Three members of CPHC - Alexandre Parré, Connie Wan, and Caroline Archer – joined forces for a panel presentation at the recent Independent Libraries Association annual conference, which this year was held in the beautiful Hampshire village of Chawton. The programme, under the banner ‘Bricks, Shelves, Books and People: Building for the Future’, allowed delegates — librarians, archivists, researchers and academics — to hear from some of the world’s most unique library and archive collections, while providing the chance to explore one of the UK's finest independent libraries, Chawton House Library. It was a rich and diverse event from which we all learned more about one of the UK’s key cultural industries, networked, discussed and indulged in three days of #librarychat.
The keynote speaker was Mark Purcell, Deputy Director of Research Collections at the University of Cambridge and former Libraries Curator for the National Trust, who spoke about ‘The Country House Library’. Mark was followed by talks from the London Library, Gladstone’s Library and the Foundling Museum and included presentations from PhD students from University of South Australia and the University of Huddersfield.
The CPHC panel presentation, entitled ‘Shared solutions’ aimed to shine a light on a triumvirate of Birmingham’s independent libraries: Assay Office, Birmingham (AOB); Birmingham & Midland Institute (BMI); and the Typographic Hub Library. Alex, Connie and Caroline explained that while each of their libraries have a different focus, and served distinct communities in varying ways, they also have common concerns and constitutions that make them unlike other libraries and which present particular challenges to those who run and use them. Each of the libraries is a constituent part of organisations whose main interest is not that of heritage and archives and one of the challenges this presents is how to ‘sell’ the libraries not only to the outside world, but also to the parent companies. While none of the libraries receive funding either from internal or external sources they need to justify worth (actual or implicit) to the parent company. One of the issues therefore is how do the libraries maintain themselves in the commercial environments in which they are located. And a significant, but not insurmountable problem, was noted: that non-professional librarians, for whom the care of the archives is only a part of their wider remit, manage each library. Alex, Connie and Caroline considered the challenges and rewards facing these libraries and how they are finding shared solutions to common problems.
We are grateful to the Independent Libraries Association for giving us the opportunity to present at the conference, and for all those at Chawton House Library who made the event so special. We are already looking forward to the 2018 conference. See you all next year at the Library of Innerpeffray!