Welcome to the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection and Library is based at 183 Euston Road and is free to visit.  It has permanent and temporary exhibitions  https://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions  and specialises in the history of medicine. Sir Henry Wellcome was a pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector.  On his death in 1936, his will established a charity to advance medical and scientific research.

The Wellcome Library https://wellcomelibrary.org/

The Library has 150 spaces, 75 are for researchers wish to use the collections and who can join the Library and receive membership for 5 years and 75 spaces for day visitors.  Due to these restrictions, there is usually space to study and there are free computers to use. Although the Library specialises in the history of medicine, it also acquires materials that are generalist and accessible to a wide audience. Members are able to use electronic resources, some are available remotely and some onsite.

The Reading Room

This has been redesigned and is really a dual purpose library and museum space. There are study spaces and books but people also sit on the red carpeted stairs on cushions. The space is quite informal and talking is permitted and there are some facsimiles of archival materials to make them more accessible.

We discussed that classification schemes are devised within certain contexts and include value judgements, in the example below the classmark for Women in Medicine is next to quackery. Also that where items are placed on the shelves in subject order influences retrieval and therefore how research is conducted.

We also considered the representation of health conditions (eg. mental health)  through art and whether this is something that belongs in a museum or  in some cases if it is an incredibly personal representation not intended for public viewing. There is an exhibition called Misbehaving bodies about chronic illness at the moment https://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/XFHHShUAAAU_pE70

Digitised collections

The Library’s digital collections include thousands of items on a wide variety of topics, including food, health, genetics, public health and war https://wellcomelibrary.org/collections/digital-collections/ .  Items include books, pamphlets, archives, posters, photographs, and film and sound recordings.

Art collection

The Art Collection contains more than 250,000 prints, drawings, paintings, photographs and works in other media dating from the 14th century to the present https://wellcomelibrary.org/collections/about-the-collections/art-collection/

We also had time at the end to look around some of the galleries, including the psychology of magic exhibition. I found the visit interesting and engaging and it provided some food for thought about the co-location of a museum and library.  I resisted the temptation to follow the example of Henry Wellcome and didn’t acquire any more books for my collection from the bookshop.

About Diane Bell

I'm a Research Librarian at City, University of London. I am interested in delivering services, collections and designing and delivering training to research students and staff in particular. My interests include information and digital literacy, writing articles and conference presentations and research-based practice.

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