Today we visited the Maughan Library at King’s College Strand Campus in London. I enjoyed having the opportunity to visit a UK academic library. It was interesting to see what features were similar to the library at the London School of Economics, which I have been visiting as part of my research project, and to compare these to academic libraries back home. Overall, many of the services and resources seemed very similar to those that would be found in academic libraries back in North America. But there were some unique differences relating to the building itself.
The building which currently houses Maughan Library was acquired by King’s College in 2000. Prior to this acquisition, the building sat empty for 10 years. From 1850 until 1990 the building had been home to the UK Public Records office (now The National Archives). The building is actually a Crown building, but King’s has a 99-year lease (so they are staying put for the foreseeable future). The building had been designed and built to meet the needs of the Public Archive. The physical structural needs of library and information systems are so dependent on their function. They can be very different for different type of information organizations, and can drastically change over time. The needs of a Victorian records office, with immovable iron shelving, limited public access, and security measures such as heavy iron doors (to prevent both theft and fire damage) are not necessary, and indeed are almost detrimental, to the functioning of an academic library.
In addition, this building is legally considered to be of historical significance, meaning that many aspects of the building cannot be altered. The constraints of being a modern academic library in a building with protections based on its historical significance are obvious. This problem is perhaps especially prevalent for UK libraries as compared to North American libraries, as there are so many older buildings here. I thought Maughn handled this challenge of these constraints particularly well, by creating a modern, appealing interior that still maintained the historical facade as well as the spirit of interior design elements. For example, the Public Record’s very heavy doors were taken down and hung on the wall next to the current office doors, rather than continuing to be used.
Only one room has been preserved with the heavy door and iron shelving just as it was prior to 2000, for historical purposes.
The rest of the rooms had their heavy doors and shelves removed, and have been converted to study and stack space, including knocking down walls to create more open space.
But of course, one feature of the Public Records office that was still of use for this academic library was a beautiful reading room.