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No going back: History Day 2017  

The fifth History Day will be taking place on 31 October and we cannot think of a better way to spend your Halloween. Started in 2014 in response to the rising need for libraries and archives to participate more heavily in promotion of collections, as well as the increasing reliance on new and different primary sources by postgraduate students, History Day has more than doubled in attendance in the past four years. This post will examine how the event has developed and discuss the highlights of this year’s History Day.

The Committee of London Research Libraries in History, a group of history librarians from around London, was founded in the 1980s by Ross Woollard of Senate House Library and Robert Lyons of the IHR Library. Meeting twice a year, the Committee allows member librarians to visit other libraries and learn about their collections, as well as share news.

Thanks to online catalogues and larger projects like COPAC, the online search that allows students to search more than 90 library catalogues at one time, and Archives Hub, a gateway providing access to thousands of archival collections, researchers can more easily locate collections vital to their research. However, there is the additional factor that information professionals are resources themselves and an opportunity to promote collections in person did not exist on a large scale. We decided to experiment with an event to fill that lacuna.

The first step in creating such an event was choosing the right time of year to hold it. After experimenting with January and March, we have settled on late October and November, a date that falls when many postgraduates begin looking for resources to support their dissertation and thesis ideas. The next step was finding the means to hold such an event, and the School of Advanced Study (SAS) has provided funding, as have our own institutions. After four years and five events, we have created a structure for preparations, including an advisory board, more involvement with support services like marketing and social media teams, and even a Sharepoint site for cross-departmental communications.

In addition to the open fair for libraries, archives and research organisations, we have held panels on topics useful and interesting to postgraduate and early career researchers. The first History Day covered many basic topics, which have over the years become more focused on three specific topics: libraries and archives, digital history and public history. We have brought in more speakers from outside organisations, which in turn has brought in more attendees.

For example, a pannellist on the last year’s public history panel, Dr Alix Green (University of Essex), actually brought her whole history class with her. This year’s panels include SAS‘s own Professor Sarah Churchwell, Professor Jane Winters, Jonathan Blaney and Danny Millum of the Institute of Historical Research and other speakers to be announced soon. We have also experimented with themes at some of the events. Working with the North American Collections Group at the November 2015 event, we labelled all libraries and archives with American Collections to create an ‘American Trail’.

SAS has also supported History Day by hosting and supporting the event website, History Collections. This website allows us to promote upcoming events, archive past events and spread the news about repositories, collections and events through a blog. The blog has allowed us to highlight themes and topics across collections. Last year we borrowed the theme from the Being Human festival, which was ‘Hope and Fear’. This year you can find posts on the History Collections blog about the supernatural, including a post about the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature in Senate House Library, records on witchcraft at the London Metropolitan Archives and vampires at the UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, among other fun and interesting posts.

Attendance has slowly grown, from just 66 at the first event to nearly 200 last year. Additionally as more libraries, archives and research organisations participate, more attendees show up.

Feedback has been consistently positive with each event, both from the libraries and archives and from attendees. We have taken advice from this feedback, as well, and have reduced the number of panels and speakers to allow for more time in the fair, for example.

History Day is still an evolving project and we are exploring ways to make the day more useful for researchers and for information professionals. We are open to suggestions and in the meantime, are looking to expand themes for the event blog.

Additionally, we will be extending the reach of the event outside of London, both among organisations and attendees at History Day and on the blog. This year, we are very happy to welcome first time participants including Archives Hub and Jisc, the Historic England Archive & Library, St Peter’s House Library of the University of Brighton, Gladstone’s Library, US History collections at the Bodleian Libraries and the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) Archive Collections from outside London, as well as the Brunel University Special Collection, the CILIP Library & Information History Group, Conway Hall, The Feminist Library, History of Parliament, the King’s Fund Information & Knowledge Services, the Linnean Society of London, the Royal College of Physicians Library and Archives, Royal College of Nursing Library and Archives, the Stationer’s Company Archive, and the University of Westminster Archives from London. And we will be welcoming our first European organization, Archives Portal Europe, this year!

Free registration is open to everyone now. We hope to see you on 31st!

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