Recently I was asked to contribute a piece about the Powerhouse Museum’s Research Library to the Collections Australia Network.
CAN links collecting institutions across Australia and provides online services to professional and volunteer workers involved with public access collecting institutions. These services are particularly beneficial to small and medium-sized collecting institutions in regional Australia. For more information contact CAN manager Ingrid Mason or outreach officer Sarah Rhodes.
Here is the piece I wrote. Bear in mind that it’s written for an audience of librarians and has library-speak sprinkled throughout. In spite of that I think it gives an accurate picture of the Research Library. Besides, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wax lyrical about its amazing collection:
“The Powerhouse Museum and its Research Library began at the same time, in 1880.
The Library collection has been developed in parallel with the Museum object collection, the purpose being to reflect what and how the Museum collects. With a content that underpins exhibitions and programmes, the Library principally supports curatorial research. It also supports the corporate objectives of Museum management.
Since 1986, the Research Library has contributed to Libraries Australia and its predecessors. In 2005 it commenced membership of the National Library’s LADD service, which has streamlined the Inter Library Loan process and markedly increased borrowing requests from other libraries.
Aeronautical history, design, antiques, ceramics/pottery, costume and costume history, technology and society, numismatics, philately, textile crafts, textile making, music, interior decoration, jewellery, photography, physics, glass, graphics, fashion design, furniture, museology…the diversity of subject areas makes it hard to describe the Library’s collection. Perhaps it’s best summed up as eclectic: technology and decorative arts intersecting within a social history context.
Over the last 129 years, it has been growing steadily through a combination of purchases and donations. There is virtually no weeding, as older publications are indispensible in providing a record (ie snapshot) of a particular era. Thus the Research Library’s collection presently consists of approximately 40,000 items that include books, serials, and audiovisual material. These are catalogued to the third (and highest) level of description within AACR2, using the Dewey and LCSH classification systems. The aim is for browsability, which suits our internal clients. Even when Dewey numbers have changed, we’ve retained the earlier sequence because it is easier for our users. Some numbers within the museology subject area have been re-located, but we retain the older classification as it enhances browsability of the museology collection. In common with many special library collections, idiosyncrasies and in-house conventions are maintained. For instance, following the request of curatorial staff many years ago, books on pottery and porcelain are arranged by country rather than by material or forms.
This style of cataloguing has resulted in a vibrant collection that is highly accessible. The detailed descriptions allow for intricate calibrations that result in rich returns when searching. As a reference librarian, I am constantly surprised and delighted by unexpected connections in subject areas. As for the Library staff, our years of experience as users and interpreters of the Research Library’s resources have provided us with an instinct for knowing what fits the collection and what does not. We are fortunate to be able to say that the Library collection is a joy to work with. “
Although this is a Research Library for Powerhouse Museum staff, members of the public may visit by appointment. Just email me or phone (02) 9217 0258 to set up a time.