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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

kilts and castles -- personal

So, I'm too tired to write my final "official" blog posts, but I wanted to just jot down some quick comments on our time in Scotland.
First off, we're staying in an old manor house that is on the site of an old castle. How cool is that! It's in a town about 20 minutes from Edinburgh called Dalkeith. I did a little hiking with some girls around the grounds yesterday, and they are so pretty. We found a grove of trees that looked like someplace you might find in Narnia or Middle Earth...someplace magical anyway.
The people in Scotland are so nice and friendly! Really willing to help you out or just have a pleasant conversation. Monday, two girls and I had a nice conversation with a coffee shop owner. He told us about his wife he'd been married to for 30 years, and since we were on our way to the Scottish Poetry Library and he told us about one of his favorite poets named Phoebe Hesketh. So we looked up some books of her work and she is awesome. And Mr. Coffe Shop also told us he really liked Dolly fact he'd gotten to see her in concert in April up in Glasgow.
I did take in a little culture and went to the Museum of Scotland to soak in a little Scottish history.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Half-way -- personal

When we went to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday we got to see The Taming of the Shrew performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Wow. These are some amazing actors and it was an outstanding performance. Although I have to admit the interpretation was a bit dark for me and I would have enjoyed seeing a different play more, but it was definitely a unique experience.

So, we're now at the halfway point in our trip. Time for some random observations, comments, and thoughts:
When in Oxford, ride a bicycle. It seems to be the preferred choice of transportation, and why not? The town's the perfect size for it. At the train station, they have a bicycle parking lot that is FULL of bicycles. Almost like a reverse park-n-ride (or for those commuting out of Oxford, a regular park-n-ride, just not with cars).
It takes a good 40-45 minutes to take the tube from Waterloo to the Barbican, but if you run from Waterloo back to the dorm, you might not miss the bus to Stratford (although they'll definitely leave you behind).
In British theatres, you can pre-order your intermission beverage from the bar, so it's waiting for you when you come out of the theatre. No queue!
During the early days of Oxford University, there was such a feud between the "town" and "gown" that there were multiple riots where people would sometimes get killed. At one point, a group of students had to flee town. They started Cambridge.
Oxford is 5 minutes west of Greenwhich Mean Time, so the bells of Christ Church, which have chimed 101 times every day at 9 p.m. for 400 years, are 5 minutes late.

Just an FYI for those of you still reading :) we're traveling to Scotland and then on mini-break, so my internet-time will be more sporadic for the next week or so.

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive

Everywhere I visit -- in class, and on my own as well -- I think "Wow! So-and-so would love this! I wish they could be here." Yesterday at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive my thoughts turned to my good friend Lesley. Although the library and archive is a wonderful resource for students of literature and history, I was struck by its relevence for students of theatre as well. After all, they have photographs, programs, posters, costume designs, set designs and prompt books from the Royal Shakespeare Company dating back to the 19th century!
The Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive is located in Stratford-upon-Avon in a building right next to Shakespeare's birthplace. The library is part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which was founded in 1874. Jo Wilding, one of our guides at the library, said the intention was always to collect items for a library on Shakespeare's life, his works, the times, and his contemporaries. Today, the collection is comprised of two parts: the local collection, which includes a variety of material on the area, particularly during Shakespeare's time, and the Shakespeare collection which contains material related directly to Shakespeare's life and work such as early editions of his work, sources he may have used, criticism and commentary, and performance materials. The Shakespeare collection includes many items from the Royal Shakespeare Company archive which moved into the care of the library in 1964.
The library contains many unique and valuable items, some of which we were priveleged to see, including three of the 228 surviving copies of Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623. There are 17th century books that Shakespeare may have used as sources and inspiration, including a book of Plutarch, and a book on herbs that misspells thyme exactly the same way Shakespeare did. And as one of my fellow students who is a teacher pointed out, she always suspects students of cheating when they misspell exactly the same word exactly the same way, which means chances are pretty good that Shakespeare referenced that exact book.
The Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive receives about 3,000 readers each year and 5,000 phone and email inquiries. Library visitors include school children doing projects on the local area, people researching their family history, new homeowners researching the history of their house, high school aged students doing projects on Shakespeare performance history, and fans of various Shakespeare actors usually looking for a copy of a photograph (which the library is happy to provide for a small fee). The library's deputy head Clare Maffoli said that they don't aim to be a comprehensive collection of all things Shakespeare-related, but that they try to maintain a useful, well-rounded, unique collection.
As part of a private charity, the Shakespeare Library and Archive receives all of its funding through the Shakespeare House and private donations. Although Clare did not consider the library under-funded, there are some projects that have been put on the back burner indeffinitely because of limited time and resources. For example, all material collected before 2000 is still catalogued in card catalogues and not included in the online catalogue. In addition, the library has an extensive collection of RSC video recordings that have very little chance in the near future of being transferred to DVD or other digital format. Clare said they do have a wonderful volunteer base who help them with projects such as database creation and conservation.
In addition to being a treasure-house of resources on Shakespeare and his life and times, the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive also has a treasure in librarians and archivists that are truly thrilled and excited about the work they do and the materials they have to share.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bodleian Library

There's something about knowing how many brilliant schoars have read and thought and researched and created at Oxford University that just made being there make me feel smarter. Today we toured the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, one of the preeminent reserach libraries in the world.

The Bodleian opened in 1480, consisting largely of a collection of manuscripts donated by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, however during the upheaval surrounding King Henry VII's split from the Catholic Church, nearly all of the collection in the library was destroyed, "tossed out the window" according to our guide Mr. John Cross. Around the turn of the 16th century, Sir Thomas Bodley returend to Oxford to find the old library at the Divinity School abandoned, empty, and falling apart. he told the University -- if you give me the facility, I'll turn it into Britain's finest research library. As you can imagine, the University could hardly turn down an offer like that. The Bodleian was reistablished in 1602, and today holds more than 7 million volumes. One interesting note: in addition to developing a world-class collection and facility, Sir Bodley also introduced one of the first forms of modern cataloging in Britain.

Today, there is an extension to the original Bodleian Library across the street; the two are connected by an underground tunnel, and both contain underground floors full of stacks and collections. Researchers request material from one of the many subject-related reading rooms; requests are sent to the appropriate staff who then retrieve the items and send them to the appropriate room along a mechanical conveyor system that's been in use since 1938.

The Bodleian, much like the British Library, is a legal depository and has the distinction of becoming the nation's first legal deposit in the 1600s. In other words, a copy of every piece of material published in the United Kingdom is sent to the Bodleian, although unlike the British Library, the Bodleian is not required to keep everything that gets sent to them. Making for some very tough weeding decisions, I would imagine. Mr. Cross told a story that illustrates this well: During the time of Shakespeare, the Bodleian Library owned a copy of Shakespeare's first folio. When the third edition of this work was published, the library thought it was a nicer copy, so they sold the first edition for £25. Talk about hindsight being 20/20!

The Bodleian contains some unique collections and items, and a wealth of source material, which is key to the importance and success of the library as a research entity. More than 54,000 readers' tickets are validated on an average day at the Bodleian.

Photograph copied from the Bodleian Library web site.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Art and speedboats -- personal

I really love art museums. Sometimes, especially if I've been trying to absorb a lot of information, it's nice to be able to just walk around and not feel pressure to learn anything and just enjoy interesting and beautiful things. And if I want to learn something, there's always some information to read somewhere. The Victoria and Albert Museum is pretty cool; it has a lot of three dimensional art -- textiles, sculpture, pottery, jewellry. I spent a short amount of time there yesterday wandering around their Asia exhibit and then in their photography exhibit. The coolest thing in the photography exhibit (which was all very nice) was a photograph that the artist developed onto a leaf. She treated the leaf with specific chemicals then developed her photograph onto it. So cool! If I have time I may go back and check out their miniature portraits and jewellry galleries which I hear are really neat.
Today we went to Greenwhich and the National Maritime Museum. Maritime history is really fascinating to me, and I just wished I could have shared it with my sea-fearing friends. I saw one amazing display of all kinds of nautical, astrinomical, and old time-keeping instruments. Dr. Mattox would have loved it, I think. I also got to straddle the hemispheres at the Royal Observatory and have a delicious dark chocolate truffle from a chocolatier in the Greenwhich Market.
On the way back I ended up on a narrated boat which was really cool! I heard all about the property development and gentrification of the river side properties, passed by the oldest pub on the Thames that dates back to the 16th century and used to be frequented by pirates. Learned about old warehouses and saw a house Charles Dickens lived in once. And I saw a pub owned by Gordon Ramsay! ;)

National Maritime Museum Library (Caird Library)

The National Maritime Museum Library, or Caird Library, opened in 1937 and is the largest research library on maritime history. It contains more than 100,000 books, 20,000 pamphlests, 20,000 bound periodicles, and 8,000 rare books dating from 1474-1850. The material in the library covers every aspect of maritime history including immigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, business records, ship wrecks, biographies, Merchant Navy and Royal Navy records, and many resources for reseraching family history such as official ship registers.
Anyone over 16 can visit the library and register for a reader slip; all you need is one form of identification. Some resources are readily accessible, and members of the staff make five retrievals per day for the secure collections. The catalogue is online and accessible from the library's e-library on site, or from any computer with internet access. Our guide Hannah said that within the next month or two there will be a separate manuscripts catalogue designed specifically for archival collections.
The library receives 3,000-4,000 visits each year, and retrieves 5,000 manuscripts and 8,000 books each year. They also respond to inquiries made my telephone, email, and even postal mail. The Caird Library is staffed by librarians and archivists with one or two subject specialists; the library staff really seemed to have a team approach. I also found it interesting to learn that once a month one staff member chooses an item from the collection to thoroughly research. They then share their online as their "item of the month." One of the librarians we met said this is not only a good thing for the public, but good for the staff as well since it helps them develop a deeper knowledge of the collection as well.
Once again we were priveleged to view some really great items from the special collections. Here are some highlights:
The Arraignment, Tryal, and Condemnation of Captain William Kidd, for Murther and Piracy

The surgeon's medical manual used on board the HMS Bounty, bound in sail cloth and taken by the Bounty mutineers after the surgeon died.

The journal of a sailor marooned on an island as punishment for a crime; it may or may not be a factual journal, but it gives a description of some of the types of things going on at the time.

A journal of William Dampier, a privatier and explorer in 1729. The journal is particularly special because it is beautifully illustrated by drawings and watercolors and is hand-bound.

National Art Library

The National Art Library, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, provides the public with access to more than two million art-related reference materials, from books and catalogues to periodicals and rare manuscripts. The library was originally established in 1837 as part of the School of Design in the Sommerset House, and at that time focused on more practical, applied resources. In 1857, the library became part of the newly built Victoria and Albert Museum.
Once someone registers as a reader, they may request up to six items at a time to study in one of the two public rooms. Once a reader submits their request they are assigned a seat number which corresponds to a shelving system in the "marshalling area," where staff organize the items that they retrieve every hour. Interestingly, the seat numbering system is the same system -- with the same numbers -- that the library has been using since it was set up in the 1800s. Some things just don't need improving on! Readers are allowed to photocopy or photograph material for their personal use.
There are more than 8,000 titles in the periodical stacks, 2,000 of which are current. The oldest date back to the Victorian period. Although the periodicals were historically bound for library use, our guide Frances Warrell said that the library no longer binds the magazines partly because of the cost, but also because the library or the museum often use magazines in exhibits.
The special collections contain such gems as artists' books, artist correspondence (letters written by Monet, for example), medieval manuscripts, origigal folios, and the original proofs of many of Charles Dickens' manuscripts. In fact, we got to see and touch the original proof for David Copperfield as well as a proof of Gullivers' Travels both with hand-written corrections by the authors.
As well as being a public research library, the National Art Library also supports the Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum and library staff are able to check out up to 20 items from the library, as long as the items stay at the individuals' work station and don't leave the building. And far from being just an English-based art resource, the library takes an international approach to art and resources; 60 percent of their collection is in a foreign language.
One of the neatest things we got to see were examples of books as art, for example a book made out of rabbit skins and a book made out of an old wooden school desk.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Harry Potter -- personal

Okay, so Allison reminded me that I have not mentioned Harry Potter yet...I haven't had any major adventures in that department but...

Platform 9 3/4 is right where it should be, but sadly I'm not magical enough to make it through.
(the picture's grainy because I took it from my Facebook USB cable is in the dorm.)

And here's a picture of some stairs you might recognize (disclaimer: I did not take this picture; the lovely people at St. Paul's Cathedral did). If you don't recognize them right away, these are some stairs used in the films.

Salsa, Egyptions, Portabello -- personal

First off -- if you like history at all, the British Museum is great! I went planning on only spending a couple of hours, so I picked only two of the exhibits: Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. I actually got to go on a free guided tour of the Ancient Greece exhibit which was nice, since I probably learned more than I would have just on my own. I'll save you a play-by-play, but offer just a couple of interesting highlights: I don't know why I never thought of this, but a lot of the sculpture from ancient Greece and Egypt would have been brightly painted. Of course, being ancient all that's worn off, but that really made a lot of sense once I thought about it. And can you imagine what the Parthenon looked like all colorful? Which brings me to the second interesting fact: the British Museum has sections of the Parthenon. An archeologist brought it to Britain -- with permission from the Turkish government -- I think sometime in the 18th or 19th century, before anyone else was really interested in preserving it. He actually sold it to the British government. The Greek government, naturally, would like it all back. They're even willing to trade other sculpture for it, or even designate that portion as "British Museum in Athens." The guide said basically the British government just hasn't taken the time to really address it. Anyway, just thought it was interesting.
Some other fun things from the past few days: hung out in Regent's Park Sunday afternoon and heard a free jazz concert with a Latin jazz band. Bought a camera. (woo-hoo!) Took a long walk through Notting Hill and did a little souveneir shopping on Portabello Road which has some really neat antique stores and boutiques mixed up with the requisite "I heart London" tourist stores. The Notting Hill area is really nice -- lots of great old residences, tree-lined streets, and beautiful tiny gardens in front of the houses. I took a bus back and rode by The Marble Arch (not McDonalds) and the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden. I wanted to get out and go look at the statue, but I was blocked in by a huge stroller.

Museum of London

The Museum of London is the place to go if you want to see and learn as much as you can about the history of London itself. It was established in the 1970s as a single entity, from collections contained in the Guildhall Museum, created in the 1820s, and the London Museum, a private collection housed in Kensington Palance starting in 1911. Our guide for the visit was Jon Cotton, the senior curator for prehistory.
Our visit centered around the prehistory -- or "London Before London" -- exhibit, which was reorganized about six years ago and includes the history of the London area before and up to the Roman invasion. One of the great challenges to the prehistory exhibit, Mr. Cotton said, is that when you say "prehistory", people think cavemen, dinosaurs, and The Flinstones. The challenge in creating and designing the exhibit was to help visitors overcome those preconceived ideas and realize that people who lived during the prehistory of London were just that -- people; sentient, inventive, adaptive survivalists. Mr. Cotton said in the exhibit they also wanted to convey the "power of place," the centrality of the Thames River and the interaction between the people and the surrounding
In creating the current version of the London Before London, Mr. Cotton said they worked closely with the designers to focus in on four messages they wanted visitors to take home with them: the people, the climate, the river, and the legacy. They focused on three design elements: the Landscape Wall, wooden plinthes, and the River Wall. The Landscape Wall attempts to give visitors an idea of how people interacted with the land around them over time. Interspersed along the wall are quotations and snatches of poetry. The wooden plinthes sit in the center of the room, and contain artifacts, objects and some short videos that tell the stories of the people and their settlements, technologies, and beliefs. The River Wall is a blue ribbon around the room that contains a multitude of objects that have been collected from the Thames River itself, illustrating how the river has always been a central element in the lives of those who make their homes around it. The items help illustrate in what ways these prehistoric peoples viewed the Thames.
Interestingly, Mr. Cotton told us that the designers used in creating this exhibit typically design retail and restaraunt spaces. Although this wasn't a deliberate choice, the result of that influence is a warm space that invites the visitor to stay a while and look around. In fact, Mr. Cotton said that the average time visitors spend in the London Before London exhibit has increased since the redesigned exhibit opened.
I really enjoyed the quotations and poetry along the Landscape Wall; it gives you more of a chance to make a personal connection with the people represented in the exhibit, and allows you to engage your imagination in the exhibit. I also loved how the exhibit was very multi-dimensional, using words, objects and video. There were also a few items that you could touch and feel, again making a connection. One of the most fascinating portions of the display was a prehistoric skeleton and accompanying video that demonstrated how they were able to take the reconstructed skull and make a clay model of the -- in this case a woman's -- face.
pictures were taken from

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Knights and Damsels and Archbishops - personal

Yesterday I took an optional day trip to Dover and Canterbury. Awesome! Both towns have very ancient origins and you could really feel that as you walked around. In Dover we spent our time at the Dover castle (we did drive by the white cliffs); and I did wave to Rachel over in France. :) My favorite spot was on top of the hill with the old Midieval lighthouse and church where you can stand next to the old stone wall and stare out over the English Channel.
I could have stayed in Canterbury for several more hours. The town itself is a strange mixture of narrow, cobbled, Midieval streets and modern stores like Swatch and the Gap. We did find a great tea shop where half the store was on sale and had tea and scones (okay, I had a cappucino) at a great little cafe. And then there was the cathedral. Wow! St. Paul's is grand and ornate and unbelievable, but the Christ Church Cathedral in Canterbury is grand and majestic and really took my breath away. The main hall reminded me of one of the big halls in Lord of the Rings -- I kept expecting to see elves and warriors and hobbits walking around. We walked around the cathedral and the crypt and then outside where we came across a little garden with herbs and old-fashioned flowers; someone had put little signs among the plants so you knew what you were looking at. It really felt like being in another time.
Anyway...overall a fun day.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cox Apples - personal

So who out there knows that Cox apples are THE English apple? Well, now you do. Something I learned during my leisurly stroll through Borough's Market near the Tower Bridge (oh, and Borough's Market is fantastic...kind of like a huge gourmet farmer's market, only better), then went to Southwalk (pronounced 'suthuk') Cathedral. It's a really beautiful, simple cathedral that's been around for quite a while. There's a memorial and stained glass window dedicated to Shakespeare because he apparently spent a significant amount of time there -- the cathedral is a short walk from The Globe. It is strange to see a stained glass window in a church with characters from Shakespeare plays on it, however. You also get a real sense of history in the Southwalk Cathedral because of all the memorial plaques and stones -- some of them are true burial plaques and others just commemorate someone who's buried elsewhere; but the cool thing about it is that for the most part they're not famous people, just people who were important to someone.
After the cathedral I spent an hour or two in the Tate Modern art gallery (free!). I thought a lot of all my artistic buddies and wished you all had been there with me. I have to admit, I'm not always a huge modern art fan, but there were some interesting and beautiful pieces. My favorite was a sculpture called "The Avenger" by Ernst Barlach and some sculptures by Alberto Giacometti.

Tonight I'm going to see Agatha Christie's Mousetrap, which has been running for something like 47 years. Then tomorrow is a day trip to Dover.

Oh, and don't be looking for pictures for a camera stopped working and I'm using a disposable one for the moment. but hopefully soon! I've got a few things in the works. :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Saving Books

Book conservation is a fascinating process. We got to witness some gifted conservationists at the British Library Centre for Conservation. The idea in conservation is to do as little as possible but as much as necessary to strengthen the book and keep it from completely falling apart. And in the case of the British Library, keep it fit for use. We saw some people working on old bound newspapers and heard how they cleaned the pages, repaired the pages, and strengthened the binding. I also learned that you can wash paper in a special wash that de-acidifies it, and then put it through a wash that keeps it from developing more acid. And apparently (although we didn't get to see this first-hand) working with gold leaf is extremely delicate and you can't work on anything with gold leaf if you have a cold (sneezing, coughing) and it must be in a very controlled environment. One of our guides told that just the one project she was working on would probably take a good three to four weeks. It's definitely a career for people who are meticiculous and don't mind a little tedium now and then.

Barbican Lending Library

The Barbican Lending Library is located in the Barbican Arts complex in the City of London borough and contains an adult library, a children's library, an arts library, and a music library. The library as a whole was really wonderful and a very well-funded library -- the librarians even admitted to that! -- which means they are able to offer an attractive, up-to-date, well-stocked facility.
We focused our visit in the children's and music libraries. The children's library, serving patrons 0-14 years, keeps a packed schedule. They have two weekly "Rhyme Times" for the general public as well as regular weekly visits from 3-4 schools. They also put together bulk loans for some area schools; in other words, the teacher contacts the librarian, requests some books on particular topics or subjects, then the library staff puts together a bag full of books for the teacher. The library staff also has a few outreaches where a staff member conducts a storytime at a nursery school. They have a regular Saturday event with special guests like puppet shows, storytellers, and once even a man who brought in snakes. I was also impressed that they have a regular reading group for older readers, right now ages 10-14; Ms. Owens, the children's librarian, said it runs at about 8 children each week.
And if all that doesn't keep the staff busy enough, they have some yearly events: Children's Book Week, World Book Day, Book Start initiatives, Reading is Fundamental, and the Summer Reading Challenge. I found it really neat that all of the children in the city who complete the Summer Reading Challenge get to participate in a special ceremony at the Lord Mayor's house.
The music library was just amazing! 16,000 cds, 15,000 scores, periodicals, books, DVDs, and even a piano that people can sign up and use. As a musician, I was really fascinated to all of the music available. They bind each piece of music they acquire so that it has a longer shelf life, and catalogue them according to a special system devised by some musicians in the 1930s. They have even indexed each song in the various anthologies that they own.
The library adds about 60-70 new music CDs a month, and consequently must also weed those CDs regularly as well, since they are not an archival library. However, Ms. Wells, the music librarian, said they take a more cautions approach with their scores, since often a score will go out of print and it's very difficult to find. She said they hold a used CD sale about once a year and the adult library holds books sales a few time a year. Unfortunately, we missed the summer sale!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

For Your Eyes Only...

What better way to spend a rainy Wednesday than learning about the man behind one of our culture's most iconic spies. Today I visited the Imperial War Museum ( and its special exhibition For Your Eyes Only, a look at the life of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels. My plan at the moment is to write my research paper on Ian Fleming and his famous series, so I started out my research here.
The museum is pretty extensive, with displays on both World Wars, the Holocaust, Espionage, and post-World War conflicts. They have an art gallery with art inspired by various wars and conflicts, and a really neat area called Children's War which talks about how World War II in particular affected Britain's children -- from air raids to rationing to the evacuations. I read a really touching letter they had on display that a soldier wrote to his daughter in case he didn't come home from the war (which he didn't). He told her that he was proud of her; to be a good big sister; to be a "ray of sunshine" to her mother; to try out all kinds of fun thinks in life like dance and swimming and games and sports; to be careful with boys, but to find a loving man one day who might make up for not having a father. My favorite warning about boys: "only believe half of what they say, until you find the right one." The whole thing made me cry.
Anyway...back to Ian Fleming. It was a fascinating exhibit which started out right at the beginning, painting a picture through words, images and artifacts of a man with a personality not unlike his fictional hero. He was adventurous and rakish, a partier and a womanizer. I really enjoyed seeing the connections between Fleming's life and his stories from people he knew to places he'd been. For Your Eyes Only also had a lot of interesting and fun displays from some of the James Bond movies, like a coat worn by Sean Connery, a rocket-pack that Bond used to escape in, Daniel Craig's bloody tuxedo shirt, and the leather door to 'M's office in the first several films. There was so much to see -- letters, manuscripts, spy gadgets, film props, and photographs. And as a childhood fan of the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I was delighted to find out that Ian Fleming wrote the short story that the movie was based on for his son Caspar in 1961; it was published in 1964.

Photo was taken from

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Blackfriars and his friends .. a personal post

I connected with my professional 'roots' today on a walk down Fleet Street, former hub of publishing and news in London. Also home to a lot of historic pubs (including Blackfriars, built in 1875) and St. Bride's Church, whose steeple influenced the tiered wedding cake. I'll post a picture when I get some batteries for my camera. (grrr....I hate running out of batteries). Some of us went and had a pint (okay, I had half a pint ;) at Blackfriars, and the inside is just so cool. It almost looked like the inside of a church -- carved wood and marble and even some mosaic ceilings. I could just imagine people coming inside to have a drink and a bite to eat and talk about important things.

British Library

Today's visit to the British Library was led by Kevin, a humorous and knowledgeable guide with a passable Carolina accent, thanks to a close acquaintance with a retired officer in the U.S. Air Force from North Carolina.
The British Library is the United Kingdom's national library, a working library whose function by law is to 1. acquire the entire national bibliographic output 2. archive each item in collection forever and 3. make the collection available to all who want to do research. The second function of the library is uniquely illustrated by a bronze sculpture/bench in the lobby of an open book attached to a ball and chain. The British Library functioned as part of the British Museum until 1961, although even after a separate entity was created, the British Library did not have its own building until 1997.
There are approximately 35 million items stored in six floors underneath the British Library located on St. Pancreas in London. More items are stored in two other locations around London, and 40 percent of the collection is housed in West Yorkshire. In total, the British Library has 170 million items, making it the third largest library in the world (the first largest is the Leningrad Library in Moscow, and the second largest is the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.). However, it is the most popular (used) library in the world. In fact, 35 percent of British Library users are researchers from outside the U.K. and nearly every language in the world is represented at the British Library.
The British Library collection originated with the donation of Sir Hans Sloane's extensive personal library to the United Kingdom. (interesting fact: Sloane brought chocolate to the U.K. from Jamaica, selling the recipe to a man named Cadbury). Sloane started a trend and many people left their personal libraries to the British Library after their death. King George III was one of those, and you can see all 13,000 items in his personal collection displayed in a huge glass tower in the center of the British Library; George III stipulated in his will that his library be displayed as well as used. An average of 30 books a day are pulled from his collection.
Anyone can use the British Library, although you do have to apply for a Reading Pass by showing proof of your home address and proof of identity. There is no shelf browsing, so you have to know exactly what item you're looking for. Fortunately, the British Library has an extensive, searchable catalogue. And speaking of catalogue, the items in the British Library are catalogued according to Anglo-Amercian Cataloguing Rules and shelved -- like the St. Paul's Library -- according to size. Space is at such a premium here libraries must use what they have as efficiently as possible.
One of the best things about visiting the British Library today was getting to see some of their rare and original items. Here are just a few of the items they have on display: the original Beowulf manuscript, the Wycliffe Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, a hand-written short story and letter by Jane Austen. A hand-written draft of Jane Eyre, the second oldest copy of Hebrews (written on the back of a Latin history of Rome), music scores by Purcell, Mozart, Handel and others... it gives me chills! So amazing.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

On Monday, we visited St. Paul's Cathedral library. Mr. Joseph Wisdom, the St. Paul's Librarian, gave us our tour. The current St. Paul' Cathedral is the fourth building and replaced Old St. Paul's which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned in 1668 to design the new cathedral which was completed in 1710, 13 years before Wren's death.
The library is located above the main level of St. Paul's at the triforium level. (Fun fact for all you Harry Potter fans: to get to the library you climb the Dean's Stair, which was used in the Harry Potter films).
There are two rooms on either side of a hallway that were originally designed to be library spaces. One of those rooms has never been used as a library space, although today it holds some of Wren's design sketches and watercolors, as well as the model of his second design.
The main library is an amazing space -- it looks and feels and smells the way a library should. It's two levels with a vaulted ceiling and open space in the middle full of tables and desks covered in books and manuscripts. There are huge windows on the south wall, and carved plaster columns covered in books, flowers, fruit, and some interesting carvings of things like a skull and hour glass. Mr. Wisdom said that no one has fully studied the decorative sculputures in the library or in any part of St. Pauls, which I found interesting. There's a research project for an art history student! I also thought Mr. Wisdom posed an intersting theory related to the vaulted ceiling: the tent-like, airiness of the ceiling he said "allows your ideas to go up and float a bit." In other words, allows for some mental space, unlike a library with low ceilings and harsh light, for example. His question (for all you psychologists out there): does the architecture and design of a library have a direct affect on the product of that library?
Although the core of the collection is works of theology, there are also liturgies, Bibles, biographies, Latin and Greek classics, civil history, journals of the House of Commons and House of Lords, civil and canon laws as well as a small number of books about medicine, botany, and the arts. Mr. Wisdom explained that although the library is a religious library, the clergy collected books on non-religious subjects to keep abreast of what was happening in the world around them. The only books added to the collection today are alumni material, books about Christopher Wren, and books related to the history of the church in London. The books are shelved according to size and outfitted with shelf marks for locating items.
Of course one of the best things about the St. Paul's Library are the wonderful items in the collection. The two that Mr. Wisdom said he would grab as he ran out of the burning building are Tyndale's 1526 New Testament -- one of three copies -- and a Psalter from the late 12th or early 13th century, which is the oldest book in the library. Of course, this best feature of the library also lends itself to a lot of preservation issues; the philosophy of the St. Paul's library is to do the best thing for the book, only as much as is necessary, and only actions that are reversable. This is different from restoration, Mr. Wisom explained, in that restoration is "tarting up a book to look pretty."

More history on St. Paul's and the library can be found at:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Look Right

It's my fourth day in London, and sometimes I remember to look right (or left) at intersections without the aid of the reminders painted on the curb! I've been trying to wander around a lot during my free time the past few days, just to get oriented to the city and feel comfortable getting around. Camden Town, Leicster Square, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, South Bank... I visited one of my favorite places, Hyde Park, and got to attend Sunday morning services at St. Paul's Cathedral. Dr. Brown introduced a group of us to a Borough's Market, a nearby open-air market that is incredible. One of my missions today is to buy a Time Out magazine and figure out which show (or shows) to attend.