Visit: Schlumberger Gould Research Centre and Churchill Archives Centre

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Schlumberger Draft” by Nigel Cooke is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The first of two visits in March was a joint adventure to the Schlumberger Gould Research Centre (SGR) and then to the Churchill Archives Centre.

SGR is housed in what can only be described as a ‘unique’ building in West Cambridge (see above!). We were welcomed to the visit by Rachel, the SGR librarian, and Miruna, their Graduate Trainee. (I mentioned Miruna’s own blog in my last post, but if you would like to read more, it can be found here). They also employ two other members of staff who are mainly responsible for SGR’s online library – very important for a company whose staff members work in more than 85 countries around the world.

Schlumberger is ‘the world’s leading provider of technology for reservoir characterization, drilling, production, and processing to the oil and gas industry’. This lends their library some distinct characteristics. Firstly, it serves professional workers, rather than students. This means that physically it is quite small, but it’s  a very welcoming and sociable space. It was designed with its own specific type of user in mind, so it features a multitude of magazines and newspapers (both on a digital reader and physical copies), comfortable sofas, and, most importantly, the best coffee machine on the site, which we got to sample later in the visit. The library also holds social events for the staff, including film nights. Secondly, its stock is very specialist, due to the technical nature of the work going on. Many items are purchased by the staff member themselves, and they are reimbursed later by their departments. In fact, until recently, the library didn’t actually have a book-buying budget, which seems totally alien to me!

After our library tour, Gary Oddie, a very enthusiastic gentleman from the Fluid Mechanics department, showed us around their playground… I mean research laboratory. I wasn’t very good at A-Level Chemistry when I was doing it five years ago, and my scientific knowledge has diminished further still since. However, Gary made lots of allowances for the gaps in our knowledge, and his enthusiasm was infectious. It’s always fun to see somewhere totally different to where I work, and SGR is definitely that.

This was followed by a chance to sit down and have a chat over coffee and cake with Rachel and Miruna. Rachel gave us a quick introduction to Schlumberger as a company and then Miruna spoke to us about what her job entails. For me, one of the most interesting things was to see the videos Miruna has been making about how to use the online library, using free Adobe Spark software. I thought this was definitely something that I could take into my current workplace, or any I am lucky enough to get in the future. Her videos looked really professional and we’re always looking for new ways to engage people with the information we’re trying to give them, so I’ve stored it in the back of my mind for the right time.

It was really interesting to see a commercial library for the first time as a GT. I’m attending an open day at CILIP HQ in April on commercial, legal and scientific libraries, so the SGR visit was definitely well-timed! I really enjoyed the visit and am looking forward to spending the day thinking about the different ways libraries can respond to their users and how they can design both a physical and an online presence which responds to their unique needs.

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There aren’t any Creative Commons shots of the Archives Centre on Flickr so have a nice shot of the college itself instead. “Churchill College” by John Lord is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After we’d had our coffee and cake, it was time to get in our taxi and head over the Churchill Archives Centre. We started our visit with a brief visit to the permanent Churchill – Founder and Foundation exhibition in the Wolfson Hall Foyer. What I managed to catch in our short visit was really interesting, and I would love to go back and finish it properly.

Next on the itinerary was to head up the stairs into the Archive Centre. The Centre was purpose built in 1973, thirteen years after the College itself was founded, to house Churchill’s papers – about 3000 boxes worth! He’s not the only person with extensive documentation housed there: there are also collections of papers from politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock, as well as famous scientists such as Rosalind Franklin and Lise Meitner.

Our tour guides for the visit were three lovely archive assistants – Julia, Natasha and Heidi. All three were really chatty and enthusiastic; it was clear how much they love their jobs, which is always good to see. They showed us into one of the reading rooms, where they had laid out some of the archive’s treasures for us to peruse. These included Churchill’s school reports (he was never very well-behaved – including eating too much at mealtimes!) and Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, which she donated to the Archives. The ladies also told us a little about the history of Churchill College and some recent exhibits which they had organised, including one about women in science to coincide with International Women’s Day. I have absolutely no experience with archives, so I enjoyed hearing about what they do with the collection and how they try to engage with people who might otherwise never set foot in the Centre. It would an absolute crying shame for these fascinating and important historical documents to be hidden away – I applaud the efforts of the Centre’s staff to share them as much as possible.

After we’d had a suitable gander at our own mini exhibition, we were taken for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour. The most striking thing about the strong rooms where the collections are housed is just how big they are! I think I mostly (wrongly) assume that archives are quite small, cramped places, but these are definitely not. Whilst we were behind the scenes, we got the opportunity to have a chat about the operation of archives and all the problems that come with them – everything from controlling the temperature to trying to catalogue photographs of people you’ve never seen before. A really interesting subject that came up was about what are called ‘born-digital‘ archives. The Archives Centre is going to be receiving Gordon Brown’s archive soon, but not in paper form – all his documents were created on computers and will be delivered on memory sticks. This raises all sorts of challenging questions about preservation and copyright, amongst others. I hadn’t encountered anything like this before, but I definitely plan to learn more about these issues and how they can be overcome.

The last part of the visit was also the most delightful – we got to have a glimpse at Stanley the Black Cat, aka Margaret Thatcher’s cat-shaped doorstop from Number 10. It was such an odd but totally charming thing to ask the Archives Centre to preserve, and it really did entertain us all. The perfect ending to a really lovely day.

As a final aside – one thing we learnt that did make me smile was that we were told that Churchill had wanted the College to be built in the neo-gothic style, but it ended up brutalist instead – oops!

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