Back in January, I visited Merton College Library (“the oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students in the world”). I was impressed by the access that members of the public have to this historic Library through a scheme of tours. Merton’s tours work on a different model from the scheme at the Parker Library in Cambridge, hopefully leading this post to be anything but a dull remake of that first post about tours.
The most exciting thing about Merton’s tours (apart from the beautiful Library itself) is that they are written and delivered by students at the College, with guidance and support from Library staff. The students are given training, including attending other guided tours around the city, and receiving a college history bibliography. They are also paid for their time. The Librarian told me that the students really throw themselves into it. Some do extra research about College history or add things from their own areas of interest. The Librarian gave the example of an Archaeology student who researched the archaeological history of the College to find stories for her tour.
Each year one of the experienced tour guides acts as tour coordinator managing the rotas and time-sheets of the guides, answering tour enquiries and requests, and keeping records.
This seems to be a great way to involve members of a college in the historical collections and buildings. It also seems like brilliant work experience for the students, and a networking opportunity for those interested in working in education in places of historic interest; the Librarian told me that one of her past guides went on to work in education in Oxford Museums and comes back to train new guides.
The tours are popular with the public: in the 2010-11 academic year 3030 people attended them. They run regularly during July – September, every afternoon at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. They cost £4 for visitors from outside the University, last 45 – 50 minutes, and take in the Library and the Chapel. Individuals can just turn up for a tour, or they can book. Groups can also visit as long as they have booked in advance.
The money raised from the tours is split between the Library and the Chapel. However, it strikes me that the rewards of this scheme are wider than the purely monetary ones.