Highlights of the National Aerospace Library

Tony Pilmer, Librarian at the National Aerospace Library, picks out some of the things that make the library special…

Photo of the National Aerospace Library reading room

National Aerospace Library reading room

The National Aerospace Library is the rather grand name of the library and archive of the Royal Aeronautical Society. The Society is open to anyone who is professionally interested in aeroplanes, helicopters, drones, launching things into space, hot air balloons etc., whether they are involved in designing, building, maintaining, testing, flying, administering, litigating – or simply enjoy researching the history of aviation.

The Society started in 1866 when a group of scientifically-minded individuals got together to work out how people could fly. For that, of course, they needed access to the best literature available, and so the library began. Then, as members got older and started looking for safe homes for their collections, the Society’s library was found to be a natural choice.

For over one hundred and fifty years we have continued to give members (and now non-members) access to the best of new resources, whilst also preserving some amazing historical materials for historians, and indeed anyone looking for old answers to new questions.

Photo of the interior of the National Aerospace Library

We open the doors of our Farnborough Reading Room to all, although the specialist nature of our collections means that we mainly attract professionals, historians and undergraduate and postgraduate students – there are hundreds of dissertations and theses waiting to be written on our shelves.

Our tours can last from two minutes to two hours (more if you get lost exploring our shelves), so I thought I’d better limit myself to highlighting seven things that make the National Aerospace Library so special…

#1: New stuff

We collect the best new aerospace publications, including textbooks, conference proceedings, journals and magazines. We also go through our new journals and transfer the details of the articles of most interest to our members and readers onto our library catalogue and, as a consequence, onto COPAC.

#2: Rather old stuff

The Library holds aeronautical material dating from 1515 onwards. Some of the gems of our collections have been digitised and placed on our heritage website, including the first technical drawings of an aeroplane and the notebooks of the Father of Aeronautics, Sir George Cayley.

Page from the notebook of Horace Short (1909)

Page from the notebook of Horace Short, containing detailed sketches of the Wright Flyer from which the first official aircraft plans were made (1909)

Page from Sir George Cayley's notebook - 'Sea' (1799-1811)

Page from Sir George Cayley’s notebook – ‘Sea’ (1799-1811)

#3: Royal Aeronautical Society stuff

Letter from Orville Wright to Griffiths Brewer, 1922

Letter from Orville Wright to Griffiths Brewer, 1st April 1922

Royal Aeronautical Society members have always been at the cutting edge of research.

Not only do we have letters from members of the Society to key figures in aviation, including the Wright Brothers, we also have recordings of lectures and interviews with many of them.

We have started to make available some of our audio material as podcasts, including recordings of Chuck Yeager and the men behind the Fairey Delta II and the World Speed Record of 1956.

We also hold the Royal Aeronautical Society Archive, which contains some wonderful material, including this cartoon of Sir Robert Hardingham, one of the Society’s past presidents.

Cartoon of Sir Robert Hardingham, President of the Royal Aeronautical Society

Cartoon of Sir Robert Hardingham, President of the Society of Licensed Aircraft Engineers and Technologists, later part of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Tech Air (February 1969)  p.23

#4: Photo collection

We hold over one hundred thousand images in our photographic collection. We work with the Mary Evans Picture Library to market our digitised collections to individuals and to corporate users and…

Okay, I’m rumbled, I’ve just added this paragraph so that I can include some nice photos of aeroplanes!

Photo of 18 Hawker Hunters of 111 Squadron at the Farnborough Air Show in 1960

18 Hawker Hunters of 111 Squadron at the Farnborough Air Show in 1960

Photo of Airship R101 at its mooring mast at Cardington, about 1929

Airship R101 at its mooring mast at Cardington, about 1929

Photo of the first flight of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works DarkStar, 29 March 1996

The first flight of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works DarkStar, 29 March 1996

#5: Volunteers

We have a great band of volunteers who are helping us to conserve and record our collections…

Photo of National Aerospace Library volunteers at work...

National Aerospace Library volunteers at work…

#6: Staff

…and we have a small, but perfectly formed staff to help readers find the material they want, whether in person, by phone or via e-mail. Our Chief Librarian, Brian Riddle, has worked in the Library for over thirty years – so what he doesn’t know about the collections isn’t worth knowing!

Photo of Brian Riddle

Brian Riddle

#7: Turning grown adults back into small children

After just an hour at the National Aerospace Library, even the most serious grown-up has often turned back into the girl or boy who first saw an aeroplane swoop down in front of their eyes.

We have heard though that not everybody likes aeroplanes as much as we do, and for those who don’t there are over fifty other libraries like ours – of professional and learned societies – both scattered around London and further afield. You can find out how to access the library on your favourite subject by visiting the website of the London Learned & Professional Societies Librarians’ Group.

Tony Pilmer
Librarian

The National Aerospace Library
The Hub
Fowler Avenue
Farnborough Business Park
Farnborough, Hampshire
GU14 7JP

+44 (0)1252 701038 or +44 (0)1252 701060
hublibrary@aerosociety.com
www.aerosociety.com/nal

All images copyright the National Aerospace Library/Royal Aeronautical Society, reproduced with kind permission of the copyright holder.

Cataloguing interface for small collections?

If you are involved with a small specialist library that has a collection of historic/research interest, but which doesn’t currently have a web based catalogue, the Jisc Copac team would be very interested in hearing from you:

  • to improve the visibility of your collections through inclusion in Copac
  • and potentially to provide you with a web catalogue interface for your collection

One of the roles of the Copac union catalogue is to connect the UK (and wider) research community with the research materials they need, whilst helping to promote the contributed collections to the widest possible user community. Copac includes many of the major UK libraries and, with the move of Copac into the Jisc National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK), the number of academic libraries will be increasing. However, we are also focused on incorporating the catalogues of smaller specialist libraries with collections of national and international research interest. By making these smaller catalogues part of Copac we help to make the collections of these, potentially less familiar, libraries visible internationally, increasing their accessibility to the research community.

At the moment we take catalogue records in a range of data formats, but we are aware that not every small library will have an electronic catalogue and an online presence. We have had interest expressed in a simple Copac cataloguing interface that would allow small libraries to create electronic records for their materials, which we might then include in Copac. Such a cataloguing service would not presuppose any understanding of MARC or other data standards and would be aimed primarily at small libraries, with historic collections, that don’t have their own online catalogue.

Before we decide whether we should be developing a simple cataloguing service, we need to have a better sense of which libraries might be interested in such a service.
If you think this would be relevant to your library could you get in touch and let us know the following:

  • Which library are you involved with and what is the size and nature of the collection?
  • Is your collection accessible to researchers and others?
  • What type of catalogue/finding aid do you have currently?
  • Would you use a simple cataloguing interface that allowed you to create and export records in multiple formats, including MARC21?
  • Would you wish to see the records you create included in Copac – moving to the NBK in future?
  • Would you value a local ‘view’ of your data that had the appearance of a local catalogue, allowing you to search and view just your collection?
  • Would you be willing to test and provide feedback on a trial cataloguing interface?

Deadline: We would like expressions of interest by the 31st July 2017.

Please contact us via the Copac helpdesk help.copac@jisc.ac.uk

Once we have a better understanding of the likely level of interest we can then decide whether to take this work forward and develop a trial cataloguing service.