A popular misconception of an archive is one of dusty old papers and dry, textual documents. With this in mind it can, then, be difficult thinking of new and interesting ways to encourage public engagement with our collections. Recently we were presented with the challenge of promoting one of our larger and more important archives, that relating to prolific 19th century scientist Sir Francis Galton.
Francis Galton is an important figure in the history of UCL, having founded the Eugenics Laboratory in 1904 and bequeathing his papers and research tools to the College upon his death in 1911. This bequest formed the basis for what are now the Galton Papers, a book collection (held in the Library’s Special Collections), and The Galton Collection (part of UCL Museums and Collections).
Towards the end of 2010, with the anniversary of Galton’s death approaching, the Library’s exhibitions group planned to mount a display in the Main Library to mark this centenary. The decision was made to focus on the lesser known areas of his research and to expose material in the archive which may not have been seen before. Items from the archive were identified for display and research on Galton’s life and work was undertaken. Links were made with UCL Museums & Collections who were, it was discovered, also mounting a series of events connected with the Galton anniversary. This became an ideal opportunity to collaborate on a cross-UCL programme of events, exhibitions, and talks.
Clearly the challenge lay in actually identifying interesting and relevant events which could form part of this programme. Fortuitously, whilst conducting some early research, the coincidental and somewhat surprising discovery was made via Twitter of a talk entitled Ideas Man: The Stranger Notions of Francis Galton, to be taking place a few weeks hence in the tiny back room of Conway Hall, Holborn, by comedy writer Daniel Maier. Our curiosity suitably piqued, tickets were bought and the talk attended.
It quickly became clear that we’d stumbled across something of a gem; as well as being erudite and very funny, the talk was focusing on the more unusual aspects of Galton’s research, thus complementing perfectly the central theme of our exhibition. All that remained was to persuade Dan to repeat his talk at UCL. Fortunately he agreed, providing us with the perfect opportunity to introduce Galton’s work to the UCL community and the wider public in an unusual, entertaining and accessible way.
Meanwhile, however, we had a lot of work to do in preparing the exhibition, including writing the text for a catalogue and mounting an online version, as is usual with all Library exhibitions. There were various preparatory meetings of the joint Library and Museums & Collections Galton events group, which included Debbie Challis, Audience Development Officer for the Petrie Museum, who brilliantly managed the organisation of the event. A short film on Galton’s connection to UCL was commissioned by Debbie, with contributions from academic colleagues on his importance to the history of science, and outlining the collections and exhibitions taking place in the Main Library and the Petrie Museum. This was shown as an introduction on the evening of the talk.
On Tuesday 7th June, Ideas Man drew a large audience in the Darwin Lecture Theatre. If possible, it was even better second time around, particularly with the knowledge that it had been enhanced by references to material from UCL’s Special Collections – for example, Galton’s formula for making tea, written in his own hand; letters relating to his research on the efficacy of prayer; and a will, handwritten at the age of 8.
Praise flooded in via Twitter, including reference to a detailed and very complimentary review on the New Scientist’s CultureLab blog. In fact, the talk was so successful it was repeated in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery as part of their Late Shift programme of events on 13th October to another sizeable audience. The feedback gathered from Twitter and documentation of these two events will now form the latest addition to our collections.
Over the past year UCL Library Services have been implementing a new reading list service powered by the Talis Aspire software. Our previous, centrally-maintained service proved that students want, and increasingly expect, online reading lists that provide dynamic linking directly to electronic resources (e-journals and books, digitised readings and a host of other web-based materials), and also to our library holdings for book references. However, the software supporting this service had its limitations, and most significantly, it was not easy for academics to maintain their own lists.
Talis Aspire works on a bookmarking tool installed in your web browser. At any point interesting references can be bookmarked, these can either be added directly to existing reading lists or saved for later use. Lists can be edited and updated at any time, but importantly for the Library, information regarding changes to reading list materials is sent directly to Academic Support Librarians so that new purchases can be made. Students also benefit from a more attractive interface, which includes book jacket images and previews of books (where available), and a number of functions, including being able to add notes to particular readings. The online lists can also be linked to modules within Moodle.
ReadingLists@UCL was piloted by a small group of academics over the summer months, before being made available to all departments at the start of the academic year. Already the departments of Anthropology and Political Science have moved the majority of their lists to the new system. Over the next 2 terms library staff will be providing briefings and training on the new system to all academic colleagues. However, anyone interested in using the service is welcome to contact us directly - see contact information below.
UCL's use of the new service is already attracting positive comments from the wider community, with one of our Anthropology lists recently being voted "List of the Week" by Talis.
For further information, or to request that a list is set up for any of your courses, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
This year's Open House London took place on 17th September, and the Library took an active part in it for the first time, with two members of staff volunteering to work on the day. We were fortunate that the volunteers were Daniel Kordik and Antonio Garcia-Fernandez. They take up the story here:
"Colleagues from UCL Communications Office put together a team of volunteers to show and tell visitors stories about UCL and we met these groups as they arrived at the Main Library. The tours, of about 20 people each, started in the Front Quad with volunteers talking about UCL's history and architecture. Visitors were then guided up the Main Library staircase to the Flaxman Gallery where they admired the reliefs and the statue of St Michael overpowering Satan. Following the information on our leaflet (written by Debs Furness and designed by Daniel), we referred to John Flaxman's works, the Donaldson Reading Room, and some general facts about our libraries. Visitors asked us about the collections, and particularly enjoyed our wartime stories. Another big surprise came when we opened the door to the Portico, where we were able to spend some time briefly enjoying the view and the weather. The sunny morning turned into a stormy afternoon, but it didn't stop nearly 300 people coming along to visit us."
Postcard with greetings for the Jewish New Year (ref. GASTER PAPERS 1/A/KUI/1)
Moses Gaster (1856-1939) was a Jewish communal leader, prominent Zionist and prolific scholar of Romanian literature, folklore, and Samaritan history and literature, as well as Jewish subjects. Born in Bucharest, he was expelled from Romania in 1885 because of his political activities. He settled in Britain and was appointed Haham (spiritual head) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community, and later also Principal of the Judith Lady Montefiore College in Ramsgate. He was a founder and president of the English Zionist Federation, and played an important role in the talks resulting in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
His personal papers, consisting of some 170,000 items, were given to UCL in 1974. Among them is a large collection of ‘ephemera’, dating from the 1880s to 1930s, including invitations, menus, visiting cards, greetings cards, and programmes. Correspondence relating to Moses Gaster’s estate reveals that his heirs considered throwing all of this away, but luckily for present day researchers, the items were preserved and included in the papers given to UCL. They shed a fascinating light on Gaster’s social and communal activities and on Anglo-Jewish life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the individuals and families mentioned corresponded with Gaster and these letters are also held at UCL Special Collections.
Thanks to a grant from the Rothschild Foundation (Europe) we have been able to digitise and conserve some 400 items from the ephemera collection, creating around 700 images. This will make photographs of the items freely accessible to researchers around the world and to the general public, and will protect the originals, some of which are very fragile.
Selecting items to be digitised from the thousands of pieces of ephemera was a great challenge – we chose a range of dates and types of material to reflect the breadth of the collection, as well as including well-known names from many walks of life, such as British Chief Rabbis Adler and Hertz; the Chief Rabbi of pre-state Palestine Abraham Isaac Kook; founders of Liberal Judaism Lily Montagu and Claude Montefiore; Zionist leader Herbert Bentwich; historian Cecil Roth; novelist Israel Zangwill; and birth control campaigner Marie Stopes; as well as those with UCL connections such as Albert Hyamson, Frederic Mocatta and Gustave Tuck. At the time of writing 300 images have been uploaded to the library website, and more are being added all the time: they can be browsed or searched through our Digital Collections.
This collection should be of interest to professional researchers, amateur genealogists and anyone interested in everyday life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Future plans include adding an element of ‘crowdsourcing’, where visitors to the website will be invited to share their knowledge of the individuals and institutions concerned. We also hope to obtain funding to digitise additional items from this remarkable collection.
The Royal Free Hospital Medical Library in Hampstead serves staff and students of the UCL Medical School and biomedical faculties on campus as well as all staff of the Royal Free Hospital. Its role as the single library service point on site emerged after the closure of a separate Nursing Library in 2007. Planning towards this had engaged the Librarian and staff for a number of years previously. Indeed, outline plans were first agreed as early as 2002, when an initial vision was articulated and efforts to fundraise began. In addition to planning for what would become a multi-professional library, with the need to accommodate a variety of learning styles and study preferences, the vision also took into consideration the foreseeable expansion of e-journal access and the gradual likely reduction in the need to store extensive back runs of print journal material on site. Environmental and security concerns also needed to be addressed.
Feasibility studies looked at options for repurposing journal store space and considered how space released could be reconfigured to accommodate evolving hybrid print and electronic information use patterns as well as increasingly online learning styles. The overall plan was broken down into manageable tranches, each of which could be approached as a separate but inter-linked redevelopment. This would allow fundraising to be undertaken in a phased manner, too, and for the pace of refurbishment to be adjusted accordingly. Multiple funding bids were submitted over several years.
Eventually, 2006-07 saw the start of the multi-phase project. Encasing an external staircase and incorporating a previously closed journal store space within the publicly-accessible footprint of the Library made it possible to begin with a refurbishment that created an immediate impact. This first phase was completed in 2008-09 with funding from STeLI an initiative to support technology enhanced learning. It was highly appropriate that the resulting e-learning zone became the centrepoint for a rolling programme of hands-on staff training introducing a new patient record system throughout the hospital. The area has not ceased to be in high demand for mandatory and statutory group training ever since. The e-learning zone is to be opened for individual e-learning access for all library users in 2012, through high specification UCL Myriad computers as well as NHS computers at each desk.
The “pod” presented the first visible sign of change on the ground floor of the Library. Designed to be welcoming (like open arms) and installed in 2008-09, it soon became a focal point for those engaging in work-based learning in the hospital. Beyond the Library Reception Desk, it provides a first impression of the Library. This was funded through the Joint Investment Framework, intended to support the education and development of healthcare staff working in NHS Bands 1 – 4.
A second major phase of refurbishment saw all books move to the ground floor to shelves previously occupied by print journals, with vacated space on the first floor transformed to create two spacious group study rooms (which, when joined together in boardroom configuration, were soon adopted for meetings). This phase was completed in 2009 with the award of a grant by UCL’s Teaching Spaces Executive Sub-Committee (TSESC), which enabled soundproofing of the library’s quiet study area and integration of a seminar room with an adjacent quiet electronic study area. A small “History of Women in Medicine” corner is slowly evolving in the same space, with medical students often choosing to study alone or in pairs at a large Elizabeth Garrett Anderson desk. The space has been adorned by portraits of women in medicine, some relating to the original London School of Medicine for Women, a predecessor to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine that operated as an independent medical school on site until 2000.
The ground floor was radically remodelled over two successive summer refurbishments in 2010 and 2011 respectively. This saw the introduction of a new Reception Desk, designed to match the pod, as well as a complete replacement of ceiling tiles and enhanced lighting. Lighting and ventilation in the library staff offices were also upgraded. Much of the impact of this later phase of refurbishment was felt by the Library Staff, who worked hard to retain service levels throughout.
The result has been a much enhanced environment for all to work and study in; the Library has become a vibrant part of the educational experience on site for both the Medical School and the Hospital. Flexible set-up options in the bookable spaces were designed to suit education and training, meetings, quiet study, group study and e-learning, and are capable of meeting a variety of user needs within the different communities served by the Library. Rooms can be joined up or divided to accommodate small or larger groups. They have been equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and presentation facilities, such as a touchscreen, interactive whiteboards, DVD playback capability and projection facilities. A mix of presentation PCs allows NHS and UCL staff and students as well as visiting presenters with their own laptops to utilise the technology seamlessly.
The flexibility of layout and equipment means that the rooms are heavily used for a wide variety of purposes, from local training of medical students and doctors’ inductions (with the potential for training up to 60 trainees at a time), to awards presentations, to hands-on training for NHS staff on practical procedures like infection control, to London-wide education and training. Increasingly the space has been booked for examinations and for out-of-hours teaching of students by busy clinical staff, including evenings and Saturdays.
This is a far cry from the picture of the Library reflected in a 2006 report… “The overall ambience is a little gloomy and furniture is dated and very worn in places.”
Indeed, feedback has been uniformly positive from users of the Library, who have been effusive in their praise of the service:
"This is a wonderful service"
"Thanks for looking into accommodating us – it is much appreciated."
"This is brilliant and thank you very much for your support."
How did I end up ‘A keeper of books’ managing a remote Library site?
A degree in Sociology and a year spent teaching (TEFL) left me directionless. Two weeks temping at the Bank of America in Croydon was followed in January 1986 by a job at the Medical School Libraries of Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals where I was lucky to study for two years on day release at City University for a Postgraduate Diploma in Information Science.
In 1989 I was pleased to join UCL at the Middlesex Hospital Library as Issue Desk Supervisor. I transferred to the extremely busy Main Issue Desk, and then the even busier Science Issue Desk in the early 1990’s, working afternoons as Deputy to the Stores Librarian. When UCL leased 140 Hampstead Road in 1995, I took charge of that store and reading room and the three central stores around Bloomsbury.
UCL has always realised the value of its Library collections, and the need to unify at least nine stores around London in a single location was recognised by the purchase of a large building in Essex in 1999. Stores were brought together from Gower Street, Gordon Square, Egham Depository, Science Library and Hampstead Road into one large warehouse building at Wickford, with a van service contracted to guarantee next working day delivery.
Given that Wickford Store consists of a large double warehouse fitted with high mobile shelving together with some first floor offices, all on a stand-alone site well away from London, my job was always going to be varied. Some days it can be relatively quiet with only a few Store Request problems for me to investigate, leaving me free to deal with grounds and building maintenance, Health and Safety matters, budgeting activities, or planning for incoming stock. On other days there may be a contractor literally waiting at the gates when I arrive from my London commute, the phone never stops ringing, and staff matters demand attention. Staffing numbers have necessarily increased as the building has filled with stock and requests have risen over the last twelve years. We send over fifteen thousand items to ten issue desks annually.
I am fortunate to have four excellent colleagues working with me, and their presence allows me to attend meetings on the Bloomsbury Campus when necessary. They help me with many of the daily site activities including supervision of five local agency staff who are employed to retrieve and re-shelve items.
The 66km of shelving always fills faster than expected and we have de-duplicated journals in considerable amounts. Attention will soon be turned upon the book collections.
As for me, contented with my worthwhile profession and busy family life, just to fulfil a few hobbies would be nice. I’d like to learn to ride the unicycle bought 7 years ago; I’ve had some blackthorn cut ready to make into walking sticks for ages and I miss walking the northern mountains. I’d like a couple of dogs, to keep chickens, learn classical guitar, and do some blacksmithing.
Like W.H. Davies, I find the days too short.
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Issue 29 - Autumn term, 2011