Thursday, 16 August 2007

Guildhall Library ~ 3 August 2007

The Guildhall Library is a specialist research library that is part of the City Of London Library System. It is a local, publicly-funded authority and is actually the largest of the City's libraries. The first site was built in the 1420's, and of the original collection, only one manuscript remains. The next site was built in the 1820's. This facility set the current theme as a focus on the City of London, its immediate surroundings, and its history. A third site was established in the 1870's to reach a wider audience; it was one of the earliest public libraries in England. The library lost many items during the Blitz in 1940, so they were forced to replace a large portion of the collection. In the process, they ended up acquiring many prints and maps. The new library was constructed in the 1970's.

The Printed Books Librarian was our tour guide, and he informed us of the division of the staff: 10 staff members in Printed Books, 10 in Manuscripts, and 19 service staff. They also employ volunteers in indexing projects. Unlike most of the other research libraries we visited, the Guildhall Library does not have membership restrictions. The library's collection is organized into three sections: Manuscripts, Books, Prints/Maps/Drawings. Each section has its own reading room. The collection holds treasures of London as well as recent publications. They cover legal history, government reports, local studies, family history, collections from 95 trade-guild libraries (the clock and watch-making library is one of the best in the world!), and the London Stock Exchange's historic records and annual reports from 1880 to 1964 (takes up 2.5 miles of shelf space).

The Enquiries desk receives 10-15 letters/emails per day. The librarians give 20 minutes of research time free of charge, but if the request requires more in-depth research, they provide a fee-based service for 50 GBP/hour. I have mixed feelings about this method. Ideally, librarians should provide a free service to the public. But I realize people could and do take advantage of that mentality by asking librarians to perform complex research tasks on their behalf. That could be distracting the librarians from being available to help other patrons and complete other tasks, so I can understand why charging for certain levels of research would be a wise idea.
The library's online catalog uses the TALIS system, which is apparently quite common in British libraries. The library has closed access, meaning the readers find an item on the catalog, then fill out a request form for it. Using a tube system, the librarians are able to efficiently get the materials to the readers at their seat in the reading room (within 10-15 minutes). Like in the National Art Library, readers are permitted to use digital cameras here when photocopying would damage an item. The computer terminals also have access to the Internet and electronic subscription services. I found it interesting that the staff doesn't seem to mind the students who come into the library only to use the Internet. I might have to check my attitude if I were in their position!

The library uses two separate forms of classification: for the London-related materials, they use a uniquely-designed system created by a Guildhall librarian in the 1930's. For the non-London items, they use the Dewey Decimal System, but items are shelved along with others of the same pressmark. In the Prints/Maps/Drawings collection, I thought it was neat to learn that the materials are often subjects of research for film and TV producers and book publishers, in addition to amateur historians. What a fun population to work with! An impressive feature we were introduced to was COLLAGE, a major project that digitized 30-40,000 images from the collection. In the Manuscript collection, readers can view manuscripts in digital form or microfilm and only the original when necessary. That explained why I saw an unusually large amount of microfilm machines.

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