Friday, 1 August 2008

Marylebone Library

August 1, 2008 (Site Visit)

For my third independent site visit I decided to visit a public library, as the only other public library we saw as a class was the Barbican. Marylebone is a branch of the Westminster Library system. I was interested to learn that they don't have a 'main' branch. Their library is currently in a temporary location, so they are somewhat limited on space. For example, although they had a separate children's floor in their previous space, the children and adult collections are currently in the same room (although they did a lovely job of giving children their own corner within the adult library).

The room that houses the children and adult collections has a selection of 'Quick Choices' for adults right by the entrance. There are also rather fancy ATM-esque machines for borrowing books, renewing books, returning books, and paying fees. They even have a shorter one that is for children and handicapped individuals. They also have displays in the center of the room for graphic novels and manga and for audio books (both cassette and CD). A corner in the front housed the DVD section.

The children's corner is in the back of the room. They have two computers set aside for children and one for teenagers. All of their teenage collection seemed to be on a couple of shelving units marked 'Zone Fiction' and 'Zone Non-Fiction', and all of the books on those shelves were marked on the spine with an orange sticker printed with a 'Z'. I thought that was an interesting way to designate teen books. Children's information books were also marked on the spine with different picture symbols printed on yellow stickers to denote animals, body, countries, crafts, entertainment, food, history, knowledge, languages, living, nature, people, religion, science, space, sports, and transport. The children's section itself had a rug next to low boxes filled with picture books. I was told they receive about 500 users a day Monday through Friday and around 300 on Saturdays and Sundays. In their downstairs area, they have about 10 full time staff.

The information and computers section was upstairs. Interspersed amongst the shelves of reference books were sections of computer terminals. They had about fourteen in one section and ten in another. The computers required the input of a card number and a pin code to log in. They also had 15 computers in the back set aside as training centers. The woman at the help desk near those computers said that they were part of a 'learn to read' center. They get approximately twenty new learners each month. There is also a reference desk for the main part of the library. They also have a section of books for sale as well as a reading area stocked with magazines and newspapers.

Despite their temporary location, I thought that it was a very nice branch library with a very pleasant and welcoming atmosphere.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Museum of Childhood

July 23, 2008 (Site Visit)

As I have a personal interest in Children's Literature, I decided to visit the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. It was founded in 1955 by Joseph Patrick Murray, and it is devoted to the history of childhood through displays relating to all of the aspects of the lives of children in the past. It was the first museum of childhood in the world, and it consists of five galleries filled with glass cases which are crammed full of objects relating to every aspect of children's lives. Although I didn't like their display methods very well after many of the other exhibits we saw in class, it was still worth a visit.

Some of the items in the galleries included toys of all kinds, silverware, prams, and models of children dressed in period clothing playing with larger toys. There were cards with text on the bottom of displays as well as some in the cases themselves. There were displays of food and drink, school items, and working children. They had 'working' coin-operated games and even a pianola (which amused me, as I studied them in one of my music classes). The museum did have a couple of interactive exhibits, such as puppets that children could play with in gallery 2. That gallery also housed marionettes, musical and optical toys, all makes and models of toy trains and soldiers, costumes, doll houses, miniature shops, jacks, hoops, and marbles. Some of the description cards only listed item details (such as the one by the toy soldiers reading 'Royal Scots Greys and Dragoons c1910'), but others had historical information such as the one near the simple outdoor toys. That card discussed the practice of children once being allowed to play in the streets unsupervised as well as games that required no objects but only imagination. This section also had crayons and paper for kids to play with and a memory book that they could write in. Another interactive part of the exhibit were question and answer flip boards.

Yet another area had dolls of all kinds dating from the 17th century -wax dolls, wooden dolls, rag dolls, etc. Some information cards discussed how the dolls were made, and others included books with famous character dolls like Raggedy Ann. Rag dolls were originally for poor children who couldn't afford wooden or china dolls, but they became popular in their own right. This exhibit also had an 'international' section with dolls from Japan, China, India, Africa, and the Americas. They interspersed the dolls with some pictures of children from various eras.

Another section had more interactive toys like rifles, rollerskates, and construction toys (even Legos). It also had miniature instruments and paint boxes as well as a video area that showed videos of children playing, cartoons, and short films. My favorite part was probably the book display, which included fairy tales, Beatrix Potter books, and a first edition of the Just So Stories. Although none of the books were available to read, some of the board games could be played, and they had some period clothing and a mirror for children to dress up in.

The last area had displays of playrooms in different areas with binders of information outside of each one.

They definitely had many interesting objects, but I think they museum could benefit from employing some of the techniques that were used in the John Murray Archive exhibit, especially the interactive cases.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

July 22, 2008

Dr. David McMenemy (whose background is in public libraries) and Alan Poulter (cataloging, digital and other systems, and special libraries), along with a couple of their students and colleagues, were kind enough to host us at the University of Strathclyde and talk about their library science program and the various aspects related to librarianship in Scotland. (They were also kind enough to feed us tea and lunch!) They talked about everything from the classification systems used by libraries to television shows like Dr. Who and Coupling (Dr. McMenemy even knew the woman that the character Jane was based on).

They discussed some of the challenges of their profession, and they said there is a 'crisis of confidence' in the UK. They have a hard time keeping people involved in the profession, and many people consider themselves managers instead of librarians. CILIP (their ALA) is smaller and their conferences less well attended, and some people question if libraries even need professional librarians. Recent years have seen the decline of professionalism and an uprise in managerials who are seeing users as customers. Some public libraries have been taken over by business consultants, who turn libraries into coffee with some books. On the other hand, some libraries have become community centers that try to make the disadvantaged less disadvantaged.

Dr. McMenemy is the course director of their MSc program (their information and library science degree), and he gave us a background of the university and an overview of libraries in the UK. The University has been around since 1796 in various incarnations, and since 2006, it is Scotland's third largest university. They have about 25,000 students (15,000 undergraduates and 10,000 postgraduates). The UK has 4,515 public libraries and 846 academic libraries. No statistics have been collected on school libraries, because there are no requirements for schools to have libraries in the UK. (This surprised and saddened most of us, especially those in our class who want to become school media specialists.) Academic librarians are the ones with the status and the salaries. Public libraries are legally obliged to provide "comprehensive and efficient" public library service to anyone who lives, works, or studies in their community under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act (England and Wales) and the Local Government Act of 1973 (Scotland). Of course, like in the United States, there are problems with people using the service who don't actually pay for it.

He also went over the public service divisions in the UK. England has 46 unitary authorities, 36 metropolitan districts, and 36 shire counties. Scotland has 32 unitary councils, and Wales has 22 unitary councils. Then he discussed the impact of the Devolution Scotland Act of 1998 and the Government Wales Act of 1998 that created parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff. The publicly funded library services are now governed by the devolved parliaments, so London no longer affects the libraries of Scotland and Wales.

He then listed some key professional issues that librarians are facing today: significant drops in borrowing figures, how to attract non-users, the digital divide, deprofessionalization, and how to measure library services effectively.

The latter issue was presented on by PhD student Christine Rooney-Browne, who is studying measuring the social value of public libraries. She described the traditional role of public libraries as one of intellectual freedom, cultural diversity, democratic values, etc., and she argued that the social impact of libraries can't be measured by statistics, as what people get out of books, access, and service are difficult to discern. She discussed various methods and techniques of measuring value, including the Public Library Quality, Improvement Matrix, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and Social Impact Audits. She decided to focus her study in five areas: rural, urban, developing, natural disaster, and indigenous people. For the impact of libraries on rebuilding communities, she focused on New Orleans. She also studied two libraries that are five miles apart but are radically different. The library in the affluent neighborhood was a transactional bookshop space with high stocks of bestsellers, which the deprived neighborhood library was a welcoming social space that provided a gateway to information, literacy, and escapism. Her study sounded really interested, and I'm curious to read what her conclusions turn out to be.

Alan Poulter then discussed a program he and some others are working on called FRILLS (Forsenic Readiness for Local Libraries in Scotland) that investigates crime through the analysis of computers. (In addition to his library degree, Poulter also has a masters in computer science.) The People's Network was an initiative to offer free access to Internet in all public libraries. Despite Acceptable Use Policies, this led to problems based on what people did on these computers (looking at pornography, etc.), so various groups have worked on ways to find out and track what people do on these computers. Some libraries have tried to solve the problem by using web filters, but these of course restrict access, so his group is working on a logging system that requires a low level of monitoring. He discussed how they developed their forsenic readiness regime by interviewing subjects, reading literature reviews, talking to heads of library services, and working with pilot sites. They learned that people were breaking the Acceptable Use Policies and that these policies were not well understood by users or kept up to date. There was also no standard recording of misuse. He then discussed how his program worked (basically, if I understood it right, it creates a stored encrypted log of what was done on the machine). It sounds like a good solution to a very perplexing library problem.

Alan Dawson next gave us an overview of the Centre for Digital Library Research, and he showed us various online resources like BUBL (a catalog which had been around 17 years before the world wide web and is still very popular). He also showed us the Glasgow Digital Library, which has digitalized pamphlets and other historic material, and he demonstrated how the index is dynamically linked to the content.

After a lovely lunch, we took a trip over to The Bridge, which is a library and community center complex that was developed in one of the disadvantaged areas of Glasgow. The library is the hub of a building that also contains a swimming pool, college, theatre, and studio. It is unique in the UK, as it is the only building that fully integrates all of these facilities. They teach people to use PCs to get them on the path to college. The library has shelves (some of them rolling shelves, especially in the children's area) interspersed with sitting areas and craft areas. Our guide Stephen Finnie told us that the space has also been used as part of a theatre set. They constantly change and rotate their stock to prevent space and storage issues. They also house the college library. Most of it is fully integrated, but some of the class material is kept apart in a separate area, as it was bought with different funding. They have about 30,000 items, and new books are purchased every week.

The building design is reminiscent of a tree-house and/or forest, and it is a rather loud and echoing space (although they do have some quiet study space). They also have a small community room known as The Den. They have six professional librarians on staff (the small numbers emphasized what we had heard in the previous lectures about the deprofessionalization of public libraries). We were given a tour of all of their facilities that were open. It certainly is a beautiful space and concept - very open and welcoming. It's a neat concept to integrate all of those facilities into one large community space.

Monday, 21 July 2008

National Archives of Scotland

After a short break from our visit to the National Library (during which some of us ate at the Elephant House [where J. K. Rowling supposedly penned some of the first parts of Harry Potter] and saw Greyfriars Bobby), we visited the National Archives of Scotland. Margaret MacBride, the education officer, told us about their organization.

The Archives are an agency of the Scottish government, so the archivists are actually civil servants. They are headed by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland (an archivist or librarian of standing appointed by the government), and the national collections are the responsibility of the Minister for Europe, External Affairs, and Culture. One of their missions is to preserve, protect, and promote the nation's records. The Archives consists of three buildings in Edinburgh, which host 160 staff (including IT, maintenance, and 30-40 archivists), and five websites. They are organized into two divisions, each under the head of a Deputy Keeper: the Record Services Division (government records, court and legal records, private records, and outreach services) and the Corporate Services Division (accommodation services, finance and administration, information and communication technology, conservation services, and reader services). The latter division is the one that makes use of the documents and makes them accessible to the people.

The building we were in was the General Register House, which dates from the late 1780s and was the first building to look after national records. They have a second building which is a 15 minute walk away, which is the West Register House. That building houses public search areas, storage, and offices. It opened to the public in 1971. In 1995, the Thomas Thomson House was opened at another site. It has an entire floor for conservation and storerooms within storerooms. This site has no public access.

Ms. MacBride discussed some of their conservation techniques. They even have a box-making machine that can make boxes for any sized book or document. They also do a lot of digitizing. They have digitized three million records of Scottish wills from 1500-1901 in order to preserve the originals.

She also discussed national versus local storage of records. The British Standard (BS5454) determines if a building has the proper quality to be an archive, so that sometimes comes into play when determining where records are housed.

The functions of the Archives are as follows: to select public records worthy of permanent preservation; to acquire historic records of national importance; to make suitable arrangements for the disposal of that which is not transferred to an appropriate repository; to preserve documents using archival standards; to promote public access to information; to increase electronic access; to make use of copies. catalogs, exhibitions, and publications; to provide advice to owners who wish to retain their own records; to develop archival practices; and to deploy resources effectively.

They have over 70 km of records dating from the 12th century onwards, including state and parliamentary papers, all legal transactions, registers of deeds and sasines (land registers), church records, wills and testaments, taxation records, valuation rolls, family and estate papers, court and legal records, government records, business records, railway records, nationalized industries, maps and plans, private records, and photographs. Access to these records can come via their electronic catalog on their website, paper catalogs in search rooms, and websites such as,,,, and Ms. MacBride discussed the various uses that people made of these resources. Scotland has a different curriculum than England, and students of about 16 or 17 have to write a paper on Scottish history, for example.

They have strict rules in their reading and search rooms in order to conserve their documents. Only paper, pencil and laptops are allowed in the historical search room at the General Register House. They can carry personal items in a clear plastic bag. With the presentation of a form of ID, they are given a reader's ticket, which is valid for three years. There is also the West Search Room, or Charlotte Square. There the reader has an allocated seat from which they order records electronically. They don't charge for public services such as historical searches, as those belong to the people of Scotland, but readers have to pay for legal searches: £17 a day or £13 a half day to access wills or other legal documents.

The Archives is currently working on a new setup which will divide free and charged access areas. They plan to have certain computers which readers can use free of charge for two hours. If their two hours are up and they decide that they wish to continue, they can enter the reader room for £10. There are also 40 seats in the dome area that are designated for professionals. These professionals have to pay for a season ticket. They aren't sure yet how this system is going to work. They are going to have a soft launch for six weeks in August and September before it officially opens in October. They are also developing a new look (

She also discussed more of their digitization projects. They have digitized the Church of Scotland records, and they are working on digitizing more of their collection. Copies of digital records costs readers £2.50 for five pages, but it is more expensive for non-digital records, as they have to pay to set up the camera.

She then showed us both digital copies and actual manuscripts, which we were allowed to examine with gloves. They ranged from an 18th century cookbook to a modern government file on devolution. There was a file from 1914 on the suffragist Fanny Parker, who was imprisoned and force-fed when she went on hunger strikes, a surveyor's book with beautiful illustrations, and a criss-cross letter (written that way to preserve paper). We were also shown around the building. We saw the various areas that are going to be the different levels of reading rooms (free, paid, and professional) and the room in which they were digitizing and/or making digital copies for readers. I hope their new system works out well for them.

National Library of Scotland

July 21, 2008

After spending two weeks in London, my class and several other classes in our program took coaches up to Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, to stay for a few days.

Our first library visit in Scotland was to their National Library (founded in the 17th century and currently popular for genealogical studies), where Emma Faragher, the education and outreach officer for the John Murray Archive, gave us a PowerPoint presentation on 'Interpreting the John Murray Archive: Manuscripts and Accessibility'. The Archive was sold to the library by John Murray the Seventh in 2002 for about £32.5 million. Part of their funding for the purchase of this collection came from the heritage lottery funding. It is unusual to get public money to fund a collection, so Ms. Faragher stressed that they have to ensure that they can make the collection accessible to anyone who can buy or benefit from a lottery ticket due to the source of their funding. They strive to promote easy access and to avoid library jargon. They want to bring people in and encourage them that this archive is a collection that they can use.

They also realize that more people will come to see an exhibition than will go into a reading room, so the exhibition aspect of the archive is very important to them. Curators, external staff, and specialists have all had input on the exhibition. But how do they display and interpret manuscripts to make them accessible to people? They had to ensure that the lighting was good for both visibility and conservation, adjust the height of the exhibits so that they could be viewed by children, adults, and people in wheelchairs, and do many other things to make the exhibit understandable and enjoyable for as many people as possible.

Although manuscripts are the core of the collection, in looking at other exhibits they learned that people are mainly drawn to objects. Objects are easy to understand. Labels near the object indicate its age and purpose, and visitors use their own experiences to understand the object, which makes them react to it on an emotional level. Art, of course, also stimulates an aesthetic or emotional reaction, but it is sometimes harder to get people to respond to art because of the many layers of interpretation. Manuscripts are still more challenging, because the ideas in the letters are where the value and understanding lies, and those are hard for visitors to access at a quick glance. It is especially difficult when the letters are long, the handwriting is difficult to read, and the context of the letter is not immediately apparent (Who wrote the letter? To whom did they write? Why were they writing it? What things were they writing about, and how do modern readers place that in a historical context?).

With all of these things in mind, they tried to avoid certain patterns in their exhibit. They didn't want to make it text and label heavy - that would make the atmosphere dry and un-emerging, leading to bored visitors. They wanted to display the archive in a theatrical way with more objects than labels, and they wanted the information to be accessible and interactive. They also wanted to make use of light and shadow to create atmosphere in a display that kept the documents safe, and they wanted to communicate the processes of writing and publishing to their visitors.

They also did some market research on other exhibits, and they learned that visitors valued actual evidence of first-hand history, things that brought to life and revealed the personality of historical figures, aspects - especially political - relating history to today, and audio narrations rather than having to read lots of text.

In addition to modeling the exhibit based on their research, they also had to ensure that their exhibit met certain educational standards and learning outcomes (knowledge and understanding, skills, attitudes and values, enjoyment/inspiration/creativity, and activity/behavior progression).

They brought all of these various factors together in their exhibit. While the manuscripts are the core, what the Archive is, the history behind it, and the people whose letters are included in it are also an important part. The context of the exhibit is the whole Victorian world, and the process is how a book is produced. Visitors can "meet" the people who wrote the letters with exhibits designed to help them understand the person's physical aspect and character. They want their exhibit to engage people and hopefully bring them back to learn more.

The other speaker was David McClay, who amazingly has the same last name as me! He said they have about 20,000 authors in the Archive from seven generations of John Murrays. Their publishing business is at the core of the collection, but each Murray added his own interest to the business. For example, the second Murray was into poetry and novels, so he published Austen and Byron. Another, who liked geology, published Darwin and practically invented travel books. Out of all of this, they have to choose eleven people to include in the exhibition. They had to decide which of the many people who were published by the Murrays would speak most to people, and they also wanted a variety of travellers, novelists, etc.

Mr. McClay also told us that this archive was the second most expensive archive purchased in the world. It was evaluated at £45 million (a minimum evaluation). Individual pieces of it could have been dispersed and sold all over the world for an extraordinary amount (especially author's original manuscripts), but they wanted to keep the collection in its entirety within the UK. With such a huge collection, they are still working on repairing documents, storing them appropriately, and cataloging towards a million items. While this collection obviously attracts academics, they are trying to get more people in to see it (hence the exhibit). The collection includes 15,000 images, letters, and business ledgers (difficult for the average reader to comprehend because of the context of the process). Mr. McClay also noted that they have a traveling exhibition to attract more readers (although they are careful not to risk highly valuable materials). They also do joint exhibitions with other organizations.

We then were taken into the exhibition itself. I found it very engaging and highly interactive. The lighting and the Victorian decor were very atmospheric. The display cases contained a number of items in addition to the manuscript being highlighted, both clothing that would have been worn by the author and objects from the time period that related to the context of the letter or document. Panels near the cases allowed visitors to highlight various objects within the case, and each object had accompanying text that could either be read or listened to that told more about the person's life or times. The manuscript itself could also be viewed and enlarged on the screen, both in the original handwriting and in a transcription for easier reading. In addition to the display cases, there was also an interactive display on how a book is published that I think would be very entertaining for children (at least, I was entertained). I think they did a marvelous job with their exhibit.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive

  • Our speaker showing us one of their copies of Shakespeare's First Folio

July 18, 2008

Upon arriving in Stratford-Upon-Avon, we immediately went to the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, where Clare Maffioli met us to begin our tour. We were taken in to the catalog and research room, which houses resources, cabinets of card catalogs, and four computers for online sources. This library was newly refurbished as a result of the merging of two institutions: the Records Office and the Library. Since the merging, their collection contains both local history resources in addition to the Shakespeare collection. Of course, many of the local resources are about Shakespeare himself and where he lived, so they nicely compliment resources about his works.

They have thousands of documents, maps, photographs, videos, and other varieties of resources. The Shakespeare collection is made up of two collections: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Archive (the latter of which they merely house). These collections contain early editions of Shakespeare's works, sources he may have used, criticisms and commentaries, performance histories, prompt books, programs, photographs, videos, and music. It is a unique and internationally important collection.

Most of the collection is kept in basement strongrooms, where temperature and humidity are controlled. They also have flood detection installed, and they ensure that all of their storage materials are of archival quality. They keep copies of many of the original manuscripts upstairs in the library proper, however, to aid with the preserving of the originals. When looking at original materials such as photographs, readers are required to wear gloves, use pencils instead of pens, and use weights to hold down pages.

Their electronic resources include an Image Database on their computers as well as a Performance Database, which is available online.

Over three thousand readers visit a year. They also answer enquiries by phone and e-mail (around 5,000 a year). Their readers are varied: some are schoolchildren doing projects on the local area (who use resources like street photographs and directories), some are people researching their family history or house history, and others are A-level students (17 or 18 years old) studying Shakespeare performance history (who use resources such as reviews, illustrations, and videos). They also attract visitors who are fans of various actors.

The library has around 12 staff members, including a special collections librarian, library assistants, subject specialists, and volunteers (who do a lot of their database work). They still use their card catalog. Items acquired during the year 2000 or after are online, but those dated before that are only accessible through the card catalog. They don't have any plans to undertake the daunting and time-consuming project of putting their entire catalog online any time soon.

They are a charity organization that does not receive any government funding. Mostly they rely on people paying to visit the houses and on donations.

Their collection development policy is mostly to obtain as much material as they can that relates to Shakespeare (anything from pre-1700 up until modern day). They even acquire foreign language material. They attempt to be representative and to acquire what will be of use as well as what other institutions don't have. In addition to their book collection, they do subscribe to some periodicals, and they have an interlibrary loan system in place with the British Library. Ms. Maffioli estimated that they have around 50,000 books in addition to myriads of archival material like maps.

We then wound our way through the maze-like building to meet Jo Wilding, who showed us a small sampling of the range and depth of materials that they hold. They have quite a broad spectrum.

The Trust was founded in 1847 to save the birthplace of Shakespeare and to collect items to form a library alongside it. They aim to collect anything concerning his life, work, and times - works of his contemporaries included. Much of their material comes from the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Library of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Their collection is built around their copies of Shakespeare's First Folio. This Folio was published in 1623 by two of Shakespeare's colleagues seven years after his death as a memorial. These editions of his plays are supposed to be the closest to the original copies of his plays. If it hadn't have been published, eighteen of his plays (previously unpublished) would have likely disappeared. The folio contains 36 plays. Quartos of individual plays were also published and sold for six pence apiece. Folios would have cost 15 shillings without the binding and £1 with the binding (expensive for the time, as a schoolteacher made about £20 a year). Now the folios sell for around 2.8 million pounds. Two hundred and twenty eight of the original folios survive, and their library has three of those copies. One of those copies is on permanent display in the visitor's entrance to the Birthplace (this copy is imperfect and has bits missing). Another better copy belongs to the Trust, while the third is the Theatre's copy (some of the pages are facsimiles).

The Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive also looks after the Royal Shakespeare Company's library and archive, which is quite extensive. They haven't counted the photographs, but there are likely a quarter of a million photos and slides. There are also prompt books, reviews, videos, and playbills. She showed us a playbill from 1816.

The library has 800 books printed before 1700. They cover some of his contemporaries as well as his potential sources, such as an herbal and a bestiary that she showed us that would have been available in Shakespeare's time. They also have the Plutarch's that belonged to Lord Strange; they believe that book to be the source of his Roman plays.

I was very impressed by all of the work and preparation that Ms. Wilding had done for our visit (as well as by her obvious enthusiasm for the materials and for her work.) She had laid out for us many manuscripts in their collection, including the quarto for A Midsummer Night's Dream and an herbal from 1597. They think this herbal is a potential source because both the herbal and Shakespeare spell thyme 'time' (although it could just be a coincidence). At one point in history it fell out of fashion to perform plays in their entirety, so she showed us examples of adaptations such as an opera with music by Henry Purcell. She also showed us some of their photographs (comparing an elaborate 1950's set with a minimalist 1970's one) and a facsimile of a special edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Also laid out were two editions of books of the royal families, a 1603 pocket atlas with its original binding, a 1572 handcolored earliest map of London, a history of four-footed beasts (the favorite of many of their employees) containing animals both real and mythological, an example of costume designs, their earliest part book (1889, containing handwritten notes and a drawing of the stage set for the first scene), and a poster advertising the first production of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (Much Ado About Nothing in 1879).

Then she surprised us by showing us one of their Folios. This one had Victorian binding and some facsimile pages, but it was still incredible to see. She stressed that no two copies are identical, as they kept stopping the presses to make corrections. This one also had some curiously drawn pointing hands by some of its passages added by one of its previous owners.

As another surprise (perhaps due to our enthusiasm), she took us down into the basement strongholds, where we saw more of their rare books as well as where they stored all of their various videos and other materials.

All of us were convinced that we saw far more than any of the other classes who visited Stratford with us. Librarians get to see all of the cool things.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

English Faculty Library

July 17, 2008 (Site Visit)

Krystal was amazing enough to set up an appointment with Sue Usher at the English Faculty Library to see their Tolkien collection, and she was kind enough to let a few of us come along for the visit.

J. R. R. Tolkien was a member of the English faculty at Oxford, and he donated over 200 books to their library. Ms. Usher presented us with a photocopied card catalog list of his books and a handwritten book of the minutes of the Library Committee from the 1920's-1940's. Tolkien was on the Library Committee and was also its chair for some years. His signatures were scattered throughout the book (members of the committee signed off on the secretary's notes).

Ms. Usher told us that the Tolkien books were organized by a homemade classification system, although she was not certain of the system's origins or exactly how they were organized (whether they were by date, or author, or something else entirely). They each have a VC number (VC1, VC2, etc.). Here is an example catalog entry with incorrect indentations, which I was sadly unable to reproduce:

VC 213
Cyrurgie of Guy de Chauliac
(E.E.T.S. 265
Ed. Ogden, M.
Vol I.
London, O.U.P. 1971
contains three pages of JRRT's loose notes.

Here is what the "card" for his copy of Beowulf looked like:

Many of the cards had handwritten notes on them stating various peculiarities about the texts, especially if they had any notes written in them by Tolkien's hand. We requested several of these books, and Ms. Usher retrieved them for us and allowed us to handle them after a short lecture on the correct method of handling the texts (we used foam reading pads and were extremely careful and reverent). Most of the texts we requested were foreign language materials, and as Tolkien was a linguist, many of his pencilled-in notes were about the pronunciation of various words

A badly recreated example of one of his notes is as follows:

hence oí
dry where
y (with a line over it) = ü (with a line over it)

We saw his copy of the Ialo Manuscripts (a selection of Ancient Welsh manuscripts) as well as his copy of Beowulf. It was an amazing experience to actually touch books that he had read and to see his signature inscribed in the front of each book. One book even had an entire page of linguistic notes stuck in the back, while another (the catalog example I mentioned) had three pages of notes.

Out of respect for the Tolkien Estate, I shall not post any images of the books themselves.

We then explored the rest of their library. We spent most of the remainder of our time on the second floor, where they house the 20th century authors. The library has a fairly unique organization system in which they have works divided by time period and then alphabetically by author. According to Ms. Usher, it has always worked well for them.