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.

Harry Potter Premiere

On Thursday as I walked through Trafalgar Square I saw the Harry Potter preparations under way.  I took some pictures of the set up process.  There were some diehard fans already camped out near the stage, and we saw plenty of Potter outfits and facepaint when I went to Tesco for lunch.  I sat on the steps of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields and observed the craziness beginning. 

On Friday night I decided to attend the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows world premiere in Trafalgar Square.  I knew that this would never happen again, I was here in London and I didn’t have any plans.  I walked up to the Square and found a spot near the edge of the crowd.  Most of the square was barricaded off so that the die hard fans who had camped out were on the inside, up close to the stage and screen.  Many fans were standing on the steps to St. Martin’s-in-the-field; their view partially blocked by a statue.  I had a pretty decent view of the huge screen; I was far enough back to see it over the banner barricade.  For those of you who have been there I was back near the National Gallery, standing against the short wall.  I was on the left edge of the crowd.  The wall was too crowded for me to get up there and get a better view, but I was fine. 

Around 7:15 a few of the stars walked down from Leicester Square to see the fans.  Dan, Rupert, Emma, and Rowling came down along with the producer and director.  They all thanked the crowd, autographed items, and spoke to fans.  They each had some time with the microphone; I could hear bits of Emma’s and Rowlings’ speeches, but not the guys.  Emma and Rupert ended up in tears; Dan managed to hold himself together.  Apparently lots of the actors turned up at Leicester (I don’t know all the actors names): Hagrid, Ginny, Snape, Molly Weasley, Voldermort, the twins, and Dumbledore.  Around 7:50 they headed back up to the Odeon for the show, and then a 10 minute preview/series summary was shown on the big screen.  Literally 5 minutes after it ended the police were out trying to get folks to go home.  I was exhausted from a long day and was happy to head back to the flats.  For one night I got to pretend I was a crazy Potter fan.  It was fun being on the fringes of the crowd.   

Thursday, July 7, 2011

British Museum Archive

Yesterday we had a tour of the Archives of the British Museum, led by the Archivist Stephanie Clarke.  Stephanie began by informing us that the Archive is the storage place for the central archives of the Museum.  Each of the eight collecting departments retain their own records and libraries, the Archive only keeps items which relate to the Museum as a whole.  Stephanie said that she typically receives 20-30 inquiries a week through phone and email, and that 5-6 people come in and ask questions in person.  The typical patrons are academics, students, and folks interested in genealogical research.  She told us that over half of the patrons have a specific question in mind and know exactly what they are looking for.

Stephanie is the only archivist for the Museum, and is also the first professionally trained archivists to be hired at the Museum.  As such she had a lot of reorganization and consolidation to do when she first arrived.  The archivist position was created in 1975, but there was no overarching plan or organizing structure.  There were 117 records series according to past systems (basically each box was its own series even if multiple boxes contained similar items), but Stephanie resorted it and narrowed it down to 6 proper series: trustees, staff, finance, exhibitions, building/property, and the reading room.  She then told us a bit about each collection.

The trustee records contain information on anything and everything.  Literally everything that was mentioned at a meeting went down in the minutes: which employees were late to work, who should get a raise, who was out sick etc.  The records contain letters, reports and all sorts of other information related to the meetings.  They have all been very well indexed, it’s easiest to search by date since all the bound volumes are in chronological order. 

The staff records were interesting because from 1850-1950 the Archive has a sampling of staff applications, including reference letters and employee contracts.  The staff records are typically used for genealogical requests, and Stephanie is always happy to help people discover new things about their ancestors.  The building records have some interesting items which predate the Museum.  They have the deed from a 1694 change of ownership of the land which the Museum later bought.  The seals are almost completely intact and the medieval handwriting was fascinating to glimpse.  The Archive has 250 items by Sidney Smirke, chief architect for the Museum, including building plans and correspondence. 

The exhibition records needed the most serious and urgent attention when Stephanie arrived.  There were approximately 300 black design books from temporary exhibits which ran from the 1960’s-1990’s.  They were incredibly detailed with photographs, labels, paint swatches and fabric samples.  They were not in archival folders, and when Stephanie tried to remove items they stuck to the plastic.  All the items have now been moved over to acid free archival housing, but the whole collection could have been lost had it continued to sit in the folders. 

The final series that we got a glimpse of was the reading room records.  The Archive has records from 1790-1970.  It was considered a prestigious honor to be accepted by the Director as a reader, and many famous people applied.  From 1890-1970 all of the applications have been preserved, including reference letters.  It’s an amazing resource for anyone doing genealogical or historical research about the reading room.  The sign in registers have all been kept, for example Stephanie showed us Karl Marx’s entry for 1877, with his signature on the line.  These records are very complicated to search through, and Stephanie normally answers inquiries about them herself without letting the public view the books.  Unless you know a specific person visited on a specific day it’s very hard to track them down.  Stephanie then passed around and let us hold the application forms of Beatrice Potter, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.  After a few questions we all thanked Stephanie and headed off to visit the Museum.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Barbican Library

The Barbican Library is located inside the Barbican Centre, a post WWII concrete building.  From the outside the Centre didn’t look all that impressive but it was very nice on the inside.  The Centre has a café, theatre, restaurant, and library.  The Centre was a gift from the City of London, the chief burghers and guilds.  The first library was for reference use only.  Under the 1964 Public Library Act it started full lending services, and the Barbican is one of only three public lending libraries in the City. 

It is funded by the local authority, is part of the Corporation of London Libraries and exists primarily to serve the local population.  The Barbican region is composed of ~11,000 people, but is open and available to all of London.  The Library is a tenant to the Centre, they don’t own the floor space which they use.  As such, they are often affected by events in the Centre.  As the librarian Jonathan said, bagpipes and drums are not fun in a library, but if the Centre rents out the space the Library can’t refuse.

The majority of their patrons are 25-35 year old working folk, more men than women.  They do serve some children and elderly people, but the area is primarily young/middle age working class in areas such as management, accounting, and law.  The library does serve some students, especially from the nearby universities.  Every two years the library does a survey to keep up to date with their patron base and to know how best to serve the community. 

The Library is located on parts of the second and third floors of the Centre.  The Centre would not allow the Library to have a letterbox outside its door for returning items, so the Library has installed a return and catalog search station outside, so patrons can return items after hours.  The Barbican utilizes RFID technology (radio frequency identification scheme).  It’s the same chip technology as in Oyster cards and newer passports.  They have chips in every book, DVD, CD, and other items in the collection; utilized for both security and identification.  Member cards do not have chips, just barcodes.

The Barbican decided to use a hybrid system for all their services, some electronic and do-it-yourself and some physical services with librarians at the desk.  They want people to have the option to use either method.  The librarians know many younger folk are fine with self-checkout machines, but that many elderly folk completely avoid them.  Some patrons simply enjoy interacting with a person at a library. 

The Barbican has strong collections in arts, young adult, children’s, dvds and videos and reference.  They have a computer section, called ‘the people’s network’ where patrons can use internet for 2 up to 2 hours.  One of their most interesting collections is the London collection, which is composed of 8-9,000 items relating to London.  The oldest items date to 1742, and everything item is able to be checked out.  The most popular 1,000 or so titles are on the shelves, the rest are in closed stacks.  Though not in an area with many children, they have a large and well furbished children’s library.  They make a strong effort to reach out to mums and tots.  Their summer reading program last year reached around 350 kids.

First Weekend

This past weekend I participated in two London Alive walks.  On Saturday I went on London during the Nazi Blitz, which was led by Dr. Mackaman, one of the history professors and the program director.  He and a history grad student named LB provided us with a tag team lecture on the background of WWII as we walked towards the Imperial War Museum.  I had wondered why lots of the buildings in Waterloo were really ugly concrete, and I learned that it was because of the Nazi’s.  During the Blitz they had attempted to destroy both Waterloo Bridge and Waterloo train station, but had failed.  They did succeed in destroying tons of buildings all around the station and near the riverfront.  So after the war “the good, bad, and ugly” architects all got hired to rebuild.  Hence the ugly buildings in the neighborhood.  The same happened up at Barbican, which we visited yesterday.  The whole complex is concrete, rebuilt after the war.  The Barbican librarian Jonathan pointed out that the Barbican Centre is more likely to fall down of its own accord then to ever be condemned and taken down.  It would be too much work.

Visiting the IWM was a great experience, even though I was still rather tired from travel.  I plan on going back if I get a chance.  I saw all the main exhibits, but didn’t do the special experiential parts.  I enjoyed seeing all the tanks, trucks and planes; and I bought an anthology of war poetry from the gift shop which made me happy. 

On Sunday I decided to do the John and Charles Wesley Chapel morning tour.  There were about a dozen of us who went; many more students went to St. Paul’s.  We took the bus and before service we toured the cemetery across the street.  John Bunyan, William Blake, and Daniel Defoe are buried there.  The church service was very nice.  It just so happened that they had a visiting choir from Alabama who sang during the service.  What are the odds of that happening?  A U. Southern Miss. program and a huge group from Alabama at the Wesley Chapel on the same day.  One of the songs the choir sang was “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” which made me happy.  After the service we had tea/coffee and then got a tour of the church and museum.  I decided to leave then in an attempt to get back for my afternoon walk.  I ended up being about 10 minutes late, because of some tube closures.  I had the afternoon free so I walked around the Strand, and went up to St. Paul’s.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

Up on the triforium level of St. Paul’s, 140 steps above all the hustle and bustle, lies a completely different world than that which most people get to see.  We wandered down unused corridors, were able to view the whole cathedral from the back wall, and of course, saw the library.  Our tour was led by Librarian Joseph Wisdom.  Our tour began on the ground floor with listening to the Lord’s Prayer.  We then treked up the stairs to the triforium level.  We began by walking through several sections which house various artifacts and items, some odds and ends that the Cathedral doesn’t display anywhere.  The room where they are housed was at one time almost used as a museum, but the items are too various and disconnected to show a cohesive story.  Among other things the room contains a bust of Crookshanks, illustrator of many Dickens books, a Viking-era marker, many drawings and sketches of the Cathedral, and a huge collection of fragments and architectural bits and pieces of the Cathedral.  That last segment reminded me a bit of the Sir John Sloan Museum, except at St. Paul’s the pieces were not glued to the wall, just sorted into shelves.  Once through that room we entered another side hall, which contained two very different pulpits used at various times in the past. 

We then came upon a newly installed wooden screen, which John informed up was put up by his predecessor in order to create an office for the librarian.  Above the door is the phrase “Faciendi plures libros nullus est finis” which translates as “of making many books there is no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12b).  The final room before the library that we saw was a side room which was originally intended to house part of the library.  Originally the library was expected to occupy two chambers, but the second one was not used.  Instead it houses Christopher Wren’s Great Model.  His 1:25 scale of his preferred plan for St. Paul’s, which was discarded by the commission because it was too similar to St. Peter’s in Rome.  He wanted it to have a second smaller dome, and to more strongly reflect Greek styles, with three sides being identical.  This side room is set up as a museum exhibit, but John told us that they plan on redoing it to try and make it more public friendly.  I really enjoyed the quick glance that we got, since I just read London Rising which focuses on Wren’s construction of the Cathedral.  I would have liked more time to look around.  But we had a library to see, and we finally arrived at our destination.

As John unlocked the doors and we entered I could hear the collective breath from the group.  The smell of all the old books was amazing; nothing else even comes close to how good this room smelled.  The small room is lined with two levels of bookcases, numbered in a unique way.  By the fireplace is “1” then once the numbers progress halfway around the room, to a stairway entrance, the ordered numbers stop and it continues back on the other side of the fireplace.  The second level was the same.  On a clock it would be like having 1-6 then up at “12” starting with 7.  John asked us that if we ever found another library that did the same thing, to be sure to let him know about it. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Have Arrived

I am in London.  I thought I would do a short update, before class.  I was at JFK for a long time before the flight left, but I had books with me to read.  The flight over was a bit delayed, but everything went smoothly.  Yesterday I went for over 30 hours with almost no sleep.  I only got a few minutes on the plane, but I didn't crash in the middle of the day.  I was too excited to be back.

It feels so great to be back in London.  Yesterday we had a neighborhood walk with the whole library science class and then ate dinner as a class.  I got about 5 hours of sleep last night, but I hope I'll get more tonight.  I woke up really early and used the time to unpack and organize.  I've topped up my oyster card and bought a few groceries at Tesco.  Today we have our first class meeting at 9:00 then general orientation at 11.  The first London Alive walk will be this afternoon.