Monday, August 15, 2011

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth, London

On two different occasions, I also got the chance to visit the Imperial War Museum which was not very far from where we were staying in London. The Imperial War Museum, like many other museums in London, has a free general admission but visitors may have to pay for special exhibitions. The museum has exhibitions on Britain's experience during both World Wars, a Holocaust exhibition, art galleries, and exhibits on wars after 1945. They had a very interesting exhibit on secret agents and spies throughout British history (the MI5, MI6, and the SAS) as well as an exhibit on the child's experience during wartime. They also had displays of planes and other war equipment in the lobby of the museum.

My favorite exhibit was the Children's War exhibit, which detailed the experiences of children that lived in London and the surrounding countryside during the Second World War. The exhibit details what the children that had to evacuate London and were sent out into the country to live with other families during this time period experienced--The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe also tells the story of evacuated children. It also talked about how the British government issued gas masks; there was one point in the exhibit where there was a child holding a teddy bear, but the teddy bear was actually a gas mask holder--this really showed me how the experience of war differed and was much more intense for those living in London. There was also a simulation in the World War II exhibit called the Blitz Experience that showed how difficult it would have been for all citizens of London and how the streets might have looked after the bombings London endured. These exhibits made me realize how removed the United States was during the First and Second World Wars--what the British and other European nations had to endure was much greater than anything the United State has had to-- not only were soldiers going off to war and perishing but a lot of the city was being destroyed. One really cool thing in the Children's War exhibit was that there were evacuees that were there to share their experiences during the war, and they were available for school groups and other visitors to ask them questions about what the Second World War was like for them.

I also paid to go see Once Upon a Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children exhibit, which brings to life the world of five children's books that are set during wartime. The stories include War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, and Little Soldier by Bernard Ashley. The exhibit includes sets built to look like the stories, artifacts from the events discussed in the books, and interactive displays and quizzes for children to take part in. The exhibit was meant for children, but I also learned a lot about the stories and the history behind the books.

The Imperial War Museum has also recently added an Explore History Centre,which provides access to the museums' collections of digitized photographs, film, sound recordings, interactive media displays, and books. The Explore History Centre is open to anyone who would like to research British war history or family history. Their collections can be searched through an online catalogue, and many of the items can be looked at in the centre during their open hours.

British Library Conservation Studio
On our last day of class, we toured the British Library Centre for Conservation. Since I didn't have the chance to visit the British Library previously (my class had toured the library when I was on my way to Paris),  I walked through the library before our tour and visited the treasures room, where there are manuscripts of Jane Eyre and some Jane Austen materials, including her writing desk. There are also handwritten Beatles lyrics on napkins and other miscellaneous materials, maps, and illuminated manuscripts. The Magna Carta is also in the treasures room. The British Library has a very large collection, with over 150 million items in all languages of the world--the library is a copyright library, so a copy of all published materials in the United Kingdom have to be deposited at the British Library. The British Library is also located near Kings Cross-St. Pancras Station, so of course we had to find the Harry Potter 9 3/4 platform that is set up near the station.

The conservation centre was opened in 2007, and it was purpose built with temperature and humidity controls so that it provided the best conditions possible for the conservation of books as well as audio engineering. It also has other environmental controls that deal with pests and other nuisances. We were shown around the facility by  Mark Browne, a conservationist, and Allison Faraday, the Conservation Training Coordinator. The Centre for Conservation has a quarantine room for new materials so that any particles or interesting creatures that might have found themselves in the collection are able to be removed before they come into contact with other materials. There are five teams of conservators who mostly work on books that have become damaged and deteriorated; however, Mr. Browne's team of conservators works on specialized items like stamps, photographs, and palm leaves. The conservators try to use as minimal intervention as possible--they use things that are re-treatable and reversible and they try to keep them as close to the original way the item was created as possible. They keep very detailed treatment records as well so that conservators and researchers know what has been done to the items.

We were able to see conservation in action and were shown how palm leaves from the seventeenth century were restored. The conservator showed us how she can fill in holes in the leaf with paper pulp and how she cleans them. She also showed us what the palm leaves look like after they've been put in a Leaf Caster, which automatically fills in missing parts of the leaf with pulp.

We were then shown a demonstration of how gold tooling is done on bound books--if you notice that many bound books have gold writing on their spines--this is how that is done. They first polish the leather with a hot iron so that the surface is smooth and the gold will stick; egg whites and water are then put on the item as an adhesive and they also may put some Vaseline on to help the gold leaf stick to the surface. The gold leaf is put on the book and the lettering is done with brass tools. This was a very cool demonstration--I had never thought that gold tooling was done by hand.

Conservation Uncovered:
It was very interesting to see the Centre for Conservation--we got to see some preservation in action and an introduction to a book art. We also got to look at the exhibition "Conservation Uncovered" which detailed how the centre deals with damaged books and other materials, and it showed how sound materials are preserved and conserved. There were booklets on basic preservation of materials from the Preservation Advisory Centre, on taking care of photographs, damaged books, bookbindings, and basic preservation techniques in the exhibit as well. These booklets and others can be found online at the Preservation Advisory Centre's Web site. It was awesome to see how large the centre was and get an inside view at how conservation is done at one of the largest and most respected libraries in the world.

Middle Temple Library, London

On July 27th, we visited a law library, the Middle Temple Library; the Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, to which all law students, barristers, and bench members must be a part. The Inns of Court are Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, and Inner Temple. All those who wish to represent people in court are expected to join one of these Inns, who have the power to call their members to the English Bar, which allows them to practice the law as barristers. Solicitors, who give citizens legal advice, do not need to become members of the Inns of Court. We were shown around the library and given a brief introduction to the collections by Renae Satterley, Senior Librarian and Rare Books Librarian, and Bernadette Keeley, the Acquisitions Assistant.

The history of the Middle Temple Library begins with the founding of the Inns of Court as schools and housing for student barristers in the 13th century. The Middle Temple was the home to the Knights Templar (made popularly known by The Da Vinci Code books by Dan Brown) until the 14th century, when it was dissolved. The Middle Temple Library was known to have existed prior to 1540, but the library was re-founded in 1641, when Robert Ashley gave his own personal collection to the library after his death; this comprised almost four thousand volumes. The Robert Ashley collection was mostly non-legal materials, including books previously owned by famous figures, including John Donne, Ben Johnson, and John Dee. The topics covered in this collection are science, theology, exploration, geography, and others, and the books are in many different languages including German, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Latin. There are some very unique and obscure books in the collection, which are now the only known copies in the world. In Ashley's time, the Inns of Court were supposed to not only provide a legal education, but also to provide education in theology, philosophy, and the arts and sciences. The library has been kept in different places around Middle Temple, but the first building that was purposefully built to be a library was opened in 1861, which was destroyed in the Second World War by bombing. The present library building was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was opened in 1958  by the Queen Mother.

The interior of the Middle Temple Library
Today, the collections include more than 250,000 books. The library is used mainly by English practitioners who need quick access to legal materials. The specialties that the Middle Temple collection covers are American law, EU law, the environment, data protection, and commercial law. The collections include both historical and modern government publications, law journals, ecclesiastical law (stemming from its members study of divinity in the 17th and 18th centuries), and other reference materials. The library also holds the only pair of Molyneux Globes in the world, created in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The globes are the first made in England, and the first to show accurate coastlines of the United States; the globes have been in the Middle Temple Library's possession since the 18th century. The library also holds the United States collection, which is one of the largest collections on American law outside of the United States. They also have Commonwealth collections, including New Zealand and Canadian reports. The library also has a capital punishment collection, which was donated by a judge in 2005, and which mainly covers the anti-death penalty perspective; members are able to check these books out for a short period of time. The library also has sizable human rights and EU law collections.  The library's rare book collection includes Ashley's collection and others dating back to the 13th century, which Ms. Satterley is attempting to promote within the academic community because many researchers outside Middle Temple don't know that it exists. The archives contain the administrative records for the Inn dating back to the 1500s.

The library provides many services for its members including reference services, and an easily searchable online catalog and many electronic databases, including Hein Online and Westlaw. The library also provides a document delivery service. Middle Temple also has computers available for use on the premises with word processing and Internet.  Seminar rooms have been built in the place of shelving for training of student barristers, ongoing professional development and law seminars; they've had to maximize their potential and re-appropriate some space within the library because of their financial situation--they have to remain relevant and provide more services other than traditional library services in order to ensure funding. Access to the library is restricted to Middle Temple members, but one can make appointments in order to use the rare books or archival collections.

The library was very beautiful and it provided so many resources to law students and practicing professionals. The librarians who showed us the library and the Great Hall for Middle Temple were very gracious and provided us with a lot of relevant information. I thought the library was beautiful and the way that the space was set up was very conducive to studying and research.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maughan Library, Kings College London

Maughan Library Clock Tower
After our mini-break (which was four days off from class during which students can go anywhere--I chose to stay in London because there was a lot of things that I wanted to do that I hadn't had a chance to yet), we went to Maughan Library, which is the Kings College London academic library for their Strand campus. Kings College London was founded in 1829 by the Duke of Wellington and King George IV. It has been considered the "godly" institution, as compared to University College London, which was founded around the same time.

We were given a short history of the building, university, and collections by Sally Brock, the library manager. The library building in which the Maughan is housed was formerly a public records office, so the entire building is fireproofed. The library moved into the building in 2001, and this allowed them to bring together what used to be four separate collections into one multidisciplinary library. The collections cover arts, humanities, social and physical sciences as well as other subjects. The library decided to have open shelves so that everything is accessible to students and so they're able to browse the collection. There are over 1000 places to sit and study and 300 computing stations for students; there is also wireless access throughout the building. The library is open seven days per week, and is open 24/7 during the finals period of each semester, so they are usually open all day for 10-12 weeks per year. Ms. Brock also discussed the goals of the library in providing a good "student experience", which many universities are trying to emphasize--the library is attempting to provide group study space, improve social seating, start using self-service for charging and discharging items, and librarians are trying to roam the stacks more often to have a more proactive approach to customer service, and hopefully improve the service that students are getting.

We also visited the Foyle Special Collections Library at the Maughan. They showed us some of their more significant and rare collections, which were fairly interesting. A large part of the special collections is the collection of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, which was acquired by the library in 2007, and which includes more than 60,000 items including books, periodicals, manuscripts, and photographs. One of the earliest items that the library owns is the Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493, which is a history of the world. The special collections also has a lot of medical materials, including some of Florence Nightingale's things from the Crimean War. They also showed us a D Day album, and album of the coronation of the current queen, a signed copy of the Charters of the State of Pennsylvania with Benjamin Franklin's signature, and a copy of Allen Ginsburg's poems which are signed by the author. There were also some interesting drawings of a concentration camp that an inmate was forced to draw by those keeping him in the camp; he was essentially drawing propaganda--the librarians discussed how it was difficult to determine whether they had the rights to digitize these drawings and the trouble with promoting contentious materials.

The Round Room:
We were then taken on a tour of the library by one of the librarians, who showed us around many of the rooms of the library. Maughan Library is a very large collection in a building that takes up almost an entire city block, so we weren't able to see it all. We were shown the Round Room, which houses the general reference collection and which is modeled after the reading room at the British Museum. The Round Room was very pretty, with a nice skylight; it seemed like a very good place to study, as it was very quiet, which the librarian said that the students enforce on their own.  The library is arranged by subject area (arts,humanities, law, natural science) then type of material (journals, books, DVDs, music) and is then arranged by Library of Congress call number--cataloging, acquisitions, and other technical services are done off-site. The Maughan Library just has circulation, reference, and study space for students. One interesting thing that the Maughan had was a piano on which music students can practice. A virtual tour of the library can be found here.

I thought this was a great example of an academic library that is trying to provide students with the types of servicesthey need, and the librarians understood that the way library space is set up is crucial in determining the way in which students use the library. If all the tables in the library are only for individual study, then doing schoolwork would be difficult as a lot of coursework is now done in groups. Also, the computer labs were set up like classrooms as many academic librarians also teach training sessions for library users, which was also well thought out when it was designed. I also thought the library was very technologically advanced in the tools they had at their disposal for circulation--they had RFID self-service checkouts and returns. They had a wand that would read the RFID tags in books and let the librarians know which ones were on hold for customers. The building itself was huge, with many good places to study--I think the students at the Kings College Strand campus are lucky to have such great collections and spaces in their library.

The First Carnegie Library, Dunfermline, Scotland

On our second class day in Scotland, we took a train ride to Dunfermline, which is the hometown of Andrew Carnegie and also the home to the first Carnegie funded library. The library opened on August 29, 1883 and thousands of Dunfermline citizens were present to welcome philanthropist Andrew Carnegie home; since then, there have been over 2,500 Carnegie libraries built throughout the United States and other English-speaking countries. Carnegie provided eight thousand pounds for a library to be built.  Due to a need for more space, the library has added on extensions--the first in 1922, designed by James Shearer, and the second in 1992, which added on exhibit and meeting rooms, a Local History Centre, and children's and music libraries. There are currently plans to build a museum next to the library, which should be open in 2013.

We were given a tour by Ross Manning, the customer services librarian. We walked through the adult collection area; the area was split into non-fiction and fiction books, and there was a desk in the middle of the room for checking out books.  The library has about 59,000 items for adults and children to check out, and there were displays set up to entice readers to check out certain books. There are also displays and exhibition space throughout the building that library users can book for their organization to put up a display or for them to do a display on a topic of interest. For example, there was a display set up about a football star, with tickets, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia while we were there.,_Dunfermline.jpg
The children's department was the second stop on our tour; it was very brightly painted and was a very inviting space for children, with tables they could sit at, shelves that they could reach, and books for all reading levels. The library participates in the summer reading scheme that the UK has just started, much like the summer reading program that the ALA organizes in the United States. The theme this year was Circus Stars, and for most libraries, it asks children to read six books over their summer break, and if they complete that goal, they receive prizes. The children's department also puts on craft events, rhyme times, and story times for toddlers.

The library also has a nice reference library, reserved for private study and Internet use. Also in the reference library are the special collections for the library; this includes a collection of materials on Robert Burns as well as illuminated manuscripts, some as old as the 16th century; since England and Scotland have a much longer history, many of the libraries, even a small public library, has rare texts.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Lott
My favorite part of the library was a room in the newest extension of the library that housed the local history collection. They have materials on local history and culture, which are arranged by locality and then subject. They also have photograph collections of the area, arranged alphabetically by village names--they acquire these photographs through donation and also have volunteers actively taking photos of certain areas. They also keep family history materials, including parish registers and census material. The library also has a map room, and they showed us a map from the 1700s that they had just acquired, and they have newspapers from the 1850s on microfilm and in print.

I really enjoyed this library--the people were very welcoming and gracious, and the space was inviting. There were plenty of places for library users to sit and study or to sit and read a book. One thing that we didn't really address while we were there was the online resources that the library has, including online databases and social media.The local history collection would be very useful for people trying to do family history or learn more about the place that they live.

Central Library, Edinburgh

On our first day in Edinburgh, we also visited the Central Library of the Edinburgh public library system. The librarians talked to us about their virtual library presence, reader development services, and other services that the library provides.
First, Alison Stoddart, discussed the library's virtual library and the library's new developments on that front. Their goal with their online presence is to provide a 24/7 digital library for customers of the 27 Edinburgh community libraries. In doing this, the library has created "Your Library," an online portal that collects together all of the library's online services, including electronic information resources, links to social media (blogs, Twitter, You Tube, Flickr profiles), Library 2 Go (where one can download e-books and audio books) and other items of interest to library patrons. Their goals in creating such as strong online presence is to attract different and new audiences, increase use of the library, and to provide services for library users even when the physical library building is closed. The library was also developing a mobile app for Android and iPhone users that will soon be transactional, meaning that users can download audio or e-books to their phones.  I thought that the "Your Library" page was very innovative--most public libraries that I've seen and used in the U.S. have Web sites with this information (electronic resources, online audio books and e-books through OverDrive or other similar providers, and ways for customers to access their accounts), but they don't collect them all in the same way. I thought that this was a very helpful thing for the Edinburgh libraries to do because it brings together all things on one page, whereas most libraries online presence is spread out over many different pages.

Then, we heard from Annie Bell, the Reader Development Librarian, who organizes events and services to make it easier for customers to choose what to read. Her job is to try to encourage library users to read more and to read more widely. She talked about the author events that she has set up in the past for the library, as well as events and services that continue to happen at the library. The library provides reading materials for over 50 book groups, and they also organize groups of people to read aloud to elderly people in care homes. She also discussed training that the library does in reader's advisory as well as training for leading book discussions. It was interesting to hear that the library, like most libraries in the UK are experiencing massive government cuts, and the libraries that we visited all discussed the impact that these cuts have on services they can offer. The librarians at the Central Library are providing so many services to their patrons, I can't even imagine what they could do with more funding--a lot of the services that they provide aren't available at many of the libraries in the United States.

Lastly, we heard from Wendy Pearson, who is the Service Development and Learning Librarian. She discussed some of the services that the library provides, including computer classes for beginners; they wanted to provide informal, encouraging places for library users to learn. They also have volunteers that serve as IT Buddies, that provide one on one instruction to those who need help with using computers. They also provide classes and events on family history, social networking, and sessions that discuss job applications and employability. They also provide adult literacy programs, including English as a Second Language programs and classes for adults that are unable to read. They also have outreach in prison libraries.

On the second level of the reference room at the Central Library
I thought that the Central Library was very impressive and innovative. The library itself was a beautiful Carnegie library; the building that we toured held the adult collection, local history collection, and reference collection. The children's library was in another building down the street. The most exciting thing for me was that we got to go up to the gallery in the reference room of the library and there were magnificent views of Edinburgh from there.  Their collections seem to be up-to-date and their services go above and beyond any library that I've been to in the United States.

Friday, August 12, 2011

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh

After a day off, we boarded a coach and  headed to Edinburgh, Scotland for five days. We stayed in Dalkeith Estate, home of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls' "Wisconsin in Scotland" study abroad program. Dalkeith is the former seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, and has had royal visitors in the past. The town of Dalkeith was about ten miles from Edinburgh, but there were bus services into the city--Dalkeith was a nice small town with some good restaurants, pubs, and was a very nice area to stay.

On our first full day in Edinburgh, we visited the National Records of Scotland, which was founded in April 2011 when the National Archives of Scotland and the General Register Office for Scotland merged.We were given a very nice presentation and tour by Margaret MacBryde, who is the Education Officer for the records center. The National Records of Scotland has six buildings that they use in Edinburgh and employ around 450 people. The original National Archives building was opened in 1789 and was built for that purpose.  They also have six public search rooms and operate 9 websites; their goals are freedom of information (providing access to historical materials to the public), data protection (preserving the materials that they do have) and providing advice to other archives and records centers. Ms. MacBryde discussed with us the difficulties striking a balance between preserving the originals and providing access for researchers--the National Archives has begun digitizing a lot of the their oldest records.

The main building for the National Records of Scotland:
They have over 72 kilometers (about 45 miles) of historical records dating from the 12th century, the vital records (birth, marriage and death records) for Scotland, and the Scottish census from 1841. The National Records also holds state and parliamentary papers, registers of deeds and sasines, church records, wills and testaments, taxation records, valuation records, family and estate papers, and old parish registers. They also maintain a register of family tartans. The National Records of Scotland is also home to Scotland's People, which is the family history center, that helps individual researchers trace their geneaology. Most of this occurs in the archives' six public search rooms, and in some of these rooms, seats can be booked in advance--this may be necessary for researchers to do, as doing family history has become more popular, which MacBryde attributed in part to the television program, Who Do You Think You Are?  Also, the National Records of Scotland puts on workshops for the public as well as professionals, students, and those wanting to become professional genealogists, including classes in paleography, which teaches students how to interpret ancient writing.

In order to use the archives, rather than the family history center, one must obtain a Reader's Ticket,  and must bring a photo ID and two passport photos; this makes for fairly easy access to the archives.  Most of the people that use the archives are undergraduates, postgraduates, and academics. Ms. MacBryde also brought out some materials from their archives that dealt with Scottish history and materials dealing with the history of Mississippi, Louisiana, California, and even a letter written in the late 1700s from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin for us to look at.  I thought that this was a very interesting exercise, and it made the materials that we saw more relevant to us and our history. I also thought that it was good that they do educational programming, for genealogists and other researchers, and they also have an online system in which people from the National Archives are able to broadcast to primary schools information sessions about what the records center does and the materials that they have--this provides outreach and information for teachers that they can then use in their curricula, which I thought was very innovative and cool for elementary school kids to experience.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Christ Church College Library, Oxford University

After our trip to the main Oxford University library, the Bodleian, we visited Christ Church College Library and Archives.  We talked to Christina, one of the special collections librarians. Christ Church College was founded in 1525, and the library was founded soon thereafter in 1562 in the upper rooms of a former Augustinian priory. The library moved into its present location in 1772. The history of the library in more detail can be found here
An outside view of the library:

Christ Church library is split up into two main collections—special collections and then modern collections. The special collections are made up of many rare and early printed books and manuscripts, which are arranged by the donor’s name—the library hasn’t changed the order of the collection since it opened in 1772. The provenance of the special collections are interesting, as many of the donors made notations in their books, which adds to their uniqueness; for example, in the Wake collection, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, many of his books have notations. Another collection that they have is the Orrery collection, which is made up of early medical and science books. Many of their special collections also came with artifacts—one of the interesting artifacts that they had in their reading room was the oldest felt hat in the world. They also have a fairly extensive music collection, which contains many early printed scores, including a manuscript of Handel’s Water Music. There are also about 700 manuscript collections, in Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, and other languages, as well as royal manuscripts.   They’ve been attempting to put the special collections into the online catalog and are about two thirds of the way through the collection.

The reading room:
Christ Church library also serves as a research library for the students within the college, so in their modern collections they collect for all of the subjects within the college—since each college is autonomous, they buy much of the same material as other colleges, and space has become an issue as all of the colleges each have to have certain texts to support student learning.  Their modern collection is in their online catalog and also goes into the Oxford Union Catalog. Christ Church College students, faculty, and fellows are able to access the library; other academic researchers should make an appointment and let the college know how using the library will benefit their research. They have two or three researchers usually each day in their special collections.

The librarian that gave us the tour, Christina, was very gracious and helpful—I learned a lot from her about the library and Christ Church’s history.  The library itself was beautiful and their collections were very impressive. All of the Oxford University area was magnificent, with grand architecture. Oxford was just a charming little town.  

One other interesting thing about the library was that they had a Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) exhibit up when we were there, displaying his books about logic (he was a mathematician), some photos, poems, and facsimiles of the Alice books. Charles Dodgson is one of Christ Church’s most famous alumni and he still has a large presence, with an Alice shop across the street. We got to see the courtyard where Alice (the dean’s daughter) would play, and Dodgson would interact with her. We also learned that Charles Dodgson actually worked at the Christ Church library for a time and we got to see his probable office. We also went and saw the staircase that was used in the Harry Potter films that Harry and his friends go up when they first arrive at Hogwarts, and the room that the Great Hall was modeled after. All in all, our trip to Oxford was a fun day!

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

On July 15th, we took a day trip to Oxford to visit two of the libraries on campus. We first went to the Bodleian Library, which is the most famous of the Oxford University libraries and the largest. It is a research library for all of the colleges at Oxford and it has world-renowned collections. It is also a legal deposit library for the United Kingdom and thus they have around 11 million volumes in their collection. However, we weren’t able to actually see any of the materials that the Bodleian has on our tour—we were just able to take the tour for the general public—this is probably so visitors don’t disturb those who are actually trying to work.
We had a very nice and informed tour guide and learned a lot about how Oxford operates and the history of the university.  Oxford University was founded in the twelfth century after English scholars were expelled from the University of Paris. Oxford University is made up of thirty-eight colleges, all of which are autonomous and financially self-sufficient under the umbrella of the university; each college offers numerous subjects of study and each subject normally has 10-12 students studying at one time. Each student has to meet with a fellow within their subject once per week; they usually have to write a paper on a certain topic for the student and fellow to discuss that week; there are also lectures that students can attend to aid in their learning. The oldest colleges date back to the 13th century, and these include Balliol and Merton

The first library at Oxford opened in about 1320, it was added to the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin on the upper floor--this was because the risk of rising water from the river was too great. This library was used for about 100 years. In the 1430s, Duke Humfrey of Gloucester donated a large collection of books, and the library did not have the storage capacity for the collection, so they built a room above the Divinity School which is still known as Duke Humfrey's Library. The support for libraries was in decline in the 15th and 16th centuries, and much of the furniture and collections were sold or ruined; only three books from the original collection still remain in the library.

In the late 16th century, Thomas Bodley, a former fellow at Merton College, offered to reestablish the university library. Bodley paid to refurbish the Duke Humfrey's library and he donated some of his sizable collection to the library. Bodley also made an agreement with the Stationer's Company to have a copy of every book registered with them donated to the Bodleian, and due to this and other large donations, the library has expanded into multiple buildings with many off-site storage facilities.

The Bodleian library is primarily a reference library; no books can be lent from the library and there are closed stacks with several reading rooms. Each of the thirty-eight colleges has its own library and each department within the college also has a library from which books are lent. The books are arranged using a shelf-numbering system, with the bay and shelf number marked. All Oxford University students and faculty are able to use the Bodleian as are academic researchers who are either postgraduate students or affiliated with an institution. Undergraduate students and non-university researchers must prove that it is critical to their research to use the Bodleian. Undergraduates from other institutions can only use the library during university breaks. All non-Oxford researchers must pay a fee to use the library; one can choose to pay for one week to four years admission.

I thought that the tour was very interesting, and that we learned a lot about Oxford history and education within the university system in Britain. We also learned a lot about the architecture of the buildings and the history of the Bodleian; I wish we could have learned more about the current and special collections that the library owns, and their current preservation practices, so that we could have compared the Bodleian with the British Library, London Library, and other like institutions with very old books (which seems to be every library in the UK!) I wish we could have seen more, but its probably not often that they allow non-affiliated groups to tour the special collections and library.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Royal Geographical Society Library

After the National Art Library, we went down the road to visit the Royal Geographical Society Library. The Foyle Reading Room, where the library and archives are housed, was recently remodeled in 2004 and made more accessible so that more people would be able to research. It was also built in order to bring together all of the elements of the library that were previously scattered around on various floors of the Royal Geographical Society building. Previously, there were rooms for the library, archives reading room, photo reading rooms, and a map room. The librarian, Eugene Rae, also told us that there was a feeling that the research rooms were previously an old gentleman’s club, but now with the new handicap accessible building and with much improved areas for research that the library is trying to attract more researchers and promote the services that the library offered.  If one wants to use the library, there is a £10 charge per day for using the facility for non-members; however, if one is using the materials in the course of completing one’s education or for scholarly research, it is free to use.  Only members of the Society are able to check out books and periodicals from the library.
The Royal Geographical Society:

The collections at the Royal Geographical Society library are very large and diverse. The collection is made up of about two million items—1 million maps,  500,000 photographs, several thousand boxes of archival materials, and 1500 artifacts. We were shown a display that was themed ‘hot and cold’ and showed materials from Arctic, South American, and African exploration by British explorers. One thing that I thought was interesting about the artifacts and other materials that the Society had was that the Society had a store of tools and other instruments that were needed for the explorers’ journeys and they would have a sort of instrument library, and once explorers like Edmund Hillary got back from climbing Mount Everest, or Percy Fawcett got back from South America, their items would be given back to the Society, but then those items had new found importance kept as artifacts of important expeditions. Mr. Rae told us the stories behind each of the items set out, including a stove from Admiral Peary’s expedition to the North Pole, The South Polar Times, a newspaper from the Shackleton expedition with poems, stories, and drawings, maps from when British explorers were trying to figure out the source of the Nile, David Livingston’s hat, a map of Arabia drawn by T.E. Lawrence, and Charles Darwin’s sextant from his voyage on the Beagle.

The story behind the items we were shown were spectacular and this was probably my favorite library because of this; the collections that the library has were interesting and focused, unlike many of the other libraries we’ve visited. For example, many of the libraries had old, rare books that had nothing to do with their purpose just because they were rare and they were donated by a benefactor. The Geographical Society Library seemed to be very focused on geography and exploration, and it was nice to have a collection tell a story. I would love to go back someday and just look at some of their treasures.

The Foyle Reading Room:
We discussed the accessions policy for manuscripts and artifacts with Mr. Rae, who told us that they like to acquire items that have interesting stories attached to them, but that they rely mostly on donations for these types of items as they don’t have the funding to purchase them.  We also discussed whether or not the library has engaged in digitization, and they have digitized over 12,000 photographs, which can be seen on their Web site, and prints of the images can also be ordered there. The library also has an extensive online catalog; items are still being added every day from the four separate card catalogs from previous years. They’ve also been engaging in an oral history project in which they discuss the idea of exploration with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds and they get different perspectives on the ideas of “discovery” and “exploration” of lands that were inhabited; in this way they get the postcolonial perspective. I thought that the programs, collections, and staff of the library were very welcoming, interesting, and impressive, and I would love to work in a library or archive similar to this after graduating.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum

On July 14th, we visited the National Art Library, which is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V & A museum).  We were given a tour of the library and then were shown many of the library’s treasures.  The National Art Library predates the V&A, beginning first in Marlboro House in 1837, then moving to Somerset House, and then finally in 1884 moving into the V&A museum.  The library collects materials and documents about art and artists from all over the world, as well as materials on the history of the book, book arts, and theatre.

The Reading Room:
The library is very accessible, any member of the public can use the materials for free; users must register for a reader’s card.  It has closed stacks, so readers must request materials to be brought to them by staff members, which they retrieve every 1 1/2 hours. The library contains 8000 volumes, 2000 periodicals, and contains textiles, furniture, and other artifacts as well.  They have many trade catalogues and reports from auction houses and galleries, which researchers often use to trace the ownership history of items. Their users are mostly postgraduate researchers and academics doing research for dissertations and theses, as well as employees of auction houses and galleries doing research for sales, and the curators of the V&A use the library to do research for their exhibitions. The library also collects files on artists, which include newspaper clippings, invitations to artists’ exhibitions, and other materials on artists’ lives.

While we were there, we were also fortunate to see some of the special collections that the National Art Library has—we were able to see and look through a rare facsimile of the Leonardo DaVinci codices, an illuminated manuscript from the 15th century, an artists’ book made completely of rabbit fur, the manuscript of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and a book of John James Audubon’s paintings. The materials were very cool to be able to see close up and to flip through—it was nice that the library allowed us to do that, as these materials are very rare and priceless. We asked if the library was thinking of digitizing many of these rare materials, as the British Library and other institutions with similarly old and valuable material have done in order to still allow people access but be better able to preserve materials.  The librarian who showed these materials to us said that there was no funding for digitization for now, but that they would like to digitize them in the future if they do get funding.

I thought that the library was very accessible—you only needed a photo ID and proof of address and anyone from around the world can get a reader’s card. Most of their materials are in their online catalogue and can be readily retrieved. Their collections were very eclectic but interesting—they have books on literature, history, science, theatre, art, and special collections that span those categories as well. If I were a graduate student in any of the arts, this would be one of the first places to look for research. The librarians were very welcoming and trusting, allowing us to see many of their rare collections.  I would love to explore their catalogue and see what other sorts of unexpected treasures the National Art Library might have.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stratford upon Avon

On Wednesday, July 13th, our class spent a day just wandering around Stratford upon Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company. To start off the day, a couple of  friends and I visited the Stratford upon Avon public library. We perused their stacks and looked at everything the library had to offer, which was pretty good considering the size of the town. As you walked into the library, there was a large room with public computers for Internet usage, some books to browse, and four RFID self-service check out stations. There were separate rooms for films, fiction, childrens materials, and non-fiction. There was also a room for local history and family history research. There were very few service desks within the library--I only saw two, one on each of the floors of the library. We didn't talk to any of the librarians when we were there as they seemed to be a bit busy; the library is next to the Shakespeare Birthplace and Trust, so it was very busy on a nice summer afternoon.

We had some time to kill between our visit to the library and the play we were seeing that evening, so we went and rode around on a hop on, hop off bus, which took us around to the countryside surrounding Stratford, including Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's Farm where Shakespeare would have visited his grandparents in the 16th century. The tour was informative, not only about Shakespeare's life, but about what was happening in the time period. We then perused, shopped, and ate at a local pub before going to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Cardenio, which is a lost, reimagined Shakespeare comedy about long-lost lovers. The highlight of the day was definitely the play, which was extremely well done; the actors were wonderful and the story was also quite fun. There were some elements that poked fun at Shakespeare's tragedies, which are quite comedic at times; there were some dark parts to the play and I expected people to start dying, but everything happily remained comedic. On a side note: Russ Feingold, the former senator from Wisconsin, was in the first row of the theatre, and this distracted me for a good ten minutes, trying to tell if it was actually him or not. All in all, it was a long but good day in Stratford upon Avon.

London Library

Today, we were able to visit one of the most exclusive libraries in the world. The London Library is a subscription lending library, meaning that an annual membership fee must be paid in order to check out books--which right now is somewhere around £400 per year. Apparently there are a lot of celebrities who visit the London Library, including a lot of writers--the current president is playwright Tom Stoppard. The day we visited we had just missed Hugh Grant that morning, who had popped in to use the loo and to do some research about a new film role. I like to think that Stephen Fry is probably a member, though the people who worked there weren't very revealing about those who subscribed. This discretion is probably what they pay for, but we were a bit disappointed that we didn't see anyone famous. Oh, well.
The library has a very long history--it was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, who wanted to have a library where one could actually take books home. The British Library at this time only allowed certain people to use the reading room, and books could not be taken out. The London Library has a long history of being a lending library, which predates the Public Library Acts, and which is funded by subscriptions and donations. You may still borrow some of the library's oldest books, some dating from the 16th century, and take them home to read.

The library's collections are impressive, containing over 1 million books and over 15 miles of shelving. The stacks are open, so patrons are able and encouraged to browse the shelves--97% of the books are available for loan--there are only a few that are too rare and in too poor condition to be allowed to be taken home. They have thirty thousand rare books dating from the 16th century, 2500 periodical titles, and 750 current periodicals, not including electronic resources that the library subscribes to. The library acquires around 8000 new books each year, and doesn't throw books away--thus they've had a problem with space and have had to add on to the building in several different renovations. Last summer, they completed a new wing, the T.S. Eliot wing that should give them enough space for the next 20 years.

The library is arranged by subject area, these include: arts and humanities, history, literature, biography, art, topography, science and miscellaneous, and religion. These subject areas are then further split up by subjects within these areas. For example, literature would be arranged by the language in which it is written--the library contains materials in more than 50 languages. The science and miscellaneous section might have a section on dogs, or domesticated animals, etc. They have an online catalog which contains most of the items that the library owns, but still retain paper indexes for those materials that have not yet made it into the online catalog.

We also heard from Sheila, who is a part of the preservation department at the London library; she talked to us about the way in which librarians have to monitor the well-being of books and make informed decisions about whether preservation or access is more important for rare materials--we also discussed this issue in many of the other libraries we've visited. While it is important to make sure that people are able to use materials of this sort, it is also important to restrict that access in some cases in order to make materials available to future generations. One solution to this problem is digitization, something that the London Library has yet to really undertake. However, they do keep in mind that the preservation standards of today might not be considered the best in the future, so they only preserve books in ways that are reversible if need be--for example, they use an organic wheat paste that is water soluble.

Although I thought the collections of the London Library and their clientele are both very impressive, there is something in me that doesn't understand the exclusivity of the London Library. To make the library more accessible to people who may not be able to afford the subscription fee, the library has a London Library Trust, which provides a sort of scholarship for membership to the London Library. Membership in the London Library seems to be a sort of status symbol; one could say they were in the same organization as George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, and more. The London Library has been able to achieve a very rare and exciting collection of books that have survived because it is exclusive and well-funded.  I really enjoyed my visit to the London Library, the librarians who showed us around were very welcoming and very nice, and they provided us with a lot of good information about one of the oldest lending libraries in the world.

Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich

On Monday, July 12, we visited the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich. We took a boat on the Thames to get to Greenwich, as it isn't easily accessible by tube or bus. We were a bit late due to a misunderstanding--apparently the Stephen Lawrence Gallery is not in the Stephen Lawrence building at the University of Greenwich. We were greeted with a brightly colored exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculpture--most of the art showed abstract influences, but I feel that I'll fail in actually doing the pieces justice here, so if anyone reads this and would like to see some of them, I might have a brochure that you can look at.

The gallery was established in 2000 as a place to display art for the University of Greenwich. The way that the gallery was named is a rather sad story. In 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager from Eltham in southeast London, was murdered at a bus stop. It soon became evident that the teenagers who perpetrated the crime would  not be prosecuted because they were the sons of wealthy families; this led to press outcry about the injustice surrounding this crime. Because of this, the government carried out an investigation of the crime and it found that there was "institutionalized racism" pervading all sectors of English society, including the police, and that all organizations should analyze their structures. At this time, Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's mother was working at the University of Greenwich, and it was proposed that a gallery be founded in order to create a positive area where diversity could be promoted through art created by young people of varying backgrounds. The gallery attempts to reach as wide of an audience as possible, and promotes all types of visual representation, including painting, sculpture, graphic design, and architecture.

Old Royal Naval College,
The exhibition that was being shown while we were there was called "Uncaught Hares: Painting and Sculpture at Greenwich Studios, 1974-1994." It was all of local artists, many of whom had been a part of the studio movement of the 1970s, during which a large number of artists banded together to create studios in abandoned industrial buildings in the dockyards of Greenwich. After prosperity came back to industry, and the Greenwich Studios were closed in 1994,  an organization called Art in Perpetuity Trust was created and now helps to provide artists with studio space in the London area by buying up old buildings and renting them out to young artists. Previous exhibitions include archival materials relating to artists movements in Greenwich, as well as other exhibitions of art which can be viewed here.

The gallery is open to the public and is free for them to browse. The artworks contained within the gallery are available for sale. The man who manages the gallery brings in other curators to actually hang and arrange the artworks.

Today, we also toured the Old Royal Naval College, in which the Stephen Lawrence Gallery now is housed. The buildings were first royal palaces, built by Henry VII on the Thames because they allowed invasion routes to be monitored easily. Tudor queens Mary I and Elizabeth I were both born here. The buildings that now stand in the area were designed by Christopher Wren in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They then were used as a home for naval pensioners, much like veteran's homes that we have in the States, from about 1705 until 1869. The navy then used the buildings as a place to train naval officers until they gave up the lease to the property in 1998; it now houses the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music. 

Great Painted Hall, from Wikipedia
The most interesting place that we visited, I thought, was the Great Painted Hall, which was painted by James Thornhill in the 18th century. The walls actually look like they are carved rather than painted. The hall was to be a dining hall for the naval pensioners living in the college at that time; however, they felt uncomfortable dining in such a lavish area, and continued to dine in the more modest basement. The hall was used recently for filming and can be seen in the opening scene of the newest Pirates of the Caribbean film. They had Johnny Depp's costume on display while we were there. We also got to see an old bowling alley in the basement of one of the buildings.

Chapel, From Wikipedia

We also got to see the chapel of the Old Royal Naval College, which was quite beautiful. There is a painting by American painter Benjamin West above the altar, who was the second president of the British Royal Academy and was considered the "American Raphael". The ceiling of the chapel was one of the most gorgeous that I've seen anywhere in England, with intricate detailing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Paris weekend

I chose to go along with some British Studies Program people to Paris for the first weekend we were here--unfortunately, the time that we needed to catch the bus to Paris interfered with our class' tour of the British Library, so some of my classmates and I missed out on that tour. Fortunately, we're going back to tour the library's conservation studio on our last day of class, so we'll get to see the treasures that the British Library has then, which includes the Magna Carta, manuscripts of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and others, Gutenberg bibles, and some of the earliest printed books from Europe and Asia.

We left late for Paris after a delay due to traffic in Leicester and Trafalgar squares (the Harry Potter premiere was the same night), so we were in for a long night. Luckily we made it to Dover in time to catch our ferry, and then made it to Paris around 2 am. We arrived at our hotel, which was in the Latin quarter on the left bank of the Seine. The next morning, we were given a tour of the Rue Mouffetard and the Rue San Michel by a professor who was originally from France. We also witnessed our first mugging within the first 10 minutes--luckily none of the people from our group was the victim of the mugging. I was kind of on edge the rest of the time we were in Paris; it didn't feel as safe as London.

After we were finished with our tour, we went to the Louvre, where we saw some great works of art including the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and some Vermeer paintings. The Louvre was an interesting collection of sculpture and paintings; however, it was difficult to navigate due to how large the building was and the way in which the floors were set up--there was only one staircase that would take you to the second floor, which housed all of the paintings.   Also, the building itself (a former palace built in the Middle Ages as a fortress for the French monarchy) was very beautiful with painted ceilings and intricate stonework. The Louvre became a museum in 1793; after Versailles was built, the interest of the monarchy in the palace waned, and the public was given a chance to see the royal art collections by making it into a museum.

After the Louvre, we walked to the Eiffel Tower--which looked a lot closer than it appeared. I think I probably did more walking in Paris on the first day than I did in three days in London. I didn't go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but in general, it was a lot bigger than I was expecting--it was also a lot prettier at night. We went to dinner at a cute little French cafe that evening, where I had canard confit (duck) with roasted potatoes, an apple tart (and of course, red wine!) It was one of the most delicious meals I've had in my life.

The next day we went to Versailles, which was the palace of the French monarchy, and was greatly expanded by Louis XIV. During the French revolution, the royal family had to flee to Paris due to the Woman's March on Versailles. The palace was large and very beautiful, with velvet walls, gorgeous furniture, and gold everywhere. However, the greatest part of the estate, in my opinion, were the gardens surrounding the estate.

The gardens were very beautiful, and contained a large canal, on which people could rent rowboats. According to Wikipedia, the gardens comprise 800 hectares of land, and they also contain the estate of Marie Antoinette. There were also many sculptures and fountains surrounding the gardens, and everything was very colorful and well-manicured. The flowers were all blooming and it was just a great place to spend the afternoon. I could have spent the whole day just touring the gardens. We only had a short amount of time before the bus was leaving back to Paris, though, so we were only able to spend an hour or so there.

The highlight of the trip was being able to go to Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in the morning. Although I couldn't understand any of the homily, the Mass was structured in the same way, and the setting and surroundings were all beautiful. Because of all of the tourists taking part in the Mass, there were translations of the readings into English, Italian, and German in the church program and there were also translated versions of the hymns to make it easier for Catholics (and people of other denominations) to take part in the service. It was also interesting because they allow tourists to walk through the back of the church while Mass is taking place, so there would be camera flashes going off throughout the service. There were also people who were attending Mass that were taking pictures before and after the service--the ushers were trying to get people to be respectful of what was taking place, but their efforts were to no avail.

One thing that made being in Paris much more difficult was the language barrier--although I know some very basic French, it was difficult to try to get around and to understand many of the signs throughout Paris. For example, a friend and I were shopping in a store, and several people tried to tell us that the store was closing, but we didn't understand what they meant, and they didn't speak English.  Finally, we realized when the woman pointed at her watch, that they were trying to shoo us out. Overall, I am glad that I took the time to see Paris and see many of the landmarks in the city, but I think that I have felt safer and have just enjoyed the city of London more than Paris.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fun things I've done in London thus far!

On July 4th, I got tickets to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. It was a wonderful and hilarious show and I was lucky enough to get really good seats in the 9th row center. I had never seen or read this play, but I had heard that it was hilarious and it had gotten really good reviews, so me and a couple of classmates went and it was a blast!

I finally had fish and chips--it only took me six days!  My friends and I went to a pub called the Mulberry Bush that is across the street from the ITV studios and about three blocks away from our flats.  I was a little bit taken aback because the place I went didn't take the scales off of the bottom half of the fish--apparently this is a common occurrence in England. Next time, I'll have to go to the South Bank of the Thames and get fish and chips there sans scales.

Last Wednesday, I also got to meet up with Jess Zaiken, one of my friends from undergrad at Drake University. She and I walked along the South Bank of the Thames and had dinner. Jess was here for three and a half weeks taking some classes to count toward her law degree. It was definitely good to see a friendly face!

The next morning, my brother Joey and his girlfriend Sarah were scheduled to fly into London for a two and a half week tour of London, Amsterdam and Prague, so we got to meet up and have breakfast before I left for Paris that afternoon. Unfortunately, this was the day that the London weather decided to be uncooperative and it was pouring rain, so we couldn't walk along the south bank and get the really good pictures of Big Ben, Parliament, and the City of London.

My next update will be about Paris--so stay tuned!

British Museum Archives

On Wednesday, July 6th, we visited the archives of the British Museum. The archival collections are housed in a room in the basement of the museum, and take up a sizable amount of space. The collections include papers, account books, maps, architectural drawings, plans for exhibitions, and photographs. The archivist for the British Museum, Stephanie Clarke, showed us around and gave us an overview of the collections that are housed at the museum.

The British Museum Archives holds mostly internal records, covering the actual administration of the museum. The collections are split up into six different series, including trustees, staff, finance, exhibition, building, and reading room records. Before Ms. Clarke began working in the archives, there were 117 different series that comprised the same materials, so much of her time has been spent organizing  and simplifying the records. The reading room records are actually from before the 1970s, when much of what is the British Library today was housed within the British Museum. Their records span from 1753, when the British Museum was created up until the 1960s for the board of trustees minutes.

The archivist usually answers about twenty to thirty reference inquiries per week by correspondence, and there are about 5 or 6 researchers who come in to the museum each week to do their own research. These researchers are mostly students or scholars wanting to write papers on certain subjects dealing with the British Museum, or genealogists doing family history; one interesting bit of research she mentioned was a scholar investigating the number of women who were granted access to the library reading room in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, it is somewhat difficult to know what the Museum Archives has because there is no catalog for the collection.  The organization of the materials is currently laid out in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but as with other libraries and museums during these tough economic times, there isn't enough money or staff time to create a more accessible and detailed catalog. Researchers can always e-mail the archivist if they have questions about what the collection contains or if the archive has certain materials.

The trustees records consist mainly of the minutes of the board of trustees as well as correspondence with members of the board concerning the business of the museum. The staff records contain staff directories as well as a random sampling of staff applications from 1850 to 1950. Ms. Clarke showed us the application of a man called Aaron Hayes who was a footman who included some drawings of the collections within his application. She said that the staff records are often used for family history research, but that archivists have to be careful because of privacy issues; the records are restricted 72 years after a person's birth or 5 years after their death. The building records include architectural plans from the architects of the museum--Sidney and Robert Smirke--as well as deeds for the land that the museum sat on before it was what it is today. The British Museum was previously an estate called Montague House during the mid eighteenth century. The exhibition records are made up of plans for exhibitions housed in the museum from the 1960s through the 1990s.

I thought the most interesting collection housed in the archive was the reading room records--these were actually records of the British Museum Library before the library split off from the museum in the 1970s. The records consist of reading room logs and applications to use the reading room of the museum library--the records span the years of 1790 to 1970. It was very difficult to be approved to use the reading room in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the librarian had to think that applicant was using the room for a worthwhile purpose and the applicant had to have a house holding person write them letters of reference stating they were an upstanding member of society and they would treat the books with respect. There are many famous people who applied to research in the reading room--some that Ms. Clarke showed us were Karl Marx, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Rudyard Kipling, T.S. Eliot, and Oscar Wilde; however, there was no record kept of the books each person looked at in the reading room, which would have been great for those who do research on history of the book and the history of reading practices. 

It would have been nice if we had been able to see the archival reading room--we only saw where the materials were kept. In order to use the archival materials, one has to make an appointment with the archivist.  The collection was impressive and was in surprisingly good condition for being 300 years old. I thought it was interesting that Ms. Clarke said that a lot of what she does is advocacy--justification of the archive's existence as well as why the archive is used and who uses it. She also discussed how she is trying to get the eight different departments that do exhibitions within the museum to adopt some archival principles in their department libraries. Overall, the collections were very interesting and historically important, but if resources permit, more should be done to promote the collection, make a catalog and finding aids more accessible for researchers, and begin to digitize materials housed within the collection.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Barbican Public Library

On Tuesday, July 5th, we visited the Barbican Public Library and were given a tour of the library by Geraldine Pote, the Adult Lending Librarian, and Jonathan Gibbs, the I.T. and Operations Librarian. The library is one of the largest public lending libraries in London and also contains a music, arts, and children's library.
The library is a part of the Barbican Centre, which is a building that is not very attractive on the outside--it is made up mainly of concrete and has a very 1980s style of architecture, but it has a nice stream and waterfall in its courtyard. The centre contains a theatre, cinemas, cafes and restaurants, as well as other services and goods.  The inside of the library is more colorful and well-lit, with a lot of comfortable looking seating areas that are very inviting. There was a nice London-themed art exhibition as you enter the library, and there were helpful signs indicating where a library user could find fiction, non-fiction, music, films, etc. The library is arranged in a sort of bookstore-Dewey Decimal system hybrid, where each section of the bookshelf is identified by subject, but then arranged within that shelf by Dewey numbers. The Barbican Centre was a gift to the people of London from the city burghers and was opened in 1982; the area had previously been destroyed in WWII by the bombings that London endured.

Most libraries in the United States are funded by property and local taxes; however, the Barbican is in central London, where not very many people live, as London is largely a commuter city. So, whereas other lending libraries are funded by local taxes, the Barbican is funded through national funds as established by the Public Library Act of 1964. Most of the library users that the Barbican serves are men between the ages of 25 and 45 who commute to the city--and they have collections that focus on these populations. The Barbican has a large collection of books that focus on management and accounting. They also serve student populations, as there are universities, primary schools, and language schools near the library. They also noted that they have a lot of celebrities that come into the library, including Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond, and Orlando Bloom (apparently I just need to hang out here for my celebrity sitings!). The librarian noted that they have the potential to reach the 350,000 people who commute to the city on a daily basis.

The Barbican Library is very innovative--they have traditional check-out desks but also several self-service machines that use RFID tags to check out and check in books and other materials. They started using RFID because it was the only way that the Barbican Centre security would allow them to have a box for after-hour library returns, because of the terrorist threats that London has experienced. This is the same reason that it is very difficult to find any trash cans in public areas in central London and the reason that there are CCTV cameras recording pretty much everything that anyone does in central London. So, the library has had to be innovative in order to serve their patrons.

They also offer library users collections and services unavailable elsewhere in the city. They have a historical London collection with books that range from 1742 to the recent past, and they have the largest collection of musical scores and other music materials in central London. They provide outreach services to those that can't visit the library--the Barbican has volunteers that will bring materials to those that can't make it in. They also have two pianos within the library on which library users can practice. The library also has a large CD collection and listening stations throughout the library. They recently started an "Unsigned London" collection where musical groups that aren't signed to a major label can provide the library with two or three copies of their CD, and the library will lend them out for free to library users in order to provide bands with a way to publicize their music. This is a great idea for any urban public library who would like to engage a younger part of the community and for library users to hear music that they might have otherwise missed; it also creates a greater sense of community as people are listening to music that has been created by members of their community. Much like many libraries are doing in the United States, the library had an event coming up that would provide job hunting information and advice for its patrons in these tough economic times.

For children, the library has a separate section, where city workers often bring their children. They have story time once a week, and have two rhyme time sessions every week. They also lend books to teachers and provide a space for home-schooled children to socialize. They have a Warhammers group (gaming) for young adults, and hold programs for children one Saturday every month that are interactive--recently they have had a crime scene investigation event and have had the ballet come in, and they also do crafts and other activities. They do a summer reading program, much like we do in the states, where children can sign up, read a certain number of books, and receive prizes.

The Barbican Library was a wonderful example of what a public library can do and be for a group of people. Because they serve a largely working, commuter population, the library has attempted to work around that --since their peak hours are during the lunch hour, they are only open two nights per week, until 7 pm, and they are most heavily staffed between 11 am and 2 pm. The library, while not the most attractive on the outside, is one of the most innovative public libraries that I've been in, and the library staff really thinks about the sorts of services that their patrons might want and provide them with those services. This is definitely one of my favorite libraries we've visited so far, and I will definitely be returning to explore it further and do some research--and perhaps spot some British celebrities.

Pictures of the library and more information about events and hours can be found on the City of London Libraries webpage.