Select Page

This week we invited Professor Robert Fowler to share news of the ongoing campaign to raise funds for the Hellenic and Roman Library (HARL).

HARL is the Hellenic and Roman Library: the part of the Institute Library contributed by the Hellenic and Roman Societies. Those two organisations had already built up superb libraries since their foundation in 1879 and 1910 respectively, but when they joined with the University of London in 1953 in the new Institute of Classical Studies, the result was a truly world-leading collection. And it gets better all the time. There are now over 150,000 volumes including an important Rare Books section, and 22,000 bound volumes of periodicals. We subscribe to some 700 titles, and add 3000 new books every year. That these are all available on open shelves is one of the most attractive features of the Library. Increasingly, physical holdings are supplemented by electronic and digitised resources. Add the wonderful librarians, and you have the perfect library experience.

It’s the result of sustained effort for well over a century. There were times when it could have turned out quite differently. Certainly when the Hellenic Society decided to purchase its single bookcase in 1880, it could hardly have foreseen where it would all lead. One clever stratagem adopted by both Societies was to exploit the success and prestige of their two journals, Journal of Hellenic Studies (JHS) and Journal of Roman Studies (JRS), both of which receive many books gratis from publishers anxious to have their books reviewed in such prominent places. Normally in our game, reviewers get to keep the book: it’s the only tangible compensation for their labour. Uniquely, JHS and JRS and Britannia ask reviewers to return the book after writing the review for deposit in the Library. It is a mark of the standing of the journals, and the Library, that scholars have always been willing to do that. Thus the Library acquires a handsome stock of free books every year. Another ploy is to exchange copies of the journals for copies of other journals published by similar, non-profit organisations.

When the Combined Library – HARL plus the University – was created, the University was able to provide journals and reference works, as well as books and other materials. A coordinated effort began to address gaps in the collection, finding the best editions of classical authors, and filling the breaks in periodical series, including those due to the war years. Holdings in archaeology, history, epigraphy and papyrology were strengthened. A joint management structure ensured that the acquisitions policy was kept up to date and fit for purpose, and that the right books were purchased every year. Wise advice from generations of committee members and librarians has produced the riches that readers now find everywhere within easy reach.

The Societies have recently signed a new 25-year agreement with the University, which is a sign of the firm commitment of all parties to the maintenance of this splendid partnership. The costs have been rising, though, and the Societies are now facing annual deficits to keep up their end. By the end of the agreement, if not before, they will have exhausted their reserves. So we have launched a Campaign, with the aim not only of preserving the status quo, but of enhancing and improving the facilities for readers, including remote users. In working towards these objectives, we enjoy the unstinting support of Greg Woolf, the Institute Director, and all his staff. Together we want to make the Library a global information hub for what’s happening in Classic and Ancient History, and a portal to resources of all kinds. We also want to find more funds to assist users, especially students, to travel to the Library and explore its wealth first-hand. Wonderful though digital resources are, nothing quite replaces the experience of browsing the shelves.

You can find out about the many ways you can contribute to the Campaign by visiting HARL’s website here. Apart from donations, large or small, you can also attend events, introduce friends, and spread the word for us on social media. Please help us to preserve and enhance the future of a great Library.

by Robert Fowler