National Maritime Museum Library

I’ve been contacted by several people about this – and when I looked into it, it is, frankly, a bit poor.

It’s all down to that bloomin’ Sammy Ofer wing the NMM are building. So desperate are they to make sure it’s all ready for the Olympics in 2012 that they announced that from the 5th January, they would close the Caird research library. Completely. For five months.

Now, at first sight that doesn’t seem so bad. A little library with a few crusty naval books and some old papers? What’s the big deal? And come on – the things need to be moved at some point, or they’ll get all dusty.

But the NMM is a repository for extremely rare documents and books that scholars can’t get anywhere else, and closing it all to public access just so they can get it all done on time seems a bit draconian to me. One feature I read darkly implied that the speed of the project was also due to the “the wishes of the major donor.”

There are several ongoing projects that have been badly hit by the closure – and if you’re an individual researcher hoping to make use of the facilities, forget it. The NMM, after a huge amount of pressure, have since agreed to keep the place open for two days a week for a little while longer before the work, but even when the place does re-open, it will have drastically reduced opening hours and only then by appointment only.

Is this really what being a museum is all about? Pandering to the lowest common denominator with top-hit crowd-pleaser displays for those too lazy to visit properly, cheap exhibitions (that Beside the Seaside show was plain poor), and a bunch of cafes and shops, at the expense of library and research facilities?

While the NMM was being renovated last time, they managed to put on the stunning Queen Elizabeth exhibition – in a tent, if memory serves. This time, everything’s just hunkering down while they rub their hands over the improved retail space. Anyone wanting to use the library will just have to whistle. I’m guessing new brooms at work here.

OK – I admit it – in 2012, there will be some more storage facilities (presumably for all the stuff considered too boring to actually go on display) and the library will be back. But by that time, it’s just possible a dangerous precedent will have been set – of limited opening hours, and limited access.

I’ve been reading about this from two different sources – the Greenwich Industrial History Society Blog and the Nelson and His World Forum Check them out for more details.


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