Monday, August 30, 2010

A Summing Up!

Though I am clearly not a very prolific blogger (I love the idea but am usually too lazy to actually do it.) I feel that a summing up post is necessary/worth the time. I found myself on the T at 6am last week and for a split second I expected the voice on the intercom to announce that we were entering Charing Cross station. I hoped it would yell at me to "mind the gap." When it was just the normal monotone voice announcing that we were entering Kenmore ("doors will open on the left") I felt a bit sad but also happy. It feels good to be back in Boston. I love this city completely (OK, except when there are Soxs fans on the T when I am just trying to get somewhere).

Anyway, I think I might love London as much as I love Boston. They have a similar feel. London is a behemoth while Boston is quite condensed but the energy is the same. New York City makes me feel terribly small and overwhelms me. Boston and London both have a lot of things going on all the time but it feels easier to be in. I rarely felt like an outsider in London because nearly everyone was. Something is very welcoming about that city and I can't really put my finger on it.

Visiting so many wonderful libraries, museums, and archives made the whole experience not the burden of a class but like I was doing something and seeing something new everyday. Boston has a lot of history but it pales in comparison to what London holds. I still cannot believe I got to touch a First Folio. Inner English major wept that day.

I am already trying to figure out how soon I can make it back to London. I knew I would love it there but I didn't realize it would feel so much like home.

Cardiff Central Library

I spent part of mini-break in Cardiff, which is a lovely city. An hour or so before the train back to London left I decided to try to find some store in the shopping district and happened upon the Cardiff Central Library!

Granted, we've visited a number of public libraries over the course of July but Cardiff's is clearly brand new. Look at how snazzy it is! The roof has grass!

I didn't get to spend much time at the Central Library, having a train to catch, but I did poke around a bit. The first floor is a rather large children's library. I think having the children's library on the first floor is a great idea so parents don't have to drag the kids through the whole library. I remember being a kid and hating that the children's library was on the top floor. Also, the library holds 10,000 items in Welsh! The whole library seemed very user friendly, which I am going to chalk up to being so new and being able to take advantage of the most recent trends/findings in library research. I would love to be able to go back to the Cardiff Central Library and look around more because it seemed like one of the most well organized and intelligently designed public libraries I have ever been in. Plus the roof has grass!


Maughan Library, King's College London

Our last library visit was the King's College Maughan Library. I found it fitting that the last library we visited was our "home." I was surprised to learn that the Maughan has only been in the current location since 2001! The building used to be the Public Records Office, so it was purpose built for that. This lends itself to being good storage space but not necessarily the best working space. So many doors!

The library holds 750,000 items and serves 20,000 students. We also got to visit the Foyle Special Collections Library which holds items from the 15th century to the present. Sadly, they have no in house conservation despite having some pretty impressive holdings. They, like many other libraries, only digitize their unique items due to funding.

My favorite thing about the Maughan is that they have a vinyl collection! I am an avid vinyl collector and I love that it is making a comeback and that some libraries are aware of how valuable a resource vinyl records can be.

Royal Geographical Society

When Dr. Welsh announced an optional trip to the Royal Geographical Society I nearly wept with joy. My dream is to work at a place like the RGS. It combines my love of history and archives with my love of maps. Maps and I go way back. I collect them to an extent, I ask for an updated road atlas every Christmas, I own three globes with my eye on several more. At any rate, I was excited.

Eugene Rae was our guide and he was excellent. I really appreciated that he took the time to sit down with all of us after the tour and answer questions. The Society was founded out of the Raleigh Travels Club and used to be located at Saville Row. They moved into their current space in the 1870s and have been expanding since. The lecture theater is beautiful and host to people like Michael Palin (the Society's president and David Attenborough! Of Planet Earth!)

The RGS' large claim to fame is their endorsement of Livingstone's 1867 trip to Africa to locate the source of the Nile. While Henry Morgan Stanley actually found it, Livingstone remains one of those mythical explorers people romanticize. They also funded/supported expeditions to reach the peak of Mt. Everest. There is a really amazing scale model of Everest in one of the old reading rooms.

The library at the RGS is largely used by members of the society but it is open to anyone who has a need for the sources they hold. It is lending for only members, however. They have over 2 million items in their possession. Mr. Rae showed us some of the amazing artifacts the RGS has in its possession. Livingstone's hat! Shackelton's helmet! Mallory's boot!

The Royal Geographical Society is definitely in my top 5 visits from the whole month in the UK. I'm thinking of becoming a member just for kicks!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

National Archives of Scotland

After going to the Dunfermline Library we visited the National Archives of Scotland. Hooray! Our visit started with a powerpoint presentation about archives in general and the National Archives of Scotland.

The mission of the National Archives of Scotland is similar to most other archives. They aim to preserve, protect, and promote the nation's records. They also try to be inclusive and accessible to the public, which I think is a great idea. I know that a lot of people don't realize an archives can help them with their research simply because archives often seem unfriendly or difficult to use. They house over 70 kilometers of records! That is over 43 miles! They also house the Scotland's People Center, which is the best place to start on genealogical research if your family hails from Scotland. I think this is a really valuable resource. I would love to research my family history but figuring out where to start seems nearly impossible.

We then took a tour of the building, which is really impressive. The storage facilities all connect around the rotunda in the middle of the archives, which acts as a reading room. The facility is gorgeous and remains climate controlled despite the age of the building. I love that an old building can still work for our modern requirements.


Carnegie Library, Dunfermline

On our third day in Edinburgh we boarded a bus bright and early to visit the public library in Dunfermline. It is the first Carnegie library established in 1883.

Andrew Carnegie decided to use part of his fortune to build libraries all over the world. The one in Dunfermline, his hometown was the first. It used to be the only library in Fife but is now the busiest. In 1982 the library was expanded further to meet the needs of the community.

The librarians at Dunfermline were so kind and really informative. The library has a very large local history collection, as seems to be the norm in Scottish libraries. I found it interesting that they have a large Urdu collection. A lot of their older material, like town records, are kept in a climate controlled storage room. That is actually unusual for a smaller public library, so it made me happy. There is also a Robert Burns collection that is rather extensive.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Edinburgh Central Library

On the same day as the visit to the National Library of Scotland we also visited the Edinburgh Central Library, which is directly across the street. Opened in 1890, the library is a Carnegie Library, which I will speak about more in the next post.

We were greeted by the supremely friendly librarians and staff in a conference room where they spoke to us about some of the library's initiatives. I really liked this because though we have visited other public libraries, the people there didn't speak much to what the library actively does to get users in the door.

Alison Stoddart spoke about the library's use of Web 2.0 and their upstart virtual library. The library is making a huge effort to expand their usefulness to the people of Edinburgh. This includes making their website more comprehensive and accessible. They've started a Your Edinburgh section that makes it easy for residents to find information about living in Edinburgh. I think this is a great idea because the purpose of a public library is to support the community and I feel like sometimes libraries can lose sight of that. Then two librarians (whose names I didn't get. Apologies.) who work with reader development talked. Reader development is something that I never really thought about because I have been concentrating on archives and academic libraries pretty heavily. I liked hearing about another aspect of librarianship that I don't know much about. The Edinburgh Central Library has a lot of author events that seem to draw quite a crowd. These events focus on Scottish writers.

I really enjoyed hearing about the library's conservation and special collections. Last semester I took a class on preservation technologies and did a project on deacidification so I was very interested to learn that the central library deacidifies some items. The woman who spoke to us, Karen, mentioned that it cost 500 pounds to deacidify the book she showed us. I hoped for the chance to talk to her about the process they use in the UK but I didn't get to.

Finally, we got a tour of the library. The music and children's libraries are not in the same building as the adult library, which poses some problems. A lot of the librarians that talked to us mentioned the wish lists they had for the library if the funding ever appeared. One of these missions would be to integrate the libraries into one building, which would be much easier for users and librarians alike.

Overall, the visit to the Edinburgh Central Library was a good look into a large public library. They seem to face the same challenges that libraries in the US face; I see some definite similarities to the current crisis in the Boston Public Library system.