The bulk of my research was conducted at the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics and Political Science, but I did — somewhat unexpectedly — need to visit another library to complete one aspect of my work. At the Women’s Library, I had consulted a series of oral history interview transcripts that were incorporated into a published book and a BBC documentary called Out of the Doll’s House, which focused on women’s experiences on a variety of issues encompassing the entire 20th century (well, up to 1989, the year of production, at least). The Women’s Library did not have any physical copies of the documentary, nor did the LSE Library, but one place in London did…the Wellcome Collection Library.
I had already visited the Wellcome Collection museum exhibitions and checked out the awesome Reading Room on my own time, but hadn’t visited the library or considered becoming a member. I went onto the Wellcome Library website and soon found the catalog records proving that they did have six of the eight parts in the documentary series. I submitted a “pre-membership” account application and made requests for five (the sixth was marked as unavailable) of the VHS tapes. I wasn’t even a full-fledged member, and I was able to make requests through the catalog! It was so easy and simple. One click and the items would be pulled from the closed stacks and placed on hold, ready for me to pick up the next day at the library desk.
The next day I went back to the Wellcome, honestly a bit concerned that my requests would not have been processed or there would be no record of me yet in their system. I was wrong! I filled out the remaining membership information, had my photo taken for my member card (good for five years!) and picked up my five VHS tapes which were already waiting for me at the desk when the library opened. I was stunned. It was so streamlined and easy and the staff were very accommodating and nice.
There was nothing else to do but get down to it! I watched all five of the VHS tapes in succession, each one lasting about 45-50 minutes in duration, on the equipment provided by the library. An old television monitor, a VHS tape player, and a pair of headphones was all loaned to me free of charge with no time restrictions. It was fascinating viewing (for me, at least) and I hurriedly took notes — until I remembered I could just pause the VHS at any point and rewind, turning my hasty note-taking into a breeze. The episodes incorporated interview footage, still photos, documentary and historical film footage, and other relevant media (e.g., contemporary advertisments). I loved being able to put faces to names of the women whose interviews I had already encountered. It made their stories all that more immediate and engaging, as these were real women who had endured so much. They became flesh and blood — not just a sequence of printed words on a transcript page. It was wonderful to hear the inflections in their voices and the way they paused or rush forward with their thinking, as well as admire how much they still embodied their wartime, younger selves! I’m so glad I was able to view these VHS tapes and see and hear these women express themselves. It will add an invaluable and personal impact to my final research paper.