Tag Archives: British Library

Farewell to the Colindale Newspaper Library

Another straw in the wind – or perhaps, rather, a scrap of paper blown away.  The British Library has closed its newspaper library at Colindale in north London, and is moving the newspaper collection to Boston Spa in Yorkshire, where a ‘new purpose-built Newspaper Storage Building (NSB)’ has been built.

Many historians of my generation will remember working at Colindale, and will greet its closure without much regret. Colindale is on the Northern Line.  When I worked there in the late 1970s, it was a featureless dormitory suburb completely lacking in charm. The library was just far enough from the tube station to regret forgetting an umbrella, but there was nothing you could do about the wind. Continue reading

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The British Library, and why I love librarians

We all know that Karl Marx wrote his revolutionary works sitting in the Reading Room of the British Library.  But did you know that the man who ran the British Library, and who came up with the original design for the reading room, was also a revolutionary, who helped to shape the 19th century, just as Marx helped to shape the 20th.

The British Library has moved now.  It occupies a modern building on Euston Rd, which is comfortable and efficient for staff and scholars alike.  It has free wifi, hundreds of lockers, and food outlets with decent coffee, and the computerized ordering system works fine.

But it will never give me the same buzz to enter the new building that I used to get when I walked into the central reading room of the old library, with its high domed ceiling, rows of desks radiating out from the centre, and leather upholstered chairs.  It was full of the ghosts of readers past. Continue reading

On Shifting Sands

The British Library recently called for volunteers to help ‘georeference’ over 700 historic maps of London, England and Wales.  They digitized the maps but needed the assistance of real live human beings to read the maps, and link them to equivalent maps on Google Earth, in place, size and projection.

It’s yet another fascinating experiment in crowd sourcing – but I’m afraid you can’t join in, because they got so many volunteers that the work was completed within a week!  They now plan to load another 1000 digital maps.  If you want to get involved you can register and they will notify you when they are ready to roll.

According to the accompanying video, the technology of linking past and present geographical features seems fairly straightforward: they use the Tower of London as an example, and it’s been in the same place for nearly a thousand years.

Tower of London 1597

Other geographical features on a landscape are trickier.  Where is the Fleet River these days?  Rivers are particularly vulnerable – they are constantly being diverted by urban development, or silt up because of agricultural development upstream.

Coastlines change too.  Continue reading

The Value of Manuscripts

It happens rarely – but it does happen.  People steal manuscripts, autographs, stamps, seals, maps and illustrations from libraries.  Last July, Barry Landau, author of The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy (2007), was caught with an accomplice, Jason Savedoff, stealing documents from the Maryland Historical Society.  Since then, police have found about 10,000 documents in their apartment.

‘I cannot believe it,’ Lynn von Furstenberg, the second wife of Prince Egon von Furstenberg and a close friend of Landau’s for many years, told The Daily Beast. ‘The things I’ve been reading about him in the press are not the Barry I know. He’s just this gregarious, sweet, sensitive human being.’

Well yes, maybe.  On Amazon, Landau is described as a ‘historian’ – but as those of us in the profession well know, anyone can call themselves a historian.  There’s no quality control outside the university system, and since non-academic historians do a lot of important work, I don’t really want any – but sometimes someone goes rogue. Continue reading