Sunday, November 17, 2013
The Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Oh no! A new vice! The Caird Library in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is seriously good. I have my three year library card tucked away in my wallet and a really good feeling about yet another happy obsession. The Caird Library is lovely. You can either turn up with one form of identification and get a day pass or apply for a three-year reader card for which you need to pieces of i.d. (see the website for what you need to bring for each). You can't take books away with you, but that's no hardship given the vast amounts of desk space and the lovely, light and modern atmosphere. There is a late night opening on Thursdays, it is open on Saturdays (see opening times here), the staff are friendly and helpful and the books are numerous.
Oh the books. Oh the joy! Where to start? There are thousands of them, and they are all about ships, shipping, shipbuilders, voyages of discovery, navigation, maritime engineering, the Royal Navy, naval battles, the East India Company, privateers, luxury liners etc etc. It's a cornucopia of maritime joy. There are original hand-written tomes so old that they shed alarmingly as you turn the pages, and there are books so new that the pages have yet to be turned. Glorious. There are also shelves full of all the recent relevant magazines and periodicals.
There is also access to facilities that only institutions are able to access via a series of computers that are available to all members, whether day or long term. JSTOR, for example, houses thousands of articles online, and the Caird Library have subscribed to the areas that are relevant to maritime investigations.
My favourite piece of kit, because it is such a revelation, is the ship plan database. In one corner there is a vast screen fixed to the wall and a touch-screen panel on the desk beneath - you can enter the name of a ship to find if there are any plans available, and when you see the plans they are extraordinary in their detail. The ability to zoom in means that the spidery handwriting on so many of these plans can be deciphered and detailed parts of the plans can be examined very clearly. A stunning facility.
There are some great online facilities too, which you can access from your home computer. The Research Guides, for example, are incredibly useful. You can also view the Caird's catalogue and reserve books using their Aeon system (registration and log-in required).
As well as these more modern pieces of tech, there are photocopying facilities (for which you need to buy a card, with credit on it), which is an excellent facility to have. If you want to photograph anything you need to sign a form that sets down terms and conditions for how you use whatever photographs you take.
The library is divided into two sections, with books in both - the group area, where you can talk and exchange notes, and the quiet area, where silent research is provided for. Both are big areas and on the Friday afternoon that I was there with some of the contributors to the Surrey Docks Farm Heritage Project (five of us), virtually empty.
You can take in laptops and iPads, but bags and coats must be left in a locker (free of charge). Pens are not permitted, but propelling pencils are. If you forget your own pencil there are plenty available in pot at the desk, free of charge, with an industrial pencil sharpener.
If you are interested in going for the day, or joining for longer, It is worth working through the Caird Library pages on the Royal Museums Greenwich website and following the links to more information so that you know what's there and how to use it.
If you are into ships, this is a marvelous resource, a candy shop of irresistible treats.