Hellen Pethers: Reader Services Librarian
How long have you worked at the NHM?
8 1/2 years, wow that went fast!
What were you doing before you came here?
I graduated from Brighton University (Library and Information Studies BA Hons) in 2000 and began my professional career at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, by starting as a Library Assistant and progressing to Librarian. I joined the NHM in 2005, so now I've spent 13 years working in the Museum Library environment and love it! I've been fortunate enough to work in two fantastic large museums, in two incredible buildings and with internationally renowned collections. I count myself very lucky!
What does your average day look like?
I'm responsible for the day to day management of our Public Reading Room and my office is next to the main enquiry desk. With so many different people making appointments to visit us and contacting us via phone and email, no day is the same nor predictable. I love meeting new people, learning about their research and exchanging a shared love of the natural world.
We have collections in over 100 locations all over the Museum's South Kensington site and elsewhere, so fetching the material requested by visitors ready for their visit is a constant activity. I manage the Library & Archives blog and Twitter @NHM_Library, and encourage my colleagues to contribute to regular entries such as Item of the Month and behind the scenes project updates. I really enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for our collections and I get the chance to take part in Nature Live talks within the Museum. These have been on William Smith's geological map and on printed zoological ephemera relating to menageries and other oddities.
If you had to pick one favourite from the L&A collections what would it be?
In 8 years I've become rather fond of numerous items in the collections, in particular printed ephemera relating to the weird and wonderful world of menageries and animal shows. But if I really had to pick one, it would be William Hamilton's Campi Phlegrei (1779), because it makes me chuckle thinking about the first time I learnt about it. When I started at the NHM I worked as Assistant Librarian in the Earth Sciences Library, I had just spent the previous 5 years being immersed in the world of Admiral Nelson. So I was almost relieved to start my new job, surrounded by fossils and minerals, seemingly a world away from Horatio! Only to find that in my first week, I was introduced to this wonderful book depicting the different stages of activity of Mount Vesuvius, and only to find that the author William Hamilton was the husband of Admiral Horatio Nelson's mistress Emma! Turns out I can run, but I can't hide!
Do you have a favourite place or object on display in the Museum?
On a beautiful sunny summer's day I love our Wildlife Garden, a little gem in central London. You can sit surrounded by nature, whilst still being aware of the hustle and bustle of London traffic around you. But nothing beats standing by the giant sequoia at the top of the museum, first thing in the morning, as the sun shines through the stained glass windows, across the empty floor of the central hall before the doors open and our visitors fill the building.
If you had to spend the rest of your life as an animal, what would it be and why?
Since working at the NHM I've fallen in love with many animals I didn't even know existed, but I think I would be a dolphin. Family means everything to me, as far as I can see dolphins always look like they are having fun and stick together as a unit, so that's good enough for me!