More about the Science Museum Library

The Science Museum Library’s records were added to Copac in February 2017. In this piece Nick Wyatt, Head of Library & Archives at the museum, tells us more about the library and its collections.

Dana Research Centre and Library © Tim Soar/Coffey Architects

The Science Museum’s library collections are a world-class resource for the historian of the science, technology and medicine. For many years the Library shared a building and catalogue with Imperial College but this arrangement ended in early 2014 when the last of the Library’s collections were moved from London to the Museum’s stores at Wroughton, near Swindon. The catalogue then ceased to be available on Copac.

The closure of the old library allowed staff to plan for a new library in London and procure a new catalogue. There followed an intense period as the new library was designed and built, services reconfigured, collections moved and new staff appointed. In November 2015 the Science Museum’s splendid Dana Research Centre and Library was opened and then formally launched in March 2016, together with the new library and archive catalogues. The library is a beautiful, relaxing and inspirational space, designed by Coffey Architects, that has received many positive reviews from architects, librarians and researchers.  Visitors have been impressed by the continuity of design and attention to detail which makes the experience of using the library very rewarding. There are some beautiful images of the new Dana Research Centre and Library, showing the dappling of light within the space, here.

The library is a physical manifestation of the Museum’s strong commitment to research and scholarship. It caters for academic researchers and scholars, for the family and local historian, for the enthusiast and the curious. There are 18 reading desks, around 6000 volumes of books and journals in the history and biography of science, technology and medicine, and access to the new library and archive catalogues and to other electronic resources. Readers can also use the library’s digital microfilm reader – the library has Britain’s only microfilm copy of the Archive for the History of Quantum Physics.  Digital copies of original material can be produced for consultation or purchase, including large format engineering drawings. Readers can also consult archives and library material transported from Wroughton. Library staff are available to help readers find out about the Science Museum’s library, archive and object collections. Researchers can also consult museum object files in the new reading room.

Two Marconiphone Television and Radio Trade Catalogues, 1939 © Trustees of the Science Museum Group

The Wroughton site has its own reading room which remains open by prior appointment on Fridays for researchers, especially those wishing to consult large quantities of material brought from the stores. Occupying over 25 kilometres of closed-access shelving, the collections cover the worldwide development of science, technology, industry, medicine and related subjects over the past 500 years. Original printed works (in English and other European languages) include books, journals, patents, directories, trade literature, international exhibition publications and maps.

The new Library catalogue, available here, documents a large part of our library holdings stored at our Wroughton site and everything shelved in the Research Centre.  Over three quarters of the catalogued book collections are on the computer catalogue. These include all histories and biographies of science, technology and medicine; all books published before 1800; nineteenth-century books on mathematics, the physical sciences, medicine, engineering, and scientific exploration; twentieth-century books on general science, mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, transport and scientific exploration; and everything published after 1983.

Some Science Museum Library rare books © Trustees of the Science Museum Group

The catalogue records for these books were added to Copac in February 2017 after an absence of over three years and now are clearly attributed to the Science Museum Library. Work continues to edit and upgrade records and add new ones for recent acquisitions and older material. Uncatalogued collections are also being documented so recent additions include many of the books from the Walt Patterson Collection on nuclear energy and nuclear policy. Library staff at Wroughton can also check the card catalogues for untraced material.

The archives hold original records of some of the most famous and influential individuals and companies in the fields of science, medicine, engineering and industry. Archives are documented on a separate catalogue shared with other Science Museum Group museums and sometimes include printed materials.

The Science Museum Library & Archive collections offer significant opportunities for further research and exploitation. For example, the Trade Literature Collection, one of the largest in Britain and largely undocumented and unexploited, has huge potential. Containing mainly British manufacturers’ and distributors’ catalogues, advertisements and owners’ manuals, it covers a wide range of subjects including catalogues for bicycles, cars, radios, domestic appliances, sanitary ware, scientific and medical equipment. There are many avenues to be explored, including the history of companies, product design, distribution and advertising, or the language of technical manuals.  Library volunteers have listed over 16,000 trade literature items and in the coming years we hope to convert this growing list to add to the catalogue and thereafter to Copac.

There are many synergies between the library, archive and object collections. Our extensive history and biography collection can add a wider historical or social context for visitors wanting to learn more. Trade or international exhibition catalogues and user manuals can document Science Museum objects, allowing the researcher to compare the printed description and illustration to the product itself. The Science Museum recently launched its Collections Online portal, allowing researchers to search its archives and objects in one place and view higher resolution images. Digitised library material will be added at a later stage.

The Library welcomes enquiries about its collections by phone, email, or in person. For opening times, contact details, access to catalogues and other information about our collections see our web pages.

Nick Wyatt, Head of Library & Archives, Science Museum

The Dana Research Centre and Library
165 Queen’s Gate
London
SW7 5HD

Call: 020 7942 4242
Email: smlinfo@sciencemuseum.ac.uk

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