Meet the librarians

Materials World magazine
,
10 May 2019

What characterises a librarian? We speak to the IOM3 Librarians about a proud history of cataloguing and sharing technical information.

What characterises a librarian? Is it, like Terry Pratchett’s librarian, someone who has turned into an orang-utan, the better to reach books on high or distant shelves? Or is the defining characteristic of the 21st Century information professional the ability to extend tentacles in multiple directions, accessing and retrieving information from whatever medium and on whatever topic might present itself?

The origins of the IOM3 information and library services go back to the earliest years of the Iron and Steel Institute (ISI). In 1869 there was neither librarian nor library – the whole purpose of the fledgling ISI was for members to record and exchange technical information on subjects where literature was relatively sparse. However, as ISI Librarian and Head of the Information Department in the 1960s, Mr Morris Pearl commented, ‘The spirit animating these services was present at the inaugural meeting, held in 1869, when Isaac Lowthian Bell, replying to the Duke of Devonshire, looked forward with the “utmost satisfaction upon the opportunity which this Institution will afford of promoting … friendly and constant intercourse and exchange of opinions among the members of the trade”’. This objective was briskly pursued through meetings, journal publications and lists or abstracts of the foreign literature until a new concern emerged – how to organise the growing body of knowledge.

One of the very first sets of amended rules in 1870 envisaged a member library, and read, ‘all books, drawings, communications, models and the like shall be accessible to all members and associates, according to the bye-laws. The council shall have the power to deposit the same in such place or places as may be convenient to members’.

Establishing a centre

Activities of the Institute, its journals and research committees all showed this same desire for a member information service. In 1881, a surplus of £112 was allocated and a library duly established in Victoria Street, London. By 1884, ISI Secretary, J S Jeans, had compiled a catalogue of the ISI library that extended to 54 pages of inter-listed author, title and subject entries.

Alongside the £933 for publishing expenses and £225 for editing and translating, the ISI statement of accounts for 1892 lists, ‘purchases for library and office furniture, £12 6s 6d’, and the following year, six whole pages were needed to itemise additions to the library just for the second half of 1893.

Similarly, the newly formed Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (IMM) recorded payments in 1894-1895 of £23 for library purchases and £33 9s 6d for maps, and reported at its fourth Annual General Meeting, after listing the papers presented at its own Ordinary Meetings, ‘The question of abstracting from other journals has not been lost sight of, but it has not yet been deemed advisable by the council to carry the scheme into effect. The nucleus of a library has been formed, and proceedings are exchanged with the following (seven) societies – ISI … FIMinE …  American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) … In addition, the council has purchased a complete series of Transactions of AIME, which forms a most useful reference on all subjects allied to the interests served by the Institution’.

Back at ISI, the secretaries of the Institute successively acted as librarians in these early years until the appointment of Richard Elsdon as Librarian in 1908, who was in this position until 1951. In 1938, the libraries of ISI and the Institute of Metals were amalgamated to form the Joint Library, in the interests of members of both institutes. This was the basis of the current Materials Library, incorporated in the National Materials and Mining Archive (NMMA) at the Grantham Centre. Similarly, the libraries of the Institution of Mining Engineers and the IMM shared premises in Finsbury Circus, London, between the wars, and were evacuated together to Derbyshire before going their separate ways in the 1950s. The IMM library eventually formed the Minerals and Mining component of the IOM3 NMMA.   

What has all this to do with today’s young materials scientist, metallurgist, mining engineer or exploration geologist? In the 1990s, the pattern of abstracting and subject-indexing a physical library to produce the computerised databases Metadex (Institute involved 1966-1996) and IMMAGE (1979-present) was retained by IMM but abandoned by the Institute of Materials in favour of a team of technical specialists offering information and signposting to members and the public. Hence, today we have the indirect IMMAGE database – still coupled to a world-class library on minerals and mining with its traditional team of abstractors and orang-utan librarian to scramble up and down the ladders – and the direct Materials Information Service, backed by a core reference collection on materials and a librarian capable of tracking down information from a multitude of sources.

The Materials Information Service team currently comprises metallurgists, a polymer specialist, access to other materials specialities within the Institute, and a materials specialist librarian, the Senior Information Advisor. Originally conceived as a telephone hotline service, the team now receives most of its stream of enquiries from a contact form on the IOM3 website.   

A new digital library of IOM3 publications is beginning to take shape as the Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute and other IOM3 volumes from 1869 onwards are scanned and made available – titles, authors, abstracts and keywords added by, guess who?, the librarians. Some things never change. The principles of dissemination of information remain to this day.
 

Meet the team
 

Senior Information Advisor – Materials – Hilda Kaune

I have been in this position for a good number of years. My work involves dealing with information retrieval to satisfy the needs of our stakeholders. I very much enjoy this because it is so varied, interesting, challenging and unpredictable. I usually have three or more projects on the go at the same time.

I deal with materials technical enquiries received on a daily basis which, depending on their nature, are circulated to the preferred or best member of the team of materials advisors of the Knowledge Exchange. Responses are then channelled to the enquirer very promptly. I also receive library-related enquiries that could range from a verification of a citation, supplying a list of references, document requests, biographies, locating a memorial lecture, identifying the first female member of the Institute, circulating a recent report and so on.

Currently I am involved with the IOM3 digitised library, where we are dealing with IOM3 and predecessor organisations’ publications. However, the aim is not to digitise the whole library, as it would be an impossible task. In the last few years, there have been several offers of printed donations, for instance from Tata Steel Swinden Technology Centre in Rotherham, and Firth Brown Tools Ltd Speedicut Reference Library, courtesy of Marshalls Carbide Ltd – part of Mincon Group plc – in Sheffield.

In addition, I also deal with the Institute’s archive. This is a collection of artefacts, photographs and documents related to the history of the Institute. For the recent IOM3 Inaugural Day, two display cases were organised of Sir Henry Bessemer artefacts, which are placed in the Bessemer Suite at the Institute headquarters in London. A third case was added to the Safety Lamps Collection.
 

Information Advisor – Frances Perry

I’m Frances. I provide technical information on minerals and mining. In London that now means producing metadata for the planned virtual library, while in Grantham I look after the paper-and-database mining library. I’m currently still busy cataloguing two recent hydrometallurgical and mineral/mining donations, and I help Hilda with the materials side in between enquiries and shelving new material.

To the Grantham staff, I’m the person who hogs the photocopier with a pile of disintegrating books and journals just when they want to print or, worse still, who emails/phones to beg anyone available to dig out and copy papers for requesters. The accounts staff find me bursting into their office with enquirers’ credit card details, invoices from outside abstractors or division board expense claims. At Materials World, I disturb the calm by brewing coffee, rummaging in my cupboard or discussing metadata or IMMAGE with Head of Publishing, Katherine Williams. On the plus side, as a geologist, I can tell you all about how the Earth cooks up mineral deposits – think Bake-Off writ large.

So, yesterday I toiled in the grubby, cluttered Boilerhouse journal store – alias ‘paradise’, as a happy researcher recently tweeted – all of which has been interfiled but still needs some shifting up. I ran up to chilly Unit 17 only to retrieve and photocopy an article, shelve a few books, check a reference for an enquirer and search the gleaming new stacks for dog-eared ancient files of trust fund documents. Today I’ve opened the Back Office and Front Office software to work through Katherine’s spreadsheet of OneMine references before carrying on with Trans. IMM vol.105, 1996 – six records an hour is the target, dodging between the scanned text and its record to add abstract and keywords, trying to ignore the growing journal accessions heap behind me.

Find out more about the Institute's library services here