The British Film Institute Tour - Tuesday 8th December 2015

The London Research Library Trainees where given a tour of the British Film Institute (BFI) Reuben Library by Sarah Currant, Librarian for Reader Services. After a short explanation of the small but well-designed reading room, Sarah discussed the library and her own career. The Edwin Fox Foundation Reading Room has six public access computer terminals with access to the BFI’s Collections and Information Database (BFI ScreenonlineBFI InView and the FIAF database). As a research library, the BFI uses onsite access to uphold copyright restrictions. Sarah stated that she is surprised that these computers are not used more, because of the wonderful material that can be viewed on them. Users also have the opportunity to use three digital scanners to retrieve information held on microfiche and roll film.

The library collection is 81 years old and one of the largest written collections on film and television in the world. The Library, notes as a point of pride, that their oldest material is older than the BFI National Archive, which is sometimes recognised as a more prestigious counterpart. The library holds 5,000 serials titles and over 200 current titles with worldwide coverage. Sarah joked, that you wouldn’t believe how many journals are just called ‘film.’ The Library has 45,000 books, and acquires around 1,000 new titles per year.  

The BFI Collections Information Database (CID) contains information collected by the BFI since 1933 and holds over 800,000 film titles (including television programmes, documentaries, newsreels, as well as educational and training films). Although CID is updated daily, less than 50% of listed titles are actually represented in their physical collection. The collection is roughly 20% open access, and around 55% in total is held at the BFI Southbank. The remaining 45% of the collection is held offsite at the J. Paul Getty Jnr Conservation Centre in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The Library is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 10:30 - 19:00, the enquiry desk is man by 2 people at all times and has 3 separate timetabled shifts.

The Library is available for private hire and has produced events such as the Salon Discussion: Writings on Artists' Moving Image (Monday 11 January 2016) and Jean-Luc Godard as Architect (Wednesday 13 January 2016). The Libraries next event is Flare at 30 a lively illustrated talk celebrating 30 years of the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival (29th February 2016). This is to make some small profit and illustrate a further integration with the rest of the BFI.

Sarah stated that the BFI had recently gone through a change project, after major cuts in funding, but that this had led to many positives. The move to the Southbank complex had made the Library more central to the institutions goals and had changed its customer base. With access now free to the library, visitor statistics have dramatically increased. With annual visitor targets, the BFI gets over 70,000 people through the reading room doors per year. Due to the relocation in June 2012, the BFI is now getting more students from Kings College than Birbeck and UCL. Sarah noted that many users were students that simply wanted a quiet place to work in central London, rather than specific information about film. As a small library with only 50 TipTon chairs, 30 for library users, and another 20 users for specialist research, Sarah feels it would be very difficult to reduce numbers based on an interest in film material if the library ever got too full.

Sarah mentioned that the library does take a series of statistics to illustrate its cost effective nature, and was looking into the possibility of creating a world map that indicated the distance that some visitors have gone to see the library. However, she did state that the library does not have membership cards, and gets visitors to fill in daily registration cards to count stats.

Having started at the BFI in 2005 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library, Sarah advised students to focus on taking broad MA’s that encompassed aspects of information management and digital systems to give them the best opportunity when applying for jobs.

Tour, tea and talks at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies – 8th March 2016

“You think you'd like to play ball with the law?” – Bob Dylan*

The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) has been housed in Charles Clore House since 1976, a long, brooding, Brutalist building designed by National Theatre architect Sir Denys Lasdun. The institute itself has been around since 1947. Four dedicated graduate trainees made their way to Russell Square on a chilly-but-bright Tuesday afternoon for what promised to be an interesting afternoon in the hands of legal librarians.

The library entrance being on the 4th floor, it’s there that we met Access Librarian Lisa Davies, who started off the visit by giving us a 30 minute tour of the place. Split over four levels, the library stocks around 180,000 volumes. This is split between primary legal material and secondary legal material, the latter being interpretations or commentaries of the former. Their own in-house classification system orders these works based of geography or subject, meaning that not all books on a certain topic will be found in the same area – this a not a library for the casual browser. As well as books (in the broadest sense of the word), they also have a significant range of legal journals from around the world.

The reading rooms are situated on the lower ground floor (L2) up to the third floor, accessible through an internal lift. The 4th floor holds the issue desk, photocopying room, library offices and a large open access computer lab where users can access the internet and the library’s 70+ online and subscription-based databases. Although a lot of primary legal material is becoming available online, the library has a duty to collect and archive printed versions as well, and so provides both.

We were briefly shown the (stiflingly) warm reading rooms with their utilitarian-looking desks and exciting views of Russell Square and beyond. As well as normal work spaces, PhD students can rent a so-called carrel – a small, private office with desk, lockable drawers, lamp etc. – for a small weekly fee. Users of the IALS library are around 95% PhD/post-doctorate students, institute staff or students from the University of London colleges, but law firms can also pay a one-off/annual fee to use the library.  

After the tour, it was off to the staff common room for a cup of tea and chat with Lisa about her career and role as Access Librarian, a role dedicated to promoting and improving access to the library through advertising, outreach and off-site support. It was here we met one of the IALS GTs too, Jamie.

Cups of tea aside, we made our way back to the librarian offices for a quick talk about what the IALS library does to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. We all contributed thoughts about how our own libraries meet the requirements of the act, or don’t in some cases, and discussed services that could be offered to users with disabilities. It was a useful, thought provoking talk.

The final stage of the visit was a talk from Helen Gaterell, Document Supply Supervisor. The IALS operates a profit-making document supply service. The income from the service is re-invested into improving the academic library collections and services. There are two types of service on offer: standard (dispatched within the day: £21.80) and express (dispatched in under 60 minutes: £43.60). Subscribing practitioners/firms or academics will contact the library seeking extensive copies of articles, cases or chapters from volumes held in the library. These are then found, photocopied, scanned and sent to the respective client to be used, on the whole, in court cases. Interestingly, there is currently a large demand for material on Nigerian law, as, according the Helen, there are lots of corporate cases involving Nigerians and Shell/BP taking place at the moment.

And that was it! All over in a couple of hours, I felt like we’d learnt a lot about a very (to me at least) unusual library. Although I have no personal interest in playing ball with the law, I found the library’s space surprisingly appealing, and the services on offer seemed well run and efficient. Overall, an intriguing and enlightening trip!

*"Hurricane", Bob Dylan,

N.B.: Feel free to email the above mentioned librarians for more information!
Fig. 1: IALS, smuconlaw,