Thursday, July 8, 2010

British Museum Libraries--July 7, 2010

On July 7, we visited the Paul Hamlyn Library and the Central Library at the British Museum.

The Paul Hamlyn Library is a reference library that is open to any visitor of the British Museum. The public space is one room (shown below). It includes approximately 25,000 volumes on topics related to the museum including archeology, art history, anthropology, history, and museum studies. The reading room has public computers that provide access to the library's catalog, electronic resources, and specially selected web links. No general Internet access is provided. The library also includes a children's area and a selection of resources for teachers.

In order to reach the Central Library, our guide took us through a hidden door in the Enlightenment Gallery of the museum (see below).

The (locked) door is disguised to look like shelves. We had just viewed the Enlightenment Gallery before the tour and failed to notice the door.

The central library is primarily a reference library for museum staff. It is available by appointment to researchers if the material they need cannot be obtained elsewhere.

The collection is housed in the "long room," an area that runs the length of the Enlightenment Gallery. Only a small portion of the area is used by the library. The rest is used for storage by the museum. The "long room" includes the original fixtures, including an iron gallery and wooden shelving with locking glass doors. The libraries have changed locations within the museum many times and this is the first time that the "long room" has housed a library in many years.

The central library collection focuses heavily on museum management. It also includes rare books, works related to the museum, and museum ephemera. As an example, the library has a collection of museum posters dating back to the 1930's. The rare books from the House of Commons Collection (displayed in the Enlightenment Gallery) are also part of the library's collection.

The items in the central library collection are classified by a home-grown system based around museum departments. The items in the Hamlyn Library are classified using Dewey. Both collections are searchable by an electronic catalog. Other departmental libraries are adding their collections to this catalog as well. The library is a member of the Research Libraries UK consortium and participates in their union catalog.

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