Today, we met with Andrew Harper, printed books director of the Guildhall Library. The Guildhall is another library within the borders of the square mile City of London. The current Guildhall Library is the 4th one to be built on the site since the 1420s. The first library provided materials to professionals. During the reign of Edward VI, the Duke of Somerset wanted to stock his own library and so took all of the Guildhall books for himself. The current library does own 1 item from the original library, a Bible, but most of the books have been lost over the course of time.
In the 1820s, the library was re-founded but was only open to members of the library/guilds. In the 1870s, a new library was built. In 1875, it opened to the public, becoming one of the first public libraries in the country. The collection included a good deal of business information which later became the business library also located in the City of London.
During WWII, the library was burnt after an inciderary bomb hit a nearby church. Because of the Blitz risk, most of the valuable items had been moved already. Unfortunately, the place where they were "safely" stored also burnt down, losing those records forever. The library ever since has been trying to replace those books/items. There are still a few items which haven't been able to be replaced and remain on the "Burnt Books" list. After the war, the interior of the library was repaired and it reopened.
The location, however, wasn't entirely convenient for library purposes. It was always being used for social and state functions which meant the library was continuously being closed and the reading room arranged and rearranged. In 1974, a new library was built right next to the old library. Today, you might never know that the old library is there unless you know the area well or happen to go around the corner and see it.
The new library has an extensive collection on books about London. In fact, in the 1930s, a Guildhall librarian devised a separate classification system for the London books. Dewey is used for the non-London works but would not have been useful for the London collection. Their collection of British and English local history (parish records, etc), family history and Parliamentary matter is quite impressive.
Here is a picture to break up all of the words in this post. It comes from a postcard which has information about the Guildhall Library Prints and Maps section.
It was interesting to learn that 95 livery companies (i.e. guilds) gave their libraries to the Guildhall and still deposit materials in it today. I guess I never thought that guilds are still around.
One of the most internationally important collection that the library holds is the London Stock Exchange records. The stock exchange gave the Guildhall Library all of their historical records and company annual reports from 1880 to 1964. This collection alone comprises 2.5 miles (!) of shelf space. What a resource for people looking for information about companies!
Another very important collection is the Lloyds Marine collection. Lloyds is an insurance company which once specialized in maritime risk. This collection includes 350,000 voyage record cards which recorded information about every single ship that hit the seas.
The current library has 10 staff members in the printed books section, 4 in the print room, 10 in the manuscript area, 14 service assistants, and volunteers who assist during special projects such as indexing the Lloyds records. The library receives anywhere from 10-15 letters or emails asking questions each day. The first 20 minutes research (done by a librarian) is free but for a more in-depth search, it costs £50 per hour. I found it interesting that the Guildhall Library strives to get requested books to their readers within 20 minutes (if the book is on site). Readers are allowed to photocopy the more modern documents but most are beginning to bring digital cameras to get color copies, instead.
I also found it interesting that the library designed their own digital image database called COLLAGE. Mr. Harper said it was one of the first digitization projects. If a user wishes, he or she can print out a small copy of whatever document or item that they want. If they want a clearer or larger copy, the library will send them one for a small fee.