s Inn mounted masques and revels; William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is believed first to have been performed in Gray’s Inn Hall. Ok, I admit I am an English Literature graduate and most of what I know of Gray’s Inn is from Dickens. Incidentally, one of the few surviving buildings in Gray’s Inn Square is where Dickens worked as a clerk!

Following the tour, we went to the hall for our lunch. Meatball marinara ciabatta and wedges – yum! It also gave us a chance to chat with Lucy about her traineeship at the library.

Website: www.graysinnlibrary.org.uk 


Lincoln’s Inn Visit

Juliet Brown – Old Bodleian Graduate Library Trainee

The building housing Lincoln's Inn Library, proceeded by a vibrant green lawn
The outside of the library building

Following our delicious lunch, Lucy helped guide us through London to Lincoln’s Inn, the second of our library visits that day. Lincoln’s Inn is the oldest Law Library in the country, and it was the only library on our tour to emerge unscathed from the Blitz, so looking around this building was like stepping into history.

After a brief introduction to the library and its collections, we were free to explore the space for ourselves, immersing ourselves in the collections and navigating the abundant staircases (one of which was hidden behind a thick velvet curtain)!

The main reading room in Lincoln's Inn Library, as seen from the second floor gallery
A view of the reading room from the second floor gallery

Lincoln’s Inn houses roughly 150,000 volumes, with a strong emphasis on English legal materials for practitioners and bar students alike – though the Library is also well known for its extensive Commonweath and Parliamentary collections. Interestingly, although the Inn libraries cater primarily to their own members, they tend to collaborate when it comes to specialist subjects. This prevents duplicate purchases of large collections and allows for the Inn’s to collect the widest range of material possible, to best support the varied research needs of their members.

Similarly to Gray’s Inn, the librarian spoke a little about the transition towards digital resources for initial research needs, though emphasised the continued necessity of physical collections for court submissions. I was most impressed with the extensive services provided by the library team, who offer an efficient document supply service, research support through their enquiry desk team, and a wide variety of training guides and courses for all members throughout the year.

Website: lincolnsinn.org.uk/library-archives/


Middle Temple Visit

Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library Graduate Library Trainee

The third and final library we visited was the Middle Temple Library. (These mystical-sounding names come courtesy of the nearby Temple Church, in case you were wondering.)

An image of the specialisms of each Inn Library. A pdf document with the list can be found here: https://www.graysinn.org.uk/app/uploads/drupal-media/documents/library/Inn%20Libraries%20Specialisms_0.pdf
© Gray’s Inn

As with the other Inns, the Middle Temple’s collections are wide-ranging, but their specialisms include ecclesiastical law and capital punishment. Our guide, assistant librarian Jake Hearn, told us a little more about how these topics and jurisdictions are divided among the libraries (see picture to the left for Inn specialisms). For the most part the libraries follow historic tradition, but a committee of librarians meet at regular intervals to discuss newer or changing topics. For example, although material on EU law was collected by all four libraries while the UK was still a member state, there is some discussion as to whether this will change in the wake of Brexit.

This was somehow the first library where I managed to take a closer look at the shelfmarks – as a current trainee at the Bodleian Law Library, I was excited to recognise some MOYS, a Library of Congress style system specifically designed for law collections. The Bodleian Law Library is currently halfway through reclassifying our Jurisprudence (legal philosophy) collection, and upon chatting to one of the library staff, I found that we shared similar sentiments on the triumphs and tribulations of the process.

Other interesting features of the library include the photographic record of UK Prime Ministers adorning the walls, the twin Elizabethan globes situated in the upper gallery (although, full disclosure, one of them was away on display in Liverpool when we visited), and the verdant colour scheme. Although we were asked not to share any photos of this library, I highly recommend looking it up – it’s truly fabulous.

Website: middletemple.org.uk/library


Overall, our trip was a wonderful opportunity to explore a new area of librarianship, and we are extremely thankful to all of those who helped organise it, as well as those who gave their time to provide the tours and answer our many questions – we can only hope we were able to provide the same level of detail when we hosted Lucy and her colleagues Abi Reader (Graduate Trainee, Gray’s Inn) and Lily Rowe (Graduate Trainee, Inner Temple) in Oxford last month!

A Visit to Four Libraries in London

During the college’s Easter Break, I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange visits to some libraries that focus on the topics of military history and international affairs at four different institutions in London. Three of these institutions (RUSI, IISS, and Chatham House) are independent think tanks, whilst the other is a Private Members Club. As I had come to Oxford whilst completing my MSc in Security Studies, I was particularly eager to explore these libraries with which I felt an academic affinity.

My first visit was to the Library of Military History at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defense and security think tank established in 1831 with the Duke of Wellington as the founding patron. This library focuses primarily on military history and has some fantastic rare books and modern manuscripts that are unique in the U.K. RUSI’s Librarian, Jacqui Grainger, guided me round the building and explained how the library works at RUSI. The architecture of the library is amazing, and it was a real treat to see some of RUSI’s most prized holdings. Jacqui’s role, however, does not end just with books and printed material but also covers the art and artifacts that decorate the walls and rooms of RUSI. This was particularly interesting, as it has parallels with some of the duties a College Librarian may be required to undertake.

I found it incredibly useful talking to Jacqui about collection management, and the challenges that a library like RUSI’s faces. As the photo above shows, RUSI’s shelves are nearly full and if the library’s goal were to collect material covering future events then it would require much more space – possibly even including off-site storage. Therefore, difficult decisions need to be made: does the library attempt to comprehensively cover all future military developments, or does it focus on developing its historic collections and material relevant to its study. This brought to mind the collections decisions made with regards to Jesus College’s Celtic Library, and was a good demonstration of the challenges of collection management that are not always apparent to library users.

Next, I visited the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). Established in 1958 with a primary emphasis on nuclear deterrence and arms control, the IISS also operates offices in Washington, Bahrain and Singapore. I was met by Kevin Jewell, IISS’s Head of Knowledge and Information Services, who explained how the IISS library has moved away from its previous role as traditional lending service and more towards information management. The library still has a core collection of books, though the emphasis is now on how it can actively support the researchers and their work. Given that the IISS employs researchers around the globe, it is perhaps unsurprising that the management of electronic resources has become increasingly more relevant.

Kevin showed me some of the strategies and tools they use to collate publicly available information and the methods they use to present this information to the staff in a relevant and easily accessible way. He also highlighted how the library signposts electronic resources (and more importantly how to access them), and Graham Ivory, the IISS’s Information Specialist, demonstrated how incredibly useful a well-designed intranet can be to supporting a group’s aims. He explained that not only is content important, but also how a clear and easy to navigate layout is vital to encourage users to make the most of the resources provided. This was very useful as it made me consider design from a user’s point of view: what features would make me more or less likely to interact with the environment?

However, printed material still plays an important role. Hilary Morris, the IISS’ Librarian, showed me how they are making a determined effort to collect material relevant to the IISS’ history in their archive, and the challenges that preserving these sources presents. Seeing these documents that stretch back to the IISS’ foundation was fascinating (especially considering how the IISS is approaching its 60th anniversary) and they will no doubt be hugely significant for future researchers. Having seen the importance of these archival documents, I was made aware just how vital strategies for collecting current electronic documents are, so it was interesting to hear how the IISS intends to tackle this issue.

Chatham House
My next destination was Chatham House, more formally known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Formed in 1920, this think tank focuses its attention on the world’s major international issues. Chatham House was, in a sense, the most ‘traditional’ of the libraries I visited. With a dual focus of supporting their research staff as well as its members (who range from students to retired professionals), the Chatham House library is very active in its collection of relevant books and journals. Talking to Binni Brynolf, the Digital Resources Librarian, gave me a really good impression of the library’s function and how it has adapted to meet its users’ needs. Due to size of their collection, only the most recent publications (i.e. within the last 15 years) are kept on site; the rest is stored off-site and must be called-up. This immediately made me think of the Bodleian’s Book Storage Facility in Swindon, and it was fascinating to hear how they deal with book requests. Having just helped plan the move of Jesus College’s lesser-used Celtic journals to an on-site storage space, I could well appreciate all the forethought required when preparing for off-site storage!

I really enjoyed learning about the library’s management system, and comparing it to what I am used to at Oxford. Due to the different scales of the libraries, both have different needs so it was interesting listening to Binni describe what system suits a specialist library like Chatham House. I was even more intrigued to learn about ebooks, and what role they may play in the future. Ebooks are not currently a big feature of Chatham House’s library, but a lot of thought is being given as to whether the advantages of these electronic resources would justify the (not insignificant) cost. Not all ebooks are created equal, and some texts are better suited than others are; consequently, it is really interesting to see how things will develop!

The Army & Navy Club
My final visit was to the library at the Army & Navy Club, a.k.a. ‘The Rag’. Unlike the other three libraries I visited, the Army & Navy Club is a Private Members Club with strong historic links with the British and Commonwealth Armed Services. As the library is for the members to borrow at their leisure, it does not need to be as comprehensive as a research library, nor does it require that the members have access to online resources. Yet even a cursory glance as the shelves reveals a wealth of interesting titles on military history that would well match the members’ interests.

I found talking to Jane Branfield, the Club’s Librarian who is a professional archivist by training, about her role and career progression incredibly useful. Her experiences made me realize that certain roles require the ability to balance many different skills. Furthermore, Jane explained how prior experiences in one role, such as creating a database on generals in a military archive, could easily translate into different areas, such as working on a project detailing historic barristers for the Inner Temple. The main lesson I took away was to take up different opportunities as they arise, even if they seem removed from what might be considered the core duties of a librarian; you never know when you may need to call upon different skills and experiences in future jobs.

Final Thoughts
Though similar in thematic content, each of the libraries felt different and unique, and each displayed real-world practices and challenges that we have been learning about on the Trainee Programme. A particular theme that ran through my visits was the importance of preserving archival material. Some places had inherited an abundance of material, whereas in others the gathering of material (much of which may have already been lost) was very much a current concern. However, all were deeply aware of the issues of what will happen now so much of our working lives are enacted digitally. What was once an easily filed letter is now an intangible email, and so without any intervention much useful material may be forever lost to future researchers. This is a particular point that we have learnt about at the Bodleian, so it was fascinating to see that these issues in settings external to Oxford.

I would like to say a huge thank you to Jacqui from RUSI, Kevin, Graham and Hilary from the IISS, Binni from Chatham House, and Jane from the Army and Navy Club for all the time they spent explaining their work to me and for giving me such a great insight into their libraries. The information and advice everyone gave me was invaluable, and will be a huge help to me as I plan my future career in librarianship.

Trips to London Libraries

On the morning of Wednesday 5th July, this year’s Graduate Trainees met at Oxford station for perhaps the most eagerly awaited trainee trip: The visits to two specialist libraries across the capital. This year, trainees could decide to visit the Guardian Library, the Natural History Museum Library, the London Library, and the British Film Institute Library. As this visit was the highlight of the year for many trainees, we have therefore decided to write a few words about the day and what we learned from visiting these four unique libraries!


For the morning session, eight of the trainees had decided to visit the library of the Guardian and Observer newspapers. Located in a light and airy high rise just to the north of King’s Cross Station, it was immediately apparent when entering the building and meeting the Information Manger that both the library and the role of a librarian at a news organisation were very different to the world of academic libraries we had grown accustomed to in Oxford. Instead of the gothic exteriors, ancient tomes, and wooden panelling of many of the Bodleian Libraries, on our tour of the newspaper offices we encountered instead a busy open plan office stretching around the entire building and a rather small library tucked away in the corner.

The entrance to the Guardian offices (Photo credit: Will Shire)

In his informative talk during our visit, the Information Manager explained why this was the case. In a world of 24 hour news and broadband connectivity, the role of the librarian at all media organisations has changed considerably over the last few decades. Before the internet, he explained, all large newspapers required a librarian to manage a ‘cuttings library’, filled with stories taken from all the major newspapers and meticulously organised by their subject – either about a particular event or about the activities of a well-known person. As technology advanced and journalists started to do the majority of their work online, the role of the librarian therefore also changed. The cuttings library still exists, but on top of managing this, the information team now use the Guardian collections to improve the journalism in other ways. He explained that their in depth information knowledge gained from librarianship means that they are well placed to answer any complicated research enquiries from journalists or to even create their own pieces following statistical analysis and insight gained from managing the Guardian Library’s holdings. Although technology is affecting librarianship across all sectors, this talk therefore demonstrated that the skills of librarians remain useful in a digitally connected world.

The tour that we had of the offices concluded with a visit to the offices of the Guardian’s archives team, which also works closely with the library. The two archivists emphasised the importance of their collections, as they not only provide a unique glimpse of the changing journalism industry in the UK, but can also act as a springboard for a wide variety of researchers, as newspaper articles are the first response to current events. The archives contain several back editions of the Observer and Guardian newspapers, and several artefacts relevant to their journalism, such as the Edward Snowdon laptops that are now of national importance.

It was excellent to have the opportunity to visit the media library of one of the most well-known newspapers in the country, and the talks gave us a well-rounded introduction into another aspect of librarianship that few of the trainees had prior knowledge of or considered as a career path.

Written by Will Shire, Taylor and PTFL trainee


Those of us fortunate enough (perhaps ‘judicious’ might be a better term – who wouldn’t want to stroll beneath a 25.2 metre-long floating blue whale skeleton?) to bid to visit the NHM were hoping for a morning of quirks and curiosities.  Happily, we were not to be disappointed.

Seated amidst the stuffed rarities and sweeping bookshelves of the Reading Room we were treated to two very intriguing talks delivered by the Researcher Services Librarian and the Special Collections Librarian, which covered (amongst other things) mermaids, woodworm, and the dangers of voyaging in the 18th century.

We were able to hear about the development of the existing collections and received an overview of some of the topics represented in the library today such as Palaeontology, Botany, Entomology, Zoology, Ornithology, Anthropology and Mineralogy.

The trainees at the Natural History Museum Library (Photo credit: NHM twitter feed, originally posted on 5th July, 2017)

There was also a chance to take a closer look at some of the NHM’s most fascinating manuscripts and special collections including a letter penned by Charles Darwin and the Endeavour botanical illustrations.  Our guides were friendly and very knowledgeable and I feel that we all benefitted from our exposure to a library so entirely different to those that many of us are used to.

The NHM has been steadily acquiring material since 1881 and hosts readers from a variety of backgrounds on a daily basis.  There is a growing emphasis on the importance of digitisation across libraries and archives at present and consequently the NHM aims to upload around 25,000 items to the Biodiversity Heritage Library every single month, ensuring that scholars are able to access the materials they need wherever they are located.  NHM staff have produced publications on a plethora of interesting topics and are often found engaging in outreach activities such as ‘Nature Live’ (free discussions held in Attenborough Studio, by all accounts not to be missed!).

I’d like to thank our hosts for their time and efforts in showing us around this magnificent institution.  I left the NHM with a whole new appreciation of the magnitude of that 83 foot whale skeleton, but also with a better awareness of the sheer scale of the NHM library and archival operations, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

You can keep up to date with the latest goings-on at the NHM by following them on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/NHM_Library.

Written by Steph Bushell, All Souls College trainee


Following our respective morning sessions, eight of the trainees travelled to 14 St James’ Square to visit the famous London Library in the afternoon. From the outside this library looks rather small, as it appears to just fill one small building tucked into the corner of the square. Once we entered, however, it became clear that appearances can definitely be deceiving!

The entrance to the London Library (Photo credit: Sophie Welsh)

Upon entering the building, we were met by the Head of Membership Services and she proceeded to give us a very informative tour through the labyrinthine London Library. Although the library originally only occupied the small entrance building on St James’ Square, she told us that it had continued to grow since its foundation in 1841 and had gradually expanded into the adjacent buildings. On our tour, we therefore climbed several sets of stairs, and saw beautiful cast iron stacks, filled with levels of books both above and below us as far as we could see.

Whilst we were looking at the stacks, we were given a short introduction into the unique classification scheme at the London Library. Unlike the academic libraries in Oxford, the London Library is designed for browsing, and the shelfmark system is therefore designed accordingly. Instead of the neat labels with individual shelfmarks in the Bodleian Libraries, the London Library’s books are arranged alphabetically by individual categories designed in the Victorian period. This means that browsing must be really fun, as readers not only have to browse the shelves to find a specific book (and hopefully encountering other interesting titles whilst they do so), but also have to think like a Victorian to find the books they need. Books on Ethiopia are consequently still shelved under A for Abyssinia, as this was the name of the country when the scheme was developed! As the library has no formal weeding policy and keeps 95% of its material on the open shelves, it is therefore common to find a modern book (such as one on Ethiopian History) nestled next to a Victorian copy on a similar topic.

The beautiful stacks in the London Library (Photo credit: Sophie Welsh)

After looking at the stacks, we then had a tour of the main reading rooms. Whilst we were looking through these rooms, our tour guide gave us several interesting anecdotes on the history of the library. We learned, therefore, about the heroic efforts of the readers to rescue as many books as possible after one of the rooms was hit by a German bomb during the Second World War, and also discovered more about the famous literary figures associated with the library. These range from T.S Eliot, a long serving President of the Library, to Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, and Siegfried Sassoon who were all members.

Our visit to the London Library was a really enjoyable experience. As it is a private members library, it was interesting to compare this library with the academic libraries we are used to in Oxford, and to see how this affects library organisation as it has created a library based around browsing and quick access to the majority of material. It is without doubt a unique library, and if I ever live in London and have enough money for the membership fees, I would definitely like to join in the future!

Written by Will Shire, Taylor and PTFL trainee


On the way to the BFI (Photo credit: Hannah Medworth)

Arriving at the British Film Institute at Southbank after lunch on a ridiculously sunny day (see Hannah’s photo!), half the trainees met with the Librarian for Reader Services for the BFI Reuben Library. First of all, she took us to the library’s main reading room and spoke with us about what her library offers and how it functions, along with a brief history. We learnt a lot. For example, we were told that the library has recently seen a surge of A-Level pupils and school-aged readers. We also learnt about the library’s stance on membership; previously it had been a members’ library which charged a small membership fee but now it is free for everybody to use.

After the introduction, we were given a demonstration of the library’s collections database which holds information on more than 800,000 film titles. The database itself was quite different to ones we as trainees are familiar with in our university libraries. When using SOLO, we may filter by ‘physical items’ or ‘electronic resources’, but at the BFI it is the norm to begin a search while keeping an eye out for symbols indicating a much larger range of materials:

Materials available at the BFI Reuben Library (From collections-search.bfi.org.uk/web)

Following this, if you are searching to view a film – or as it is referred to at the BFI, searching to access ‘moving image material’ – there may be several different ‘manifestations’ to choose from. This has been explained to be roughly equivalent to different editions or publications of a book. These different manifestations could include film, digital copies, VHS cassettes, audio tapes, and film negatives – all of which could be subdivided by gauge, release print, or combination.

We were also shown some of the exciting projects going on at the BFI, from their streaming service – BFIPLAYER – to the fascinating Britain On Film. The latter is a web interface where you can find films made locally for a certain area: documentaries, home films, shorts and even feature films.

Next we were taken downstairs to visit the library’s stacks. There we received two treats tailor-made for librarians: bookmarks and a recommendation of a film with a particularly inspiring librarian character: Desk Set (1957) starring Katharine Hepburn. Our tour guide also mentioned an article she had written for the BFI website about the best librarians on screen (not, as she said, just on film, else you have to miss out Giles on Buffy): http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-best-librarians-screen

It was here too that the Librarian for Reader Services explained how she had had to fight against cuts to the library, whether to its staffing, funding or collections, leaving us with the impression that as a librarian it is important to be a passionate and vocal advocate for libraries.

Written by Connie Bettison, St John’s College trainee

So that’s a short guide to our hugely enjoyable day visiting some beautiful libraries across London! The day was definitely one of the best visits we have been on throughout our year, and I’m sure I can speak for all trainees when I say that I am very grateful to Staff Development for organising everything and to the individual staff members at the respective libraries who made time for us. It was a great way to end our traineeship, and gave us a fascinating insight into several libraries that are completely different to the ones that we are familiar with in Oxford.

London Adventures!

The Graduate Trainees were lucky enough to visit some libraries in London at the beginning of July. We could choose two out of four different libraries, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Here’s what we got up to.

The Natural History Museum Library – Alan McKechnie 

NHM The Graduate Trainees meet Dippy the NHM’s famous diplodocus – photo courtesy of Danielle Czerkaszyn

As a part of our traineeship a lucky group of us got to explore the Natural History Museum Library and Archives in London. Opened in 1881, the library and archival collections numbers over 1 million items, including books, journals, artwork, and archival items. The materials are housed across two sites (the offsite repository being based in Tring), but there is also a growing wealth of online resources available.

Our first port of call was to meet with Hellen Pethers (Reader Services Librarian) who kindly served as our tour guide. We got to view the beautiful Art-Deco style reading rooms, with dark wood panelling, exquisite metallic hand rails, and walls lined with all manner of Natural History material – it was a real treat. One of the critical talking points from Hellen was library logistics from both the standpoint of operating a split site and how they manage collections, loans, and visitors in one of the busiest museums in London. The fetch service and the pre-order of materials before a visit works exceptionally in this demanding museum. Hellen also discussed utilising the library materials for the ‘afterhours’ educational events, such as ‘Crime Scene Live’, which is a great way of giving the public access to materials and publicising the more obscure literature which might otherwise go unused.

The next talk was with Andrea Hart (Library Special Collections Manager) who had a fascinating spread of archival and special collection material for us to sample. Andrea talked in detail about the materials, which ranged from old velum covered books too warped to even be opened safely, to exquisite botanical drawings, to photographs of the founding staff of the Natural History Museum. These we viewed under the eerie and watchful marble eyes of the busts of previous naturalists and museum curators. The sheer range of materials the Natural History Museum houses was remarkable and to be given such detailed information on these materials and their preservation was a real privilege.

The final talk was given by Paul Martin Cooper (Special Collections Librarian) who discussed creating ‘The Bauer Brothers: Masters of Scientific Illustration’ exhibition currently on display. It was fascinating to learn the fine details of exhibition planning, from choosing the illustrations, to executing the quarterly rotations to keep the exhibition fresh, to how Paul chooses what to write on the display cards – the meticulous planning results in repeatedly beautiful displays. We also discussed Paul’s exhibition publication ‘Images of Nature: the Bauer Brothers’, which gives the public a take-home sample of never before published archival material.nhm archive

Examining the museum’s special collection treasures – Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the Natural History Museum London

The BFI Library – Mary Atkinson 

It was difficult to choose between the excellent libraries we had the opportunity to visit! However as I have an interest in film I decided that I would like to see how a specialist library like the BFI Reuben Library manages its collections and works within a large arts organisation. When I met Sarah, the Reader Services Librarian, her enthusiasm for the role of the library in promoting the study and love of film was infectious.

Located in a cultural hub between the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, the BFI South Bank is the public face of the British Film Institute and hosts many screenings and events. Sarah explained that the BFI has various branches to support its aims as a major funder of film production, as well as the organisation of film festivals and events, rights clearance, fundraising and outreach work. Archives, special collections and film media are stored in their Multi Media Vault in controlled conditions. Because of this spread of activity, the South Bank location is the first point of call for enquiries from students, researchers and members of the public.

The Library is free to use and is open to everyone. I found the atmosphere warm and welcoming, with a cosy reading room, open shelf books and journals, and computers for catalogue searching and viewing digitised material. Sarah showed me some example catalogue searches to demonstrate how the library organises its complex holdings. They also hold events and talks tied in with current film screenings, and outreach activities including study sessions with A-Level Film students. The visit ended with a look at the stack where older periodicals are stored, including some brilliant early trade and fan magazines. I left feeling inspired by the range of services offered by the library, and also determined to check out the BFI’s fascinating free online resources such as the Britain on Film collection: http://www.bfi.org.uk/britain-on-film).

Danielle Czerkaszyn – The London Library

London Library book stack

One of the stacks found at The London Library – Photo courtesy of Danielle Czerkaszyn

We arrived at 14 St James’s Square somewhat unsure of the unobtrusive entrance to the London Library. We were met by the Head of Member Services, Amanda Stubbings, who gave us a guided tour and told us more about the fascinating history of the UK’s largest independent lending library, a vast building hiding behind a deceptively modest façade…

In 1841, Scottish historian and author Thomas Carlyle decided to open a private lending library after finding that many of the policies and facilities at the British Museum Library were not to his liking. Over the years, as the collections grew, the Library attracted many of the most famous names in the literary world – Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, Agatha Christie, and T.S. Eliot – to name but a few.  Today, the library holds over one million books and periodicals in over 50 languages, whilst also keeping pace with a growing range of electronic journals and databases.

Amanda helped us navigate the maze of different spaces in the Library; from the Victorian steel framed see-through (!) book stacks to the newest space, The Art Room, redesigned in 2014. She outlined the scope of the collections, which are particularly strong in the humanities, and highlighted some of the Library’s special collections. We were amazed by the broad range of subjects covered and given that everything is arranged by subject and author, we discovered that browsing is a dream! We also learned about future projects and refurbishment plans, including additional reading desks, three more floors of book stacks, and a new reading room.

It’s safe to say that we all left feeling highly enthused by what we’d just experienced. We loved the narrow stacks, the smell of old books and friendly nature of staff and patrons, all of whom were clearly there due to a real love of books.  Membership is open to everyone for an annual fee, though the library also runs free evening tours for members of the public who fancy a quick peak.  The London Library is currently celebrating its 175th birthday so there is no better time to visit this literary gem.

The Guardian – Clare Hunter


Some trainees meet the very cute stars of a Guardian advertising campaign –  Photo courtesy of Tom Dale

In the afternoon four intrepid trainees took the tube to Kings Cross to explore the exciting world of news librarianship at the Guardian. We were welcomed by Richard Nelsson, the Information manager. He gave us a fascinating insight into why a newspaper might need a librarian and how the role has developed from organising cuttings in folders to searching through electronic databases. It was particularly interesting to learn about the different types of research performed by the research department and how they worked with both the Editorial staff and the archives. After our discussion we were given a quick tour of the rest of the Guardian’s offices, where we saw the hustle and bustle of the different departments of the newsroom. Finally we met with the Guardian’s archivist who took us through some of the incredible array of items in their basement store.   So much of the Guardian’s history was there, from sketches for a cartoon from the 1970s to photographs of Margaret Thatcher and the smashed up parts of the hard drive that held the information released by Edward Snowden! It was fascinating to be able to learn about a very different side of librarianship that we had not seen before and see where one of Britain’s major newspapers is put together.

Open Day for New Professionals with SLA Europe, BIALL and CLSIG – Part 2

Written and edited by: Micha Cook, Codrington Library; Andi Glover, Bodleian Law
Library; Hannah Hickman, History Faculty Library; and Becca Wray, Social Science Library

Our highlights from the open day, 15th April, at CILIP HQ, London – continued!

BBC (Media Management)

Laura Williams, a Media Manager in the BBC Archives, spoke about ‘embedded
librarianship’. Embedded librarianship “moves librarians out of libraries”, so that they pop up in unexpected (and exciting) places, such as TV companies, zoos and hospitals. Laura is
embedded within Entertainment Production North and BBC Learning, although she is
formally part of BBC Archives. The centralised Archives services perform more traditional
“library” processes like cataloguing and digitisation, while media managers are based around the country working within production teams. Media managers are responsible for a diverse range of core tasks including records management, photo archive work, selecting material for the archives, and navigating the BBC’s holdings on behalf of researchers.

Enticingly retro-looking tapes in the BBC Archive. Photo by Andy Armstrong
Enticingly retro-looking tapes in the BBC Archive. Photo by Andy Armstrong

The range of duties involved in such a multifaceted role means Laura has to be very
flexible. As her team might not necessarily realise how an information professional can support their work, she has to be proactive about promoting these services; whether that means scheduling official meetings to discuss record-keeping, or simply using a catch-up over coffee to chat about how library services could assist new projects. As a qualified
librarian, working for an archive service, with the job title of ‘media manager’, Laura uses the identifiers interchangeably, depending on which term has the most meaning or value to her audience: an adaptability that I found really striking given the traditional divide
between library/archives as vocations.

Community and network is especially important in an embedded role: if you are going to work as an embedded librarian, it is important to be an integrated member of the team. That said, you may well be working solo, which can be lonely, so it’s important to reach out to librarian networks too… such as the SLA! – Hannah

British Library of Political and Economic Science, LSE

Maria Bell gave an instructive talk about her work as Learning Support Services Manager for LSE’s library. Founded in 1896, the library moved to its current well-known location in the 70s, and recently became home to the Women’s Library. It provides a research base for LSE’s students, researchers, academics and visitors, covering subjects as diverse as gender, law, accounting and sociology. Having a background in law librarianship, Maria gave
guidance on the particular skills needed to work with an academic law collection; these
include knowledge of legal terminology and academic standards for legal citation and
research; managing and developing a relevant and sustainable collection that reflects
readers’ needs; and, in HE, teaching legal research skills to your users.

The impressive spiral staircase in the LSE Library. Photo by ZhaoSiyun_HeavenBlue on Flickr
The impressive spiral staircase in the LSE Library. Photo by ZhaoSiyun_HeavenBlue on Flickr

Developing a relationship with readers is of key importance for creating an accessible learning environment that underpins research; and Maria suggested that in future, it will become increasingly important for librarians to demonstrate how their skills are relevant for supporting researchers. That might be worth thinking about when putting your CV
together. To those starting out on library careers, Maria strongly recommended signing up for relevant training sessions, and taking opportunities to network; as she put it, “Building relationships takes time and must be maintained,” so it’s never too early to start making connections. – Micha, Andi

Morgan Stanley

Karen Tulett and Susan Ryan, from the Corporate Information Management Team
of major multinational investment bank, Morgan Stanley, shared their experiences of
something you wouldn’t immediately expect when thinking about careers in libraries and
information. They are both involved in making sure that bankers within the organisation have the documents and research they need in order to do their jobs. This involves
working on a global scale to provide a 24/7 information service to the different offices that need it. Both also emphasised the skills important for a librarian in the banking sector:
creativity in the way you do your research, and keeping up to date with banking news in
order to work out what information might be needed before you are asked for it.

Research Manager Karen started her career as a Trainee in the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, before her Masters, and has since worked for several different banks in
Information Manager roles, including involvement in overseeing an outsourcing project. Susan, in contrast, has spent most of her career with Morgan Stanley, working her way up
through various different information and research posts to become Vendor Manager. She mentioned an ongoing movement in many banks to make some aspects of research off-shore, creating a team in another country. She spent several months in India setting up a new office and training new research staff who she now works closely with. – Becca

Photo by indicpeace on Flickr
Photo by indicpeace on Flickr

Mishcon de Reya (Law)

The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL), co-organiser of the open day, represents information managers in the legal sector, be that in the Inns of Court, law firms or academic libraries. Sandra Smythe, from private, international law firm Mishcon de Reya, talked about her role as Knowledge Manager. The KM is in charge of supporting the sharing of knowledge in an organisation; for example, through collaboration tools on the intranet, to promote information-sharing amongst colleagues. Key skills needed in this role are openness, communication, and the ability to work in a team.

Formerly, Sandra was Mishcon’s Senior Information Officer. Amongst other duties, this
intensive, varied job involves legal research, and remaining informed both of legal
developments, and of the organisations and individuals with whom Mishcon works.
Sandra has found her career in law librarianship fast-paced, confidence-building and
rewarding; and she assured aspiring law librarians that new entrants to the field are not
expected to arrive with legal research skills fully-formed, but will be trained. In her
previous role with a firm handling maritime law, she was sometimes called upon to aid with the interception of ships; which just goes to show that law librarianship is
full of variety! – Andi

Photo by Mariusz Kluzniak
Photo by Mariusz Kluzniak

Looking back, this was an informative day broken up with engaging tours. It was
interesting to hear about the different, sometimes surprising, forms librarianship and
career paths can take. We also learned that, for aspiring librarians, networking, passion
and curiosity are essential, along with an ability to recognize our transferable skills, such
as communication, collaboration and current awareness. Some of us got a clearer idea of where to take our careers next; others discovered interests in previously-unconsidered
sectors; overall, attending this event was greatly valuable for our personal development.
We’d like to thank the SLA, BIALL and CLSIG for organising this impressive open day.
— Primary editor, Andi Glover

Follow the links to find out more about SLA Europe, BIALL and
CLSIG, a special interest group of CILIP

For another perspective on the open day, see Sue Hill Recruitment’s blog post

Open Day for New Professionals with SLA Europe, BIALL and CLSIG – Part 1

Written and edited by: Micha Cook, Codrington Library; Andi Glover, Bodleian Law
Library; Hannah Hickman, History Faculty Library; Becca Wray, Social Science Library

In April, seven of the Bodleian trainees headed off to CILIP HQ in London for the
SLA Europe, BIALL & CLSIG New Professionals’ Open Day: a chance to hear presentations
by information professionals from several well-known “special libraries”, and to network with the speakers, other trainees and Master’s students. Here, we report back on our
experiences of the day: what we learned, and why the next Open Day might be useful to others considering careers in library and information science.

Photo by WordShore on Flickr
Photo by WordShore on Flickr

NERA Economic Consulting

In the first talk, Hanna Shearring spoke about her role as Associate Information Resources Consultant (IRC) at NERA (@NERA_Economics), which undertakes research on behalf of mostly corporate clients. Her job is similar to a subject librarian’s role with academic
researchers; she works closely with clients and uses specialist knowledge to ascertain
exactly which information they need, and which sources and institutions could provide it. This may entail persisting with enquiries involving several institutions and individuals, such as tenders taken on for the EU: more negotiation than is usually necessary in an HE
library. IRCs are less desk-based than many Graduate Trainees, and, interestingly, work with fewer book-based sources than most of our readers.

For Hanna, her post offers a chance for continual learning, for gaining new skills and knowledge; she also said that socialising with colleagues after work helped to build her network and professional identity. For trainees, chatting with fellow librarians can be a good way of finding opportunities, such as chances to volunteer; and indeed, Hanna left us with the advice to follow our natural curiosity, asking established professionals about their careers and pursuing any intriguing leads. – Micha, Andi

Wellcome Library

Danny Rees’ talk on the Wellcome Library and his role as an outreach librarian touched on and accentuated the diversity of the library’s collections and the active involvement of the Wellcome Trust with the dialogue on access, outreach, and hot topics like the digitisation of manuscripts. Getting excited about cataloguing makes me a rare beast in our group of trainees and it was Danny Rees’ answer to my question about the structure of the
cataloguing department at the Wellcome Library, including specialist librarian and
archivist cataloguers working on specific parts of the collection, which sticks with me.

Photos by Hannah Hickman
Photos by Hannah Hickman

His talk was complemented by the fact that it was followed directly by a fascinating tour. The latter took us to the library and the newly incarnated reading room filled with a bizarre collection of singularly remarkable objects. We were told during the tour that every staff member at the Wellcome library had come to the job with different academic backgrounds and interests and so brought something unique to the greater team. From the fondness with which this reading room/ gallery/social space was described, I like to imagine that the displays included exciting discoveries made by the staff!

The wonderfully unique reading room, with its enlightening medical history exhibits and cosy staircase seating
The wonderfully unique reading room, with its enlightening medical history exhibits and cosy staircase seating

Looked at in unison, the library and this hybrid space confirmed that the Wellcome is not only a multi-faceted institution, but the outcome of a concerted effort to incorporate the pursuit of knowledge, with the preservation and promotion of culturally and historically significant objects relating to the medical sciences. The library, open to anyone who wished to join, felt exactly like an academic research library made more by the beautiful paintings from the Wellcome collection which were unaffectedly exhibited throughout. Small things like the colour-coded finding aids on the shelf-ends, both considered and
decorative, hinted at a careful guardianship and respect for the space and collections on
behalf of both readers and staff.

The leaflet for the library boasts the heading “the free library for the incurably curious” and adorns my wall as a reminder that I have yet to walk up to the reception desk, identity proof in hand, to officially join the ranks of the inquisitive. That said, I expect it’ll stay there; it gave me great delight to see what I hope was an intentional medical pun—the readers are incurable, not terminal, you see! – Micha

Andi, Micha and Duncan with the virtual autopsy table, the popular exhibit revealing layers of the human body
Andi, Micha and Duncan with the virtual autopsy table, the popular exhibit revealing layers of the human body

Extract Information (Intellectual Property)

As trainees, many of us are most familiar with academic librarianship, and perhaps with working in public libraries; so Jane List surprised us with her talk about
Extract Information, the patent research company she founded in 2013. Jane works
primarily as a consultant involved in research to solve her clients’ IP-related problems.
She set up her business after a career in research and development librarianship, and
database-testing for scientific research bodies. She has built up a wealth of experience of
information roles in intellectual property, with one of her areas of expertise being Asian patent information; an area that is fast growing with the advance of technology in the Far East, particularly in Korea. She told us that this has created a demand amongst businesses and legal organisations for translators of Asian languages; so Korean-speaking information
managers could find they have an unexpected skill to offer in the field of IP. – Andi

Photo by Michael Neubert
Photo by Michael Neubert

Careers tips from Suzanne Wheatley and Victoria Sculfor, Recruitment Specialists

Suzanne and Victoria from Sue Hill Recruitment (@SueHillRec) and TFPL (@tfpl_Ltd)
gave some extremely useful advice on careers planning and writing a CV for
recruitment agencies. Highlights included:

• Make the personal profile on your CV reflect what you’re doing at the moment: recruiters want to build up a picture of you to help them find the most suitable opportunities

• Also on your CV, list your achievements, technical experience such as the software you regularly use at work, and professional activity (training, forums, open days you’ve been to)

• Recruiters are very willing to work to your timescale: let them know when you’re looking to start work, and they’ll bear this in mind when finding opportunities for you

• Creating a profile on a site like LinkedIn makes you more accessible to potential

• Find a job you love: you will be more productive at work, and much happier

– Andi

This is the first of a 2-part series of blog posts on this excellent open day. The next
instalment features the BBC Archive, Mishcon de Reya, Morgan Stanley and the LSE Library!
Primary editor: Andi Glover

Intellectual Property Rights: I know you’ve been thinking about them!

So a couple of weeks ago I ventured into London for a conference on Questioning Rights: Disruptive and emerging (Intellectual Property Rights) IPR management practices in the arts. It was housed in Central St. Martins’ new location in the Granary building behind King’s Cross St. Pancras.

I’d intended to take a photo of it as it was looking gorgeous in the spring sunshine but I accidentally took a picture of the cake counter in the café instead.

Cake counter at Yumchaa in the Granary Building.
Cake counter at Yumchaa in the Granary Building.

As for the conference itself, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect…but what I found was an interesting and engaging conference bringing together academics, professionals and artists to talk about their perspectives on IPR.

While the first two sessions were geared more towards the creators rather than the users of works and weren’t really applicable to me, it was good to hear their preception of how IPR works and how it affects them.

A common thread that emerged was that IPR legislation in its current state is both baffling to the uninitiated and hopelessly behind the times. Most speakers seemed to agree that there needed to be a demystification of IPR and/or a move away from using IPR. Perhaps because legislation is better at addressing actions rather than intent when it comes to IP?

There’s quite a grey area between inspiration and imitation that current IPR doesn’t address and a fear that excessive reliance on legislation will stifle creativity. In their close-knit communities artists rely heavily on self-policing and reputation, but this only works if you are personally invested in the group. Once their IP moves to a wider (and relatively anonymous) audience this framework breaks down.

Design and Artists Copyright Society talked about how they helped people manage their creative legacy and its disposal, but as far as I could tell they did not have any consultants with curatorial or archival experience (or indeed any experience with the heritage sector except as artists), which seems a bit one sided. How do they address the needs of future researchers who might be interested in an artist’s creative process or social context rather than the end product? Is it even on their radar?

It was a shame that the session on ‘Making the Most of Cultural Assets’ was at the end of the day as it ran a bit long and there wasn’t really time left for discussion. I thought it was quite relevant because much of the day dealt with the need for addressing what becomes of a work once it leaves an artist’s sphere of influence and certainly know what people actually want or expect to take away from it (rather than assuming) would help in formulating policy.

My favourite talk of the day was probably Ben White’s from the British Library. It was mainly about copyright and how it affects the heritage sector. He also touched on recent legislation regarding orphaned works and the EU Observatory’s Office of Internal Harmonisation (which he assured us was not as Orwellian as it sounded). He was quite enthusiastic about the way collective licencing works in Scandinavia, France, and especially Germany; it sounds like a model that would really benefit us! So I do hope that that’s the direction licencing goes in in the UK.

For those who don’t know (including me before this talk!) extended collective licencing means that an organisation (e.g. screenwriter’s guild) can extend their mandate to cover non-members and grant licences on their behalf. The problem with this in the UK is that it’s a limited licence subject to renewal after a few years, so an organisation could potentially end up investing significantly in a collection or work only to not have its licence renewed.

A bad deal!

At the end of the day the conference certainly got me ‘questioning rights’ and where IPR will go in the future.

Visit to the House of Commons Library

Hi, I’m Rachel, and alongside Catherine I work as one of the graduate trainees at the Taylor Institution Library. Recently I was lucky enough to be selected to attend an open day at the House of Commons Library, London.

The House of Commons Library
The House of Commons Library, via www.parliament.uk

The library is situated at the heart of the Palace of Westminster, very close to the Commons debating chamber. As a working library it maintains a lending collection of 260,000 monographs, a detailed reference section and a large holding of journals.  Interestingly, thanks to a recent freedom of information request, we know that the two most borrowed books from the library are ‘How to be an MP’ and ‘How Parliament Works’ (I’m not sure whether to be reassured by this or not!).

The House of Commons Library also has a unique role in providing a fully confidential and impartial research service to MPs and their staff. The library employs around 60 subject specialists tasked with carrying out detailed research in response to member’s requests and enquiries. These enquiries cover a huge range of subjects, and can range from a simple question of fact checking (e.g., “What proportion of votes did the Labour candidate receive in the 2013 election of a Borough Councillor for Parbold?”), to more complex and controversial issues (e.g. “What is the evidence for and against the culling of badgers in the British countryside?”). The library describes its major function as ensuring that its readers – our elected representatives – are kept as well informed as possible.

As well as responding to individual requests, the library also produces a selection of pre-prepared information resources. These can be in the form of short “standard notes” that cover the basic information central to an issue or topic, or longer research papers. Staff also produce “debate packs” which are put together in advance of every debate held in the chambers that is scheduled to last for 90 minutes or longer. These packs allow every MP to familiarise themselves with the facts and figures, as well as with the broader debates surrounding an issue. Much of this material is made publicly available online.

One of the most interesting parts of the day was a talk given by Chris Sear, head of customer services, who explained that the library was in the process of creating a new dedicated front of house customer service team to focus more on ‘face to face’ customer support.

That the library chooses to use the term “customer” is interesting. Whilst I am not sure how comfortable I feel with the commercial connotations of the term, its use does place an important emphasis on the quality of a library’s relationships with its readers. A customer is not a passive service user; they are paying for this service (though, in the case of libraries, often indirectly) and therefore expect it to be of a certain standard. In thinking about how to create a positive relationship between library and user, perhaps the concepts of customer service are not a bad place to start.

Chris argued that the first, and in many ways most important, step in achieving good customer service is to identify what those customers actually want. To do this, the library is working hard to collect as much information and feedback from their customers as possible. One interesting and simple measure they had recently taken in response to an identified customer need was to provide facilities for charging mobile phones, and in doing so they found that footfall through the library increased dramatically. Chris also pointed out that there are wider needs that the library tries to cater for.  For example, many of the MPs would like to use the library not only for work but for relaxation. In response to this the library provides plenty of comfortable and informal seating areas, and a selection of journals and books intended for leisure use.

Chris emphasised that it is important to think carefully about who your customers are, and how they access the library. In addition to many readers using the library in person, the House of Commons Library also caters for a large number of constituency-based staff. For these customers, phone and email-based services are essential, and the library actively tries to reach out to them in terms of promoting the services they can provide.

I had a fantastic day at the House of Commons Library and would like to thank Staff Development for funding this visit.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit a library which works so differently to one in an academic setting such as the Bodleian and found it particularly interesting to find out more about the role of the librarian-researcher.  If you ever get a chance to visit, go!

Visit to the National Art Library

Although I am undertaking my traineeship at the Law Bod and am hugely enjoying it, my background is actually in Art History and, at the end of last term, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the National Art Library for a private tour and a chance to learn more about the profession of art librarianship.

The library is housed in the wonderful Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington and, having arrived in London a little early on a particularly chilly December morning, I wasted no time in scurrying into this magical place for a quick look around. Established in the 19th century, the collection – which spans over two thousand years and four different continents – is a treasure trove of inspiration and creativity: from fashion and textiles to glass and metalwork; prints, paintings, and photography to sculpture, ceramics, and furniture.

The V&A’s John Madjeski Garden – image courtesy of Edward Hill Photography, via the Victoria & Albert Museum website.

It’s an easy place in which to lose both yourself and your bearings – and I must admit that, in my search for the library entrance, I did spend quite a while wandering around the ironwork galleries in circles and puzzling over floorplans before realising that I was looking for stairs that didn’t actually exist. But I got there in the end, to be greeted by Assistant Librarian Sally Williams and a truly beautiful reading room.

Sally explained that the NAL is a public library that anyone can register to use by applying for a reader’s ticket. This is a straightforward process without the need for formal letters of recommendation or academic credentials (although certain items are restricted), meaning that the library has a reputation for being more friendly and approachable than others of its kind. The library’s welcoming attitude also attracts a wide variety of readers – from curators and academics, to arts professionals and collectors, to students and interested members of the general public.

Like the Law Library here at Oxford, the NAL is reference only – meaning that no books are permitted to leave the reading rooms. Most of the material is stored in closed stacks rather than on open display, and readers are required to order items for consultation either in advance of their visit using the online library catalogue, or on the day by filling out a paper request slip. With the exceptions of the Linder Bequest, Linder Archive and Linder Collection (three groups of material by and relating to Beatrix Potter), the Renier Collection of Children’s Literature, and a large number of other children’s books (all of which are kept in the Victoria & Albert Museum Archives at Blythe House in West London), everything is stored within the library itself and the staff carry out book collections every hour to retrieve requested items. Sally stressed that it can take up to 40 minutes to locate and deliver an item to a reader, so I think she felt a bit better when I told her it can take an entire day here!

The library’s holdings, which consist of over 1 million items, are split into two categories: the General Collection and Special Collections. The first of these spans a variety of formats – such as books, journals, magazines and electronic resources – and includes all key artistic areas covered by the V&A, as well as a broader range of Humanities-based material such as literary and historical works. Two particularly useful features for researchers are the large collections of auction and exhibition catalogues, which can help to provide vital background information regarding the provenance and historical context of specific items. Because the library’s acquisitions remit is so broad, it also holds a number of surprising things: for example, hundreds of back-editions of Vogue (useful for fashion students) and a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.  The Special Collections continue this broad coverage, and mostly contain items that require extra care for conservation reasons – such as manuscripts or elaborately bound books. For more information about the library’s collections, click here.

The National Art Library's main reading room - image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum website.
The National Art Library’s main reading room – image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum website.

Making up one aspect of the V&A’s Word and Image Department (the largest section in the museum), the NAL also functions as the curatorial division for the art of the book. As such, its staff structure – made up of around 40 people – is split into two areas: Collections and Information Services. While the Collections team are concerned primarily with the display and conservation of the physical items themselves, the Information Services team are focused more on front-of-house matters such as reader enquiries and the library’s online presence.

Sally is based in the Information Services department, and a large part of her role includes giving tours and inductions like the one she was kind enough to give me. As part of my session Sally introduced me to Librarian Bernadette Archer, who is also part of the Information Services team and is responsible for tasks including the maintenance of the library’s website and intranet, alongside more specialised projects such as the digitisation of artists’ books. Talking to both Sally and Bernadette was extremely interesting, as my conversations with them highlighted two different views on the best route into art librarianship:

Sally originally trained in textile practice, before going on to work in a museum and obtaining an NVQ in curating. In exactly the same way I’ve done, she then decided to move from the museum sector to the library profession, which is how she came to her position at the NAL and is now being sponsored through an NVQ in Information Studies. Although Sally was quick to admit that hers has been a rather unconventional journey, she was very encouraging of the idea that it’s possible to get into art librarianship at a junior level before undertaking a postgraduate qualification.

Bernadette, however, took the more traditional route of gaining a Masters in librarianship prior to employment in the field and advised that, in her experience, art libraries value a postgraduate qualification from an accredited library school more highly than a background in the arts. I was hugely surprised to learn that, as far as Bernadette knew, none of the staff members at the NAL are trained in Art History!

So, all in all, I came away with a lot of positive guidance to consider. I have since joined the UK branch of the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS UK) in order to further my knowledge and current awareness of the field, as well as to receive information on job vacancies and events. I have also been researching City University’s MA in Information Studies in the Cultural Sector, which looks incredibly interesting and is definitely something I would like to consider in the future.*

Many thanks to Emma Sullivan and Tamsyn Prior from the Bodleian Staff Development team for helping me to arrange this visit, and to Sally Williams and Bernadette Archer at the NAL for sparing the time to tell me a bit about what they do.

*Edit 01/04/2014: Since writing this post I have been informed by City University that, unfortunately, the MA in Information Studies in the Cultural Sector is being discontinued.