A Visit to the Westminister Reference Library

Westminster Reference Library appears to be easy to find so we all arrive too early. There is a cold wind blowing from Leicester Square and we decide to wait inside the library. However, Eveleen Rooney welcomes us in straight away and ushers us to the staff kitchen where we sit down on the couches and arm chairs and are served coffee and tea.

Following a sociable introduction, Peter Collins takes us to the front hall of the building and explains about history of library. Isaac Newton and Fanny Burney have lived on this site. The library itself was built in 1928. He then goes on to tell us how, in the present day, the library essentially has two special collections: Arts and Business. And although it is a public reference library, it has 10.000 (art) lending books. The library has 12 members of staff.

We are taken on a tour around part of the building by Eveleen Rooney, starting on the ground floor. This floor is a heavily used space, with books on law and business. This is also where one of the Westminster libraries’ Business Information Points (BIPs) is located. The BIP consists of computers with access to business resource databases, surrounded by shelves with useful book material. The BIP’s aim is to support local enterprise as well as researchers. Eveleen’s job has changed a lot from back room cataloguing to front of house service communicating over the past years, she tells us. Eveleen then takes us to the oldest part of the building: a cold and damp cellar, part of Newton´s house. Moving on to the newer part of the basement, we find the official publications, which are reference only. All books have barcodes and when returned they are marked as used to keep records. The mezzanine is yet another part of the basement, with a very low ceiling. This is where the serials are kept.

On the first floor we are met by Peter again, who shows us the Art & Design collection. The collection comprises 40.000 reference volumes, such as current art magazines. As Peter explains, this part of the library holds materials strong in breadth rather than depth. Another feature of the library is its long opening hours, which is an advantage to the National Art Library. This floor also has an exhibition space. Wooden banisters and book cases, coupled with the calm atmosphere, make this floor an attractive space. 80% of the art and design books are not on open access but can be retrieved in the blink of an eye.

Peter then takes us to the second floor, home of the Art lending library. Like the first floor, this collection is very much geared towards picture research. We walk across the floor and through a door leading to Peter’s work space. His desk is hidden behind shelves with large photography books and in fact buried in art books. We gather around it and learn all about the diverse events that have taken place in the library in the past years. Workshops, talks and tours, book launches and gigs. Theatre space is created by rolling the stacks away, as they are on wheels. Even a knitting group meets regularly amid the bookshelves. Westminster Reference Library is fortunate to have certain celebrities come and use the library. We leave this versatile library with a sense of surprise.

Geri van Essen
Institute of Historical Research Library

Westminster Reference Library

Here is the photo from yesterday's visit..

Applying to Study Library And Information Science… And Beyond: A One-Day Conference

A wide range of speakers provided us with valuable insight into what a career in the LIS field requires, what the dos and don’ts are when applying to Library School, going for an interview, and how libraries and information provision are changing.

The conference was kicked off by Julie Holmes, the Director of Libraries at London Metropolitan University. Her presentation focused on the changing nature of academic libraries. She stressed the importance of fundraising and marketing skills in a time when the political and economic climate is less than favourable towards libraries and academic institutions. It was very encouraging to hear her stress the reasons why professional librarians are, and will always be, indispensable in university libraries. Hearing her take on what the most important skills and attributes are for an aspiring librarian was particularly interesting. Diplomacy and negotiation skills are perhaps not the first skills that come to mind when one thinks of a librarian, but they are becoming increasingly important in a climate in which libraries have to defend their reason for existence.

Holmes’ presentation was primarily concerned with outlining the difficulties and challenges academic libraries are facing, whereas the presentation of the next speaker, Vanda Broughton, Programme Director for the MA in Library Studies at UCL, focused entirely on the conference’s actual topic: applying to study Library and Information Science. I believe that for most of us her presentation was the most useful part of the day. She talked us through all the stages of applying for a place on a course, from writing a letter and a CV to going for an interview and applying for funding. The latter was very useful, as it shed a light on the complex labyrinth of rules and regulations that is the AHRC website. Her advice on tailoring our CV to the application and on what to write in the personal statement have been of great help to me when completing my applications, and I am sure that her advice on what (not) to say at library school interviews will prove to be helpful as well.

The last speaker of the morning, Sarah Ison, Assistant Information Adviser at the University of Brighton, talked about CILIP and their Career Development Group of which she is part. It was interesting to hear more about CILIP groups and the benefits of joining CILIP. The following lunch break gave me the chance to meet several other trainees, all from institutions in and around London. Being the only trainee at Surrey, it was nice to listen to other trainees’ stories of exasperating readers, stubborn members of staff and the endless search of missing books.

The afternoon was dedicated to presentations of and Q and A sessions with recent LIS graduates. Although I have a clear idea of what types of careers I am interested in, it was very interesting to hear more about careers within the LIS field that I did not know about before. Chris Brown, for instance, works as a Research Reserve Coordinator at Imperial College, and Sian Blake coordinates the Customer Services at Kingston. Both stressed the fact that many skills gathered from previous roles and careers will come in useful at a LIS job, and they also talked about what they had learnt from working in the LIS field..

Other recent graduates joined them for the Q and A session. Although this was a good idea, I did not find most of the questions particularly useful, as they mainly focused on the various library courses. The answers to most of these questions can easily be found on the universities’ websites. Perhaps it would have been better if we had been given some time to think over what questions we wanted to ask first. However, overall I would say that this conference was very well-organised, and it provided aspiring librarians with a clear overview of what the current issues in the field are, of what is required of a modern librarian and of what library schools expect of their applicants. Now all we need to do is get into the library school of our choice, gain a qualification and start our careers…

Erika Delbecque
University of Surrey