An example of how a public reference library can make a contribution to national historical scholarship.
A man came into the reference library where I work a while ago. I already knew him as an enquirer, and we got on well. Not particularly computer-literate on his own admission, he was, it emerged, seeking help in identifying information on a First World War German prisoner-of-war camp where his father had been incarcerated. His father, the owner of a
Leicestershire textiles firm, was in Germany as a civilian in 1914 but was automatically arrested on the outbreak of the war. He went on to keep elaborate diaries during his period of imprisonment, also filing away pretty much every ephemeral document which came into his hands as well as writing the diaries themselves. These diaries, which my
enquirer let me borrow overnight, were clearly of literary as well as historical interest.
I was able to identify information about the camp (Ruhleben) fairly easily, but the enquirer also wanted to be put in touch with anyone working on this period of history with a view to offering them access to the content of the diaries. I identified someone at Sheffield Hallam
University who had a book in progress on civilian internees in Germany during World War I. This academic’s own grandfather had been an internee in the same camp as my enquirer’s father and was (by amazing coincidence really) known to my enquirer as he was also in the textiles industry and from Leicestershire.
My enquirer was quite easily put in touch with the author, and the diaries were duly incorporated into the book, which was published by Manchester University Press in 2008. Publication Details: Stibbe, Matthew, British Civilian Internees in Germany: the Ruhleben Camp 1914-18, Manchester University Press 2008, ISBN 9780719070853.