Edith’s Choice: 15 years of the Jerwood Library

Display cabinet containing items related to the official opening of the Jerwood Library in 2002 (programme, invitiation, photos and a poem read at the event)

Library display commemorating fifteen years of the Jerwood Library

15 years ago today on 9 January 2002, the official opening of the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts took place, which makes the library officially fifteen years old today. I’ve chosen to highlight this anniversary with a small display in the library this month.

I spoke about the library’s move to Greenwich with Walter Cardew, the only current member of library staff to have worked in both the TCM Library and the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts, and David Butler, who now works in the Jerwood Library but in 2002 was studying for a BMus at Trinity College of Music (now Faculty of Music, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

What was it like moving the whole library to Greenwich?

Walter: When I started here in Nov 2000 we knew the move was coming, and things kicked off in earnest when a new head librarian Rosemary Williamson started in 2001. We visited King Charles Court to see the space the library would be in and got an opportunity to explore the building including the attic spaces and even going out on the roof. Everyone was fascinated by the exposed wooden roof beams. I’ve heard various stories about their origins, including that they were timbers retrieved from sunk Spanish Armada ships, though I’m not sure that holds up to scrutiny…

Rosemary gave me the task of planning how the library stock would be packed and then organised in the new space. I had to plan in great detail and I devised an enormous spreadsheet mapping every single shelf in the old library to a specific shelf in the new library.

How did the new library compare to the old one?

David: Like King Charles Court as a whole, the new library was a lot more accessible for the students than the old one. The old building was a complete rabbit warren and the library was across three floors. The sequence of shelves didn’t feel logical, but the Jerwood Library has the whole collection in one space and all in sequence. I remember the old library having a few computers in the basement which were always busy and not the easiest place to study. I definitely used the library more after the move!

Walter: Because of the three floors staff had to put returned items for shelving in boxes and carry them up and down stairs so we were glad to move to one level. It also made it much easier for students to borrow items and get help from us as we weren’t tucked away on the top floor. The new library had closed stacks for our growing special collections including the Almeida Collection which we’d recently acquired and was a big addition to the library. 

The old buildings in central London were cramped and had been added to piecemeal as the institution grew. There were even some staff offices that could only be accessed from the rest of the site via a rooftop walkway! The move to a single building was unifying and we appreciated having a bit more office space too.

Were you at the official opening?

Walter: Yes, all the library staff were invited. My abiding memory is the actor Timothy West CBE reciting a poem he’d written commemorating Greenwich and the opening, which was very impressive. There was also a commissioned jazz piece performed by Iain Ballamy and others with poetry by Matthew Sweeney.

Representatives from the Jerwood Foundation were there too – the library was renamed the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts when we moved, in honour of the generous grant they made towards setting up the library in Greenwich.

Hawksmoor and Wren, come back
to see your palace now.
Look at its new inside –
this library we are celebrating,
tables where beds were,
the original beams overhead
but with a raised, sunlit ceiling –
all is light now, all light

Excerpt from Black Beams by Matthew Sweeney, commissioned by the Jerwood Foundation for the opening of the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts.

How has the library space changed since 2002?

Walter: The refurbishment was done to a high standard except it turned out no-one had thought about ventilation in the summer months. The library’s skylight windows couldn’t be opened and on a couple of occasions it got so hot we had to close the library completely. Fitting ceiling fans and a remote-controlled mechanism for opening the windows soon fixed that, to everyone’s relief.

David: The computers have shrunk in size and the shelves have filled up quickly! There were lots left empty when the library first opened but now there’s not a lot of free space and we’re squeezing in more shelving wherever we can…

Animated gif showing installation of new shelving in the Jerwood Library, summer 2014

New shelving being installed in the library in summer 2014

Thanks to both Walter and David for sharing their memories of the Jerwood Library’s first year with us.

A display is in the small cabinet in the library showing the programme from the official opening, Timothy West’s poem Ode to Greenwich and other related materials from the TCM Archive, housed at the Jerwood Library.

We’re delighted to have served the students and staff of the Faculty of Music for the last fifteen years and look forward to many more!

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