Visit to the London Library - 15th December 2016

Our last visit of 2016 led us to the London Library. Tucked away just a few minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly on St. James’s Square, the London Library is what many avid readers and librarians would most likely call their “dream library”. Originally an old town house, extended over the decades to accommodate its rapidly growing collections, the library is full of picturesque reading rooms with old wooden furniture, comfortable armchairs and balustrades for, of course, more books. It is also probably one of the only libraries that still maintains its book lifts. The library opened in 1841 and was envisioned by its founder, Scottish author, historian, and biographer Thomas Carlyle, in contrast to the then often overcrowded and reference-only British Museum Library. Carlyle wanted to create a subscription and lending library where readers could join for a membership fee and read or study in a tranquil, comfortable atmosphere as well as borrow books to read at home. Now members are able to read a vast variety of over one million books, mainly on arts and humanities subjects, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present day, across 2000 subjects and in 55 different languages with about 8000 new acquisitions made annually. 

One of the book lifts in the London Library

Caring for such a large and historically significant collection while allowing most of it to be open access and borrowed is no small task. So it seems appropriate that we were first ushered to the conservation studio, where the team’s current project is to implement preventative conservation techniques by packing old and fragile books into specially made preservation boxes tailored to each book’s individual size to prevent exposure to light, dust, pollution or other wear and tear.

Afterwards we were led to the Victorian grille-floored book stacks which run over four floors and form part of the structure of one of the first steel-framed buildings in London. Dating from the 1890s, they were a then great innovation in the construction of libraries to aid with ventilation and temperature control.

The Victorian Stacks of the London Library

Here we were also introduced to the library’s unique classification system, invented by Charles Hagberg Wright, who was appointed as librarian of the London Library in 1893. He set out to aim for a good balance between readers finding what they were interested in while allowing for browsing and serendipitous finds. Some sections we found included: a section for every King Charles you could think of, epigrams, and cheese. The classification system was particularly interesting to me because the library in which I am completing my Graduate Traineeship, the Warburg Library, has a similarly idiosyncratic way of sorting its books. In the Warburg Library we talk about the concept of the “good neighbour”, in which books are grouped to aid researchers to serendipitously find the book they did not know they were looking for and which could provide them with a key new insight into their field.

While being led through the many rooms and floors of the library, including the famous Victorian Reading Room, we encountered further interesting features. One of them was the Small Books Cabinet, in which around 350 books measuring up to 5 inches tall are kept, so they do not disappear between their larger companions. Another was the enormous, multi-volume bound catalogue (now supplemented by a digital version) of the library and the so-called Times Room in which the back runs of hundreds of periodicals, including original copies of over 200 years of the Times newspaper are stored.

The Small Books Cabinet
While exploring the library’s many corners, our guides illustrated the London Library’s history for us. The London Library has had a lively history with many illustrious patrons and readers to people it, including T.S. Elliot, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and other giants of the literary world, which gave the staff a rich canon of narratives to pass on to us. One we were told was how T.S. Elliot presented a hand-written manuscript of The Wasteland for auction to help fund the London Library to pay a tax bill from Westminster Council after it had been incorrectly classed as a “gentlemen’s club” rather than an educational institution. Another was about how library staff actually lived in the library during the Second World War to be prepared for immediate on-site rescue action should the library be bombed (as indeed it was in 1944 destroying over 16000 volumes). Its history with its many eccentricities is part of the essential character of the library and what makes it so appealing.

As a Library trainee from an academic research library, it was very worthwhile seeing how a historic, independent lending library differs in its nature, particularly in terms of its readership, membership policy, collection policy and funding structure. Thank you to Amanda Corp, Head of Enquiries, and Amanda Stebbings, Head of Member Services, for the tour and for answering our questions afterwards.

For more information on the London Library, you can visit their website here:

Trainee Profiles 2016-17

The Institute of Historical Research
Tundun Folami

Hello, I’m Tundun, the new graduate trainee at The Institute of Historical Research Library. Before starting the traineeship in September, I was a Library Customer Service Officer at Barnet Libraries. I graduated from Kingston University in 2015 with a degree in International Relations with French, and like many others, considered many avenues after graduation such as the Civil Service, teaching and further study. In the end, my positive experience with the academic liaison librarians at my university as well as my experience of working in a public library led to my decision to become a librarian.

So far, I am really enjoying being a trainee. 10 weeks in and I am now overseeing a range of daily tasks. A typical day consists of shelving, fetching requests from the onsite store, checking the library’s social media accounts, answering enquiries and French acquisitions. I also help with cataloguing and reclassifying the Latin American and North American collections, book conservation and repairs and creating research guides to the collections. This has involved a fair amount of research, locating books and journals, and definitely tests the limits of my language skills from time to time. It has taken quite a while to settle in and get used to new library systems, collections and readers, but I am definitely starting to get to grips with what it means to be a ‘real’ librarian.

What is so great about the traineeship is that as well as receiving a great deal of support and training internally, we are also encouraged to attend courses and visits throughout the year. It is also a huge comfort being part of a group of trainees in London, as not only do we get to visit other libraries across London and beyond, but we can discuss issues that come up along the way. I’m still not sure if I want to study full- or part-time next year, or look for further library work, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the traineeship and what might follow.

Trainee Profiles 2016-17

Naomi Rebis
Institute of Classical Studies/Joint Societies Library


I've been the Winnington-Ingram trainee at the ICS Library for about two months now, and have already done so many new and exciting things that I felt I ought to write something about them before they fade to the back of my mind!

A bit about me: I graduated from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, in June 2015 after three wonderful years studying Classics, and found myself unsure of what to do next. During my final year, I had helped the college librarian sort a large bequest of Classics books, and was then offered a fortnight's paid work there over the summer, so library traineeships seemed the logical next step. I was very excited to come across the Winnington-Ingram traineeship, and the chance it offered to be involved with Classics again, so, although I worried I might not have enough experience for the post, I applied. And I am very glad I did!

It seems apt that I should write my first ever blog post after what feels like three months of 'firsts'. Not only has moving to London been something of a culture shock, but my new job has opened up all sorts of events and opportunities that I never anticipated. I cannot speak for other traineeships, but at ICS the whole team has been very eager to get me 'out and about' doing things, and it has definitely not just been two months processing new books in the back room!

There has been some processing, of course, but that is very good fun as it involves using stamps, several types of glue, and even a little knife to score the spine where the beetle is going to go (beetle being the in-house term for the sticker that we write the book's classmark on). Sometimes it feels a little like being back in primary school, happily cutting and sticking different things, though of course when it comes to repairing old or damaged books rather more reverence is required! I have learnt how to make an Oxford hollow (a tube of paper which you put beneath a damaged spine to strengthen it, and help the book open/close more easily), how to straighten dog-eared corners, and how to 'tip in' (i.e. glue back in place) loose pages. Being forced to cover my workbooks with sticky-back plastic in Year 7 has finally come in useful, as sometimes we use Vista-foil here to cover books and stop them getting tatty.

Other day-to-day jobs include shelving; issuing/returning books; sending out postal loans, or books for academics to review; signing people up for membership to either the Institute [reference only] or one of the Joint Societies [borrowing]; and scanning articles for readers all over the country. I also spend a lot of time directing people up to the fourth floor, as the Senate House library is just above us and that can confuse visitors. (Number one rule for when people say they want to join the library is to ask WHICH library, as you don't want to go through a whole speech about Society membership if they want to join Senate House!)

Outside the library I have been to an exhibition on ancient Sicily at the British Museum; a set of talks at IHR (Institute of Historical Research) about emerging research into Library and Information Studies (LIS); and an information day about the LIS Masters programme at UCL. The Institute has very kindly agreed to pay for me to attend a day-conference in Cambridge about historic libraries and engagement with special collections, so there is definitely huge scope on the traineeship for visits and events.

In short, I would heartily recommend this graduate traineeship to any Classicist, or ancient historian, with an interest in working in libraries. It has already been such a rewarding experience, and it is really lovely to be surrounded by Classics books all day (even if I can't read them on the job!). It is also incredibly exciting to talk with undergraduates/postgraduates/academics about their research, and be encouraged that Classics is still a living, breathing, endlessly relevant subject.


Hello. I'm Michael Townsend, one of the librarians on the Trainee Library Committee, and I just wanted to say welcome to the new trainees for the coming academic year. As with previous trainee years, feel free to make this blog your own, maybe starting out writing a quick profile of yourself, then maybe highlighting the visits and training sessions that will be arranged over the coming year or indeed anything else LIS related that catches your eye...this is your blog!

Visit to Cambridge Libraries - 30th June 2016 - Pictures and Points

It was a miraculously sunny day in Cambridge when the graduate trainees touched down for a packed day of library tours.

Christ's College

First stop was to Christ's College library, where we were met by Christ's graduate trainee this year, Nick Butler. Nick showed us around their modern working library, as well as their old library, which contains special collections from their most famous alumni, including Charles Darwin's letters and a first edition of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Nick explains the foundations of the old library, which was begun with a donation from the college's foundress Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Some of the library's special collections, including first editions of Milton's Paradise Lost and Darwin's The Origin of Species

Joseph explores the annex!

University Library

Next we headed to the main University Library, which this year is celebrating its 600th birthday. Here we met Claire Sewell, Research Skills Coordinator, who led us around the warren of reading rooms, basements, and most excitingly, the library's famous 17 storey tower, which holds the legal deposit material of yesteryear - mainly trashy Victorian novels. Claire explained the challenges that legal deposit libraries face today, with the amount of publications they receive rising every year.

The catalogue hall. The ornate doors leading to the reading room, as well as the building itself of course, were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who is responsible for such famous landmarks as Battersea Power Station and the red telephone box.

 Interior of the main reading room

Trainees come back down to earth after their trip up the tower

Corpus Christi College

After lunch in Market Square we headed past the the Corpus Clock - which is known as a 'time eater', intended to remind you of your own mortality, and on to the beautiful interior courtyards of Corpus Christi College. Corpus has two libraries, and it was to the Taylor Library first, a modern, open-plan library space first opened in 2008, where we were shown around by librarian Rebecca Gower. They allow 24 hour access and are equipped with group study rooms, a media suite and bean bags!

Across to the Parker Library, so named for the college's benefactor, Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker, whose collection of over 400 manuscripts left to the college makes the library one of the greatest treasure troves for medieval manuscripts and early printed books in the world. Librarian Beth Dumas showed us around and explained the extensive preservation work required for these rare materials. She and her colleague also manage Parker on the Web - a digital library of every imagable page of almost every manuscript in the Parker Library, and build bibliographies for all the items in the collection. We were lucky enough to have time to see the current exhibition, which currently has on show gems like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and one of  Anne Boleyn's letters.

Upstairs at the Parker Library

English Faculty Library

Lastly, we headed to the English faculty library, where we were given an insight into the role of the subject libraries, who operate in the 3-tier library system at Cambridge where students have the option of studying at their college library, faculty library or the main university library. We were given a tour by assistant librarian David, who showed us their specialised collections and described the efforts of the team to really understand their students' research needs - which includes Tea @ 3 - a daily cuppa so that students can take a break and chat with staff in an informal environment.

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.