Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Storing the Stage ~ The Archives of the National Theater

The National Theater: Photo by Jenny Collins
I loved the National Theater a long time before I got there to see it myself. Since 2008 the National Theater has filmed and broadcast their stunning plays (all of which have British authors, or are accepted members of the British theatrical cannon) into theaters around the world. The program is called NT Live and I would recommended that anyone with an interest in theater find a local movie theater that participates in their streams. Through NT Live I had seen a number of the National Theater's productions and so I was thrilled that it was right down the street from my home in London.

I had the chance to see 4 plays at the National Theater during my stay and on my last day in London was privileged to take a back stage tour of the theater itself and then of their archive. A theater archive is a slightly different beast, how do you catalog a lighting display that's almost a half mile long? Or boxes and boxes of props?

The answer is carefully and diligently.

The archive has materials dating back from 1963, when the National Theater was started, to the present day. The archive is open to anyone who makes an appointment and when there patrons can view materials such as programs, posters, photographs, production drawings, video and sound recordings of NT productions, press cuttings, prompt scripts, costume, lighting, and sound information and more.

The NT production recordings that have been filmed within the past decade are done from multiple angles, and nowadays with HD cameras, allowing researchers an unprecedentedly close look at performances that formerly would have been ephemeral. 

For those unable to make it to the archive their catalog can be searched from their website anywhere in the world. You can also request some materials be scanned by archivists and sent to you for research purposes. The NT Performance Database, one of their catalogs, contains details of every play ever staged by the National Theater. While the NT Archive Catalog contains entries for the items held in the Archive collection, such as props, set pieces and other items used on stage.

The National strives to be inclusive and on the cutting edge of technology and is moving steadily forward with digitization of those items in the collection it is possible to digitize while at the same time looking into tablet and other technologies to bring the archives to a more global audience. Audiences of the NT Live screenings are now able to by digital versions of production programs, with special digital only video interviews and interactive features not available in a paper medium.

The National Theater is truly one of the Seven Wonders of London and I can't wait to go back!


National Theater Archive Website
The National Theater Archive Catalog
The National Theater
National Theater Live!

Once You've Got it, You've Got to Fight to Keep it. A tour of the British Library Conservation Studio

Photo by: Melissa Proulx

On our final week in London it was back to the British Library, this time for a trip to their conservation studio. Their facility of state of the art, with its own dedicated building within the library itself. For a library as large and important as the British Library it seems only natural that they would want a space to do most of their own conservation work. Opened only 4 years ago the conservation studio is one of the leading institutions in the world for book preservation, conservation and restoration.

The Teams

There are several teams working within the center, all with unique jobs but all devoted to the work of keeping book treasures safe and usable for future generations.

Their Preservation Advisement Center contains a small, but highly dedicated team, of librarians and archivists who help to share methods and practices with other libraries to help them educate their own staff on matters of conservation.

The British Library does a great deal of Intervention Conservation, running repairs, and preparing items for exhibition.

The Conservation Science Research Department works on storage, pests, guidelines and environmental monitoring for the library.

They manage conservation both for those materials in the library and those in storage far away. The storage items are kept in a chamber with no more than 15% oxygen which prevents, pests, fires, and other problems that could destroy the books. For those books in danger of being destroyed or falling apart the studio will assess and then decide which books they will work on repairing. The process is vigorous and highly skilled, using binding skills, chemistry knowledge and artistry to preserve and restore books to as perfect a condition as modern technology allows. The studio is brightly lit, clean, and contains a number of work stations each with their own tasks and conservator.

Conservation is an area that I believe all library students, not just archivists, should be aware of and so I felt very lucky to have had this be the final tour of the visit. Librarians are responsible for the care of book from its acquisition in the library until it leaves, to end with conservation felt only fitting.

Bench at the British Library: Photo by Melissa Proulx


British Library Conservation Studio

"My Grandmother has the Hat!" ~ The Royal Gegraphic Society

Royal Geographic Society: Photo Courtesy of the RGS Website
Tucked up the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum is the Royal Geographic Society. The name invokes images of proper Victorian gentlemen with posh names sitting in arm chairs, snifting brandy and discussing the "plight" of the "natives". My mental image has always included top hats and pith helmets and visions of stiff upper lip Brits getting caught in the snow, sand, and any other environment one can think of.

Jokes aside, starting from its foundation in 1830 and going until the modern day, the society has been behind most of the greatest exploratory missions in the western world. It was members of the society who discovered the origin of the Nile river for Europeans, who traveled to the Poles, who investigated vast swaths of earth and brought the information back to England. The society began as a gentlemen club, first as one generally interested in the sciences before become a group primarily interested in, you guessed it, geography. From there they expanded, eventually becoming the society that is so famous today.

As the societies main goals were to acquire information and then bring it back for the people of Britain, they would need a lot of space and thus the archive was born. Not only do they have documents like maps and notes from various expeditions but they also have scientific instruments and personal items from the societies most high profile explorers.

George Mallory's boot, recovered from Mt. Everest : Photo by Audrey Taylor

Most of the items in the societies collections have to do with 4 main regions of exploration:

The Polar Regions
The Antartic
Central Asia and Everest

There are 2 millions items in the collection which breaks down thusly:

1 million plus map sheets

1/2 million pictures (photos, drawings etc)
250,000 manuscripts

1,500 objects (vases, boots, and a tin of meat flavored sweets just to name a few that we saw)

The reading room of the society is hyper modern, having been opened in 2004, and is open for students and professors to use free of charge. Others have to pay a small fee in order to come in and conduct research. Nowadays the society sticks to funding smaller projects and making their findings available to researchers; sensitive to issues of imperialism they tend to stick closer to home. They raise money through memberships, events, and renting out the building to various functions and the Queen is also a patron of the society.

Overall it was a fascinating (and in the case of the meat lozenges gross) look into the history of exploration in Britain and the preservation of that history. 


The Royal Geographic Society

A Good Place to Spend a Rainy Day ~ The Edinburgh Central Library

Central Library Upper Gallery Walkway: Photo by Jenny Collins

What better way to spend a rainy day than by going to the library? I'm not sure I can come up with one so that's what we did our first rainy day in Edinburgh, went to the Edinburgh Central Library.

It's a public library, located just down the road from Edinburgh castle, and is also a Carnegie library. Our guide for the tour was librarian Vesna Rajacic and Alison Stoddard who is the acquisition and digitization specialist and children's librarian.

The Central Library has 28 branches across the city and membership is both free and easy, even international citizens can join giving you access to their catalogs and some of their digital services. Their openness concerning membership brings in between 8 and 10 thousand new members a year.

The library originally contained three departments:
1) Reference Library - which has remained largely unchanged since its construction.
2) The Lending Library
3) The Newsroom - which is now the Scottish collection and houses, as one might imagine, works of Scottish origin.

The library has seen a great deal of expansion since then, adding more books, a music library, an art library as well as a inflatable Dalek who is dressed in various literary costume for the children's section. He's currently naked, awaiting his transformation into count Dalekula, but I took his photo non the less.

E-Books Rising 

Like the British Library and others, the Central Library at Edinburgh is embracing both e-lending and tablet specific apps for their library. "The Inspired Library" is an app offered by the Central Library that allows users with tablets to experience their special collections and exhibits, regardless of where they live geographically.

There are also multiple touch screen interfaces allowing patrons to interact with exhibits, explore new features and even do genealogical research. These efforts are funding mostly through the city council with more money coming in from grants and other avenues.

Digital Interface: Photo by Jenny Collins

There digital services are some of the most advanced and aggressive I have ever seen. Their goal, as stated by Digital Information Services team leader Alison Stoddard is to create a "24 hour digital library", or library2.go as many refer to it as. As of now their mobile site (link provided below) provides heritage resources, mobile apps, their catalog index and many other features meant to make a mobile, online library a feasible possibility rather than a supplement to traditional library services.

Interestingly services like dictionaries and encyclopedias, as well as other resource materials, are the least popular on the website. Users want interactive content, researching abilities into subjects like family history; services that carry quick "measurable outcomes" for the user are the most successful. Perhaps the most important key to the success of the Central Libraries Web initiative is the knowledge that digitization has to be more than simply taking an item and scanning it as an image to place on line. The web is a different medium and needs to be treated as such in order for programs to work and flourish. For patrons nervous about getting into e-content the library offers a variety of classes and tutorials to assist all age levels become comfortable with a new iteration of the library.

I highly suggest checking out Library2.go!


Central Library website
Central Library Online "Your Library" service - go here for more information on library2.go or, if you have ancestors from Scotland, check out their ancestry service!

Preserving Heritage ~ The National Archives of Scotland

After a harrowing bus ride 9 hours north from London, and then a nice overnight in a Manor that pleasantly resembles several abandoned orphanages that one might see in a horror film, we took another (thankfully) short bus to Edinburgh for some library visits. We had two on site visits on this particular day but I'm going to start by writing about the National Archives of Scotland. The rain managed to hold off until we were nearly at the archive, so rather than an exterior picture here is a shot of the impressive yellow dome that marks the entrance to the archive.

The National Archives of Scotland: Photo by Jenny Collins

The National Archives of Scotland are just what they sound like: an archive for all those materials pertaining to the civil and government actions of Scotland. The contents of the archive are Scottish law, land deeds, and materials from the civil and criminal courts. There is an agreement between the Scottish and the English stipulating that government documents have to stay in the National Archives rather than being sent down to London for storage there. I found this fascinating and ingenious.  Most think of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and leave it at that, but Scotland is its own country, that had aspirations of independence and and still does in many ways. By keeping government documents, including genealogies of the Scottish people in Scotland, the heritage of the country was protect. In times when relationships between Scotland and England were less stable and pleasant it was a way for the Scottish to protect their heritage and their history from possible destruction.

The archive holds government records dating back to the 1140's, before it was even made part of Britain. The original head of the archive was called the Clerk of the Roles and his job was established in the 1280s. The term was still being used even after scrolls had gone to the wayside but nowadays they just use "archivist". The building in which the archives are housed was constructed in the 1880s and meant to be used as an all purpose government building but was quickly filled up with the abundant materials of the archive.

The majority of Scottish citizens enjoy free access to the archives but there are fees incurred for legal teams wishing to use the archive as well as for people wishing to access the "Scotland's People" ancestry database. The fees are reasonable but in some ways it seems wrong that people should have to pay in order to access records pertaining to their own personal history. The service, despite the fee is widely used, both digitally and physically in house. As we walked through on our tour with archivist Dr. Clarke, there were a number of people using the reading rooms and researching their own family background.

Digital Endeavors 

The archives are fully embracing a move to digitization. They have digitized half a million family documents which can be viewed from anywhere in the world for a fee. In addition to that they've digitally imaged 200 years worth of property indexes in order to make access to this information easier and faster for all kinds of users. Their digital efforts are not limited to those on site at the National Archive; they've opened multiple genealogy centers all across the UK which allow people who can't travel to the archive easy access to family related materials. They have their own digitization lab on the premises which allows them to quickly and easily go from deciding which volumes to digitize to making it happen with little input and wait from middle men.

The National Archives of Scotland: Photo by Jenny Collins

 The National Archives of Scotland is committed to protecting the heritage of the nation and bringing people closer to their past. It is a great facility and was an eye opening experience.


The National Archives of Scotland

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The British Museum

British Museum: Photo by Jenny Collins

Chances are if you've taken any kind of ancient history class, or had a section on it in your high school class, you've seen at least 10 items currently housed in the British Museum. Maybe more, probably more, I'm not sure that I managed to see everything that was in the museum. Our visit was to the Central Archives with archivist Stephanie Clark. The Central Archives is responsible for storing items pertaining to the history of the Museum itself. That includes but is not limited to the following:

Staff applications and evaluations
Donations and Gifts
Artifact Acquisition 
Exhibition Planning History
Building Plans

What kind of more you might ask? Well one of the items held in the Central Archive is the bomb that fell on the museum during World War II. There are other items as well, sketches done by janitorial staff,  records that allow artifacts to be traced (mostly to make sure they came from legitimate sources). 

British Museum entrance to the central archive: Photo by Jenny Collins

Stephanie has a lot of responsibility, she is the only archivist working in the Central Archive and had her work cut out for her in terms of organizing the space to make sure researchers can quickly find items when they need them. The history of a building and an institution might not seem like the most important thing to preserve but Stephanie did an excellent job of making it apparent that the history of the British Museum itself is equally important as the items inside of it.

Stratford Upon Avon

Stratford Public Library: Photo by Jenny Collins

Stratford Upon Avon probably sounds familiar to to...well most people. Its the birthplace of one William Shakespeare and also where he's buried. I actually found Stratford to be a very uncomfortable place. Like most people who come from an English Literature background, I love Shakespeare, I do I swear! Every time I go a few years without seeing Hamlet and see it again I'm reminded of how much of our literary cannon and our most common quotes come from him. He was a genius of a playwright. Not for me personally, but to many he's like a god. That's what Stratford feels like...a strange hybrid between Disney Land and a religious site.

That might seem like a strange comparison but here me out. People flock to Stratford like its a religious pilgrimage, the line to go into the home where Shakespeare was born was enormous, so too as the line to see his gave. But there are elements of the town that are also carnival-esque, people in the streets perform bits of the Bards plays, many dressed in costume. The main street has a feeling of artificiality to it, like its not a real place. It closes when the tourists leave and that leaves you wondering how the people who actually live there feel about the deification of the towns most famous resident. Rather than visiting a Shakespeare centric library I decided to take a temporary break from Willie and see what the Stratford public library was like.

In a street crowded with 16th century style homes, I thought that the interior of the library would match the ye olde exterior, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong. The Stratford public library is very modern from its banks of 16 computers in the main entrance to its RFID check out system. The library is a Carnegie library and is part of the larger Yorkshire public library system. The facility is clean and modern with no displays extolling Shakespeare's values. There are ads for information literacy classes and local community interest groups.

All the shelves are wheeled, which allows them to be pushed back to make room for reading groups and other community activities that take place there. There is a large teen/young adult section, and there is a free ancestry look up service available for anyone who wishes to use it. Dewey Decimal is the cataloging system in place and it looks like there is space for continued expansion.

Grave of William Shakespeare: photo by Jenny Collins 

The London Library

                             London Library: Photo Jenny Collins

Tucked away in St. James Square there is an innocuous looking little building, no different from most of the other White houses with black doors. If you look closure though you might notice the small sign above one of those doors that says "London Library". Librarians Helen O'Neil and Stella Worthington were kind enough to give us a tour.

Probably the most unique library that we've visited, the London Library is a private library, as in one where you have to purchase a private membership in order to take advantage of the resources offered by the library. The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, an author and 19th century philosopher who thought it would be a great idea to found a library where the books could be lent out. As such, the London Library is one of the first lending libraries in London. The library has had and continues to have an impressive list of celebrities and intellectuals as their members, including Tom Stoppard who is the current president of the library. As of now the library has 7,000 members and 150 corporate bodies who are members.

London Library: Photo by Audrey Taylor

The London Library has a number quirks that you wouldn't find in other libraries, the wrought iron floors are just one of them. From the top of the library you can see all the way down to the bottom. The holes in the floor are also large enough that every now and then a book takes a tumble all the way down to the bottom. Good thing that they have an in house conservation studio now for those little accidents. The library is like a labyrinth, one can walk around for hours without running into anyone in the numerous corridors. 

The cataloging system is one of the libraries own creations and the subject headings have always retained a very 19th century sensibility. One of the notable examples was the fact that they never changed Yugoslavia's section, and so didn't have to change it back through the countries name change. The subject headings of the London library are exceedingly eccentric:

Sci. (MISC)
Cruelty to Animals 

The above is just a small example. I personally could have spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the stacks investigating the sheer oddness of the system. It seems to work though, and no doubt adds to the charm of the library. I'd love to be a member, but I'm not sure that i have the cash to shell out for the fee, maybe someday. 


Labor of Love, the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert museum

National Art Library: Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
I have to start out by saying that if you want to look at one of the great loves of all time, I'd look no further than Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In a time when arranged marriages were the rule and it was considered a victory if you could stand to be in the same room as one another, Victoria and Albert were madly in love. Looking at a statue of the two of them dressed up in Saxon costumes at the National Portrait Gallery I got the feeling they were /those/ people. 

That couple that was always being painfully adorable to the point where they caused eye rolling whenever they walked in a room, or they would have had Victoria not been the most powerful woman on earth. But if you really want to see the sheer joy that Victoria had for Albert stop every 20 yards or so in and look around. Without a doubt you'll spy one of the dozens of memorials that Victoria built in Albert's honor after he passed away. The Victoria and Albert, founded in 1852 is one of these monuments. 

The National Art Library is housed within the building. It was founded in 1837 and was originally housed in Somerset House before being moved to the Victoria and Albert in 1852. The dedicated library space was built in 1884 and it's been there ever since. The National Art Library is one of 3 major Art Reference libraries in the world, with the Getty Art Reference Library in the USA being another. Books are organized by subject and the library is closed on Sunday and Monday. Our tour was conducted by librarian Sally Williams. The catalog for the library is available and searchable online from anywhere in the world. The National Art Library is a lending, but no books older than 1900 leave the library, and neither do special collection items like the many Book Art
pieces the library has. While people can come into the library and gain a reader's card with relative ease, rare books are issued from a specific desk so the staff can make sure that these materials are being kept track of. 

There are 1 million books in the library, 11,000 periodicals, an extensive collection of 4,000 Art and Design items, 18,000 volumes in the Forrest Collection (Forrest was a personal friend of Charles Dickens) and they also have a large collection of Book Art, which are books that are actually works of art; books are not only tomes of knowledge at the art library, they are also judged on their aesthetic credentials. 

Books, like at the British library, are sorted according to size in order to save space. The staff learns to find the books in their unconventional locations. 

The library takes advantage of its space, creating exhibits to be shown in the library, which raises public awareness of the library's existence and helps to draw in new readers. Currently their first folio is on display, but they have countless other treasures. 

We were able to see a number of precious works, including the original manuscript of Bleak House, in which we got
to see some of Dickens' less than stellar alternative titles. "The Man
All Alone In the Bleak House, Always Shut Up and Never Let Out" was my personal favorite.

Book of Nails Art Book: Photo Courtesy of Kate Aras                                                            

Unfortunately for the V&A, a lack of funding means that they cannot undertake major digitization efforts, but they do make small bursts of effort when they are able. At first I was wary of a library that was aligning itself too much with a museum environment, but I think that the National Art Library has a good idea in using their collection to raise awareness and funding so that they can continue their work.


Don't Drink the Water! Greenwich Maritime Museum

Greenwich: Photo by Jenny Collins

We took a water Taxi to get over to Greenwich, the former site of the Royal Naval College and the current location of the Royal Observatory. Things had been thrown into a little bit of chaos because of the upcoming Olympics, so many of the attractions in the area were not open. The National Maritime Museum was still open and running though and putting on an excellent exhibit entitled, "Royal River: Power Pageantry and the Thames" about, you guessed it, the river Thames.

The Thames is the life line of London, its what allowed the city to become the boisterous center of finance that it is today. The history of the Thames is essentially the history of London. The exhibit covers a huge span of time, the 1400s through to the modern era. Queen Elizabeth I had a flotilla on the Thames during her coronation, Admiral Nelsons funeral procession was carried out there, and most recently the diamond jubilee of the current monarch was celebrated there.

The exhibit had items ranging from the uniforms worn by those who have attended the monarch on the Thames for hundreds of years, to token that gave access to Vauxhall gardens from the river.

What I found most fascinating though was the part of the exhibit about the Thames after it had had a couple hundred years of the people of London dumping sewage and other horrible things into it. The river had become a breeding ground for Cholera, Typhoid and probably a few other things we never managed to identify. It wasn't until John Snow that the Brits decided that maybe it would be to everyone's benefit to get the river cleaned up so many it would stop killing anyone who got water from it in their mouth. The cleanup effort has been astounding and though there is still work to go, the Thames is one of the worlds cleanest urban rivers today.

A very interesting exhibit and an interesting museum on top of it.

If you're curious about the history of the river Thames and happen to be in London while the exhibit is going on (it runs until Mid September) I highly recommend it.

If you can't get to London to see it though, I can offer this amusing video (again from Horrible Histories) made for the diamond jubilee which gives a brief history of the Thames.


Books Above and Under the Ground, The British Library

The British Library: Photo Courtesy of GardenVisit.com

The British Library, located in central London is the British equivalent to the United States Library of congress and has been, thus far, my favorite library that we've had the pleasure to visit. The British Library used to share space with the British Museum until the building above opened up in 1997. That makes this the most modern building we've been in so far and it really shows. The building is one of the first libraries built in the world that had preservation in mind as it primary concern. Designed to maintain a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius, and no more than 50% humidity, the building is ideal for book and manuscript storage. Mindful also of space the building goes 75 feet down into the ground, creating a labyrinth of storage for its massive collection of 35 million in house items (the total collection numbers somewhere in the realm of 180 million total items counting special collections and off site stored items). 

So to keep on with the math game that equates to about 900 miles of books if you were to take them and put them on the worlds greatest shelf and walk it. The British Library, like Oxford receives every book published in the UK, but they also receive newspapers, periodicals, and some foreign publications as well; up to 8,000 new items in a single day. In an effort to save space the British Library shelves books by size rather than using other, less space effective modes of shelving. Placers record the location of each book with shelf markers, creating grid patterns of the books locations. Grabbers, people who retrieve the books, work in small quadrants to try and make sure that there aren't heavy delays in retrieving books for readers. 

The British Library runs on three main principals laid down by the British Libraries Act passed in the UK in the 70s:

1) Acquire all published materials in the United Kingdom
2) Retain these materials forever 
3) Make all of these materials available to the public for use in research and enlightenment

The British Library and its 17,000 employees maintain the national catalog and try their best to make sure that these three goals are met. 

Accessing the Collection

You don't have to be a British Citizen in order to obtain a reader card at the British Library, you simply have to follow the steps laid out on their website in order to gain access to a reader's pass and therefore access to the collection. Like many of the libraries that we've visited you can't take the books out of the library, but you can read and conduct research in one of the libraries very comfortable reading rooms. More fascinating than getting your reader pass is the procedure which is used to deliver books to patrons once they've been requested. 

Getting Materials from the Collection 

Once you have your reader card and you're in your reading room, which at the British Library are divided into different rooms by subject, and access the catalog to choose the items you'd like to see. Once you have entered in your request at a computer station the request is sent to the ABRS system. This is the Automated book Request System. Books in the British Library, with the exception of the King George the Third library, are stored below ground in a massive facility. I'm not sure how much information I am allowed to place on the blog with regards to their system but I will say that through a highly organized and tested system of trollies and conveyer belts and diligent work on the park of the librarians and library assistants, it takes a maximum of an hour and ten minutes to get your requested materials from the underground storage fortress. The ABRS system can even monitor traffic of other books traveling to different reading rooms and adjust the route a book is traveling to accommodate heavy traffic and decrease the time it takes to receive materials. The library offers a handy video on how to request materials on their website here

Embracing Digitization

There are some truly amazing pieces in the collection at the British Library. The original manuscript and water color illustrations for the Hobbit (currently on display as part of their Wastelands and Wonderlands exhibit), and the original draft to the first Harry Potter novel, as well Magna Carta (which has only left the library once to travel to the US for its 200 year birthday) and innumerable other treatures. While many of the works in the collection are available to researchers, it is difficult for many to travel to the United Kingdom, and for others, casual patrons, or book enthusiasts its difficult to travel to, or have access to these collections. The British Library has recognized this fact and has made leaps and bounds in digitization efforts aimed specifically at bringing patrons, and enthusiasts from all over the world access to their best special collections. 

For those who are visiting the library itself, but don't have reader cards, they can see rare materials at exhibits, like the one mentioned above. There are numerous touch screen interfaces that allow visitors to access in-depth, highly detailed HD images of different works, along with pop up information and facts about the work they're accessing. For people a little further away from the British Library who might have a hard time getting there for a visit there are multiple ipad apps, with interactive HD images of the books, videos and essays about the work. They're produced one for Shakespeare, as well as one for Alice and Wonderland and a few more. They plan to make more and I can't wait to see what special collection items they give the digital treatment to. 


"That Chair is Worth More than your House" A Trip to the Christ Church Library

Christ Church College Oxford: Photo by Jenny Collins

Christ Church College is another school at the sprawling city university that is Oxford, and as such has their own library. We weren't scheduled to visit it, but as we walked through Christ Church college our professor decided to pop her head in and work her magic on some fellow librarians.

Once she informed them that there was a group of baby librarians sitting on the steps outside they invited us to come in and gave us an impromptu tour of the library. One of the things I've found to the most impressive so far is the friendliness and camaraderie that exists between working librarians and library students. They welcome us in with open arms and go above and beyond to show us as much as they can and Christ Church was no different.

Christ Church College Library: Photo by Jenny Collins

More modern pieces of the collection are housed on the first floor of the library, humanities to one side and math and sciences to the other, while the upper floors of the library house Christ Church's older collection.

Space is once again the main issue that the library faces, and it
makes use of on- and off-site storage in order to make enough space for expansion. The library is managed by only a few librarians, each wearing multiple hats to make sure that it stays running and operational. One display in the upper floors during our visit were sketches from Dean Liddle (the father of the girl who Alice of Alice in Wonderland was named for) as well as carved Wonderland figures. My personal favorite item was the hat of Cardinal Woolsey, who some might remember from their history lessons about Henry the Vll. The other notable feature? These chairs:

Chair: Photo by Jenny Collins 

The librarian invited us to have a seat and waited until all of us
were down to inform us that the chairs were valued at about what a
house would cost. As we all leapt up she grinned broadly and said one of her favorite parts of the job was waiting for people sit before informing them of that fact. I have to say if I was in her position I'd probably think the same thing. 

Nor Kindle Any Fire Therein ~ The Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Oxford: Photo by Jenny Collins

What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than by waking up in London and hoping on a train to Oxford University? That's what we librarians did as we headed off to the Bodleian library at Oxford University.

Oxford University: Photo by Jenny Collins
For many academic librarians the Bodleian stands as a sort of utopia. Excellent funding for services like preservation and digitization alike, a gorgeous building designed by our old friend Christopher Wren, enthusiastic students and more books than one could shake a stick at. Seriously, if you piled all of the books in the Bodleian together and got yourself a massive stick, you'd still end up walking around a good mile and a half to be able to shake it at all the books.

The library is currently in the middle of a massive reorganization as construction is conducted on their newest building facility, located across the street from the historic building that has housed the Bodleian since 1320. They're hoping to have the new building opened by 2015.

More space is a very important issue for the Oxford Library. They receive a copy of every book published in the UK and have done since 1600, which leads to massive yearly swelling to their already full collection. Just to break down the numbers, they get about 3,000 individual books, magazines and newspapers every-week. There are 11 million works in their collection (compare that to the Library of Congress' 30 million) and that's not counting their Pre-1530's special collection totaling approximately 250,000 works. With so many works you might be wondering where exactly they're storing it all if the new building won't be done for another three years, the answer is off site. About 98% of the modern collection is housed off site, 25 minutes away in Swindon. Trucks run back and fourth to the site multiple times a day to fetch books for student and faculty once they are requested.

The library has an astounding budget of 6 million quid and 500 employees working in the Bodliean's multiple sections. There is the Old Bodleian, which includes the Duke Humfrey Library (or the Hogwarts library for Harry Potter movie fans), the New Bodleian (complete with modern shelves and computer kiosks), and the off site storage.

The collection on site remains very impressive, and its clear that the 2% of books on site at the Bodleian represent the best of what the collection has to offer. Modern reference books are housed in the same space as copies of the first dictionary attempt, written by Samuel Johnson; along with volumes on astronomy by the great Galileo and Copernicus.

Just in case you were thinking you might like to pop over to Oxford, check out the dictionary and start reading, not so fast. The Bodleian is a non-lending library. Those who want to use the books have to be students, faculty or approved researchers and all reading of Bodleian materials must be done within the building. Students even have to take an oath prior to using any of the library materials which is as follows:

"I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; nor to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

We didn't have to take the oath as part of our tour, but we endeavored non the less not to damage anything or kindle any flames. 

Bodleian Library: Photo Courtesy of The Telegraph 


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Put on your Cold War Duds, We're Going to the Barbican!

Barbican Complex: Photo Courtesy of The Londonist

Today we were headed to the Barbican, a cold war concrete fortress that I can only describe using photos. All that and more? That's Barbican, or part of it. After the Germans bombed London City, which is different from the greater London area, there was very little left, and so the English built the Barbican Center. It's multi-level, built on plague pits where they buried the dead and it has EVERYTHING. Everything including a yellow line leading people from the tube station to the middle of the center in case they get lost in a literal concrete jungle. It has a movie theater, athletic facilities, a theater theater, restaurants, a library, and right now the world's biggest James Bond exhibit. We weren't concerned with any of that though; we were there for the library.

The Library

 The Barbican public library is impressive and I'm not saying that to be nice. They have a massive collection and a number of really interesting programs. The Barbican is located right across from St. Giles church, where none other than one John Milton is buried, and offers a mobile library on top of its physical lending. Our tour was conducted by librarians Geraldine Pote and Jonathan Gibbs. The library has existed in some form on this general site since the 1400's when it was founded by Dick Whittington. Unfamiliar with Whittingon? Allow the excellent British children's show, Horrible Histories, to enlighten you:

So, in addition to being a star of panto (Christmas Pageants done in Britain), Whittington founded the Barbican library. It didn't become a lending library though until the 1960's. Most of the libraries that we went to weren't lending libraries even today, so the Barbican stands out as a unique place in both location and services. In addition to their regular public library, it also has a substantial music library, a children's section, and a large collection of books dating back longer than the US has been a country.

The library uses the Dewey Decimal system to catalog its large collection of over 9,000 books. The oldest book that one can take out of the library is from 1730. Their catalog is searchable by non-members, and even has a cool "who writes like this section" that will help to steer you toward the right book for you.

 Unlike many libraries in the US, to take a DVD out of the Barbican library you have to pay a small fee. Older films are a quid for a week of use, while newer films go for a slightly higher price. If the fee is too much for you, e-books and audio books are available for lending free of charge, and educational videos are free to rent regardless of how new they are. The librarians added that they'd love to be able to offer a streaming service, but there is no infrastructure to augment the process and companies like Amazon have rather taken over the market.

In order to get a library card at the Barbican you don't have to be a resident of the City of London, you just have to demonstrate that you will be coming to the library on a semi-often basis. Once the library has determined that you can be reasonably expected to be at the library occasionally you'll be awarded a library card. The books are one thing - you can get new releases in a variety of genres or take books out of the London Collection (their oldest books)
- but it is the services that really make the Barbican special.

The Services 

Of all of the really interesting things about the Barbican it's their services that I found to be the most eye opening and valuable of the trip there. I'm not training for public librarianship, but I admire the work that's done in public libraries and the services that they make available to their patrons. 

Online Lending and New Technology 

Their online lending system of choice is Cobra, and if you can't make it to library, but you'd still like to take some books out, they offer delivery services of materials to the elderly and the disabled. This is the first time I've heard of a program like that but I'll be sure to investigate it once I'm back to the states. One system the librarians are very proud of is the RFID system or, Radio Frequency Identification, which allows check out, returns and renewals using radio waves. The system works on just about any book, so long as there isn't any foil on them. Foil tends to thwart the whole process. The RFID machines use a touchscreen interface, which could be problematic for patrons with special needs, but there are still people available to check patrons out in the traditional way.

Children's Programs

 One of the notable book programs in the Barbican, and the UK at large, is the Book Start program, which provides a few books to children at their birth, and then more when they reach three years. This is meant to get children started on reading early on and seems to be an excellent program. On top of that the children's library runs a number of well-attended story time groups, and participates in a Young Reader's Program that offers prizes to the most well-read children over the summer. The Barbican also sports one of the country's largest public music libraries. Opened in 1983, the collection of the library was built up through donations from various collectors across the UK and today houses 16,000 scores. They have popular ones, like Adele, as well as rare and obscure English music. They've created their own song index for use within the library and have a file index of local music teachers that patrons can view in an attempt to find an instructor for themselves. With practice pianos and private listening booths, the music library serves patrons from all over London and gives access to an area that is, unfortunately for many, a luxury. In addition to their library services, the Barbican also runs several notable community programs; reading groups (with waiting lists), a crafting circle, and a music group make up just a few.

The Music Library 

Geraldine and Jonathan passed us over to Assistant Librarian Richard Jones for the tour of the music library. 

The music library opened at the Barbican in 1983 and is one of two large musical libraries in London, not the city of (which like I said at the top is a small burrow) but London proper. This seems only fitting as London is considered by many to be the classical music capital of the world. Between multiple concerts all year round and the phenomenal Proms series of concerts done every year at the Royal Albert Hall, it seems natural that London would have a music library like the one found at the Barbican. 

Run by a dedicated team of 5 librarians, the Music Library has a large reference library, approximately 16,000 scores from all over the world (including a great number of obscure British compositions), listening cubicles for students, researchers and music lovers, a range of periodicals (most given to the library for free by publishers), and 50,000 cds - just to name some of their items.

To organize their collection, the library sends many scores out to be
professionally bound, allowing them to survive longer despite multiple users, and has created an easily searchable song index for patrons to use.

To me the most interesting feature of the music library were the two
practice pianos, both electronic and with headphone jacks to prevent noise pollution for other patrons. They are free to practice on and both were seeing heavy use while we toured the library. 

 Though it looks imposing the Barbican is a sweet, if concretey, place to spend an afternoon. Or several if you happen to get lost.

Barbican Library: photo courtesy of Ravish London

Tuppence! Tuppence for everyone! The St. Paul's Library.

St. Paul's Cathedral and Millenium Bridge: Photo by Jenny Collins 

 Our first class took place at St. Paul's Cathedral and fans of Marry Poppins will be disapointed to hear that thought the pidgeons remain they don't appear to be getting much from the ole tuppence to birdseed trade like they used to. I think the pidgeon's are doing fine without it, but its always sad to see the old ways die out. At two pence I'm not even sure how much bird seed one could buy if they had the option.

The Librarian 

      Our guest instructor for the day was Joe Wisdom, the aptly named head librarian at St. Paul's. He met our class at the babtizmal fount, currently missing its cover because it's so dang heavy, wore an impeccable suite, spoke in a soft voice and was one of the most knowlegeable people I've met. He opened with some useful advise to all librarians out there, not just the baby ones like myself, "We don't do religion, politics, or gender, we're librarians." It's advise that I am going to have to try and take to heart. We walked with the tourists up the stairs, stopping about halfway up for Mr. Wisdom to remove a metal(and medieval) set of keys from his pocket. He opened one a large wooden door straight out of Hogwarts (fair warning now people the Harry Potter references are going to come fast and furious here, it's the nature of the nerdy beast) and we stepped into another world. We were under the main dome of St. Pauls and after gawking at that for a moment we prodeeded into the upper parts of the cathedral proper. As we walked down the hall we passed various artifacts, dating from a plethora of time periods. Mr. Wisdom referred to a number of them as "fiddly bits". He gave us the history of the cathedral as we walked; it was built by Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style and was brought into use in 1697.

The Great Model 

We were allowed into the room that contains the wooden model Wren had commissioned in 1674 to show his plan for the cathedral. The model is hugely impressive...and huge all my itself as it measures 10 yards long and about 5 and 1/2 feet high. It was the only model that Wren ever  had built, why you ask? Well it seems that once he had a model that the king could look at and appraise, the king started making demands and offering opinions. Some of them silly, like adding a bunch of gothic spires, and some of them architecturally unsound. You can almost feel Wren's frustration at the multitude of chefs in his kitchen in some of the facsimile drawings hung up around the room. The silliest of all of these drawings is the Warrent Design, a mish-mash of at least 8 different architectural styles that incorporated all of the kings demands for the cathedral. Surrounding it are facsimile editions of Wren's original drawings. The original plan was to use the real drawings, but as it would have been a conservation nightmare, they had copies made instead. It is difficult to control the temperature and the humidity within the cathedral, and these problems aside it would be near impossible to replace the windows with proper UV resistent glass. So the documents are preserved and safe, while the copies stand on display. The cathedral uses private consultants who work with the convervation team to make sure everything stays as prestine as possible. Humidity, temperature, and light all have to be controlled in order to makre sure that materials are safe for future generations.

The Great Model of St. Paul's: photo courtesy of http://www.stpauls.co.uk

The Library

 Once we'd gotten a taste of the materials in St. Paul's it was otnto the main event, the library. The library of St. Paul's isn't as large as one might think, but all of its space is used to the fullest with floor to ceiling shelves. The walls are carved stone, with books and ink well featureing prominently in the decoration of the library. You can get a look at the carvings in the above photo of the model room. The original plan was for St. Paul's to have two libraries, but when this plan fell through they ended up with the model room and the current library.

 The bulk of the archive of St. Paul's is held off site, due to spacing issues. The library suffered from the great London fire when it's own collection burned along with thousands of other books being stored in St. Paul's basement. Bishop Henry Compton helped to recovera number of the books and many of the books in St. Paul's fall under "grey literature", things that are below the radar. People know of the books existence but not really where they can find them. More books were added in the 19th century when Sparrow Simpson bought in massive amounts of material to the library. To this day they are still adding volumes to their collection but on a very limited basis. All together 23,000 bibliographic materials and 10,000 physical volumes are part of the St. Paul's collection. Currently there is no digitization process going on at St. Paul's and very little digitization but it is an area that Mr. Wisdom has stated the library is looking into. Use of the library and it's materials is open to whoever can make use of it, and Mr. Wisdom can be contacted through St. Paul's website.

In addition to his skills as a librarian, Mr. Wisdom is also very good an analyzing notebooks and informing you how long you can generally expect them to last as he demonstrated with all of our notebooks. I got high marks for paper quality but low marks for my spiral binding. Good thing I am putting all my notes in the blog!

 It was an amazing way to start a month of library centric exploring.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library Website
St. Paul's Website

Why We're Here

Big question, and we're not actually here to try and answer it. Instead what this space is for is for me to post about the libraries that I am going to as part of my July abroad in the UK as a library science student. If you like libraries, or are related to be and feel obligated to read this regaurdless of how interesting you find the content, this should be chock full of fun facts. Hopefully fun facts. At the least there will be fun photos. So there is that if all else fails. Keep an eye on this spot; I'll be making a post for each library that we visit during the trip, and the odd Museum or two.