Visit to the Institute of Historical Research Library

On 10 March 2009, we visited the library at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House. We met in the 'Germany Room', where the Institute's librarian, Robert Lyons, gave us a very informative talk about the scope of the library and the services that it offers to its readers.

Founded in 1921, the library contains a large collection of printed primary sources for the medieval and modern history of Britain and Western Europe and their former colonies. The materials are for reference only, and are not loaned out. The library, for the most part, is open access and does not seek to build up special collections. Also, because its focus is on primary sources, its readers are mainly postgraduate students, researchers and academic staff.

A really interesting feature of the library is that its rooms not only house the collection itself, but also act as venues for seminars.

After the introductory talk, Micol showed us around the library so that we could see the great variety of the collection. It not only holds books and periodicals, but also microfiches and copies of past University of London theses in history. Where possible, the materials are grouped according to country/ geographical area. (There are other possible ways of organising them, e.g. by subject area such as women's history, but it seems to work best to have them arranged geographically).

After the tour, we met up in the Germany Room again, where Robert Lyons spoke to us about the issues which the library has faced when considering how to re-design its space effectively. Any plans need to take into account the dual purpose of the library (the home for the collection, as well as a venue for seminars), the needs and views of its readers, and the various requirements set out by legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act.

At the end of the visit, we were treated to a coffee in the Institute's Common Room. All in all, it was a very interesting and informative visit and it gave us an insight into some of the challenges faced when organising collections and planning library spaces.

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