Dr Nick Barratt, previously head of medieval, early modern, legal, maps and photographs at The National Archives, is now responsible for developing Senate House Library’s collection and public engagement strategy.
It was an enormous pleasure and privilege to take up the post of associate director of collections and engagement at Senate House Library on 6 July, having left my previous job managing several specialist collection teams at The National Archives. As an undergraduate in the last decades of the 20th century I spent many studious hours on the 6th floor using the history collections, and was delighted to notice that the wind still howls a melancholy tune most of the time.
On telling people about my new role, the initial reaction is usually, ‘Why are you going to work in a library? You’re an archivist!’ I then tactfully point out that I’m not an archivist either, but a historian who really doesn’t mind where I work as long as there are collections to explore and promote. This new job combines both those roles perfectly.
Since leaving Kings College London with a PhD in medieval state finance, I’ve spent my entire professional career researching in archives, libraries and museums and therefore understand the importance of collections, and the means of access to them. This is absolutely vital within an academic environment, especially when the skills required to retrieve information from catalogues are sometimes confused with separate analytical research methodology and techniques – ‘search’ and ‘research’ being very different. Part of my role will be to develop training programmes, induction sessions, workshops and open days that support users of Senate House Library in both activities.
The main part of my job will be to develop an integrated development strategy for the collections, so that we build up a unique range of resources across our 14 main subject areas – physical and electronic – that complement the archives and special collections; this will continue to make Senate House Library a unique and compelling research destination.
This will also include a digitisation programme that balances the need to bring in commercial revenue under licence, with the development of digital scholarship to ensure new digital research assets are created, based on the highest quality metadata and innovative tools with which to mine it. Equally, the need for deeper collection knowledge will require a new generation of subject guides to promote source linkage within and outside Senate House Library, thus fostering more effective and innovative research.
However, the second half of my job title – engagement – is also appealing as it allows researchers the opportunity to work with our librarians and staff to showcase both our collections, and the research outputs related to them. We are planning a major programme next year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and will formulate a longer-term exhibition and events programme that is aimed at academic and non-academic users. Senate House Library is uniquely placed at the heart of Bloomsbury to engage with our neighbours, as well as other cultural institutions in the surrounding area.
Putting all these elements together, I’d like to think that Senate House Library will be viewed as a key academic research hub, serving the needs of the various colleges and institutes that make the University of London one of the greatest academic institutions in the world.
Dr Nick Barratt’s main historical subject area is medieval history, with particular reference to 13th-century government and the impact of Magna Carta. He has worked as a broadcaster, and has authored several books on wide ranging subjects including London’s suburbs, the Titanic and most recently pre-Cold War espionage. Dr Barratt was involved in developing, researching and presenting ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ for the BBC and is a recognised expert in the fields of genealogy and house history, in which many of his TV and radio appearances have come. His previous role at The National Archives was head of medieval, early modern, legal, maps and he is currently a teaching fellow at the University of Dundee.