UCL Library of the Month: Main Library
14 December 2017
MyUCL Student Journalist Robert Vilkelis explores UCL's Library of the Month.
Spread across four floors, UCL’s Main Library is home to an impressive history of art, science and academic kinship.
And for the first time, UCL’s Main Library will be available every day throughout the Christmas period, from 11am-9pm!
Join Head of Enquiries Debs Furness and let’s delve through the corridors, corners and secret staircases of UCL’s oldest temple of knowledge.
As you arrive at the top of the stairs, it’s hard not to be drawn left into a rotunda of falling light and wall-adorning plasters gravitating around the plinth-resting statue of St. Michael.
“It’s common across the world: people love the Flaxman Gallery,” Debs shares with a smile, putting a name to a place, “I love the ambience. Old wood in Georgian proportions. You get a true sense of history here.”
The library opened in 1828, with the first purpose-built library — now the lawyers’ beloved Donaldson Reading Room — joining in 1849. The centrepiece of the gallery, St. Michael, crafted from plaster by John Flaxman whose works also decorate the walls, moved in 1851.
Installing St. Michael’s plinth, as it happens, also secured the hole in the middle of the library, resolving both a security concern when the library still had “closing hours”, and the safety risk of sniping innocuous passers-by down below with books toppling from the railing.
If the gallery inspires you, you can head down to the UCL Art Museum to contemplate the John Flaxman Collection for yourself.
“We are very lucky”
“We’ve got so many resources,” Debs states with pride, “We have lots of teams behind the scenes that people never see.”
Teams work in the background, managing resources, ordering new books (in print and digitally) and cataloguing collections. When you look around, you also find over 30 shelvers putting books back where they belong around the library.
Next time you see someone shelving books, be sure to whisper them a thank-you — it’s because of them that you can find that one book you’re looking for.
Among the usual journals, encyclopaedias, novels and literature you see going up, be sure to catch the larger “quartos” and “folios” in their designated sections. You’re sure to find knowledge in them you won’t find anywhere else.
If you pull out a book and look for its Dewey Decimal number, however, you’re in for a surprise. In true UCL spirit, the Main Library has its own in-house system for organising books based on department structure, the Garside classification scheme.
As you settle down with a freshly shelved book, you can give yourself the time to admire your surroundings — some things may surprise you.
4 Surprises of the UCL Main Library
1. “When I tell people that there are four floors at the North end, they are quite surprised. There are more spaces than you see initially.”
When I was a fresher, I remember wandering through a whole two rooms before giving up on the prospect of finding space to work.
The Main Library has 590 study spaces and 24-hour access during term time. Be bold and explore, and you will be rewarded.
2. “The whole building was the whole of UCL for quite a long time.”
The Main Library dominates the first floor and beyond — but originally, the library was just a few rooms in the South end, past the Flaxman Gallery.
Browse Special Collections long enough, and you might just find some of the original floorplans.
3. “We have 25 specialist collections.”
From the most mainstream Economics to the nichest Papyrology, sooner or later, you’re bound to find yourself in here.
4. “Three things I’ve observed about academics at the turn of the 20th century? Several were vegetarian, believed in ghosts, and climbed mountains a lot.”
Now you have another titbit to share with friends about UCL’s history after showing off Jeremy Bentham’s head.
“We don’t close”
“We’re still around — even if you’ve gone elsewhere, we’re still around!” Debs laughs. During term, the Main Library is 24/7.
While most other libraries go quiet during the festive season, the Main Library is going to be open every day over the winter break from 11am-9pm.
Even if you’re at home or far from UCL, they’ve got you covered.
“Our eResources are available anytime, anywhere,” so no matter where you are, you can get what you need.
If you’re interested in contributing to the database, also be sure to get in touch with UCL Open Access to help get your valuable work out there and freely available.
Come on up!
Whether you’re a newcomer to the library or a seasoned resident, there’s never been a better time to head to main campus and indulge in everything Debs and her colleagues have to offer.