Happy Libraries Week!
“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future” – Ray Bradbury
Hello I’m Ceri, I have recently joined the Institute of Historical Research Library as a Graduate Trainee Library Assistant. Before joining the IHR, I was a residential library intern at Gladstone’s Library. As a history graduate, the chance to be surrounded by history and to work in a historical building is a dream come true. The building is a grade II listed building in a beautiful Art Deco design, something that still takes my breath away every time I come to work and look up.
It is a constant amazement to me that I am surrounded by books every day. The IHR is similar to Gladstone’s in that they are both reference only libraries. The IHR has a vast collection of published primary resource material which can be anything from, to name just a few examples, poll books, diaries to seventeenth century military training exercise books, as well as historiography, bibliographies and guides and catalogues of other libraries and archives. This collection has been obtained through either donations or acquisitions and is one of national importance, which supports the study of history and historical writing. The collection is not only in English, we also strive to add primary sources that are in their original language.
A library to me is something to be celebrated – one of the reasons I wanted to become a librarian is not just because of my love of books but also my love of helping people. In Gladstone’s there was an enquiry desk where we interacted in whispers with people every day (as it is a silent library) – in the IHR there is an office, where we welcome people who need any help. If for example, they have a problem with the photocopier, they need help finding a book or perhaps they just want to see a friendly face – we welcome everyone to our office. So don’t forget to pop to our office on Floor 1 if you ever need any help!
Electronic resources are also available here at the library – we have two microform machines, computers for your use and also a book scanner. The book scanner to me is a fantastic resource and a source of wonder. You can hold the book with your thumbs and the scanner will automatically colour them out. The scanner allows you to scan without causing the same strain to the book as a photocopier. It even has a pedal similar to a sewing machine – I may be the only person who gets excited about that. You can save paper and the environment by saving your scans to a USB stick. It is certainly a useful resource available to members of our library.
The library itself stretches over seven floors – four of these floors consist of our books on open access and reading rooms, while three floors are our onsite store in the tower – accessible only by staff in a lift. In the tower, our collection is found on the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth floors – as well as housing absolutely stunning books, there is also a wonderful view from the tower across London. Each floor of the library usually houses a different collection – so the basement houses the military and the international relations collection, the first floor is the British collection and the religious studies collection, the second floor is the European collection, and American collection and the third floor is our exhibition space with reading rooms. Coming from a library consisting of three rooms, the IHR library has been slightly intimidating but I like to think I am getting to know my way around. One of my favourite features of the library is the rolling stacks. We have modern rolling stacks where you can prevent yourself from being squashed by a lift of the handle – you can move the stacks by just twisting a wheel. Whereas in Gladstone’s, I would have to pull a stack individually now I can move them all at once – without fear of squashing anyone – I feel I should I add that no one has ever been squashed in Gladstone’s library stacks! In the IHR, we have our stacks dotted throughout the library.
In both the IHR library and Gladstone’s library, you could find antiquarian books housed with modern books. At Gladstone’s library, I would love to wander around the shelves and look at the different books housed there. I have a similar love here – one of my responsibilities is ensuring books left on the desks get to go back to their own shelf. I like seeing what people have been reading, but also getting to explore the collections by looking at the shelves. When I was in university I loved using the library to research and also browsing the shelves so I could find similar books that might be of use to my research. So getting to browse and tidy the shelves for my job is my idea of heaven.
Another aspect of my job is library promotion. This could involve anything from this blog for example or adding social media posts. This can be another chance to explore the collections – finding for example an inscription from H. G. Wells or discovering other treasures in the collections. It can be rewarding to provide a fresh perspective on the library. To encourage people to join and for readers to be able discover the treasure trove of resources we hold here at the library.
To join the library is very simple: you just have to come to reception! Postgraduates and academics just need to bring their university ID and proof of address. Undergraduates are welcome too and just need a letter from their tutor. You can also be a private researcher and pay to join – either at a yearly or daily rate.
My favourite aspect of the job apart from being surrounded by books – is that no one day is the same – I can be rebinding, reclassifying, cataloguing, helping someone with their photocopying, finding information they need or having a book adventure in the tower. I also get to buy books for the library – at the moment this is supervised and is testing my German language strength but eventually they will trust me to choose books for the collection – I will get to leave my own mark on the library! Remember that for you a library is an excellent source of information, this is the same for a librarian (or a wannabe librarian) but we also have to find the information which can be an excellent adventure all on its own. Never be afraid to ask for help from your librarian – we love to help everybody. So come and discover the library and our fantastic resources for yourself!