Checking in at the Wellcome Library

Second Research-Related Blog Post:

I unexpectedly found a few hours to visit the Wellcome Library to do research on Marie Stopes for my paper.  I was stressed about finding the time to go because we had a morning visit to the Royal Geographic Society (which was super cool because we got to see and learn about some really amazing explorers) and I had to pick up my cousin Michelle from St. Pancreas Station.  Fortunately, Michelle gave me the wrong time, so I walked over to the Wellcome Library (it is about ten to fifteen minutes away from St. Pancreas).

Wellcome Library

Picture of the Wellcome Library taken from http://wellcomelibrary.org because I did not have my camera on me during my impromptu visit.

The Wellcome Library’s collections generally relate to medical history, so I was not surprised when I initially learned that they have a Marie Stopes archive.  The building is in a very sleek and modern style.  As with many libraries, the collections/archives are not browseable and one must request the items for use.  This system can be frustrating for the researcher because we have no idea about the physical capacity of a collection.  Reading a finding aid is not the same as looking at a collection and understanding the scale of the collection.  It is often not physically feasible or at all likely, especially in an archive, for a researcher to browse the collection, so I know that I have high and unobtainable hopes.

At the library, I first signed up for a reader’s card using two forms of identification, akin to the requirements at the British Library.  It was a quick and painless process.  It took less than ten minutes for me to obtain my reader’s card.  I am always amazed at how easy the process can be to obtain access to these world-famous institutions.  I love it.  After depositing my personal belongings in their lockers, I headed over to one of their desktop computers to start looking up information for Marie Stopes.  I wish that I had my laptop, but I made it work.

I had a bit of a rough start figuring out how to request and obtain the materials, as the collection is an archive of her materials and I had to filter through several layers of a finding aid.  Basically I had to go from collection and box levels to the item levels to request items.  I do not have a lot of experience working with archives and finding aids, so I assume that other people could have easily figured it out, but I am definitely more used to catalog entries, so I had a bit of a struggle.  I had some help from a nearby librarian who graciously explained the system to me.

Screenshot of the Marie Stopes archive contents

Screenshot of the Marie Stopes archive contents

It took a bit of time sifting through the large amount of items in the collection.  I ordered a few items of interest, but I knew that I did not have enough time to stick around and look at them, as they need processing time to retrieve and deliver the materials and I needed to be back at St. Pancreas Station in thirty minutes.  The librarian who helped me earlier actually suggested ordering materials before the end of the day, so that they would be ready on Saturday.

Overall, the trip to the Wellcome Library really helped me grasp my head around my paper more.  I definitely left the building feeling more confident and aware of my paper.

 

Researching at the British Library

British Library Sign

British Library Sign

First Research-Related Post:

I knew that I had to go back to the British Library because they have two collections of Marie Stopes materials.  I ended up going there twice for research purposes and could probably benefit greatly from a handful or more visits, but alas a month in London means that time is limited.

British Library Entrance

British Library Entrance

I pre-registered for my reader’s card online and it was relatively quick to actually obtain the card.  I had a list of items that I required, but I could not easily request these items from the British Library catalogue for reasons I did not understand at the time.   I explained my predicament to the lady processing my card (one of the requirements of obtaining the reader’s card is to provide a list of required books to prove that you have a valid need of the card).  She quickly looked up my materials and suggested that I get some help from a reference librarian in the Rare Books Reading Room.

Upon my arrival to the reading room, I headed straight to the reference librarian who was very helpful and explained how I could narrow the collection.  I learned that I needed to add a wildcard to a modified version of the shelf location (she had to omit the spaces and full stops) in order to get a concise list of the actual items in one of the collections.  That was not exactly intuitive for me, so I’m glad that the librarian was there to help me.

For the other collection, I couldn’t access it that day because they were not exactly sure where it was located.  I had to email the Rare Books Librarian, who in turn referred me to a social science curator.  From her, I learned that the items for that archive do not exist in the online catalogue, therefore I had to sort through their card catalogue (which was the first time that I ever legitimately used one).  Some of the items are actually largely unsorted in boxes and quite fragile.

If anyone wants to follow along my journey, you can click here to see the two collections named (you do have to scroll down for the two Stopes, Marie Charlotte Carmichael listings).  Note that they do not have hyperlinks or any indication of how to access the materials.  Here is the catalogue results list for “marie stopes,” which does not include any limiters that indicate either of the collections.  This disconnect really threw me for a loop, so speaking with the reference librarian really cleared things up for me.

My struggles learning how to use the British Library really surprised me.  I assumed that it would be extremely intuitive because I can only imagine the large number of readers they have, but perhaps it is the peculiarity of the items I am researching.  I cannot imagine that everyone has the same amount of difficulties trying to access the materials they need.  From my experience and the constant reinforcement that cataloguers in the UK are mostly temporary and almost never full-time positions, I do not really understand how the LIS field in the UK survives on temp cataloguers.  It appears to me that they need to put more emphasis on the record, so that users can better understand it.

Exploring the British Museum

Eighth Class Blog Post:

We ventured to the British Museum, which is a mad house because there are so many people, artifacts, and exhibits everywhere that it can be positively overwhelming.  We split up into two groups, which we often have to do because of our large number (24 students and 2 professors).  I was part of the second group, so I got to explore the museum first and then take part of the archives tour.

On our own, we visited the Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Asia sections.  I was excited to see famous pieces that I ever only read about in textbooks, so I was in awe looking at the Rosetta Stone and the Lamassu, as well as an amazing Burmese Buddha and awesome Ganesh.  I did a minor in art history, so I definitely have to go back to the British Museum to explore.

When it was time for our tour, we went downstairs to the Central Archive, which holds the administrative records for the British Museum.  Each department has a dedicated archives and there are nine departments in total, so I can only imagine the vastness of the archives as a whole.

The archivist who led our tour was obviously passionate about her work.  She explained some of the particular struggles she faces as someone whose paper-based work often takes a backseat in an object-central institution.  She will embark on a process of cataloguing the materials in the archive, so that they are accessible.  It is particularly interesting that the items are not already catalogued because the British Museum is such a large and important institution, which surely must use the archives for research into provenance and general history.

I can see the reasons why museums put more value in objects than the written word because the art or archaeological objects are its showcase.  The archives and the information they hold can be secondary, but they hold vital information about the museum’s history that might be otherwise unknown.

We got to see a few cool pieces in the archives.  One of which was an incendiary bomb that hit the British Museum during World War II when it was used as a shelter.  Though the museum was used as a shelter, they did not close down their facilities, so they had some issues with storage and making sure that their pieces were safe from looters and such bombs as these.

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Another cool object that we saw was Bram Stoker’s signature in a reader’s card application for the library that was in the British Museum.  This type of item in the archives can be important for contextual biographical history.  I can only imagine that the British Museums has many more types of treasures held uncatalogued in the archives.

Bram Stoker's Signature

Bram Stoker’s Signature

I noticed a recurring theme on this trip – that of the LIS professional constantly making sure that they and their work are visible to their employers.  The LIS world often seems like a bubble where only people in the field hold any sense of value of the field, but in a larger or different context, say in a law library or a large national museum, an LIS professional might be somewhat underappreciated because their job may not appear to be immediate or central to the organization.  This is definitely something to ponder when the job hunt commences!