The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, United Kingdom
By Andrew Rath
McGill University

The Caird Library is a part of the United Kingdom’s National Maritime Museum (NMM) Complex, which includes the maritime museum, art gallery (Queen’s House), and the Royal Observatory. The Museum is situated in Greenwich, and is accessible from central London in under an hour. The Caird Library’s archival collections include documents associated with maritime history and related subjects such as cartography and astronomy in addition to traditional library shelves. The archival collections are the largest in the world and hold a number of official or quasi-official documents not accessible at the National Archives in Kew. These include many records of interest to military historians.

The Caird Library maintains separate catalogues for its archives, book collection, and stand-alone prints and drawings. Archival holdings can be searched online.  Keep in mind, however, that the archives are known for their extensive collections of richly-illustrated journals, which equates to a great many illustrations being classified as “documents” rather than “prints and drawings.” Prior to the completion of new facilities, the vast majority of archival holdings (but not library ones) are stored off-site and must be ordered in advance by email or phone from [email protected], [email protected], or 044-(0)20-8312 6516.

A reader’s ticket is required to access the library and archives, but not to order archival documents in advance of a research visit. Adults over 16 only require photo identification with name and signature, such as a driver’s license. A passport is not necessary.

Both library and archival holdings are currently accessible in a single space: the ornate Caird Reading Room. It has changed little since its construction in the 1930s and still features wood paneling as well as more modern features such as stands for digital cameras: the latter are especially vital given the current lack of photocopying facilities. The new Sammy Ofer Wing Library Wing, slated to open in the summer of 2011, will feature two reading rooms; one for group study and genealogy research and another for silent academic research.

After the Ofer Wing opens, an electronic request system and hourly ‘fetching’ procedure similar to the one at the National Archives will be instituted.  The new facility will also feature wireless internet, copying facilities, and a dedicated table for examining large maps; all features currently lacking at the old Caird Reading Room (which does have internet access on a solitary library catalogue computer). Lockers are available both now and at the new facility, so bring a one-pound coin. The Library is currently open Tuesday through Thursday, 10:00-4:45 and on the first Saturday of every month. It is closed for the holidays from December 24th to January 4th. The new facility promises to be open 10:00-5:00 Monday through Saturday as well as one late night a week.

The Dockland Light Railway the best option for quick access to the Library: alight at the “Cutty Sark (for Maritime Greenwich)” Stop and not the “Greenwich” Stop. The ensuing walk from station to Museum is under five minutes. Greenwich is not especially close to either Gatwick or Heathrow Airports, so allow plenty of time for catching flights.

The Museum features several surprisingly high-quality dining options, and a variety of independent restaurants and chains including Subway and McDonald’s are located close to the Museum. Bed and breakfasts catering to researchers are not as common as in Kew. For students looking to stretch modest research budgets, London’s universities rent inexpensive dormitory rooms during the summer and between terms.

Lastly, the NMM offers a number of fellowships and internships.

(Winter 2011)