A Whirlwind Tour

Throughout my year in Torbay, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of different libraries, including those in the public and health sectors (herehere and here). Last week I traveled up to London for a crash-course in membership libraries. Visiting five in just under three days (plus the British Library), I met some wonderful new people while only scratching the surface of what this city has to offer.


Day One: After the requisite three-hour train journey, I went directly to the British Library. There I joined fourteen other CILIP members on a tour of the building. And what a building! Highlights included the King’s Library collection and items from the Asian and African Studies special collection. Specifically: Nazi propaganda, a humorous ship newsletter featuring Victorian-era jokes, and a Judaeo-Persian manuscript written in Hebrew. Seeing the latter piqued my curiosity in the process of transliteration, and I must remember to explore this topic further.

Our tour included a trip to the basement stores. Only after walking through room after room filled to the brim with texts did I start to realize how impossibly large the British Library is. When we were down there, you could also hear the tube travelling overhead. How very unnerving!


Day Two: After a night of torrential rain and lightning, I braved the flooded underground to go to the London Library and Chatham House. Two very nice graduate trainees showed me around the London Library. It really is one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever seen. After discussing the general ins-and-outs of discovery systems and being membership-based, I wandered around the stacks. One of my favorite collections was the collection of small books, however I think I could have spent days just going around the reading rooms admiring each’s oddities.  Have I mentioned how gorgeous it all was??

After the London Library I popped over to Chatham House. A world-famous international affairs think tank, I had only previously heard of it in the context of the Chatham House Rule. It was nothing like what I imagined. Instead of being shroud in mystery, it was a lovely light/airy building busy with scholars and meetings. And the staff cafeteria is great!

In the afternoon I visited three of the Burlington House libraries: the Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Society of Chemistry and Royal Geological Society. These are very grand, and all “bigger on the inside.” Each had a unique character/feel corresponding to its purpose, and many of the spaces can be rented out for private events. In these libraries I met some of the most passionate staff, and saw some of the most specialized content.

Phew, what a day! After running around London, I was exhausted. But my time was definitely well spent.


Day Three: My final visit was to the Royal College of Nursing. The building was recently refurbished which has resulted in the building’s fun and vibrant interior. As well as study spaces and meeting rooms, the library also featured an archive and exhibition spaces. These included “The Voice of Nursing: Celebrating 100 years of the RCN” and “The Right Sort of Women: Nursing Founders.” To see the collections, click here.

Unfortunately my afternoon visit was cancelled due to the flooding. However, this didn’t deter me from visiting some museums on my own time! All in all, it was a very informative week, and different to the NHS/Devon pace. I’d like to say a big thank you to my team for arranging this trip.


For more information see:

  • British Library – http://www.bl.uk/
  • Chatham House – https://www.chathamhouse.org/
  • Royal Astronomical Society – https://www.ras.org.uk/
  • Royal Society of Chemistry – http://www.rsc.org/
  • Royal Geological Society – http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/
  • Royal College of Nursing – https://www.rcn.org.uk/