Lorna Mitchell is the Head of the Library and Archives at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Scotland’s national collection of botanical and horticultural literature.
I left university with a degree in Biological Sciences and the knowledge that I wasn’t cut out for life as a scientist: what I was cut out for was less obvious! I had never thought about librarianship as a career, but having stumbled across it in the careers literature I applied for the Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship and Information Studies at the Robert Gordon University. To my surprise, given my lack of relevant experience, they agreed to take me on and I quickly realised that I had finally found my true calling…
On leaving RGU I got my first professional post in the Entomology Library at the Natural History Museum, London. After 6 very happy years in that post (they made me cut up cockroaches but I still loved it.) I made the jump to the Academic sector and the post of Natural Sciences Librarian at Queen Mary, University of London. When I’d been at QMUL for a few years (and I’m showing my age here) we began to see the development of electronic journals, many of which were appearing in my subject areas and so I took on an additional role developing the Library’s e-resources portfolio (I think this was mainly due to the Library management being so fed up of me complaining about access problems that it was just easier to give me the job of trying to sort them out.) In total I spent almost 10 years at QMUL before moving to my next post as Assistant Director (Academic Services) with the wonderful team in the Library at Brunel University where I developed an interest in all things Open Access and got my first taste of applying for and working on an externally funded project (the wonderfully named BRUCE project!)
Towards the end of 2012 the position of Head of Library Services at the RBGE came up and I was lucky enough to be the successful applicant, joining the team in January 2013. The post gave me the opportunity to take on a head of service role but in a library that’s small enough for me to still be able to do all of the things that I originally loved about working in libraries (I even get to sit on the enquiry desk sometimes.) It also gave me the chance to come home to Scotland making my mum very happy!
The RBGE Library is both a national reference collection and a research library supporting the scientific and horticultural work of the staff, students and international visitors at the Garden; we also support the Garden’s programme of public events and exhibitions. The Library collection includes more than 4,000 journal titles and approximately 60,000 books, of which around 4,000 make up the Rare Book Collection which includes items dating back to 1485. Library Services also includes the Archives which contain records, correspondence and artefacts from the Garden’s 344 year history and a significant collection of original art. There are 5 members in the team – 4 Library staff (including me) and a part-time Archivist.
There isn’t really such a thing as a typical day in the RBGE Library. The different roles that we have to fulfil, along with the fact that we are part of a relatively small organisation, mean that you never quite know what projects / challenges / opportunities might come along next. One day you might be helping to put together an exhibition, providing student inductions or retrieving items to be used as a backdrop for the filming of a television programme; the next you’re putting together a Records Management Plan, looking for ways to develop the existing volunteers programme or talking about how to measure the impact of collections at an international botanical meeting in Panama (sorry, couldn’t not mention that but, if it helps, those sort of trips don’t happen very often!)
Having said all of that, ultimately the key aspect of my role (I think!) is managing and developing the RBGE library and archive collections, and we currently have three big projects happening in this area. In a joint project with the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at the University of Edinburgh who have seconded their rare book cataloguer to us for 1 day a week, we are creating detailed catalogue records, with information on provenance, binding and much more, for all of the printed works in the RBGE Rare Book Collection. The records are being made available through our online catalogue and we will (hopefully) get them added to other sources, e.g. COPAC, as we go along. In our second project we are carrying out a preservation assessment survey across the Library and Archive collections. At the time of writing, this due to be completed by the end of 2014 and it will provide us with invaluable information on the nature and condition of our collections that will then be used as the basis for developing new preservation and conservation programmes. The final project has just been completed with the publication of a new book “Botanical Treasures” (available via the link and from all good bookshops) that aims to raise the profile of the Library and Herbarium collections at the Garden.
Early in my career I remember reading an article on professional development and thinking that I was doing it all wrong – I didn’t have a career plan and I’d stayed in every post for a lot longer than the recommended 3 years! Having said that, given where I now find myself and how much fun I’ve had along the way, moving to new roles as and when something that really interested me came up, I think I must have done something right!
Wow, such lovely illustrations this week! To contact Lorna you can leave a comment below, or find her on Twitter @law_mitchell.