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The Queen Mary 2 Library

From: Libraries & Culture
Volume 40, Number 4, Fall 2005
pp. 547-561 | 10.1353/lac.2005.0064

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The Queen Mary 2 Library

The maiden voyage in January 2004 of the Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2, an ocean liner designed for the twenty-first century, ushered in a completely new, massive, and spectacular kind of passenger ship that appeals to a genteel clientele who seeks an ocean voyage in the elegant tradition of the Cunard Line. The QM2 library is no exception to that tradition; in a word, the library is sumptuous. Harold M. Otness wrote in his 1979 article on passenger ship libraries: "Almost all passenger ships operating today are in the cruise business and they offer a full range of social activities on board plus sightseeing programs when in port. With the lectures, dances, movies, televisions, saunas, and even slot machines to pass away the hours between meals, one can hardly find time to read on a cruise today. Nonetheless most ships still maintain libraries for the use of their passengers, although these facilities don't seem to have the importance they once had."1 Not so the QM2 library. There is an intellectual component to life on this ocean liner that, in addition to the eight thousand–volume library, includes a planetarium, a regular series of enrichment lectures by professors from Oxford University and other academic institutions, well-known experts not affiliated with universities, and, of course, Internet access. All of these interrelated activities, interestingly enough, take place at the front of the ship on different decks. (The decks are roughly equivalent to the stories of a building, so that Deck 8, where the library is located, is about eight stories above the water line.)

The Queen Mary 2 library consists of 700 square feet and is located on Deck 8 forward, at the bow of the ship. The library is physically connected to the ship's bookshop. The librarian is stationed at a service point that serves both the library and the bookshop. There is usually at least one other individual who works at this service point; that person handles most of the bookshop sales but also helps with library duties. The librarian handles both library transactions and bookshop customers when no assistant is present. Given the small, special nature [End Page 547] of this library and its clientele, I decided to employ two specific methodologies in evaluating the library. The methodologies are unstructured interviews with the librarian and observation of users (without their knowledge). As Joseph R. Matthews noted in his study of evaluation methods for special libraries, "Generally, interviews will follow a script of questions, but an unstructured approach can be fruitful, especially when the researcher is just beginning to attempt to understand a situation or service."2 I had several interviews with the librarian, both scheduled and impromptu; I followed up with written questions that I left for her and telephone calls from my cabin. For some of the answers the librarian checked with Ocean Books (via e-mail) before responding to me. The observation methodology enabled me to proceed without disturbing library users or being intrusive in the environment. I did not interview passengers because they were paying money to enjoy an ocean voyage.3

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Figure 1.

View of the QM2 Library.

The Cunard Line was one of several steamship companies to appreciate the importance of books at sea. The firm "developed a system of 'travelling libraries' early in this [the twentieth] century which were mini-collections of books shuffled intact from ship to ship."4 Ocean Books is a company that specializes in supplying books and librarians to ocean liners, cruise ships, and hotels. Originated by Dianne Coles (a librarian) and managed since her death by John, Rebecca, and Nicholas Money, the firm has offices in Miami, Florida, and in Romsey, Hampshire, near Southampton, England. The Ocean Books Web site states, in part: "Ocean Books are the experts in this field, with 20 years [End Page 548] experience of managing onboard libraries, ranging in size from 200 to 8000 titles, including audio, video and CD collections. Each installation is carefully planned and organized, taking into account the passenger profile and ship's itinerary. The complete package includeslibrary...