By Charles Inskip, on 21 October 2015
During Induction Week the new students visited the London Library, the British Library and Lambeth Palace Library. Here are their reports on their visits.
London Library – Sarah Denman
During induction week, some of the LIS students had the opportunity to visit the London Library. Thought to be the largest independent lending library in the world, it was founded in 1841 in two temporary rooms in Pall Mall by Thomas Carlyle, who was tired of going to the British Museum to consult reference-only books. The library was established to always be a lending library. Notably it pre-dates the Public Libraries Act and it has always been a subscription library. It has never received public money and the membership fees fund 80% of the library with the remaining 20% fundraised.
Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian, delivered a short presentation to us before giving a tour of the library. Sir Charles Hagberg Wright, who was the librarian between 1893 and 1940, was responsible for the first printed catalogue and devised the subject arrangement; one that the House of Commons adopted until they replaced it with Dewey in the 1980s. The library did not remain unscathed by the Second World War. Although staff members slept in the basement to try and look after the books, 5 floors were hit. This resulted in 16,500 books being damaged. Some of these with shrapnel still embedded are in the collection today.
The library has always been welcome to all, regardless of gender, and there was no separate reading room for women. Indeed, women started being employed during the First World War. It has attracted membership from intellectuals of the nation including Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and Charles Darwin who had books posted out to him, a service that has remained.
As we were shown around the library, we admired the state of the art Victorian engineering. The shelves were specially commissioned for weight-bearing and it is one continuous bookshelf from the bottom floor to the top floor. An architectural survey found that if all of the books were taken off the shelves then the building would rise. And if one suffers from vertigo then the grilled floors may be unsettling.
There are one million books and these are predominately arts and humanities but also history of science with 50 languages represented. They typically don’t stock “popular” titles with the emphasis on erudition so there is a span of historical knowledge. All books are hardcover for durability as the collection is never weeded. When the library was founded, the Times was the newspaper of note. There are archives of the Times until 1995 and we looked at one particular edition during the world war period. We concluded the visit by looking at the smallest authorised version of the Bible accompanied by a tiny magnifying glass, a King James Bible and a beautiful, white pigskin binding of Kelmscott Chaucer. It was wonderful to explore the London Library and it is very much a library to delight.
Lambeth Palace Library – Emma Carter
I was thrilled to be able to break up induction week with a fun trip and, as I am particularly interested in special collections, I jumped at the chance to visit Lambeth Palace Library. The Archbishop was, unfortunately, absent. However, I feel privileged to have been one of the first to see the newly refurbished great hall (completed just the week before) whose shelf-lined walls ordinarily make up a large part of the library. It was especially magical to see it in full organisational swing to accommodate an event that evening.
The daily struggles of staff at Lambeth Palace are far-removed from our modern, technology driven woes. It was fascinating to learn the conservation and preservation difficulties of housing a collection within the beautiful, but fragile and decaying confines of the ancient Palace itself. Dr Naomi Percival beautifully described the books as having a destructive relationship with their home whereby the age, decay and draughtiness of the building is damaging the books, and the sheer weight of the books is damaging the building. It seems perverse to protest a lack of physical space when each stack is 2m apart, but any more shelving would be an impossible load to bear for the aged towers. Furthermore, it is like stepping back in time to hear the impossibility of providing a reader with their very popular collection of church architectural plans just because it is raining outside! These idiosyncrasies contribute their fair share of charm to the tradition of continuing to hold materials within the aging institutions from which they originated, but it is equally exciting to hear of plans afoot to more adequately protect them. To the delight of staff, the architectural plans will relocate closer to the reading room and discussions are beginning for the possibility of building a new, modern, temperature controlled annex.
We learnt a good deal about the collections held at the library. It specialises in Archbishop’s archives and the broad ranging term ‘History of the Church of England,’ but we were also fascinated to hear of the Sion College bequest of 1996. We were grateful to be shown some spectacular examples of the collection, such as 1534 edition of Plato’s writings in Greek, owned and doodled upon by Sir Thomas Smith who drew in the margins anything from a crown to a mini sketch of the city Sparta to help him follow the text. The online cataloguing of this collection is ongoing, with more and more items of interest appearing every day. Lucille told of her recent discovery of a volume signed by Ben Jonson, long forgotten and uncatalogued – what an exciting environment in which to work!
We would like to thank everyone at Lambeth Palace Library for an excellent tour, and a source of true inspiration in the hope of one day working for such a magnificent institution.
British Library – Hannah Boroudjou
On Thursday 1st October LIS students rounded off a busy induction week with some field trips to various Libraries around London.
I went to the British Library, the National Library of the United Kingdom and one of the largest in the world. we started our tour with a general introduction from our tour guide who took us through the history of the library. Originally it was housed in the Reading Room of the British Museum but was then moved to its current site in St Pancras in 1998. The new site cost £500 million to build and hosts over 170 million items on multiple formats and in many different languages, in fact according to our tour guide it holds more German language books than the National Library of Germany!
From there we went behind the scenes to a staff only area where our guide demonstrated how books are sent between the different floors and the five subterranean levels. We then went to visit the Business and IP Centre, a specialist Business Library where people who want to set up their own business can receive expert advice and guidance, they even host a little wall of fame for their success stories and a skill swap wall where enterprising business people can meet up and form partnerships.
Next was the ‘Old Royal Library’ or the King George III Library which is housed behind glass in a temperature controlled showcase nestled in the heart of the building and stretching up through every floor. There were some lovely old books in here that Historical Bibliography students would like to get their hands on but we were disappointed to find out that access is staff only.
For the final part of our tour we went to a viewing gallery over one of the reading rooms which gave us a great view of all the people down below studying hard. Our tour guide rounded off the talk with a list of the various luminaries and celebrities who’ve graced the stacks over the years including Johnny Depp, who sadly wasn’t around for our tour.
Overall it was a great visit to a fascinating place with a very knowledgeable tour guide. A really fun way to start the year, before all the hard work begins!