Not all Reference Libraries are equal!

by Anna Blanch on February 5, 2010

So admittedly the title of this post is stating the obvious. But, I want to write a short prologue to a post that will appear in the next week or so. I am preparing a (long) post on visiting reference libraries and the things I have learnt along the way in the hopes that it can serve as a tool for those of you who spend, or will spend lots of time in their hallowed halls (or dingy basements – as the case may be).

I had heard all sorts of scary stories about how difficult it is to obtain a reader’s pass for the University of Cambridge library system. At the British Library researcher conference last week i was warned in hushed tones by more than one person that it’s tougher to get a reader’s card at Cambridge than the British Library and that the library staff were made of stern stuff. I hadn’t been concerned but this did put me a little on edge, feeling like i needed to at least appear like I am a “real” researcher now!

I needn’t have been all concerned. For two reasons:
1. If you actually follow the instructions on the Cambridge university website; and submit the electronic application online; and send a short email to the address indicated to make an appointment at the Admissions office on your arrival; and have the requisite paperwork – a letter from the registrars office of your university indicating your status as a research student or faculty member that also states your home address and is stamped by them, as well as a photo ID with signature (passport or licence is best), then the entire experience can take less than 10 very pleasant minutes. 

2. The admissions staff were incredibly pleasant. Knowledgeable, helpful – they even went out of their way to point out that I was able, on additional application, to use the Divinity Faculty Library at Cambridge – they also gave me a voucher for a free cup of tea or coffee. 

Seriously, i know i am waxing lyrical about a reference library. But these people were so helpful, it is worth a post, and an encouragement that if you find yourself considering a research visit to Cambridge that you shouldn’t let concerns or rumours about the exclusivity and insularity stop you!

In short, I now hold reader’s passes to the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the Harry Ransome Center (UT-Austin), National Library of Scotland, The British Library, and Cambridge University Libraries. That’s a whole lotta libraries with a whole lotta documents and books…
I am looking forward to sharing with you my “Advice for visiting Archival and Reference Libraries” – though i hope i come up with a better name for it by then – sharing with you some of the things I have learnt over the last 5 years on how to make the most of visits and the often short time you may have to gather alot of information and consult rare resources.

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