Tuesday, 5 April 2011

No place like London

The latest in our library visits programme was a trip to London to visit the Guildhall Library and the library at the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Old library by KitLKat on Flickr

At the Guildhall Library we were given a history of the library by Andrew Harper, the librarian. The library hasn't had the luckiest of histories, with the collection in the medieval library being "appropriated" by the Duke of Somerset in 1549, and the building then being damaged in the Great Fire of London. Once the library had been refurbished and the collection rebuilt, a direct hit from a bomb in WWII took out 20,000 books, and the collection was moved to the Old Bailey for safekeeping. Unfortunately the Old Bailey was later bombed, and 83,000 further books were destroyed. Despite all of this, thanks to donations etc. the collection has been rebuilt again, and virtually all of the materials lost during the war have been replaced. The library today has the best collection of materials on the City of London, along with books on local English history, and English financial history. Some of the most popular items in their collections include their backrun of the London Gazette, and Lloyds shipping record cards, which detail every voyage made by ships including the Queen Elizabeth and the Lusitania. Andrew then took us on a tour of the working library, and then to the old library which is now empty and is used for functions, and there was a steady trickle of ladies in hats arriving as we looked around!

After lunch we headed over to Moorgate to the Chartered Institute of Accountants' headquarters. Their library was very different from any we've seen so far this year, and so I didn't really know what to expect. The Business Centre part of the library opened off the main welcome area and cafe part, and to get to other parts of the building you needed to walk through the library areas. We were being shown around by Rowena Mann, the Customer Services Manager, who said that this was good as people are more aware of the library. The Business Centre had meeting rooms and a quiet study area, but through most of the Centre there were people talking on mobiles and basically getting on with business. Although most enquiries are done over the phone or email, there was an enquiry desk in the middle of the Centre for face to face enquiries. There were some shelves of books and journals (actually more than I'd expected) but the majority of stock was kept in an offsite store.

Institute of Chartered Accountants by Loz Flowers
After our tour, we went up to a boardroom and had a series of presentations from other members of the Library and Information Services team. One thing that I found interesting was that none of the staff had the word "librarian" in their job title, most of the staff on the team were Information Executives of one sort or another. This is deliberate, as in a world of executives and senior executives, someone with the job title Library Assistant is likely to be overlooked for a pay rise! A topic that was returned to several times throughout the afternoon was the importance of bringing information to users as quickly and directly as possible. Jonathan Bushell from the web services team showed us the Institute's website, where there is a LIS section, but LIS staff have also been working to embed content througout the website, where members will most often be browsing. Subject gateways provide collated sets of key resources in an accessible way. With a worldwide membership, it is important that members can find what they are looking for when the library building is closed. Web content is driven by the enquiries staff get at the reference desk, for example the number of enquiries to decode abbreviations and acronyms led to the creation of an abbreviations directory on the website. However Jonathan stressed the importance of recording web traffic statistics, as every successful improvement to the website means that the number of enquiries will of course go down! Rowena summed it up by saying the job was largely about always trying to be ahead of the game. Simples...

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