Report: CILIP Y&H visit to Search Engine, 28 Nov 2016

By: Eric Howard, Information Services Librarian, Leeds Beckett University

Search Engine is the hugely appropriate name for the library and archive service delivered by the National Railway Museum. Their meeting room overlooks the main exhibition hall and the turntable; this proved to be an instant hit for some of the group!

We started with an excellent talk by Karen Baker, the librarian and manager of Search Engine. Karen provided an outline of the services Search Engine offers. These included research services, family history, an image service providing an important source of income for the library, support for curators and exhibitions by providing artefacts for exhibitions and contributing to supporting explanatory material. Karen also explained that she was the National Railway Museum’s champion for the Institute of Railway Studies, facilitating events and networks to raise the profile of the Institute and the research possibilities that Search Engine offers.

Karen then handed over to Peter, who gave us a comprehensive and fascinating tour through some of Search Engine’s collections. Over the past few years, the intricate connections between railway and social history has gained more prominence, through publications aimed at popular audiences and documentaries such as the BBC’s Railways: The Making of a Nation. This tour highlighted the impact railways had on social development and also the sheer range of material held by Search Engine.

We were privileged to see original colour engineering plans of locomotives from the early 1900s, the first ever child’s drawing of a locomotive in a letter he’d written after witnessing the Rainhill trials, original plans of carriages and stations and a snapshot of the beautiful posters and artwork produced by railway companies and British Railways. A particular highlight for me was Peter’s showcase of the tickets and timetables collections. Search Engine contains a copy of every edition of Bradshaw’s timetables from 1839 – 1961, and copies of timetables produced by British Rail after 1948. Peter showed us the first edition of Bradshaw’s, which was very thin due to the small number of railway lines in operation in 1839! You may think timetables have a pretty niche target research audience, but Peter highlighted the fact that they were extremely popular. Two examples included authors wanting to research departures from stations as part of research for their novel, and genealogists tracing an ancestor’s journey. This shows how wide ranging and relevant these collections are!

Karen and Peter also discussed the ongoing development of a new discovery system, which would search across current catalogues and systems to enable users to quickly and easily uncover content from across the collections.

This was a fascinating insight into the support a library and research service can offer to the successful running of a museum, and the wide range of skills that staff need to deliver these services. Thank you very much to Karen and Peter for a wonderful afternoon!

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