Wednesday, July 28, 2010

National Library of Scotland

Ah, the National Library of Scotland. Such an unassuming outside. Inside, however, well... look at it!

We went to the National Library of Scotland on a rainy Monday morning, our first in Scotland. We took a bus ride from Dalkeith to Edinburgh, which took about half an hour or so. It was a pretty good way to see Edinburgh up close but not outdoors where it was drizzling. Once at the library we learned that there was no tour for us to do so I decided to have a latte and then check out the exhibits.

The National Library of Scotland is the legal depository for Scotland. It began in the 1680s as the Library of the Faculty of Advocates (whatever that actually means). In 1710 it was made a legal deposit and has the right to every book published in the UK. Like most legal deposit libraries, the National Library of Scotland is not a lending library but has a similar system to the British Library's reader cards.

At the National Library of Scotland is a small amount of exhibit space, which has been put to some of the best use I have seen in a museum, in the UK or the US. First is an interactive exhibit about the John Murray Archive. It highlights several famous Scots (and others from the UK) and their work using touch tables that allow readers to see the artifacts up close without actually touching them. There is also an excellent exhibit on the history of golf, which was born in Scotland. The floor is covered in artificial grass and there are flags with trivia questions around the space. I thought this was a really clever way to get people to interact with the exhibit rather than just look at and barely absorb. Finally, there is a small showing of Timothy Pont's Maps of Scotland which are the earliest surviving detailed maps of Scotland, made in the 1580s and 90s.

The library also has a small area that answered nearly all of the questions I had about the institution. They hold about 14 million books and manuscripts, 2 million maps and atlases, 300,000 music scores, 32,000 films and videos, 25,000 newspapers and magazines, and receives about 6,000 new items a week. Phew!

The above picture is from Most of the historical information is from the National Library of Scotland website.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bodleian Library at University of Oxford

On Friday the class hopped on a train bright and early to visit Oxford, home of the synonymous university. Oxford is also home to the oldest library in the English speaking world, the Bodleian Library. It was a bit difficult to find where we needed to be and when we got there the group was split in half. My half was turned loose on the streets of Oxford until later in the day. I did some minor exploring but mostly was concerned with finding something to eat. Which is truthfully what I am usually most concerned with.

When it was my group’s turn to have take the tour of the library we made our way back without any issue and got ready to learn! Our guide, Mitchell, was hysterical. I am not sure I have as much energy as he does even on my most caffeine-high days. He gave us an overview of the history of Oxford as a city and as a university. It was started in 1096 as Oxford became a center of learning due to the number of churches in the area and the favor of the crown. Things really took off in 1167 when the University of Paris made all of the English students leave. These students came to Oxford and began learning there. There are 39 independent colleges, which I find interesting. I know that Yale works like that because I am from New Haven but somehow it did not occur to me that they’d stolen the idea from Oxford.

The Bodleian is the second largest library in the UK, after the British Library in London. In 1488 a library above the Divinity Room (which was used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!) was put in place. Unfortunately, when the Church of England was created all books that were Catholic in any nature were sold. This forced the library to close until 1598 when Thomas Bodley restored and reopened the library. This area is what is today referred to as the Old Bodleian. It also contains the Duke Humfrey reading room (which was used in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince!).

The New Bodleian houses 12,000 manuscripts and 8 million books. It is eleven stories, several of which are underground. I was also really interested to learn that during WWII the underground floors were used as bomb shelters and where the invasion of Normandy was planned! That is something I never expected. Being a closed stacks library, readers must request materials and then await for them to be delivered to the reading room they are stationed in. Unfortunately, the library has a 3 hour turnaround time sometimes. The books in the underground areas are cataloged by size and date of arrival, as we have been seeing in many closed stacks libraries.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

National Art Library at the V&A Museum

On Thursday the class went to visit the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I am not all too interested in art librarianship but I like seeing different aspects of libraries no matter what.

Upon arrival we were split into two groups again and some of us got to explore the museum a bit before heading to the library. The V&A is huge and I feel like I barely saw any of it. It is on my list for going back next time I am in London. The National Art Library was established in 1857, with a dedicated space for it made in the V&A Museum in 1884. Since then it has served as the go-to outlet for all research regarding art, especially British art (though they do not neglect international goings-on).

Our guide for the tour of the library was Kirsten, the assistant librarian. The library's main goal is to preserve and provide access to materials having to do with any medium of art. The collection is largely closed access, with a small open reference collection inhabiting the reading room. Like other libraries and archives we have visited, the National Art Library stores their material according to size as opposed to any classification system. The library has a finite amount of space, being within the museum, and seems to be constantly fighting off the museum for the space they already have.

This is a shame because the National Art Library truly has some valuable things to offer the public and not just those researching art. They hold several of da Vinci's notebooks, some Dickens manuscripts, and illuminated manuscripts. Francis, a special collections librarian, showed us some of these things. Also a FIRST FOLIO! The fortitude of my heart has been tested so often on these library visits.

Overall, I really enjoyed the National Art Library. It was another focus of librarianship that I never really considered too heavily. Visiting there helped me realize what importance an art library can have and the historical significance held within it.

Picture above is my own.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

London Library

I absolutely loved the London Library. I wish I could afford to be a member and to fly back and forth from Boston to London so I could use it. I will attempt to not gush too much while writing about it, I apologize in advance.

Our class split into three groups upon arrival, which I liked because it is a bit difficult sometimes with 32 people. My group got to tour the library first with Jane Oldfield. She told us a bit of the history of the London Library. It was founded in 1851 by Thomas Carlyle as an independent lending library. This was in reaction to the British Museum's library not allowing the check out of materials. Since then, the library has been expanding almost constantly. One of the most interesting things about the London Library is their classification system. They use letters and descriptors to arrange their books on the shelves. Readers are allowed to roam the stacks, looking for what they need. This can be particularly helpful with research in certain areas because one would find books they did not know would be helpful.

97% of the collection is lent out to readers while 3% is considered either rare, fragile, or just too valuable to let readers take home. I like that because it is a subscription based library readers are given a higher level of service. The London Library also only holds books, as opposed to also having DVDs and CDs.

Really what impressed me was the preservation lab. I like that they do most things in-house because many libraries do not and also do not have the resources to send out their fragile objects. The London Library even employs a conservator! That is very rare for a library that is not national or otherwise huge. Stella Worthington, the head of the preservation and stack management department showed us some of the rare books they have at the London Library. A first edition Erasmus! A Fourth Folio! A first edition Origin of the Species! It was amazing.

I loved the London Library so much I am thinking of switching my paper topic to be about the library and its long history.

After the library we attempted to go shopping but it just turned miserable because it was packed and very hot. It is ok, now I have more money to spend in Edinburgh!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Caird Library

Monday morning started with a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich for a visit to the National Maritime Museum's Caird Library. Growing up in New England I have grown to love boats, so I was very excited. It was great! The history of the Thames is incredible and to be on a boat on it was great.

Anyway, we were there for the library so I should mention that. Hannah Dunmow was our host; she is an archivist at the Caird. I was interested to hear her perspective. Opened in 1937, the Caird is one of the largest maritime libraries in the world. It has always been open to the public. Sir James Caird donated much of the library and the museum at their inception.

Currently the library is only open 3 days a week, due to a new space being built for them. Most of their holdings are off site at the moment so users are largely required to request materials in advance and visit the library when they have been delivered. The library gets about 3 to 4,000 visitors a year, but that is expected to increase in the new space. The focus in holdings is mainly on immigration, navigation, astronomy, exploration, voyages, naval architecture, merchant and royal navies.

Then Martin, another archivist, showed half of the group some manuscripts. The first was a 1686 atlas stolen from the Spanish by Basil Ringrose! California is an island on the map, which is a bit funny. He also showed us a journal of signal codes for the navy which has lead in the spine so it would sink if the ship was being captured. Ms. Dunmow also showed us a medical book that was on the HMS Bounty and taken onto Pitcairn Island with those who mutinied. I had never heard the story of the HMS Bounty before so I looked it up when I got back to the dorms and it is fascinating!

After the tour of the library we got to roam around the National Maritime Museum for a bit. Mostly I was interested in the Prime Meridian. Whew it was a haul up that hill but completely worth it. We then went to the Queen's House which has some great art but by that time I was too tried and hungry to really enjoy it. Anne, Matt, and I found a really nice pub in Greenwich and had lunch then took the Thames Clipper back to Waterloo.

OH! Next year, if the class goes to Greenwich again, tell all of them about Paul Rhodes bakery. It is on King William Walk. It is like heaven on earth.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Museum of London

On Friday those of us not on a trip to Paris or Stonehenge went to the Museum of London with Stephen Doerr. We rode the bus there, which was my first time on it! It was fun but also made me nervous. They drive so close together here. I have no idea how the bus drivers don’t hit anything at least once a day.

After the harrowing journey we met with Meriel Jeater, one of the museum’s curators. She works specifically with cultural collections. We went to a conference room in the upstairs of the museum and she showed us a presentation on what went into making the London’s Burning exhibition that recently ended. On September 2, 1666 a fire broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane. A number of forces combined to help the fire grow at a rapid rate. It burned for 5 days and when it was over 13,200 houses had burned and over 100,000 people were homeless.

Ms. Jeater then went through what it takes to make an exhibition come from an idea to fruition. First one must write a proposal where the subject is described, objects are chosen, and the relevance to the museum’s greater mission is proven. For example, one of the main goals for the exhibit was to bring in more schoolchildren, so the curators decided to gear it toward the 5-7 age range. This meant that everything had to be designed to appeal to children but also to their parents.

After Ms. Jeater’s presentation, she challenged us to create our own display using some of the objects that were used in London’s Burning. I thought that was a nice change of pace from other visits we’ve done where we only had to listen and take notes. My group chose to figure out how to best display a fire insurance plaque that came into use after the fire as a way for property owners to protect their buildings.

We then got to explore the museum on our own, which I loved. I really like museums that ask visitors to participate in what they are seeing, as opposed to just looking at things behind glass. It was fun!

When we left the Museum of London, Anne, Matt, and I booked it over to the British Museum to see a falconry demonstration. It was pretty impressive. There was a barn owl! It was adorable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The British Library

The British Library is one of those places of yore even non-librarians hear tale of. Why, they've got an original copy of the Magna Carta from 1215. TWELVE HUNDRED FIFTEEN. I would say it again in bold in a massive font but I think my point is clear. The only known medieval Beowulf manuscript! Give me a moment to compose myself.

Kevin, the manager of the front of house at the library as well as the donations officer was our guide. He was a riot! I am really enjoying the British senses of humor I have come across. Excuse me, humour. Anyway, he told us about the underground tower where the British Library stores their books. This is a brilliant idea for a number of reasons. Cooler temperatures mean less degradation of paper, bindings, etc... Furthermore, it saves an immense amount of space. The British Library is huge but if all the books were housed on the surface level, it would be colossal. And those in the basement are classified by size, which when you think about it makes complete sense, access wise. I also learned that that bombshell we saw at the British Museum yesterday left a hole in the British Library's holdings.

I am not sure why but I found everything one has to do to get a reader's card to be pretty extensive. I suppose I've just not encountered an archive or library with such valuable and immense collections. The automated system used for delivering materials to users is fascinating. It is so elaborate yet so simple! Kevin told us that there are over 22,000 possible routes for a book to reach the destination.

After the tour, several of us went to lunch across the street, which was a good time. Then I got to go back to the library to fully engross myself in the maps exhibit. Wow, that map of London entirely made of words is amazing. I also found a map made in 1784 that showed my hometown on it! It was even before Connecticut had its notch!

Tomorrow we've got a later start to the day, which pleases me! Sleep is good and welcome here.

I took the above photo of the British Library's automated system today.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

British Museum Archives

I must admit that I have been most excited about today for this week. Being a future archivist getting access into working archives is a treat, especially such an interesting one!

Being in the last group to tour meant I got to spend most of the day exploring the museum. Wow, they have got some amazing things in the collection there. The Rosetta Stone?! That is one of those things you never expect to be able to see. I covered most of the museum and saw everything I had wanted to see. Though I was extremely disappointed to find out that the Great Wave is not currently on display. It is one of my favorite pieces of art and I didn't even know the British Museum had a copy of it.

At 2:30 we finally got to do what we came there for: tour the archives. Stephanie Clarke, the only trained archivist in the entire museum, was our guide and she was immensely informative. The archives at the British Museum deal solely with the administrative aspects. I was surprised to learn that they archive staff is very small, despite having a lot to work with. They deal with 6 aspects of the functioning of the museum: governance, staff, finance, building, temporary exhibitions, and the reading room records. Ms. Clarke showed us the indexes of minutes, which are somewhat of a finding aid for locating things within the meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees. We also got to see the book of presents which dates back to 1753 when the museum was founded. This book lists literally every gift and donation received. I was really impressed by the exploded bomb shell that hit one of the wings of the museum during WWII. Somehow I always forget that London was bombed so heavily by the Nazis.

The most intriguing part of the archives are the reading room records. To get to see who used the library at the museum and when is amazing. I nearly fainted when Byrony (that is my likely wrong approximation of the archives assistant's name, do forgive me) showed us T.S. Eliot's reading room application and ticket. I am a huge T.S. Eliot fan, have been since high school. Items like that are what make me so excited to become an archivist myself. We also got to see Karl Marx's signature, which was really special as well.

I was saddened to learn that the archive has become a forgotten department a little bit. The work they do and the access they provide is important to researchers and to the history of the museum as a whole. Their budget is woefully tight, leaving only room to do one reboxing project a year. I'd volunteer to help do it for free if they needed me! Overall it was a great visit and I am very excited to get to the British Library tomorrow. MAPS!

I took the picture up top this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


For anyone back in Boston or CT reading this:

it was 75 here today.

I can only imagine how hot my apartment is right now.

Barbican Library

Today we visited the Barbican Library. John Lake was so gracious to show us around, even though more than half of the group showed up late due to Tube issues. I am really loving the Tube though. It puts the T in Boston to shame. Not that I don't love you, T, you're just not as shiny and you don't have signs that tell me when the next train is going to be there. Anyway, I am now closer to my goal of riding every line of the Tube. 6 left!

I really enjoyed the visit to the Barbican. The architecture reminded me so much of the elementary school I went to, which was also designed and built in the 60s and 70s. The Barbican was built in the 1970s because the site had been bombed during WWII. Only 9000 people live within the original Roman walls of London but 350,000 work there. This means that the user population of the Barbican Library is largely a commuting one. Mr. Lake told us about the history of libraries in London, starting with the first, Guildhall (1523), which is nearby the Barbican. In 1964 there was a Public Libraries Act which built up the London library system.

The Barbican prides itself on the strong art library and the even stronger music library. We first took a tour of the art and adult libraries, which seem to be heavily used. I liked the layout of the library, as it seems to have a flow that brings users to what they need in a natural way. Mr. Lake also told us that the literacy rate in the UK is actually dropping, which surprised me. 15% of people in the UK cannot read, which is astounding. Despite this, the use of the library is increasing, possibly due to the recession and also reading campaigns nationwide.

I found the music library very interesting. The assistant librarian, Richard Jones, gave us a tour there. The classification system is different from the rest of the library and they have 16,000 cds for loaning! I also didn't know that in the UK libraries charge for hire of CDs and DVDs as a way to earn revenue. They are not allowed to lend new CDs until they are 3 months old. I was sad to learn that there is no vinyl collection! I love vinyl records.

Finally, we stopped in the children's library. There we learned about the types of programs and services for kids. I like the Bookstart program a lot. That is the nationwide initiative to give children free books at birth, when they are 18 months old, and again when they are 3. It is a good way to get kids reading early on so it is natural for them later in life. I found it hilarious that they have a Warhammer group because a lot of my friends from home are very into it. Tiny men!

After the tour and the requisite group picture, Anne, Matt, and I set off to explore the area some more. We went to St. Giles Cathedral, technically inside the Barbican. John Milton is buried there! We did more walking around until we happened upon the London Bridge, and Tower Bridge in the distance. Naturally, we were attracted toward it. I can't wait to go back to the Tower of London and go inside and to walk across the Tower Bridge itself. We then took the Tube back here and finally, I hit the wall.

We've been going nonstop since Thursday morning and its finally caught up to me. My feet hurt; I'm tired; my brain is hazy. I decided to stay in instead of going to the play this evening so I could rest up for the British Museum Archive tomorrow, about which I am incredibly excited. I think I'll go to bed early tonight and get up tomorrow hopefully feeling refreshed.

I took the image at the top inside the Barbican Library. The second pictures is of Tower Bridge, also taken by me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

Today class officially began with our first library visit. What a fantastic way to start off! St. Paul's Cathedral library is stunning. The picture at the left is from the St. Paul's website as they ask that no one post pictures of the interior on the internet, and with good reason. I am not at all a religious person but St. Paul's affected me all the same.

The librarian at St. Paul's, Joesph Wisdom, not only has an excellent name but is an excellent speaker. We had a somewhat speedy tour but an informative one nonetheless. After climbing more stairs than I ever intended upon consecutively climbing in my life, we reached a museum-like area behind a secretive looking door. Mr. Wisdom told us about the architect of the current St. Paul's Cathedral which was completed in 1710. The original burned in the Great Fire of 1666 which led to Christopher Wren designing the cathedral standing today. We got to see what is called the "BBC view" from the back of cathedral where the BBC sets up their cameras for televised mass.

Obviously the whole group was waiting with bated breath to go into the library. And it was definitely worth the wait. The smell of books in that room was overwhelming. Mr. Wisdom told us that it is from the chemical reactions of paper, leather, etc... breaking down. I learned about that type of thing in my Preservation class at Simmons. It is called inherent vice and every book has it, no matter what you do. The highlight was the book of psalms from the 1300s, which is definitely the oldest thing I have ever seen with my own eyes. The library's collection policy is to only deal with items pertaining directly to the cathedral itself, members of the church, or Christopher Wren.

After the tour we got to explore the cathedral on our own. It is a beautiful building, I cannot even describe it, really. So much has happened inside of it as well. I especially enjoyed the crypt. Though I found it a little odd that one can get a cup of coffee in it. Oh well, those laid to rest there are likely enjoying Starbucks in the great beyond.

Pilgrimage to Islington, a day in Bloomsbury

Anne, Matt, and I celebrated the 4th by making a pilgrimage to the house used for outside shots on the show Spaced. It is one of our collective favorite show. The house is in Islington so we took the Tube to Tufnell Park and walked to the house form there. People actually live there so we had to be a bit covert and hide in the bushes across the street to take pictures. I am sure they get stuff like that all the time but it still felt intrusive. We took pictures and quickly left. Found our way to Camden Town using a map and a compass. That was a long walk and once we got back it was time to go on a London Alive walk.

Being a former English major, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see where Yeats and Virginia Woolf used to hang out. Bloomsbury is a beautiful area of the city that I had not ventured into yet. Sadly, my camera ran out of batteries before getting to Islington so I have only the pictures Anne or Matt took. The University of London has the stuffed corpse of Jeremy Bentham in a box! He donated a lot of money to the university and one of the conditions was that when he died his body would be taxidermied and displayed. The box was closed but apparently it is usually open. After the walk we went to a pub! It was delicious. Pub culture is very interesting in London. I read this extensive website on pubs and found it very helpful. One of my main goals on this trip is to not look like a tourist if I can help it. Though I guess hiding in bushes and taking pictures of someone's house negates that.

Today we are going to St. Paul's Cathedral Library, about which I am very excited. I will post on that after we go!

Friday, July 2, 2010

I made it!

It was one long journey but we made it to London around 10:30 this morning. T, bus, plane, bus! Yet to go on the Tube yet but I am excited for it.

The neighborhood we are staying in is pretty cool. There is a lot going on around here. I love the grocery stores too! Anne, Matt, and I walked around in search of a Tesco, which led us to the one in Trafalgar Square so that was awesome. The bus ride to the dorm took us by Westminster Abbey and Big Ben!

We had an epic napping fail and all three of us missed the group tour of the neighborhood so we tried to catch up with the group at the place they were having dinner at but again, missed them. Instead we wandered Regent's St. and St. James Park. I'll start posting pictures once I upload them!