Visit to the British Library, 23rd May 2014

A while back now, on Friday 23 May, I went on a CPD visit to the British Library.  With a crowd of other HE library peeps (including Monika and Lisa from Northampton Square), we gathered in the lobby ready for an afternoon that would consist of a tour and three talks.
The view outside on arrival
We began with the tour which took us around the building to various reading rooms (a tip from our guide: if you want a tour, do it on a Sunday as that’s the only day they let you inside the reading rooms) learning all manner of facts along the way.  Did you know, for example, that the building looks like an ocean liner from the side- something that’s only really possible to see on a model of the building as St Pancras station blocks the view in reality.    
The model also showed some of the four floors of stores that are hidden below the piazza, later we were shown the covers that would be smashed to release the smoke if there were ever a fire down below.
Next we viewed the King’s Library Tower, which houses the impressive library King George III built up only for his son to give it away so he could revamp Buckingham Palace.  Part of the condition of the gift to the nation was that it would always be on display; and so when the British Library was built a large glass tower was housed to keep it in.  All the books are available for viewing and the mass security operation this involves was explained to us (basically the books get scanned A LOT).
Security was a theme of a couple of stories told to us on the tour: there was the PhD student who routinely underlined passages in pen.  After they were caught, the BL checked back through their records and found hundreds of unclean books – the same had happened in other libraries too.  Consequently, pencils only are allowed in the reading rooms.  We also learned of a professor who stole many maps, cutting them out of books to display at home.  They now have a lot more CCTV.
Elsewhere, we found out about the records of the East India Company and India Office which create a great family history resource, saw the new Newsroom and its swanky foyer with multiple screens of rolling news, the business centre that has been created from collections of company records and learned that the BL gets some 2000 new items a day through the addition of all printed copyrighted material.  It was also pointed out to us that all the (10 million or so) bricks smile (the type of brick used has a natural mark or seam running through that looks like a smile when placed the correct way up; otherwise they would look sad)!  And that the divorce of the British Museum and British Library left the BL with some maybe slightly odd collections you might not expect them to have such as papyri, stamps and pottery shards.
After the tour we were delivered to the conference centre for three talks from different members of staff.  
First up was Head of Reference Services, Louise Doolan (you might have seen her about the office recently), who gave us a talk on the Library and its services, including an interesting look at the gathering of Non-Print Legal Deposits, which now involves the harvesting of websites twice a year and a rundown of the reference services, including their pioneering Twitter account (other BL departments, including marketing, seek their advice on using Twitter), 24/7 ordering and Remote Enquiry Support – Instant Chat and Roving Reference are coming soon…
Then we heard from Digital Curator, Aquiles Alencar-Brayner, who talked about the efforts the British Library has been making to digitise collections and collect born digital materials (Facebook and Twitter between them create 7TB of data a day, so there is a lot out there to collect).  He told us about specific digital collections and projects- for example, using the computers used by Harold Pinter to establish his working pattern and creating an app to record accents around the world (people recorded themselves reading Mr Tickle on their phone!  Other interesting projects including scanning old books in order to create images – a computer programme being used to locate and crop pictures, which are then tagged via crowdsourcing.  There is a similar project on the go at the moment to georeference historical maps (; I’m worried I might get addicted).
Finally, Steven Dryden, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist, told us all about the British Library’s Sound and Vision Archive.  The Archive was founded in 1955 at the British Museum by Patrick Saul. Some years earlier he had asked if the museum had a copy of a particular jazz record on the assumption that they had everything.  At the time he had attempted to set up a sound archive but was seen as being too young.  As there’s no legal deposit for sound and vision materials, the BL do all they can to collect via donations, curated collections and sound collected by the archive.  This has resulted in a collection spanning all formats from wax cylinders to mp3s (as well as the means to play them) in areas such as wildlife recordings, plays, oral history interviews, soundscapes and different sorts of music.

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