King’s College was founded in 1829. When it started at the Strand Campus, there were four separate libraries. It is the only King’s College site that is not based around a healthcare profession in some way. The libraries for the Strand Campus eventually ran out of room to expand their collections. This library opened in 2009 and allowed them to combine all four of the libraries into a single building. The building was originally the Public Records Office, which was the first fire-proof building in the country. When they moved in, they had no problem with load-bearing because it had been built to hold paper, but the shelving was built for closed-stacks, not the kind of open-stacks typical of an academic library. They also had to work with the wiring, given the current needs for large numbers of computers and other electrical equipment.
The Maughan Library has three-quarters of a million items and three hundred computers for the 11,000 students who use the Strand Campus. The Strand Campus focuses on the humanities, law, social sciences and a bit of engineering. They are looking to improve the group study areas, social areas and self-service is already in place. They are also already doing roaming reference, something that is currently under debate within academic libraries in the United States. They are also separating from IT services, which they are using as an opportunity to be more front and center within the university community.
Since we had only visited the libraries at Oxford University, which may be academic libraries but on a rather grand scale, it was a wonderful opportunity to visit another academic library in the UK. Admittedly, the Maughan Library is also a rather grand variety of academic library, inhabiting the former Public Record Office and in possession of significant special collections, but it is also a more typical academic library of the variety seen in the United States.
I enjoyed being able to see many of the items they have in their special collections and being permitted to look through them. It is interesting to see that academic libraries in the UK are experiencing similar reassessments of space and considering incorporating more social and group spaces into the library for students. However, unlike many academic libraries in the US, they do not seem to think it as necessary to eliminate the majority of the printed materials within the library to do so. The British seem somewhat more appreciative of the wealth of their present collections even under the threat of ever decreasing space, whereas US academic libraries seem a bit too enamored of digital resources and willing to throw out the books to make way for computers without considering historical context provided by those books. In many of the libraries we have visited here, the appreciation for the context of older materials has been obvious. It too often feels like libraries and people in the US do not share a similar appreciation for that context. If it is not old enough or unique enough to find a home in special collections and not new enough to be considered the latest and greatest, then libraries and people in the US seem too inclined to dismiss printed materials as no longer worth the paper on which the words are printed. The respect for the book as object seems much less in the US as well. These are interesting differences to note, and I think that because of my interest in rare books and special collections, I am more in line with the way of thinking I have seen over here. It has been an enlightening experience to recognize the differences as well as the similarities between the US and UK methods within libraries and in the way of thinking about books, archival and other materials.