Focus on Alumni is our series of blog posts featuring or written by #citylis alumni. In this post, Alana Farrell writes about her position at the Royal College of Physicians, and her work as Project Co-ordinator for the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK-MHL) project.
Before deciding to join #citylis I was asked by a friend what, from a career perspective, I dreamed of doing. My answer was simple: I want to make information accessible and ensure that it does not get lost. This realisation prompted a series of decisions which ended up with me enrolling to study for the MSc in Information Science in City University London. My year at City was a fantastic experience; not only did I have informative and interesting lectures, but the course structure afforded me the opportunity to volunteer as a cataloguer with the Anna Freud project in the Freud Museum. Half-way through the course I joined the British Library as a Saturday library assistant, and you can still find me there in the manuscripts and maps reading rooms.
It was in the British Library that I re-discovered a passion for old things; books and manuscripts artfully bound and illuminated, filled with fascinating events, stories and people. So, when I spotted an advertisement for a project coordinator for the UK Medical Heritage Library (UK-MHL) project with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), I had to apply and I was delighted to be appointed to the post.
The UK-MHL is a collaborative online library project where ten organisations have come together to make digitised copies of their books and pamphlets available online. Readers can read and download these books complexly free of charge under a creative commons licence. This is possible as all of the digitised items are dated from 1780 to 1914, so copyright has (generally) expired. The RCP currently has over 2,400 books online and more items will be submitted for digitisation over the coming months.
My role is hands-on: I assess the condition of the books, check to see if they meet the digitisation criteria, pack the books so they can be sent to the scan centre, make sure all items are returned to their correct shelf once they have been digitised, and of course prepare the paperwork that goes with all of that moving. While working with the books I do think back to my ‘Story of Documents’ class with Lyn Robinson as I am checking bindings, noticing differences in paper, typefaces and seeing the evolution of illustration and photography techniques.
Another part of my role is the promotion of the collection. I research and write monthly blog posts highlighting some of the authors of the digitised books, developments in the history of science and society as well as the history of the RCP. So far I have covered topics such as cold cures and spirits and science, and I have contributed to posts on sports and exercise medicine and dermatology. I also tweet interesting images and titbits that I and the project cataloguer Judith Allery comes across, so, the #citylis classes and workshops about blogging and social media were really valuable for a role like this one.
As a history of libraries fan, working in the RCP has been fascinating. The RCP and its library were founded in 1518. Sadly the library did not avoid the damage caused by The Great Fire of London in 1666 and much of the original collection was destroyed. But this was not the end of the library; it grew, mostly through to bequests and donations, as well as some new purchases. What I find so interesting about this collection is that the RCP collection was not initially limited to medical subjects. So you find books on botany, zoology, literature, religion, linguistics, criminology among many others. There are even library catalogues and books on library science. One example is the Rede lecture on Libraries in the medieval and renaissance periods.
I will be working on this project until the middle of 2016. I have learned quite a lot since starting with the RCP including more in-depth information about cataloguing, conservation, digitisation projects, collection promotion and special collections. #citylis definitely provided the basis of that knowledge and I am very glad I made the decision to apply.
Alana Farrell Project Coordinator UK-Medical Heritage Library Project
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