It’s not every day that working in the library world has you consorting with royalty. But it does happen, at least for ProQuest’s Senior VP Rod Gauvin and Vice President of Publishing Mary Sauer-Games. The occasion was the launch of the digitized version of Queen Victoria’s personal journals, a collaboration between ProQuest, Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries, and the Royal Archives.
The project was originally supposed to be a surprise for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, according to Sauer-Games, but that didn’t last. And once she knew, the Queen was so interested that she asked for weekly status updates. Naturally, when the time came to debut the journals’ online presence, she chose to officially launch the digital version herself—on May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday.
For Gauvin and Sauer-Games, the whole experience was intense. Sauer-Games had gone to Buckingham Palace the day before to set up. But in the way of technical glitches everywhere, “of course their technical was late, so we had to hang around in the throne room looking at paintings,” she said. She hoped to take a few snapshots, but received a veto from the Royal Archivist with whom ProQuest was working. It turns out, she told LJ, that “all of the staff there have been given iPhones but all the cameras have been disabled.” Only the professional photographer and videographer with whom the Palace has an ongoing working relationship are allowed to shoot, and the resulting footage is then distributed to the press.
“That said,” she said, “it was amazingly easy to get into Buckingham Palace.” While U.S. government buildings rely on security technology at point of entry, such as metal detectors and Xray machines, the British focused on pre-clearance. Gauvin had to provide not only a passport but a utility bill to prove he really was who he claimed, but after that it was simple.
Of course, that was after they got to the gate in the first place. “I panicked,” confessed Gauvin. “I forgot there could be swarm of people there. It was 25 deep; I ended up having to duck under a fence to get to where they checked you in.”
The crowd wasn’t all bad, however. “The second coolest thing, after meeting the Queen, was being able to walk up past these swarms of tourists looking very official and walk right in front of the changing of the guard,” Sauer-Games said.
The ProQuest representatives received a special crash course in the manners of meeting royalty ahead of time. Women had to curtsy, men to bow, and call the Queen “Your Majesty” on first addressing her, and “ma’am” the second. They were to wait for her to extend her hand to shake and respond to her questions without asking any of their own.
According to Gauvin, of the hour and a half they spent in the throne room, the Queen was only present for about twenty minutes, because the ProQuest launch was only one of five events being held in the Palace that day that needed the Queen’s presence (including a garden party for World War II veterans whose guests appeared in some exceptional hats).
Champagne and tiny (but plentiful) hors d’oeuvres were served to pass the time until the Queen arrived. “It was very carefully managed,” said Gauvin. The attendees had been given a schedule in advance. “We were mingling at first and then they had us line up,” he continued. “It went to dead silence with everyone anticipating her coming.”
When the Queen came in, conversing with the Royal Archivist, they showed her some of the actual journals—something she’s already familiar with, according to the Royal Archivist, who told Gauvin she’d consulted them on several topics over the years. Next Sarah Thomas, head of the Bodleian libraries, made a speech, and “then we turned it over to the Queen to launch the website,” said Sauer-Games. “She was really excited and said ‘Oh, it works!’”
Though he would have liked to spend more time in the Queen’s presence, Gauvin was impressed by the time he did get. “I thought there was a glow about her and a purposeful way that she went about doing this,” he said. Sauer-Games agreed, “She was very gracious.”
That graciousness is evident in the terms on which the journals have been shared with the public: they are free to all users in the United Kingdom “and the national libraries of Her Majesty’s Realms.” Users outside the UK can see a free preview until July 31; a specialized version for libraries will be available from ProQuest thereafter.