During my placement, I worked for the North American collections to evaluate their holdings of contemporary migrant literature. These include all types of materials which circulate poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. Naturally this mainly means books, but also academic journals, literary and cultural magazines, ephemera (pamphlets, zines) and websites (blogs, online magazines, etc). I collected as much information as possible about the contemporary migrant literary scene and checked each title I came across against the Library’s catalogue. I added every missing item to an acquisition list, which by the time I had finished comprised over 600 titles.
The process may sound somewhat daunting, but it taught me a lot about the publishing industry, and interesting patterns emerged from the acquisition list spreadsheet. I quickly realised, for example, that the Library was not receiving books released by certain publishers – including some British ones which, in theory, should automatically be delivered to the Library via legal deposit. I also observed a significant gap in the French-Canadian literary holdings: major writers were missing from the collections (you can read my blog post about this topic here and here).
But my work also involved reflecting on the challenges to the Library’s collection practices caused by emerging literary forms such as literature published on social media, which unfortunately cannot yet be web-archived without showing a direct link to the UK. By flagging up these issues in a report and a presentation to the staff, I have contributed to informing future collection practices, and strengthened curatorial knowledge in the area.
Throughout my placement, I also had many opportunities to discover what goes on behind the scenes at the British Library. I shadowed my project supervisor, curator Fran Fuentes: I sat in on meetings with book dealers, helped with archival research, observed the event organisation process, and met with many of her colleagues who kindly explained their work including other curators, a cataloguer and a digitisation team. This placement introduced me to a career path I had not considered before. I have gained many invaluable professional skills and much of what I have learnt will feed directly into my thesis.