British Library Day Eleven: Humanities

I apologise for taking so long to post these. Only four more posts after this one, and I promise to have them up soon. I really want to finish posting them before it’s a year since my placement occurred.


I spent the morning with Rod and Adrian on the Humanities reference desk today.  It is one of the bigger and busier reading rooms in the library, covering everything from general reference works to history, philosophy and literature works. It is also one of the reading rooms which employs Dewey. The British Library used to run the library of the UK Library Association and the humanities reading room now holds a fairly large library and information services section. This is Adrian’s baby, and I made sure to go up and have a look at it before I went to lunch. It certainly made me remember that I am supposed to be rethinking my topic for Professional Project in my free time  but I am no closer to coming up with an alternative query.

Physically, Humanities is set up a little differently from other reading rooms, with the reference desk directly opposite and fairly close to the issue and return desks. This can be a little confusing for readers when they first enter, but also makes that area feel a little squashed (just a little). This design does however mean more room for seats, and shelves.

The humanities reading room also still uses table numbers as reference issuing books, so they know where readers are in case something is amiss later. The old ordering system used to do this by having the table number included on the item request, and turning on a little light at the desk so the reader knew when their item was ready for pick up. Pretty nifty, but I suppose it wasn’t as cool as it seems because they did get rid of it in the end.

Most of the queries I observed were to do with upgrading accounts, WiFi issues, and ordering assistance. The WiFi of course is handled by an outside company, and the patrons were given a phone to ask their support team for help. Sometimes this didn’t work and the reference team had to soothe the reader.

One patron was asking about newspapers, and while the humanities room has some digital subscriptions, they ended up having to direct the patron to Colindale. Another reader was after an item which the library didn’t have, and so Adrian checked Copac, which is similar to WorldCat or Trove, and contains the holdings of many of the larger academic libraries in the UK. Luckily, one of the universities did have the item in question, and it was convenient for the reader to visit there as he had a lending card.

One thing which did come up a couple of times, and for the first time I had seen, was an issue with ordering on the catalogue whereby journals or multi-volume monographs had not been enabled to be ordered in parts on the system. This means that the reader can only order the whole range, which will be denied in the basement, as they will not send up hundreds of journals at a time. Luckily it only took a quick call (presumably because the metadata was already there) to what I later found out was the electronic services team to fix the issue.

As always, we chatted about a range of things, including the sorts of qualifications people have (a huge range, and not nearly all library qualifications). I tend to ask whatever pops in my head when it is quiet, so we also discussed the first aid requirements of the organisation. It turned out there was no specific requirement for staff at any level to have first aid training, but that the library does like to have one volunteer in each geographical area of the library, and encourages people to train.It wasn’t too long before my time was up, though I had stayed until the end of the morning shift.

During and after lunch I had time to work on my presentation. Lynn had left the library while I was out, and when my headache from the day before returned accompanied by wooziness I left early, but wrote a note to leave on her desk. I wanted to tell someone, but the office was pretty empty, and having only crossed paths with Louise briefly I wasn’t sure I’d actually be talking to her not someone else when I went over there. The perils of meeting too many people at once!


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