Case Study: Natural History Museum – RIBA Stage A Feasibility
The LAC Group was recently invited by the Natural History Museum to take part in a library consultancy exercise, looking at current accommodation for library collections, library staff and visiting readers and researchers/academics.
The NHM had been working for some time on a library strategy and needed both to test this and to explore additional operational and collection storage options. The exercise took the form of a Stage A Feasibility, following the standard RIBA guidelines, and we were accompanied by 3 other organisations – Logistics Simulation, Capita Symonds and Schmidt, Hammer Lassen. As well as involvement in the exercise as a whole, LAC Group took particular responsibility for assessing library operational requirements.
The NHM is a world-class scientific institution possessing an unparalleled collection of specimens, artworks, manuscripts, drawings, printed materials and a growing quantity of digital resources. These materials must be stored securely and preserved for posterity but also be made accessible, in a controlled fashion, both to the scientific community and the ‘science-aware’ public. The preservation and management of this body of resource has become progressively more difficult as the materials have outgrown the designated space available. This has necessitated the requisitioning of even more spaces, further afield, many of which are unsuitable or insufficiently large or relatively inaccessible or all three.
The work that LAC Group and partners undertook involved a review of buildings and spaces throughout the entire institution, observation of library operations and interviews with staff in various capacities. We then made detailed recommendations as to how all the library collections, staff and related services could be better accommodated. We also began to address systems and workflows and to suggested improvements commensurate with the accommodation options.
The NHM library and archive staff serves a worldwide constituency and, on a daily basis, accommodates both the visiting public and academics, along with resident scientists, seeking to connect them with the resources that are appropriate to their area of study. In addition, there are a growing number of remote ‘connections’ to the NHM library and archive resources, with the NHM having already begun to pioneer the transfer of priceless historic literature to digital formats, thus facilitating the development of service capability internationally.
A good deal of thinking and planning had already been done by the NHM in preparation for this consultancy exercise, especially in terms of collections analysis and mapping of existing storage spaces. The team at NHM is extremely professional and consistently delivers high quality services in less than ideal conditions. Without the facts and figures they were able to provide and without the openness and enthusiasm of the library staff we would not have been able to achieve a satisfactory outcome in the timescale allotted.
As it was, we were able to propose and to cost out five alternative accommodation packages, each significantly reducing the number of locations at which the collections are stored and each providing new office, meeting and reading room facilities. The study was also able to look at future service delivery, involving increasing amounts of digital material, and to suggest how library and research services need to evolve if the NHM is to meet and possibly exceed its strategic targets for engagement with a worldwide constituency.
Testimonial from Jane Smith, the NHM’s Head of Library Collections & Services:
Within a very tight deadline of six weeks, LAC Group and their partners thoroughly investigated all aspects of the Library’s operation and our role within the NHM. They questioned and tested all our assumptions, expanded our ideas and crucially helped us to present proposals for future development of the Library and its spaces to the Museum’s Directors. All those involved in this project and senior colleagues were impressed by the professionalism and expertise throughout the project and with the excellence of the final report. The time given by all the partners to understanding not just the Library but the whole Museum was impressive and ensured the success of the project.
Iain R Dunbar
General Manager, UK Operations