My Work as a Special Collections Librarian

Hope McClean, Franciscan International Study Centre


 My interest in Special Collection libraries was first ignited after I graduated from Hull University with a BA Hons in English Literature and Language. I was employed for a year at the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, Cumbria where I worked as a Museum Assistant and a Library Assistant in the Wordsworth Library. This is where my passion for cataloguing and accessioning artifacts, manuscripts and rare books began. I also learnt how to answer in-depth enquiries on Wordsworth and Romanticism. This post enabled me to combine my love of literature with an enthusiasm for working in special interest libraries. From there, I decided to undertake a Masters in Library and Information Science at Aberystwyth University, Wales. I particularly enjoyed the module on An Introduction to Rare Books Librarianship. After this I moved to Kent to work as a Local Services Librarian for Kent County Council. I was lucky enough to expand on my interest and experience in special collections by working one morning a week for a year in Canterbury Cathedral Archives. It was there I continued to develop invaluable local studies enquiry and research skills. All of this interest and experience led to my application for the post of Librarian at the Franciscan International Study Centre (FISC).

The Franciscan Centre teaches Franciscan Studies, theology and spirituality as well as offering conferences, retreats, lectures and distance learning courses. The Centre has its own chapel and celebrates mass daily. A community of friars lives on site which gives the Centre a uniquely family feel. The Centre also contributes to the local community by celebrating mass every Sunday with local people, visitors and of course residents. We also send donations to the local food bank weekly.

The library at FISC holds around 66,500 volumes as well as journals, manuscripts and rare materials. The collection includes materials on Franciscan Studies, Theology, Biblical Studies, History and Ethics amongst others. Only a third of the collection is currently catalogued, so a large part of my role is to put the material into the web based KOHA library management system.

As many of you will be aware, there is no such thing as a typical day for a Special Collections librarian! In my role as the Librarian at FISC, Canterbury I act as the first point of contact for students, visitors and academics. I take on responsibility for all internal and external enquiries to the library. An example of an enquiry I have had today is from a nun of Minster Abbey. She has recently been made Community Librarian there, and she is keen to meet with a local theological librarian to share good practice. She is coming for a visit next week to see how we do things here. I am hoping to make a return visit to the library at Minster Abbey in due course.

Also this week I have been researching St Blaise for a user. St Blaise is the patron saint of throat illnesses, animals, wool combers, and wool trading and his feastday is February 3rd. We have a considerable amount of material on the patron saints here; and of course I have also been directing the user to online information sources too.

I work with academics to select resources and build up a high quality collection, in order to support their research and the studies of students and visitors. I also provide information literacy training and research support services to FISC’s staff and students. I manage the everyday tasks of the volunteers, which involve cataloguing, shelving and repairing materials. I accept and process donations to the library. I also train staff and students in information retrieval skills.

One of my key tasks is to establish which rare, old and valuable books and manuscripts need conserving. The Centre holds historically important fragile material from the late Middle Ages that we are very keen to ensure is stored appropriately. With that in mind, I have been liaising with local conservators and book-binders.

I have set up a Library Committee to discuss and develop a Collection Policy. I am currently updating and renewing our journal subscriptions, as unfortunately many of our subscriptions lapsed when SWETS went bankrupt. I am also involved in setting up reciprocal library borrowing and establishing an effective Interlibrary Loan system that is beneficial to both us and other theological libraries. I am currently investigating how other study centres manage and promote their collections. I am also updating the library website in order to attract more visitors to the collection.

On a personal level, I am keen to expand my professional development by revalidating my Chartership and becoming involved in CILIP activities, especially those relating to special interest libraries. I am passionate about special collection libraries, and I think this commitment and enthusiasm as well as a flexible approach and a sense of humour helps me get the most out of my current role.


Refer 32 (1) Spring 2016


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