In a second report on the recent CILIP SW visit to the National Meteorological Library and Archive, Susan Lee, Library Supervisor at Crediton Library, describes the day:
“Sarah Pankiewicz, Library & Archive Manager, showed us round the Met Office Library which serves both Met Office staff and the public. The six library staff come from a variety of backgrounds; library and information, astrophysics, Met Office scientist, etc. Their roles include cataloguing, procurement, journal management, digitisation and quality control, systems management including collections management and the digital library and archive, supporting various archive projects and answering 150 – 200 enquiries per month. The team have had to transform the way they work due to wider Civil Service aims for increasing efficiency. This, together with a recent reduction in staff, has also led to more integration between the library and archive with their roles necessarily evolving in order to maintain service levels.
The library has Met Office records, journals, records from organisations across the world, books, computers and displays of historical met office equipment and material from the archive. Work is on-going to scan Met Office material which is carried out either on site or sent out for digitising when the budget allows. This helps preserve the material and is more accessible for the public and researchers. The library has books on meteorology, physics, climate and expeditions, but also has begun to concentrate on the purchase of eBooks over the last couple of years and usage statistics indicate that staff are making very effective use of these resources. The journal budget is being increasingly directed towards online journal subscriptions with a significant reduction in print journals. The long term aims of reducing physical stock, lowering shelf height, making the library more user friendly, increasing access, all resonate with those of my sector, public libraries.
Next was the visit to one of the supercomputer halls. There are 5 supercomputers which rank the Met Office as the 15th largest in the world. The halls are rows and rows of IT along with 20 air conditioning units to cool them. There are dual systems, automatic backing up of data and backup diesel generators to ensure no data is lost due to power failure.
Then we visited the Operations Centre which is a 24/7 environment with staff working 12 hour shifts. I was struck by the size and amount of monitors the staff were using and the atmosphere of quiet concentration. The centre is made up of different units: forecasting, global, flood forecasting, hazard, aviation, IT, media and customer service. The centre not only monitors the weather and makes forecasts but looks at trends, probabilities and impact.
The central part of the Met Office is an internal street. It is covered in slate paving slabs, has street lamps, a stream running through it, cafes, seating areas, etc. Public libraries are increasingly evolving into social and cultural hubs but it will be a challenge to think of ways to bring this brilliant social space into a library. We ate in the cafeteria decorated with clouds hanging from the ceiling!
The Met Office Archive is by appointment only and situated in Great Moor House, a few minutes’ walk from the main Met Office building. It shares the building, public search room and staff workroom with the Devon Heritage Centre, but has separate strongrooms. Catherine Ross, Archivist, took us for a tour of 2 of the 4 Met Office strongrooms. There are fire shutters, fire doors, buffer corridors and gas suppressant systems to protect the stored material. An air curtain starts up as you enter the strongroom to help keep the temperature at 15–18°C. A large part of the archive comprises historic weather observations in the form of tabulated data (information written in numeric form) and autographic data (the original data). There are also collections of ships logs, historic equipment, expedition diaries, weather diaries, etc. It was fascinating to hear how the Met Office evolved, see the first synoptic chart 1859, the 5th June 1944 meteorological chart relied on for planning D-Day, Admiral Beaufort’s diary with original Beaufort Scale and by the 1807 diary the revised 12 stage Beaufort Scale and much more. Digitising records is ongoing, though reliant on funding, to help preservation and to improve access for the public and researchers.
I would recommend a visit and also having a look at their online resources. I explored their website www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/library and checked out the weather on the day I was born when I got home!”