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Researching Contemporary West European Politics in the IHR Library

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Having worked in the IHR library for a while, it can be easy, perhaps, to lose sight of how the library may come across to our readers. In an interesting exercise suggested by our graduate trainee, Siobhan Morris, each member of the library staff played the role of a hypothetical reader for a day to see how easy it is to use the library and find any relevant material for their subject.

For a while I have also been curious to see if the library could meet the needs of someone whose primary research interest is not history. So my imaginary reader is a politics student currently studying an MA very similar to the masters in EU Politics currently being taught at the London School of Economic. Besides looking at the coverage in the IHR’s collections relevant for my imaginary course, I will also attempt to get an understanding of how easy it is to use the space and resources within the library and identify any obstacles that may arise.

 

General Impressions

MRB1For my morning session (1st August) I chose to work in the basement since this is where the International Relations collection is currently housed. Although by no means loud, the noise from the reception above and the lift meant that this spot is not as quiet as one might think. Thankfully connecting to the Wi-Fi with my laptop (using Windows 10) was very easy. The main obstacle I did face, however, was the inadequate lighting in the International Relations room – hopefully this can be rectified soon. During this morning session I also used a variety of e-resources from the library PC also in the basement. I did not have any major problems using resources like J-Stor or the Times Digital Archive and, in this instance, there were no problems printing or photocopying.

For my afternoon session (2nd August) I had intended to use one of the reader spaces in the main reading room on the second floor but all were taken at this point; there were still seats free in the smaller reading rooms on that floor but I went across the landing to the North American room, which was empty at this point. Locating the material I needed in the various European history collections was largely problem free, and it was particularly helpful having so many complementary collections on open access (locating local contemporary political works in the Italian collection, for example, with the catalogue alone would have been quite difficult).

 

Searching

Using the catalogue on my laptop I initially did a number of keyword searches using terms such as:

  • “European Union”
  • “European Economic Community”
  • “European Community”…etc.

This did result in quite a few hits. Yet this type of search was bringing up a lot of internet resources that were only accessible via MyILibrary, even though I had limited it to an IHR library only facet. The current position of access in the library has been made clear, however on the library page about Electronic resources.

Next I carried out a number of subject searches with  the name of a country suffixed with terms such as “politics and government”, “foreign relations”, etc. Therefore the terms I used for France were as follows:

  •    France Politics and Government 1945-
  •    France Politics and Government 1958-
  •    France Politics and Government 1969-
  •    France Politics and Government 1981-
  •    France Foreign Relations 1945
  •    France Foreign Relations Germany 1945-

This might be construed as cheating, slightly, since these terms are Library of Congress Subject Headings and hence something only librarians tend to be familiar with. However it was a useful type of search to employ, giving a useful impression of the strengths within the various collections investigated, and is a strategy I will recommend to new users in the future. Yet no search strategy is perfect, which is why, as mentioned above, my third method for discovering material was just to browse the open shelves.

 

Collection Coverage

Throughout the course of my searches the bulk of the material I found for the post-1945 period centred, perhaps unsurprisingly, on Britain, with also significant holdings for France (especially post-1945 international relations) and Germany. A smaller number of titles were retrieved for Italy, Spain and Portugal, and very little, if anything, for the Netherlands and Belgium, Ireland, Austria and Scandinavia. Also the material currently in the library tends to concentrate on the c. 1945-c.1970 period with diminishing returns for later periods. This is something both myself and my fellow collection librarian, Mette Lund, are aware of, and as new works are published about the post-1970 or post-1989 period, which fall into the collection remit of the library, we will acquire them.

MRB2

Although this exercise did flag-up a few issues regarding collection coverage, overall I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of material that could be found in the library for the hypothetical politics student. Coupled with some of the IHR’s other activities, such as its varied seminar programme, this makes it clear that the IHR and its library is not for historians alone.

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