At the beginning of June, Chawton House Library hosted a conference by the Independent Libraries Association. It was the 28th annual meeting but only the second time it had been ran as a conference with speakers from around the UK and beyond discussing various projects. The venue allowed delegates to explore the ‘Great House’ that Jane Austen knew as it marks the bicentenary of her death. The weekend included a talk on key rare items in the collection plus the Eliza Haywood exhibition, a tour of the gardens, and an opportunity to see book conservation taking place.
Under the banner ‘Bricks, Shelves, Books and People: Building for the Future’, there were talks on treasures kept in various institutions including Gladstone’s Library (Gladstone’s crenelated bookcases), The London Library (the Per Nozze collection) and the Gerald Coke Handel collection at the Foundling Museum. A major theme running through the entire conference was that of collaboration, perhaps best illustrated by a panel on ‘Shared Solutions’ by the Birmingham Assay Office, the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and the Typographic Hub Library, also based in Birmingham (see image below). They had specifically come together for the presentation and it was clear that working together with regards to promotion, exhibitions and general awareness would be beneficial all round.
The weekend was also open to those who were conducting research into independent libraries as well as those worked in them. Catherine Kerrigan, a doctoral student at the University of South Australia, explored the characteristics of the independent library and their differences to academic and public institutions, whilst Eve Hartley, a PhD candidate from the University of Huddersfield, gave a thought provoking talk on the impact of the Mechanics’ Institute movement on art, design and culture in the North of England.
The conference benefitted from a keynote speech by Mark Purcell, Deputy Director of Research Collections at the University of Cambridge. As Libraries Curator for the National Trust before moving to Cambridge, Mark brought a wealth of experience (and slides) and could have spoken for twice as long as his allotted one hour. When he discussed certain stately houses having to sell their book collection in the twentieth century, there was a strong resonance with the Knight Collection here at Chawton House Library.
It is hoped that both this conference and the one held last year at Bromley House Library in Nottingham will become templates for the future where colleagues from similar intuitions and with similar interests can come together to forge collaborations for the future.