This week I took part in a trip to the Devon and Exeter Institution and Exeter Cathedral Library and Archive organised by SWRLS and CILIPSW.
In a row of houses that make up Cathedral Close, sits a small white unassuming building, previously the home of the Courtenay family, the Earls of Devon... but behind those doors is a beautiful collection spanning two hundred years of arts, sciences and humanities and articles of local importance. The library was established in 1813 by local gentry of Exeter who began the collection with £4000 of books – a significant sum at this time in history. The Institution is everything that you’d expect from an old, established library. There are two main rooms to the library which are walled floor to ceiling with leather bound tomes. This is a library from another time, the card catalogues are still well used and many members came in during the morning to read the daily paper whilst sitting in the comfort of a cosy armchair. You could very easily have believed yourself in an Austen novel... maybe walking the library of Mansfield Park or Pemberley.
The chief librarian, Roger Brien, spent some time talking to us about the history of the building from its establishment as a library to the present day and it’s now charity status. He also spent some time sharing anecdotes of some of the Institution’s librarians and more interesting benefactors.
After a brilliant lunch we strolled around the cathedral gardens to the new home of the Exeter Cathedral Library and Archive where Librarian Peter Thomas and Archivist Ellie Jones showed us some of their precious collection. This collection includes records and artefacts from as early back as 800 AD including the Exeter Book, which is part of the Domesday records. The Library holds items from the cathedral’s history and collections of interest from patrons and benefactors of the cathedral which include an extensive collection of medical books from as far back as the Tudor period.
It was a very interesting day and an eye opener to the world of special libraries. As a public librarian it isn’t very often that I get to see older collections and I can’t imagine getting much work done if I worked in either of these locations. A recurring theme in both locations was making the issue of making the public aware of the collections held in these places. As a public librarian we are also having this problem of preaching to the converted. With social media so prevalent you would think it would be easier to publicise services but how do you reach those groups who could benefit from your resources and help?
I would like to thank Clive and Lynne for organising the day and if you are intrigued by what you’ve read here there is another visit planned for the 6th February so keep an eye out on the message boards.