Keeping the Essence

June 21, 2016

The Foyle Special Collections of King’s College Maughan Library and Special Collections is the main library for the sciences and the social sciences.  It is a teaching (both undergrad and postgrad) and research library with a team of seven people, full and part-time.  The library grows the collection through gifting and purchases.  They follow preservation practices and perform digitization projects.  At present, 200,000 items occupy the spaces.

We were actually encouraged to TOUCH the items placed on tables.  Some of these were chap books, which were printed for popular consumption largely in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Fairy tales were a common subject of these books, and many used wood cuts for illustration.  They were printed on cheap paper and was a way for the printer to make some money.

The Foyle Special Collections Library is strong in medical books largely due to the St. Thomas Hospital Collection.  The early medical books were largely fable and folklore.  Those printed before 1501 are considered to be incunabula, a term not only applied to medical books but to any book that meets this standard.  One of these was on display, as were two sets of art plates by Mexican artist Carnivale and a book about 18th century Pennsylvania laws signed by Benjamin Franklin and two bound pamphlets written by Thomas Paine.  These plus other items were touchable and photographable!

As stated before, the Foyle Special Collections have a popular medicine collection.  Also, the United Kingdom and the United States have joined forces to digitize their medical collections.

This visit to King’s College involved three parts, the first of which was the Foyle Special Collections already mentioned.  Following that, we were treated to tea or coffee and “biscuits” in the Weston Room, a chapel until the nineteenth century, and trappings (such as human remains) are still in evidence.  Shakespeare was on exhibit here, since this year is the 400th anniversary of his death and the UK is celebrating everywhere.  The room is now used for exhibitions and lectures.

The third part of the King’s College tour was the Maughan Library, which was home to the first archive in Britain, established in 1850.  Efforts were made to keep the legal documents stored there safely.  Records were kept on metal and slate shelves (and one room remains as it was in the 19th century).  They tried to use natural light instead of oil.  Fireplaces were not in the storage rooms, and a cast-iron door was in place to make the rooms fireproof.  Also, the ceiling in the Maughan Library entrance was made of zinc, although painted with roses.

The Maughan Library is zoned and self-policed.  One of the rooms is round, and that is where people came in earlier years to look at records stored there.  This is a gorgeous room that would make any researcher happy.

The library uses Library of Congress Classification and, although the rooms are small, efforts have been made to upgrade to technology and make the best use of space.


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