The annual National Libraries Day takes place on Saturday 7th February, encouraging people to use, love and join their local library.
Members of Parliament do not need to join the House of Commons Library; it is there for them, providing all the services of any modern library, and much more in the way of support, briefing and analysis. We held an event in the Reference Room of the Members’ Library on Monday 2 February where Members had the chance to take a #shelfie, speak to Library staff, and show their support for libraries generally. This is the third year we have organised an evening event to mark National Libraries Day but the first time we have used the Members’ Library rooms to host it.
Our Library’s impressive setting is on the main floor of the Palace of Westminster, very close to the Commons Chamber, ideally placed there by Charles Barry so we are on hand to brief Members about to take part in debates, or who have just come out of the Chamber. The Reference Room, like the rest of the Palace, was designed by Barry and decorated by Augustus Welby Pugin. This room was added to the main suite of Library rooms in 1855-56. It was originally known as the Map Room and contained roller maps and a large globe that stood there until 1945. It remains a traditional library reference room, as the centre of our quick reference facilities. In 2015 it still contains maps; now dominated by more modern Ordnance Survey sheets, alongside Wi-Fi, charging racks for Members’ mobile phones, a much-used colour photocopier and printer, and more traditional hard copy reference works frequently consulted by MPs, such as Election Guides and Who’s Who.
For our event we brought out a range of the Library’s older material to highlight areas of our collection that are less well known. Items on display included The Shires of England and Wales described by Christopher Saxton published c.1660, some volumes of Woodfall’s Parliamentary Reports, An Impartial report of the debates that occur in the Two Houses of Parliament covering 1794-1809, and Political Caricatures 1903 by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould. We also had themed selections of our loan stock on display, such as on Winston Churchill’s life, other political works including on the upcoming election, Britain through the ages and biographies of MPs.
The event also enabled us to discuss with MPs how we can best support them in their work, from our specialist online resources to the customer services team, who staff our Libraries, putting them in direct touch with our 60 subject specialists for confidential and impartial briefing.
Another way the Commons Library marked National Libraries Day was by jointly staffing a display in the vastly different setting of the modern Portcullis House atrium with the House of Lords Library. This is the fourth year of working with the Lords Library for National Libraries Day and provides a great opportunity for both Libraries to showcase recent Briefing Papers, written by the specialists in both Libraries, and informing users from across Parliament how we can help them. This can range from borrowing a book from us or through inter-library loan, to answering detailed research enquiries for Members preparing to speak in the Chambers, or consider legislation in each House.
You can find out more information about National Libraries Day from www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk.
Author: Laura McDonald