Wednesday, August 10, 2011

British Library Conservation Studio

Our final class visit was a really interesting one.  We visited the British Library Conservation Studio and were able to see some current projects being repaired.  Our tour was led by Alison and Mark.  The Studio was opened in October 2007.  Since the Library has 1,200 seats for readers a lot of books get moved around, handled and incur minor damage simply through general use.  The small fixes are easy and quick to repair.  The Studio contains five teams of conservators, two large studios for projects, and a quarantine room for new and potentially contaminated items.  The 6th floor of the Library contains a separate small conservation studio for paper, map, miniature, and wall hanging, and other large items.  The teams exist to fix damage and conserve items, they not to restore items to perfect appearances and conditions.  They take a minimal intervention approach, using reversible techniques.  They don’t want to permanently alter any items.  Curators are responsible for maintaining their collections, and when they deem that items need work, they send them over to conservation.

Most of the teams work on books, except Mark’s team.  They specialize in non-book materials like stamps, photographs and even rarer items.  We were able to get a glimpse at the work one of Mark’s teammates is working on: 17th C palm leaves.  This collection is composed of 253 leaves from India and the text is a form of Harikhrisna doctrine.  The leaves have two holes in the middle, where some sort of string would have be threaded to connect the leaves to the wood “covers.”  The leaves are very dark, making the writing difficult to read.  The leaves are very fragile and some have had extensive damage to the edges and centers. 

The conservator working on this project has repaired around 100 of the leaves, doing much of the work by hand.  She also utilizes a leaf caster to fix the most heavily damaged leaves.  She gave us a brief description of how the caster works, it’s similar to papermaking.  Special paper is made, then blended and pulped, died to match the palm leave color, and then applied to the damaged sections.  The whole process seemed very interesting, and I enjoyed getting to see such an unusual item being worked on.

The final part of our tour was my favourite.  Mark gave us a quick introduction to gold-leafing leather bindings.  I really enjoyed the whole process.  It involved gold leaf, a hot iron, metal typeset, and albumen (egg yokes).  Mark first quickly ironed the section of the spine in order to smooth out the leather.  He then applied the albumen glaze as an adhesive for the gold.  He let it sit for a few minutes while we passed around two sheets of gold leaf, passing it along on the backs of our hands.  Each piece eventually got stuck partway down the line, once they absorbed too much oil.  Mark then cut the leaf and laid it on the spine, overlapping the pieces.  He arranged the brass lettering, to spell his name, and began heating the type.  We learned that the studio has more than 10,000 pieces of type, including thousands of non-letter shapes.  When the type was hot enough Mark rolled it across the gold leaf.  The heat reacts with the albumen and makes the leaf permanently attached.  After a few seconds Mark simply wiped the rest of the gold leaf off with a towel and only the word “Mark” remained.  The whole process was really interesting.  To me, it was an excellent way to end the course, seeing some hand's on repair projects currently underway at the British Library.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Middle Temple Law Library

There are four Inns of Court in London: Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Grey’s.  Every barrister in the UK must be registered the inn of their choice.  Each inn has a different specialty, but they are all interconnected and any member can access any of the four libraries.  Middle Temple has a specialty in American and European Union Law.  As a result the library contains one of the largest American Law Collections in the UK.  This collection was largely built up after WWII, primarily by government, publisher, and university donations.  The rooms which house the American Collection are multi-purpose.  In order to maximize space the library has converted several sections of the stacks into private rooms which can be used for lectures or meetings.  The rooms contain books, and patrons have access to them even when in use.

The library existed as early as 1540.  However it was re-founded in 1641 by Robert Ashley.  He was a brilliant man who lived and worked at Middle Temple for most of his life.  He collected many rare and unique items, in over a half dozen languages.  Upon his death he donated his personal library of around 4,000 books to the library.  He had managed to purchase a large portion (80 books) of John Dunne’s personal library when it was sold after his death.  Several of Ashley’s books are the only known copies in the world.  The library received a huge boost with Ashley’s collections and has continued to grow ever since.  The current collection contains around 250,000 books.

The current library was constructed in the 1950s.  The previous building had been bombed twice during the Blitz and it was no longer sound.  Prudently the majority of the collection, especially the rare and special items, had been moved out to the countryside, only the bare minimum of reference works remained in London.  Sir Edward Moff was commissioned as the architect to design a new, stronger building.  He used reinforced concrete to protect the books from any future threats.  After construction was complete the collections were moved in, and the fourth floor was converted into a space for the archives and special collections.  The third floor contains the American Collection, International Law, and Capital Punishment.  The first and second floors contain the bulk of the EU and British law collections, including textbooks, reports, journals, the Ecclesiastical Collection, and a section on human rights. 

main collections
No classification system is used in the library.  The senior benchers (administrators) don’t like the look of labels on book’s spines, so the books remain free of labels.  There is no specific subject organization either.  In the catalog the entire library is organized by bay and shelf number.  Items are physically located not through Dewey or LC but according to what number shelf they are in.  When any books are moved, such as to add new series or collections, the entire catalog needs to be undergo a slow update one item at a time.   

Monday, August 8, 2011

King’s College Maughan Library

main entrance to the Maughan
During the final week of class we visited three sites.  The first was the Maughan Library, one library of King’s College.  It’s located on the Strand Campus, which was about a 10 minute walk from our apartments.  King’s College was founded in 1829 as a “godly institution.”  University College London had been founded as a secular institution of higher education and King’s was specifically founded to keep religion central to education.  Theology was one of the central courses of study, and many ministers were trained at King’s. 

King’s College has four campuses spread throughout London, and each campus had its own library until recently.  The building which currently houses the Maughan Library was acquired by the College to be a central library to house most of the collections in one place.  The College now has six libraries, several of which are much smaller than the Maughan and which focus on the sciences and medicine.  The Maughan specializes in humanities, engineering, and law.  It also houses the Foyle Special Collections.  The building has a long history of public service; it is the former Public Records Office.  As such it was built specifically to store records and information.  The Chancery Lane PRO Building was completed in the 1850’s.  It was the first fire proof building in the UK. 

The land is owned by the Crown, and it is leased to the College by the Corporation and the City of London.  Since it is a historic site restrictions were placed upon future improvements.  Any alterations had to be approved by English Heritage, the Corporation, and the City of London.  The original building was very soundly built and was designed to hold rooms and rooms of books and paper records.  The library has benefited from the original construction and has not had to reinforce any parts of the building.  The library has complied with all the regulations and has only made what changes it deemed necessary, such as installing elevators. 

The Maughan Library contains over 300 computer terminals, and has enough seating to accommodate over 1,000 readers.  The library holds over ¾ of a million volumes in all its collections.  11,000 students study at the Strand Campus each year, and the library receives especially heavy traffic during exam weeks, as does any university library.  The library is part of the University of London system so any students from the University can use the collections, and King’s students can use other system libraries. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scotland III: Dunfermline Carnegie Library

From Edinburgh we took the train to Dunfermline, the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie.  The Dunfermline Public Library is the first library that Carnegie donated the funds to have built.  He donated a total of 8,000 pounds; the amount covered much of the costs, but not all.  Construction began in 1881 and the library was opened in August of 1883.  It was originally run by the local council, but was taken over by the Carnegie Trust in 1902 due to financial difficulties.  It became financially stable again in 1922 and was reclaimed by the Fife Council.  It is a part of SPICe, Scottish Parliament Information Centre.  On its opening day the shelves were completely cleared out as over 2,000 items were checked out by new patrons.

Our tour was led by Ross Manning, the Customer Service Librarian.  He explained that the building has gone through several extensions and expansions since the 1880’s.  The first was in 1922, then again in 1992.  As part of the 1992 expansion a whole new children’s library and several meeting rooms were added.  The Abby Room is used as an exhibition space; they had an exhibit on the Pharaoh’s of Fife, a local company which makes Egyptian replicas.  When no exhibits are on display the rooms is used as extra patron/staff space.  The library is a lending library and its collections hold around 59,000 items. 

There is a reference library in its own room, which houses the library’s special collections.  The reference room is used for quiet study, with reader spaces and computers available.  The special collections are in a locked room and feature the Murison Burns Collection, which focuses on the works of Robert Burns.  Several first and rare edition copies are part of the collection.  The George Reid Collection features many rare and valuable items including a 15th C copy of Summa Theologica, a Shakespeare Second Folio, a 15th C Book of Hours, and works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scotland II: Edinburgh Central Library

We had a lunch break after the National Records, then headed over to the Edinburgh Central Library. We learned that it opened in 1890.  It is a Carnegie Library, located in the centre of the city.  It serves the whole city, and has an impressive range of services and programs aimed at every reading level and age group.  During our visit to the Central Library we received a tour and a brief introduction to three of the library departments.  We heard from Alyson who is on the Digital Information Team, Annie from Reader Development, and Wendy from Learning in Libraries.  Each of these ladies outlined what services their departments provide, and what steps they are taking to enact further improvements.

Alyson gave her presentation first; her team is in charge of the Edinburgh wide online library systems.  The website includes an online catalog, but they also operate social media platforms.  The library has a blog, and a mobile app was just launched.  The yourlibrary section is a collection of many online resources available to members.  The Central Library was an early adopter of social media, and they have remained on the cutting edge.  They have a special “tales of the city” program for Edinburgh local authors and artists to have a voice.  The library is on twitter, flickr, and youtube.  Their blog gets more than 5,000 hits a month.  Alyson and her team believe that the strong social media components have helped increase physical use of the library and general attendance to events since it is easy to spread the word using electronic means.  A digital newsletter is sent out each month to several thousand users who chose to subscribe.

The physical Central library has three plasma screens throughout the building which advertise upcoming events and other promotions.  They also have a large touch screen in the main lobby, which is an interactive map of the building.  It’s a relatively new platform and has been well received.  The Digital Information Team is hoping to add online exhibitions to the touch screen in the near future, with a local Edinburgh focus.  The library has taken big strides towards digitizing certain parts of its collections, such as Scottish heritage and culture.  The team has a full plate and a busy schedule.  Everyone is doing their best to maintain their current services and add new ideas when possible.

Annie from Reader Development spoke second.  She is part of a two person team in charge of planning author events and library promotions.  She and Collin work with the Scottish Book Trust to plan book club ideas and author visits.  They also participate in UK wide networks to attract a wider range of authors.  They run many different venues for many age groups and covering a variety of interests.  Recently they did a promotion with Tesco for a recyclable bag which featured the book covers of bestsellers.  The department tries to help readers expand beyond their traditional genres and encourage folks to try new things.  They operate both online and in house staff training sessions to improve staff-patron interactions.  14 employees are currently working their way through the program. 

46 book talks occur throughout Edinburgh; Annie’s department oversees them all.  The library provides lists of over 80 titles and the different groups chose their own titles.  The book talks have taken off so well in the past few years that the Library has extended their services to private groups as well.  Staff member in the department spend a lot of time organizing and packaging up the books for each group. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Scotland I: National Records of Scotland

In Edinburgh we visited two places, the National Records of Scotland and the Edinburgh Central Library.  At the National Records our tour was led by Margaret McBryde, the Education Officer.  She told us a bit of the history of the Records Office and of the recent changes that have occurred.  In April of this year the Records Office merged with the Scottish Government in a consolidation move.  Prior to April the department in which Margaret worked was the National Archives; the General Register Office for Scotland was its own entity.  Since the merge 6 buildings throughout Edinburgh are now used by the 450 employees of the NRS. 

The opinion of the employees in regards to the merger seems to be very positive.  It cut back on spending and reduced duplications.  The public didn’t really notice the difference; the archival and government records are accessible to them all in one place.  The NRS reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs.  The merged departments now offer all of the information originally held by the National Archives of Scotland, ScotlandsPeople (a family history site), and the National Register of Archives in Scotland.  The National Register of Archives is a place for public members to voluntarily register their personal archives.  Some wealthy families have large collections and listing their records could help researchers discover important information.

The collection of records covers over 72 kilometers of shelf space, the earliest records are from the 12th C.  The records and services provided include births, marriages, deaths, the registry of tartans, deeds, Scottishpeople Centre, and the census since 1841.  The NRS have 6 public search rooms for patron use, and they operate 9 websites. 
main entrance
Margaret then explained some of the history of the buildings to us.  The General Register House was opened in 1789, it was purpose built to house national records.  The ground floor has since been converted into search spaces for patrons, a total of 170 people can be accommodated for research at one time.  Most of these search stations are for online access to electronic catalogs and some records.  Large parts of the records collections have been digitized, but not all.  In 1947 the History Search Room was opened.  This is on the second floor and provides a quieter more private environment for academic research. 

We were given the opportunity to view some items from the collection.  Several of them were really interesting.  I enjoyed getting a chance to read old handwriting.  The oldest item that we saw was a request for fireworks to celebrate the birth of James VI of Scotland.  Another fun item was a letter from a Scot fighting in the American Revolution for the Crown.  Reading his thoughts on the rebellion was interesting.  I’ve not seen much from the British perspective; it’s something I’d like to look into more at some point.

The websites have not yet been completely merged together so here’s a few of them.
National Records of Scotland website:
National Archives website:
General Register website:
ScotlandsPeople website:

Oxford II: Christ Church Library

Christ Church Quadrangle
The Christ Church College Library was opened in 1772, with a special emphasis on music.  The first building to house the library was the cathedral, where part of its cloister was used for storing books.  The current library was built to accommodate the collections growth, and to provide a custom built site adequate for the library.  The old rooms in the cloister were converted into tutorial rooms.

The collection has diversified through the generous and large donations from individual patrons.  The Austin Collection contains 7-8,000 titles, focusing on theology and Divinity.  The Wake Collection, occupies one whole wall of the library, and contains many archival items.  Wake also donated a large collection of coins and non-book materials.  The Orrery Collection focuses on the natural sciences.  Orrery donated many scientific instruments and artifacts along with his books.  As a result of having such large and specialized collections the library has chosen a unique classification system.  The library is not organized by subject but rather by collection.  This approach was taken both to keep the donor’s collection intact to show their personal interests and reading habits, and to ease retrievability by not having to completely rearrange everything.

part of the Wake Collection

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oxford I: Bodleian Library

Reading Room in Duke Humfrey's Library
photo credit to
The first library at Oxford was founded in 1320.  It occupied two rooms at St. Mary the Virgin’s Church; which was the original school building for the university.  The library was located on the upper floor, and it remained in these cramped quarters for over 100 years.  Then around 1425 the University and Colleges agreed to design and construct a purpose built library and exam hall.  The Divinity School was to occupy the first floor and the library was to be located above.  Over the course of 15 years 3 walls one story high were built.  The original builder then died and the project stalled.  The Bishop of London Kemp went to work fundraising for the ceiling.  He enlisted many wealthy families to donate to the project, and he made sure that he left his mark.  On the ceiling are coats of arms and initials of the donors, Kemp’s arms and initials occur most frequently.  William Orchard was the architect who completed the building, and he was instructed to make the final wall match the first three, but to make it cheaper.  If viewed closely, the fourth wall is simpler and less ornate than the other three.  Orchard followed his instructions.  Over the years damage has occurred to the exam room, which has not been repaired.  Everything is in its original 15th Century condition.

Ceiling of the Divinity School
In 1488 the library opened.  Duke Humfrey, brother to King Henry V, donated his library to the University to form the basis of the new library.  He donated over 280 manuscripts.  Sadly much of the Duke Humfrey Library was destroyed by fire during the anti-Catholic reign of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.  The library was officially closed for about 50 years.

The reduced library was saved by Sir Thomas Bodley, and was renamed in his honor.  Bodley was a fellow of Merton College.  He was a foreign diplomat and collected quite an impressive personal library, complete with many foreign books.  His collection included between 3-4,000 books.  He provided large sums of money to refurbish the Duke Humfrey Library with strong bookshelves.  Unfortunately the building could not support the weight of the new books and shelves.  Sir Christopher Wren was called in to save the building.  Bodley designed extensions to the building to add storage for books, and to help distribute the weight.

Behind the Divinity School a Convocation House was added.  It was built as an exact miniature of Parliament.  It was originally utilized and as the official meeting place of convocation (any person who had received a degree from Oxford, and eligible to cast a vote for the election of the Chancellor).  A small courtroom was also added for University disciplinary needs. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Royal Geographical Society Library

photo credit to:,_Kensington.jpg
Our tour of the Royal Geographical Society’s Library was led by Librarian Eugene Rae.  He was very knowledgeable about the library and the Society.  The reading room where we met was opened in 2004.  Before that there were several small reading rooms spread throughout the building, each housing a different collection.  The set up was not very user friendly, since the library, maps, archives and photographs were all stored separately.  Since they were mostly on the upper floors there was limited access for patrons who could not easily use the stairs.  A new ground floor entrance, main lobby, and lift were added at the same time as the basement level reading room.  The reading room is self-contained, so readers can’t go wandering off into restricted parts of the house, as had happened with the older system.

the new entryway added in 2004
photo credit to:

The Society Library contains 2 million items: 1 million maps, half a million photos and slides, a quarter of a million books and periodicals, 1,500 objects and artifacts and thousands of archival boxes.  The reading room is “v” shaped, with two branches of tables extending out from the central information desk.  All the items not on display in the reading room are housed directly behind it in two climate controlled rooms.  Everything is housed onsite less than five minutes walk from the reading room. 

The library does have an online catalog; it was launched at the same time as the reading room opening.  Prior to the integrated catalog each of the four rooms had their own classification systems and they all used physical card catalog systems.  The physical catalogs cover a span of 90 years, from 1910-2000, and utilize a variety of recording methods: handwritten, typewritten, and computer printed.  The photograph classifications still need more work, but the small staff limits the speed of such projects.  The online catalog is accessible to any researcher who wishes to browse the collections. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Victoria and Albert Museum: National Art Library

Entrance to the V&A
The National Art Library was founded in 1837, and even though it is currently housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum it's existence predates the Museum.  Our tour was led by Alicia, one of the assistant librarians.  Originally the library was part of the School of Design, and came from rather modest and small beginnings.  Some professors decided to join together to purchase some craft books.  Through the early years the collection grew and in the 1850’s it moved to the V&A.  It is a reference library, no lending of items is allowed.  The library is also the curator for the History of the Book project.  Among its prized items the library holds a copy of a Dickens’ manuscript and a 15th C Illuminated Book of Hours.  

Reading Room
Readers can register for a reading card either in person or online.  Typical users include post-graduate students, auctioneers, curators, and artists.  In the two reading rooms the first floor books are open stacks, containing mostly reference and general works.  Users may request items electronically or from the on-site electronic catalogs.  Each patron can request up to 6 books at a time, or 3 items from special collections.  Four members of staff work directly with the public, but another 40-50 people are at work behind the scenes.  They have a rotating schedule so that the shifts for reference, information and retrieval are kept relatively short.

The library collection is very international, and multi-lingual.  The majority of the items are in Western European languages.  It is the largest art library in Europe besides Paris.  The titles cover anything and everything related to arts and crafts.  It houses trade catalogues and auctions from the late 18th C.  The collection includes 8,000 periodical titles, of which 2,000 are currently being published.

Most of the collections are classified by size, some by subject.  The library has extensive finding lists, press marks, and maps in order to locate items in the collection.  The acquisitions department has a relatively large budget, but they also receive substantial additions to their collections through donations and bequests.  Several of the largest donated collections include the Foster and Cements collections.  They have their own shelf marks and are kept separate from the main collections, simply to make it easier to find and retrieve items. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive

A few of us visited the Shakespeare Library while in Stratford.  The library is housed in part of the Shakespeare Centre and consists of three small rooms.  The Centre contains a museum, library, archive and discovery area.  The library may have limited physical space, but it was a very busy spot when we visited, it does not lack patrons.  It is however rather short staffed with 3 employees: one librarian, one archivist and one reading room supervisor.  The entry room is comprised of the librarian’s desk, a bulletin board with information, and about a dozen small lockers for storing coats and bags.  The second room contains the card catalogs, which stretch around all the walls, and four computers for access to online resources.  The third and largest room is the reading room, which has a small section of browseable shelves and several open tables in the middle for patron use.

When we arrived we were greeted by the librarian Helen and she gave us a brief tour and history of the collection, as much as time allowed before she was called off to help a patron.  She seemed very nice and honored that we had chosen to visit.  She informed us that the Library uses its own classification system (ranging from 10-100); it’s not based on Dewey of Library of Congress.  Due to the library’s specialization this made sense, otherwise every item would have a huge string of numbers and letters attached to it to differentiate items. 

The Museum collection of the Centre contains over 11,000 objects, most of which date from the 16th to the 18th centuries.  The Archive contains production materials relating to the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The library collection has two foci: Shakespeare and Stratford.  The library houses over 60,000 modern books along with several thousand early printed books.  They own three First Folios and an early collection of Shakespeare’s poems.  Part of the collection contains books on medical and botanical works from Shakespeare’s day.  Approximately 10% of the collection is available to the public in the reading room; the rest is in the basement closed stacks.  General reference works, biographies, and criticism are in the reading room, as are the Arden, Oxford, and Cambridge editions of each play.  There is also a facsimile of the First Folio, so readers can get a feel for the rare item.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Last Wednesday we spent the day in Stratford, birthplace of William Shakespeare.  Our class did not have any visits planned, but we had received some suggestions of places to see on our own.  We arrived around noon and had no obligations until 7:30.  Our whole group of several classes had evening tickets to see Cardenio at the Swan.  Several of us explored the specialty Shakespeare shops and considered what we wanted to do.  Four of us decided to visit the Shakespeare Library, located in the discovery/tourist information centre.  The visit was quite nice and the librarian was sweet (separate post to follow).  The physical building is not large enough to accommodate our whole class; though in the past visits had been arranged.  The few of us who wanted to visit made a point of doing so, the rest of the class was free to do as they pleased.  

We then walked out to Trinity Church, the church which Shakespeare attended and where he is buried.  His grave is inside the church, up in the front.  On the walk back to town we followed the river and decided to get cream tea in a specialty tea shop.  The shop sold loose leaf tea, and had a 4 for 3 sale going on, so a friend and I each got two teas.  We wandered in a few shops and finally decided to walk along the river down to the Swan Theatre.  We were still early for the performance but we decided to sit and relax.

The Swan Theatre and the RSC Theatre
The Swan Theatre has recently been renovated and is not what I was expecting.  The theatre is oval shaped, with ground seats and two galleries.  Our group was in the upper gallery.  We had to lean forward over the rail to see the actors; we were looking down on the tops of their heads when they stood on our side of the stage.  Regardless of the angle we had a good view, and I liked the unique perspective it provided.  I really enjoyed Cardenio once it got going.  I didn’t know anything about it, but I was curious to see a lost Shakespeare play recreated.  At intermission I ran down to the theatre store and bought a copy of the play.  When the play ended we all headed back to the bus for our ride back to London.  We were all tired but excited from the performance.  Most folks seemed to have enjoyed it.  It made for a late night back, but it was worth it.  I saw two very different Shakespeare plays back to back, and I enjoyed them both.

London Library

During our visit to the London Library we heard from and were guided by several members of staff: Jane Oldfield, Deputy Librarian; Helen O’Neill, Head of Reader Services; and Stella Worthington, Head of Preservation and Stack Management.  Helen gave us a whirlwind tour of the history of the library.  The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle.  Carlyle was unsatisfied with the research libraries of his day which followed the pattern of the British Museum, reading rooms for research but without lending abilities.  He founded the London Library to be a lending library available to any potential users.  It is funded only through donations and member subscriptions.  In the early days rapid growth occurred, within a few years the membership grew to over 500. 

It is the largest independent lending library in the world, with 7,000 members.  The library is intertwined with the intellectual life of the nation and it always has been.  Some prominent members include: Darwin, Dickens, Churchill, Henry James, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot.  The collection is currently very strong in the arts, humanities, and sciences.  Over 50 different languages are represented, and the earliest books date back to the 16th C.  The library has a first edition of the King James Bible, and has a first edition of Darwin’s Origin’s of Species. 

The London Library has open browsing for all but its rarest items, and the collection covers 15 miles of shelving.  The collection contains 1 million books and 97% of them are available for loan.  The rare books collection consists of 30,000 books.  They have 2,500 periodical titles, 750 of which are current subscriptions.  They add about 8,000 new books a year to the collection.  They only buy hardback books, and have everything rebound.  If the only option is paperback then they will have them reinforced and rebound off-site.  Items are not weeded from the collection, but they are selective with which items they add.  The library offers access to many electronic resources, but none of its collections have been digitized.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Greenwich II: Old Royal Naval College

The second place we visited in Greenwich was the Old Royal Naval College.  Our guide gave us a quick Greenwich history lesson as we started.  In the 15th C Duke Humphrey, brother of King Henry V, built a house in Greenwich which was later extended into a palace.  Henry VII then also built a palace in town after he won the War of the Roses.  Greenwich was the birthplace of Henry VIII and of both Elizabeth and Mary.  James I signed the deeds to enable North American colonization while in Greenwich.  Charles II pulled down the old palace and began building a new one, but didn’t finish it. William and Mary then used the building to house old sailors.  Sir Christopher Wren was hired as architect and built the current 4 buildings on the site.  He was required to alter his plans in order to make the new buildings match the King Charles hall and the Queen House.  Wren designed these buildings for free.  At it’s high point there were some 3,000 pensioners living on the site.  In 1869 the sailor’s home was closed and in 1873 the Royal Naval College was founded.  It was given a 150 year lease, and was to be used for officer training.  In 1998 the lease ran up and it was not renewed.  The government set up the location as a charity and opened it up to use by the public.

Under the current courtyard there are foundations for several of the past buildings.  Some have been excavated, some remain buried.  We were able to enter the Undercroft, which is a Jacobean construction.  It is a stone storage area built to underpin the timber banqueting hall located above it.  We also visited the Painted Hall and the St. Peter and St. Paul Chapel, located opposite each other, beneath the two domes.  The Painted Hall is the largest painted ceiling in Europe.  It was painted by James Thornhill, who was the first English painter to be knighted.  He is also responsible for the paintings in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  In 1806 Admiral Nelson was laid in state in the Hall.  The paintings show the triumph of peace and liberty over tyranny, stressing William’s success over Louis of France.  The upper chamber shows the victory of Protestantism over Catholicism. 
the center of the ceiling

The Chapel to St. Peter and St. Paul was designed by Wren, but it was burned by fire in 1779.  James Stuart was the surveyor charged with rebuilding it.  He altered Wren’s design and gave the building a curved ceiling and added a wall at the front.  His alterations greatly improved the acoustics of the room.  The painting hanging on the “new wall” is by the American Benjamin West, it is his largest painting.  West designed the paintings of the saints which line the walls as well.

The final site that we visited was the skittles (bowling) alley in the basement.  Originally the room was used as a mortuary for the hospital and was considered haunted.  It was later used by the retired sailors as a smoke room.  They wanted some entertainment and so the two alleys were installed in 1860.  It was greatly enjoyed by the naval officers of the college, and the pins and balls are made from recycled ship materials.  We enjoyed seeing the room and the whole tour in general. 

After the tour many of us walked up to the Royal Observatory to see the Prime Meridian and stand in both hemispheres.  Unfortunately the place was completely mobbed so I decided to not wait around to see the line.  I had enjoyed the visit to Greenwich and didn’t want to ruin it.  I would have liked to see the Maritime Museum, but didn’t have time.  We had had a full day.  I wandered back down the hill and took the ferry back up to London.


Greenwich I: Stephen Lawrence Art Gallery

On Monday we went to Greenwich for the day.  We took the ferry down the Thames and visited two locations.  The first was the Stephen Lawrence Art Gallery and the second was the Old Royal Naval College.  The Gallery is located on the campus of the University of Greenwich.  Our tour was led by David Waterworth, the gallery curator.  David gave us a brief history of the gallery itself and then explained several of the pieces currently on display.  The Gallery was opened in 2000 as a small exhibition space to be utilized by local artists.  The founder was Doreen Lawrence, whose son Stephen was murdered.  She worked for the university and with their cooperation and support the gallery was opened.  It’s not just an art gallery; it is also a cultural gallery and shows a wide breadth of creativity. 

The Gallery’s website is:

The current show is called Uncaught Hares Painting and Sculpture at Greenwich Studios: 1974-1994.  We saw the second part of the display which focuses on the local history of Greenwich, with displays from many longstanding native artists.  The April-May exhibit, part one, involved displaying archival material from the studio’s history alongside the related works. 

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s many London artists began to group together to utilize empty industrial buildings as studios.  The Greenwich Artists Studios Association (GASA) was formed in 1974, when Jeff Lowe began a studio in town.  24 artists came together at the studio, and over 50 artists have been associated with the Association over its 20 year life span.  An informal mentoring system developed for those involved in GASA.  Many of the artists have gone on to become nationally and internationally praised artists, and many are prestigious art educators.  11 of the artists formed a trust after GASA closed; they own a building in Deptford Creek to display their art.  The exhibit of Uncaught Hares Part II consists of artwork created by studio members after the studio itself closed its doors.       


The gallery is one room, and this exhibit contained 28 items, 19 paintings and 8 sculptures.  Many of the pieces are abstract in nature and have been created from a mixture of mediums including oil and acrylic paint, steel, wood, and iron.  Several of the pieces seemed quite bizarre to me, but I know I don’t tend to understand modern art.  I did enjoy several items, but was relieved that we did not receive a detailed history of all 28 items.  I like to explore galleries and museums rather quickly so as to not become overwhelmed by the amount of items I’m observing.  Our quick tour was nice and I enjoyed learning about the history of artists in the Greenwich area.

Theatre and Cinema

This week I went to two Shakespeare performances.  On Tuesday morning I went to the Wyndam Theatre and took part in their daily lottery for tickets to Much Ado About Nothing.  Twenty seats are offered for only 10 pounds.  There were about 50-60 people there.  I was lucky and managed to win a seat!  I got to see David Tennant and Katherine Tate Tuesday night.  The show was amazing, everyone worked well together and some of the dialogue between David and Katherine was just fantastic.  Then on Wednesday night our class went to Stratford-upon-Avon and we saw Cardenio at The Swan Theatre.  I’d not even heard of the play before but I went.  Considering it’s a lost Shakespeare play, and has been re-imagined I understand why I was unfamiliar with it.  I did enjoy the performance.  The Swan Theatre has been recently renovated and we had seats in the second gallery, so at times we were looking down on the actor’s heads.  The play was good, even if it made for a late night home.

Friday night after we got back from Oxford I decided to go to the Odeon Theatre in  Leicester Square and see when Harry Potter was playing.  I thought about going to see the movie Saturday night, since it was a free day.  As I was wandering around I noticed that the 8:15 show was sold out, and no wonder since it was Opening Day and only a half hour away.  I made note of the show times for Saturday and took a couple pictures of the posters.  All of a sudden a man walked over to my general area and asked if anyone wanted to buy a ticket for the 8:15 showing.  I responded and asked how much money he wanted for it.  He said 10 pounds, which was less than it cost.  Apparently he was part of a large group and they ended up with an extra.  I bought the ticket and went in with his group.  We had seats about halfway back on the left.  The movie was in 3-D, so I had to deal with the glasses, but it turned out being fine.  What seemed odd to me was the fact that many of the previews were also in 3-D, I hadn’t seen that before.  The previews also took a full half-hour so the movie didn’t start until 8:45.  Seeing the film with a lot of crazy Harry Potter fans was fun.  There were many costumes and folks clapped and cheered when appropriate. 
The film finished around 10:45 and I walked back to the flats, crossing the Hungerford Bridge.  I took a couple of pictures of the Eye and Parliament all lit up. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Weekend Travels

This past weekend I traveled all across the southern countryside.  On Friday and Saturday the program offered day trips to two locations each day.  On Friday we visited Stonehenge and Bath.  This was my second time to Stonehenge, but I still enjoyed it.  It was quite windy on the Salisbury plain, but it stayed dry.  Not so in Bath.  We got some scattered showers while we were out wandering.  I saw the baths, the Regency architecture and visited the Jane Austin Centre.  Two of my fellow LIS students and I decided it would be a good idea to be indoors for a bit, so we walked back to the Centre.  It had a Regency tearoom on the upper floor so we stopped there for tea and lunch.  We dried out from our brushes with the rain and warmed up with good tea.  I got the Jane Austin blend and enjoyed it.  I also got my photo taken with Mr. Darcy (the portrait of Colin Firth.)  We headed back outside to meet the bus and the clouds darkened on the walk.  It started to rain, and then it poured as we stood and waited.  We tried an umbrella shield but it didn’t work too well.  The bus ended up being very late and we ended up soaked.  The fact that it took us four hours to get back to the flats just made things worse.  We arrived back in London after 9 pm, after having set out at 8 am.  I was cold and just wanted to get off the bus by the end of it. 

Saturday had better weather.  Less people turned out for the second trip than the first.  From the complaining Friday night it sounded like several of them were not willing to suffer a long bus ride again.  I was not deterred both because the trip was to two places I’d never been to and because these locations were a shorter distance away than Bath.  We first went to Dover Castle then on to Canterbury.  Dover Castle was a good castle, extensive lands, nice walls, and had areas from all across history.  It has a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church, medieval tunnels, and WWII bunker tunnels.  We climbed the keep and could see pretty well across the Channel, we thought we could see the French coastline.  After a couple of hours we got back on the bus and headed to Canterbury.  I paid to see the cathedral, had lunch at a café, walked on the wall, and saw the old Norman castle.  Our entrance fees to both Stonehenge and Dover had been waived because we were an educational group.  So I decided to go ahead and see the cathedral, since two other sites had been free.  We had amazing weather on Saturday and we actually arrived back in London by 7pm, and had enough energy to do something before crashing.

Sunday afternoon I went to Windsor Castle with a friend.  It was nice to not have to get up early and sit on a bus for hours on end.  The train ride took about an hour, with lots of stops.  The weather was nice once again and we were able to avoid the huge queue since we had pre-purchased our tickets.  We were able to see the royal apartments and state rooms.  We spent a couple of hours seeing the sections that we could see, although we avoided the doll house exhibit, both because of the long queue and because neither of us had an interest in seeing it.  After the castle we got lunch and tea and the Crooked House of Windsor and then headed back to London.  I had a good weekend, full of traveling and seeing castles, churches, and old stones.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

British Library

On Thursday afternoon we visited the British Library.  Our tour was led by Kevin, one of the managers of the front of house team.  The Library is the national library of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  It has three areas of interest: 

  1. Acquisitions-they are required by law to obtain a copy of every item published in Britain within a month of its publication.  They are also required to keep the copy forever and keep it accessible to patrons.
  2. The Library also commissions research in Library and Information Science, and provides leadership in the field. 
  3. The Library also needs to compile and maintain the national catalogue.
There are four men who are considered to be founders of the British Library.  Sir Robert Cotton graduated from Cambridge at the age of 22 in 1510.  During the Dissolution of the Monasteries he bought up whole library collections.  In 1771 his collections were moved to the Ashburton House.  90% of his collection was moved over to the British Museum.  Sir Hans Sloane was a scholar, traveler, and philanthropist.  When he died he left his library to the nation.  In 1753 the Montigue House opened to make the items accessible.  Over the years the House and collections developed into the British Museum.  Kevin stressed the importance of knowing that the British Museum grew out of a book collection; the books came before the artifacts. 

The present building was completed in 1997 as an attempt to house the vast collection of the Library.  Beneath the floor of the courtyard is where the on-site books are stored.  There are four floors of shelving, in the largest subterranean tower block in the world.  The first level is plans and machinery, to regulate the temperature and humidity.  Then the four floors of shelving come next.  The bottom level contains the water management system and a 6 foot tank to drain any excess water into the Thames.  The Piccadilly Line actually runs through the lowest level of shelving.  The Tube sounds echo through all the levels. 
view of the main lobby from third floor
There are approximately 35 million books on the shelves.  Everything is sorted shelved by size.  Due to the vast amount of books and the archival nature of the library; they need to conserve as much space as possible.  Each book is designated by a shelf mark, not a catalog number.  The four floors are each divided in to quadrants, to ease the assistant’s jobs in retrieving items.  There are three other buildings in London which also house large amounts of books.  About 40% of the Library’s collection is here in London; the rest is in off site storage in Yorkshire.  The total Library collection contains between 180-185 million titles.  The whole collection would cover roughly 8-900 linear miles of shelving.  They receive roughly 8,000 new books each day and are struggling to store it all.  Each year they add about 3 million items and 8 miles of shelving to house the new books.