This post was written by Claire Titley, London Metropolitan Archives and is reposted from the LMA website.
Over 50 libraries and archives gathered on 31 October for History Day 2017 at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House, an annual event where students get an opportunity to meet library and archives staff, talk to them about their holdings, and discover how individual collections might provide sources for their research. The event is aimed at postgraduate history students, but attracts students and academics from a range of disciplines and continues to go from strength to strength – this year attracting over 200 attendees. Claire Titley describes how the day went and gives more information about how LMA can support academic researchers.
We are now old hands at the event with a presence there since its first year, so fired up on caffeine and armed with a bucket of spooky sweets to tempt enquirers to our stand (it was Halloween, after all), we managed to provide over 40 “mini consultations” on a varied range of subjects. These included the records of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, urban history sources, evidence of Tudor gardens, Lyons Corner Houses, eighteenth century street food, early trade unions, the GLC staff association, evidence of the Greek presence in London, and sources for tracing seventeenth century embroiderers. It is always a challenge to dart from one subject to the next, but the real art is in teasing out exactly what the researcher is really looking for from often vague questions about our holdings.
We shared a stand with our colleagues from Guildhall Library, which was tremendously useful for enquirers as it allows us to pool resources and knowledge and highlight how many of our collections dovetail. It was also good to introduce researchers to LMA who had only used Guildhall Library and vice versa, to emphasise that together the collections provide an unparalleled historical resource. Most importantly, it meant that we could rely on each other when a question got a little bit complicated or extended beyond on our experience. You always know you are in safe hands in the company of a reference librarian!
On a personal level, History Day is a good chance to catch up with colleagues in other offices and see the range of activities being undertaken across different archives and libraries, and it is always inspiring to see the breadth of London collections. However, this year the event included an increased number of national institutions, including the University Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as an area devoted to academic publishers. Each year there are also a range of panel sessions, and this years’ sessions on digital and public history were enormously popular.
This event often makes us think about the advice and support we offer our academic researchers and this year I was surprised by how many researchers didn’t realise that it was possible to email us for advice regarding their research. We welcome enquiries by email (or letter) regarding your research ideas and we can make suggestions of sources in our care that might be useful. We can offer practical advice on conducting a search, can suggest research strategies in relation to records and even offer consultations for those about to undertake an extended period of research. If we aren’t the best people to offer advice, we can usually recommend an alternative library or archive that might be able to assist. So, if you aren’t sure whether we can help you, do contact us for advice (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Information about 2017’s event can be found on the History Collections website. And look out for the dates for next year’s event.