Monday, 18 February 2013

Conference: National Trust libraries, mobility and exchange in great house collections

As with my previous post, I've been taking full advantage of not working on Fridays to go to conferences that interest me, but aren't directly relevant to my job. Or so I thought. I was very pleasantly surprised by how many ideas I took away with me from this conference. Organised by the Centre for Material Texts, it was held in the beautiful surroundings of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

I'd initially signed up out of interest as I spent several years cataloguing rare books for the National Trust and wanted to find out more about how much had come out of this work. After many years work from a lot of cataloguers, detailed catalogue records are now available on COPAC. The aim of the conference was to bring together interested parties, librarians, curators, conservators and academics, to discuss potential areas for future research. Jason Scott-Warren has already blogged about the day, so I won't go into too much detail.

Papers ranged from the problem of accessing some books, as not all country houses are in public ownership, as well as research that has been done on how books were used in the houses, where people did their reading and who owned them. For example, the Earl of Carlisle, at Castle Howard, tended to store books in the more private parts of the house where it was more convenient for him to use them. Great pains have been taken in the cataloguing to record as much copy-specific detail as possible, as this is what makes these books unique and especially valuable for research.

It was clear that there is much research still to be done, in particular with nineteenth century libraries, which haven't attracted as much attention as earlier ones. There was also discussion of the practicalities of more research taking place, and the same practicalities that affect special collections librarians in other institutions.

  • How to cope with rising demand for access to material.
  • How to raise public awareness and get across to a non-academic audience why these collections are so important.
  • How to balance the tension between sightseeing and exploring research in these libraries, especially as people with an academic interest in rare books are just one of many special interest groups who visit National Trust properties.

There was much discussion over lunch, and a round table discussion at the end, both of which I found very useful. It was also good to catch up with some former colleagues.  A highly enjoyable day and my thanks go to the organisers.

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