Friday, 3 August 2007

Guildhall Library

Today's visit to the Guildhall Library featured a lecture by the printed books librarian, Mr. Harper. The Guildhall Library is one of five libraries located within the City of London, which is composed of the original square mile within the Roman walls. The other City libraries include the public lending libraries in the Barbican Centre, Shoe Lane, and Camomile Street, as well as a specialist business library. Mr. Harper informed us that the business library is facing some difficulties, specifically with proving the library's relevance in the face of the new technological environment. It's an issue we've faced at home and heard about on site visits, the library versus the internet, and I hope that the business library is able to show the local authority that neither one alone is as effective as both together.

The Guildhall Library currently occupies its fourth building, and its history highlights some rather turbulent events. The library's initial collection was made up mainly of theological manuscripts, and was established in the 1420's. Unfortunately, during the reign of Edward VI the Lord Protector, Lord Somerset, took the Guildhall's collection to fill the library in his new home. The library remained empty until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when it was reestablished with materials primarily concerned with the City and its immediate surroundings. During this period, only corporation members and their guests were allowed to use the library's collections, but the overwhelming popularity of the library ensured that plans were made for a new library. The new building was opened in 1875, and the general public was welcomed in its reading rooms. This is the policy which remains today, as the library places no restrictions on membership. The 1875 building was used until 1940, when it was burned out during the blitz. Happily, much of the library's most valuable material had been moved to a safe location before the fire, but a great deal was still lost. Mr. Harper explained to us that the library is still involved with trying to rebuild the collection to the best of their ability, and he had made a purchase to that end just before our talk. After the damage to the library building, a new Guildhall was planned with dedicated space for a library included. The structure was built during the 1970's and opened in 1974, and is the current location of the Guildhall Library. I can only hope that the library has seen the end of its troubles!

One of the most exciting features of the library, COLLAGE, was explained to us during our short tour of the library itself. COLLAGE is an online, searchable catalog of the library's prints and drawings. It allows remote access to view digitized images of the holdings, and also allows visitors to purchase reproductions of these works in either digital or paper formats. I found this service offered by Guildhall to be not only of great use to researchers and art lovers, but also great fun to use. I've taken the opportunity to search COLLAGE remotely, and have found an engraving from 1830 of Stamford Street. It's been an informative glimpse into the history of my temporary home, and I hope to place an order for a frameable print in the not-too-distant future. Of all the details given to us during our visit to the Guildhall Library, the innovative COLLAGE program and the sheer stubborn perseverance of the library were the most resonant for me. The visit helped me realize that libraries can best serve their patrons first of all by making sure they're around, and secondly by thinking of innovative ways to deliver new services. For these reasons, I really enjoyed this visit.