With Tim struck down by a bad cold, I ventured across Regent’s Park alone and soon arrived at the Zoological Society of London Library for my first library visit. I was met by Emma from the Library and Archives Team who quickly lead me upstairs and into the library itself.
The library is located within the main ZSL building, just on the edge of Regent’s Park and adjacent to London Zoo. It is made up of 3 floors, 2 of which are wholly occupied by rolling stacks of journals, with the top floor housing the ZSL’s collection of 200,000 books and 40,000 monographs.
Emma began by telling me a little about the history of the ZSL and highlighted that the Society has had a library ever since it first opened in 1826. The current building dates from 1910 and, as you can see from the comparison below, the only real change to the space has been the addition of new shelves to house the ever growing collection.
As part of her day-to-day role Emma gives tours of the ZSL, explaining both the history of the organisation and showing visitors the library’s rare items collection. Fortunately, I visited just after Emma had finished one of these tours and she was able to show me a variety of items ranging from the minutes of the first meetings of the Society, to early inventories of the Zoo’s inhabitants and, even a first edition of The Origin of Species.
One of the most interesting items Emma showed me was a series of drawings of reptiles by Dr Joan Beauchamp Proctor, the ZSL Curator of Reptiles during the early 1920’s. Dr Proctor, as the mastermind behind the Reptile House that is still one of London Zoo’s key attractions, was not only a huge influence on the ZSL but also a trailblazer for female zoologists. Emma also showed me the minutes from one of the earliest Society meetings in which the ZSL formally agreed to welcome women, decades before similar contemporary organisations. This was particularly interesting for me as the rare books and archives collections at the RCN are also artifacts of women’s social history and record the lives of people who broke down barriers for women both in science and the workplace.
As Emma went on to describe the day-to-day operations of the ZSL library I saw further parallels with the RCN library, not just in the specialist nature of the ZSL collection but also in the diversity of its users. Just as at the RCN we have to meet the needs of the whole nursing community, from student nurses to HCAs to academics, the ZSL library also has to cater not only for researchers but also conservationists and even the zoo keepers. This not only places particular demands on the collection but also on library assistants who have to be able to tailor their advice and approach to suit every customer.
Just as I was leaving the library I asked Emma if she had any advice for those looking to get into the library sector, or if there was anything in particular that she looks for when recruiting. Emma said that she always looks for outgoing and confident candidates who would be comfortable giving tours or presenting information to library users. She also highlighted the necessity of making any written application engaging from the very first line as recruiters often receive dozens of applications for just one position and will quickly lose interest in applications that do not catch their attention.
With my tour of the library over and panic about my future career prospects setting in Emma whisked me over the road and into London Zoo and I spent the remainder of the afternoon getting acquainted with the ZSL’s more lively collections.