Saturday, July 31, 2010

Maughan Library & ISC, King's College London - July 29

Our last trip as a class was to the Maughan Library and ISC at the Strand Campus of King's College. The building was previously used by as the Public Record Office. When it became vacant in the late 1990's, King's College elected to consolidate 4 separate libraries into 1. Since the building was built to house public records in 1851, it was designed to be fireproof, a perfect match for a library. One hurdle the college had to deal with is the fact that this is a Listed Building and very few, if any, structural modification could be made. However, another benefit of the previous purpose is that the building was designed to bear the weight of papers and documents, so load bearing has not been a concern for the Library.

The current collection consists of 3-4 million volumes and covers numerous topics, such as American studies, Byzantine & modern Greek, digital culture & technology, European studies, film studies, history, linguistics, theology & religious studies, war studies, law, engineering, mathematics and physics. The Library is available to anyone with serious research plans. There are approximately 11,000 students at the Strand campus and 20,000 students city-wide.

The building is a nice mix of the old and new. Due to the restrictions by the English Heritage, the architects had no choice but to leave the historical integrity of the space. However, they succeeded in bringing the facility into the 21st century with modern amenities.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The National Archives of Scotland - July 20

After our wonderful trip to Dunfermline, we returned to Edinburgh to visit the National Archives of Scotland (NAS). NAS is government agency, headed by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. The mission of NAS is to preserve, protect, and promote the nation's records and to provide access to the archive that educates.

The Archive is split into 2 divisions, Records Services and Corporate Services. The building we visited is known as the General Register House and it holds 70 kilometers of records dating back to the 12th century. The records maintained by NAS are divided into the following categories: government, legal registers, courts, churches, nationalized industries and transport, Local authorities, Private and corporate bodies, and Maps and plans.

Patrons of NAS tend to fall into 2 groups, academic researchers or genealogists. This latter group tends to utilize the Scottish People Centre which has been widely digitized. Others looking for on-site research may do so in one of the reading rooms, like the Historical Search Room seen below.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library - July 20

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library was the first of 2,500 Carnegie libraries around the world. With an initial gift of £8,000, the Library was opened in 1883. There was so much interest in the Library that it ran out of books on the first day. The collection has since grown to over 64,000 items with 20,000 books being issued each month.

Our tour included 3 sections of the Library: the main lending library, the special collections, and a local history room. Below is a view of the main lending library which is comprised of adult fiction and non-fiction. Also part of this section is the bright and cheerful children's library.

Despite being housed in an historical building, the local history department has modernized the facilities and the collection is now housed in a climate controlled room. This department includes local newspapers that date back to 1859, parish records, census records from 1841 and later, minutes from the county council meetings from as early as 1843.

One of the highlights of the Special Collection department is the Murison Burns Collection. John Murison was such avid fan of Robert Burns work that everything in this room has either been written by or about Robert Burns. There are a number of art pieces that depict Burns, as well. The collection is a living collection and continues to grow with new items each year.

For some brief information about Carnegie Libraries, visit: Wikipedia

The Central Library of Edinburgh - July 19

I would like to start this post by saying "I love the people of Scotland!" The folks at the Central Library of Edinburgh were so warm and inviting. They were knowledgeable about their library and patrons and city.

When we first arrived, they brought us into a conference room where we could sit and fully absorb what they had to say. Several staff members presented on their departments' roles in the Library and community. Like libraries on this side of the pond, the Central Library is constantly working to increase its profile and draw in new patrons. One of the initiatives they have implemented is the development of their virtual library. It was started less than a year ago as a useful alternative to the physical library. It is not meant to replace the brick and mortar library, though. Instead the hope is it will draw people in. Patrons are able to search the online catalogue for Capital Collections (an image library focusing on Edinburgh) and "Your Edinburgh" (a one-stop shop for local information, health, advice, support groups, business, community, and activities).

Another important initiative the Library has taken on is reader development. The goal is to engage readers and find what they prefer while also trying to broaden their interests. They are working to put books at the core of what the Library does so people will be more likely to fight on behalf of the Library when it is threatened. Author events is one aspect of this initiative.

The Library is fortunate to have been solidly built so environmental fluctuations are not a major fear. However, dust is still a threat to the 1 million items in the collection.

The Library was founded in 1886 with a grant of £50,000 from Andrew Carnegie. At the time the only libraries in Edinburgh were subscription libraries and thus out of reach to the working class and poor. The building still has many historical features, such as the narrow corridor seen above.

The National Library of Scotland - July 19

Our first full day in Edinburgh was July 19th. In the morning we headed into the city from Dalkeith (which I have come to affectionately call the creepy palace of doom, but I'm a total sissy so don't take my word for it). Our first visit was the National Library of Scotland, however, due to the size of our group they were unable to provide a guided tour. Instead, we browsed around the 2 exhibits just off the main lobby.

The first exhibit started with a nice background and history of the Library and its collection. The National Library of Scotland is 1 of 6 legal deposit libraries in the British Isles and consists of a collection covering everything from serious academic publications to Dennis the Menace cartoons. There are: 14 million books & manuscripts, 2 million maps & atlases, 300,000 music scores, 32,000 films & videos, and 25,000 newspaper & magazine titles. The Library acquires 6,000 new items each week.

The Library got its start from the Library of the Faculty of Advocates which was established in 1689. When the upkeep of the collection became too much they collection was gifted to the nation in 1925. The current building was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956, however, it was expanded in the 1980's to accommodate the growing collection.

The next section of the exhibit focused on the history of golf and I imagine it would be very engaging for a golf enthusiast, unfortunately, I am not an enthusiast. I found it to be nicely arranged and interactive, though.

I next moved on to the John Murray Archive, however, I entered from what I am guessing is the exit because I found the background information plaque at the end. Although the displays were interesting and engaging I was left wondering if that was the entire archive. Are there documents housed somewhere else in the Library?

The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford - July 16

On July 16th we headed out of London to visit Oxford's Bodleian Library as a class. Oxford and the "Bod" have an interesting history in that the University didn't have it's own building or library until the 14th century, despite the fact that teaching at Oxford can be traced back to the 11th century. Until the approximately 1320, students relied on their individual college libraries. From these humble roots, the library grew when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the brother of King Henry V, donated a collection of 281 volumes and helped with a fundraising effort to expand the Library's space. It was finally opened in 1488, however, the collection was disassembled during the Reformation. Sir Thomas Bodley (from whom the Library receives its name) came forward to help rebuild the collection in 1598. The Library was reopened in 1602 and in 1610 Bodley arranged to have the Library become a Legal Deposit Library. Due to space restrictions the Library only receives requested materials, however, that is still 5,000 new items each week. The collection is approximately 11 million items, some of which is housed off-site.

Our tour with CeCe began in the Divinity School, which is part of the 1488 building. Above is a picture of the Convocation House and Court, a room that was used for governing meetings of the University and by Parliament during the Civil War.

We proceeded upstairs to Duke Humphrey's Library where there are still books chained to the stacks as they were in 1488. CeCe also brought us into the underground stacks that connects the old Bodleian Library to the new building across the street. The majority of the collection is housed in closed stacks with the exception of quick reference materials and items frequently used by undergraduates.

Bodley's touch still remains throughout the Library. For instance, the Head Librarian still carries the title "Bodley's Librarian." The person who currently fills this role is the first woman in the Library's history. She is also the first American.

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum - July 15

The National Art Library at the V&A Museum is a closed-stack public reference library that caters to academics, as well as the casual art lover. The Library was founded in 1837 to support the School of Design. It was later merged with the Victoria and Albert Museum and has grown to include over 1 million items. The collection includes: books, exhibition catalogues, auction sale catalogues, periodicals, archives, and Manuscripts.

Because the Library is constantly struggling for space, they have utilized a shelving system that maximizes the available space, by grouping items by size. For this reason it is very possible for a book on modern art to be shelved next to volume on Egyptian sarcophagi.

The highlight of the visit had to be the selection of materials that were pulled for us to view. Among the treasures was a first folio of Shakespeare from 1623 and a complete collection of Charles Dickens' Bleak House in the original monthly editions.

The London Library - July 13

On July 13th we visited the London Library, a private membership library on St. James Square near Piccadilly Circus. What appears to be an unassuming building from the outside, opens up to an expansive repository that houses approximately 1 million volumes on 15 miles of open shelving. The Library is truly noteworthy because 97% of the collection is available for loan, regardless of an item's age. To say that the members are respected (and responsible) is an understatement. Previous members were Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Virginia Woolf among many others.

The collection spans the 16th century to the present and largely focuses on the arts and humanities. Some subjects include literature, history, fiction, topography, biography, art, and travel.

The building is quite interesting as it is a mix of the old and new. Below is a picture (please excuse the blurriness) of the renovated space for the art collection. The duplex room is a pleasing mix of wood stacks and frosted glass around the gallery level.

Another section of the Library maintains the original Victorian steel floor that is slatted, as seen in the next 2 photos.

The Caird Library at the Greenwich Maritime Museum - July 12

On Monday, July 12th we visited the Caird Library at the Greenwich Maritime Museum. We were greeted by Hannah Dunmow, Manager of Archives and Manuscripts.

The current library consists of an e-library in the lobby and the Caird Library. In preparation for their move to a new state-of-the-art facility for the Library is currently operating with restricted hours. Instead of their usual 6 days a week, they are only open 3 days a week.

The Library has been open since its founding in 1937 by Sir James Caird. The initial collection was comprised of manuscripts, archives, charts, journals, and ephemera. The subjects ranged from emigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, voyages and exploration, naval architecture, Merchant and Royal Navies, and geological sources.

The patron demographics vary from academic scholars to yacht builders to people interested in genealogy. Prior to the relocation project, the Library received 3,000 to 4,000 visitors each year. However, the shortened hours have curtailed this number while written inquiries have increased. Unfortunately, the Library has had to redirect many of these inquiries to the National Archives.

The staff here were so gracious and after providing some background information, Hannah and her colleague Martin showed us some of the treasures from the collection. Among these items were a book from the H.M.S. Bounty (famous for the mutiny), a copy of the Aurora Australis, an atlas from 1686, and two letters between Horatio Nelson and his wife.

After the Library tour, Kelly and I browsed around the Museum until we were unceremoniously booted out by a fire alarm. We toured the Queen's House next and then made our way up the ridiculously steep hill to see the Prime Meridian and one of the best views of London. Below is proof that I made it! (Cue the theme song from Rocky...)

Merci Paris and the American Library in Paris - July 9-11

I opted to go on the trip to Paris from July 9-11. The city was everything I thought it would be and more. The residents were unbelievably hospitable, the food was phenomenal, and the Eiffel Tower is completely awe-inspiring. Seriously, I have about 20 pictures and videos of just the Tower!

We had the option to register for 2 tours while we were in Paris and being the true library nerd that I am, I signed up for the library tour with Prof. Welsh on the first day. On the agenda were the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: Richelieu, the American Library in Paris, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: François-Mitterrand.

The Richelieu Library is the site of the old national library and is in the center of the city, near the Louvre Museum. Unfortunately, we were unable to tour the full library. However, there were a number of public rooms open to us, including the lobby with a grand staircase.

After a brief lunch, we headed across town to the American Library in Paris. Kim Lê Minh, the Reference Librarian, was kind enough to give us some information and history about the Library. It is a private service library and was founded in 1920 when the ALA collected the books that had been sent overseas for American soldiers fighting in WWI.

Today the Library serves the expat and English-speaking population in France. A number of French citizens have also joined the library to broaden their knowledge of English with the approximately 13,000 materials in the collection. The library currently has 2,200 members.

It is a very welcoming space and has the feel of a local public library. This is important because there is currently no community center in Paris, so the Library tries to fill this role.

We next headed back across Paris to see an exhibit of globes at the Francois-Mitterrand Library, however, we did not arrive in time. This new Library provided an opportunity to compare the old to the new. While the Richelieu Library is in the historic part of the city, the Francois-Mitterrand Library is in a newer section of the city. The Library is part of a massive complex of 4 buildings each designed to resemble the spine of a book.

Sir John Soane Museum - July 7

After our visit to the British Museum, several of us decided to explore the Sir John Soane Museum. Sir John Soane was a leading architect in the late-18th to early-19th centuries. The Museum is the site of Soane's home and, by an act of Parliament, has been kept as it appeared during his lifetime. Unfortunately, I could not find many pictures that do the space justice. But as the picture below hints, Soane clearly believed "more is more." The Museum is filled from floor to ceiling with thousands of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts, as well as hundreds of paintings.

The house is actually comprised of 3 adjacent townhouses. Soane initially lived in #12 Lincoln's Inn Fields, however, he slowly acquired the neighboring buildings in order to expand his collection.

His goal for this space was to open it up to the public to help educate and inspire any one interested in art and architecture. The items in the collection range from fragments of cornices to a full-sized sculpture of Apollo and a 3,300 year old Egyptian sarcophagus.

Interior photograph courtesy of

The British Library - July 8

On July 8th, we visited the British Library as a class. Being one of the main copyright deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland, the facility is truly massive. The current collection is comprised of approximately 175 million items and grows at a rate of 8,000 new items each day! The collection is housed 75 feet underground in a climate controlled structure along 800-900 miles of linear shelving. This state-of-the-art building was completed in 1997 and it's main objective is the preservation of the book. The stacks are kept at 17 degrees Celsius and 50% humidity.

Our guide today was the delightful manager of the front house team, Kevin Mehmet. Mr. Mehmet let us in on a few interesting tidbits of Library trivia, such as the reason the building resembles a ship. (Apparently, the chief architect, Sir Colin St. John Wilson, never made it to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy. Since he didn't have his own ship in the Navy, he built one.) Below is a model of the building that shows the underground facilities.

Being a reference library, and not a lending library, the stacks are closed to patrons. Patrons must submit a request and the Automated Book Retrieval System (ABRS) generates 2 barcoded slips. An employee retrieves the book from the stacks (that are arranged by size), inserts one of the slips in the cover of the book, scans the slip, places the book in a barcoded bin, scans that, and the complex maze of conveyors guides the book to the correct dispatch room. There are over 1.25 miles of conveyor tracks with 22,00 different possible routes.

Also housed in the Library is an extensive exhibit space for a permanent exhibit of some of the Library's notable holdings, such as the original "Alice in Wonderland" and the "Codex Sinaiticus." There is also space for temporary exhibits, such as "Magnificent Maps" which was such a treat to explore.

The Central Archive of the British Museum - July 7

Ah, the British Museum, aka my Happy Place! I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but this was my first visit to this wonderful institution. What kind of art history/history lover am I?!

The Museum covers 2 million years of human history and culture and has been in operation since 1753. This is the same year that the archive's records begin. Stephanie Clarke is the head (and only) archivist for the museum and was gracious enough to take us on our tour in several groups. Bryony Levenhall, an archives record assistant was also on hand to show us some of her favorite items.

After meeting in the Great Court, Stephanie led us to the basement and through a series of hallways until we reached the door seen above that actually made us let out a collective "ooh." The archive is comprised of documents and materials related to the history and administration of the Museum and Library. It should be noted that the majority of the library collection is no longer in the British Museum, is was transferred to the British Library when that new building was completed.)

As noted above, the records within the Archive begin with the foundation of the Museum in 1753. The bulk of the holdings is Trustees Minutes; records of acquisitions; and administration, policy and financial records. The materials are stored in bound volumes on stacks. The Museum had a bindery for this purpose. There are also a number of "Letter Books" that contain letters between archeologists in the field and the Museum's directors, the common theme among these letters is funding, or lack thereof.

A significant portion of the Archive deals with the Library that was housed in the Museum. In order to access the Library, potential patrons had to submit an application packet that included their intentions as well as a letter of reference. These packets and the corresponding response are all held in the Archive and date back to 1795. Upon the patron's first visit, they would sign a ledger book and these books are also part of the Archive, dating back to 1842. As could be expected, some of these patrons are very well-known historical figures. Among the signatures Bryony showed us were Karl Marx's and T.S. Elliott's.

One of my favorite items in the Archive was a item of somewhat dubious provenance. As with many sites in London, the British Museum was not immune from the Blitz and a section of the building was destroyed by the bombing. While sifting through the wreckage someone found the shell from one of these bombs and its has been housed in an acid free archival box since then.

The Barbican Library - July 6

The Barbican Library is a public library in the Barbican Centre, a multi-arts complex in the city of London. Due to the size of our group, we were split into 2 groups. I had the pleasure to be with John Lake, a Librarian in the adult department.

The Barbican Centre is a group of modern structures and was a gift from the city to the residents of London. The neighborhood was the site of heavy bombing during WWII and all of the historical buildings had been destroyed. The idea for an international arts center was conceived in the 1950's, planned in the 1960's, built in the 1970's, and finally opened in 1982. This square-mile is run by the City of London and includes theatres, art galleries, meeting facilities, as well as residential buildings. Approximately 9,000 people live in the Barbican and 75% are members to the library. Since any one can become a member, the library serves a large population of commuters who are unable to visit their local libraries after work.

Because membership to the library is so vast, a number of self-service tools have been implemented. The above picture shows the self-service desk that is just outside the library's doors. This station is available until 11pm and allows patrons to drop off books, check their account online, and access the catalog.

One of the most popular sections is the adult department. The collection is held on short "propeller" cases that allow users to clearly see the whole department.

In keeping with the arts focus of the Centre, the Barbican Library houses one of the most extensive music collections in London. Richard Jones, the Assistant Music Librarian guided this portion of the tour.

Students and researchers are a large percentage of the Music Library's patronage. The collection is comprised of sheet music (covering approximately 62,000 titles); 16,000 CDs; DVDs related to music; books and periodicals. The above picture is just a small sampling of the sheet music collection. Another service the Music Library offers is loans of multiple copies of music scores to orchestras.

The final stop on our tour was the Children's Library which serves families from birth to the age of 14. The department also serves the London public school system by sending out non-fiction materials that complement the curricula. 30-minute class visits are another service the Library offers to the surrounding school system. Monthly events on Saturdays, such as ballet, crafts, and summer reading round out the offerings.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library - July 5

On Monday, July 5th we visited St. Paul's Cathedral Library and were greeted by Joseph Wisdom, the Librarian responsible for the collection. Mr. Wisdom is also joined by a Conservator, an Architectural Archivist and a Collections Manager. Together this team oversees a collection of approximately 21,500 volumes, including printed books, manuscripts and pamphlets. Although the majority of the original collection was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, lists from as far back as 1313 exist and provide an idea of what the library would have contained prior to the fire.

The current Cathedral is only the latest to occupy this site. A church has been here since 604AD! After the Great Fire the previous structure was deemed too unstable and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design a grand new Cathedral in 1668 and construction was completed in 1710.

After climbing a nausea-inducing spiral staircase, Mr. Wisdom brought us to the gallery space on the triforium level. This level houses gallery space as well as the library. Our first stop along our tour was in a room that contains Wren's Great Model. This oak and plaster model was completed in 1673-4 for £600, the cost of a good home in London at the time. It was meant to serve as a guide to the builders in the event something happened to Wren. Also in this room were numerous drawings and plans of the project from Wren's office.

The next stop on our tour was the actual library. Wow! This room is exactly what I picture when I think of an old library. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases circling the room, dark wood furniture, a marble fireplace, a gallery running around the perimeter. When Mr. Wisdom opened the double-doors the smell of old books (and knowledge) permeated the air. The smell, we soon found out, is actually the result of off-gassing and decay...

Despite its old-fashioned appearance and atmosphere, the library has taken steps to remain modern. Approximately 85% of the collection has been cataloged using the MARC standard. Although it is no longer utilitarian, the library is available to researchers by appointment several days a week. According to the library's website: "
The subject strength of the historical collections lies in theology, church history and patristics. Current acquisitions are restricted to major works on the history of the Church in England, on Wren and the building of the Cathedral, the Church in the City, and 'alumni' material."

Photographs from St. Paul's Cathedral's website:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hello London!

I arrived in London on Friday and it has been go-go-go since. After getting settled, we went on a neighborhood tour and like all big cities it's amazing how many famous sites could be passed (or seen in the distance) during just a brief walk. Leicester Square, Waterloo Station, The Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, the Thames... Every where you turn this city oozes history.

Saturday and Sunday everyone went on two London Alive walking tours. I selected the Historic Pubs Tour and Abbey Road Walk. On my previous visits (with family), pubs were not a big part of the itinerary due to the American perception that they are just simply bars. This is absolutely not the case. Pubs, or Public Houses, are a meeting place for the whole community. In fact, families with children can also be found in a pub! There are even some towns in England where the community's civic operations, such as the courts, are housed in the local pub. During our walk, the group saw The Black Friar which sits on the site of an old monastery that brewed ale for public consumption because potable water was difficult to come by in the increasingly industrial and polluted London.

St. Bride's Tavern was another pub seen along the walk. It was named after St. Bride's Church which is located nearby. The church is notable for its architecture. After its predecessor was destroyed in 1666 during the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren designed the tiered structure that still stands today. This design was first used as a model by a local baker for a wedding cake, and the rest is history as they say.

One of my favorite features about many of the pubs in London is the presence of potted flowers hanging outside. It's such a homey and welcoming aspect of a pub's character.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of heading up to Abbey Road and Regent's Park with Dr. Davies. It's really quite extraordinary that such iconic music was created in a somewhat ordinary residential neighborhood. The area is filled with lovely homes and apartment buildings with perfectly manicured lawns and then there is this recording studio in the middle that has tributes to the Beatles scrawled all over the garden wall. The resident's comings-and-goings are delayed by the numerous groups of tourists posing in the famous crosswalk. Thankfully, Londoners are incredibly hospitable so there were no incidents during our visit.

For a brief history of pubs, please visit: Wikipedia

For a short biography on Sir Christopher Wren, please visit: BBC

Please visit the Abbey Road Studios' website for more information: Abbey Road Studios

For information about the Beatles' album, Abbey Road, please visit: Wikipedia