Institute of Classical Studies Trip
Last Tuesday we had the opportunity to visit the Institute of Classical Studies (ICS) at Senate House Library, where we saw some fascinating rare books, and were given a highly informative tour of the library by Susan, who told us of its long and interesting history. The ICS has promoted research into the cultures of the ancient world for sixty years, and its materials encompass many different ancient cultures and languages. It runs an extensive programme of events throughout the year, encompassing seminars, lectures and conferences, and publishes a twice yearly journal (BICS) now also available online. It is a renowned resource for many aspects of the Humanities.
The Institute was first formed as part of the University of London in 1953, and now forms part of the School of Advanced Study. It is housed alongside the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies (both which of which have been established since 1879 and 1910.) It has been active in Senate House Library since 1997, in a space custom designed by Richard Simpson, an architect and also Director of Publications for the Institute itself. Simpson designed the space so that it overlooked the classical columns of the British Museum, thus leading the visitor deeper into ‘classicism’ itself. In 1997 the South Block of the Institute was refurbished extensively, and the Library was moved to the third floor area to allow more room. The floor had be considerably strengthened to hold up the weight of the shelving!
The Library’s collection policy is as follows: the library is responsible for the ‘primary’ collection of reference-only material (e.g. dictionaries, corpora- a complete collection of writings- excavation reports- i.e. on archaeological sites- books, periodicals and e-resources. The Libraries of the Hellenic and Roman Societies are responsible for a ‘secondary’ collection of books and periodicals that can be lent out.
The Library’s total collection amounts to around 138,000 volumes.
Interestingly, books new to the library are organized via size, and via coloured dots which mark out their subject matter. Other material is arranged by the type of source material from the Classical World:
1. Language and literature
2. Papyrology (i.e. study of ancient paper) and Epigraphy (study of inscriptions)
3. Physical evidence (clarified as ‘Pre-Classical’: i.e. Minoan/Mycenaean/Homeric/Etruscan; ‘Ancient Provinces/regions/sites’: Architecture, Art i.e. artefacts such as pottery, vases, sculpture, mosaics, wall paintings, metalwork, jewellery, glass etc.)
4. Secondary material (clarified as: Ancient History/Politics/Administration- including democracy and slavery- Religion/Mythology/Philosophy/Science and Technology/ Ancient Daily Life- e.g. education, issues to do with women, sexuality, warfare, theatre, performance, music, dance.
5. Numismatics (i.e. the study of collecting coins, especially ancient coins.)
This particular scheme has been refined from Conrad Bursian’s Bibliotheca philologia classica. The result is a classification scheme has been devised with its own numbering scheme.
The Institute also has a large and ever-increasing fiction section, for fictional work based on or set in Classical times. Authors featured include well-known crime writer Lindsey Davis, who sets her work in Ancient Rome.
The Library has a staff team of just six, including the Librarian, Deputy Librarian, Senior Library Assistant and the SCONUL trainee. Each member of staff has a particular responsibility, and the trainee has the opportunity to view most aspects of library work during their year.
One of the highlights of the tour personally for me was viewing the Library’s collection of rare books. We were able to see the diaries, notebooks and travel journals of the classical scholar Robert Woods, (1717-1771) and the archaeologist John Bouverie (who died whilst travelling. These items included intricate drawings- of places such as Constantinople- by the Italian draughtsman Giovanni Battista Borra (1712-1786,) detailing classical architecture. These items are owned by the Hellenic Society, and access is limited, so to view them up close was a real treat! Other items worth noting include the David Smith Mosaic Archive, (which are kept up to date through contributions from the Roman Research Trust,) the travel diaries of Mabel and Theodore Bent, and a book dating from 1501.
The Institute of Historical Research
In addition to visiting the ICS, we also attended a talk at the Institute of Historical Research. This was led by Simon and Danny who work for IHR Digital, working with electronic publications like British History Online, Bibliography of British and Irish History and Reviews in History. From them, we learnt about the importance of interoperability- i.e. providing links to other resources, and the importance of organizing your own time and ‘value-added information.’ (I.e. what librarians can provide versus a computer, and the modern way in which librarians can justify their career choice!)
A little technological info: the IHR has over half a million records, coded using MARC records with DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers: these take users to full text records.) They also have RSS feeds from publishers and podcasts for their conference and seminar programme. However, the IHR is currently having to adapt to new technologies such as RDA (Resource Description Access- a new style of cataloguing which will eventually replace AACR- Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, and means less abbreviation and different cataloguing fields.*)
Because of such changes Simon and Danny stressed the importance of being flexible in terms of LIS work, being able to handle routine projects/routine, quite methodical work on a daily basis. They also suggested that libraries can sometimes have to justify their existence to get funding. (The IHR itself received funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council for 12 years, but this has recently come to an end.) According to Simon and Danny, funding for large data resources such as theirs is essential, as is knowing and targeting a specific audience. They also mentioned the importance of information as an online and organized resource.
All in all, it was a very interesting and informative trip, and once again I was surprised at how many different aspects there were to the Senate House Libraries. We didn’t get to see the IHR’s library in the end, but we are hoping to visit in the near future. (Stay tuned, folks!)
Thanks to everyone who was so kind to spend time talking to us and showing us round- and for the lovely kosher cake!
More information on the ICS can be found here: http://library.icls.sas.ac.uk/about-collection.htm
Information on the IHR can be found here: http://www.history.ac.uk/