Information Services


Emma RobinsonBy Emma Robinson, Library and Information Assistant

Did you know that Batgirl was a librarian? No? Apparently the creators believed that being a librarian was a perfect contrast to Barbara Gordon’s alter-ego of superhero Batgirl.  Presumably they believed the opposite of a kick-ass, pvc-costumed superhero would be an introverted, quiet and mild-mannered librarian.

The idea of librarians being specs-sporting cardigan-wearers, hair tied tightly into a bun, is fairly outdated and a stereotype that many new to the profession try to avoid at all costs. (Although to be fair I have been known to partake of all three at the same time!) According to CILIP, the professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers, as a modern day information professional you have to have the ability to ‘design, create, identify, locate, retrieve and exploit information in all formats’. The idea of librarians hiding in dusty book stacks (which we have plenty of) cataloguing and stamping books (which we do plenty of) and doing not much else is a stereotype that does need challenging. Yes, stamping books in dusty book stacks does still happen occasionally, but there’s a heck of a lot more to it.

First and foremost a good librarian must be a people person. That’s what’s it’s all about really: put simply it’s about helping people find stuff! Secondly they have to be technologically switched-on and know equally as much about the digital word as they do about the printed one.

Batgirl to the rescue!

Batgirl to the rescue!

Many librarians also pride themselves on being crusaders (superheroes even!) for ethical access to information, whether it be our visitors’ rights to accessing information about our objects and collections, to our library users’ rights to privacy. In fact, we librarians like nothing better than sharing and sourcing information. The more tricky the request, the more we generally like it!

The Research Library at National Museum of Scotland

The Research Library at National Museum of Scotland.

Within the Information Services team we manage the Research Library and the Library at the National War Museum as well as the National Museum of Scotland’s Info Zone, and, as is the case with many smaller specialist libraries, most of us multi-task and work in several different areas of library work.

The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland

The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland.

Amongst other things, we preserve things for the future by storing and organising material within our Archives, as well as shelving and collections management (yes, in dusty as well as clean book stacks) and answering the myriad of enquiries we get from staff and the public; we manage access to e-journals and e-books; provide access to items we don’t have in our own collections through various library networks including the British Library; provide up-to-the-minute online resources to enable Museum staff easier access to information; manage the Museum’s Research Repository as well as managing the Museum’s intranet. It certainly keeps us busy!

Another benefit of working in a multi-tasking multi-disciplinary Library is that most staff develop a well-rounded general knowledge covering most of the disciplines within the Museum. Clearly demonstrated by being Christmas Pub Quiz winners two years running.

So whether you want to call yourself a Librarian, an Information Manager, a Library Resource Officer or an Information Facilitator. Whether you spend your time cataloguing books, organising information, managing and taking part in large scale book moves or managing data; whether you wear flats, Jimmy Choos or Dr Martens, one thing is for sure: underestimate us at your peril, we are multitasking information professionals! If you are still in any doubt, I’ll send Batgirl round to convince you!

Georgia RogersBy Georgia Rogers, Library and Information Assistant

When the National Museum of Scotland re-opened in July 2011, the Information Services Department started  a new service: the Info Zone. Situated next to the Balcony Café on Level 3 of the Grand Gallery, the Info Zone provides visitors with a place to find out more about our amazing objects and the many activities in the Museum.

The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland

The Info Zone at National Museum of Scotland.

Upon first opening it was difficult to know how the Info Zone would be used. Who would be attracted to use it? What kind of questions would they ask? What kind of research tools would be useful?

Almost a year on and we are beginning to get answers to these questions. We have now welcomed over 35,000 visitors to the Info Zone and answered over 7,500 enquiries.

Popular questions include ‘Has the building always been a museum?’ and ‘What paint colour has been used on the walls?’ The answers are ‘Yes’ and ‘Farrow and Ball, Light Blue’ in case you have pondered the same thing!

Many people have asked us about specific objects that the Museum might house, or subjects that we might know about. Memorable examples have been:

  • Can you find my Afghan coat; it was donated by my mother?
  • Could you tell me more about a horse-drawn fire engine from my family estate in Dumfriesshire? I think it may have been donated to the Museum.
  •  Where can I find out more about the polar bear skull found at Inchnadamph?
  •  I’m looking for a mummified cat that was found inside a wall on the Royal Mile.
  •  I’d love to find a tapeworm I saw here as a child; it had a lovely wee face!
  •  My forefather worked for the Fire Brigade in Edinburgh and donated a model fire engine to the Museum do you think it’s still here?
Model fire engine donated to the Museum

Model fire engine donated to the Museum.

For questions like this we are very grateful to the Museum’s curators, who are always willing to help locate a mystery object or provide information on their specialist subjects.

Other questions we admit we cannot answer, but they certainly bring a smile to our face. We have been asked for directions to our collection of flying carpets and griffins’ nests among others.

Our collection of books has proven to be popular with a large number of adults and children, and the themed trails around the galleries that can be collected from the Info Zone are a big hit.  The online portal provides visitors with information about Museum objects as well as entertainment through games, helping younger visitors (or young at heart!) to discover more about the background of the Museum collections.

We are now looking to the future and planning what improvements and adjustments can be made to make the Info Zone the best possible resource for all of our visitors.

The next time you are visiting the National Museum of Scotland, why not drop by and discover even more about the Museum and what it holds? We’d love to see you!

Evelyn SimpsonBy Evelyn Simpson, Head of Information Services

We are making good progress with planning and getting ready for the opening of our brand new InfoZone and Research Library. We thought it timely to give you all an update on how things are going.

The new Research Library will open to the public in summer 2011 and is located on the first floor, adjacent to the Communicate! gallery. It’s a much more visible and accessible location than we had for our Library previously. We will have a selection of about 23,000 items drawn from our much larger collection, which will  be focused on our research and collection strengths. The new Library will also provide much improved visitor seating and study space including a more informal comfy seating area which we anticipate being used for more leisurely browsing such as keeping up-to-date with the latest issues from our periodical collections or looking over our recently received new books.

Drawing of Candlemaker's Row and entrance to Greyfriars Churchyard by Alexander Archer, 1836.

Drawing of Candlemaker’s Row and entrance to Greyfriars Churchyard by Alexander Archer, 1836, from the Research Library Special Collections. The building on the right survives, as a public house, as does Greyfriars Church, but everything else here has gone. The National Museum of Scotland now stands in place of the building on the left of the drawing.

We are also delighted to say that we will have some new contemporary shelving. This will benefit not only us but importantly our users who will no longer have to ask a staff member to retrieve an item from the top shelf (previously nine shelves high). Our new shelving is lower, enabling our users to browse freely for themselves.

Illuminated page from Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum gentilium (On the genealogy of the gods of the gentiles)

Illuminated page from Boccaccio’s Genealogia deorum gentilium (On the genealogy of the gods of the gentiles), from the Research Library Special Collections. The copy of the Genealogia in the library of the National Museums of Scotland is unusual in having contemporary illuminations in the margins. This page shows an interesting image of a King sleeping.

When we reopen we will also be introducing a brand new information service called the Info Zone. The InfoZone is a place where visitors can access a range of information about our Museums, our galleries, our collections, our exhibitions and what’s going on. We will have a number of PCs which visitors will be able to use to check out our digital and web-based information, as well as printed resources. The Information Services team will be on hand to advise and support visitors to find and use the information resources on offer. The Zone will have information about our whole complex and not just the new galleries from this phase of the development.

What we offer will of course evolve and develop over time informed by our visitors’ experiences and information requests. We will also be working with Learning & Programmes, Exhibitions and other departments to take forward public programming opportunities and external promotional events to specialist research and interest groups about our amazing collections and encouraging them to visit us to discover these for themselves.

Plate from Mark Catesby's 'Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands', 1731-1747 Postcard of Wampum snake and a red lilly.

Plate from Mark Catesby’s ‘Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands’, 1731-1747 Postcard of Wampum snake and a red lilly. From the Research Library Special Collections.