Saturday, August 2, 2008

Silence is Golden; Wisdom is Rare -- personal

Those are some quotations that decorate the wall of my favorite London pub, Blackfriar's. Last night we had our British Studies Program Research Symposium (thankfully, only one person from each class presented and it wasn't me!), then most of the library class decided to go out all together, which really hasn't happened. Lot's of fun!

So this is probably my last post before getting on a plane and heading home. I'll be leaving the dorms at the wonderful hour of 4:30 a.m. Yikes! At least over here it's already starting to get light by then (it's crazy! It fully daylight by 5 a.m., and doesn't get dark until around 9:30, sometimes 10 p. And in Scotland it's even more pronounced: Light by 4 a.m. and dark around midnight).

I have taken advantage of a little more culture over the past few days. I went to the Tate Britain art museum. Very cool. They only have a small modern and contemporary section, which I didn't really spend any time in, but they were having a special contemporary exhibit that was interesting: sprinters. Basically every thirty seconds someone sprinted through their great hall. Art? you decide. Captivating? Definitely. I also went to the Museum of London Docklands and saw a Jack the Ripper exhibit which was really great; they gave you a lot of history of the East End of London at the time which was heartbreaking.

So today...who knows. I'm playing it by ear.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Guiness and Sheep -- personal

Only four more nights in London...the time has alternately flown by and seemed to drag by as though I'd be here forever. But mostly flown. This last week I'm trying to get in a few things I didn't get around to before travels -- Tate Britain, Museum of London Docklands, more British Museum. I'm also trying to savour some of my favorites -- favorite places, favorite food. And of course, do a little work! :)

Backtracking a little...
Dublin was a whirlwind. From the crystal-clear perspective of hindsight :), I can say that I wish I'd given myself either more time in Dublin, or picked a smaller city to visit in Ireland -- someplace where I could have really taken it all in. That said, I'm still glad I went. After all, where else could I have appropriately had a pint of Guiness? Which I did... with thoughts of my Guiness-loving friends. We took a guided tour-bus around the city with a really funny guide, and I kept thinking of the books Jeanette introduced me to: Princes of Ireland and Rebels of Ireland. Having read those books really made the city come alive to me and makes me want to read them again. We also went to the Writer's Museum, which I loved! The museum had a lot of portraits, photographs and artifacts (e.g. letters, first or early editions of manuscripts and books, personal objects such as typewriters). The exhibit text and audio-guide gave a kind of history of Irish literature as a whole. There were so many authors I'd forgotten or hadn't realized were Irish like Bram Stoker, and sadly a lot of authors I'd never heard of but am looking forward to reading now, like Maria Edgeworth. I think I'm about to go on an Irish authors reading binge. :)
And speaking of reading...after a very full day of travel (which started off by oversleeping and just barely making our 7:20 a.m. flight), we made it to Hay-on-Wye, Wales. What a change of pace! It was about as opposite as you could get from urban, loud, crowded Dublin. We walked into town with no accomodations reserved, but found a friendly gentleman at a convenience store who pointed us in the direction of a B&B that was really close by. Praise the Lord they had a vacancy, and it was clean, comfortable, and affordable. Breakfast was wonderful, and the window ledge in our room was wide enough to sit on! Not quite a window seat, but the next best thing. Our full day there was spent wandering around town and all the many, many books stores. Then that evening we hiked down along the river and ended up at a really great swimming hole. We waded in and it was sooo refreshing.

Anyway, this post is much longer than I meant it to be. Probably because I've been in the mode of writing my class posts.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Planes, trains, buses -- personal

So the past five days have involved a lot of travel, three hotel rooms, packing and repacking, crowded pubs, lilting history and plenty of jokes, rare books, oversleeping, running through an airport, sheep, a river, hills, used books, English breakfasts, tea, more books, and a personal anecdote about Bill Clinton.

Off to class now, but don't worry...I'll expand a bit more later. :)

Edinburgh's City Art Centre

The City Art Centre in Edinburgh opened in 1980 and houses the city's collection of Scottish art; it also provides exhibition space for special temporary exhibits. The exhibit I made a trip to see is Bond Bound: Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design, a collaboration between Fleming Collection and Ian Fleming Publications.
The exhibit highlights examples of the James Bond cover art and film posters from the original hardcover Casino Royale book, to the film posters for the latest Casino Royale film. There were examples of covers in different languages and from various re-issues throughout the decades, as well as illustrations from the James Bond comic strip of the 1960s, art for the new Young James Bond book series, and a selection of the commemorative James Bond stamps. There were also illistratrions from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fleming's children's book that he wrote for his son.
The exhibit was very interesting; since the general subject of all the art is the same, you can really see the evolution of pop art throughout generations and across cultures. It was also a fascinating look at how different people can interpret the same book. Some of the books have people, whole others have an object at the center such as bullet holes, a deck of cards, or a smoking gun. Some are much more sexual than others, illustrating either the changing values of that culture or maybe just the way in which that particular publisher wanted to market the book. Although Fleming was apparently very involved in the creation of the hardback covers, commissioning Richard Clipping to design nine of the original covers. However, he didn't have much say over the paperback covers, and there is a definite difference between those hardback covers and the paperback covers which have a more "pulp" feel to them. I also got a bit of a laugh seeing how James Bond himself was interpreted throughout the years, especially before the films gave him a recognizable face.

University of Strathclyde Glasgow and The Bridge

For me, our trip to Glasgow and the visits to the University of Strathclyde and The Bridge were the perfect endcap to our official class visits. At The Bridge we got to see a library partnership accomplishing amazing things in a very disadvantaged community; it was an uplifting look at what a library can be and what kind of role it can have in its community. At the University we were priveleged to really connect with those who are studying and teaching librarianship here in the U.K., to get a look at the foundation for all of the places and people we've visited over the past month.
At the university, home to the U.K.'s second oldest library science program, David McMenemy talked about libraries in the U.K. and the differences in degree programs for librarians in the U.K. and U.S. For example, library schools in the U.K. offer bachelors degree programs in library and information science and masters programs are generally only a year, which is proving very attractive to some American library students. One big difference in librarianship in the U.K. versus the U.S. is the attitude toward school libraries. We were shocked to learn that schools in the U.K. are not required to have a library and consequently most public schools don't. While there are naturally differences in librarianship across the Atlantic, Mr. McMenemy also shared with us some issues that libraries in the U.K. face that are similiar to issues we are facing in the U.S., particularly in relation to public library services. Issues such as drops in borrowing figures, attracting non-users, bridging the digital divide, deprofessionalisation, and measuring library services.
Christine Rooney-Browne, a graduate student at the university, shared with us some of her research which directly relates to measuring public library services. Her research will look at several different types of libraries in varying situations and will attempt to develop a methodology that can measure the social value of public libraries, rather than simply just issuing points. Her research was very exciting to hear about, and summed up really well by a quote she shared with us "People, their creativity and culture, remain elusive, always partly beyond the range of conventional inquiry."
Alan Poulter shared with us his work on FRILLS - Forensic Readiness for Local Libraries in Scotland. This program would be a way to track what people are doing on library computers and better monitor and deal with inapropriate and criminal use of public access computers. As he put it, an alternative to filters.

Library at The Bridge
That afternoon, Mr. McMenemy and Ms. Rooney-Browne took us to The Bridge, a partnership between Glasgow City Council, Culture and Sport Glasgow, John Wheatley College and the Greater Easterhouse Arts Company. This partnership has resulted in an amazing space with a public library, community college, theatre, cafe, public swimming pool, dance studio and even a costume workshop and recording studio. The Library at the Bridge opened in July 2006, building off of the existing public pool and John Wheatley College. The center was created in response to the needs of the Easterhouse community, a very socially and economically disadvantaged area of Glasgow. The idea was to provide a space that encouraged the residents to improve themselves mentally, socially and physically, and in doing so, improving the general well-being of the community as a whole.

The building itself is a very modern, open space and has won several design and architecture awards And it's loud! But the noise just seems to provide energy. The book stacks are spaced out with plenty of seating between sections, and the signage is very accessible and understandable to a demographic that might not be very familiar with libraries -- for example, the sign next to the non-fiction section said "fact books" rather than non-fiction. The shelving in the children's section is on wheels so that the staff can rearrange the shelves to fit whatever activity is going on, making for a very flexible space.
As a community space, The Bridge is all about special programs. Some of the partnership programs that the library has done include: Healthy Reading Initiative, Careers Scotland, Easterhouse Writers' Group, literacy programs for adults and children and various youth programs.
And speaking of youth of the best stories I heard at The Bridge was regarding a group of younger teens who were coming to the library and causing trouble. Mr. Finney said that the library created a Friday night gaming group to get the kids involved in the library and that they haven't had any trouble from them since.
As far as hard numbers go, they also point to success: between April 2006 to March 2007 issues went up by 27%, visitors were up by 242%, PC bookings were up by 167%, reservations up by 25% and enquiries up by 17%.
Mr. Finney credits a lot of the library's success to the staff. He said it's one of the most "partnership-minded partnerships" he's ever been a part of. He said that he believes strongly that a library's success depends on just on what services you provide, but who is providing those services.

photos taken from

National Archives of Scotland

The mission of the National Archives of Scotland is to "select, preserve, and make available the national archives of Scotland in whatever medium, to the highest standards; to promote the growth and maintenance of proper archive provision throughout the country; and to lead the development of archival practice in Scotland." It is housed in three buildings in Edinburgh, employs a staff of 160 people, and maintains five web sites. There are 70 kilometers of records dating from the 12th century including state and parliamentary papers, church records, registers of deeds, wills and testaments, maps and plans, photographs, sasines (dealing with property ownership) and records of business and industry. Although the National Archives has a very extensive collection, it is a living collection; archivists must decide what current records to acquire and what to get rid of. They preserve everhting to archival standards, promote public access, and provide advice to individuals or businesses that want to maintain their records themselves.
Visiting the web sites give you a taste of the kinds of services the National Archives offers, and the kind of research that people do at the archives. The site, for example, is the one-stop-shop for research on family history. Many of the documents related to family history -- wills, census records, birth records, etc. -- have been digitized, which means that researchers and geneologists have ready access to documents, while the archive can better preserve the orignial documents. In fact, the National Archives are getting ready to unveil a remodeled public area specifically designed as a kind of in-person equivilent to
Another function of the National Archive that I thought was really great is their work to support Scottish history curriculum in schools. Through, the archive provides resources and workshops for teachers and students. Along the same education vein, the National Archives also conducts courses in learning to read Scottish handwriting. You can also visit and use their tutorials and examples.
The National Archives has undertaken some major digitization projects; their next one involves digitization of the Sasine records, "legal documents that record the transfer of ownership (usually a sale or an inheritance) of a piece of land or of a building." These records are currently accessed on a regular basis and the digitization project will allow these searches to be done online, creating greater flexibility for users and the archive.
We were priveleged once again to get to look at some interesting items from the National Archives. One of my favorites (which will be no surprise to anyone who knows me and my obsession with Food Network) was a 16th century recipe book. We also got to take a shot at reading some of the old records such as an account from Kirk's court, a kind of church/morality court.

National Library of Scotland and the John Murray Archives

You may not have heard of John Murray, but you know more about him than you think. In 1768, John McMurray established the John Murray publishing house in Scotland and became one of the foremost publishers in the world. Some of its authors include Jane Austen, Lord Byron, David Livingstone and Charles Darwin. The John Murray Archive is now owned by the National Library of Scotland who acquired the archive in 2002 for the staggering price of £32.5 million. While this is quite a bit of money David McClay, the archive's curator, said that it is arguably the single most important archive to be purchased in the world due to the depth and breadth of the collection, and because of the authors included in it. The collection even contains letters and correspondence from important authors whose works were not published by the John Murray publishing company. The collection currently contains more than 150,000 items, however some of the material in the archive hasn't even been touched yet.
When the National Library of Scotland purchased the John Murray Archive, they received £17.5 million in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This public funding brings with it many responsiblities in terms of accessiblity. The education officer Emma Faragher told us that basically that means anyone who might possibly buy a lottery ticket has the right to access the archive. Consequently, in developing the archive and displays, the library has spent a great deal of time and effort in making the archive accessible and interesting to anyone and everone, even from the standpoint of minimizing library jargon and creating a catalogue that is extremely easy to use. The idea, Ms. Faragher said, is to make people feel confident in using the library and accessing the collection.
As they began to develop the archive exhibit, the librarians and curators looked at many different exhibitions from museums and manuscripts to art galleries and even a puppet theatre. The staff did extensive market research, and looked at learning outcomes framework which can be found at They wanted to create an exhibit that was object rich, text poor, interactive and theatrical. They also wanted the display to not only highlight manuscripts from the collection, but would communicate the process of writing and publishing. The exhibit focuses on the manuscripts as the core of the collection with everything else building upon and supporting the manuscripts. Ms. Faragher said that they wanted visitors to have the opportunity to meet the people represented in the archive, and that the exhibit is intended to be the gateway to developing a relationship with the archive.
I have to say that in my opinion, the time and effort and money put into the archive exhibit was well worth it; it truly was engaging and informative. You walk into the dimly lit room and are immediately drawn to one of several glass cases containing one of the Murray authors -- or at least clothes and objects representing the author. Through a computer touch screen you could choose to highlight one of the objects in the case and read a bit about the author and pieces of their correspondence or work contained in the archive, such as a page from one of Livingstone's travel journals. One of the most fun parts of the exhibit was an interactive publishing game that allows visitors to "publish" their own book, effectively learning the process of publishing.
In terms of use, Mr. McClay said that 1/4 - 1/3 of the library's users access the Murray Archive. In addition to the display at the library itself, the library staff are working to make the archive accessible to people who don't come to the library. For example, they are developing traveling exhibitions to take out into smaller communities; developing partnerships with museums and creating joint exhibitions around various themes; and developing resources for schools and educators.

photo is of a page from Livingstone's last journal and was taken from