Friday, July 30, 2010

King's College Maughan Library

Congratulations! 4 weeks of class, 13 class-arranged and 6 optional site visits, four cities, and a mini-break: this is the final official blog for my 2010 British Studies Program Library Science course. Thank you for reading.

When we first arrived at the Stanford Street/King's College dorms I hoped we would have access to King's College's library. While that was not the case (our access was to the Stanford Street information centre and computer labs), arrangements were made for a visit to the King's College Maughan Library located on Fleet Street. Maughan library served as the Public Records Office until the 1990s when the PRO joined with the Historic Manuscripts Commission to become The National Archives, now housed at Kew Gardens.

The building stood vacant for a few years before King's College arranged a 125-year lease on the property and re-purposed it for a university library. Their decision was not without complications--the heritage status of the building means that all renovations must go through a heritage committee--that includes arrangements for new security measure to match with the RFID tagging and self-checkout system they have instituted. In addition, the lease required that King's College retain many of the historic spaces in their original form. While this means that certain spaces cannot be used, I found it fascinating to see the original slate-shelved bookcases and fireproofing measures installed in 1851. Since the building had been designed for records storage little work had to be done for the books--the space for people was another matter. The transition team worked hard to make space for students and at present there are over 1000 seats and 300 computer terminals available.

When King's College took over the space they brought four libraries under one roof. This enabled the library to remain open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day during exam periods. Combining libraries meant combining staff, security, and maintenance allowed the library to extend other services. The Maughan library has over 750,000 volumes (1.3 million volumes within all of King's College's libraries) and serves over 7000 students from The Strand campus as well as the 23000 undergraduates at all of the campuses.

As a former academic who took the time to bring my classes into the library I wondered what relationship existed between the university library and the faculty. Our contact indicated that there is no direct relationship: professors interact with the subject librarians for their department. The subject librarians liaise with the academics, get the reading lists, and provide training and inductions for students. There seems to be little contact between the library staff and the professors, surprising since they are both the people that undergraduates most often interact.

The main library has multiple stack areas. The short-loan area has multiple copies of books that are on academic reading lists. The area is staffed for the first half of the academic year as students get their bearing. The library uses Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system for nearly all of their works--the medical collection uses NMC but the plan is to switch over to Library of Congress.

The second part of our visit had some impressive tourist and researcher highlights. We were taken into the "Round Reading Room" which was part of the Public Records Office. Our guide mentioned that this is the one space which library staff does not have to police for noise--in fact the students researching in this room looked askance at us for interrupting their study time.

Our tour guide then took us to the Foyle's Special Collection room. Housed in a different building one must exit the main Maughan library and walk across the courtyard. The Foyle Special Collections has over 150,000 items (60,000 belong to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office collection) and specializes in medical texts. The Special Collection librarian was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his library. The space, however, was less than ideal from my perspective as a researcher. There were three small tables with four seats each meaning that there is very little room to spread out—I wonder how four researchers, with their laptops or notebooks and sources can fit comfortably. On the other hand, it would be wonderful to interact with a librarian who is so in touch with his collection.

I was once again reminded of the difference between Special Collections and Archives: all of King’s Colleges manuscript sources are kept at the Archives on the Strand—Special Collections is rare books only. The SpecColl uses LCSH, and follows AACR2, MARC and DCRMB standards for their catalogue. In addition they maintain a card catalogue (limited to single access points) in case the OPAC goes offline. Most of their records are downloaded from OCLC and are then edited to match the collection.

The staff seemed to follow the MPLP (More Product, Less Process) protocol for the newly acquired FCO collection--they have processed 14,000 records but have made them all available to researchers. Materials or parts of the collection that are requested are fast-tracked for processing. The FCO records do not seem to have been well-integrated into the rest of the Foyle collection. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.

One more point of interest: the collection is used by the medical school--a history of medicine course uses the archive's collection to research and write papers. This places the Foyle collection in a unique position--and speaks well for their efforts to promote their collection and remain integral to the university.

I enjoyed the visit to the Maughan Library though I must admit that even I was a little exhausted and found it hard to come up with new and interesting questions. I did realize that this was our only library visit devoted exclusively to an academic library: our visit to Oxford's Bodleian was more about it's role as a research library than it's central place as part of Oxford University. It also reminded me that other than Greenwich's Maritime Museum Library, the National Archives of Scotland and the British Museum Archives most of our "archives" visits would count as Special Library or Special Collections in the US. Most of our visits have, therefore, been to public libraries; while interesting I am definitely archives track. I like the fact that sources are "unique," I even like the idea of records schedules and am fascinated by the role of standards for archival description--I guess it is all about bringing order to chaos.