On Monday 15th May, the IHR Library will host an evening dedicated to food history to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition, ‘All the Right Ingredients: Food History Resources in the IHR,’ examining the history of food as revealed by the collections of the IHR Library.
Food has always held a significant role in history, shaping societies and influencing cultures and economies. However, it was only in the twentieth century that the study of food in history was incorporated into the discipline. Similarly, in relation to the IHR itself, food has always held a central role in the Institute with catering available in the Common Room, a formal Dining Club, and a dedicated Institute Tea Fund. This exhibition, and the talks that accompany its launch, therefore aim to highlight how food history can offer new insights into historical narratives.
Matthew Shaw, IHR Librarian, will introduce the exhibition and the library’s food history collections. Dr Kelly Spring, Convenor of the Food History Seminar at the IHR, will then open the exhibition with a talk examining the establishment of food studies into the historical discipline and the avenues that this has opened up to researchers. As Dr Spring has noted, ‘a macro-approach to the history of food can be implemented in order to reveal food’s effects on the grand narrative while a micro-level view as part of a micro-historical approach can be utilised to analyse the everyday lives of individuals, groups or communities in connection with food to furnish new insights into history.’ Dr Spring shall draw upon materials from the library’s collections and holdings, whilst also exploring new directions in the discipline of food history.
Following this, Siobhan Morris, Library Officer at the IHR, will talk on the importance of food in the history of the IHR. Siobhan will focus on the history of the IHR Dining Club, tracing its history from its establishment in 1938 to the decision taken to fold the Club in 1956. The talks will be followed by a reception and the opportunity to browse the exhibition and view additional materials from the library’s food history collections and the IHR archive.
The exhibition centres around four display cases, each addressing a different theme. These shall examine the social, cultural, political and economic histories of food through a range of materials in the IHR library collections – including recipes from across Mexico, France and India, soldiers’ diaries, chef’s memoirs, parliamentary acts and household accounts. In addition, a brief history of food in the Institute of Historical Research itself will also be displayed. This shall incorporate conference menus, personal testimonies and archival photographs and documents.
The exhibition will be on display on the third floor of the library and is open to all. Please ask at reception if you would like to visit the display.
– New research guide to the Library’s Museum Studies and Heritage collections –
With research in the fields of museum studies and heritage continuing to expand and develop as a key trend in history, the IHR library has recently compiled a guide to the library’s museum studies and heritage collections. The guide provides an overview of the library’s holdings, gives details of the range of sources available for consultation, and highlights two case studies – the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum respectively. Relevant sources for the study of both institutions are outlined within the collection guide alongside relevant holdings within the library’s electronic resources, journals and periodicals. Throughout, the collection guide documents relevant examples on the architectural history, patronage, social history and visitor statistics for a range of institutions. These examples are designed to highlight the range of sources available in the library for researchers studying museums and heritage practices.
While researching the collection guide, one example from The Times, 25 January 1884 entitled ‘The Museum in New York’ proved particularly striking for its account of a law suit involving the then Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The article notes of the museum that, ‘the Museum of Art is not a public institution. It is a strictly private corporation. It is the child of a number of enthusiastic gentlemen, who in November, 1869, held a meeting in this city for the purpose of creating some institution that would emulate the British Museum.’ In addition to providing commentary on the museum’s establishment, the article also details an alarming disregard for conservation practices. The correspondent states that during the trial it was offered ‘to let the plaintiff hack several statues to pieces in open court to test their genuineness; and a sculptor actually did hew off fragments from one of the images, in presence of Judge and jury, to show that the ancient relic was actually made of solid stone and not of cement.’ Commentaries on a range of museums can also be found in the library’s collections of personal testimonies, diaries and correspondence. For example, Krystyn Lach-Szyrma, a Polish philosopher who travelled across Britain between 1820 and 1824, described the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow as, ‘a rich collection of animals, plants, minerals, medals and manuscripts left by the famous doctor Hunter who studied at this University. The Anatomical Hall is the most interesting of all. I have seen there all the parts of the human body preserved in alcohol…The seats of feeling and of thought are thus the places where life begins!’
The library’s collections in museum and heritage studies are continuing to grow. One of the latest titles to arrive in the library, Interpreting Native American History and Culture at Museums and Historic Sites, features best practice case studies for museum professionals involved in caring for collections of Native American material culture. Of particular relevance for museum studies researchers is the chapter entitled ‘Taking Responsibility for Museum History and Legacy: promoting change in collections management’. This chapter provides insightful discussion into ethical considerations for collection management as well as providing a historical background to collecting practices in museums across the United States.
Ahead of the forthcoming IHR Winter Conference: Civil Wars, the IHR Library has acquired new works documenting the on-going conflict in Syria and the wider refugee crisis it has sparked. The Syrian Civil War is now in its sixth year, prompting consideration of the term ‘civil war’ itself and whether the term still holds value for historians. The conference will therefore question the conceptualisation and language of civil discord, asking ‘do civil wars share certain features or is this a term of art that obscures the uniqueness of each historical situation?’ With this question in mind, details of two of the latest acquisitions to the IHR Library that provide unique, individual perspectives on the Syrian Civil War are outlined below.
This work details the journey of Nujeen Mustafa, a young woman born with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, as she travels from Syria to Europe as a refugee. The account describes the perils of such a journey, however these harrowing details are interspersed with Mustafa’s deeply personal observations, humour and optimism – as such the memoir lends the refugee crisis and the history of the Syrian civil war a human face. As Mustafa asserts, ‘the year 2015 was when I became a fact, a statistic, a number. Much as I like facts, we are not numbers, we are human beings and we all have stories. This is mine.’
Similarly, the memoir describes the final stages of Mustafa’s crossing to Europe in vivid detail noting, for example that, ‘the beach was not sandy as I had imagined it would be but pebbly – impossible for my wheelchair.’ In addition, Mustafa obliquely reflects on the wider refugee crisis and provides a reminder that each refugee has their own individual story. She comments, ‘I knew the sea only from National Geographic documentaries and now it was as if I was part of one… Some people swapped stories but most didn’t say much. They didn’t need to. To be leaving all you knew and had built up in your own country to make this dangerous and uncertain journey, it must be bad.’
Wolfgang Bauer’s work also documents the journey undertaken by Syrian refugees from Egypt to Europe through first-hand accounts. A journalist by trade, Bauer posed as an English teacher in order to witness the refugee crisis and report on all stages of the crossing to Europe. Thus the volume, and the series of photographs by Stanislav Krupar contained within it, highlights individual stories from both the civil war and the refugee crisis.
Bauer writes, ‘in April 2014, photographer Stanislav Krupar and I joined a group of Syrian refugees trying to get across the sea from Egypt to Italy. We put ourselves in the hands of people smugglers who have no idea that we are journalists. That’s why we get herded forward with sticks like the rest…Only Amar and his family know who we really are. He is an old friend from my time reporting on the Syrian civil war. It was desperation that drove him here; he dreams of living in Germany. He will translate and interpret for us along the way. We have grown long beards and adopted new identities. For this journey, we are English teachers Varj and Servat, two refugees from a republic in the Caucasus. We are now part of the great exodus.’
In addition to these newly acquired works, the Library also holds journal articles on the civil war, for example Salwa Ismail’s ‘The Syrian Uprising: Imagining and Performing the Nation’, in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11, No.3, (2011). Professor Ismail will speak on ‘The Civil War in Syria‘ at the IHR’s Winter Conference. The Library also has electronic access to Human Rights Watch Report, No Room to Breathe: state repression of human rights activism in Syria, Vol. 19, (2007). However, please note that some electronic articles and resources are only available onsite from library PCs, with offsite access limited to staff and students of the IHR due to current licencing restrictions. More information on the library’s electronic holdings is available here.
The IHR Library’s collections will continue to expand as new memoirs and testimonies from the on-going Syrian conflict emerge. Whilst such contemporary materials would not normally fall within the library’s collection profile, the Library has decided to selectively acquire material due to the historical importance of the current crisis. These invaluable sources will enable historians to question not only the ‘uniqueness’ of the civil war, but also to give voice to individual narratives caught up in a conflict that shows no sign of abating.
Following the IHR Library’s user survey conducted in April 2016, the library team have been undertaking further, more in-depth user experience (UX) research to establish the multitude of ways in which our readers use the library space. This research is intended to identify areas in which the library can be improved and to gain insight into user requirements of the library.
Library staff have therefore been researching methodologies and current trends in user experience research. A range of interactive and creative tasks were then selected to best establish a snapshot of our users, their research behaviours and the ways in which they use the library. These research activities included conducting focused one-to-one interviews with a range of researchers, asking users to take staff on tours of the library, and to participate in a cognitive mapping exercise.
In total eight cognitive maps were collected, with each varying greatly both in style and content. This has provided staff with a varied dataset to help facilitate better understanding of library users’ perceptions of the building, physical space of the library and of the Institute more broadly. Further information about this exercise and examples of some of the maps collected are detailed below.
Cognitive Mapping Exercise:
In recent years, cognitive mapping has become a popular tool amongst library practitioners to gain insight into user behaviour and experience. As Ned Potter has outlined, ‘cognitive mapping is in essence asking your subject to draw a map of the library – or, ideally, of their wider learning landscape – in order to understand how they perceive the space, what they actually use, what they value and see as most important and so on.’ (Ned Potter, ‘UXLIBS 4: Ethnography You Can Try at Home‘, UX Adventure, 2015)
Consequently, IHR library staff recently asked eight researchers to draw the IHR library, or the IHR more generally. Participants were asked to alternate the colour of pens every two minutes for a total of three colours over six minutes. This technique is used to place items in the order in which they were drawn, indicating areas of importance. Participants began with a red pen, then changed to blue, before concluding in black pen.
One participant chose to depict the ‘journey’ to get to the Institute, drawing the hectic and chaotic world of central London outside the IHR (Figure 1). In their map, the library was described as representing something of a haven for quiet, contemplative research and work. The participant therefore drew streets, cars and surrounding buildings, however the only people included on the map were within the IHR itself, highlighting the participant’s view of the IHR as a social and inviting space.
Similarly, another participant opted to fill their map with people and key sites of interaction (Figure 2). They spoke of depicting the IHR as a ‘community’ in their map. In drawing the Institute as a whole, the common room and the reception area were common factors across all eight maps, suggesting these as significant sites in the make-up of the Institute. This also indicated that so-called ‘break-out’ areas within the library were key considerations for participants.
In addition, during discussions explaining their maps three participants highlighted the location of sites within the current library in relation to where they had been prior to renovation of the building and the IHR’s time in the South Block of Senate House. In this regard, one participant drew ‘sites of memory’ on their map – these represented both areas of particularly fond memories and recollections, but also previous locations of the library’s collections (Figure 3).
As noted previously, all eight maps were drawn in very differing styles and in varied formats. While some were formulated in a logical manner and floors were depicted in a rigid structure, others missed out areas and one participant was unsure of how many floors in total the IHR has – writing on their map ‘Missing Floor?’ between the second and third floor landings. The relative lack of detail attributed to the North American room on the second floor and to the third floor across all eight maps suggests a need to review the physical environments of these areas of the library.
Further analysis of the cognitive maps and in-depth participant interviews will take place in the coming weeks. The IHR library team are immensely grateful to all participants and for allowing the reproduction of a selection of the cognitive maps collected here.
Library staff would welcome any feedback on any aspect of the library and on the user experience research they are conducting. If you would like to provide feedback, please contact library staff via the library enquiry office, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7862 8760.
For further information on the methodology of utilising cognitive mapping in library user experience research see:
On Friday 28th October, the IHR Library will host a screening of the documentary ‘Little America‘ (2016) exploring the history of the US Embassy at Grosvenor Square and examining its role as a physical representation of the ‘Special Relationship’ and as a site of protest.
The film was commissioned to mark the Embassy’s departure from the Square as it moves to its new home south of the river at Nine Elms. The move marks a significant historical departure, with the US having been associated with Grosvenor Square since the late eighteenth century when John Adams, the first United States Minister to the Court of St. James’s, lived from 1785 to 1788 in the house which still stands in Grosvenor Square on the corner of Brook and Duke Streets.
The documentary records the history of both the people and the place that came to be know as ‘Little America’ and encompasses archive footage alongside oral histories from numerous British and American diplomats, journalists, politicians and activists, including Tony Blair, William Hague, Jack Straw, Jon Snow, Justin Webb, and the current ambassador, Matthew Barzun.
The screening will be preceded by a short introductory talk from Emily Gee (Historic England and IHR Fellow) focusing on the historical and architectural importance of the building.
The IHR Library staff have recently undertaken short research projects utilising the library’s collections to improve our understanding of what it’s like to use the library, as the IHR Library’s Reader and Technical Services Manager, Kate Wilcox, explained in a recent blog post. Consequently, in order to gain an appreciation of the user experience of the library, I have been examining the library’s holdings concerning the history of the British Museum Library.
To begin with, I searched the library’s catalogue for both ‘Libraries’ and for ‘British Museum’ using both the subject heading and keyword search fields. These searches brought up a range of results. As the IHR Library’s collections are arranged mostly geographically, I also consulted the library’s online collection guide for the London collection in order to familiarise myself with the make-up of the collection and relevant classmarks.
The London collection is situated within the Wohl Library on the first floor and is on open shelves. This ensured that I could easily browse the collection, discovering additional relevant materials that had not appeared on initial catalogue searches, and also meant I could consult works as and when required.
A selection of the relevant works from the library’s London collections include:
The IHR Library contained a wealth of fascinating information on the history of the British Museum Library, from it’s conception and first opening for public inspection in January 1759, through to the creation of the British Library in 1973 and it’s enveloping of the Museum’s library departments.
The history of the building is illuminated by Arundell Esdaile. For example, he notes the introduction of electric lighting into the Museum in 1879; ’till then (gas being banned), if a fog were to come on, not only was the Reading Room closed, but the entire staff went rejoicing home. Thereafter a working day meant a day’s work.’ (Esdaile, p 132)
Louis Fagan’s account of the life of Sir Anthony Panizzi, responsible for the building of the Library’s famous round Reading Room, provides insight into the life of key figures in the history of the Institution. However, while documenting Panizzi’s role as Chief Librarian, his account states that ‘the chief officer of the British Museum is styled the Principal Librarian, which is to a certain extent a misnomer, as he has no more to do with the books than with the other portions of the collection; he derives his appointment from the Crown under sign manual, and is entrusted with the care and custody of the Museum, his duty being to see that all the subordinate officers and servants perform their respective duties properly.’ (Fagan, p 107)
P.R. Harris’ work, The Reading Room, features several artworks, photographs and cartoons depicting the Museum’s Reading Room, allowing the reader to observe the immense changes the library underwent. He also attributes great focus upon the staff of the library, beginning with the first ‘Keeper of the Reading Room’, Dr Peter Templeman. This post was created after ‘regulations drafted in 1758 laid down “that a proper officer do constantly attend in the said room, so long as any…person, or persons, shall be there.”‘ Harris remarks that ‘the post proved however to be a dull one since there were so few readers (only five or six each month).’ (Harris, p 4)
Harris also quotes illuminating extracts from Templeman’s diary, including an entry he records for the 30th August 1759: ‘On Wednesday all the company going away a little after one of the clock, the Room being cold and the weather likely to rain, I thought it proper to move off too.’ However, on another occasion Templeman records leaving the reading room to have a walk in the garden, but met one of the Museum’s Trustees who ordered him back to his post ‘with startling energy of voice and manner.’ (Harris, p 4)
In this way, the IHR Library’s resources enabled research into the history of the physical building of the British Museum Library, the collections it held, and the lives of those who worked within it.
Using the Library
I found the library reading rooms overall to be an exceptionally pleasant place to work and conduct research. I chose to work in the Wohl Library on the second floor as I found the natural light in this area appealing. I did experience some minor noise issues that staff are already aware of and are currently trying to address as quickly as possible. Aside from this, I found the space to be conducive to quiet research, with soft seating available close by for intensive reading and the public PC enabling easy access to the library’s online resources directly from the desktop.
In selecting the British Museum Library as my topic for research, I found that most of the materials I consulted on the open access shelves were not in rolling stacks, but instead on open shelves. This was immensely useful for browsing materials and discovering additional resources to consult. Similarly, I deliberately selected a variety of works (including items kept in the onsite store, theses and e-resources) in order to gain an understanding of the different resources that the library holds and any challenges readers may face in accessing them. I therefore filled out request slips for closed access materials and submitted them to library staff in the library office on the first floor before returning to collect the volumes a short while later. I found the process to be relatively straightforward, however further information on ordering materials and collection times from the onsite store can be found on the library’s website. Overall, I found the library a conducive area for research and greatly enjoyed discovering more about the history of the British Museum Library.
Beyond the library’s collections the IHR, Institute of English Studies, and Warburg Institute organise a series of research seminars examining the History of Libraries. The seminars are free and open for anyone to attend, for more information see the History of Libraries Seminar schedule.
The IHR Library recently hosted a one day workshop examining emerging research and current trends in Library and Information Science. The event, held in the IHR’s conference suite, attracted over twenty participants and was comprised of two panel sessions – the first examining the ‘Changing Face of Libraries‘ and the second ‘Impacts of Technology.’
The day began with a welcome and introductory remarks from the IHR’s Librarian Dr Matthew Shaw. Following this, Anne Welsh (UCL) opened the series of talks with a paper exploring ‘Cataloguer as Distant Research Collaborator: Implications of the Use of Catalogue Data in Humanities Research.’ Joanne McPhie (Brunel) then presented a paper on ‘The Evolution of the Librarian: developments and experiences at Brunel University.’ These engaging presentations examined how differing aspects of librarianship interact with users and researchers and both presentations drew interesting questions from the audience.
After a brief interlude for refreshments, the second panel session on ‘Impacts of Technology’ began with Tom Pink (City) asking ‘Has the Internet Changed the Way We Think? The effect of the network on user behaviour’. Emily Nunn (Sheffield) then addressed ‘Researching Open Access: thoughts from a LIS PhD.’ Following this, David Phillips (City) presented on ‘Robots in the Library: gauging attitudes towards developments in robotics and AI, and the potential implications for library services.’
Upon conclusion of the presentations, time was then devoted to questions, with the panel members engaged in debate ranging from the practicalities of open access, the effects of Brexit on university libraries and the potential benefits and drawbacks of robots acting as security guards within libraries. In this regard, the workshop was an exceptionally varied and diverse arena for emerging research. The event consequently facilitated crossover between disciplines, topics and researchers, as presenters comprised lecturers, library professionals, PhD candidates and Masters students.
The workshop drew to a close with a few final closing remarks and a heartfelt thanks to all of the presenters and attendees for making the workshop so thought-provoking and engaging. The future of the discipline of Libraries and Information Science very much appears to be ever-changing, richly diverse, and multi-faceted.
For further information, the full workshop programme can be consulted here. An account of the event as depicted through tweets containing the workshop’s hashtag #ihrLIS can be viewed via Storify here.
Following the success of the workshop and the stimulating debates that it generated, the IHR Library intend to host a similar workshop in the New Year. Details will be posted on the IHR blog, website and social media platforms in due course. If you would like to receive any further information regarding the event, or contribute topics for discussion at future IHR Library Workshop Series events, please contact Siobhan Morris (email@example.com).
One of the most important and unique aspects of the IHR Library is the quantity and range of works available on open access. Over the course of the last year, the IHR Library has been able to have forty books specially repaired and conserved due to generous donations to the IHR Library Conservation Fund, in particular from the Friends of the IHR and American Friends of the IHR. These invaluable donations have helped support the work of the Library in ensuring that volumes can be specially treated, repaired and where necessary, rebound. This work enables the volumes to be quickly returned to the library’s collections and also ensures that they are preserved for years to come.
A selection of the works that have been repaired in 2015-2016 due to money received by the IHR Trust Conservation Fund are listed below.
IHR Library Workshop Series: Emerging Research in Libraries & Information Science
Friday 19th August 2016 1pm-4pm Wolfson Room II
The Institute of Historical Research Library will be hosting a half-day workshop examining current and emerging research in Libraries and Information Science on Friday 19th August from 1-4pm.
The workshop will provide an opportunity for current researchers to showcase their research and provide a platform for engaging debate on the future of libraries and the discipline more broadly.
The first set of presentations will focus around the theme of the ‘Changing Face of Libraries‘ with presentations examining cataloguing and the changing role of the librarian in an academic library.
Following this, the second set of presentations will address ‘Impacts of Technology‘ and will include presentations on the effect of the internet on user behaviour, open access, and the development of utilising robotics and artificial intelligence in libraries.
Two members of staff from the IHR Library recently attended a workshop examining techniques in basic book repair hosted by Senate House Library’s Conservation department. SHL’s conservator, Alexandra Bruce, delivered a short presentation explaining the importance of investing in small book repairs and the practical benefits this can bring to institutions. It was noted that, ‘basic repairs carried out as soon as a book shows signs of damage can extend the life of the book at very low cost and prevent the need for more complex repairs or costly re-binding.’ In addition, undertaking basic repairs in-house allows for volumes to be returned to the shelves more quickly.
Practising hinge-tightening using EVA glue
The Conservation team then demonstrated a range of basic repair techniques, including hinge tightening, spine re-attachment, re-sewing pages, tipping in loose sections and consolidating corners. It was exceptionally useful to see the level of detail and range of different implements used according to which repair was being undertaken (including using a knitting needle to apply glue to the spine of a book!) After watching the demonstrations, we were afforded the opportunity to put these techniques into practice ourselves in a hands-on practical session.
Following the workshop, the IHR library is initiating the setting up of a ‘bindery’ where such basic repairs can be carried out. The Institute previously had a dedicated bindery located in the basement of the building before constraints on space necessitated that the bindery be closed. It is envisaged that repair work will commence in September in order to begin clearing a proportion of the backlog of books that are in need of repair and return them to the shelves as quickly as possible.
The ‘Old Bindery’ 1986
Materials and pressing boards in the new ‘bindery’
However, it should be noted that many of the volumes currently in repair require much more extensive work, with many in need of complete re-binding or specialist conservation. The expertise and time taken for such work means that this can be extremely expensive.
A selection of works in need of repair
Consequently, the Institute would greatly welcome support for it’s Library Conservation Fund to help preserve the library’s invaluable collections. Donations of any size would be greatly appreciated, with roughly £50-£70 funding a basic rebinding and £160-£200 facilitating restoration of a historic binding. For more information see: