Library history: not just old book stamps

I’m currently cataloguing SCOLAR’s collection of archives relating to the history of Cardiff University Library. It contains the usual types of records you’d expect to find in an organisation’s archives – annual reports, correspondence, minutes, accounts, building plans and personnel records, as well as records specific to the library’s function, such as catalogues, user statistics, readers’ surveys, staff newsletters, and registers for requisitions, accessions, donations, and binding.

The archives do not just consist of paper records – there are slides and audio cassettes used for 1970s library inductions; a gold key used to open the Draper’s Library in 1909, library bookplate printing blocks, a framed Concrete Society prize, awarded in 1976 for the Arts and Social Studies Library (right), and yes, old book stamps.

I have been asked – why keep such archives? Would anyone want to consult ‘201/1/3/1/1 – Inter-Library loan receipts, 1936-37’? Many would be surprised to hear that library history is in fact a thriving academic field, connected to related social history disciplines such as information history, the history of the book, computing history, provenance studies and the history of reading. The archive has recently been consulted by a postgraduate student at Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, who has written his dissertation on the history of Cardiff University Library, and kindly deposited a copy with us to aid future research.

My favourite item in the collection is a 1980 manual for one of the first personal computers, with enclosed original ‘punch-cards’. These computers processed very basic data stored on stiff card, which had with holes punched in pre-defined positions. Every position represents a single binary digit or ‘bit’ of information: no hole=0, hole=1. It serves to remind me just how far technology has advanced in the last 30 years.

The forthcoming British Librarianship and Information Work 2006-2010 will feature a chapter on Library History authored by Katie Birkwood. If you know of conferences whose proceedings have not (yet) been published, online projects, resources and databases that might not be mentioned in the traditional literature, or any particular trends that you have noticed in recent years and think are worthy of note (ideally with supporting evidence!), Katie needs you!


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