My Trip to the British Library by Shanaz Durrant

On my regular commute to UCL IOE, I often walk past the British Library and see the queues of people from the public waiting to go in, and whilst I signed up to be a member a few years back, I never thought I would have the opportunity to go “behind the scenes” and be shown around the basements of the British Library…

The building itself is a wonder to look at from the outside and when you get into the foyer, it is hard to believe that the building is 43 years old. For you historians out there, the British Library was established in 1972 as part of the British Library Act 1972 and the collections that this beautiful building holds began their development when the British Library was part of the British Museum.

As we were introduced to some of the staff who worked there and made our way to the lifts (one of many as I was going to discover…), it was clear that this trip was going to be an enlightening one.

Whilst making our way down to the basements, we were informed how deep we were actually going, and to give you a visual of the depth, let’s say that the whole area which the basements occupied under the library is equivalent to 8 storeys (there were four levels in total).

The deeper we went, the quieter and colder it became…and you could clearly hear the sound of the underground trains making their way to their destinations- we were told that the Victoria line passes by one of the basements. It was surreal to think that we were so deep underground as it didn’t feel like we had gone that far at all!


When we arrived at the first section, it was amazing to see the amount of stacks there were and how many books they contained! It made our two onsite library stacks look miniscule compared to just this area… and there were more to see. The first section was like a maze and had the most intricate and most resourceful system I have ever seen when it came to fetching the requested items for the readers who wanted to see them.

There was what you could describe as a “rollercoaster ride for the books” aka the ‘mechanical pulmonary system’. The staff who worked in this department placed the requested books into a plastic tray and then sent them on their merry way onto the pulmonary system and on to their designated area upstairs. From there, the books were taken to the specific reading rooms for the readers. BL 2Now this system really impressed me as it worked- most of the time I was told- so well that it is able to keep up with the demand from the general public and with the collections which consist of around 170,000,000 items. You can definitely say that having some mechanical help is well needed to ensure that everyone is happy and the collections are able to be seen.

As we made our way through the different basements, it was clear to see that this library is a treasure chest of books and collections, written in different languages, scripts and from vastly different historical periods. To read the entire collection, on the basis of reading 5 items a day, it would take you around 80,000 years to read everything, so it is safe to say that the British Library holds reading content, which in its entirety, you would never be able to be read in your lifetime- but you could at least try!

As we reached the final basement, we were able to look at the maps of the UK that dated back to the 1500s, and it was fascinating to see the intricate detail of the hand drawn maps of the boroughs and counties around England and the United Kingdom. I even got to see my hometown, which I never even knew dated back as far as then! At the end of the trip we made our way through the labyrinth (it really would be easy to lose yourself down there…) and back to the “real world”.

I would highly recommend visiting, when the next opportunity to go and see the basements in the British Library arises, because even though you get to look around the main library, it is easy to forget that this is a library which has the second largest collection of books in the world. That being said, when you go to the British Library next… never judge a book by its cover.

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A visit to the House of Lords: Teas, Tours and Policy Papers

We are justly proud of our Official Publications Collection here at the Library; our print holdings reflect the development of state education policy since the nineteenth century and of course we continue to preserve and protect born digital government publications through our Digital Education Resource Archive (DERA). As the Official Publications Librarian, one of the elements of the role that has always appealed to me is that the collection also contains material that is not quite “official”. We collect selected publications from the major political parties (as well as some interesting material from some of the smaller ones) and we also add material produced by pressure groups and others with an interest in educational policy.


We continue to add to our printed collection and often this is through kind offers of donations from individuals who have worked in the sector. We were recently approached by Baroness Sharp of Guildford offering materials related to her work in the House of Lords to the Library and Archives. My colleague Kathryn Meldrum from the Archives and I were honoured to be able to visit Baroness Sharp on the same day that she gave her valedictory speech in the House of Lords on the theme of poverty and education. The first hour or so of our visit was spent identifying materials that we could add to our collection. This included papers and publications produced by the Liberal Democrats as well as a wide variety of publications authored by Charities and Think Tanks. All of these materials will help to further enrich our Official Publications Collection, offering researchers the opportunity to gain deeper insights into the development of educational policy in the UK.

However, I must admit that the real highlight of the day for me was the opportunity to take tea with Baroness Sharp in one of the Tea Rooms of the House of Lords. This was followed by a wonderful tour of the building and an opportunity to sit in on one of the debates (I was glad that I had worn a suit – although I had to borrow a tie to gain admittance to the chamber!). We returned to the IOE with some wonderful donations and memories of quite a remarkable day.

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Chancing upon Hayward in the Conway Hall Library

Conway Hall Library2Last week, during a break from working in our basement closed stacks, Sally Perry and I happened upon Conway Hall in Red Lion Square.  It is the Ethical Society’s 1920s HQ and has a gem of a library.  The Library has the largest and most comprehensive humanist research resource in the UK – for additional information and a link to the online catalogue go to

Whilst browsing the collection, I came across some books by F. H. Hayward whose library we hold in the IOE’s Special Collections.  This in itself was not surprising as Dr. F. H. Hayward (1872 to 1954), a District Inspector of Schools for the London County Council, was a supporter of the secularist movement and a founding member of the Moral Instruction League which was set up to further ethical and civic teaching in schools on a non-theological basis.

Hayward worked tirelessly for 32 years for the cause of elementary education in the poorest districts of East London.  He was a prolific writer and teacher who was well known among the profession during the early part of the 20th century.  He wrote thirty books and numerous journal articles on the theoretical foundation for teaching moral education and education for citizenship.  These writings were published in the key education-related journals of the time including Educational Review, School, School World, Journal of Education, Times Educational Supplement, Child Study and Journal of Proceedings of the Child-Study Society. Hayward is perhaps best known for his new method of moral instruction that attempted to inculcate the values of good citizenship.  This was his ‘Celebration’ method.

Hayward 1The first Director of the Institute of Education (which was then the London Day Training College), Sir John Adams, was a personal friend and mentor.  He thought highly of Hayward, stating in a personal letter to the author (which is reprinted in Hayward’s autobiography, An Educational Failure, p. 152):


The more I consider you and your educational work, the more I regard you as a figure in the history of education rubbing shoulders with Comenius and Pestalozzi and rousing the writer’s wonder at the inability of your contemporaries to appreciate the value of your contribution.  The time will come when light will break … and you will be raised to the pedestal which is being silently prepared for you.

Upon its publication, the autobiography was largely reviewed favourably by the press (according to the publicity material pasted into Hayward’s own copy of the book – see R. Rawnsley, p. 343). Adjectives and phrases such as ‘moving’, ‘instructive’, ‘fresh’, ‘vital’, ‘engagingly candid’, ‘of profound interest’, ‘original thinking’, ‘forceful’, ‘sane’ are just some of the words that describe the book.  The autobiography is part of the Hayward Library held in the IOE’s Special Collections and includes both the books that influenced Hayward’s thinking and the books and pamphlets on the importance of moral education that were published from his home after his retirement from the London County Council.  More information on the Hayward Collection is at:



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Arts and Diversity education resources

I recently received what is perhaps my favourite donation of library books that I have ever received in the 9 years that I have worked at the UCL Institute of Education. The donation of 3 very large boxes of material, was given to us by Naseem Khan and contained a wealth of extremely useful resources for those interested in arts and diversity in education. Naseem Khan’s working life has included journalism, broadcasting, policy development, research and arts administration. Her main focus has been around cultural diversity.
Naseem was ‘Head of Diversity’ for the Arts Council from 1996 to 2003, but she was actively engaged in that area of work long before that time. In 1976 for example, she wrote the pioneering ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’ – recognized as a significant piece in opening up the debate on the nature of ‘British culture’. Additionally, Naseem was a founder/coordinator of the first national umbrella body for all non-indigenous arts activities, MAAS (Minorities Arts Advisory Service). As a journalist, she wrote a weekly column, Work in Progress, on cultural issues for The New Statesman for two years, was a regular Guardian freelancer in addition to working as the ‘Theatre Editor’ of Time Out. Naseem was also the coordinator of the vast alternative ‘Festival of India’ (1983) and co-director of the ‘Academy of Indian Dance’ (1982). Naseem has been a Senior Associate of the research consultancy, Comedia, and wrote ‘The Road to Interculturalism: Tracking the arts in a changing world’ for their 2007 study of ‘The Intercultural City’. With Comedia, she worked on projects around the role of urban parks and open space, the use of public libraries and the social impact of the arts.
In 1999, Naseem received the OBE. Currently, she runs her own policy consultancy and continues to be a significant and valuable voice in arts and diversity in the UK. For more information about the work Naseem has undertaken and continues to progress, see

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What’s goes on inside is what counts

I’m here in Berlin for an Erasmus Libraries week and I’ve come to realise that UCL libraries have a lot in common with Freie Universität (FU) Libraries. For example:

  • FU has almost 36,000 students; UCL has about the same number.
  • FU uses Primo as a library discovery tool; UCL also uses Primo.
  • FU has 13 libraries in Berlin; UCL has 18 libraries in London.
  • FU has over 300 librarians; UCL has over 300 librarians as well.
  • FU used the library system, Aleph, and has moved to Alma; UCL uses Aleph and is planning to move to Alma.

In fact, there are more similarities among the 19 librarian delegates from 13 countries than there are differences.  We all strive to organise, preserve and share resources for research within a variety of structures and cultures.  Perhaps at UCL, we don’t have the garden oasis that can be found in FU’s Campus Library (below) or the enticing curves of FU’s  Foster designed Philological Library (bottom), yet UCL libraries do have their unique buildings, both old and new, and like FU, a wealth of resources.

FU campusLibraries come in all shapes and sizes and while the outside space can inspire, the real inspiration is what our users do with what is inside.




Philological Library

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UK Out, I’m In

I know the UK is going out, but I’m in Berlin and I’m going to do my darndest to keep European library ties revived. I’m here at Freie Universitat on an Erasmus Staff Week: Libraries in Motion – Structures and Services. It looks to be a packed 5 days of sharing and learning from those here in Berlin and from delegates from Europe, the Middle East and the US.  90 delegates are attending: 70 from university international offices and 20 from libraries. We’re all here to share best practice and innovations and to spread the word that we need to open our minds to the world, especially during troubled times.

FU was founded in 1948 with the support of the American allied forces in a move to free students and staff from overpowering political influence. From the beginning, Freie Universität has made connections in Germany, in Europe and worldwide. Today, Freie Universitat has 11 departments,  34,170 students and their international strategies have netted them partnerships and recognition from around the world. The QS World University Rankings® 2015/16 ranks FU fifth in Germany and 116th in the world.

I guess the lesson here is that to be truly free is to be open to the world. Let’s hope that we can exercise this same freedom in the UK in future.







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Convent days

Frost in May by Antonia White (1899-1980) was first published in 1933.It was republished in 1978 by Virago Press as the first of its Modern Classics.

We meet the narrator and heroine Nanda (Fernanda) Grey when she is enrolled, aged seven, at the Convent of Five Wounds.Nanda remains at the Roman Catholic Boarding School until she is suddenly asked to leave by the nuns. A misunderstanding has arisen about a book she is writing and the nuns regard her as a wicked influence.

We experience Nanda’s world through her eyes and although written for adults the language used can seem childlike. Antonia White is good at portraying school life with its routines, rituals, the teachers, the hierarchies, the joy of being praised and the sorrow at not living up to expectations. The treatment from the nuns can seem cruel, but it is just reported, not commented on. Frost in May


Nanda does not find it completely possible to fit in with her fellow pupils. Her family are middle-class converts to Catholicism. Many of her classmates are from well-established Roman Catholic families which are often wealthy and sometimes aristocratic.

There is a strong autobiographic element to the book. Antonia White was baptised into the Church of England but became a Roman Catholic when her father converted when she was aged nine. She was a boarder at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton, South West London. Antonia wrote a book to give to her father on his birthday. In this schoolgirl story her characters were wicked people but at the end she was going to have them repent and convert to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately the nuns discovered her early chapters and were shocked by her perceived wickedness. She was unable to explain the proposed ending before she was expelled. This sudden wrench from her stable, mostly happy life due to her writing had a serious effect on her career as an author. The unhappy memories generated by the writing of ‘Frost in May’ meant she did not write another novel for 20 years.


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