History Day showcases collections from libraries, archives and other history organisations and is a chance for researchers, librarians and archivists to get together and learn about each other’s collections and research, explain Kate Wilcox and Jordan Landes.
The History Day event grew out of discussions at the Committee of London Research Libraries in History. Created in the 1980s, the committee meets twice a year at a different member library to talk about collections, activities, and other news. Ultimately, the opportunities to see other libraries, exchange ideas and basically talk shop has encouraged members to attend committee meetings since its creation, with recent meetings taking place at the Dana Research Centre and Library at the Science Museum, the Warburg Institute and the new library at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The earliest committee project was the regular publication of A Guide to -History Libraries and Collections in London. The 2009 guide explained why the pamphlet was so necessary: “At a time when resource sharing schemes are being put into operation, and financial pressures increase on academic libraries, students and researchers need to be aware of the collections which exist in libraries other than their own, and how they may obtain access to these”. The Institute of Historical Research’s History Online resource transferred the guide’s content online after 2009, and continues to be developed, see history.ac.uk/history-online/libraries.
What is a history library?
History Day defines history in its widest sense. Attendees represent a variety of libraries, from higher education to special to museum libraries. The collections showcased are wide-ranging and from organisations that are focused more broadly than just history, for example the Scott Polar Research Institute (University of Cambridge), Engineering Institutions’ Librarians Group and the Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery.
Libraries, archives and museums have all participated in History Day, providing on-the-spot advice and guidance to attendees. Librarians, archivists and museum professionals sit side-by-side, exemplifying David Gracy’s 2006 statement that these fields have their “stewardship of the cultural record” in common.
At a time when all of the professions are affected by the growth and demand for online access to collections, working together, sharing knowledge, experience and researchers is a strategy that benefits repositories and researchers.
In the words of Diana Wakimoto, through dialogue, “archivists and librarians – along with those who have dual-roles – have the opportunity to create mutually beneficial collaborations and make the past relevant to everyone.
Why do we need History Day?
At committee meetings, members discussed how best to promote themselves and their collections. This led us to plan a pilot event with promotion of collections and research at its heart. Organised by the Institute of Historical Research and Senate House Library, the first event was held in March 2014 with 22 stands for libraries and archives and 11 presentations on research skills and resources. That first event, then called History Libraries and Research Open Day, was popular with both attendees and information professionals, and the work began toward making it an annual event.
As we all know, information professions frequently promote each other as part of day-to-day enquiry work. History Day offers a chance to cross-promote other collections in one room, and helps researchers and information professionals to discover and rediscover collections. It’s a great opportunity for library and archive staff to network and catch up with collection news, something that’s helpful for user education when back at the home institution.
What happens on the day
Since the first event in 2014, History Day has had two strands: a fair of collections and panel sessions. The first event was held in a basement room in Senate House, University of London, and space was cramped. Training sessions were held in the middle of the room amidst the fair. In 2015, the fair moved to Beveridge Hall, the large Art Deco space on the ground floor of Senate House which can accommodate 450 people. Some participating libraries and archives continued to share tables due to the compatibility of their collections, and to enable small organisations with limited staff resources to take part.
As organisers, we have tried to vary the arrangement each year, mixing the types of libraries and archives and allowing librarians and archivists to meet new professionals. These actions have contributed to positive participant feedback such as “it’s also a fantastic chance to network with other librarians and archivists’” and “it was great to meet researchers and other professionals”.
The fair is composed of stands from which libraries, archives and museums provide bespoke research assistance and details about how their collections can support research.
Libraries and archives have been able to express their creativity at their stands. Last year’s History Day saw fabulous costumes at the King’s Fund stand. Every year, the Wellcome Library holds a contest with a prize. The University of Cambridge archive collections’ “rummage boxes” of facsimiles were popular in 2017 and will be back in 2018.
Evolving from brief introductions to research skills to more formalised, chaired, panel sessions, talks about the research process have given us an opportunity to cover hot topics in historical research and also, more recently, the sharing of innovative research techniques, like digital tools.
For the first time in 2018, we issued a call for papers, inviting information
professionals and researchers of all types to submit abstracts for talks. These talks will be aimed at a general audience, and cover a broad rather than specialist subject.
We are looking forward to hearing about shared experiences and cross-collection research at the event.