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