We arranged this visit to the KCL Maughan Library and Foyle Special Collections library to fit in with a visit to the 'Writing the Middle Ages' exhibition. People's first impressions were how beautiful the C19th Gothic building was.
Sally Brock, the Information Services Centre Manager began her tour by telling us about the background of the building. It was the former home of the Public Record Office, purpose built to be fire proof, and had been beautifully restored and refurbished when aquired by KCL in 1998.
We started in the Weston Room, which incorporates features from the former Chapel of the Master of the Rolls, and is often used for receptions and filming. We were shown one of the preserved cells originally used for storing documents. The arrangement of the space into these cells with a mezzanine level had been retained, although some of the walls and arches had been opened up to bring in more light and create a more open effect. The Round Room, with its impressive glass dome was a former PRO reading room, modelled on the British Museum's round reading room, and remains a popular place to work with current library users.
Sally told us about some of the services and facilities offered by the Information Services Centres, and trainees compared these to those at their own libraries. The combined department 'Information Services and Systems' meant that IT and library services were very well integrated.
In the Foyle Special Collections library, we met Katie Sambrook, the Special Collections Librarian. Her and a colleague introduced some items from their collection to us. These included some beautifully illustrated travel diaries and early scientific works. King's had recently acquired the historic library collections of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (around 60,000 items).
At the end of the visit, we went back to the Weston Room to see the 'Writing the Middle Ages' exhibition, curated by a King's student in collaboration with the Special Collections department, and including items on loan from other places. This contained medieval writing materials, manuscripts and early printed works, along with later translations/editions and works inspired by the medieval period. We were told that the material in the exhibition would be digitised and made available online.
Overall it was a fascinating building, and a great example of a sympathetic renovation, which combined modern and historical features.