Monday, July 12, 2010

National Maritime Museum Library

Although my interests cover an eclectic range of topics, I have never had occasion to delve into nautical history--with the exception of the short forays in books like Treasure Island. Our visit to the National Maritime Museum's Caird Library, then, was a unique opportunity to learn about a very specialized topic.

Our tour leader, Hannah, explained that the National Maritime Museum's Caird Library's founding collection was donated by Sir James Caird in 1937, and that the collection now encompasses topics such as emigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, voyages and expeditions, naval architecture, the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy, and genealogical services. The Library's collection encompasses modern books (1850-present), rare books (pre-1850), charts, letters, ephemera, and other two-dimensional items. Hannah's colleague, Martin, noted that the Library focuses on collecting personal items, while government records are left to the National Archives. Hannah also noted that the Library is used with equal frequency by lecturers, Master's and PhD candidates, and family history researchers.

Currently, the Library's reading room, where the modern books are stored, is a very traditional room with beautiful glass-fronted wooden shelves, and the librarians and archives have use a traditional paper-based method of recording document requests. However, the Library is in the process of creating a new, larger space to house their library and archival collections. When completed, they will have more space for their collections, a new automated system for tracking document requests, and a reading room that will both offer more space for researchers and heighten the visibility of the library.

To finish their tour, Hannah and Martin showed our group a selection of items from the Library's collections, explaining the significance of each. The items ranged from a copy of a set of Spanish charts made by 16th century British pirates to an illustrated book of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction written, printed, and bound by Shackleton's team of explorers in Antarctica. These items amply illustrated the history of exploration, piracy, and of England itself as it unfolded on the seas, and made me eager to learn more about this aspect of British history.

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