Saturday, 31 July 2010

National Library of Scotland 19 July 2010

After spending the night at Dalkeith Palace, Dara and I rose early and bussed into town to deposit our bags at Brothaigh House (links to both location are in a previous post) then we met the group at the National Library of Scotland. (image courtesy of

The National Library of Scotland is located on two sites, George IV bridge in the heart of Edinburgh and a newer storage facility in the southern part of the city. This reference library is Scotland's largest library and is also a major research library for Europe. The library as a National Library is a recent establishment as it was established by Act of Parliament in 1925. Prior to this, the library was known as the Advocates Library which belonging to the Faculty of Advocates which is an independent group of lawyers admitted to practice before the courts of Scotland. The Advocates Library was opened in 1689, but it was not granted status as a national library until passage of the 1710 Copyright Act. Over the next centuries, the collection was grown through donation and purchase of books and manuscripts. The collection contains about seven million books, fourteen million printed items and 2 million maps and is the legal deposit library for Scotland (and one six in the UK) but unlike the British Library, they are not required to accept a copy of every item. Because it is a reference library, items are not available for removal, but some of the items are available through some of the other libraries in Scotland. The materials are available to anyone.

The Library has been funded by the Scottish Parliament since 1999 and is governed by a board of trustees. It also enjoys JSTOR access. Some of the items included in the collection are family manuscripts of various clans which date back as far as 1488 and the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots. On 26 February 2009, areas of the building were flooded after a water main burst on the 12th floor. Firefighters were called and the leaking water was stopped within ten minutes. A number of items were lightly damaged. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Sadly, there was no tour available to our group and we had to content ourselves with a tour of the exhibits available. The first was a small exhibit of some of the oldest maps of Scotland. This exhibit might have been missed because it was on the wall immediately you entered from the foyer and was at your back. The next exhibit had to do with the history of golf. There were many outstanding items related to the history of the game; unfortunately, I am not a fan and I feel that I lacked the proper appreciation. Several of our group followed the suggestion and looked at the Seven Lives on John Murray through the John Murray Archives. The final exhibit was made up of several interactive displays of artifacts related to such illustrious personages as Jane Austen, Charles Darwin and Dr. David Livingston. While these exhibits were interesting, the space allotted did not allow for more than one or two people at each collection of objects. Additionally, the exhibits were directed at a more general audience and so lacked some of the depth I was looking to find. No photographs were permitted.

Separating from the Heard 17 July 2010

Dara, Andrew and I decided to travel to Edinburgh separately from the rest of our group so we left on Saturday to take the train to Crewe. Andrew's parents live nearby in the town of Market Drayton and were generous enough to host Dara and I for a night before the three of us drove up to Edinburgh on 18 July.

Suffice it to say that Mr. and Mrs. Fair live in some of the most beautiful country in the UK. Their farm is situated in Market Drayton and were the very soul of the gracious host and hostess. I am very grateful for their hospitality. I will include here some photos of the gardens surrounding the Fair's home. I also want to thank Andrew for driving us to Edinburgh and for all of his helpful coaching tips on driving in the UK. Dara and I will need them later when we take off for mini-break. Andrew and I teased Dara unmercifully in the car - at least she knows we like her, if we didn't like her we'd ignore her.

Our arrival in Edinburgh came as the skies began to open up. We dropped Andrew's bags off at Brothaigh House, a wonderful bed and breakfast where we would spend two of the three nights we were to remain in Edinburgh. Dara and I opted to spend one night with our group at Dalkeith Palace prior to departing for mini break.

Friday, 30 July 2010

John Johnson Collection, Oxford 16 July 2010

Following our tour of the Bodleian Library, we were at liberty to explore the town of Oxford at our leisure. Dara set up a 14:00 appointment for a few of us to view the John Johnson Collection of Ephemera at that time. We met at the new Bodleian for our appointment with Amanda Flinn, Assistant Curator for the collection.

John Johnson (1882-1956) was a graduate of Magdalen College in Oxford. He was intent on the civil service in Egypt until war and health issues altered his plans. Johnson became a papyrologist and is credited with the discovery of a work by Theocritus which pre-dated his previously known works. Johnson took a position at the Oxford University Press and ultimately became its Printer in 1925. In 1928 Johnson was awarded an Hon D.Litt for his work on the Oxford English Dictionary. It was in this year that he began collecting printed ephemera. his goal was to create "...a museum of what is commonly thrown away.."

Mr. Johnson obtained items over the course of the rest of his life, often using his own funds to further his collection. It appears that he tried to limit his collection through to the year 1939, but was occasionally tempted beyond this year. The majority of the collections, mainly British material, ranges over the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries; the earliest dated item in the collection is 1508. There are over a million individual items encompassed in the collection. He arranged the ephemera by subject, often in color coded boxes, encompassing over 700 areas; for example: advertisements, soap, company name, chronological order. Sadly, there is no real provenance on the items known at this time. He was collecting those things that people thought of a rubbish. There may be some clues regarding items he procured or items given to him by family and friends over the course of his collecting; however, those clues may be hidden away in his private correspondence which has not to date been thoroughly researched. The Bodleian received the collection in 1968 and a catalog of the collection was produced in 1971 to correspond with its exhibition. The collection has been used by students, undergraduates, post-graduates, independent researchers, film companies and the BBC.

The first attempts to digitize this collection took places in the early 1990's. In 1996 the Bodleian was afforded an opportunity through a grant from JISK to digitize the collection for access and preservation. Working in partnership with ProQuest, almost all of the images for five categories of the Johnson Collection were digitized and made available in a searchable database. ProQuest tool on the cost of storage, development, intellectual properties, design and publication, market research, user testing and tech support. The Bodleian provided the collection and research. The database is available to academic institutions throughout the UK, subscriptions to those outside the UK are available and have reportedly been a popular item.

The Bodleian employed ten people to sort, shelf-mark, catalog via Allegro (using MARC 21 and AACR2), compile thesaurii for multiple access points, describe physical and printing process characteristics of items and index subjects for the over 65,000 items. The items posted including ephemera from five of the subject areas including: crime, entertainment (encompassing theatrical and the weird, wonderful and bizarre), advertisements, publishing and book trade, and popular prints. Popular prints would include those items that companies provided with their products and may contain a standard landscape or holiday theme. Some of these items contained hidden pictures or were multidemensional. If additional funding becomes available in the future, the subject areas of politics/religion and social commentary will be added. The digitization project began in 2007 and ended in 2009. The database was launched in June 2010.

Ms. Flinn demonstrated the database's function for us. The database can be searched by subject, image type, images included and time frame. Searches can be saved, images saved and e-mailed. Metadata can be stored in a section referred to as an archive. Browsing is also an option.

Our visit was one of the highlights of my trip. I am extremely grateful to Dara for making the arrangements and to Ms. Flinn who was a fountain of information and a gracious hostess. We were able to spend around two hours with the collection and the time was well spent and flew past. No photographs were allowed of the collection. Due to the renovation of the New Bodleian building, the collection is in process of being moved for storage off site and images will only be available by request for viewing (outside of the database) until the building reopens in 2015.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Oxford Bodleian Library 16 July 2010

All Aboard! Today we boarded a train to make the one hour jaunt to Oxford to tour the Bodleian Library. University of Oxford is one of the oldest (third?) surviving English-speaking institutions of higher learning. This world famous university has roots dating back to the Twelfth century, some might even argue to as early as the first part of the Eleventh. The history between the university students and townspeople were not always harmonious. Our guide mentioned an incident where in the early Thirteenth century a student was accused of a crime and fled the area. Not to be denied, it is believed that the townspeople hung the student's companions for the crime. As a result, many students fled north to Cambridge and founded a university there.

While many of the colleges at Oxford could boast of deep pockets thanks to their respective alumni, the university, itself, remained relatively poor. The first university library dates to 1320 and was built on funding by Thomas de Cobham, Bishop of Worcester. The second attempt to create a university library was sponsored by Humfrey, the younger brother of King Henry V, known as the Duke of Gloucester. Humfrey’s section makes up the oldest part of the Bodleian Library complex. Humfrey's collection of over 281 manuscripts so swelled the ranks of the existing collection that a new building was needed. The structure was added over the existing School of Divinity in about 1424. Due to a constantly constrained budget, however, very little construction was completed until more than fifty years later. Sadly, the Reformation saw the destruction of most of this particular collection. Again, as the colleges themselves may have had the funds for their own libraries' collections, the university was not as fortunate and was unable to rebuild their collection.

Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613), was an alumni of Merton College, a traveler and diplomatic emmisary for Queen Elizabeth I. Due to an advantageous marriage, Sir Bodley was in a position to assist the University and did so in 1598. His gift allowed for the old library to be refurnished to accommodate a new collection of around 2,500 books including some from Bodley and other by other donors. The library opened on 8 November 1602; the first printed catalog was available in 1605 with an updated version created in 1620. We were able to view a reprinted copy of this catalog at the desk. Bodley entered into an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London in 1610 which made possible a copy of every book published in England and registered at Stationers’ Hall to be deposited in the new library (making this one of half a dozen legal deposit libraries in UK). Today, this agreement is enacted by the library's requesting those items it wishes to add to the collection rather than an automatic deposit.

Over the years, the collection of the Bodleian has grown to include not just books, but many objects of historical significance, paintings and statuary. The library is housed in several different buildings on the campus including Radcliffe Camera, the Clarendon Building and both the Old and New Bodleian buildings. The new building is currently moving out its contents for a complete gutting and overhaul which will encompass work to continue until into the next decade.

The library does not allow for students or patrons to remove books from the premises. Even King Charles I was denied this privilege. Additionally, readers must make an oath before gaining access to the collection as follows:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or
injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in
its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame,
and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.

Because of this oath, library hours were restricted to daylight hours and good weather until electric lighting was available in 1939. The head librarian is known as "Bodley's Librarian". Books are stored by size as are many libraries of this kind. We were able to go under the library to see the stacks and delivery system that is similar in ways to the British Library.

After a very extensive and informative tour, we were released to explore the town on our own. Several students made use of the "hop-on-hop-off" tour bus that circled the sites of interest, some of us made arrangements to view some of the more specialized collections available. More on my adventure with a special collection is available in a separate entry.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Stratford-upon-Avon 14 July 2010

Up and at 'em bright and early today to head to Stratford-upon-Avon. After a relatively short trip in the countryside, we arrived at the coach park at the local sports center. We debarked and scattered making our way as best we could to the town center. Many shops and eateries lined the streets. In particular, there was a shop dedicated to the bard,an adorable Christmas shop directly across from it and a Harry Potter-inspired "magic shop." Sadly, the entrance to the tour of Shakespeare's buildings was a little cost prohibitive even with the student discount, so my companions and I wandered the town in and out of the shops.

One of the serendipitous finds of this method was the Stratford-upon-Avon Public Library. Tucked in to an old wattle and daub facade matching the surrounding architecture is a jewel of a modern public library. This library was made possible by monies provided by Andrew Carnegie in 1905. According to information on the history of the library from Clare James Senior Librarian, South Warwickshire Library and Information Service received by e-mail on July 19, 2010, the space was little more than a series of restored 16th century cottages. A renovation project was undertaken in the 1960's, but this effort was met with significant community resistance. The building underwent a major refurbishment during 2002-2003 and was reopened by Dame Judi Dench in 2004. The library celebrated 100 years of service in 2005. It appeared as we walked around that it was very much an important part of the community. There was a bank of computers providing internet access and access to the catalog for patrons, a wide selection of movies and music, a children's collection in a separate area (delightfully decorated and inviting) sheet music, and adult fiction on the lower level surrounding the circulation desk. Upstairs was the reference collection with inquiry desk and a separate room for periodicals and local history/genealogy. One of the features I found interesting was the wealth of informational pamphlets available throughout the library on various social issues such as abuse, divorce, poverty and aging and services available to the patrons. I don't know if that means there are more of those issues presenting in the community or if the library is taking a proactive approach to community services. I would have taken the time to ask, but it appeared that the circulation desk was very occupied which I felt was a good sign of the use of the facilities.

We ended the evening by attending a play at the Courtyard Theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company's presentation of "A Winter's Tale." The company put on an outstanding performance. The costuming and sets were creative and lively. Altogether a splendid way to end the day.

National Art Library - Victoria and Albert 15 July 2010

Another free morning. After coming back to London about 01:00 after our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon many of us were glad for the rest.

This afternoon we traveled to the Victoria and Albert Museum on Cromwell Road in South Kensington. Our ultimate destination was the National Art Library located on the third floor. This library is not only a public reference library, it is also the curatorial department for the Victoria and Albert Museum's the Prints and Books Collection/Word and Image Department. Due to the size of our group, we were divided into three groups to tour both front of house and behind the scenes of this library. Security for the library and reading rooms was quite stringent. No bags were permitted beyond security inside the library doors. Additionally, no photographs were permitted inside with the exception of space that was converted to include a gallery for 20th century art.

Natasha Viner of the Retrieval group was the first guide for my group. We were lead through the first reading room, past the Invigilation desk which is a sort of reference desk and guard for the patrons with the materials. The OPAC is available on terminals in the Reading Rooms, paper request forms are submitted to the Circulation Desk, the Retrieval team retrieves the slips on the half hour and retrieval can take forty minutes to one hour.

The library originally began at Somerset House at Kings College in 1837 (predating the Victoria and Albert) to support the college of art and design. It has maintained a residence at the Victoria and Albert since the 1850's but it took about 20 years before the museum provided the library . The stacks containing a great many items are behind the scenes and other items are housed separately. Additionally, the collection and catalog contains the collections of two gentlemen from the Victorian era and a great many items from the Great Exhibition. The special collections including rare items and correspondence are stored in locked cabinets.

The most intriguing part of our visit was the session with items from the special collections. We were able to view one of Shakespeare's folios, a copy of Bleak House Bleak House with Dickens' edit marks, the original publication of this work in serial, books as art and the cover from an Islamic text (the text was not saved, only the ornate cover) along with other items of equal rarity and interest..

Thursday, 15 July 2010

London Library 13 July 2010

We had a free morning today. Many of us chose to run errands, exercise, visit new/old favs or just sleep in. Although I don't guess that we have been running as hard as upon first arriving, we still seem to be tiring. Either we are all too old, or the pace seems normal now. I took this mornings opportunity to catch up on blogs and to tidy my own little domain.

The afternoon found us wending our way through Mayfair to St. James Square and the London Library. With over one million items, and adding about 8,000 each year, London Library's claim to be the world's largest independent lending library appears indisputable. The focus of the collections is mainly arts and humanities, though other miscellaneous items have made the cut. The collection's focus has been guided by the past presidents of the library including Tennyson, Kipling, T.S. Eliot and Rebecca West.

This private subscription library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle. The 7,500 member library has occupied its current home since 1846. Complete reconstruction was done between 1896 and 1898 making this one of London's first steel-framed structures. The library has expanded several times between the reconstruction including a massive project recently completed to add additional storage space. While the shelving original to the building has managed to stand the test of time, the shelving for the newer construction had to undergo many rigors and great alterations before being pronounced strong and durable enough for the enduring tomes.

The London Library requires a great deal of room owing in part to their "no weeding" policy. Only those volumes for which an exact duplicate is located are ever taken out of the collection. Several volumes or editions of a singular work are available. This no weeding policy has allowed the collection a rare depth to the information offered showing ideas and attitudes past and preset along with the gradual progression of ideas. Many patrons feel that this depth of reference is one of the more important aspects of the collection. 95% of the collection is available on site on the 15+ miles of shelves. 95% of the collection (including rare volumes) is available for loan locally or by post.

The cataloging system is unique to the London Library. Set out by Charles Hagberg Wright (librarian 1893-1940) the system arranges the collection by subject and then alphabetically by author or title. Because of this arrangement, books have classmark and shelf information instead of a Dewey or LOC number. There are no spine labels. Although this may seem to create a difficulty for the patron to find exactly the item desired, it creates an atmosphere for browsing, allows more serendipitous discovery. This coupled with the "no weed" policy provides and depth and breadth to each subject that members have found pleasing. Additionally, items are no separated by language; therefore, while browsing the section on cookery, a patron could find not only any manner of cuisine, but cookbooks from around the world. One of our tour guides provided us with the story of an African scholar who traveled to the London Library as it was the only collection to retain copies of items in an obscure African language.

One of the downsides to Wright's classification system seems to be the language which was and still is rather Victorian. One example is that the first and second World Wars are not so labeled, but are referred to as European War I and European War II. The catalog is mostly available as an OPAC; however, for some of the oldest volumes, about 42%, the old Guard books must be consulted. We were informed that new members are inducted into the library and given a thorough training session on the collection and its arrangement. None of the patrons has disparaged the system to the point where a changeover was contemplated.

The collection is developed by both new purchases, donations by patrons, publishers and authors and purchases or donation from other libraries. The collection is maintained primarily by the binding and preservation department on site, though some items are sent out for more serious repair. We were treated to the sight of many marvelous volumes on our visit to the binding and preservation department's lab. The collection includes items dating to the 16th century constituting a rare books collection of about 30,000 volumes. The general consensus was that this was our favorite site visit to date. A special thanks to the staff of the London Library for hosting a group as large as ours so graciously.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

National Maritime Museum Library/Archive 12 July 2010

After a refreshing Sunday off, we arose bright and early to catch the river shuttle to Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum library and archives. The Caird Library is currently located in the National Maritime Museum. Consisting of the library, e-library and archives, Caird provides a wealth of information for the serious researcher, genealogist and layperson alike. The museum is publicly supported. Currently, there is a minimum age of 16 to access the materials.

The library was named for Sir James Caird (1864–1954) who was a principal founder and benefactor of both the museum and library. The collection includes approximately 200,000 items including around 100,000 modern titles (after 1850), 20,000 pamphlets, 20,000 bound periodicals including 200 current titles and 8000 rare books (prior to 1850) and about 70,00 reference items. The archives takes up over 4 miles of shelving. The e-library is available through terminals just outside the library in the reception area and is also available on-line. There are several different sources both available at the library and electronically including online databases and digital access to the materials of the various collections. Currently about 2 million objects are available. The core staff of twelve includes both professional librarians and archivists. The day of our visit, the Librarian was unavailable; however, we were given a tour and short presentation most ably by Hannah and Martin.

The library is in its original location and is found behind a great locked door through which we passed an oval rotunda in which a bust of Caird was prominently displayed. The library has been opened to the public since in the 1937. A current redevelopment project is underway and the library will relocate to the Sammy Ofer wing upon its completion. This relocation will allow for extended on-site storage and may make possible lifting the current age restriction. Construction has greatly restricted access to the library, but the staff has carried on. While there are usually about 3,000 to 4,000 visitors annually, they have had about 2,000 visitors so far this year in spite of the restricted hours. The materials are currently off site and deliveries of requested items are made about twice per week. Currently, advanced requests for materials are required. Written inquiries have remained steady with some increase due to restricted hours.

We were able to view some of the more rare and interesting items in the collection including a medical book from the HMS Bounty and a letter from Nelson to his wife. The library is open and airy, with most of the items within glass fronted cases, some reconfiguration has been done to keep patrons with rare items in sight. I think that we were able to get up close and personal with such rare items.

Following our tour, some of out toured the remainder of the museum while others made the climb to the Royal Observatory to some of the most breathtaking views of the city and an opportunity to straddle the Prime Meridian. Back to the dorm to write our blogs and prepare for our visit tomorrow to the London Library.

Dover/Canterbury 10 July 2010

Dover Castle was our first stop today. As the coach came around the corner into the town, the white cliffs were visible. Even though we weren't out at sea to see them from afar, they were still impressive. This is another site maintained by the English Heritage organization; information on each site is available through their home page.

Dover Castle sits atop the the heights above Dover. A fortification has been at this place in some form or fashion since before Roman occupation. There are the remnants of a pharos next to a Saxon church to the rear of the grounds. The castle, as it sits today was begun in 1160 by Henry II. There were troops garrisoned there continuously until the mid-twentieth century. Although built to impress and survive a siege, the castle saw little action with one attack in 1216. A recent refurbishment has turned the castle into an historic showplace. There were re-enactors portraying Henry II, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and Prince John. Touring through the rooms of the keep which had been filled with replica appointments was a great experience. The actors interacted with as many guests as they were able and were particularly attentive to children.

Our second stop was the town of Canterbury. The town has been home to human habitation since the New Stone Age and continued up through the Roman occupation and beyond. The town was home to St. Augustine (597 AD), Theodore and Hadrian. The Vikings attacked the settlement numerous times. The Cathedral, for which the town is well know began construction in 1070 and was completed in 1510. Thomas Beckett was murdered in 1170 and thereafter became a pilgrim destination. We were fortunate enough to be at the Cathedral while a service was going on. Although the service necessitated closing a portion of the church to touring, listening to the service while in the church and crypt heightened the ambiance.

The coach park was at one end of the town and in order to reach the town center, there is a lovely riverwalk where people can relax, picnic or fish. The town was absolutely charming. There are many little shops in the warren of streets. The girls and I had lunch at a public house called the Hobgoblin. We sat in the front room and enjoyed decent fair and each others company. Information on Canterbury Cathedral is available at their website. Visitor information to the town is available at

Stonehenge/Bath 9 July 2010

Today I attended the bus tour to Stonehenge and Bath. The trip up to Stonehenge was relaxing. I was really surprised that as we approached we could see the stones as we approached. The car park is on one side and a subway to the monument on the opposite. The plain has been roped off to allow visitors to complete a circuit. The site is maintained by the English Heritage Organization which is sponsored by Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The site was first under construction about 5,000 years ago;, the site as it appears was erected about 400 years after the first construction. The Aubrey holes were uncovered by John Aubrey in 1666 which were the remnants of a timber construction. There are two types of stone that make up the henge; the smaller bluestones which were carted in from the Preselli Mountains in South Wales (240 miles away) and the larger sarsen stones which were brought to the site from Marlborough Downs (19 miles away).

The countryside is pastoral. I think that we were all transfixed by the sheep. We had about an hour to tour around. The gift shop was charming.

The second leg of your trip was to Bath. Bath was occupied prior to the Roman occupation (around 50 BC) and at the time was known as Aquae Sulis. Following the exit of the Romans, the Saxons invaded but life was not greatly interrupted. Bath Abbey began construction in 1499 prompted by a dream which visited Bishop Oliver King. Medieval Bath was a center for manufacture of wool cloth and remained so into the 16th and 17th centuries.

Bath in the 18th ce was a fashionable place and many of the buildings; the Circus, Royal Crescent, Assembly Rooms, Octagon and Margaret Chapel where built. Summers in Bath were popular among the rich. Bath did not remain an important town, but continued as a market town popular with locals and tourists.

Monday, 12 July 2010

British Library 8 July 2010

This morning, we met in the courtyard to proceed to our visit at the British Library. Prior to meeting in the courtyard of the new library building, we stopped at King's Cross Station for a photo op at Platform Nine and three-quarters. It was such a touristy thing to do, but the majority seemed to enjoy. It is tucked in an out-of-the way part of the station; of course this may be more due to the major construction of the station than any other administrative decision to hide the area from Potter-maniacs.

The British Library, as it is today, was created by the British Library Act of 1972. Prior to this, the collection was housed with the British Museum. This national library was founded on collections from Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert Harley and King George III. The King's library is housed withing a glass columnar enclosure immediately behind the information desk and is visible upon entering the lobby. The collection is housed in this manner under the direction of the King that his collection be displayed prominently.

The collection is comprised of approximately 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings (according to their website: in addition to the Philatelic collection and other ephemera. An act of Parliament in 1911 instituted legal deposit of all items into the British Library collection published in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Legal deposit is augmented by acquisitions and donations; not all items are in English. The collection is housed both in the underground tunnels beneath the Euston Road Building and in a separate facility in West Yorkshire.

Our tour was conducted by Kevin Mehmet of the Front Office. While not a chartered librarian, Mr. Mehmet's job is to be the face of the library to the public. His tour was insightful and entertaining. Our group was extremely fortunate to have him take us through the bu
ilding. He was engaging and seemed genuinely interested in the various members of our motley band. Although I did not have the opportunity to meet the other guides, I felt very fortunate in our lot.

The building housing the British Library was designed by Sir Colin St. John Wilson and has a decidedly nautical style. The large model shows both the concourse and the underground tunnels in which the books are stored (at seventy-five feet below the building). The library has a specialized book retrieval system similar in design to the baggage handling system at an airport. When a patron makes a request, two identical tickets are printed in the stor
age area . The items are stored by size. A worker will then locate the item and scan the bar code on the ticket and then the bin in which the item is placed is scanned. The retrieval system is completely automated. Once the bin arrives in the appropriate receiving area, another worker scans both the ticket and the bin and a light appears at the desk at which the patron has indicated advising them their item is available. The aim (by mandate) is that it should take no more than one hour from request to delivery. The maintenance group for the automated retrieval system is in-house and available should any SNAFU's occur. According to Mr. Mehmet, there are very few breakdowns. Additionally, there are no real back-up plans for manual retrieval as this institution of a manual plan would take longer than simply waiting for the maintenance team to fix whatever issue has come up.

In order to use the items at the British Library, you must register either on site or electronically. Proof of identification and
signature are required in order to be issued a reading card. Items may also be requested in advance. Cards can be issued for short term, one year for Master's students and up to three years for doctoral research. Cards are renewable. If items are too fragile for use, microfilm or digital copies can be made available.

In addition to the regular exhibit of some of the libraries most rare in beautiful items, a special gallery was presenting an exhibit entitled: Magnificent Maps: power, propaganda and art a magnificent display of the art and science
of mapping the world and our place in it. One of the more impressive installations in this exhibit were two stations at which images of maps were projected upon a plan white table. Details upon the map were revealed both visually and audibly through the use of a large plastic "magnifying glass." It allowed for a deeper and closer look into the maps and their meanings. This portion of the display was only topped by the digital kiosks in both the lobby and in the Sir John Ritblat gallery consisting of a digital screen at which 6 books were displayed. These items could be selected and the pages turned via a touch screen interface. Options include detail display, audio commentary and even the sound of the text being sung or read aloud. We were informed that this kiosk was made possible by Bill Gates and the Microsoft corporation. It was an outstanding opportunity to "interact" with such rare items. Although it deprives one of the experience of the feel and smell of a live interaction and does not provide a proper perspective of the size and shape of the original volume, it was still a wonderful tool.

We were able to tour both the Ritblat Gallery, the special exhibit on maps, visit the reader's registration room and even got behind the scenes to one of the receiving areas for the automated book retrieval system, I think there was a general sense of disappointment (at least in my group) at not being able to go through the underground storage area. In spite of our disappointment, we consoled ourselves that not only are we a large group and quite probably would be disruptive, but there were probably safety and security issues making such a visit impracticable.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sir John Soane's Museum

Following our trip the the British Museum's Archives, a small group of us made our way to Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Sir John Soane's Museum. Sir John Soane has been called one of England's great architects. He was commissioned to design the Bank of England in 1788. His house was established as a museum by an Act of Parliament in 1833. The house underwent a five year restoration project in 1995 and the rooms displayed appear almost exactly as they did the day he died in 1837. This restoration project was in keeping with Soane's wish that the house be kept in such a state. According to one of the Wardens on duty, there is currently a plan in place to restore some of the rooms upstairs in addition to walling off a room that was not original to the house plan but built later to showcase some Canaletto's for students to copy. Once this addition is walled off, the Canaletto's will be returned to the picture room so that the view down the hallway will show, in almost window-like fashion, one of the views of Venice that Soane cared for so much.

Originally, Soane's house was originally at Number 12 which he purchased and rebuilt; however, 21 years later, Soane bought and rebuilt Number 13 as both a residence and museum. Ten years following the rebuild on Number 13, Soane bought number 14 and rebuilt it. Soane rented out this house, but used the sables in the back as both a house for his collection and as a studio for his architecture students. The Wardens informed us that it was Soane's wish that his sons should follow him into his profession, but sadly one died at a young age while the other lived a life of dissolution spurning architecture for writing.

The Soane house is a fascinating combination of private residence and museum. The first room is the dining room and library. These rooms were for entertaining, living and also for meeting with potential clients. The study and dressing room let off of these rooms. Little more than a hallway, the combination furniture and fixtures is what I would characterize as an almost IKEA-esque use of space. Not only is the study functional, but is also crammed floor to ceiling with examples of architectural styles. This use of space is further demonstrated in the Picture Room where Soane created additional space for his various pictures and etchings including Hogarth's "A Rake's Progress" and "An Election." We were present when the Warden opened the walls to reveal the additional wall space and an alcove beyond one of the walls in which more models and architectural odds and ends and statuary were displayed. We were informed that originally "A Rake's Progress" was stored within one of the walls as it was considered unsuitable subject matter for ladies.

Below stairs is the Monk's Parlour and Yard. These rooms have a decidedly Gothic feel to them and were designed with "Padre Giovanni" in mind. Father John was an imaginary person. Included with this Gothic theme are portions of the Palace of Westminster (destroyed in the 13th ce) along with a small collection of ancient mesoamerican pottery. The Crypt contains the sarcophagus of Seti I. As you are in the Crypt, you can look up into the Colonnade and Dome. Again, the walls are almost completely covered in architectural bric-a-brac. Many are plaster molds of long gone marvels of the ancient world.

We were fortunate enough to have met with a woman working on the restoration of the Gallery and Shop on the second floor. She explained that she was an art historian by education, but became interested in restoration and has made that her life's work. She showed us microscopic views of strata sampled from the walls and ceiling which provided the museum with a view of the different colors that had graced the walls since Soane's time. She then used those to provide drawing of the different color schemes (all including a blue sky complete with clouds for the ceiling) from which the Director and Board could base the plans for restoration.

Soane House is a registered charity that relies upon grants from trusts and foundations, member support and public donations. The Museum is free to the public. Additionally, Soane's library comprised of approximately 7,000 items is available for research and viewing by appointment. No photographs were permitted in the library; however, many images as well as watercolors of the original rooms are available at the museum's website:

Thursday, 8 July 2010

British Museum Archives 7 July 2010

The morning of July 7, the majority of our group visited the Archives at the British Museum. The tour was conducted primarily by the Archivist, Stephanie Clarke and supplemented by Bryony Levenhall an archives record assistant.

The archives contain, primarily, the administrative documents related to the British Museum. Records date back to its foundation in 1753. The primary source material for research in the minutes of the meetings of the Museum Trustees. The records are stores in bound copies on shelves located immediately behind the entrance door. Additionally, all correspondence, both incoming and outgoing is stored in bound volumes. There is no central catalog, but Trustee's Minutes have indexes are available. A spreadsheet is used by not only the archives but also by several of the departments to keep a running list of available sources of information. The majority of the records pertain to the building itself and the day-to-day running of the museum. Records related to the items in the collection relate mainly to accession.

Ms. Clarke also had several items of intrinsic value including several photographs of the museum's collections on display prior to WWII and several photographs of the damage sustained in the blitzkrieg. I asked if the removal of the collections was planned and organized or done "on the fly" as the evacuation of the Louvre in Paris was. I was informed that the move was well planned an executed with the majority of the collection being housed in a nearby tube station. The remainder was shipped off to be stored in the mines in Wales. Later, at lunch, Andrew told us that during the war, the curators insisted upon displaying one painting for two weeks because they felt that culture was central to life in spite of the war.

Bryony showed us the readers cards and registration from the period that the British Library was still housed at the British Museum. We were able to see the signatures of T.S. Eliot and Karl Marx from when they were preforming their research.

I specifically questioned Miss Clarke regarding the "greying" of the profession in the US and any similar trends in the UK. She says that she has noted a marked increase in the number of students enrolled in courses related to curacy and archiving. The problem here, as at home, will be the limited number of positions open versus the number of applicants. She provided the example that the singular position currently held by Bryony is a temporary post that may not be renewed designed for a student between undergraduate and post graduate work. There were about 200 applications for that one position. It is nice to see that people are increasing considering preservation and conservation, it will create increased competition and may not be good for the profession.

Additional information regarding the archive specifically can be found at:

The Clockmakers' Museum

After completing our tour of the Barbican Public Library, several of us decided to take lunch in the cafe on the 4th floor. Both hot dishes and cold items were available. Most seemed satisfied with their selections. The cafe is called a "pop-up" which we all presume means that it is a cafe were the food service is not a permanent part of the space. The space itself is full of natural light from the open ceiling - more skylight than actual ceiling. The cafe sits on what appears to be a balcony or overhang. You can look down over the railing into an indoor garden. We were all pleased to find a large table next to a fan and were fairly refreshed afterward.

Several of us decided to tour the Clockmakers' Museum which is located at the Guildhall Library on Aldermanbury. We had learned of the Guildhall from our tour at the Barbican.

The items on display comprise the Clockmakers’ Collection. The Collection is comprised almost exclusively of clocks and watches; it was begun in 1814 and is advertised as the oldest collection specifically of clocks and watches in the world. Also included in this collection are marine time pieces used in navigation. The collection is arranged chronologically and is housed in a single room off of the Guildhall Library. Several items on display are actively working. The items in the collection are inclusive of the period ca. 1600 to around 1850. The fact that so many items is a pleasant surprise, but as we discussed, because clocks were very expensive and individually made, they were, ultimately, "built to last." A large complement of watch keys are on display sporting exquisite work in small. Additionally there are many examples of personal time pieces that are the quietly graceful with intricate carving to fantastical bejeweled cases. Portraits of person's imminent to the Clockmaker's Guild are on view.

Open to the public since 1874, there is no charge for admission; however, no photographs are permitted. Particularly fascinating to me was the reproduction of a print from around 1600 depicting the hours of life including a poem and relating each stage to an animal. The style is one of my favorites.

Earlier in the day, some of us had been continuing a discussion the revival of "old" crafts and their value. This discussion was tangential to the debate on the need many librarians feel to justify their existence. We wondered if there was value in the continuation of traditions such as clockmaking and illumination. The general consensus seems to be that, yes, the continuation of these traditions are important for no other reason than that it is the continuation of human knowledge.

Images from the collection are available through the Bridgeman Art Library. Additional information regarding the Clockmakers' Museum, Guildhall Library or the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, please visit the site at

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

What's the Barbican? 6 July 2010

I have to admit that prior to my arrival, I had not heard of the Barbican. When we arrived at the site, I assumed that I was going to be a more specialized library serving a clientele of artists and performers. I was singularly delighted to find a thriving public library in the heart of the City of London.

We were met at the door by John Lake, Senior Librarian. Due to the size of our group, we split into two groups and rotated through the adult collection, children's section and the music collection. The Barbican library serves the approximately 300,000 commuters to the city in addition to the almost 9,000 actual residents of the City of London. Because most of the commuters working in the area are employed by corporations, the breakdown of male to female members is slightly skewed with more males which are not common among library patrons on either side of the pond. The majority of users, additionally, are white males. There is a Friends organization that was formed about two years ago to assist the library.

While, historically, libraries have been a part of the London community since around the fifteenth century, public libraries were not widely available until around 1964 under the auspices of the Public Libraries Act. The Barbican Library is one of the busiest libraries in London. A great many changes have taken place in the staff levels and orders of operation within the past 6 years. Since 2004, the library has seen a change in its operating hours and practices along with some technology upgrades, staffing changes and the addition of outreach programs. The RFID tagging was instituted in 2004 and a self service option was made available in 2006.

As you approach the library, there is a desk out front with three monitors and keyboards. One of these stations provides a self-service return for patrons, the other two stations provide catalog and internet access. All services are available until the building closes at 23:00. Additionally, a kiosk for self-check patrons for the music collection was added approximately two weeks ago for a trial basis. The reason for the second kiosk is that British rules require a charge for the audio/visual materials.

I addition to a large adult collection, the Barbican library has over 16,000 CDs available for loan alongside almost 9,000 musical scores, instructional videos, reference books and periodicals related to musical performance. The entryway to this collection is flanked by electronic pianos provided for patrons to play their selections without disturbing other patrons. There are carrels provided within the collection space which patrons can use.

Finally, the children's space provides a warm and inviting area for the newest readers to become acquainted with all a library has to offer. Due to size and funding, the local primary schools do not have their own libraries. For this reason, the Barbican Children's Library provides service to local schools in addition to a summer reading program, rhyme times for pre-school children, book services and Reading is Fundamental. The Children's Library serves patrons through the age of fourteen at which time they become eligible for an adult reading card.

I questions Mr. Lake privately regarding the practices of providing "adult" or explicit material to children of that age. I was informed that there are censorship rules in place that prohibits public libraries from offering such materials. There are also age limits on what material patrons under the ages of twelve, fifteen or eighteen depending upon content. This practice is rather opposite of the American Library Association's position of not acting in loco parentis and advocacy of providing free and open access to all materials. I was further informed that, in the instance a challenge is made to a work, the complaint is registered with the local police department at which time, the courts determine whether the work should be made illegal. It appears that collection development while ultimately dictated by the tastes of the patrons, the law of the land also has their part to play.

Overall, I left with a very positive impression of the library in particular and of public libraries in London in general. I was expecting a more pronounced difference between the local public libraries here and those at home. I am happy to be disappointed. The staff were delightful and very informative. The space was beautiful. More information including a calendar of activities and outreach available can be found at:

Monday, 5 July 2010

St. Paul's Revisited

While we were touring the main floor of the cathedral, we came across a small plaque all in Latin that we did our best to make out, and were only partially successful. Luckily for us a young gentleman in a sarum (not sure if he was a cannon or deacon) stopped to translate and tells us a little background regarding the small piece of stone that hung on the wall. Though none of us could come up with the name of the Roman Emperor after Nero, I was able to track that information down on the net this evening. Following the overthrow of Nero, there was a period known as the Year of the Four Emperors. The man who seized power immediately after Nero was Galba.

Thanks to the kindness of the staff at St. Paul's with a special thanks to the unknown scholar, but most especially to Dr. Joseph Wisdom. The tour this afternoon was outstanding!

St Paul's Library 5 July 2010

Today we met in the morning as a class and worked for a little in the computer lab across the way. Following that, I took the tube to Covent Garden to visit a shop I saw while on the LondonAlive! walk with Dr. Mays. I wandered around and found many great little shops. I will head back at some point to do some souvenir shopping - even finding the shops themselves and meeting the owners/operators was like finding little treasures.

We met as a class again at about 13:00 in the courtyard before heading over to tour St. Paul's Library with Dr. Wisdom. Because our class is so big, we had to break up into two groups. I went with the first group up to the library. In order to reach that building, we passed through a "gallery" of art, statuary and stones from the building that were either the remains of the cathedral from the 1666 fire or were part of construction. The stones are in the process of being cataloged.

Prior to reaching the library, we visited a room that was initially designed to be part of the library but currently houses Sir Christopher Wren's scale model of St. Paul's along with some artifacts related to Wren and the construction/design process. We know that the room was intended to be part of the library due to the distinctive carvings on sections of the wall depicting books, quills, flowers and fruit. We were next lead into the library. The same carvings were in evidence, but there was also a gallery built all around the room. The shelves were floor to ceiling and were crammed full of volumes. There were also volumes littering almost every surface in the room. I was surprised to find a 13th ce illuminated psalter sitting on a pillow out in the air. The ink of the text included both the black and red letters. The illumination on the left page was gorgeous. I had never thought to be that close to such a work - one of those experiences not to be forgotten. Unfortunately, photographs were not permitted. The room smelled almost like a humidor from the out-gassing of the old volumes' paper and leather. Oddly enough, that room is in use by staff and scholars. There is currently no separate reading room and Dr. Wisdom seemed disinclined to add one. He stated that his reasoning was two-fold: security issues and environmental issues. The library at St. Paul's is open to anyone who has a reasonable request for access. The library at St. Paul's was initially conceived of as a "public" library as there were none in existence at the time Sr. Christopher Wren designed the building. However, the initial design was rejected as the diocese felt it too much like St. Peter's (a catholic church). An image of the model is available at The site is the World Monument Fund whose five-fold mission is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of and education about historic monuments world wide.

We learned that while the original collection was burned in the fire in 1666, the collection is quite sizable. Today, due to space constraints, very few volumes are accepted into the collection; however, those who wish to make donations (e.g. a family bible) that are not eligible for acceptance - the staff volunteers to find an appropriate repository for the donation. Additionally, the items that are accepted include items regarding individuals instrumental to St Paul's, its history and construction. They also try to maintain some congruence with the collection that is housed separately regarding the construction, survey and fabrication of the building itself. We were told that preservation has been an ongoing program since the collection was rebuilt following the fire of 1666. Cataloging is a fairly recent phenomenon with approximately 85% of items cataloged through the importation of MARC and AACR records with addition of local information. All of the librarians, historically, at St. Paul's were members of the clergy until about the middle of the 20th ce. There are records of the names of all librarians dating back to the 17th ce.

After the tour, our group had the opportunity to tour the cathedral. Some of us opted to climb to the top of the dome. There were about 538 steps to the top. The last leg of the journey from the Whispering Gallery to the top was comprised mostly of very narrow wrought iron spiral staircases. That was an extremely nerve wracking, not to mention exhausting, trip. I have to say that the view to the top was worth every step.

Following our jaunt to the top of the dome, we descended to the crypts below and stopped in the gift shoppe and the cafe to refresh ourselves before heading back to prepare for the welcome reception. Once again, Dr. Mackaman recalled us to our duty in being here as part of the BSP and we were treated to oration by Mr. Wiltshire and the chaplain of Kings College before adjourning to a light repast of tapas and drinks.

Following the reception, I took the opportunity to walk along the Strand and back down along the South Bank. I stopped to watch the sun sink below the skyline on a bench watching the party boats drift past. Altogether an extremely full and satisfying day. Additional information about the cathedral and library can be found at

Sunday, 4 July 2010

LondonAlive! part 2 4 July 2010

Today was the second LondonAlive! tour. I selected the tour led by Dr. Mays. It was a fabulous even though I think we walked the entire length and breadth of London. I learned about the Bloomsbury Group - I had not heard of this group prior to the tour although I was familiar with the works of its members. We had a great group and I saw a lot of London that I have been passed, but not from that direction. I can't wait to go back to through Covent Garden to the Astrology shop and the other little shops. Also, I plan to spend a great deal more time at the British Museum. Our tour lasted a little longer than planned and so only had about half an hour to poke through, but it was not disappointing in the least. There were four of us that stuck out the tour all the way to the end and I would like to thank Dr. Mays for his excellent and informative tour.

After returning to Lambeth, I had a delightful dinner at the Wellington. The food was outstanding and the atmosphere was relaxing with overstuffed chairs and appropriate lighting. The staff was efficient and friendly. I recommend the Wellington for meals or drinks.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Introduction 3 July 2010

Welcome to my BSP blog. I have now been in London about two days and have already had an exhausting but very satisfying. We are living in a dorm at King's College in the Lambeth section (south of the river). It is really a great area in which to live. I managed to make it down to Lower Marsh this morning after orientation and walked up and down the street looking in at the little shops and stores. I can't wait to spend more time there. I was really hoping to get the "native" experience and so far I am.

We took our first LondonAlive! walk today. I took to tour about how the other half lived. We took a walking tour past Buckingham Place, St James Palace, and through the Mayfair area ending in Berkley Square. Tomorrow I look forward to the second LondonAlive! tour which includes the British Museum.