Tuesday June 27
We met Eugene at the Foyle Reading Room inside the Royal Geographical Society. Eugene has worked there or 17 years, and has worked in archives for his whole career, starting out in Liverpool (and he kind of looked like he could have been a Beatle too). The Society has about 2 million items, half of which are maps, go figure. They have about 1,500 objects, things like personal effects, scientific items or souvenirs from around the world.
Eugene set up a table to show us some of the highlights of the collection. One side of the table was the “hot” side, and chronicled the search of the origin of the Nile, the other was the “cold” side and was a history of Antarctic exploration. Eugene is a consummate storyteller, and it was clear he knew his facts. The stories he was able to tell us about each piece of ephemera or map was truly impressive! We weren’t allowed to take any photos, or else I would show you the cool things he had laid out for us. We got to see Livingstone and Stanley’s hats, as well as Stanley’s boot and Shackleton’s Bible given to him by a queen. All very interesting things to a group of librarians and archivists in training!
The Society currently has an exhibition on the Endurance Expedition (a great survival story if you have the time to read about it) that is traveling around the UK and will go to the US next year. Eugene said that the society often times will seek out museums and special collections to send exhibits to, however sometimes they do receive requests for their items for display at other locations. Eugene said as long as the location meets their requirements (security, insurance, etc.) the item will pretty much always be loaned out for a fee. The more popular an item the higher the fee, which is a nice profit for the society as they don’t receive government funding. The typical users are PhD students and academic researchers, who don’t have to pay to use the materials. Members of the general population that just want to read about geography and explorations do have to pay a standard fee of 10 pounds per day.
The library is working on digitizing their collections, particularly their maps. They have over 18,000 items digitized and available for viewing online. They have a small in-house conservation team for basic repairs like bindings and loose pages, but for everything else they need to have a specialist conserve the item. It would probably be in the societies best interest to hire a full time conservationist just to take care of their maps, paper has this persistent tendency to degrade, how annoying! The collections department has less than 10 members of staff, so with 2 million objects I would guess they are pretty busy.
As we were leaving we saw two very fancy horse drawn carriage things. I asked the security guard what was going on, but he seemed very nonplussed about the whole thing. Must be typical in a town that houses a monarch.
My faithful Ellen came along to enjoy the raining gray English day with us