All change at the British Academy library!

Guest blog from Karen Syrett

The hiring out of our public rooms provides an important source of revenue for the British Academy. Although the bayed library with its views over The Mall meant that I had a fantastic office, it was a very under-used room. So, it came as no surprise when the Academy finally decided to re-configure the library in order to add the room to its portfolio of event spaces.

To enable the necessary building work, a total of 8,944 books had to be moved out of the library but, as the work took place in various stages, they didn’t all need to be moved in one go. The project took place over the summer, our quietest time of the year, so neither storage nor time was an issue. I decided to undertake the work myself and to factor in a bit of a spring clean as well! The move also provided an ideal opportunity for a long overdue stock-check.

To start the project, new bookcases were built in two rooms on the second floor – the meeting room and the new Fellows’ Room. Once these rooms were ready, I was able to load up my trolley and begin moving the 3,442 books designated for the new shelves. Working out how to arrange the book collection was the hardest part of the whole project. The British Academy Fellowship is organised into 18 academic sections and the library follows that structure. I wanted to make sure that books belonging to one section stayed together and that the new arrangement was coherent – this involved a lot of maths! Luckily the two literature sections fitted into the meeting room, so they were the first books to go to their new home upstairs. History and archaeology form the majority of the Academy’s books so I wanted to keep these books downstairs in the new library. That left the rest of the collection for the Fellows’ Room. Trying to figure it all out was like doing battle with a complicated jigsaw – especially when some last minute changes to the rooms meant I suddenly had fewer shelves!

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The old library

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Making a start

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That didn’t stay clean for long!

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The first trolley load is ready to go

It took 2 weeks to move the books upstairs but once they had all gone, it was time to pack up the remaining 5,502. When boxing up these books, I was careful to label the boxes as I went and to make sure that the boxes were all packed in the same way so that re-shelving the books later would be as straightforward as possible. In addition to giving the books a bit of a clean, it was also very satisfying to get them back into their proper order – needless to say I’m a bit tetchy these days when I notice that someone has put a book back in the wrong place! During the stock-checking process I identified around 500 books that could be disposed of, so I contacted Dan at The Book Rescuers to arrange for the unwanted books to be collected. The Book Rescuers work with charities in Africa to give children the vital chance of an education – none of the books end up in landfill. You can read more about them here: http://www.bookrescuers.com. The remaining boxes were stored in the Reading Room until the new library was finished, fortunately there was help on hand to move the boxes – there were well over 200. The last thing to move out of the library was me – I now occupy an office on the third floor. It took several weeks to transform the library space which gave me plenty of time to recover from phase 1!

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I was busy packing boxes when the Queen went by!

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Inevitably the building work overran so I didn’t have much time to get the books back on to the new library shelves before the first event was due to take place. Although I managed to get all the boxes emptied in time, there was still some fine tuning to do. Eventually all of the books were accommodated and there is even some room to allow for growth. Needless to say, the new library has proved incredibly popular, in its first year it has been used for everything from conferences to fashion shows!

The new library set up for its first dinner

The new library set up for its first dinner

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