An interview with Eleanor Gawne, AA Head Librarian
20 March 2013 AA Library, London   Eleanor Gawne is the new Head Librarian at the AA, filling the shoes of Hinda Sklar who retired last year. To learn more about Eleanor and the exciting new developments that she has planned for the library, we met with her to do the following interview:   What were you doing prior to joining the AA?   Before joining the AA I worked at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, managing their Archive & Library. The collection is fabulous – some of my favourite things were the beautiful hand-drawn maps on vellum showing sea-monsters and cherubs blowing the wind, 18th century utilitarian drawings of shipyards with terraced houses for officers, much like Bedford Square, and the letters of Emma Hamilton to Horatio Nelson, with her erratic handwriting. It was an exciting time to work at the Museum as I was involved with the building of the Sammy Ofer Wing which opened in July 2011 – the Wing included a brand new library and archive store with over 9 kilometres of shelving. I worked with the architects, PMT and Softroom Architects on planning and designing the new reading room and library. I also implemented an online ordering system and was involved with writing library leaflets and managing large digitisation projects. The new library and its services were part of a drive to make the collections more accessible and better known. Before working at the National Maritime Museum I worked at the RIBA as Assistant Director (Drawings & Archives). At the RIBA I was in the curatorial team that created the Architecture Gallery at the V&A which opened in 2004. I thought creating a gallery and selecting objects to tell the story of architecture would be easy – it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was also involved with moving the RIBA archives and drawings to the V&A when the lease on the premises at Portman Square expired, and establishing the RIBA study room and stores at the V&A designed by Wright & Wright. So I know the RIBA collections pretty well, which is helpful now that I’m at the AA.   What are some of the changes that you have implemented in the library?   As many things were working perfectly well with a dedicated and enthusiastic team and under Hinda’s sound leadership, I haven’t had to make many changes. The lack of space for users, staff and collections is the main issue, and I’m hoping the Masterplan will resolve these. I’m pleased that we’ve revised and brought up-to-date the Library Collection Development Policy, which has just been approved by the AA Council. This spells out clearly what we do collect and why; and what we don’t collect and why – it’s really helpful to have a clear policy. We’ve also devised a Deed of Gift form for donations, which we ask everyone to complete so that we have a full record of provenance. I’m also aware that we need to improve the condition of the collections – some works are in serious need of conservation and preservation. This is something I’m hoping to tackle shortly.
My biggest current effort is working with colleagues from across the school who have formed the AA Collections Working Group; one of our priorities is to find suitable software to allow searching across the Library catalogue, Archives catalogue and the Photo Library database, as well as the other collections and databases held by the AA. We’re currently watching lots of programme demonstrations to make sure we find the right product. There are other things that the group wants to do, for example, sharing and prioritising our collecting criteria to ensure we don’t duplicate effort, and ensuring that authority names and subject headings are standardised across the collections.   What new developments should we look out for?   I would like to raise the profile of the AA Library: some of the collections are pretty rare and deserve to be better known both within the AA and in the outside world. This can only be done with enhanced cataloguing, and by putting the records on open search portals like worldcat.org and COPAC. Also digitising certain collections and exhibiting works is a good way of publicising the collection, as the opportunity arises. We are also keen to get more online resources and ebooks (budget permitting), as this really will improve the way that the School and Members access the collection. The Masterplan is an opportunity to reassess the user experience in the Library; the way that students access the collections and carry out research is changing constantly, and the Library must address these changes to ensure we continue to support the learning, teaching and research needs of our users.  
What is your favourite part of working in the Library?   I love the Special Collections that I’m responsible for – the first time I saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s handwritten dedication to the AA inside the front cover of Genius and the Mobocracy was thrilling! I particularly like the Modern Movement collection (my favourite period – that and postwar stuff). Some of the books from the 1920s and 1930s in the AA Library aren’t found in other library catalogues: a lot of the collection was acquired based on the teaching curriculum at the time, which is interesting in terms of the role of the AA within architectural education in the UK.   I also love working with a supportive and professional team: it makes me really appreciate how fortunate I am, to be working with wonderful collections and with wonderful people. My other favourite part of working in the Library are the users – it’s a great feeling being able to help someone find some relevant information or even just a book on the shelf! Of course it works both ways – it is also really stimulating to have the opportunity to learn from the Library’s users about new developments in architecture and design, and current research topics.   For more information: AA Library website AA Library Catalogue Notice welcoming Eleanor Gawne   Image Credit: Simine Marine