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