RLMH News: On track for preserving our historic collection

Since September 2011 we have been hard at work making changes to the RUSI Library of Military History (RLMH) under the three main areas of work, preservation, access and engagement. Here is a review of the last six month and an assessment of the Library's strategic plan, halfway in.

rlmh news

RLMH News February 2012

By Laura Dimmock-Jones, Librarian


Preserving the collection of the RUSI Library of Military History is challenging. The archives are housed in an historic building which is subject to fluctuating temperature and relative humidity. Since September 2011, procedures have been introduced to monitor the building and its environment. The temperature and relative humidity of the Library are checked every day. The building is checked for potential leaks or risks to the collection every month. We also monitor for pests such as spiders and silverfish which can damage paper.

The whole of the main Library has now been tidied and books have been shelved appropriately according to their size and shape to prevent warping. Our volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies have been retrained and provided with new tools to help them clean our books more effectively. We have also been removing book shoes and replacing them with archival tape temporary bindings. Those items that have lost their covers have been temporarily de-accessioned and carefully wrapped and stored for conservation in the future.

The Library has been fortunate enough to recruit an expert volunteer who is a retired rare books cataloguer. Carlo Dumontet is helping the Librarian to identify unique items and catalogue them appropriately. A considerable number of pre-1800 items have been found in the main stacks of the Library including some fascinating and rare books. We hope to display these in the Library in the near future.


Whilst the Library is a beautiful room, accessing the items on the shelves can be problematic. A large part of the Library's strategic plan has been about making access to the collection easier for our users. The biggest problem is the scheme of classification and finding items of the shelves. We will be introducing a new, much simpler classification scheme which will be accompanied by new signage, an accompanying map of the Library and amendments to the online catalogue.

The Library has many uncatalogued and partially catalogued items so we have also recruited two new interns from University College London specifically tasked with cataloguing and amending incomplete records.

A large part of providing access to the collection is ensuring circulation (issuing and returning items) runs smoothly. Users can now issue items to themselves using the PCs in the library. You only need your RUSI membership number to do this. If you have never used the Library before but would like to do so please contact the Librarian who will create a reader record for you. New members wishing to use the Library are entitled to an induction with the Librarian. If you would like to arrange this please email for an appointment.

New work spaces have been created in the gallery with computers linked to the catalogue and space for reading. As the library is used for conferences and events you can now check the Access page of the website to get an up-to-date timetable on our opening hours (http://www.rusi.org/about/library/access/) or alternatively you can telephone 0207 747 4999 for an automated message.


Raising the profile of the Library with members and the general public has increased engagement over the last six months. We keep statistics on the number of users and how they interact with the collection and have found an increase in users during the period. Regular users will know that we've overhauled the Library pages on the website and the Library has been featured in several of the industry publications.

The opening of the Bomber Command exhibition and the public viewing days were a great success and we would like to continue to provide exhibitions for both members and the general public in the future and we will keep members up-to-date via the News and Acquisitions page of the website.

The RUSI Archive

A new stream of activity, the RUSI archive, has been introduced over the last six months. So far the three quarters of the archival collection has been surveyed and a basic box list has been made. The records have been given archival quality enclosures and the cupboard in which they are housed thoroughly cleaned. The collection is a fascinating history of the Institute and its collections and we would like to integrate it into our exhibitions in the future.

The next six months

Over the next six months the work in the Library will continue. There is considerably more to be done, re-shelving, cleaning and cataloguing which will continue it to year two of the strategic plan. As well as working on all of the strategic areas we will also be applying for project funding for further conservation and engagement work in the collection.

If you have time you would like to volunteer to this fascinating collection please do contact the Librarian. You can also make a donation to our conservation work by following the button below.

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