Day 28: Royal Geographical Society Library & Archive (British Studies LIS)

Today was the last day of class activity, but I can’t imagine us visiting a better place than the Royal Geographical Society to draw this trip to a close! Personally, I have never thought of geography as something very interesting or captivating. But at the Royal Geographical Society, it is not simply maps and deeds; it is the story of how the world has changed, been discovered, and then discovered again. It is as much history as geography, and when looking at specific stories like we did during our visit, it can be very personal. So, never again will I turn away from a geography lesson, claiming that it is of no interest to me!

The Society was founded in 1830, then called the Geographical Society of London. Throughout its history the Society has focused on advancing geographical knowledge while also promoting geography as a science and topic of study. Within the library and archive, their collection includes around a million maps, four thousand atlases, a collection of globes, around a half of a million images, two hundred and fifty thousand volumes in the library, and fifteen hundred artifacts. These artifacts include scientific instruments, personal effects, and cultural objects from around the world. The main focus of the archive is the history and contribution of the Royal Geographical Society.

We were privileged to have Eugene Rae, the Principal Librarian at the Society, take time to speak with us about his job, the Royal Geographical Society itself, and some of the artifacts and items held in the archive. He walked us through what he called the “hot and cold tour”. The artifacts he showed us included hats, maps, compasses and sextons from David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley’s expeditions to find the source of the Nile River, hiking and thermal equipment from Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, and gear such as masks, hiking food, and a watch from John Hunt and Edmund Hillary’s successful expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Mr. Rae took great care in handling the artifacts while still explaining their significance and showing them to us individually. Just from our morning class visit I can easily understand why he is the Principal Librarian; he’s clearly knowledgeable within the history and purpose of the Royal Geographical Society. But this knowledge is almost out-shined by his obvious passion for his job, the Society, and the treasures it holds. I hope I can one day make such an impression on someone within the library science field!

The Royal Geographical Society:

Mr. Eugene Rae speaking with our class. Photo courtesy of Teresa Welsh

Mr. Eugene Rae speaking with our class. Photo courtesy of Teresa Welsh


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