Welcome collection visit

24th February
Wellcome library

I think the question on everyone's lips (and which, thankfully, Sheena was brave enough to ask!) was 'is money any object?'.
The answer was a coy, 'well, not really'. And frankly, it shows.

A bit of background to the Wellcome. The Wellcome Trust was founded in the early 20th century by Henry Wellcome, a self-made head of a massive pharmaceutical company. Wellcome used the wealth amassed by his business to fund research into his interests: medicine, history of medicine and sociological issues relating to the body and health world over, throughout history. Subsequently, the Wellcome collection has been formed: a mixture of galleries, libraries, collections and basically a public educational focus for the trust.

The library itself is basically open to the public as a reference library. New users have to be over 16, have an interest in the subject and provide proof of address. The online catalogues are open to all although there is restricted access to certain materials. For example, the images library has in its collection some sensitive medical images. On request a member of the medical profession may gain access to this but a general browser would not.

The library collections include books, manuscripts, archives, films and pictures. It's housed in a gorgeous1920s building on the Euston road and has had a recent refurbishment: we had a talk in a lecture room next to the glass walled special collections room (about 5 librarians to 1 user! Rows of desks laid out with book cushions) and padded (plush carpet) though some of the book collections to the main library rooms. Users can access free wifi and, despite our guide's protestation that they have a space problem, each shelf has a generous gap for future knowledge and the Wellcome's main closed access storage space is under the main building (really, who can afford central London storage space!).

Having said this, the library is not without its problems: even though Wellcome are solvent enough to catalogue any back catalogue- something which a lot of academic libraries would struggle to finds the funds to do- the cataloguing system itself is at best quirky. Apparently, they use at least 3 different in house cataloguing systems for different collections and within the main medical history collection, the layout of the books is somewhat counter intuitive.

Also, somewhat surprisingly for a medical library, there are access issues for wheelchair users and those with restricted mobility because of the way the lifts essentially bypass some of the security doors. These users can only gain access to some of the collection if accompanied by a member of staff. Also on a practical level, there are many tall ladders and books on tall shelves which could potentially be a health and safety issue.

However, all in all, this was on in my top 3 library visits. Of course, this was also helped by the Peyton and Byrne cafe downstairs and some divine cakes....High recommended.

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