Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Scott Polar Research Institute Visit

Cambridge Library Group’s own expedition to the Scott Polar Research Institute was a fascinating one. Led by Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections, we were treated to a hugely insightful tour of, and talk on, both the museum and library.

We were firstly shown a tantalising glimpse of the museum in its recently refurbished state; the decoration and white lighting creating a fittingly icy, but also fresh and lively atmosphere. It was lovely to see the original domes of the entrance building, along with its numerous quirky architectural touches such as the polar bear and penguin ceiling decorations (notably along side the North and South domes respectively, proving a handy reminder for anyone unsure of their polar geographical knowledge!) A Roald Amundsen exhibition is currently featuring to celebrate the centenary of his South Pole expedition, whilst preparations are under way for the upcoming centenary of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. Heather mentioned her dealings already with countless media enquiries surrounding this event, so it looks to be a huge and popular affair.

By libatcam on Flickr
It was particularly encouraging to hear of the museum’s success as a public attraction, especially with children and youth groups, encouraged to use the space in various ways, from theatre performance to artwork. The new and developing interactive services play a role in this too, as do the opportunities for school groups to dress up in clothes and handle example ‘expedition-style’ food (although we didn’t get the chance to do this sadly…) The museum’s smooth running clearly stems from its enthusiastic staff, with volunteers manning the public desk to share their expertise with interested visitors.

En route to the library, I think most of us couldn’t help notice the presence of a bell on the stairs. We soon discovered this to be the very bell from Scott’s Terra Nova, and today it is used (rather wonderfully I think) to ring out twice daily for teatime. Everyone in the institute, we discovered, goes to tea together, allowing a great opportunity for the wealth of information, expertise, and research in the making to unite on a daily basis!

Heather is very keen, and in the midst of securing funding for, the refurbishment of the library and to continue on a large backdating cataloguing programme to replace the current system. Having a modern, fresh library that matches the high level nature of its workings and content is essential. The library is filled with treasures, with many unique Arctic and Antarctic collection and a large picture library. It was interesting to see the unusual classification system, the Universal Decimal Classification for Use in Polar Libraries.

We were finally shown in to the archives - a recently organised space which has undergone quite a remarkable and highly successful transformation from its previous state. Heather revealed it still provides hidden gems, only recently the archivist having discovered another original letter from one of Scott’s expedition group.

This was an invaluably insightful evening, filled with so much information I cannot even begin to do justice to its content. Many, many thanks to Heather. Despite her thoroughness in answering all of our questions, we were all left with one still unanswered, however: how on earth does she find the time for it all?!

By Polly Harper, Library Graduate Trainee at Newnham College Library

By libatcam on Flickr

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Anglesey Abbey Library Visit

Who wouldn't want to have a chance of having a unique view of the library at Anglesey Abbey, one of the local National Trust properties?

By Mark Pettitt on Flickr

With one of the libraries custodians but also the head National Trust curator Mark Purcell we were shown into the wonderfully packed library where a whole range of books had been laid out for us to see. The books in the library are exceptional both for the high quality of leather bound volumes (such as finest surviving work of the so-called Geometrical Compartment Binder in a copy of the Old Testament) but also because the Library is not made up of the usual medieval manuscripts you would expect the rich to have bought, but contained books bought because Lord Fairhaven liked them. Everything from books on Stalin and Hitler to Alice in Wonderland and especially in subject areas such as horse racing and hunting that he had a particular interest in.

 Not to say that there are not unique and special books as they are very prevalent. A hand painted vellum edition of exotic birds, landscape garden planning with paper overlays, and a catalogue of native American Indians with highly detailed colour plates were on the tables laid out for us to look through. The collection is held in a beautiful room with mirrors at both ends giving an impression of space. And really space is what this collection needs. Although the original configuration of the books when Lord Fairhaven gave it to the NT is not known, both from a NT reorganisation in the 70's and a lack of original records (purchasing details were destroyed by the people in charge at handover - most likely to hide any shady dealings within the accounts) the room is absolutely packed (as is a nearby study) most likely requiring a servant to come in with a ladder when a book was required from a high shelf. There are the usual nice cases that you see in many manor house type libraries where the more unique books are kept, such as the Saxton Atlas, the first English County Atlas book from 1590 that the library holds.

Mark also told us about the breadth of the Windsor collection in the library. Lord Fairhaven grew up on the edge of Windsor Great Park and amassed such a collection of related books that is only surpassed by one other private collection in Windsor itself.

Being able to see the library in such detail was a unique opportunity but the Library itself is part of the public area of the main house and following the new NT's policy of being more open and 'real' there are no ropes holding you back or ruining the impression of how the library used to be and I will certainly visit Anglesey Abbey again to get a view of everything it has to offer.

Mark is in charge of the National Trusts 167 libraries but his knowledge of the Fairhaven collection in Anglesey was shown in his ability to answer all of our questions in his stride and with many interesting stories to fill out the history of the house and of Lord Fairhaven's interests and collecting habits. It will be interesting to see the book about the library that he is currently writing.

By Kevin Symonds, CLG's Secretary, and Library and Information Services Manager at MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit