Day 2: Introduction to Senate House

It is a grand building

How do I start? First days are always awkward; who do you sit next to at the introduction talk. Everyone is quiet, possibly nervous. There needs to be someone to say hello first, to be the first one to help themselves to coffee or tea.

Who will you meet?

Susan started the conversation going. And then turns out Mary from the Gathering was there as well. And all of a sudden I find myself surrounded by people doing European bookbinding, and we all start talking, relieved the silence is broken.

After Karen Attar’s enlightening , if not somewhat lengthy, talk on the creation of Senate House Library, we all trooped to our respective rooms for the start of what promises to be a very heavy week of learning.

on our way to one of the reading rooms

Walking into the reading rooms of Senate House fulfills all my childhood dreams: perfect library shelving filled to capacity with books, right up to the ceiling; glass fronted paneled doors, nooks and crannies, stairways to heavenly balconies lined with more books, hushed sounds on the muffling carpet.


It is not a place that invites noise. If I worked here I wouldn’t be putting music on like in the Braidwood library.

The days seem long; we sit in the dark watching slides and Prof Pickwoad drones on enthusiastically. No, he doesn’t drone. It’s just that we lack air, I have a cold and we sit in the dark. He is so knowledgeable that there isn’t enough time for him to impart all of his knowledge in an hour and a half. He speaks fast; we can’t keep up with him. Neither do we dare ask questions.

There is so much information to absorb. As incredible as it sounds book bindings are as different from each other as say, flowers. A book may look like any other book, but once you know what to look for, how to look for it, life is no longer the same.

Our room is on the fourth floor, close to the conservation department – I was going to visit, in fact I stepped in there and spoke to someone, but at the end of the day, we just all troop home. ( for your information, it is a very, very small space) You need a library card to access these reading rooms.

We have breaks during the day. Mostly we talk about the course, getting to know each other only a little. Prof Pickwoad’s enthusiasm is contagious. I am sure that I understand everything he has said; but have I stored it? It all makes sense now; will it make sense to me in two weeks?

I need to get my hands on some material. I need to make sewing examples.  I need to be able to decipher my notes.

When you talk to the Prof you get a sense that this is an all consuming passion. He’s got some grand project on the pipe line involving lexicons and databases and global cultural co operation.

It is Friday; I am in a pub full of men. I thought I might have gone to a men’s only bar, I was a bit worried.  Now that I have a seat by the window, and there are three other women in here I don’t feel so bad….

Anyway. You can’t help joining in with the Prof ‘s enthusiasm. What a life he must lead: going from library to library, collection to collection looking at bindings, trying to determine their provenance.

Thank goodness I did a lot of the prerequisite reading. At least I can understand the technical terms he uses. Amongst the 12 students, Julie (ex NLA now Bodleian), Janet (Lambeth House Library), Catherine (York Uni Library) and I are the only binders. Morgan is a conservator in training from the States and Dianna works in digital preservation in Baltimore.

The pub I am currently in is very noisy, playing australian music. the crowd has dispersed, there are two more women. But I am hungry. So I will go find the tapas bar. More will be forthcoming.



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3 responses to “Day 2: Introduction to Senate House

  1. Cath

    Exciting! And exhausting… Prof. Pickwoad sounds wonderful.


  2. Catherine

    you are there with the lovely NLA Susan? I did a project with her in 2006 for the cultural heritage management program. Tell her the scarecrow sends her regards to Dorothy!


  3. Pingback: Das Kapitalbund: at last! | Bookish Things to think about

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