“If you have a great library like Columbia, an open stacks library, I mean that’s fantastic, because so often it’s the book next to the one you’re hunting for that suddenly wags, crooks the fingers and says: ‘Come hither, I’m what you’re actually looking for.’”… “shelf-cruising”, he calls it.
Saturday’s Guardian carried this titbit in Jonathan Freedland’s interview with the historian and television presenter, Simon Schama. If you’re interested, there is more in the piece about the perils and pleasures of looking after your own personal library, but here it starts a series of blog posts that will run from Monday to Friday as part of our contribution to Libraries Week, 9–14 October 21017.
We start close to home. The Institute of Historical Research Wohl Library has always been a central part of the IHR’s mission to be a ‘laboratory for history’, with seminars taking place within rooms surrounded by books and journals offering some of the raw materials for historical research, inquiry and argument, as well as training in historical methods. The library makes some 200,000 books available over four floors, shelved according to place and topic, with the aim of serendipitous ‘shelf cruising’ by our readers. Today, of course, these paper tomes are also supplemented by digital material, such as the IHR’s own British History Online and the numerous resources from commercial or research organisations, such as the Churchill Archive or Connected Histories, all, we hope, whispering ‘come hither’ in their own way.
We also offer links to other libraries, not just through our collections of bibliographies (from Chartism to football history and beyond), catalogues and guides to archives and libraries, but also through History Online’s directory of London history collections. Let us know if you know of a library that should be listed there.
Over the next week, colleagues from the library team will be posting some of their favourite and curious items from the library, as well as details of our 31 October History Day event organised in collaboration with Senate House Library. Libraries Week will be all over social media, discoverable via the hashtag #librariesweek, and revealing such gems as the British Library’s account of medieval lending libraries (and their pious sanctions).
But the main thing is to visit your local library, renew or sign up for your library pass, and borrow a book, DVD, do some 3D printing, participate in an event, catch up with local news, do some writing, research on the internet, and add your visit to the 250 million visits made to public libraries each year. Of all the disciplines, historians have a particularly intimate relationship with libraries. It’s our duty, as well as pleasure, to support them.
You can find your local library here.