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Arup Library: 60 years

28 January 2020  
Arup Library: 60 years

Arup Library: 60 years

OVE Arup & Partners (Arup) is an independent firm of designers, engineers, architects, planners, consultants and technical specialists working across every aspect of the built environment. It was founded in 1946 by engineer Ove Arup, who was born in Newcastle to Danish parents. Headquartered in London, Arup now numbers almost 16,000 specialists, working across over 90 disciplines in more than 33 countries. Key projects include the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Centre and the British Library. The first library in the firm’s history was established in the London office 60 years ago this year. It has grown from a small collection of books and journals in a basement, to a global team of librarians, working together to help the firm shape a better world. What follows is a brief overview of 60 years of the Arup Library in London.

Early Arup Library
Arup has professional archivists who primarily look after the information related to projects, but they also retain information relating to our corporate history. The earliest mention of a book collection in the Arup archive is from the Minutes of the Senior Staff Meetings from 1958. It mentions that “people are not returning publications and are not signing for them. This must be done if the present arrangements are to function effectively”.1 It was not until March the following year that a professional librarian was employed. In the minutes, a “Miss R. Devine (Librarian)” is listed under new staff.2 This was Rosemary Devine, Arup’s first professional librarian and founder of the first library in Ove Arup & Partners. Rosemary must have made an immediate impact as she was recorded as present at practically every one of these senior partner meetings thereafter, demonstrating how embedded the library services were within senior management decision making.

In a letter between two former Arup staff members dated 2006, an architect who visited No.8 Fitzroy Street for a job interview many years earlier, recalls Rosemary as “the librarian residing in the basement surrounded by piles of books and magazines”3; this is a position familiar to this author, who spent many hours in dusty basements in previous library roles! As well as cataloguing the existing collection of books in the London office (which she completed in 1961), Rosemary edited the Arup Newsletter – a publication distributed to all staff. Always the professional, Rosemary also had a great sense of humour, as illustrated from an entry in an Arup Newsletter from 1963: “Meanwhile, may I plead with you to sign for everything that you borrow? If you walk off with a book and don’t fill a slip in, your problem may be solved but when we can’t lay our hands on it when someone else wants it, then precious time, money and priceless good temper are all wasted. Among their lesser known accomplishments, the Welsh have a fine collection of curses. Robert Graves has based one of his poems on one of these – that of a traveller who has been misdirected – and before I pin it above the library door, as much the same sense of bitter frustration arises when a book has walked from the shelves, I print it here with due acknowledgements.

May they stumble, stage by stage
On an endless pilgrimage,
Dawn and dusk, mile after mile,
At each and every step, a stile;
At each and every step withal
May they catch their feet and fall;
At each and every fall they take
May a bone within them break;
And may the bone that breaks within
Not be, for variation’s sake,
Now rib, now thigh, now arm, now shin,
But always, without fail, THE NECK

– Robert Graves, Collected Poems;
Cassell, 1959”.4

Thankfully, today’s Arup Librarians are not so fierce!

Other excerpts from the Arup Newsletters advertise new books, technical reports and standards added to the library collection, as well as job records and accompanying photographs. Having accurate job information and images was seen as crucial for the collective knowledge of the firm, as Rosemary put it “You might find it useful to have a look at a previous design for a building of similar nature and use as the one you are about to deal with so that you can advise the client with the weight of the firm’s accumulated experience behind you”.5

Marit Tronslin joined the Arup Library in 1967 and holds the honour of being our longest serving librarian – 43 years continuous service – before retiring in 2010. In an interview for the internal Arup Legends series of documentaries, she talked about her early career in the library. The library itself was located on the ground floor of No.13 Fitzroy Street, a building still occupied by Arup today. She remembered that everything was slow and laborious at that time, as everything was done on paper. Marit recounts our founder, Sir Ove Arup, visiting the library regularly during her tenure. Sir Ove, an award-winning engineer with a background in philosophy, was a library supporter from a young age. In an undated essay, he wrote “I found Darwin’s Origin of Species and Descent of Man in the school library (in my Danish boarding school). They had an enormous influence on me… there was no doubt in my mind, I had first to study philosophy”.

According to Marit, Sir Ove shuffled into the library to ask research questions and to visit his old friend Henry Crowe, another Dane working at Arup. Henry managed the library’s journals collection and his beautiful hand-written journal sign-in books still exist in the Arup archive today. In addition to the traditional activities of cataloguing and classifying physical material, loans management, press cuttings and subscriptions management, the library was also responsible for recording details of every new project, also beautifully recorded by hand in oversized volumes.

As part of the Christmas celebrations in the firm, Sir Ove organised for the library to create a book list for the senior partners, which would be used to select gifts. Marit was dispatched to Hatchards in Piccadilly in a chauffeured car to collect the parcels. These would then be distributed to the partners at the exclusive library Christmas party, usually held on or near the 23rd December. The library was the venue for this invitation-only party (plus the usual gate-crashers) because it was the largest space in the building. Marit recalled finding empty glasses hidden among the book stacks upon her return in January. During the 1970s, the library in No. 13 was revamped by Philip Dowson and a new library for the architecture wing of the firm, Arup Associates, was established at Soho Square. At this point the firm also had two Photo Libraries, one for No. 13 and one for Arup Associates. Several other regional libraries were also established globally - for example it was likely that an Australian Library was established in the 1960s as the first Australian office opened in 1963.

Arup Library in the Electronic Age
In 1968, Peter Hoggett took over Arup Library. Under his leadership the library in London embraced new technology.7 In 1981, the library catalogue (previously in card format) was put onto a system called InMagic and loans were managed through Mirabilis. The InMagic system facilitated printouts of regional acquisitions, so that regional libraries could hold details of their collections for reference. This followed the successful transfer of Arup job records to a DEC10 Mainframe computer in 1978, which greatly sped up the data handling managed by the library.

The library functioned through a series of Apricot10 computers, with staff able to access one for cataloguing, one for loans, one for trade literature, one for British standards, etc. In order to back up the library catalogue alone, 20 floppy disks were required! Julian Dawson, now Senior Librarian at Information and Library Services, remembered the early news clipping service with a distinct lack of fondness. A small team was required to trawl multiple newspapers and magazines to spot mentions of Arup jobs, cutting out the individual stories. Julian then had to glue them onto pieces of A4 paper, which was then replicated by the Reprographics team for circulation around the firm. Thankfully in the mid to late 1990s, the news service came in online format saving lots of time for Librarians. Marit also noted that in the last years of her career at Arup Library, the move to electronic communications made it far easier to establish and maintain professional relationships across the firm.

Arup Library Today
Historically, there were three distinct types of information conserved and managed by Arup Library – physical collections of hardcopy material, job records and photographs. By the 2000s, these three functions were run by different teams and brought together under the umbrella of the Information Management Group (IMG), which we still are today. We are now also part of a wider ‘Arup University’ that aims to foster a culture of excellence, share expertise and lessons learned; to identify new trends and consider what that might mean for the future of the built environment; as well as investing in the development of our people, tools, skills and knowledge across the firm.

The modern-day Arup Library serves users across the UKIMEA region, Europe and the Americas. We provide a library enquiry service both in person and online and have a physical space where people can work or browse our collection. A lot of our older stock is held offsite and access is managed by the Archiving Team. As well as traditional books, technical guides and standard loans, we also provide access to business information, market research, academic journal content and collections of books relating to subjects such as diversity, mental health and wellbeing, leadership and management. We carry out research requests and literature reviews on a range of topics relating to the built environment and align our collections to firm-wide strategic aims, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To celebrate our 60th anniversary, we held an event in the London office in November at which our colleagues were able to learn more about what we do and how we can help them shape a better world.

Arup Library was succinctly defined by Peter Hoggett as a function that “…embodies a good deal of Arup’s vast and ever-growing collective memory” and we believe that it still fulfils this role today and much more besides. Current Information and Library Services Team Leader James Griffith says “Arup’s Information and Library Service is an ­integral part of Arup’s success. For 60 years we have delivered a high-quality information service, taking on more and more responsibilities along the way. As we look to the digital future, we will continue to adapt and evolve with the same professionalism and dedication as the librarians that came before us.”

1 Ove Arup & Partners Senior Staff Meeting Minutes 1957 – 63, 13 November 1958, p.44
2 Ove Arup & Partners Senior Staff Meeting Minutes 1957 – 63, 4 March 1959, p.56
3 Barnes, K. “The Building Group and Early Years of Arup Associates”, 1 May 2006
4 Arup Newsletter, No. 16, October 1963, pp.15-16
5 Arup Newsletter, No. 3, August 1966, p.15
6 Arup Legends – Marit Tronslin Part 1 Unedited Footage © Arup, R/T: 1.11.55 and Arup Legends – Marit Tronslin Part 2 Unedited Footage © Arup, R/T: 36.12
7 Hoggett, P. “Back to the future”, Arup Bulletin, March 1986, p.9

Contributor: Ella Hassett, @ella_hassett Librarian, Information and Library Services at Ove Arup & Partners
Published: 28 January 2020

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