Our first library back in London after London Away and minibreak, and it was part of the college we were staying at. We were early again, but it was nice sitting outside and talking with everyone about what they did over break.
Once in the King's College Maughan Library building, we first went in to see a small exhibit on historical bibles. The room was a bit strange for being part of a library, as it had memorial statues and plaques and things all over it, with big stained glass windows. Soon our guide came in, one Sally Brock, the Information Services Center Manager, who gave us some background on the library.
King’s College was founded in 1829, at the same time as University College London, but was proclaimed as the “Godly” institution and UCL as the “ungodly” (they have been rivals ever since). The library was originally four separate buildings on the Strand campus, but became overcrowded and was likely very inconvenient.
The front of Maughan (with Olivia's finger)
The current building was opened by the Queen in 2001, and brings all four libraries together. The building itself is a former public records office, the first fireproof building in the country. Because it is historical and also very interestingly built, it is hard to make changes to; there are many restrictions and accessibility problems. The land the building is located on is Royal Land, leased to the college by the City of London.
Inside the building there are over 1,000 reading areas, 300+ computer places and over 750,000 items. There are 11,000 student users, and 1,000 regular non-student visitors. During term time the building is open seven days a week, and for about ten to twelve weeks during exam time it is open 24/7. There have been many changes to the way the library operates recently, including roaming/roving desk services, and dropping the information part of Library and Information Services.
We went over to Special Collections, where the Special Collections Librarian, Katie Sambrook, had a bunch of items out on the tables for us to take a look at. She stared by talking about what SC holds. There is a big emphasis on travel and discovery, and one of the earliest books they hold is from 1493. There are extensive medical collections, as medicine is one of the library’s strengths; one of the books was called Garden of Health, printed in 1491, and there was also a handwritten doctor’s notebook. The book I found most funny was one written by Florence Nightingale, which was composed of charts and things tracking medical issues in the Crimean War. This was only funny because about half of us had read the book we were given at Dunfermline, which had Florence Nitingale as a character and was partly set in the Crimean War.
Katie told us that there is a move toward non-interventionist methods in conservation at Maugham, which has never really been done before. The library is also slowly digitizing its special collections, holding three exhibitions on campus a year and then digitizing those items once the exhibition is done. Of course this takes some work, getting copyright permission as well as the artists’ or authors’.
Other items shown to us were a coronation album containing reports from reporters around the world, showing how other places were celebrating the event; a foreign office secret publication from 1949 showing a map of the Rhine put tpgether from reconnaissance and postcard pictures; an autographed book by Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia entitled Charteers of the Province of Pensilvania and City of Philadelphia (at least he spelled the city right, hey?); a signed book of Allen Ginsberg poems; and two Holocaust items—one a collection of single pages that were meant to be secreted about the body and used to argue against Nazi ideas, and the other a book of lithos showing concentration camps as favorable and idyllic, which was drawn by an inmate under duress (there were 50 copies printed for the Red Cross and only three are accounted for).
These were all items that we were allowed to touch, again a thrill that I don’t get to have very often over here in the states.
After this too-short presentation, the class split up into two again, and off we went for a tour. The building is really interestingly set up, filled with interconnecting rooms packed with shelves, lots of rooms with a wall of windows and the second floor looking down over a railing, glass tiles in the floors, and lots and lots of doors. We even went up to the top of a tower, which was totally nerve-racking. We went up in an elevator with glass sides, followed by a wobbly metal staircase that took us to the tower, high above much of the city.
There were three or four study rooms up there, which looked like showers more than anything, small cubicles with frosted glass doors. Of course then we had to go down again, and I was shaky going down the stairs and had to close my eyes in the elevator. I don’t think there can be many people afraid of heights in London, or at least none that work in the libraries and museums.
View from the tower
We quickly toured some more of the building, seeing the self-checkout, inquiry desk, and the wand-thingy they use to pull out holds from the shelves. There is a short-loan area where high-demand books can be checked out for 2 hours or up to 24 hours on certain items.
The classification system is LC, and the law department has its own but is starting to switch over. The film studio and music collections are short loan, up to one week, and there are viewing and listening equipment for DVDs, CDs, and even some LPs. We went into the Round Reading Room, which is general reference, and the upper levels are storage. No one is allowed above the ground floor because the handrail is too low (yay, no heights for me this time!), and the room is one of the quietest areas.
Because the library is so twisty, there has to be signs to tell everyone where they are and where they’re going, but since nothing is allowed to be hung on the walls, there are signs stuck up on the sides of the shelves. There are specific areas for each subject, so signs need to tell you where you are in relation to other rooms. There is also a sort of color coding with some of the paint.
One of the more interesting areas in the library are the two rooms that are kept in original state. They are small and filled with metal frame and slate shelving, and are fairly intimidating. Along with this there is a zinc ceiling in the library that is painted to look like wood, which is one of only two like in the United Kingdom.