The British Library’s recent invitation to their Doctoral Open Day for first year PhD candidates saw three students from the School of English standing bleary-eyed at 05.45 in Belfast City Airport on a cold Monday morning, clutching any form of caffeine available and the reams of documentation (over-zealously) collected in order to begin their initiation to the Library. Four hours later and Rachel Reid, Margaret Tedford and Natalie Calder found themselves in the Conference Centre of the British Library, considerably more awake and excited to learn about the variety of research materials, collections and tools made available to Readers at the BL.
The sessions carried out during the Open Day were both practical and wide-ranging. Participants were given a quick guide on how to make the most of the materials held at the Library, including online tools such as EThOS – the PhD thesis-specific search engine, holding information on over 300,000 theses – and tips on how to search through the online catalogue effectively. Speakers were invited to discuss different projects, including the ongoing digitisation initiative at the Library, a doctoral project which involved archiving John Berger’s collection of letters, notes and drafts, and the recent surge towards open access publication which has been preoccupying publishers, librarians and academics alike. Participants were also encouraged to think about contributing a record of their thesis at the end of their PhD project to EThOS. The opportunity to meet and speak with some of the curators at the Library while looking at a small sample of the materials available was provided after lunch. Although there were no curators specialising in medieval material present, it was interesting to see the wide range of materials available, from early printed books and manuscript drafts to film and audio records.
Tips for your first visit to the Library
- Specific identification is required to obtain a Reader Card for the Library; see http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/inrrooms/stp/register/stpregister.html for details. Incidentally, it’s not as intimidating as the list of acceptable documents might suggest! We, rather nervously, gathered lots of different forms of ID, but all we actually needed was a driver’s licence for proof of address and a debit card for proof of signature – two things I carried with me anyway! Still, it is useful to check the list linked above, as some restrictions apply.
- Have specific items in mind to consult before you visit. The library staff are keen to assist in your research, but also to make sure that the BL is the appropriate place for it. You can view the Library’s online catalogue via the link below and, if you have pre-registered for a pass before your visit, you will be able to reserve items for your trip. See http://www.bl.uk/#, then hover over ‘Catalogues’.
- For some items, especially manuscripts pre-dating 1500, you may require a Letter of Recommendation from your academic supervisor. If a letter is required, a note will appear as you try to reserve the item through the online catalogue (hence the benefits of browsing before you set off!).
The British Library runs doctoral open days throughout the year, with specific days tailored to either English, History or Media, Cultural Studies and Journalism. For more information, see http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/docopendays/index.html.