Monday, July 27, 2015

July 9: National Maritime Museum Library and Archive

There was a tube and train strike on Thursday, but it didn't affect us much, as the class took a Thames River boat down to Greenwich for a visit to the National Maritime Museum Library and Archive.

We were split up into two groups again. My group started with a look at some of the the items in the archives. Among the many items on display, Mike Bevan, the Archive Manager, showed us some materials related to a sea captain named Henry George Kendall, to show us how these materials would be of use to a researcher coming to the library and archives. The archive has Kendall's extra master certificate (there was no formal qualification process for mariners until the mid-19th century).

The archive also has a letter from Kendall requesting a duplicate certificate, as the original was lost when his ship was torpedoed and sunk.

These documents can be extremely helpful for those researching their family histories, as the documents can list vessels the person served on, key events that took place on those vessels, the person's home address, and even a physical description of them. If you go on, the digital collection of master certificates available there come from the National Maritime Museum! I almost wish I had some maritime history in my family. One could certainly learn a lot of detail about their ancestors here.

Many visitors to the library and archives are family historians researching their genealogy, while others are professional researchers and writers. The library has a video on its web page (I couldn't embed it here) that features library users explaining what they like about the library and its collection.

One of my classmates asked Mr. Bevan about his background: how had he come to work as a librarian at a maritime museum? Did he have a particular interest or background in the subject? His answer was no; his career path serendipitously wound its way there. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. I've heard so many similar stories since I started my master's program--of librarians who started in one type of library and switched to another with little background knowledge. Learning is just part of the job. 

At the museum, the librarians and archivists teach themselves and each other about the collection: each staff member writes an item for the Item of the Month feature on its website once a year and one or two blog posts for the library's blog. I'm looking forward to being part of a profession where you are encouraged to learn as you go, and there's always something new to learn and pass on.

July 8: Bonus Track--High Society

That evening a few classmates and I went to the Old Vic Theater to see High Society.

Photo taken by Andrea Guzman.

Philadelphia Story is one of my favorite movies, and this musical is based on it, so I was looking forward to seeing it.

There was a bit of a mix-up with my ticket--I thought I'd bought one, but didn't (I think I got frustrated with the website, so gave up...but then I only remembered being on the website, so thought I'd bought one), so I went that night to see if they had any standby tickets.

The lovely lady at the ticket booth told me that all of the tickets by then were £30, so I might as well get one in the front row.

So I did.

I sat in the front row. ON the stage. Within arms' reach of the actors. You couldn't even sit with your legs crossed because the dancers whipped by you so closely.

It was wonderful.

July 8: King's College Maughan Library & Special Collections

In the afternoon, we visited the Maughan Library at King’s College for a tour and a look at some of the items in its special collections.

King’s acquired the building in 2001 and sought to bring together all of its non-medical libraries into this space. The building was originally a public records office from 1850 to 1990, and was designed to keep those files secure and protected. The building is made of stone and is segmented into smaller rooms with iron doors to prevent the spread of a fire (shown below). (The British are SERIOUS about fire safety. Where we might see signs directing us to the restrooms in a building in the U.S., there are signs for fire exits in the U.K. Many of our tours, for class or recreation, have included notes on what to do in case of a fire and when the routine fire drills are set to occur. London has burned down a few times, so I can understand their sensitivity.)

The original shelving (shown below) are solid and great for air circulation. It’s a large, but not very flexible space, making it hard to adapt to a library collection. And the shelving is great for records, but not necessarily for library materials. In addition, the building has historical status, so they have to be careful about any changes they make to the building.

They have been able to open up the space some and add some modern touches. The collections are kept in more modern shelving that are broken up with open space for students to work.

On the ground floor, next to the Enquiries desk, there is a Compass desk dedicated to student welfare, where students can go with any non-academic questions. I thought that was a great idea, to make such a service so visible and accessible in a place that is students already visit so frequently during term.

The library has a laptop loan facility, where students can borrow laptops for use in the library.

There are also three types of study rooms available. One room allows talking, for students who need to discuss assignments in groups. It is also equipped with projectors for groups working on class presentations. Another room holds computers for student use (shown below). This room can also be booked for classes.

Finally, there’s a silent study room—the Round Reading Room—for those needing a really quiet place to study. There is even a “Noise Line” students can call or text to report someone making noise.

After the tour, we were taken into the Foyle Special Collections Library to see some of the treasures of the collection. There are around 180,000 printed works in the collection, covering theology, medicine, travel and exploration, science, and literature.

One item that caught my eye was a volume of issues of the Penny Lancet (the library has the complete run of the periodical). This was a medical magazine for the do-it-yourself know, home remedies, how to operate on yourself, that sort of thing. (Yikes!)

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 8: Bonus Track--Magna Carta Exhibit at the British Library

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and the British Library is holding a special exhibit. Our professors generously bought us tickets, so a bunch of us went to see the exhibit on Wednesday morning.

Because of the delicate nature of the documents and artifacts, I presume (one of the documents had a sheet covering it at all times to protect it from even the dim light in the space; you had to lift it up if you wanted to see it), photographs were not allowed. And I couldn't begin to list all the documents and materials on display. Luckily, the library's website has this handy slideshow to show you some of treasures on display.

What struck me the most was the age of some of these pieces. It amazes me that such delicate manuscripts are sill here and in such good condition.

I was also struck my the number of organizations that contributed pieces to the exhibit, from the British Museum, to Canterbury Cathedral Archives, to the New York Public Library, and even an archive or library in Australia. It's just another example to me of the cooperative spirit of information professionals and institutions.

I feel very fortunate to have seen this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit.

July 7: Research at Stratford-upon-Avon Library

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Stratford-upon-Avon. We had the day to ourselves, but I used some of the time to do some research for my paper.

I will be spending some time on this trip researching programs and/or services that UK public lending libraries provide for homeless patrons. There are a lot of cool ideas for programs and services throughout the US: from hiring social workers and nurses, to bringing story times and summer reading programs to local shelters, to inviting homeless patrons for regular coffee and discussion with the staff. The Public Library Association recently hosted a two-part webinar on the topic and shared some creative ideas. In addition, the American Library Association has a toolkit for library services to people experiencing homelessness. I’m curious about what cool ideas are happening in the UK, whether CILIP has any guidelines or tools for public libraries, what issues arise in providing these services, and whether they are the same issues faced in the US.

I visited the Stratford-upon-Avon Library and spoke with someone there about what services that library provides to library users experiencing homelessness or other hardship.
Photo courtesy of Misti Thornton.

While they don't provide services specific to this population, they do provide a lot of literature and referrals to outside services.

My contact furnished me with a ton of leaflets and pamphlets that they have available to all library users. I noticed that almost all of them stressed the fact that library materials and services are free and available to everyone. The library's website also provides links to information and local services that might be useful for people experiencing homelessness. No doubt, the librarians also make use of these links when signposting and making referrals to library users.

The library participates in a the Reading Well Books on Prescription program, which promotes library materials on health and wellness. Physicians can actually prescribe these books and advise a patient to check them out at the library. Or, library users are free to browse, research, and take the books out on their own.

It was a brief, but successful first research trip. I followed up with more questions for my contact by e-mail later in the week, and look forward to hearing what more information she has to share. I feel like I'm starting to get some traction here.

July 6: Bonus Track--The London Eye

At night a group of us from the library and theater classes rode the London Eye.


Photo courtesy of Jenny Meslener.

July 6: National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum

On Monday afternoon, we visited the Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. We were split into two groups, and one group toured the library while the other group viewed some treasures of the library.

Classmates perusing some treasures of the V&A Art Library.
Photo courtesy of Misti Thornton.

The V&A library is one of the top four art libraries in the world. It collects documentation and materials concerning the decorative and applied arts and design, reflecting the beauty and functionality of the art around us. The collection takes up three floors in the library, plus two rooms and galleries scattered throughout the building. The books are arranged by height, not subject, and the call numbers refer to a size range to indicate where they should be shelved. More commonly used items are kept on the shelves in the two reading rooms and are organized using Dewey.
Photo courtesy of Misti Thornton.

This is a public reference library that serves an international readership. Anyone can come in, free of charge, provide a form of ID and address, and access most of the collection. Or, library staff can scan items and send them to readers electronically. There is a portion of the collection that is restricted, because the items are so rare. But, as we've seen with many restricted library collections in the UK, the items can be accessed if one can make a case for needing to see it. In the stacks, there are many items under lock and key, and only certain senior management have access to them. The library has many reproductions of some items for users to view, to protect the original. Some of these reproductions are valuable in their own right. The library has a few replicas of DaVinci's compasses--the replicas themselves, because they are so detailed and true to the originals, are worth around £20,000.

This library is also the research facility for the V&A staff. Museum departments come to the library to learn about their own collections, research items for possible acquisition, and get information for their exhibits. Staff members can borrow materials from the library, but the materials cannot leave the building.

However, the library is also considered a museum department in its own right, as it acquires and curates a collection of artistic objects--the books themselves, as well as other materials. The library is considered a collection of art forms in its own right--it contains artistic objects about artistic objects/ideas. (This seems a stark contrast to the archives at the British Museum, which seems to give priority to the artifacts displayed above ground and gives little thought to the archives below.)

One of the treasures they showed us was this Bible. Every inch of this small volume was decorated, from its beaded cover to its embroidered ribbons, painted edges, and ornate calligraphy inside. The amount of care and craftsmanship that went into every was truly a work of art.

Photos courtesy of Misti Thornton.

The library has, among other treasures, Shakespeare's first folio, five of DaVinci's notebooks, and all but one of Dickens' manuscripts (except for Bleak House). They hope to digitize some of the rarer materials to make them more accessible online. On the other end of the spectrum, they have a growing collection of comic books and graphic novels, as they reflect trends in graphic design and social history.

July 6: St. Paul's Cathedral Library

I left my heart in the library of St. Paul's Cathedral...

...and my camera in Stratford-upon-Avon. So, photos for the next few posts have been kindly donated by classmates or borrowed from the Internet.

Joseph Wisdom, the Librarian, showed us around St. Paul's Cathedral Library. He was lovely. He didn't just talk about the collection, but reminded us (well, me, anyway) of the purpose and philosophy behind library service.

We started in the Cathedral itself, where he pointed out a carving above a large wooden door leading to the library upstairs. The carving is of a book (presumably the Bible) with a heart above it, perhaps conveying the idea that the message of the Gospel needs to be given with love, or there's no point. Mr. Wisdom said that that is true of any type of service. In anything we do, we should do it with love.

Then, he brought us up a long spiral staircase to the upper floor--the BBC was there, setting up to film a memorial service in honor of victims of the July 7, 2005 bombing.

The library/archive of St. Paul's Cathedral collects any materials, artifacts, and even ideas related to the Cathedral, conceptually. The library operates under separate legislation from that governing a museum. It follows the direction of the a point. For example, if the Church decides to have an exhibit and hires outside contractors to set up the display, Mr. Wisdom must sometimes insert himself into the conversation and place limits or make suggestions to ensure that items from the collection are kept in safe condition. Sometimes they'll have to change the display conditions or create copies of the items instead.

We passed through a large, open area upstairs that is serving, for the moment, as a holding area for certain items. Then we went into a room--the original "library in the north tower"--that houses a huge, working model of a design created by Christopher Wren when he was pitching his ideas for the Cathedral. The design was rejected, because it looked too much like St. Peter's Basilica and they wanted something a bit less...Catholic.
Image from Model of cathedral design in the center.

Then we saw it. The "library in the south tower."

What do you think of when you think "old English library?" That's exactly what it looks like. Shelves and shelves of ancient texts, busts on tabletops, furniture from various periods. And as we walked through the doors, the Cathedral bells began to ring. Seriously.
Image from 

It even smelled important and historical. Actually, Mr. Wisdom pointed out that what we were smelling--"eau de bibliotheque"--was the smell of decaying leather. So, while many of us enjoyed the smell, it's actually not good for the collection. They try to control the environment as much as possible. Food and drink--even plants--are forbidden in the library, as they can bring in or attract bugs that eat starch. Bug traps are set up everywhere, and temperature and light are controlled. They even limit the numbers of people allowed in at a time.

And yet, as fancy as the library is, it is open to anyone. Anyone is welcome to come and use the library, from the most important scholars to the "common folk."

The library has no classification, to speak of. The large books are shelved toward the bottom, and the small ones are shelved toward the top. They are sort of grouped by subject, but they aren't organized any more than that. Mr. Wisdom commented on how we librarians (or librarians-to-be) like to systematize everything to the minutest detail, but that that's not always realistic. The goal is to make the collection accessible. It's a good reminder to me not to forget about the forest when I'm busy trying to rearrange the trees
Image from 

He also taught us the proper way to remove a book from a shelf. You don't grab from the top of the spine (or you'll eventually pull the spine off). Instead, you're supposed to push the books on either side in, place fingertips on either side of the book, and pull the volume toward you.

So, now you know.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

July 3-5: The Weekend

My weekend began THURSDAY evening, sort of, when a small group of us met with the professors at the Old Bank of England Pub for dinner and to discuss our paper topics. (We broke into groups, each group meeting a different night at the pub. My group met Thursday night.)

I enjoyed hearing about everyone's subjects for their papers, from Agatha Christie, to Arctic fur traders, to . I want to read them all when they're finished. 

I won't say the discussion made me feel more confident in my own topic, but the professors seemed confident. So, I decided to rely on that until I got into the work.

FRIDAY was an independent research day, so I worked mostly on this blog and a little on my paper.

That night some classmates and I went to a performance of Agatha Christie's Mousetrap, the world's longest-running play. This was performance number 26,102.

Don't ask me whodunnit. I've been sworn to secrecy.

On SATURDAY, I worked on my paper a little more, ran some errands, and took a nap. It was wonderful. Some of us met up for dinner that night.

On SUNDAY, I went on a tour of Stonehenge and Winchester. It was amazing how close they let you get to the stones. Between the audio tour and the winding path around the henge, I felt like I got a good grasp of its size and its history.

So, here come a lot of pictures of Stonehenge...

In the afternoon, we went to Winchester. We found the house where Jane Austen spent her final months...

...the cathedral where she's laid to rest (Winchester Cathedral--I didn't go in' I was all cathedralled[?] out)...

Then we wandered over to the Great Hall, home of the Round Table...

The Round Table

And here are some random pictures of pretty scenes in Winchester...