British Library Tour and Presentation - Tuesday 26th April 2016

Our visit started with a friendly welcome from BL staff members, Adrian Shindler (Humanities Reference Specialist) and Kelvin Eli (Collection Storage Manager). Upon receiving our visitor passes in the Front Hall, we were taken down to one of the underground basements to observe how the Library goes about storing its printed materials. The space is vast and contains rows and rows of open shelving used to store items in high demand, while rolling-stacks are used to store items in slightly less demand.  The basements are all temperature and humidity controlled environments, so materials stand a much better chance of being preserved for the benefit of future generations. The basements also run in close proximity to the Victoria line (London Underground), and the rumble of the tube trains can be heard on a frequent basis!

Inside the Operations Room, staff constantly receive new requests for materials, which they must pick and scan before sending up to the Reading Rooms. To this end, staff rely on a network of conveyor belts to transport materials from one part of the building to another. Kelvin drew our attention to the fact the Library takes anything between 1100 and 1300 requests per day. Overall, it struck me very much as a system comparable to a modern warehouse setting, compounded by the efficiency with which the whole operation was carried out – registered BL readers will know the Library sets a 70 minute deadline for the majority of requests to be processed.

During the tour we walked past multiple trolleys filled with early printed books. These, we were told, were being sent across to Germany to be digitized as part of the BL’s joint project with Google Books. According to Kelvin, approximately ten thousand out-of-copyright books are sent to Google every month. We also spent time in the Library’s sound collections, which featured all sorts of recordings available through an impressive array of different formats: 19th century wax cylinders, acetate discs, oversized LPs, cassettes, CDs, MiniDiscs, and so forth. Similarly, we spotted film reels, Betamax, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray formats for audio-visual recordings related to drama, poetry, and literature in performance, as well as the moving image in general.  

After the tour concluded, we were introduced to Hedley Sutton (Asia & Africa Reference Team Leader), who presented half a dozen or so highlights chosen from the Asia & Africa Collections. Firstly, we looked at an incunable with contemporary world map illustrations produced just before the discovery of the Americas. Elsewhere, we glanced through a 19th century Indian textiles catalogue; an 18th century East India Company ship’s log; an early printed book devoted to the legendary Christian King, Prester John; and a 20th century colonial officer’s ‘recreational guide’, entitled The Hoghunters Annual. The presentation was extremely interesting and demonstrated the research potential to be gained not just in rare books, but all kinds of ephemera too.

The final part of the afternoon was spent inside the Asia & Africa Reading Room, which fits around ninety people in total, and is considered one of the more pleasant spaces to work, mainly due to the selection of portraiture paintings on display. Many thanks to Adrian, Kelvin, and Hedley for taking the time to show us around the Library and for their erudite responses to our questioning.             

The British Film Institute Tour - Tuesday 8th December 2015

The London Research Library Trainees where given a tour of the British Film Institute (BFI) Reuben Library by Sarah Currant, Librarian for Reader Services. After a short explanation of the small but well-designed reading room, Sarah discussed the library and her own career. The Edwin Fox Foundation Reading Room has six public access computer terminals with access to the BFI’s Collections and Information Database (BFI ScreenonlineBFI InView and the FIAF database). As a research library, the BFI uses onsite access to uphold copyright restrictions. Sarah stated that she is surprised that these computers are not used more, because of the wonderful material that can be viewed on them. Users also have the opportunity to use three digital scanners to retrieve information held on microfiche and roll film.

The library collection is 81 years old and one of the largest written collections on film and television in the world. The Library, notes as a point of pride, that their oldest material is older than the BFI National Archive, which is sometimes recognised as a more prestigious counterpart. The library holds 5,000 serials titles and over 200 current titles with worldwide coverage. Sarah joked, that you wouldn’t believe how many journals are just called ‘film.’ The Library has 45,000 books, and acquires around 1,000 new titles per year.  

The BFI Collections Information Database (CID) contains information collected by the BFI since 1933 and holds over 800,000 film titles (including television programmes, documentaries, newsreels, as well as educational and training films). Although CID is updated daily, less than 50% of listed titles are actually represented in their physical collection. The collection is roughly 20% open access, and around 55% in total is held at the BFI Southbank. The remaining 45% of the collection is held offsite at the J. Paul Getty Jnr Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The Library is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:30 - 19:00, the enquiry desk is man by 2 people at all times and has 3 separate timetabled shifts.

The Library is available for private hire and has produced events such as the Salon Discussion: Writings on Artists' Moving Image (Monday 11 January 2016) and Jean-Luc Godard as Architect (Wednesday 13 January 2016). The Libraries next event is Flare at 30 a lively illustrated talk celebrating 30 years of the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival (29th February 2016). This is to make some small profit and illustrate a further integration with the rest of the BFI.

Sarah stated that the BFI had recently gone through a change project, after major cuts in funding, but that this had led to many positives. The move to the Southbank complex had made the Library more central to the institutions goals and had changed its customer base. With access now free to the library, visitor statistics have dramatically increased. With annual visitor targets, the BFI gets over 70,000 people through the reading room doors per year. Due to the relocation in June 2012, the BFI is now getting more students from Kings College than Birbeck and UCL. Sarah noted that many users were students that simply wanted a quiet place to work in central London, rather than specific information about film. As a small library with only 50 TipTon chairs, 30 for library users, and another 20 users for specialist research, Sarah feels it would be very difficult to reduce numbers based on an interest in film material if the library ever got too full.

Sarah mentioned that the library does take a series of statistics to illustrate its cost effective nature, and was looking into the possibility of creating a world map that indicated the distance that some visitors have gone to see the library. However, she did state that the library does not have membership cards, and gets visitors to fill in daily registration cards to count stats.

Having started at the BFI in 2005 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library, Sarah advised students to focus on taking broad MA’s that encompassed aspects of information management and digital systems to give them the best opportunity when applying for jobs.

Tour, tea and talks at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies – 8th March 2016

“You think you'd like to play ball with the law?” – Bob Dylan*

The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) has been housed in Charles Clore House since 1976, a long, brooding, Brutalist building designed by National Theatre architect Sir Denys Lasdun. The institute itself has been around since 1947. Four dedicated graduate trainees made their way to Russell Square on a chilly-but-bright Tuesday afternoon for what promised to be an interesting afternoon in the hands of legal librarians.

The library entrance being on the 4th floor, it’s there that we met Access Librarian Lisa Davies, who started off the visit by giving us a 30 minute tour of the place. Split over four levels, the library stocks around 180,000 volumes. This is split between primary legal material and secondary legal material, the latter being interpretations or commentaries of the former. Their own in-house classification system orders these works based of geography or subject, meaning that not all books on a certain topic will be found in the same area – this a not a library for the casual browser. As well as books (in the broadest sense of the word), they also have a significant range of legal journals from around the world.

The reading rooms are situated on the lower ground floor (L2) up to the third floor, accessible through an internal lift. The 4th floor holds the issue desk, photocopying room, library offices and a large open access computer lab where users can access the internet and the library’s 70+ online and subscription-based databases. Although a lot of primary legal material is becoming available online, the library has a duty to collect and archive printed versions as well, and so provides both.

We were briefly shown the (stiflingly) warm reading rooms with their utilitarian-looking desks and exciting views of Russell Square and beyond. As well as normal work spaces, PhD students can rent a so-called carrel – a small, private office with desk, lockable drawers, lamp etc. – for a small weekly fee. Users of the IALS library are around 95% PhD/post-doctorate students, institute staff or students from the University of London colleges, but law firms can also pay a one-off/annual fee to use the library.  

After the tour, it was off to the staff common room for a cup of tea and chat with Lisa about her career and role as Access Librarian, a role dedicated to promoting and improving access to the library through advertising, outreach and off-site support. It was here we met one of the IALS GTs too, Jamie.

Cups of tea aside, we made our way back to the librarian offices for a quick talk about what the IALS library does to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. We all contributed thoughts about how our own libraries meet the requirements of the act, or don’t in some cases, and discussed services that could be offered to users with disabilities. It was a useful, thought provoking talk.

The final stage of the visit was a talk from Helen Gaterell, Document Supply Supervisor. The IALS operates a profit-making document supply service. The income from the service is re-invested into improving the academic library collections and services. There are two types of service on offer: standard (dispatched within the day: £21.80) and express (dispatched in under 60 minutes: £43.60). Subscribing practitioners/firms or academics will contact the library seeking extensive copies of articles, cases or chapters from volumes held in the library. These are then found, photocopied, scanned and sent to the respective client to be used, on the whole, in court cases. Interestingly, there is currently a large demand for material on Nigerian law, as, according the Helen, there are lots of corporate cases involving Nigerians and Shell/BP taking place at the moment.

And that was it! All over in a couple of hours, I felt like we’d learnt a lot about a very (to me at least) unusual library. Although I have no personal interest in playing ball with the law, I found the library’s space surprisingly appealing, and the services on offer seemed well run and efficient. Overall, an intriguing and enlightening trip!

*"Hurricane", Bob Dylan,

N.B.: Feel free to email the above mentioned librarians for more information!
Fig. 1: IALS, smuconlaw, 

Visit to the Guardian - 14th December 2015

On Monday 14th December, a group of the trainees were fortunate enough to visit the headquarters of the Guardian Media Group and meet with both the library and archive teams.

The Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821 by John Edward Taylor and gained national and international acclaim under the editorship of C P Scott who held the post of editor from 1857 to 1914. In addition, Scott bought the paper in 1907 following the death of Taylor’s son and as we learned during the course of our visit, the Scott Trust still maintains ownership of the paper today. The paper moved to its current building in King’s Place near to King’s Cross station in 2008, with the glass-fronted, open plan office space and modern design marking a significant shift for the newspaper.

Upon arrival we were met by Philippa Mole, Acting Head of Archive, who led us on a tour of the building, including the exhibition space, reading room and the photographic and print archive stores. During the tour of the archive, we were able to view a selection of the incredibly eclectic objects kept within the stores. These ranged from negatives of the Beatles, notebooks of renowned Guardian cartoonists, an early example of a ‘laptop’ (the Tandy portable computer from 1983), Betamax film rolls and photographs of an array of famous historical figures. The archive also contains, somewhat surprisingly and initially rather alarmingly, an array of miniature coffins used to mark significant moments over the course of the paper’s history (for example, Philippa explained that a mock funeral was held in 1987 to mark the end of hot metal printing at the newspaper. Crowds of staff turned out for the event, with the pallbearers even donning top hats!)

In addition, Philippa also took time to explain the day-to-day tasks involved with the running of the archive service. The archive holds official records of both the Guardian and the Observer newspapers, as well as acquiring material from people who have been associated with the papers. As Philippa explained however, the archive does not actually contain the newspapers themselves. She noted that the archive deals with a broad swathe of inquiries both internally and externally from private researchers and students. Additionally, the role of the archive team includes creating web resources, writing blog posts, organising tours of the archive for staff and arranging outreach activities.

The archive’s trainee Helen and Information Manager Richard Nelsson, also took time to speak with us and explained their respective roles within the archive and library teams. Richard provided a fascinating insight into the role of the library department, explaining how the team conducts background research for interviews, collates reports for publication departments, produces content for both the print newspaper and online edition, create timelines, attach corrections to articles in the newspaper’s internal database, and compile the daily birthdays column.

Al three kindly answered several questions from the trainees, with topics ranging from if there was a need to justify the existence of a library team within a news media organisation, to electronic data subscription services and the number of research enquiries the team receive. Philippa noted that we were welcome to contact her with any further queries we might have and kindly provided us all with a free copy of the day’s newspaper!

Many thanks once again to Philippa, Richard and Helen for devoting so much of their time to helping us get to know both a fascinating archival collection and understanding the role of libraries and archives within the media sector. The insight we gained was truly invaluable and will be of great assistance as we all begin to embark on our careers into the sector.

For further information about the Guardian Archive and the work of the Library Team see:

Senate House Library Visit - 10th December 2015

We started our visit to Senate House Library with an introduction to the building’s history and architecture from Dr Jordan Landes, history subject librarian. In the war years, Senate House served as the Ministry of Information, and George Orwell’s wife worked there – and so, it is said, came the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was also in this building that the Welfare State was born, when, in 1942, William Beveridge presented the report which was eventually to lead to the establishment of the NHS. Above the entrance to the Macmillan Hall, and its twin, the Beveridge Hall, the ceiling of the ground floor of the south block is decorated with A-Zs, reflecting the fact that this was the first university that did not require students to have a classical education.

We then made our way up to the 4th floor, which was originally the only floor open to readers, and where you would have received your item requests at your desk from a teenage boy in white gloves! Today things have changed somewhat, and all floors 4-7 are open access to readers, while the rest of the 19 floors hold the rest of the collection in closed stacks. The stacks themselves are load bearing and enable the tower to stay upright.

On the 4th floor is the opulently designed Goldsmith’s reading room – donated by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths to house their donation to SHL of the Library of Economic Literature, and which now holds the music collection. We also saw the cataloguing hall, whose irregular shape has had to be adapted to the purposes of a modern digital library. The first OPAC was introduced in the late 1980s, so from then on, all the acquisitions appear in the online catalogue. Before then though, the online record is a little patchy!

Dr Landes then took us through to the exhibition space. She explained that as subject librarian, a portion of her role is promotion of the collection – and one of the ways to do this is through exhibitions. As part of her librarianship degree, she actually took a module in museum studies, and so regularly finds herself employing the skills she learned there still, in her current role.

We next saw the history reading room, furnished with rows of beautiful Chesterfield sofas for the purpose of group study, but which has now become one of the quietest spaces in the library!

Dr Landes then told us more about subject librarianship. Her role encompasses collection development, which for Senate House, as the central Library of the University of London and the School of Advanced Study, is collection led, but in other libraries, particularly in HE libraries with their own students, is led by reader tastes and needs, as well as academic reading lists. This has implications for the cohesiveness of a collection, but has the benefit of being very user-focused. She also spends a lot of time in inductions and training, speaking to about 1,000 students every autumn. The last part of her job is subject promotion, which she does through a variety of activities like the exhibitions we saw earlier, as well as events like conferences and History Day.

Other libraries have changed their staffing models in recent years, and for some, the role of subject librarian no longer exists. King’s College for example no longer have subject librarians and rely instead on a liaison librarian for the whole faculty.

Although she is now a history subject librarian, Dr Landes has worked as subject librarian for fields as diverse as computer science and contemporary dance, and stressed that the role doesn’t necessitate an academic background in the discipline, as there is plenty of opportunity for professional development and training within a job. She also stressed the flexibility of librarianship as a whole and the opportunities for moving between positions themselves, particularly as a role as subject librarian might still encompass skills like cataloguing, digital media or user education. Furthermore, she completed her studies in the US, and found her degree was transferable and recognised in the UK.

We had all our questions answered and Dr Landes encouraged us to email her should we have anything else we’d like to know. She also mentioned that she’d be happy to offer anyone a day of shadowing should they wish to learn more about SHL and subject librarianship. A big thanks to her for the time she took to help us get to know a fascinating collection and a London icon, as well as getting some valuable insight into one of the career paths we might well later find ourselves on! 

Trainee Profiles 2015-2016

Institute of Historical Research Library

Hello! I’ve been the Library Graduate Assistant at the Institute of Historical Research for just over 3 months now, so now that I have settled in I felt it was time to introduce both myself and the Institute of Historical Research Library.

Located within Senate House, the IHR is a reference only research library consisting of a collection of published primary sources which cover the history of Western Europe and its colonial history from the fifth century to the present. In addition, the library contains significant holdings for the United States, Latin America and Asia. The library team is made-up of four permanent members of staff and two who work across both Senate House Library and the IHR Library.

Joining such a small team has been an incredible opportunity as I have been made to feel so welcome and have been asked to participate in an incredibly diverse range of tasks. This has so far consisted of helping to draft a user survey, researching and writing collection guides and blog posts, updating the IHR Library’s website and Facebook account (please like and follow!), helping with event promotion, ordering new acquisitions for the German collection, researching new shelf and floorplan signage and assisting with the creation of training materials for online resources.

This has been in addition to the day-to-day tasks of working in the library: book retrieval from the library’s onsite store in the upper echelons of Senate House tower (incredible view but can be just as scary as it sounds!), re-shelving, dealing with user enquiries, updating the new book shelf and processing inter-library loans. Experience of all of these diverse tasks has definitely made me realise that I never fully appreciated the range of jobs incorporated under the term ‘librarian’ before!

The diverse work and the comprehensive training I’ve received has been of immense help to me as I had no prior experience of working in a library. Before joining the IHR as library trainee, I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in History at the University of Edinburgh. The position at the IHR was therefore ideal for me (combining my love of books and history) but I was unsure if I would have the relevant skills required. Having worked in retail throughout my studies, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the customer service skills I had developed were of value to the library profession. Hence the move to London from Edinburgh and a seemingly vast change in climate – London seems almost tropical in mid-winter in comparison!!

I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at the IHR and cannot believe how quickly the year is flying by. I cannot wait to start visiting other libraries as part of the series of visits that take place during the trainee year. I feel I am learning all the time and have already gained an invaluable insight into the world of librarianship. I would urge anybody to consider the Graduate Trainee programme!
Siobhan Morris
Library Graduate Trainee, Institute of Historical Research

Welcome to the Trainees of 2015/16

Hi All,
  I'm Mike and you'll be seeing me next week at the trainee welcome afternoon here at the Institute of Historical Research. I know some of you have already looked through this blog but this is the year to put your own stamp on it. The types of post included in previous years have been:
  • Trainee Profiles
  • Blogs about the various visits and training sessions
  • Any useful information about the various library school options.
Feel free to make the blog your own.

See you soon.