CILIP SW organised the visit to the Met Office Library and Archive on 15th November 2017. Sarah Pankiewicz, Library Manager, showed us round the Met Office Library which is used by both Met Office staff and the public. The 6 library staff come from a variety of backgrounds; library and information, astrophysics, Met Office scientist, etc. Their roles include cataloguing, procurement, journal management, book scanning, branding and tailoring the public facing catalogue, helping at the Met Office Archive and answering 150 – 200 enquiries per month. The team have had to transform the way they work due to increasing efficiency and natural staff reduction but this has also led to more integration between the library and archive.
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. Old journals are being scanned 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, expeditions, etc but also has begun to concentrate on eBooks over the last couple of years and these are being accessed well. Reducing physical stock, lowering shelf height, making the library more user friendly, increasing access, etc all resonate with the direction my sector, public libraries, is going.
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. It will be a challenge to think of ways to bring across this 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. Tabulated data (information written in numeric form) and autographic data (the original data) are kept. There are also collections of historic equipment, expedition 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!