Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

1 posts categorized "Visual arts"

03 February 2021

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Nicole Ioffredi Print Room Coordinator and Cataloguer

In this new series of posts Jo from our Digital Engagement team talks to our wonderful Library staff who work tirelessly to manage our collection and make it accessible for everyone. They discuss what they do, how they got into their role and unearth a few lesser known facts about the Library. This week she speaks to Nicole Ioffredi, Print Room Coordinator and Cataloguer.

Nicole Ioffredi

Nicole is a Print Room Coordinator and Cataloguer working in the Visual Arts Department. She looks after South Asian prints, photos and drawings, as well as some British artworks.

Her job involves coordinating appointments for readers to access our collection items. She recently helped a reader find 19th century photos of a building in India to help gauge original designs and steer a preservation project.

The cataloguing aspect of her role involves documenting photos, prints and drawings, recording details to enable readers to search and find items or to help with the preparation of loans. She meticulously catalogues inscriptions, dates and the condition of collection items.

Often albums have been catalogued but not individual photos. I manually review each photo and help place conservation bids for fragile items and put in digitisation requests to preserve them.

How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?

During the pandemic Nicole has been working more from photos of items rather than handling the physical items themselves.

Her ‘business as normal’ routine sees her invigilating reader appointments in the reading room in the morning while the afternoon is spent mostly cataloguing and retrieving items for the following day.

With the reading room closure, due to Covid-19, she is spending most of her time cataloguing and helping readers source information online. She’s working on a detailed spreadsheet that can be ingested into the database with new location information of collection items. But after months of closure, Nicole is really missing meeting our readers:

I really love observing readers’ emotional connection with specific items, especially when they’re researching their own family history.”

How did you get into this field?

Originally from Canada, Nicole has been living in the UK for five years and has been at the Library since October 2019. Following a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and World Religions at McGill University in Montreal, Nicole went on to work in UK-based auction houses before completing an MA in Museums and Heritage Studies at SOAS.

As an undergrad I became interested in South Asian arts, it was my dream to work with prints and drawings. I hope to travel to the region when I can.”

Her tip for those interested in this area of work is to get hands-on experience with collection items whilst studying and volunteering to get a foot in the door.

What is your favourite object in the collection?

Model of a lion standing on a wooden base a halter round his neck Gangaram Cintamani Tambat

A model of a lion, standing on a wooden base, a halter round his neck. Artist(s): Gangaram Cintamani Tambat (fl.1790s).

Nicole enjoys stumbling across unexpected items in the collection. She particularly remembers coming across a wax model of a lion (pictured above and available as a Sketchfab 3D model too). You can find out more about the lion on our Asian and African Studies blog. Her personal preference is for natural history drawings and has a particular soft spot for some Indian drawings of fish (pictured below). Dating from the 1790s, these are some of the earliest natural history drawings of Indian fish drawn from life in the collection. Browse the collection.

NHD36 72 ff in water-colour depicting Indian fishes 1794 watermark

NHD36 18.5 by 12 inches. 72 ff. in water-colour depicting Indian fishes. 1794 watermark.

NHD36 72 ff in water-colour depicting Indian fishes1794 watermark

NHD36 18.5 by 12 inches. 72 ff. in water-colour depicting Indian fishes. 1794 watermark.

What do you love about the Library?

When she began working at the British Library in 2019, Nicole was surprised by the scale of our multiple basement stores and impressed by the mechanical system used to retrieve collection items, though she notes it has been eerily quiet in recent months. What she appreciates most is the accessibility of the Library.

It’s so different to a museum where much of the artefacts are locked away. Here, anyone can visit and make appointments to see items from this incredible collection.”

What is your favourite British Library exhibition or project?

With her personal interest in South Asian art and religion, Nicole enjoyed our Buddhism exhibition which just happened to be on when she joined the Library. She’s also interested in the International Dunhuang Project, a multilingual resource and a ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available online.

Do you have any book recommendations for our readers?

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, a collection of personal essays from the 1960s - “One of the essays about going home really struck me when I first moved to London.”