Friday, 10 August 2007

Guildhall Library visit

Guildhall library was the first lending-library that we were able to visit, and I wish we would've visited this library earlier on in the trip. This library seemed closest to the one (in service-models, services, layout, etc.) I work in back home. Plus, the atmosphere here made it incredibly inviting to study.

Guildhall Library is located within the City of London, which is London's smallest local authority (you may remember me mentioning the "square mile" the City of London exists in). It is also Britain's smallest local authority, and there are 5 libraries within this square mile. Guildhall is home to a great Art Gallery, and since its creation there were always plans to include a library within the building. Guildhall is the largest of the City's libraries (local and publicly funded). There are actually no membership requirements or restrictions, which also makes this a convenient place for people to visit while they're vacationing to search for information.

The building itself is the 4th building to house Guildhall. It was first established in the 1420's about 100 yards away from the current building, adjacent to Lord Hall Chapel. It housed mainly theological manuscripts/items.

In the 1600's the Duke of Somerset decided he would take over the collection, and he basically took off with all of the items. That was the end of Guildhall library as it was. (Incidentally the Duke was executed later for things unrelated to theft of the collection.) The library owns only 1 item that existed within the medieval Guildhall library, and the rest of the collection has quite literally disappeared.

In the 1820's influential people decided to create a library that concentrated on the City of London. It opened originally to corporation members and guests. Donations to create the library came from sheriffs, high-class citizens, etc. The library itself became incredibly popular. Because of this popularity, in the 1870's Horace Jones (city architect that built Tower Bridge) decided to re-build the another library. He designed with with ecclesiastical appearance based off the Knave of Taxton church. This version of the library opened to the general public in 1875, and was one of the first libraries in the UK to welcome the "general public" into their institution. As such, it too became incredibly popular. The library started creating/developing general collections of business information, commercial records, directories, etc.

In December of 1940 The Blitz hit London, and incendiary bombs hit the library. Most valuable materials were moved, but additional losses occurred regardless. The library has been able to replace or buy many of the items that were lost back for their current collection. The building as it stands now was erected in 1974.

The Collection
Guildhall houses the greatest collection devoted to London. It includes History, English local history, Parliamentary matters, early law reports, family history, etc. Many guilds (about 95 companies) gave their collections over to Guildhall Library, including Clock and Watchmaking guilds, Livery Guilds, Blacksmiths, etc.

The collection has international importance as well as a strong local historical importance. The London Stock Exchange gave all historic records and company annual reports between 1880-1964 to Guildhall, which occupies two and a half miles of shelf-space. They also acquired Lloyd's marine collection. Lloyd's was an insurance company specializing in maritime risks from 1740 and onward. Shipping movements, casualities and over 350,000 cards from 1927 to 1974 record every voyage that was taken by sea around the world.

Book Selecting

Guildhall continues to purchase and acquire items, both modern and antiquarian. With a staff of about 44 people (including security, shelvers, etc.) the librarians carefully select items that will benefit the collection and their patrons.

The Enquiry Desk is typically staffed with 2-4 staffers, and they provide reference services to the patron population. They receive about 10-15 letters/emails per day with reference questions. Because much of the research required to carry out these services is difficult and time consuming, the first 20 minutes of research by a librarian/staff member is free, but each additional hour for in-depth research charges 50 pounds! Because many of the patrons who utilize the collections are businesses and companies who can afford this type of charge, no one seems to complain much about the bill. Often the reference staff will bring in a retired employee from Guildhall who is a "freelancer" to work on incredibly time consuming work.

The catalogue is run by TALIS, and can be viewed here.

If you are a researcher and planning to carryout research at Guildhall, you may search the online catalogue and then fill out a Request Slip. Then the patron must take the Request Slip to the Enquiry Desk, where the librarians will place it in a tube-suction system (much like those at US Bank drive-throughs). The request then goes to the storage area in the basement. For rare items one must hand-over an ID as well as sit at the table closest to the Enquiry Desk for close observation.

Computers/Electronic Resources

Guildhall is one of the only libraries (it seemed to me) that has free internet access on their computers. Due to the building's architecture, Guildhall has problems with WiFi and wireless access.

Guildhall has a wealth of online resources, many of which are available to the public from home. COLLAGE is a digitisation project created at Guildhall, where over 40K images from the collection have been scanned in and are available for purchase online.


A Guildhall librarian created a special classification system for their collection of London-related works in the 1930s that is still used today. For non-London-related works, the library uses Dewey, but they aren't necessarily shelved that way. If someone donates a collection, the entire collection is kept together, not separated.

I really enjoyed the visit to Guildhall. As mentioned earlier, I felt this was the closest representation of what a public library is like in the states, and I would have loved to have had more time to utilize their resources while there.

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