Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Travelling Librarian Visits the Library Company

Each year the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals bestows the English Speaking Union’s Travelling Librarian Award on a librarian in the UK to support travel to libraries and archives in the United States for the purpose of promoting and developing links between libraries in the two countries. This year’s recipient is Jane Rawson, Librarian at the Vere Harmsworth Library in the Rothermere American Institute, one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford. She paid a visit last month to the Library Company and had some compelling insights about the distinctive nature of this institution. 

As the Librarian for Oxford’s principal research library for the history of the United States, Rawson wanted to learn more about the Library Company’s collections and how researchers are able to access them, both on site and remotely.  Summing up the impressions from her visit on September 23 on her blog (travellinglibrarian2011.blogspot.com), Rawson described the stacks as a “veritable treasure trove,” saying “I don't think I've ever seen quite so many antiquarian books in one place before, and the wonders just kept on coming.…There were amazing 19th -century bindings, boxes and boxes of broadsides, and even, most randomly, a mummy's hand! I could have happily spent hours in there, and it was a wonderful introduction to the scope of their collections.”

Rawson further believes that the way the Library Company understands itself is distinct from the other American libraries she had visited on her trip up to that point:  “T he context provided by the library as a whole is very important; the collection is almost more important than the individual items.”  She spoke about the Library Company’s role in acquiring and housing older volumes discarded by other libraries that have importance for the social history of the book.  Ultimately, she wrote,

The Library Company felt in some ways more familiar and closer to my library and home institution, with their fellowship programs and the way their collections have grown often in relation to those fellows' interests. I was also left with a real sense of the historical aspect of the library as a total entity, and here, the importance of the container and the context, not just the content.

While here, Rawson shared information about the US History collections in Oxford and discussed the needs of that university’s students and researchers, many of whom travel to the United States to visit libraries and archives. One of her goals upon her return to the UK will be to disseminate the knowledge that she has gained via reports, guides, presentations and blog posts, so that the trip will have wider benefits for the field of US Studies the UK.

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