Visit to the Guardian - 14th December 2015

On Monday 14th December, a group of the trainees were fortunate enough to visit the headquarters of the Guardian Media Group and meet with both the library and archive teams.

The Manchester Guardian was founded in 1821 by John Edward Taylor and gained national and international acclaim under the editorship of C P Scott who held the post of editor from 1857 to 1914. In addition, Scott bought the paper in 1907 following the death of Taylor’s son and as we learned during the course of our visit, the Scott Trust still maintains ownership of the paper today. The paper moved to its current building in King’s Place near to King’s Cross station in 2008, with the glass-fronted, open plan office space and modern design marking a significant shift for the newspaper.

Upon arrival we were met by Philippa Mole, Acting Head of Archive, who led us on a tour of the building, including the exhibition space, reading room and the photographic and print archive stores. During the tour of the archive, we were able to view a selection of the incredibly eclectic objects kept within the stores. These ranged from negatives of the Beatles, notebooks of renowned Guardian cartoonists, an early example of a ‘laptop’ (the Tandy portable computer from 1983), Betamax film rolls and photographs of an array of famous historical figures. The archive also contains, somewhat surprisingly and initially rather alarmingly, an array of miniature coffins used to mark significant moments over the course of the paper’s history (for example, Philippa explained that a mock funeral was held in 1987 to mark the end of hot metal printing at the newspaper. Crowds of staff turned out for the event, with the pallbearers even donning top hats!)

In addition, Philippa also took time to explain the day-to-day tasks involved with the running of the archive service. The archive holds official records of both the Guardian and the Observer newspapers, as well as acquiring material from people who have been associated with the papers. As Philippa explained however, the archive does not actually contain the newspapers themselves. She noted that the archive deals with a broad swathe of inquiries both internally and externally from private researchers and students. Additionally, the role of the archive team includes creating web resources, writing blog posts, organising tours of the archive for staff and arranging outreach activities.

The archive’s trainee Helen and Information Manager Richard Nelsson, also took time to speak with us and explained their respective roles within the archive and library teams. Richard provided a fascinating insight into the role of the library department, explaining how the team conducts background research for interviews, collates reports for publication departments, produces content for both the print newspaper and online edition, create timelines, attach corrections to articles in the newspaper’s internal database, and compile the daily birthdays column.

Al three kindly answered several questions from the trainees, with topics ranging from if there was a need to justify the existence of a library team within a news media organisation, to electronic data subscription services and the number of research enquiries the team receive. Philippa noted that we were welcome to contact her with any further queries we might have and kindly provided us all with a free copy of the day’s newspaper!

Many thanks once again to Philippa, Richard and Helen for devoting so much of their time to helping us get to know both a fascinating archival collection and understanding the role of libraries and archives within the media sector. The insight we gained was truly invaluable and will be of great assistance as we all begin to embark on our careers into the sector.

For further information about the Guardian Archive and the work of the Library Team see:

Senate House Library Visit - 10th December 2015

We started our visit to Senate House Library with an introduction to the building’s history and architecture from Dr Jordan Landes, history subject librarian. In the war years, Senate House served as the Ministry of Information, and George Orwell’s wife worked there – and so, it is said, came the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was also in this building that the Welfare State was born, when, in 1942, William Beveridge presented the report which was eventually to lead to the establishment of the NHS. Above the entrance to the Macmillan Hall, and its twin, the Beveridge Hall, the ceiling of the ground floor of the south block is decorated with A-Zs, reflecting the fact that this was the first university that did not require students to have a classical education.

We then made our way up to the 4th floor, which was originally the only floor open to readers, and where you would have received your item requests at your desk from a teenage boy in white gloves! Today things have changed somewhat, and all floors 4-7 are open access to readers, while the rest of the 19 floors hold the rest of the collection in closed stacks. The stacks themselves are load bearing and enable the tower to stay upright.

On the 4th floor is the opulently designed Goldsmith’s reading room – donated by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths to house their donation to SHL of the Library of Economic Literature, and which now holds the music collection. We also saw the cataloguing hall, whose irregular shape has had to be adapted to the purposes of a modern digital library. The first OPAC was introduced in the late 1980s, so from then on, all the acquisitions appear in the online catalogue. Before then though, the online record is a little patchy!

Dr Landes then took us through to the exhibition space. She explained that as subject librarian, a portion of her role is promotion of the collection – and one of the ways to do this is through exhibitions. As part of her librarianship degree, she actually took a module in museum studies, and so regularly finds herself employing the skills she learned there still, in her current role.

We next saw the history reading room, furnished with rows of beautiful Chesterfield sofas for the purpose of group study, but which has now become one of the quietest spaces in the library!

Dr Landes then told us more about subject librarianship. Her role encompasses collection development, which for Senate House, as the central Library of the University of London and the School of Advanced Study, is collection led, but in other libraries, particularly in HE libraries with their own students, is led by reader tastes and needs, as well as academic reading lists. This has implications for the cohesiveness of a collection, but has the benefit of being very user-focused. She also spends a lot of time in inductions and training, speaking to about 1,000 students every autumn. The last part of her job is subject promotion, which she does through a variety of activities like the exhibitions we saw earlier, as well as events like conferences and History Day.

Other libraries have changed their staffing models in recent years, and for some, the role of subject librarian no longer exists. King’s College for example no longer have subject librarians and rely instead on a liaison librarian for the whole faculty.

Although she is now a history subject librarian, Dr Landes has worked as subject librarian for fields as diverse as computer science and contemporary dance, and stressed that the role doesn’t necessitate an academic background in the discipline, as there is plenty of opportunity for professional development and training within a job. She also stressed the flexibility of librarianship as a whole and the opportunities for moving between positions themselves, particularly as a role as subject librarian might still encompass skills like cataloguing, digital media or user education. Furthermore, she completed her studies in the US, and found her degree was transferable and recognised in the UK.

We had all our questions answered and Dr Landes encouraged us to email her should we have anything else we’d like to know. She also mentioned that she’d be happy to offer anyone a day of shadowing should they wish to learn more about SHL and subject librarianship. A big thanks to her for the time she took to help us get to know a fascinating collection and a London icon, as well as getting some valuable insight into one of the career paths we might well later find ourselves on! 

Trainee Profiles 2015-2016

Institute of Historical Research Library

Hello! I’ve been the Library Graduate Assistant at the Institute of Historical Research for just over 3 months now, so now that I have settled in I felt it was time to introduce both myself and the Institute of Historical Research Library.

Located within Senate House, the IHR is a reference only research library consisting of a collection of published primary sources which cover the history of Western Europe and its colonial history from the fifth century to the present. In addition, the library contains significant holdings for the United States, Latin America and Asia. The library team is made-up of four permanent members of staff and two who work across both Senate House Library and the IHR Library.

Joining such a small team has been an incredible opportunity as I have been made to feel so welcome and have been asked to participate in an incredibly diverse range of tasks. This has so far consisted of helping to draft a user survey, researching and writing collection guides and blog posts, updating the IHR Library’s website and Facebook account (please like and follow!), helping with event promotion, ordering new acquisitions for the German collection, researching new shelf and floorplan signage and assisting with the creation of training materials for online resources.

This has been in addition to the day-to-day tasks of working in the library: book retrieval from the library’s onsite store in the upper echelons of Senate House tower (incredible view but can be just as scary as it sounds!), re-shelving, dealing with user enquiries, updating the new book shelf and processing inter-library loans. Experience of all of these diverse tasks has definitely made me realise that I never fully appreciated the range of jobs incorporated under the term ‘librarian’ before!

The diverse work and the comprehensive training I’ve received has been of immense help to me as I had no prior experience of working in a library. Before joining the IHR as library trainee, I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in History at the University of Edinburgh. The position at the IHR was therefore ideal for me (combining my love of books and history) but I was unsure if I would have the relevant skills required. Having worked in retail throughout my studies, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the customer service skills I had developed were of value to the library profession. Hence the move to London from Edinburgh and a seemingly vast change in climate – London seems almost tropical in mid-winter in comparison!!

I’m thoroughly enjoying my time at the IHR and cannot believe how quickly the year is flying by. I cannot wait to start visiting other libraries as part of the series of visits that take place during the trainee year. I feel I am learning all the time and have already gained an invaluable insight into the world of librarianship. I would urge anybody to consider the Graduate Trainee programme!
Siobhan Morris
Library Graduate Trainee, Institute of Historical Research