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.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

All photos are taken from the St. Paul's webpage.
 On Monday, 4 July, we visited the St. Paul's Cathedral Library. We were greeted in the lobby of the cathedral by Mr. Joe Wisdom, the cathedral librarian, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the triforium of the cathedral, which is the level that is halfway up to the dome and where the library is situated.

St. Paul's was built in 1710 as a Protestant cathedral and designed by Sir Christoper Wren to rebuild after London's Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the church that was previously there. The sculpture of a book and heart over the west door of the cathedral indicates the importance of books, especially the Bible, in the mission of the cathedral; there is also a similar sculpture on the staircase that takes you to the library. As we entered the triforium level, there were several artifacts, such as furniture, stones from the building, pulpits that are no longer in use, sculptures, and artwork displayed that Mr. Wisdom indicated might be turned into an exhibition if funding permits within the next couple of years.

Mr. Wisdom then took us to the library, which was a fairly small room of books that had two levels. The library was beautiful, dimly lit as to not harm the books, many of which were old and fairly rare.  He discussed the history of the library; he said that there had been collections of books in St. Paul's since the Middle Ages, many of which were personal collections of the deans (ministers) that were practicing in the church and there were also inventories of collections that could be considered a library (not a personal collection), but much of the libraries that existed before 1666 were destroyed by the fire as well--only 10 printed books and 3 manuscripts were left. One of the books was a psalter, or a book of psalms.

After the cathedral was rebuilt, what was left of the collection of the cathedral library was supplemented by the Bishop of London, who gave two thousand books from his collections to start the collection, and the library began to acquire materials from clergy after they died. The most rare volume that the library has is a 1526 Tyndall New Testament, something for which Tyndall died because he translated the Bible into English from the Vulgate, which was Latin.

The library is currently arranged by size, and uses a shelf locating system for retrieval--each set of shelves is numbered, and each shelf within that set is lettered, and then the third indication is the books spot on the shelf (whether it is first, second, third, etc.). This arrangement is often used for archival collections as well, and it works fairly well until something is reshelved in the wrong space--for a library of this size, it seems to be a managable retrieval device.

Today, the St. Paul's Cathedral Library would be considered a special library, as it collects mostly books on theology and the subjects which support theology, such as history, sociology, and biography of deans of the cathedral, like John Donne.  The accessions that the library acquires today are limited--they only collect materials within this scope, as their space and resources are limited, as are most libraries within this economy. Mr. Wisdom also discussed the people who use the library, which are primarily those doing academic research--students, scholars, etc.--but that there are also many more people doing their family histories that use the library.  By looking at the guestbook, it seemed to me that there were only a few researchers that came in per week; perhaps if the library wanted to raise its profile, there would be some indication (with a sign or a mention in  a brochure) that the library was there and available for research. However, as Mr. Wisdom discussed, there is always the debate between access and preservation that occurs for a librarian who wants to preserve the materials in the library's collection--how accessible should you make the library when you want to make sure that all of the materials stay in as good of condition as possible. The webpage for the library shows some photos of the beautiful library and its collection and gives you more information about the library.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

First Days in London

I thought I would actually update this, now that I'm all caught up on sleep and able to think coherently.  I arrived on Saturday, July 1st around noon; we were supposed to arrive about 9:00, but a storm was brewing and I was flying through O'Hare, so there were bound to be delays--luckily there were  movies and air-conditioning on the plane.

We caught the coach from Heathrow to our dorms that Southern Miss arranged for us and got checked in, and then went on a walking tour of our neighborhood. I am living in the King's College London dorms, which are just around the corner from Waterloo tube station in the South Bank area of London. I am two blocks from the Old Vic Theatre, where Kevin Spacey is now playing Richard III (sadly, its sold out) and a couple of blocks from the London Eye and the Queen's Walk on the South Bank of the Thames River. There are wonderful views of Big Ben and other London landmarks just blocks from my door.

On the first night, my class also got our Oyster Cards to ride the tube and went to Leicester and Trafalgar Squares, where my professor, Dr. Teresa Welsh, showed us around and gave us insider information about where to get the best discounted theatre tickets and good places to visit, like the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. We then went out to a nice dinner at the Texas Embassy, which apparently used to be the ticket booth for the White Star Lines in the early twentieth century, and was where people bought their tickets to ride on the Titanic in 1912. After the Titanic disaster, a list of names of those who were killed was hung in this building as well.  Although we were all jet-lagged and tired, it was good to walk around and get a feel for the city.

On Saturday, we had our orientation in the morning, and then went on a London ALIVE tour, something that the professors in the British Studies program set up to allow students to get used to riding around the city and to point out certain things that London has to offer. The first tour that I went on was a tour of Leicester Square and the West End area, where all of the theatres are. We went around to many of the theatres throughout the West End and also went through Chinatown and Covent Garden. There are many plays and shops that I wouldn't mind going back and seeing throughout the month I'm here.

The next morning, a couple of classmates and I decided to go to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and just walk around since it was supposed to be a nice day. We walked around the Serpentine, which is the body of water in the middle of Hyde Park and looked at the beautiful gardens and fountains throughout the park. We also saw some mallards (Marissa Dittmer!) and swans and got politely shooed out of a photo shoot taking place near the fountains in Hyde Park. We found Speaker's Corner, where people are literally given boxes to stand on and say whatever their hearts desire--there was some preaching going on while we were there as well as a very lively debate about gay marriage with lots of name-calling. It was definitely an interesting experience--there really isn't a place in the United States where people go to just say exactly what's on their minds and have an open, informal debate in a public space. It was refreshing to see people saying exactly what was on their minds without concern for politeness or political correctness, which is something that I think we get way too caught up in in the US.

On Sunday afternoon, I had another London ALIVE tour. This tour was called London Calling! and it was basically a punk rock tour of Camden Town, where the professor pointed out famous venues and bars where people like the Clash, Ramones, and Sex Pistols played. We saw the Roundhouse, where the Itunes festival is currently taking place and also went to the Camden Market, where there are a bunch of booths set up selling food, clothes, crafts, jewelry, records, and other goodies. I think that I'll probably go back and maybe try to convince some of my classmates to go to one of the venues at some point.

Sunday evening my friends and I went on an elusive quest to find a pub that served fish and chips--we were sadly unsuccessful. We went to a couple of historic pubs on Fleet Street where great writers like Samuel Johnson and Dickens went--Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and Punch Tavern, but they were closed for private functions. Then, we went to the Stamford Arms, the pub just around the corner from our dorms, but they quit serving food at 4 pm every night, so we had to settle for pizza on the Southbank.

Soon to come--my first three days of class, where we visited the St. Paul's Cathedral Library, the Barbican Library--the largest public library in London--and the archives at the British museum today.