“It’s called Art, Tim” – Visiting the National Art Library and the Tate Reading Rooms

First Tim and I hopped on the tube to South Kensington to visit the National Art Library, located inside the Victoria and Albert Museum.

After a brief unplanned detour through the sculpture gallery…

“Tim I thought the email said take a left at the bust of Charles I”

“No, no, no Miriam I’m sure it was a right at Charles I and then a left at the 19th century cast of Michelangelo’s David”

…we were met by Sally, Assistant Librarian and Group Visits co-ordinator.

Sally began by telling us a little about the range and scope of the NAL as one of the largest arts libraries in the world, in the same league as those in the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As she lead us through the 2 reading rooms Sally also told us a little about the inception of the NAL. It was originally opened as the library for the Government School of Design at Somerset House and the collections were strictly practical and designed to support students studying the technicalities of design. The library then moved to new premises at Marlborough House and later, as the library and the museum surrounding it continued grow, moved to its current home in South Kensington.

VandA Main Library 6
View of the main reading room from the mezzanine level

Here Sally also highlighted that the library holdings are now not only designed to complement the V&A’s collections but also to document the decorative and fine arts much more broadly. As the tour progressed the sheer variety of the collection became clear and over the course of the afternoon Sally mentioned items ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketch books to the full run of Vogue to a collection of Argos catalogues.

The varied nature of the V&A collections also means that it welcomes a wide variety of

VandA ladder
NAL Store Stacks

visitors with a range of needs and interests. In addition to supporting V&A staff, the library is also the UK’s leading public art and design library and welcomes over 30,000 visitors a year. Anyone can apply to use the V&A collections but all books, apart from the reference collection, must be requested online prior to a visit.

 

Sally then led us behind the library enquiry desk and into the library stores where the vast majority of the collections are held. The NAL shelves books by size, using its own classification system in order to make best use of the space available and this means that, apart from the collection of children’s books, the whole collection can be stored onsite. Whilst most books are kept on shelves throughout the store there are also safes that house the rarest and precious items including a Shakespeare First Folio and the manuscripts of Charles Dickens’ novels.

The NAL also holds a vast collection of periodicals, holding over 11,000 titles and processing 50-100 new issues a week. When we visited they were mid-way through a major refurbishment of the library offices and Sally showed us the brand new processing desk where all the new issues are unpacked and processed ready for shelving. Older issues of the journals have been bound into large volumes but this has recently been stopped as it is both costly and makes it more difficult to use the issues for display as part of exhibitions.

 

 

In addition to holding books and periodicals about art and design the collection is also interested in books and periodicals as works of art themselves. When we visited the librarians had laid out some of these items for a visiting group of MA Photography students who were interested in artists who use the physical form of a book as part of their work.

I found this aspect of the NAL’s collection particularly interesting as this is not something that I have encountered in the libraries that I have worked at in the past. Whilst at the RCN we use books as part of our exhibitions, and have recently installed a new case in order to display our rare books, these items were predominantly not designed for this purpose but rather to educate or entertain the reader. Whilst many of them are aesthetically pleasing or designed with great care we place them in a gallery/museum setting because of their social and historical significance and what they can tell us about the time in which they were created and the people who wrote and read them. Whereas these items have gained a new life as artefacts much of the NAL’s collection was created to be displayed and understood in such contexts.

The event that I attended placed a spotlight on artist’s sketchbooks and displayed the sketchbooks themselves alongside both a laptop displaying the digitized sketchbooks and an activity that invited attendees to use the methods and techniques employed by the artist to create their own sketches.

Using all of my creative energy, and the skills I honed in primary school art, I attempted to emulate the work of Graham Sutherland. Here the activity instructed us to draw an cone, then draw an oval, then link them with another geometric shape and then make the resulting ‘creation’ into either an animal or landscape.

Behold my masterpiece…

 

IMG_4234
(It’s a parrot)

 

 

This event, and my visit to the National Art Library, really highlighted to me the importance of audience engagement for any library and archive as both these institutions actively seek not only to preserve the work of past artists but also to actively engage with those creating and working today.

 

 

 

 

A Year in the Life of a Graduate Trainee – The Tim Spring Story

It all started when I was just 5 years old. My mum had just bought me a brand new Action Man but I immediately threw it aside.

“Tim, what on earth is wrong?” she said.

“I don’t want an Action Man, mum,” I cried. “I want a Graduate Trainee Man from the library of a Nursing Trade Union, idiot!”

Little did we know back then, that one day, I – Timothy Shaun Spring – would go on to follow that dream.

And what a dream it’s been.

Tim1
Look how interested this young professional is in his library exhibition.

Now I have the glib part out of the way, I thought it would be nice for a change to make a blog post not dripping in sarcasm and irony…So let’s start with some positives, shall we?

One of the best things about the traineeship here at the RCN has been how well structured I have found our scheme to be. This has led to great opportunities to learn new skills and experience a broad range of the many aspects of librarianship. I have spent time with all the teams in the library to learn about their role and also gained hands-on experience of the work they do (e.g. cataloguing, event planning, database training etc etc). This has been really valuable for my professional development and also given me a good introduction to the kind of work I might expect to do in the future.

I’ve also enjoyed many of the non-library specific work such as giving tours, attending student recruitment, visiting other libraries, attending training courses and more. Whilst not library specific, I think taking part in these activities helps you feel more connected to the organisation and the work here, whilst also offering a well-balanced workload with plenty of transferrable skills.

The people I get to work with have also been a fantastic and fundamental part of the great experience I’ve had at the RCN. Everyone in the library team has always been helpful and people always have time to offer their advice, experience and time. So thanks to everyone for all the amazing support and training you have offered over the past year.

TIm2
What a professional looking young man.

 

I’m feeling a bit nauseous after writing so positively about the RCN so I think it would be in my best interest to wrap this up with some good old fashioned arrogance from the greatest graduate trainee the RCN will ever have.

It’s been a privilege for all of you to have had the opportunity to work with me. You will all miss me greatly and struggle to fill the void that I leave but I’m sure my protégé (who I unfortunately won’t meet) will do their best to live up to my now legendary reputation.

Thanks,

Tim

P.S. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time in my final week to draft anything even remotely comprehensive enough to encapsulate everything wrong with the RCN Library so suffice it to say that my last day hasn’t come soon enough…

Archives? More like…WOW-chives!

If that pathetic title didn’t put you off already, Miriam and I recently took a trip to the lovely RCN Scotland HQ to visit the Archives.

 

It was an early start and I don’t think Miriam would mind me saying that by the end of our four hour train journey to Edinburgh, tension was high and it was already in doubt whether we would make it through another train journey in each other’s company. Nonetheless, we persevered and after a brief taxi ride, we arrived at RCN Scotland.

It’s a lovely building located in a suburban area of Edinburgh. Fiona came down to collect us and brought us up to their cosy office where we then met up with Sophie too. We started off with a brief tour of the building, learning all the best places to be including the kitchen, the archives and of course…the RCN Learning Hub! We stopped and had a chat with Emma about the Learning Hub whilst we were here. I thought the space had a pleasant ‘vibe’ and had some nice workstation for members to use (wouldn’t mind a few of those monitors here in the London library…). Emma told us they would soon be introducing a small exhibition space by the entrance too, which sounded very exciting!

After this, we went back upstairs where we had a nice casual chat with Sophie about the many many many many projects the Archives are currently working on (as well as talking about dogs a lot). When Fiona was free, she joined us to expand on all of this too.

The day was already over by then so Fiona dropped us off at ‘The Ritz’ of Edinburgh a.k.a. a Best Western…We had Mexican food for dinner. It was wild.

NEXT MORNING, we reconvened at RCN Scotland to do some more exploring! Sophie spent some time with us explaining the intricacies of CALM and its uses. We then took a look at some items from inside the Archives based at HQ which was all very exciting. It’s fascinating to look through photos and paraphernalia that people have donated over the years and I love the authenticity that you get from looking at someone’s personal collection, compared to an item in a display cabinet.

We then had a brief cake & tea break and had a chat about ourselves and how we ended up at the RCN and interested in a career of librarianship etc. Following this, we sat down and did some more chatting about the work that Archives does on a regular basis. I had a tricky enquiry I had been trying to answer back at HQ and unfortunately, no one knew the answer but it’s amazing how much Fiona does know about nursing! I was very impressed by a document Fiona had which was akin to a mini encyclopaedia on the history of nursing, filled with various tidbits covering what felt like every subject. Very interesting indeed.

After all the fun and excitement of our brief visit, we headed back to the station where we had another sanity-destroying four hour journey to really get under each other’s skin. I decided to lighten the mood by impressing Miriam with some great impressions of every member of staff in the library. To answer your questions:

Yes, they were all horrible.

Yes, she hated every minute of it.

No, we are no longer friends.

“The Coldest of Nurses” or “Tim made a book display!”

cold-nurses-4
‘Nurse of the Islands’ is B.J. Banfill’s biographical account of her experiences in the remote islands off the North East coast of Canada. Every winter, the communities in these islands were cut off from the mainland and faced extreme poverty and deprivation.

Hello one and all,

Cold nurses: we know they exist but what do we really know about them?

This is what I set out to discover when I worked on the book display cabinet in the library!

After being strong-armed  enthusiastically invited  to work on this by Anna, I went down to the store with Pete to have a look at the permanent collection and try to work on some ideas. Initially, we were keen on a sexual health theme (what with Valentine’s Day fast approaching) and had some lovely props to go along with a potential display. What ultimately caught my eye though, was a copy of Kate Marsden’s ‘On Sledge and Horseback to the Outcast Siberian Lepers’. This book ticked all the right boxes. It was old (1895). It was in amazing condition. It had an attractive looking cover and illustrations inside (the most important part). With this brand new idea, I approached Pete who agreed it was amazing and I was a genius for coming up with it (I might be paraphrasing slightly here).

Unfortunately, not every book pops out from the shelf so what followed was a grueling search through the library catalogue to find more suitable titles. As it turns out, you can search for books by country on the RCN catalogue quite easily! Very handy indeed. I immediately went for all the classics such as Finland, Canada, Russia, etc. You get the idea, right? After picking out a few classics that jumped out at me, I went down to the store to start checking them out in person.

I found a real treasure trove of biographies, diaries and healthcare books from all around the globe. My personal favourite of the bunch is Amy Wilson’s biographical tale, ‘No Man Stands Alone’. Amy worked in the remote Yukon Territory of Northwest Canada, covering 200,000 square miles to provide care for just 3,000 people. Wow!

After I was happy with my choices, I put together a blurb for each and got Frances to help with the mounting. At this stage, I’ll impart some handy health and safety advice to everyone: Stanley knives are very sharp and should not be stabbed in to your own thumb.

After receiving a complete lack of sympathy and care for my extreme flesh wound, we felt it would be better if Frances did the crafty aspect and I stuck to gluing like the child I am.

Once this was all done, it was finally time to fill the cabinet. Pete helped me mount the books safely on to the display stands and guided my wonky blurb placement and finally, the whole ordeal was over. Thanks everyone for-

Oh wait, I forgot about the spelling mistakes. It turns out that despite getting at least three other people to check your work for errors, it was inevitable there would be a spelling mistake somewhere. So a big thanks to Kate for spotting my humiliating error that nearly saw me get fired (I assume).

kate-marsden-1895
After obtaining a royal patronage, Kate Marsden headed to remote Siberia to try and find a cure for leprosy, whilst visiting a remote leper colony. She is still highly regarded in the region to this day.

Now that really is the end. Thanks to everyone for all your lovely comments on the display. I’m sure it will go down in RCN folklore as the most professional book display on the subject of cold nurses that anyone has ever done. I look forward to seeing the next one…

Zoological Society of London Library Visit

 

Hello readers,

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.

Miriam

 

 

 

 

Pharmaceuticals, Training Sessions and Bear Grease

 

Hello irrepressible reader.

Miriam and I were privileged to attend the London Museums of Health and Medicine (LMHM) Winter Annual General Meeting (AGM) alongside our colleague Frances. The LMHM is a group of museums, societies and libraries that all come together to share knowledge, ideas and support each other through their shared subjects of medicine and health. (Stick around for a “Phun Pharma Phact” at the end.)

After an arduous cross-city tube journey and some inspired navigational skills by yours truly (“Of course I know which way I’m going…”), we arrived at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) – the location for this year’s AGM.

 

The RPS recently moved location and are now based a few minutes’ walk from the Tower of London in a swanky looking building. The visit started with a tour of their new exhibition space, showing off some of their interesting rarities. They have the largest delftware drug jar collection in Europe (or maybe the world?) and other fascinating items demonstrating how bizarre and unregulated the history of pharmaceuticals was.

After our tour, we had a session on ‘How to chair a meeting and facilitate a public event’. This involved a staged actor pretending to be an irate member of the AGM. I fell for the whole act and genuinely thought that we had an incredibly aggressive museum enthusiast in our midst. Alas, it was all a set up and became the premise for the rest of the session on how NOT to handle a public event.

The session was quite insightful and Dr Glaser (the host) did an excellent job of demonstrating how to handle these sometimes tricky situations.

The final act of the visit was to have the actual General Meeting. This included updates on aspects of the groups running such as website statistics, voting in new organisations in addition to general updates from anyone that wished to do so. It was great to see how a variety of different organisations have come togetherimag0797 to form an effective collaborative group that is able to share different expertise in order to benefit as a whole.

The day ended with mulled wine and mince pies. I had some apple juice instead. Frances managed to spill mince pie and mulled wine everywhere much to our embarrassment. I don’t imagine we will be welcomed back.
Anyway, the part you’ve all been waiting for. PHUN PHARMA PHACT:

So if we go back a few hundred years, morphine was the master cure for pain as a derivative from opium. Not much was known about its addictive properties until there already was an epidemic but fortunately, a German pharmaceutical company had come up with a brand new product in the late 1800’s that could treat pain that was not only safe but non-addictive – this product was called Heroin. This “product” didn’t become regulated until the 1920’s but again this was too late, with thousands of people globally now addicted to the substance.

Okay, so maybe not as “fun” a fact as you were expecting but I thought it was a really emblematic demonstration of how little we used to know about the medicine and treatments people use to take. Other interesting factoids from the tour involved using bear grease to prevent hair loss and fictional cure-all’s more likely to kill you than heal you. It was also interesting to learn how the pharmaceutical industry has evolved and only in recent years have we actually begun to truly have any idea what these concoctions are actually made up of.

 

New Grad Trainee Blog (and looking forward…)

Dear Avid Reader,

I’m sure by now you’ve taken the time to read Miriam’s “excellent” introductory blog. If you haven’t, I would highly recommend you do so to get to know our new trainee.

Miriam and I have recently conversed and after much deliberation, we came to an agreement on the future of the blog. Our aims for the blog going forward will be:

  • Make more frequent blog posts.
  • Write about our experience as trainees. How is it going? What are we learning? etc.
  • Try to expand our readership.
  • Provide a greater variety in posts.

…And then some.

For our next blog, we are planning on doing a tour of our own library as we don’t believe this has been done yet and I’m sure you’re all dying to see where the blogging magic happens.

Future blog posts may contain other exciting details such as the contents of our desks, my favourite type of pencil and write ups of some of the projects we are helping with.

If this sounds rubbish to you then imagine being the one that has to write it, then you are going to miss out on some of the best blogs that any Library Grad Trainee has ever written.

 

Tim

Hello from the Other Side – The Post-graduate Abyss and How I Got Here

post-graduate abyss (pəʊstˈgrædjʊət əˈbɪs) (noun) pəʊstpəʊstthe general lack of direction and feeling of emptiness commonly befalling recent graduates who have no idea what they’re doing with their lives.

Hi there, I’m Miriam and I’m the newest Graduate Trainee here at the RCN Library and Archive Services. I have just finished studying English for-introductory-blog-postLanguage and Literature at King’s College London and my position here at the RCN is my first graduate role. Over the course of my degree I had a range of part-time jobs, from working in retail and catering to teaching children chess, but when graduation day finally came I still had no idea where I wanted to go next. It seemed like everyone around me had grand, and very grown-up, life plans and that I was the only one who didn’t have something figured out.

I termed this period, ‘the post-graduate abyss’, a phrase which for me summed up both the comparative emptiness of my days after the intensity of the final few months of the degree and the underlying fear that I would never find a firm direction, and spend eternity on my parents’ sofa.

So, after several weeks of waiting for inspiration to strike, I finally decided to get my head down and actually start properly thinking about both what I wanted to do, and the kinds of places that I wanted to work. I knew that I wanted a varied role, and that whilst I enjoyed the academic work of my degree, I wanted a job in which I could also work and engage with people every day. It was also important to me to work for an institution that had noble aims and an ethical ethos at its heart, and I wanted to build a career working for organisations that I believed in.

During my final year of university I started working in the King’s College London Maughan Library as a Shelving Assistant. I initially took this post for purely practical reasons; it was an on-campus, well-paid job that I could easily fit around my studies. However, after talking to my colleagues at the Maughan Library, and researching entry-level roles in the library and heritage sector, I began to think that library work might just be the thing I was looking for. It would not only give me the opportunity to remain in an academic environment, whilst still helping people every day, but also the opportunity to work for educational or philanthropic institutions.

I was particularly attracted to the ‘Graduate Trainee – Customer Services’ position at the RCN because of the opportunity it offered to gain an understanding of all aspects of library work, and thus find out which roles in the sector would suit me best. Some entry level positions in libraries only offer the opportunity to work in one part of the service, but Grad Trainee positions normally offer more variety and the opportunity to gain a range of skills. I was also keen to work for the RCN, an organisation that supports and champions nurses and HCA’s all over the UK.

Fast-forward a few weeks and here I am, just finishing up my first month at the RCN. It’s been a really busy few of weeks and there’s so much to learn, but I think I’m getting the hang of things, and beginning to find my feet. I’m really looking forward to the coming months, and learning both about the RCN and library and heritage work.

I am also so relieved to have escaped the ‘post-graduate abyss’ and on the way to an interesting and fulfilling career. In a few weeks I should even be off my parents’ sofa.

Miriam