Social Science at the British Library
A review of Social Science Resources at the British Library, London, United Kingdom.
As part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) PhD scholarship program at the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester, I was lucky enough to spend January to July 2012 as an intern in the British Library. My role was to create a web-based resource of case studies detailing materials in the Social Science collections. Before undertaking this proj ect I was unfamiliar with the range and depth of its holdings — my use of the Library’s services was limited to inter-library loan of books and its vast online newspaper archives. It quickly became clear that these aspects of the British Library were the tip of a colossal iceberg.
At first the task was quite daunting: millions of items, covering a range of social science disciplines, in a variety of different formats. While I use some social science informed methods in my research, I am above all a historian. Knowing where to begin in this enormous field was an intimidating prospect. Quickly, and fortunately, the task became more manageable after meeting the expert curators working in the department. All had experience with collecting, cataloging, and using the collections — some with decades of knowledge. If the primary significance of the British Library is the documents and resources it has both onsite and online, its secondary value is the expertise of the people who work there. From reading room staff to curators, the extent of familiarity with such a gargantuan amount of stuff is astounding. With their guidance I fumbled my way towards the most important and sometimes regrettably underused resources.
Mention the British Library to most researchers and they are usually aware of its remit in collecting a copy of every book published in Britain. This sole attribute makes it vitally important to researchers. Yet dig a bit deeper and you can find a whole host of items not caught by the traditional net of legal deposit. I decided to concentrate primarily on these elements in the collections I researched — some of which I will outline here.
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