Friday 2 December 2016

Visit to the Wellcome Collection Library

On 7 July members of CILIP Thames Valley met at the Wellcome Collection Library in London for a tour organised by Sonja Kujansuu, one of our event officers. Many thanks to Ruth Dabbs for her account of the visit!

Our tour guide was Danny, who had worked at the Library for 18 years. He knew all there was to know about the library, plus a few interesting facts! First, he gave us some background. The Wellcome Library was founded to house the collections of Henry Wellcome, a US pharmacist and philanthropist, who was interested in packaging, design and topography, though not necessarily medicine, and would buy William Morris books for inspiration. In 1880, he joined his college friend Silas Burroughs in setting up a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. They were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark 'Tabloid', as previously medicines had been sold as powders or liquids, and is thus credited with inventing  the word. Henry died in 1936 and his money was used to set up the Wellcome Trust with the aim of benefiting human kind. The Trust is worth £18bn and gives away around £600-700 million in grants every year, specialising in backing the most innovative projects.

The Library exists as part of Wellcome Collection, and is funded by the Wellcome Trust. It has 80 staff working in cataloguing, systems and digitisation and content covers medicine and many other facets related to it such as plants, food, gender, sex, complementary health and physical and mental health. Most of the collection is on-site, although a small collection is off-site in Cheshire. The Library is free to join and open to all. The collections cover items from 20th and 21st centuries and older historical items. There are many wondrous items such as numerous historical pamphlets on advertising, drugs and annual reports, plus comics and criminology, and plans are afoot to digitise this collection. A mix of the Barnard system and The National Library of Medicine are used for cataloguing, which makes it quite complex and only the librarians are trusted to return a book to the shelf!

The Wellcome Library was a real eye-opener and we were also informed about The Wellcome Trust exhibitions, such as the recent ones on the Voice and another one on Consciousness. The galleries are open late on a Thursdays and on the first Friday of month, you can enjoy a cocktail too. The Library also run talks and recently hosted talks on Vegetarian Restaurants in Victorian London and The Dangers of 18th Century Cosmetics!

Post-tour, we retired to the Bree Louise for a spot of networking and a pint!

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