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.