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