Greenwich National Maritime Museum Library

On Monday, July 20, our class took a boat down the River Thames to the Greenwich National Maritime Museum Library ( We spoke with Hannah, the archive and manuscript librarian, who shared a lot of useful information with us. It makes sense that this library would be in existence since 1937, in a country with such a strong sea presence. The library has public funding as well as private. The entrance to the reading room is a rotunda, named after the founder of the library, whose donations provided the basis of the collection, Sir James Caird.

The use of this library is free to the general public, but the users do have to be over the age of 16.The library boasts over 8,00o items in the Rare Books collection and the largest collection of navigational charts and maps. People utilize this library for information on immigration, genealogy, navigation, piracy, astronomy, voyages, exploration, Merchant and Royal Navy, as well as naval architecture. This library has 3,000 to 4,000 visitors every year, and 16,000 to 18,000 virtual visitors who utilize the electronic library and online public access catalog (OPAC).
We also learned that the Maritime Library utilizes MARC and AACR2 cataloging standards that have been heavily adapted to suit their collection, they also in corporate archive and museum metadata standards This library used to be open 6 days per week, but now that it is undergoing massive renovations, it will only be open for 3 days out of the week. By 2011, or 2012 at the latest, the library should return to its regular operating hours, and it will be improved with a new reading room and enhanced storage facilities.

As other members of the library staff took time to show us some of the more unique pieces in the manuscript and rare book collection, some items really stuck out to me. The museum has an original signal book, a book that sailors use to describe all of the codes and flags that they use to communicate, this would have been thrown overboard in the event of a battle. If one was recovered by an enemy, the whole system would have to be re-invented. There were letters from the Lord Nelson as he was working to prevent a mutiny in 1757. There was written proof of how easily a privateer could be swayed toward piracy.

There are even carefully drawn maps that depict California as an island, which gives us a great idea of how these sailors viewed the world. One of the more remarkable pieces are Cree's journals which detail his experience with a narrative and water color illustrations. One of the librarians mused that life out in the sea left much to the imagination, there is nothing more to do than to write, draw and look into the sky. If such thoughtful and meaningful artifacts can result from this lifestyle, I think we should all give it a try sometime.

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