Jo McCrossan is the Senior Library Assistant at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. Following an ill-fated stint as a translator, she tripped and fell into a school library, a corporate library, and a public library, before landing her current role despite being too squeamish to actually look at most of the stock. She recently completed an MA in Library and Information Services Management at the University of Sheffield, and would like to be the librarian at the All England Lawn Tennis Club when she grows up.
When I was ten I decided to turn my bedroom into a railway station. I made signs. I made posters. I made tickets and I bought a blue card index box to keep them in. I sat behind a little table in the doorway and made my relatives “buy” a “ticket” from me before they could “travel” on my “train line” (or, in common parlance, “go upstairs”). This went on for about a year longer than it should have.
Of course, I still have my card index box (a fondness for filing stuff in alphabetical order proving to be just one of many early indications of my future career in libraryland) and, of course, I was going to be all over the opportunity to visit the National Railway Museum’s library and archive.
It’s called Search Engine – let us pause for a moment to appreciate that inspired level of punnery – and it is home to a mahoosive collection of railway-themed resources. Our group was lucky enough to be given the full guided tour by two members of staff, Karen and Peter. Their enthusiasm for their work was infectious and the depth of their knowledge of the collection was particularly astounding given the scale of the enterprise.
The main public area of the library is stuffed with books (fiction as well as non-fiction – yes, there is a copy of Murder on the Orient Express), audio-visual material,and more railway magazines than I even knew existed. Its study space also offers the best vantage point from which to view actual trains (including a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket) in the museum’s Great Hall – unsurprisingly, the glass-walled meeting room is always a hit with visitors.
The archive collections live in a labyrinthine network of climate-controlled rooms and feature engineering drawings, records, and photographs (both official and amateur). I was particularly charmed by a drawing of a planned railway bridge in which the artist had depicted tiny camels (and fez-wearing riders) trotting alongside the trains. There is a huge amount of railway ephemera – publicity material, maps, tickets (none of this app malarkey – the Edmondson tickets are THE BEST and I will hear no other opinion) and every Bradshaw’s Guide ever produced (you know, in case you ever fancied channelling your inner Michael Portillo). It was also very interesting to see the stash of letters written by and to members of key “railway families” many of which date back to the early days of the railways and hint at a not insignificant amount of drama between competing engineers and proponents of the railway…
Lots of the original, specially-commissioned artwork that inspired all the old-school tourism posters is held in the archive, too. Actually being able to see the original painting of Scarborough that is on the print that my aunties have had hanging in their hallway since I was tiny was a proper highlight.
Obviously, I now want to live and work at Search Engine and everyone I have told about it has been wildly jealous. Thank you to Amy and the Government Information Group for organising such an interesting and fun library visit!