Posts Tagged ‘library tour’

Last Wednesday I went on a tour of the Guildhall library, as organised by CLSIG.  Although I have often walked past the Guildhall when I worked near Moorgate, I never even knew the Guildhall library existed, and I was even more surprised to find out that it is a public reference library. I assumed that it would be a private corporate library, as it is run by the City of London Corporation.

TourJeanie, the librarian who gave us the tour, was extremely knowledgeable about the long history of the library and its most precious collections, and she made the tour very enjoyable. By the way, if you would like to go on the tour yourself (which I highly recommend) there are scheduled public tours of the Guildhall library available via their website.

The first Guildhall library was opened as long ago as 1425, and was originally for students of theology – which is about as different an image as the current City of London Corporation as you can get! Unfortunately in 1549 the Duke of Somerset ordered for all of the Guildhall library books to be taken to his new palace on the Strand, and that was the end of the first Guildhall library. The current Guildhall library currently has only one known book from the original collection, which is a 13th century manuscript of the bible.

London collectionThe City of London Corporation opened the next Guildhall Library in 1828, which became a public library in 1973. Unfortunately, during the Blitz of WW2 the library stores were hit and 25,000 books were lost. Jeannie showed us some black and white photos of the aftermath, and it was devastating – the building had no roof and the floor was nowhere to be seen under the mountains of rubble.

The current Guildhall library was opened in 1974. It provides a modern business library with all of the key electronic databases, primarily aimed at helping those who wish to start up or develop their own business, as well as holding the largest library collection in the world devoted to the history of a single city (London).  Memorable picturesIt has over 7km of shelving in the bookstore, which was an absolute warren of bookcases so that I made sure to stay with the group and not get left behind to never find my way out again! Even the staff have trouble navigating the maze, and they have placed memorable pictures  on to the sides of bookcases to help themselves find their way around (trust me to spot a Disney picture!).

The Guildhall library specialised in London history and has some very special collections of bodies that used to, or still do, operate in the City of London; such as the Livery Company, the London Stock Exchange, organisations that specialised with gardening, clockmaking, archery, as well as anything to do with business history.  Due to its historical collection of trade body materials and directories it is also often used to trace family history, as well as by London historians.

Court of Exchange from 1698

Court of Exchange from 1698

Jeanie kindly showed us some special items from the historical collection, including the Court of the Exchange (or the first London stock exchange) from 1698 which only used to be published twice a week (and has items such as “pieces of eight” listed!), and a copy of a chained bible published in 1589 and previously owned by Tylers and Bricklayers’ company (see picture below).

The library obviously has an extremely varied user group from business entrepreneurs to historians, which was reflected in its modern technology and the latest online resources for business, as well as its archive of London materials and 13th century manuscripts. It was a really interesting library tour, and reminds me of how broad and varied our profession truly is.

Chained bible


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Last week I went on a fascinating tour of the Bishopsgate Institute Library, kindly organised by CLSIG.

Bishopsgate Institute libraryTo be honest, I hadn’t heard of the Bishopsgate Institute before, but it is basically an education centre that provides courses and lectures, along with being a venue for debates and concerts and other events. The Chief Librarian, who very kindly provided the tour, described it as originally a Victorian self-help centre for adults, which has now grown in to a home for independent thought, and provides a library and archive on London history, labour and socialist history, free-thought and humanism, co-operation, and protest and campaigning. It has a public library which has journeyed through open access to closed access and back again, and has over 25,000 visitors a year with 120 per month visiting the special collections.

On entering the building I was struck by the inspirational quotes from famous figures dotting the walls, which I think introduces the revolutionary and open minded-theme of the library collection really well.Quote

The library itself has been largely untouched since it was built in the late 19th century, and is a beautiful traditional looking library with carved wooden bookcases and a glass dome. The library has over 80,000 books on London; particularly covering the working classes and the history of the East end, as well as many, many maps of London through the ages. It turns out that the first Bishopsgate librarian was a fanatical book collector on London (not the best hobby to have for a librarian with limited space and on some sort of budget!), and so now the library has become a unique collection shaped around the first librarian’s interests.Special collection

Not only does the collection include books and pamphlets as you may expect, but also any paraphernalia associated with the themes of the collection; such as the fishing tackle, glasses and wallet of Charles Bradlaugh, a 19th century political activist and atheist, African objects and possessions of Bernie Grant, a black Labour MP, the wetsuit worn by Trenton Oldfield when disrupting the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, and even the clothing he wore in prison (as modelled by the Chief Librarian below!) The library has a special collection and plays a role in preserving what may be valuable information about London for the future, such as over 150,000 photos of London, synagogue records, as well as London restaurant and take-away menus that may be of interest to generations yet to come. Much of the collection is still to be catalogued, and apparently letters of Charles Dickens have been discovered tucked away inside some of the books, so I can only imagine the hidden treasures still waiting to be discovered!

Chief Librarian modelling Trenton Oldfield's prison clothes

Chief Librarian modelling Trenton Oldfield’s prison clothes

The library operates with about 28 volunteers (mostly students and part time) with a paid team of 8, which again consist mostly of part time staff. I am certainly going to suggest to UCL, my old Library school, that it would be worth offering the Bishopsgate Institute Library as a destination for student placements or as a volunteering opportunity for anyone interested in special collections. It is an absolutely fascinating library with an incredible collection and in a beautiful library setting – I would very much recommend visiting it if you can, and I would like to thank CLSIG for the opportunity to learn about this hidden gem in the middle of the City of London.

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Canada WaterAfter work one day, I rather impulsively took a trip to a local library that had been featured in CILIP Update for its modern design – Canada Water Public Library. I’m afraid I don’t have a citation as I seem to be having technical issues accessing the digital edition of CILIP Update. Anyway, I was interested to see how this library had been specifically designed for the 21st century, as well as to explore the collection for my own personal interest of course!

Firstly, the library has excellent transport links. It basically sits on top of the tube station – so much so, that I came out of the tube station and didn’t realise I was next door to the library until I walked outside a few steps and saw the very distinctive library exterior! It is a very convenient location for commuters to the city, as well as the local community.

The ground floor consists of a café, a display of bestsellers and popular books with self-check out points, and rather unusually… a bar. This is due to the library building also hosting the Culture Space; where theatre, music, comedy and dance take place. Not only does this attract more users to the library, but it also contributes to the function of the modern public library being a space for inspirational and collaborative work. Away from the old fashioned perception of public libraries being places of neat rows of individuals working away in silence under the glare of tight lipped old ladies, and towards light, open and inviting spaces where all kinds of work are accommodated for.

Children's reading areaOn climbing the open staircase at the heart of the library, you arrive at the first floor with the main book collection and various work areas. As expected there is a children’s reading area next to the children’s literature, but I was impressed by how the space was utilised and how the furniture had been used creatively to be interactive, and to  attract young children to reading. There were also various work areas with tables and PCs dotted around the edges of the library, creating cosy and private spaces for groups to work, and I was surprised to see how busy the library was late on a Thursday evening.

Wavy BookcasesThe books were also very attractively displayed on lighted bookshelves; not in traditional straight lines, but in waves that invited you to explore and encouraged serendipitous browsing. As expected the books were shelved by genre, but within each genre there were breaks in the bookshelves where popular works were displayed in a variety of ways; encouraging readers to try something new within the genre they like.

BalconyThere was yet another floor above which consisted of a balcony running around the outside of the main library. Here, there were non-fiction books shelved behind work areas, with electrical ports for users to plug in their own laptops, tablets and mobile phone chargers. Having this work space as an open balcony, rather than as a closed off floor, keeps it cohesive with the main library as well as maintaining the light and open feel to the library. Yet despite the open space, the area manages to provide a quiet space for those wishing to work. Again, I was surprised to see how busy this workspace was, and it became obvious that it was a popular place for students to come and work.

PostersSuitably impressed by the design of the library and the use of space, I then considered the marketing strategy of the library. One of the first things that struck me on entering the library was the numerous bold posters displaying various statistics demonstrating the value of the library; including number of user visits, number of authors who have spoken at the library, training sessions offered and many more. It is important for public libraries to pro-actively demonstrate the value of the library to their users, as libraries are ultimately funded by taxpayer’s money. I feel this is something all libraries of any sector can do more of, and I certainly think this is something my own library can actively improve on. As a corporate legal library, we compile statistics on the library management system of the research enquiries we complete for users, so that they are there if we need them – but we do not openly publicise them in any way. I think that it may be useful to pro-actively compile statistics on a monthly basis and publicise them in some small way – either on a poster on the Enquiry Desk or on the library section of the intranet. I believe that our users would be surprised by the number and variety of enquiries that we deal with, and would be further convinced of our value to the firm, if we did so.

I went to Canada Water Library to learn about how a modern library uses space; but I also learned a great deal about pro-actively demonstrating value, which I hope to transfer in some way to my own library service. I will certainly be visiting againg to use its collection, and I look forward to seeing what other innovative practices they will introduce that I can learn from!

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Side view of St PaulsOn Friday we had our work away day. I think traditionally this involves activities to develop new skills and to provide team building opportunities. As a group of 6 librarians, we are a tight knit team anyway, so we tend to take the opportunity to visit somewhere interesting and have a nice lunch. This year at my suggestion we took the Triforium Tour at St Paul’s Cathedral followed by afternoon tea in the crypt. As I have never known a librarian to refuse an afternoon which involved cake, this was a very popular suggestion, and indeed all we have seemed to talk about this week was our upcoming afternoon tea!Afternoon tea

But I am not going to bore you talking about the afternoon tea (although it was rather nice!). I suggested the Triforium Tour as it provides a glimpse of the rather secretive library of St Paul’s Cathedral, along with many other rooms behind the scenes. I never realised St Paul’s Cathedral even had a library until I stumbled across this tour. I was very excited and had very high expectations regarding the library, and I was not disappointed.

St Paul's Cathedral library

After knocking on the rather imposing door, and hearing it being unlocked from the inside, I felt like we were in some kind of thriller film. And indeed, once we were granted access I was hit by the very strong musty smell of old books and old stone walls, and inside was a small library decorated with dark wood carvings and stone sculptures on the walls. As well as books, there were a collection of eclectic items that looked like they probably didn’t belong anywhere else and had found a home in this rather unusual library.

The reason the St Paul’s Cathedral as we know it was built was of course due to the previous, medieval St Paul’s Cathedral on the same site being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Unfortunately, this meant that the previous cathedral library was entirely destroyed, and so the library of the new St Paul’s Cathedral had to be started from scratch, and was formed primarily from the collection of the Bishop of London at the time, and from a recently deceased reverend.

St Paul's Cathedral libraryThe library collection currently consists of over 30,000 items, and is mostly theological, but also contains socio-economic items and with a focus on works about London and St Paul’s. There is still a limited budget to purchase new items to add to the collection; particularly items that used to be part of the collection and were lost for some reason but re-surface in auctions. Also for new works on Christopher Wren and St Paul’s Cathedral. A lot of the collection has been transferred to the Guildhall library, and a substantial part of the collection has been transferred to the London Metropolitan Archive. The collection is also increasing due to donated items from the public. Although there is no formal acquisition policy, the librarian has to make the delicate decisions on whether to decide to take personal items, or to offer to the donor that he could try and find it a suitable home. Unsurprisingly lots of bibles are offered, but the vast majority are not rare or of historic interest to justify it being added to the collection. However, the matter must be delicately handled in case the donor may come across items in the future that are of value to the collection, and so they are not discouraged from offering further items to St Paul’s.

Miscellaneous collectionUnfortunately, like many libraries, it is really suffering from lack of space; as you can see from the towering stacks of books on the tables. Apparently St Paul’s Cathedral was originally designed with 2 rooms for the library, but the second room was commandeered for another function. This also largely inhibits how many donated items the library can accept from the public.

So the big question I had was who actually uses the library? Well, the library used to be exclusively used by the Dean and the rest of the Chapter (figures of importance who help run the Cathedral), but now can be used by anyone who has an interest in the collection. However this is not widely publicised, and this is largely due to the substantial amount of work required on the catalogue. Unexpectedly, the oldest items are the best catalogued, with pre-1800 items available online via the public catalogue COPAC. Interestingly, under the Care of Cathedrals measure there is a statutory duty to ensure the library is preserved and the collection is cared for sufficiently, and this allows for only 15% of items to be on a manual catalogue. Due to the library being kept by only 1 librarian who is also shared with the Guildhall library, 15% of post 1800 items are manually catalogued, and much of the catalogue needs checking before being released to the public, as many of the catalogue records were sadly corrupted when the catalogue was transferred from one system to another.St Paul's Cathedral library

You may notice from some of the photos that the vast majority of the books have white slips tucked in to the top of them. Unfortunately, we learned that these were the ones marked as needing cleaning and repair work. However, due to a limited budget and lack of manpower, it is taking some time to arrange.

Despite the extraordinary beauty and history of this very special library, it faces many of the challenges that  libraries face everywhere; limited budget, not enough staff, and the challenge of space. However, I am so glad that the library is being made available to the public and that there is a statutory duty to protect and preserve the library of St Paul’s Cathedral, as it is certainly a rare gem in London’s crown of libraries.

I will leave you with a quote from the Bible in Latin, which can be found carved in the stone wall outside of the library:

“Faciendi plures libros nullus est finis”, or “of making many books there is no end”

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes of St Paul’s Cathedral

The camera view of St Paul's Cathedral

The camera view of St Paul’s Cathedral

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I had the absolute pleasure of attending an open day for librarians and information professionals organised by the House of Commons Library on Wednesday 19th February, which I believe is run in conjunction with CILIP, and is held every year.

Portcullis House

Portcullis House

The first half of the day was held in Portcullis House; which for anyone who has never been before, is surprisingly modern, open and light, with various artworks of important politicians dotted all over. Throughout the morning a series of talks were given by various members of staff (interspersed with lots of tea and many biscuits of course), with some allotted time to look at an exhibition of precious and interesting items from the collection put on display just for us. The second half of the day was dedicated to a tour of the House of Commons Library (where only Members of Parliament are allowed to step inside, so I felt very privileged to be allowed in!), and then a tour by an official guide of the famous areas of the Houses of Parliament, such as the chambers. The day concluded with a Q&A session with a panel of library staff.



The talks in the morning provided an insight in to the workings of the Members Library and it’s very special nature in the work it does. The Member’s Library runs parallel to the House of Commons Chamber itself, so it operates as a sanctuary as well as a work environment. Only MPs can enter the Library; not even their personal staff can physically enter, although they can use the Library’s telephone and online enquiry service. Other users include Select Committee staff, the constituency staff of MPs and other Commons staff. The Library provides a very important role in ensuring we have well-informed Parliamentarians; so that they can hold the executive and Government to account, they can effectively scrutinise legislation and can sensibly respond to their constituents on a variety of issues.

There seems to be a large number of staff who work in and with the library, and they are divided in to smaller teams such as Library Resources, Indexing & Data Management, Front of House and then the Research Service. The Research Service consists of 7 or 8 teams comprised of approximately 5 subject specialists and 5 information professionals, focused on areas such as:

  • Business and transport
  • Economic policy and statistics
  • Homes affairs
  • International affairs
  • Parliament and constitution
  • Science and environment
  • Social and general statistics
  • Social policy

Each research team has its own budget, manages its own collection, conducts their own cataloguing, and have their own journal subscriptions, etc. although there are a lot of loans between the research team’s collection and the main Members Library.

Book lined corridor in Parliament

Book lined corridor in Parliament

However, surprisingly they do not conduct lengthy enquiries or research for the Government, as the Government has the Civil Service to help them. So they particularly cater for the Opposition Front Bench and back benchers, so that they’re able to hold the Government to account. They also help with Select Committee’s work.

The services the Members’ Library provides tends to be in the form of reading lists, newspapers, online journals, databases, inter-library loans (particularly with the British Library and London Library), research on ANYTHING and in providing a sanctuary. The types of documents they produce are confidential briefings for MPs, standard notes and research papers which are made available on the external Parliament website, internal debate packs, current awareness emails and personal briefings. Understandably, it is extremely important for staff to remain impartial when providing such documents, particularly on controversial topics such as fox hunting, wind farms, fracking, etc. Additionally, speed and clarity are particularly important.

The Library’s holdings (and keeping in mind this is just the Member’s Library, and not including the Lords’ Library or the Parliamentary Archives) are particularly impressive:

  • Just under 260,000 bound volumes, 10,000 of which are reference books
  • 112 print copy newspapers subscribed to including national broadsheets and local papers
  • Over 1,700 e-journals and 70 print journals
  • Access to just under 50 online subscription services, including Nexis News, Lexis, Westlaw, ProQuest, Who’s Who, DODs and Grantfinder to name a small few.
Member's Library

A room in the Member’s Library

Current areas of development are introducing eBooks, introducing a new LMS and discovery system, implementing RDA cataloguing standards (and working with the Lords Library to try and synchronise cataloguing standards) and access to resources on mobile devices. The last is particularly important as after the 2015 general election, MPs will be provided with iPads as standard issue. So the Library is experimenting with different apps of subscribed online services such as Nexis News, as well as eBooks.

In the afternoon we had the privilege to tour the Member’s Library that we had heard so much about in the morning. We were only allowed in as it is currently recess; so there are no MPs working in Parliament this week.

LibraryThe Member’s Library is absolutely stunning. It is exactly what you would picture a library in the Houses of Parliament to be. Beautiful dark wood with intricately carved details everywhere; huge windows looking out on to the River Thames; comfy armchairs next to large stone fireplaces; and thousands upon thousands of books. I was surprised by the large size of the Library, probably because I work in a law firm library consisting of only 4 double sided bookcases (and some space in the basement), with many of our resources being online. In addition to the entry atrium, the Library consist of 4 almost identical large rooms, each with books lining the walls almost floor to ceiling, study space with PCs and tables with writing materials and comfy armchairs (presumably for sleeping in!). The collection is primarily politics, history and biographical, with approximately 3,500 – 4,000 loans a year; many of which are inter-library loans. I expected the Library to have its own quirky classification system due to its age, but they actually use Dewey Decimal.

ParliamentAfter the tour of the Library, we had a tour of Parliament by an official tour guide. I had already been on this tour a couple of years ago, but being a history geek I still very much enjoyed seeing all of the wonderful treasures and craftsmanship that Parliament has to offer, Unfortunately, due to a mix up we missed the Online Resources demonstration back at Portcullis House before the concluding Q&A panel session, but I had a quick chat with the person who provided the Online Resources presentation so I didn’t miss out on too much. It consisted of a run through of their catalogue, their journal catalogue and their Intranet pages.

For the Q&A panel at the end, I asked what methods they used to reach out to the Members and increase Library usage, as in many ways I think Members are similar to lawyers as library users and this is something we can all improve on in our libraries, whatever sectors we work in. Their outreach is 98% of Members which is excellent; but not all MPs use them on a regular basis. When new MPs are elected they are sent a letter to inform them of the Library services, and this is quickly followed up by an induction. Information literacy training is offered, and talks and briefings by specialists on topics of the day in the Library are advertised by posters. Additionally they provide current awareness emails on hot topics and they have an active Twitter account (@commonslibrary) which is particularly successful, as many MPs use Twitter. They are also very prominently placed on the Parliament intranet homepage with direct links to briefings and standard notes on important topics, which I think is something that my own Library could try and improve on.

Overall, it was a really enjoyable and interesting day. I would like to thank CILIP and the House of Commons for letting us in to the intriguing and usually very private world of Parliament,and I would highly recommend attending if you have the opportunity next year!


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On a wet and gloomy Monday evening, I had the pleasure of going on a tour of the weird and wonderful London Library. Having heard some stories about the Library from some of my friends who were lucky enough to spend their graduate traineeships there, I was happy to discover that free tours are offered every other Monday evening (as it is a subscription library, I believe this is a marketing ploy, but one I was happy to take full advantage of!)London Library

Before I go ahead, a disclaimer is needed in case I have mis-remembered anything that our very knowledgeable tour guide told us!

The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, who apparently was fed up with not being able to take books home from the British Library (which at the time had a reference only collection), and started his own library where members could take books home to study at their convenience. Astonishingly, this is still very much the case today where 97% of the collection is on open access shelving and can be taken home, including books from as early as the 18th century! It was refreshing to find out that the purpose of the conservation team was not to render the works inaccessible to members in order to preserve the books in their original state; but only to preserve the books so that they can be used by future members of the library.

StacksThe major challenge the Library faces is space. It is almost like a living organism in the way it has grown out of a Georgian townhouse and has stretched itself upwards, downwards and to every side barring the front, with different parts of the building having different numbers of levels below and above ground. You can tell from the structure of the building that parts have been added here, there and everywhere in order to utilise every pocket of space. In the stacks, books are shelved from floor to ceiling, where the floors are thin metal grills in order to circulate air and light. We were told that if all of the books were taken off the stacks, then the building would rise an incredible 3 inches! So the books are integral to the structure of the building.

The collection grows at approximately 8,000 works a year, which is presumably why they require a huge team of approximately 60 full time and part time staff to keep the Library in working order, with about 20 members of staff in Reader Services alone.

ClassificationI loved the quirkiness of the classification system, which was devised by a librarian at the London Library in the late 19th century, which basically meant that anything that wasn’t arts and humanities was shoved in to “Science and Miscellaneous”. This lends itself to wonderful serendipitous browsing, and I could imagine spending hours enjoyably browsing the shelves. This led to some rather amusing subject guides on the ends of bays, such as charities sitting next to cheese.

What I really enjoyed about the London Library was the homely feel and quirkiness of the Library, which I think very much lends itself to being an inspirational location for authors and scholars of all descriptions. In one of the main reading rooms, I noticed there was a display cabinet of old membership forms, and 2 of them belonged to Edward Elgar and Winston Churchill! The Library almost seems like it is from a past era, and I really hope it is able to continue despite the challenge which all libraries seem to be facing of reduced funding.

I would very much recommend attending a tour if you are interested in experiencing different and unique libraries!

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