Thursday, 7 April 2011

London (and Limoux) calling...

I was very adventurous over the weekend and went on my first solo-holiday, to Carcassonne.  I had always wanted to go following the reading of Kate Mosse's 'Labyrinth' and 'Sepulchre' and found the city absolutely enchanting (the dirty old French man who propositioned me 'pour l'argent' not so much).  On one of my excursions I visited Limoux and casually wandered into their public library

Sign on the door to the separate children's section
It was beautifully decorated from the outside with painted books on the windows each with a reference to Limoux and the region (eg. vin).   I was surprised to see 2 staff in the small library, which comprised 6 sets of shelves but, unfortunately, my lack of French and their lack of English prevented a comparison of our services!

View of the library from outside

Once back in the UK, the trainees had their first visit to London.  The Guildhall was the morning visit and the librarian, Andrew harper, gave us a brief overview of the rather chequered history of the library.  This was one of the first common libraries in the city and focused mainly on London history and is now recognised as the biggest centre for the study of London.  The constituent parts of the library have moved frequently during its history with the City Business Library recently returning to the fold and now occupying the ground floor of the library.  The floorspace of the Guidlhall library is fairly small with reference works on the shelves (5% of total stock on open shelves) and a very speedy ordering system up from the stacks (commonly a 5-10 minute process if the item is in the stacks).

The staff in the reading room, when not dealing with readers, are answering e-mail and telephone enquiries.  The first 15 minutes of research is done for free and, after that, enquirers are encouraged to visit the library in person or pay a fee for extra research to be conducted by library staff.

There is a large section of the library given over to computers and it is in this space that the popular program of events is conducted, which are open to the public and tend to focus on collections that the library houses.  There are several unusual and unique collections housed in the library such as the Lloyds shipping records from he 1920s-1970s, which record every ocean-going vessel, the ports they entered and any important details of the voyages.  There are also the records of Christ's Hospital, St Paul's Cathedral and the Stock Exchange. 

Guildhall view from Gresham Street
Andrew also gave us a tour of what used to be the library in the Victorian period and is now used as one of the many conference rooms in the Guildlhall.  The whole complex is beautiful with stairways leading down to the crypts next to vast conference rooms with formal banqueting suites and modern Gothic-style corridors connecting the separate buildings.  I came away with a very good impression of the Guildhall with its bustling atmosphere working in tandem with the highbrow and official events being accommodated - it truly is a place for the people.

Next up was a visit to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales.  I was looking forward to this visit since business libraries are not something that one gets in Cambridge very often and both my parents are accountants (and slightly baffled by the idea of having a library for accountants).  We were introduced firstly to the business centre, which leads through to the library in a seamless flow.  This 'business centre' comprised a cafe, reception area with sofas, journals area, computers and meeting rooms, bookable only by members and the inclusion of the library in such a public and busy area has increased awareness and its usage.

We were given a tour of the library and their small collection of open shelf books (most of their stock is held in a storage facility about 5 minutes away and is visited twice a day for collections and deliveries).  Various members of the library staff spoke to us about their roles in the library, spanning customer services, IT and infrastructure, budget and building the collections, cataloguing services and managing of the website.  One of the main issues facing the library is how to get information to members all over the world accurately and quickly.  I was surprised by the large number of library staff (soon to be 22), none of whom have 'librarian' in their title but have 'manager' or 'executive' - the head librarian, Susan Moore, pointed out that this was a deliberate measure in order to ensure pay rises since, being in the 'City' you have to learn to talk the talk of your peers.

The corporate atmosphere of the library and the whole institute struck me as a far cry from my work in Cambridge.  The services delivered are similar but on an international scale with clients being fraught business men rather than fraught students.  There were perhaps more similarities than I had expected - negotiating with journal suppliers, advocating the library to users in any way possible, stock vs. space issues and increasing pressure to deliver services quickly and efficiently.

All in all the day was very enlightening and my opinions of the 'City' and its library provision have definitely changed for the better.


  1. So have your parents been persuaded by the idea of using the library?

  2. Well they know why it is necessary but my Dad's firm has a technical team that meets to discuss changes in standards etc. and depends on their related firm in London for updates, which is presumably using ICAEW. Dad also uses the 'CA magazine' and 'Accountancy' to keep his staff up to date but does not need to use the library services at ICAS.