We would like to thank regular Friday night library readers for their induldgence over a few evenings in November. Regular visitors to the library may have noticed the odd room closed for mysterious purposes, spotted our Low Countries post-doctoral fellow poring over the typography of the London Gazette from 1666, or been bemused by members of This&That Productions looking for trapdoors and other hiding spots. All this preparation was in advance of ‘Night at the Library: books of hope and fear’, part of the IHR’s contribution to the 2016 Being Human festival of the humanities (you can also read about the IHR’s other event and exhibition, ‘Beside the Seaside’ here).
The festival seeks to communicate the excitement of current humanities research, laced with the occasional dose of enjoyment. We wanted to do something in the library that explored the process of research, and perhaps introduced some new people to the richess and usefulness of the collection here. After thinking about some questions based around the collections, and making use of the library’s physical space, we very quickly realised that what we had in mind was a type of ‘Escape Room’, something that has rapidly become very popular since its origin in Japan in 2007 (and which can arguably be traced back to a series of popular TV shows in the 1980s and 90s). Ours involved a twist: we wanted to use a relatively new technology that uses small pucks to beam a geographically-specific message to a phone (or track participants around the room) via iBeacon or Eddystone protocols. Typically found at IT conferences, but also at a few cultural or heritage sites, such as Kew Gardens, it offered the chance to link the physical environment with digital resources. And with that, the ‘Book Sniffer’ was born (you probably had to be there.)
We also needed a theme. Being Human’s exploration of hope and fear quickly suggested the Great Fire of London, not least because of the 350th anniversary year, but again to pin the event down in geographical terms: the winners would be offered a night-time view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the top of the Senate House Tower. An application to Being Human was submitted, and we were fortunate enough to receive a grant, enabling us to secure the services of This&That Productions to help produce the event and develop scripts for four actors would posed the challenges to participants as they made their way through the three rooms. These included an audience with a lascivious Charles II, full of hope for his new capital city, a concerned printer to the king, trying to keep abreast of the destruction as the fires raged, and a Dutch immigrant, fearful for her son who had been arrested and accused of arson.
The challenges included the complexities of a name/place/subject index, the clues to the burning of the London Gazette‘s printing office left in its typography, operating a venerable microfilm reader, sorting early modern maps, thermochromatic love letters, and old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles. Props included real tennis balls (mistaken at the time for fire balls), and special recordings and playback machines created by the SAS sound artist in resident, Hannah Thompson.
We also had a visit from Radio 3 Free Thinking‘s Shahidha Bari and Laurence Scott, who proved to be excellent guinea pigs for the event before our 70 guests arrived for the proper event. You can hear how they fared at the end of the episode that aired on 16 Nov 2016 (about 36 minutes in).
What next? It’s possible that the event, or something like it, may return to the IHR. We will certainly look at how the puzzles and ideas might be used in library induction or training, as well as think a bit more about how escape games might relate to historical teaching, and even research, in the future. The Atlantic reported on the rise of educational escape games, Cambridge Science Museums have run several succesful games, and there is even a blog dedicated to educational library escape games. Finally, there are question about heritage and the use of the past: what are we really doing when we are playing historical escape games? Perhaps we are as much escaping the fear of the present as recreating a hopeful past. As the reading rooms return to their normal scholarly hush, we look forward to reading a book on the subject.
This post has been reposted from the LSE website to highlight this exciting new resource.
Charles Booth’s Inquiry Into theLife and Labour of the People in London was a path-breaking investigation into the social conditions faced by Londoners living in the late-Victorian era. To mark the 2016 centenary of Booth’s death, LSE has relaunched the website dedicated to Booth’s life and work as Charles Booth’s London (https://booth.lse.ac.uk/).
Booth’s famous poverty maps were pioneering in the use of colour to detail the street-by-street disparities of wealth and poverty in London. The maps were drawn from a series of “police notebooks” that Booth and his team produced by walking the streets of the Victorian metropolis. The newly redeveloped website makes available both the police notebooks and the poverty maps.
The poverty maps are available as a single interactive version using modern online mapping techniques, and are also available individually for download. The interactive version of the map allows users to search by location, and offers the ability to geo-locate individual notebooks according to the streets Booth and his team walked when doing their research. The police notebooks are available to browse and search, can be read using state-of-the-art manuscript viewer technology, and are available for download.
In addition to making available the maps and notebooks, the site has been thoroughly redesigned to reflect modern web design and accessibility standards, and features responsive design allowing it to be accessed on desktop computers, on tablets and on mobile devices. The site also includes contextual information about Booth’s life and times and about the Inquiry, and provides a series of highlights offering a “way in” to the rich archival material.
Nicola Wright, Director of LSE Library commented: “This was a pioneering study and I am thrilled to see this important archive reinvented again and made even more engaging and accessible. The innovative work of the LSE Library team and our partners is a fitting tribute to Booth’s great endeavour.”
In July 2016 the Booth archive was inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, which recognises culturally significant heritage material from across the UK, joining other material such as the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. The redeveloped website reflects LSE’s ongoing commitment to make available LSE Library’s collections as widely as possible and via new and innovative means.
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.
What is History Day? And how can it help your research?
Historical research requires a rich ecosystem of libraries, archives, associations, publishers and other organisations to flourish. Part of the process of becoming a historian, or understaking research with a historical element, is attempting to come to grips with this dense, rewarding – and sometimes confusing – network. While many online resources, such as The National Archives’ Discovery system, which provides access to over 32 million record descriptions from across the UK, or Copac, which provides a way of searching over 90 specialist research libraries, help to find the sources that might be out there, there is often no better method than speaking to a librarian or archivist, and asking them, ‘this is what I am interested in. What do you have that might be useful to me?’
History Day 2016 is the annual analogue equivalent of Discovery or Copac. On 15 November 2016, The Institute for Historical Research (IHR) and Senate House Library, with the help of the Committee of London Research Libraries in History, are bringing together over thirty libraries and archives, from the Bishopsgate Institute to the Weiner Libary. All sizes of institutions are represented, from the British Library and The National Archives, to specialist archives and libraries such as the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society. Members of their staff will be on hand to discuss their collections and your research.
You can get a flavour of some of the materials that they have in their collections in the series of blog posts, based on the Being Human theme for this year, ‘hope and fear’. The selected items include Scrofula and the Royal Touch (KCL), human physonomie (Wellcome), photograph of London’s first gay pride rally (Bishopgate Institute Library).
Like last year, History Day includes a number of talks and debates on the nature of history and the process of historical research, starting with a discussion on the varieties of public history, chaired by the IHR Director, Prof. Lawrence Goldman, with contributions from Dr Alix Green and Dr Suzannah Lipscomb. Later in the day, the relative merits of libraries and archives will be debated, and there are panels on digital history and business archives. History Lab and History Lab Plus will be on hand to help put graduates and Early Career Researchers in touch with one another, and to offer a sofa and a cup of coffee. We are also pleased to welcome the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a number of historical organisations and a selection of historical print and digital publishers.
Bishopsgate Institute Library
Black Cultural Archives
Business Archives Council
Caird Library and Archive, National Maritime Museum
Dana Research Centre and Library, Science Museum
Geological Society Library
German Historical Institute Library
Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery
History Lab Plus
Institute of Historical Research
King’s College London Library Services
Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre
Library of the Society of Friends
Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society
London Metropolitan Archives
LSE library services and The Women’s Library @ LSE
The National Archives
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Queen Mary University of London Archives
Royal Astronomical Society Library & Archives
The Royal Society, Collections
Royal United Services Institute, Library of Military History
Senate House Library
Society of Antiquaries Library and Collections
School of Oriental and African Studies Library
TUC Library collections at London Metropolitan University
UCL Library Services
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.
My name is Tundun Folami, and I am the Institute of Historical Research Library’s current graduate trainee.
In an exercise designed to improve understanding of what it’s like to use the collections, each of the IHR library staff have been undertaking different research projects using the library. This exercise was particularly beneficial to me to see how easy it is to access the collections, as I only started at the IHR library a week ago.
Using the library catalogue
I chose espionage during the Cold War as my research topic and as a starting point for my research, I searched the library catalogue using ‘Cold War’ as a keyword.
Searching ‘Cold War’ by keyword brings up 88 results. Some examples included:
The first five results were most relevant to my research; three of which were books available on open access and two were e-books.
I felt narrowing down my search to Cold War espionage didn’t yield enough results, so I scrolled to the bottom of the page and found a link to the IHR library E-Resources page. Here I found a list of links to online resources available onsite. I went through the list and ultimately, the most relevant results were retrieved from JSTOR and Times Digital Archive. These included journal articles, reviews and newspaper articles.
Working in the IHR Library (Wohl Library – Lower Ground)
My topic for this exercise was on Cold War espionage and so I chose to work on the lower ground level of the Wohl Library, as this is where the International Relations collection is held. I sat at the desk closest to the entrance as it had a PC which I could use to browse the library catalogue and it was near to the rolling stacks holding the International Relations collection.
Working in this area was comfortable and quiet, though occasionally the noise from reception on the floor above would disturb the silence. The room housing the International collection was also poorly lit, especially further in towards the window.
The library has a large amount of material on the general topic of the Cold War, both in the library itself and online as e-books and e-resources. When I narrowed down my research topic to Cold War espionage, the majority of titles found were from a U.S perspective. A smaller number of titles were retrieved for the USSR, France, Germany, Italy and Latin America. I felt it would’ve helped my search if there had been a sub-category in either the Military or International Relations collection guides on the website. There were a few issues regarding noise and lighting were the International Relations collection is held, but overall, working in the IHR library was pleasant and largely problem free, and an ideal place to start research on the topic I’d chosen.
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.
For 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).
Using the catalogue on my laptop I initially did a number of keyword searches using terms such as:
“European Economic Community”
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.
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.
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.
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).
Kate Wilcox is Reader Experience and Technical Services Manager at the Institute of Historical Research Library.
The IHR library staff have each been researching a topic, in an experiment designed to improve our understanding of what it’s like to use the collections. I’ve been looking at our holdings for the historiography of women historians, something I didn’t know much about and thought would be interesting. As a starting point I searched the catalogue, using ‘Women historians’ as a keyword and a subject.
The library’s collection policy for works on historiography extends beyond its usual remit of primary sources, so I found secondary works as well as sources. They are shelved either within the relevant geographical collections, or, for more general works, within the historiography section at classmark E.1441. Examples include:
The whole library is reference only, so you will usually find open-access items available on the shelves. I found a couple of secondary works that I wanted to read fully, and because Senate House Library also held them, I was able to borrow them to read on the train home. This was also an opportunity to use a library that I’m less familiar with and think about the experience of shelf labelling and signage.
The IHR library has a lot of specialist bibliographies, but I only located one focussing on women historians, Scritti storici di donne italiane : bibliografia, 1800-1945. The comprehensive online Bibliography of British and Irish History is always a useful resource, though I found it hard to find closely defined search terms for my subject and it was more productive to browse through the results from a wider search. As well as material directly on women historians, BBIH helped me locate material on the wider context, such as women in education.
I also tried a biographical approach. The catalogue search had retrieved a specialist work, American women historians, 1700s-1990s : a biographical dictionary. For the UK, the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography allows searching by the ‘field of interest’ of its subjects, so by using the drop-down menus I was able to search for ‘Scholarship and research: history: historians (general)’ and filter by gender, finding 103 female historians (compared to 922 male historians). The list of names is an obvious starting point for researching individual careers.
As another way into the topic, I was interested to see how many of their published works are held among the IHR’s collections. As examples, we have works of some of the earliest women historians, including Lucy Aikin (1781–1864), who edited Memoirs of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I, the prolific editor Mary Anne Everett Green (1818–1895) and the pioneering castle archaeologist Ella Armitage (1841–1931).
University records and Histories
Another biographical approach is to think about the educational background of women historians. The library has outstanding collections on the history of British, European and American universities, with many biographical registers. The relevant areas are:
Biographical works, British universities, colleges, schools (B.27)
Histories of individual universities, within the regional collections, for example Oxford under Oxfordshire (BC.76), Scottish universities in Scottish Local collection (BSL), European universities (E.8) and United States universities (currently UF.52, undergoing reclassification).
While invaluable for researching individual careers, the registers are not particularly usable for a systematic review, usually being organised by name, from which gender often has to be deduced. It would be useful to have the data in a more structured format. However many include useful information about parents’ occupations, whether the mother had attended university, and the student’s subsequent career.
Looking for female reviewers and authors in long-running journals and the IHR’s Teachers of history and Theses lists could be an interesting approach. Early volumes of these series often follow a standard approach of using initials for men and forenames for women.
I found that for using the registers and other sources that some background information was essential, such as knowing when history became a separate discipline in different universities, and when women were admitted to study it. The IHR library has useful holdings for researching the background including parliamentary material, collections of letters and diaries and newspapers.
Using the library
I found the library rooms generally a pleasant place to work. There are some noise issues that we are already aware of and trying to address. Although we want to be welcoming, we try to keep the enquiry office door closed so that we don’t disturb readers in the main room, and we ask that when rooms are used for meetings the doors are kept closed. We’ve also been trying to get the landing doors adjusted to stop them slamming.
Like many of our readers, I found it difficult to browse series shelved in the rolling stacks. The reason why the library now has rolling stacks in the largest rooms is to allow more of the collection to stay on open access in what has become a reduced space. When we were planning the new library rooms, it was not possible to use the rolling stacks for the less browse-worthy parts of the collection without disrupting the sequence of shelfmarks and making items difficult to locate. For similar reasons of space, the European university histories/registers are held in closed access, but we are always happy to meet the needs of readers who want to browse runs of closed-access material by bringing them to the library. We are continuing to think about ways of making the rolling stacks less of an issue.
Beyond the library collections, the IHR archive is a valuable source of material about women historians. Membership records, seminar registers and correspondence contain useful information for understanding the place of women in the history profession. We are currently fundraising to catalogue the archive and improve access to it. The IHR also hosts seminars in several related fields, including Women’s history, History of Education, and Gender and History in the Americas. There are occasionally other events such as the forthcoming lecture and book launch “Keep the Damned Women out”: The Struggle for Coeducation (31 Oct 2016). All in all, I found the IHR a good place to start research on the topic I’d chosen, and what I discovered here made me interested in finding out more.