Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to a 'bloggers preview' of the new Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum.
There's nothing I like more than the chance to browse through archive books or read old journals so I jumped at the opportunity to spend a couple of hours snooping round the NMM's library.
The visit gave me chance to try out the new entrance to the museum through the Sammy Ofer Wing - past the huge cafe which looks out onto the obligatory (but extremely tasteful) water feature and to the park beyond. It's a much more pleasant route into the museum, and eliminates the need to dodge the traffic on Trafalgar Road, but does rather lack the grandeur of the northern entrance.
The library is due to open fully from next Monday - it opened its doors a couple of weeks ago but for limited hours to enable the staff to get used to the new archive retrieval system and not be totally overwhelmed by requests. Apparently if the item is on the Greenwich site, they can now have it available for study in a maximum of 40 minutes of it being ordered, which sounds pretty efficient to me.
They were kind enough to dig out a few old maps of the King's Yard in Deptford for us to have a look at, as well as some of the other treasures that they keep nicely filed in their new environment-controlled purpose-built stores upstairs from the reading room.
Anyone can use the library - you simply have to register on the Aeon system here and then bring ID into the library to get your readers card, which will be valid for three years. Apparently the National Maritime Museum is the first place in the UK to use the US-developed Aeon system, through which archive requests are also made.
The library holds about a million ship plans in its archive in Woolwich, which are slowly being digitised in exquisite detail - some 4,000 are currently digitised and can be viewed on the ship plan viewer at the library which calls up the plans and allows close examination of the documents by zooming, panning and so on.
If you want to get copies of material to take away for research, I'm delighted to announce that photocopiers are obsolete as far as the Caird Library is concerned. Not only is it difficult to manhandle large bound manuscripts onto a photocopier without causing physical damage to them, the heat and light of the copying process is also very damaging to such fragile items. The library has a special book scanner that can copy the pages you want and either print them or put the files onto your USB stick.
Even without having any specific research to carry out, I'd be quite happy browsing the shelves of books in the reading room for hours at a time. This book that I picked off the shelf was fascinating with its photos of the British coastline in the late 1890s.
Bathing machines on Margate beach: