Day 7: Royal Geographical Society Library


Thursday, July 2, 2015
The Royal Geographical Society was our next stop and it was AMAZING. It wasn’t something that I was super excited about before coming to London because I didn’t know much about it.

Plaque on the door (via K. Emmons)
Plaque on the door (via K. Emmons)

The librarian, Eugene, has been there for 15 years and he made the objects come to life. Here’s a rundown of the stories.

The Society was founded in 1830 to promote and fund scientific geography (exploration). Have you heard of David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton, or George Mallory? They made trips to find the source of the Nile, the magnetic South pole, and the peak of Mt. Everest. No small tasks! Eugene actually showed us objects and maps from their expeditions! (No photos, unfortunately)

Here’s Dr. Livingstone who set out to find the source of the Nile River. His story sounds very similar to that of Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. (Mr. Kurtz was actually based on Joseph Conrad’s own experiences on a Belgian steamer, but the novella draws parallels between London and the Congo.)

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” (via Wikipedia)

Here is a photo of Ernest Shackleton who raced to make it to the South Pole. A Norwegian man beat him (Roald Amundsen), but Shackleton’s also famed for being a part of the Endurance crew.

Shackleton in 1917 (via Wikipedia)
Shackleton in 1917 (via Wikipedia)

And finally, George Mallory. George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew “Sandy” Irving climbed Mt Everest in 1924 to be the first ever to reach the peak. Unfortunately, they disappeared.

Did Mallory reach the top? (via Wikipedia)
Did Mallory reach the top? (via Wikipedia)

It wasn’t until 1999 that a climbing expedition found George Mallory’s body – he was frozen and preserved relatively well after 75 years. (YouTube video of finding the body)

Two major theories exist concerning if Mallory reached the top of Mt Everest: his wife’s photo was missing from his wallet, which he carried with the intent to leave at the summit; and his goggles were found in his pocket, suggesting that the pair were climbing down from the summit after sundown. Irving is said to have carried a camera, which would possibly prove if they reached the top. Irving nor his camera have ever been found. It wasn’t until 1953 that the first successful expedition reached the top of Mt Everest (Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay).

I’m super geeking out about these topics and I didn’t even know it was something I was interested in.

Eugene told their stories in a way that I now want to read more on the subjects! That’s what a great librarian does. He made this library experience for me. The intimacy of the space and the personal touches that Eugene gave as librarian were exceptional in my eyes. He made me realize that he’s the type of librarian I want to be. I don’t believe he had specialized knowledge before becoming a librarian at the Royal Geographical Society; he just learned about his collection. In learning about the collection he learned the above stories and was better able to tell us about them.

I’ve been told by several librarians including my academic advisor at IU that when I get to a new library with different collections, take time during every shift to learn a little bit more about those collections. It could be spending 30 minutes after lunch in the stacks physically looking at and touching the books on a single shelf. Overtime I’ll get to know the collection personally. It’s a living object – materials are added every day and they relate to each other. I want to be personable and interesting, but I also want to be knowledgeable.


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