After staying as a guest at a King’s College housing complex, it was nice to see more of the campus and the libraries. We were given a tour of the Maughan Library and also were treated to a viewing of some items from the Foyle Special Collections Library. I was in the tour group that first viewed the special collections items.
Adam and his colleague Brandon showed us a variety of really interesting materials from across the special collections, including several that were related to the United States in some way. Many of these items originally came from other libraries or were donated by current or former students of King’s. We were shown a Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493 (with woodcuts of biblical and mythical scenes married in with the text), a hand-colored woodcut bible from 1592, and the Charters of the Province of Pennsylvania signed by Benjamin Franklin himself. He pointed out how many early printed books in their collections used “manuscript fonts” (meaning they still looked like manuscripts even though they were actually produced by printing!) and covered a wide variety of topics, including travel, discovery, national history, and explorations of Africa and other colonial holdings. We also got to see a letter signed by Winston Churchill, a book inscribed by Allan Ginsberg, and a chilling series of illustrations done by Joe Spear that (extremely falsely) presented life in the concentration camps during the Second World War.
Brandon explained the significance of the materials related to the history of medicine that were on display before us. They have a large collection of medical and surgical textbooks from the 17th-19th centuries, many with interesting provenance which is able to be discerned through inscriptions and marginalia. He showed us the last medieval herbal to be consulted — in 1491, no less — before the discovery of the Americas revolutionized medicine. Many texts have interesting Renaissance-era approaches and efforts to classifying plants. He noted that the quality of the paper used in these books is very good and that it is actually books that are published in the 19th and 20th centuries that have more problems. We saw Nicolas Culpepper’s The English Physician, published in the 17th century in English and written to explain medicine to practitioners such as apothecaries who didn’t know Latin. They also have the papers and letters of the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister. We were able to see one letter from a thankful patient after receiving treatment for a brain tumor. He thanked Dr. Lister for inducing a “peaceful sleep” during his operation to remove the tumor.
After getting to view (and actually touch!) some of these amazing materials, Graham gave our group a tour of Maughan Library. He is a training and learning manager, and was very knowledgeable about the history and current operations of the library. Maughan has only been in its current location since 2001-02, before which substantial architectural work had to be done to make the building function as a modern university library. It was originally built to hold documents and keep them safe, he explained, not make them available for easy access and consultation. After a disastrous fire at the Houses of Parliament in 1840, Londoners were particularly paranoid about the possibilities of fire, so building in stone became absolutely necessary. The current building, began in 1851, was built in stages and uses various types of stone. The prominent tower used to hold an emergency store of water; lots of little windows were installed to help with the availability of natural light in lieu of open candle flames. Cast-iron (fireproof!) doors were installed, alongside cast-iron shelves with slate boards instead of wood for shelving. As it was originally a government archive building, it held numerous parchment scrolls. The builders and staff of the day made particularly sure that none of it would ever burn!
Now, the cast iron and slate shelves sit empty as the modern university library has grown into other spaces. General collections at Maughan span the arts and humanities, science, and law, among other general subjects. (As a side note, Graham told us that in the Franklin-Wilkins library, which was across from the Stamford Street Apartments, mostly house the nursing and business management materials). Six other King’s libraries support their large medicine-based collections.
It was very interesting to compare the library environment and systems to my home library, which is also an academic university library. Biblioteca checkout machines, RFID tags, and returns machines which sort books automatically all help to automate the nitty gritty duties of a working library with 1.25 million books and e-books. It also promotes self-sufficiency amongst students. There is a student help desk (“Compass”) that can provide support for ordering books and answering inquiries, as well as other needs (e.g., letters proving you are a student at King’s and need to access particular collections, etc.). A short-loan collections area offers students the opportunity to access materials on reserve or in very high demand, as well as a DVD collection. Computer rooms, group study rooms, single-student rooms (including some really exclusive ones located in the tower), and a beautiful, round humanities reference reading room — built in imitation of the British Museum’s Reading Room — were all filled with students working on schoolwork.
Graham closed our tour by discussing some of the recent changes and current issues in the LIS field that Maughan is now facing. For example, subject librarians are now being rapidly replaced by “training and academic liaison teams”. Required materials for courses are moving to series of links on online reading lists systems instead of printed books and journals. By 2016-17, all courses should be using online reading lists. However, he explained, this presents some interesting questions for librarians. Some items are still needed in print. “How many reading lists have this one book,” he asked, “and if we have two print copies, should we get more? Or should we get e-books because the title is on 20 different lists? If we have an e-book, should we get the print copy as well?” Many people want digital access to materials, yet many students and faculty still like print… It seems decision-making is never ending in academic libraries, regardless of where one works.