Institute of Classical Studies & IHR Digital

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:
Information on the IHR can be found here:
*By the way, by ‘fields’ I do not mean ‘meadows’!
By Eleanor Keane

Visit to the BFI Reuben Library at BFI Southbank

On Tuesday 12th March we met Reading Room Librarian Sarah Currant outside a nicely bustling new BFI Reuben Library. The library relocated here 6 months ago from its former home at BFI HQ on Stephen Street, just of Tottenham Court Road, and on the whole it seems to have been a positive move. Looking totally different to the old building, the Reuben library also has a new clientele on the Southbank. In an effort to improve public engagement, memberships (and fees) were dropped, and opening hours extended. Although most of the established regulars were happy to come south of the river and have been enjoying the new library, there has inevitably been some resistance to change, particularly to losing the members’ club feel of Stephen Street. And of course there have been pluses and minuses for the library team. As a reference library, the BFI never had a circulation module on their LMS, so the new system has allowed for an increase in usage data. On the other hand, as there are no longer any membership forms (apart from a brief registry card for people using the research desks), staff have lost touch with the users somewhat – and unless they strike up a conversation with them, would not know, for example, which university they were from. Not to mention the loss of fees from the 4,000 or so members in the old library…

Created in 1935 as the National Film Library, the library has been serving film students and enthusiasts for almost 80 years now. It makes up just one part of the BFI’s collections, which also encompasses archives and special collections, (film, images, posters, and ephemera such as publicity material, original scripts, letters and other artefacts). The BFI Master Film Store in Gaydon, Warwickshire, a former arms depot, now RIBA award-winning edifice dubbed the film fridge, is the -5°C home for the BFI’s film stock. One of the major challenges of relocating the library to a more modern, but also more compact space was deciding what to bring. 80% of stock was kept on site at Stephen Street, but with reduced storage space in the new site, a significant portion of book stock had to be moved out to the BFI’s paper store in Berkhamsted – the figure now stands at about 55% on site, either in the reading room or in basement stacks. Readers now have to put in advanced requests for anything that is kept in off-site storage, and there is a 5 working day turnaround for collections. For more information on the library’s move from Stephen Street to the Southbank, see the following links:

Sarah also gave us a brief look at their very techie and impressive (for cataloguing enthusiasts) database. The new Adlib database replaces a total of 26 isolated systems, ranging from Access databases to the library management system. Come April when the system goes live, the public will be able to search across holdings from the library, archives, and special collections for the first time. The most interesting feature of this Collections Information Database (CID) is its metadata structure: FRBR. Not knowing a great deal about FRBR but knowing that it is fairly complex, I won’t attempt too much detail, other than to say that it stands for Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, is the conceptual basis of RDA, and describes hierarchical relationships in terms of work, expression, manifestation, and item (or WEMI). Don’t quote me on that. Something that you can quote on taxonomies and cataloguing at the BFI is this blog post on the complexities of cataloguing film materials using genre terms: Genres: where to draw the line?
I have been a die-hard BFI-goer for many years now, and can vouch for all their public events, from film screenings to Q&As and lectures. At last year’s Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture I heard Steve Crossan (Head of Google’s Cultural Institute) talking about the concerns of archiving and preservation in the digital age, at a time when sixty hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. And did you know that this was the first video ever to be uploaded to YouTube? But I digress… The Reuben Library is now getting in on the act with a calendar of public events held after hours. See the website for upcoming library events, including a Freudian psychoanalytic reading of Pasolini’s Theorem. After several institution-wide restructures in recent years, the library is currently running on a slim staff of 12, a fact which I find personally quite dispiriting. Perhaps I should take heart at the thought that at one time, the National Film Library was run by a staff of two: Ernest Lindgren as information officer, and Harold Brown as preservation officer. So things could be worse. 

For more information on the formation of the BFI and its collections, see the entry on Ernest Lindgren in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Visit to the Royal College of Surgeons Library

On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, a group of us took a visit to the Royal College of Surgeons Library, home to one of our fellow GTs, Amy Holvey. Overlooking Lincoln's Inn Fields, the college sits amongst a horde of other notable institutions including The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, Cancer Research UK, and Sir John Soane’s Museum. RCS is an independent professional body which serves surgeons – from trainees to consultants – who are members, fellows or affiliates of the college. As well as these user groups, the library also receives a lot of external visitors interested in their collections, particularly for family history research.

Before we get on to the work of the library, however, we began the afternoon (armed with Jaffa cakes and fizzy water) with two presentations from information professionals working in other areas of health information. First up: Emily Hopkins from Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, on her journey from history student to chartered professional within the NHS. Starting as a weekend library assistant at Leeds University Health Library, Emily did her traineeship at Manchester University library, followed by an MA in librarianship at Sheffield University – a course which she was keen to advocate – where she also gained from the exchange of experiences of her classmates, many of whom had done traineeships in other libraries. Her first professional role was in the Department of Work & Pensions libraries and archives, where she took a temporary post (maternity cover can often be a good way to try out a role that you might be unsure about otherwise – and employers will often take a chance on a someone in this kind of role) working within the wider context of the communications team. Next she moved to NHS NorthWest, setting up an outreach library service. All of which lead up to her current role as a Library & Knowledge Manager at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust. This position involves managing an array of information: from organising training sessions to improve staff awareness & CPD; to literature searches, putting together leaflets, & recommending self-help books for CBT; to project work such as PrEP research into HIV prevention, & screening tools for Greater Manchester-wide sexual health network.

Recommended links from Emily: CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base

Next we heard from Elly O’Brien, an information specialist at Bazian, a company which provides evidence-based information to health organisations. Elly gave us an overview of what it is like working in health information: in particular the variety of sectors, subjects and roles available.

This could comprise: NHS (this could be anywhere within the structure of the NHS, which means the types of libraries and the work they do is wide-ranging, e.g. Mental health care libraries such as the Tavistock and Portman, Public health information services, Community Healthcare libraries, Primary care, Commissioning... see this system overview for an idea of the structure of the NHS as a whole); Government (e.g. The Ministry of Health Library); Universities (e.g. Leeds University Health Sciences Library, Imperial College Library); Charity/independent (e.g. Marie Curie Cancer Care Library & Information Services); Private/for profit (e.g. Bazian).

The subject of your work as in information professional working in health could cover primary care, public health, and mental health, amongst others.

You could work as a more traditional Library/knowledge manager; a Liaison librarian (usually in an academic health library); a Clinical librarian (working with clinical staff in a hospital library); or an Information/research officer/specialist (usually in the charity sector, often embedded within a comms team).

Recommended links for support within the professional community:

We also got to chat to Emily and Elly, and asked them whether it was necessary, or preferred for information staff to have a health/medical/sciences background. Both assured us – as we have been told about working in law libraries – that this was not the case. Both of them studied humanities subjects as their first degrees, and agreed that the information retrieval skills that they developed were central to accessing medical information & that picking up and retaining medical terminology was something that came with the job rather than a precursor to it. We also discussed whether bureaucracy and cuts had had an effect on their careers. Emily very diplomatically told us that this was just something that you learnt to live with working in the NHS. The dissolution of PCTs, for example, led to shifts in teams rather than blanket job losses, but that the effect was felt throughout the field. On the whole though, it was felt that the information sector coped well with flux and that it was still a vital component of the health service because of that.

And now, at last, on the RCS itself. We were shown around by Tom Bishop, head of library and surgical information services, who gave us an outline of the library services. The aims of the library are to provide an environment for information access, to anticipate the information needs of a very busy user base, to work in partnership with other health organisations. Formerly joined with the archives (which are now integrated with the Hunterian Museum, although they still sit together in the same office!), the library’s collections are specifically surgical, encompassing branches of anatomy, pathology and physiology. The scope in content ranges from manuscripts to born digital, with 50,000 books, 2,000 periodical runs, 30,000 tracts and pamphlets, all housed on 4.7 km of shelving. As well as supporting trainee and junior doctors in the beginning of their careers, when information needs are at a premium, they also work with established surgeons going through revalidation and recertification. As we toured the library it was noticeably quiet – a peculiarity of RCS, as most of their users are busy at work. This means that a lot more material has to be made available online, hence their subscription to a multitude of Athens-protected online resources.

The Charles Barry designed reading room (circa 1830) – which houses older print journal such as The Lancet (n.b. as I finally discovered, a lancet is an  instrument used to extract small amounts of blood for testing, a kind of needle or scalpel), and where readers consult historical materials on lovely but creaky old furniture – sits in stark contrast to the Lumley Studies centre, a 1990s learning centre designed room, which sees a different type of user to the reading room, reflective of its materials – here the short loans collection and current print journals such as the BMJ amongst others. As in the Wellcome Library, the Barnard classification scheme is used here (originally a veterinary system), and National Library of Medicine subject headings for cataloguing. In a proactive approach to engaging with their (often remote) users, a lot of value added work is done by library staff, including current awareness bulletins on the website, and The Lives of the Fellows, a resource which is of particular interest to genealogists, and as such is available to on the library website to help develop public engagement. At the end of the afternoon we had the chance to look at some amazing items from the library’s special collections and the archives, including William Clift’s Record of the Bodies of Murderers, delivered to the College for Dissection (1807-32), India proofs of engravings for a 1st edition of Gray’s Anatomy, and a sort of pop-up book of the brain and nervous system made by G.J. Witkowski. Some of these can be seen on a Copac blog post about the RCS’s combined library, archives and museum’s recent designation from the UK Arts Council – congratulations!