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.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Sydney Hicks showed half our our class around this venerable institution.

The Bodleian Library is just over 400 years old. It was founded in 1602 by Sir Thomas Bodley, whose vision was to serve the republic of the learned - scholars everywhere, not just those who were at Oxford. His vision is still being implemented: of the 50,000 registered readers that they receive each year, more than 5% come from outside of the United Kingdom. It is a reference only library that includes nine dependent libraries spread throughout Oxford. They have two and a half thousand reader's places in those libraries and receive 4.5 million download requests from their electronic resources. In summary, they are a rather well-used institution.

Their long-term goal is to digitize everything, as digitization offers tremendous advantages for conservation, access, and searchability. Mr. Hicks stressed that the authentic artifacts are what makes them a library, however. They opened the library with 2,000 books; now they have over nine million. They also have one and a quarter million maps, including tapestry maps and even a drinking map that was published by the Temperance Society. Their libraries house one and a half million pamphlet-type resources, 30 million pieces of printed music, and 10,000 medieval manuscripts. Like the British Library, the Bodleian Library is a library of legal deposit - that is, they are entitled to a free copy of anything published in this country.

Mr. Hicks entertained us with some Harry Potter related trivia. The library naturally has many copies of the Harry Potter books in multiple languages. They even have the Latin translation of at least the first two of the series. It was apparently difficult to translate these books into what used to be the "universal language of academia" because of modern words like 'car'. The hall in which we began our tour had been used in one of the films as the infirmary (and nearby Christ Church was used as a model for the great hall).

We were also told about the school and the architecture of the room. The motto of Oxford (translated from Latin) is "The Lord is my light." The Divinity School is the core and oldest part of the building (around the 1470's). The plan was modified to add a library when they received a gift of 300 manuscripts from Duke Humphrey. Mr. Hicks pointed out the various carvings on the ceiling, which include initials, heraldry, divine symbols, the paganistic Green Man, the wheat sheaves of the Kemp family repeated over and over again, and Mary and child. The last symbol is rare to find in Oxford because of the destruction of such "Catholic" symbols during Reformation times. The library also suffered greatly from the Restoration. By about 1550, the library was mostly destroyed. Statues, stained glass windows, the crucifix, and even St. Peter's head were removed.

We then progressed into Convocation House, which was the meeting room for the institution's governing body. (Convocation consists of everyone who obtains a degree, and it is the responsibility of Convocation - meaning Great Congregation - to elect the chancellor. The chancellor serves as a national ambassador for the institution, while his vice chancellor conducts more every day affairs.) We were also told that many, including Nelson Mandela, had received honorary degrees in this room.

Finally we went upstairs to the library itself. It is second in size nationally only to the British Library. They acquire new materials through both purchases and donations and receive around three thousands new books a week in addition to periodicals. The library had beautifully painted arches and ceiling panels. Formerly the books were chained to the lecterns, but when many of the original manuscripts were decided to be "too Catholic", nearly all the books in Humphrey's collection were destroyed (bits and pieces of the books were given to tradesmen to use in their day to day work). Bodley had to nearly refound the library. He had been a student at Oxford as well as an ambassador for Queen Elizabeth, and he had travelled throughout Europe and learned many languages. Between the fortunes of himself and his wife, he had a considerable amount of wealth, and being a man of vision, he offered to repair the library. The ceiling was panelled with the University's coat of arms, and he provided bookcases for the 2,000 original books, which were mostly in the academic languages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, but also in modern languages because he wanted it to be a global library. In fact, the very first book was in Portuguese. Bodley had a catalog printed and distributed throughout Europe to encourage other scholars to visit. The books were chained because it encouraged benefactors to donate to what could clearly be seen as a permanent, premise-only collection. By 1610 the library had grown so much that it needed an extension, which was completed in 1612.

They did not remove the chains from the books until the mid-1700's. We were told an amusing story about King Charles I - he was staying at Christ College and wanted a book sent to him there, but he received a copy of the rule book instead. They were quite firm about their no books off the premises policy.

Many of their special collections require handling by gloves and the close attention of librarians and trained specialists. The Bodleian has an Egyptian marriage certificate on papyrus from 527 B.C., the Gutenberg bible, the Magna Carta, Paradise Lost...thousands upon thousands of irreplaceable documents.

Librarians are the ones who actually retrieve the books. With over 200 kilometers of occupied shelving, storage is a necessity. The New Bodleian opened before World War II, and its center, an eleven story book stack, holds five million books. Underground conveyor belts and courier vans bring books from the storage facilities to the readers. They make the scholarly books more accessible and store less used works like children's books and fiction, which go into a facility they call Deep Store out in the country.

While we were standing in the Arts end of the library, Mr. Hicks returned once again to digitization. Although he is in favor of it, he feels it will never replace the actual book. For example, the library has a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio from 1623. They can tell by the wear and tear on the book which plays - and which scenes of which plays - were the most popular. According to their copy, the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet is the most popular, Julius Caesar the second most popular play, and Macbeth the fifth.

Some of the digitalized material can be found at

They are currently planning to build a new depository that will house 8.25 million books. It will have temperature and humidity control and robotic arms that get books (cased in boxes) off the shelves. It will not have any oxygen, which will prevent both fire and infestation. Construction has been delayed, however, because they worry about the building site being on a flood plain.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

National Maritime Museum

This morning my class took a boat on the Thames to Greenwich, where we visited the National Maritime Museum. Hannah Dunmow, the archive and manuscripts manager, gave us a tour of the Caird Library. The museum opened in 1937, and the library was an original part of the museum. It is called the Caird Library because it was founded and funded by Sir James Caird (d. 1954), who acquired the core of their collections. They also had aid from the Society of Nautical Research. Their library still has the original beautiful oak bookcases and tables.

This library is the largest research library of maritime history, and it contains information on such diverse subjects as immigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, shipping business, biographies, the Merchant and Royal Navies, and family histories. Some of their most popular resources include many Lloyd's resources (such as captains' registers, register of shipping, registry of yachts, and daily newspaper) as well as Master's lists, the Mercantile Registry, and alphabetical lists of naval officers. They house over 100,000 books dating from around 1850 onward, and 20,000 pamphlets (with 200 current titles), and 8,000 rare books from 1474 to 1850. The books from before 1850 are classified as rare and require a special request to see them. There are timed retrievals to collect the manuscripts, and anyone wanting an item from their stores (not on site) needs to give them a two week notice. They keep their most used items on site.

Anyone over 16 can visit and register for a reader's ticket. They simply have to show a piece of ID and accept the terms. Their catalog is online, so most people know what it is they want before they come in to the library. The manuscripts are currently in the same catalog, but they are working on separating them from the main library catalog for easier searching.

The library receives three to four thousand visits per year. However, the reception desk, the e-library, and the electronic resources available on computers near the desk receive between fifteen and eighteen thousand visits a year. Two thousand library items a year are retrieved for people, and five thousand manuscripts are also retrieved a year.

The library is stocked by professional librarians and archivists as well as one or two specialists (such as someone who specializes in hydrography, or charts of the ocean). The staff works together to provide service to their patrons both on site and other (e-mail, telephone, and post enquiries). They have six full time employees on the archive staff (four for manuscripts, one curator, and one hydrographist), three specialist librarians, two information assistants, and one information specialist. A separate department off site is in charge of their prints and drawings section. This section is not open access, although it is accessible by appointment. They are currently restoring and developing a wing of the museum that will have environmentally controlled storage as well as another reading room. This will be done around 2012.

Renee and Mike then showed us a wide variety of rare books and manuscripts. Some of the items we were shown by Renee were a book bound with Dutch Flowered papers (actually made in Germany and Italy and printed from woodblocks and metal plates), a journal accounting the second Dutch voyage to the East Indies in 1598-1600 (a first edition copy of a book that went through several editions and translations), a likely fictionalized account of a sailor punished by being marooned (but interesting because books on this subject are rare), the transcripts of the trial of Captain William Kidd, a medical manual used aboard the HMS Bounty, a sea grammar by John Smith, and a Lascar dictionary. Mike showed us various letters, including one concerning Sir Francis Drake, a beautifully illustrated (with watercolor) and partially type-written journal (one of a set of 21) by Royal Naval surgeon Dr. Edward Hodges Cree, and an atlas used by pirates. It was a very wonderful display, and both Renee and Mike were very informative, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about their work.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

National Art Library

This national library is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Francis Warrel, who does access and acquisitions work, began our tour of the library. There are two public rooms of the library, and one is a silent reading room. Each room has a galley running along the top of it. Through the reading room is a room housing the computers (which have the library catalogs as well as a database of museum objects) and the main counter service. Usually two or three staff members man the counter. They also supervise the special collection items. That room also houses copiers and a camera scan which is used for books dated before 1930 and journals before 1900 (materials that are too delicate to be placed in a copier).

A reader can register for three years or three months. Anyone wishing to access special collections needs a reference. Otherwise, ID like a passport will suffice.

Next we were shown into the Marshalling Area (a closed access area). The retrieval team leader is stationed there; the library staff members retrieve books for readers every hour on the half hour. The requests have to be made on triplicate slips, and each reader has a seat number to which a slip is delivered when the items are ready to be picked up at the desk. Their system has been in place since 1899, which was when the library moved to its present location. Members of staff can borrow up to 20 items for three months, but those items must remain in the building.

We followed our guide up the stairs to the periodicals stacks. They have 8,000 titles of periodicals, 2,000 of which are still current. They are mainly hard copies that were bound for preservation and security, but they recently stopped binding a large proportion of them for a couple of reasons. Some of their periodicals are used in exhibitions, and also budget restraints have led them to restrict the number of periodicals that they choose to bind. The oldest periodicals in their collection date back to the Victorian era.

We then went to the second floor mezzanine. Ms. Warrel explained that this all used to be one big gallery, but now it is used for storage. Locked cupboards in this area contain some of the special collections. There are twenty sets of keys that correspond with the cupboards, which contain medieval manuscripts, early examples of printing from the 15th and 16th centuries, artists' books, and correspondence. These cupboards also house the John Forster collection. Forster was a friend of Dickens as well as a critic and historian who donated his collection (which includes some of Shakespeare's first folios and original proofs of most of Dickens' novels) to them.

The museum was founded in 1857 after the Great Exhibition of 1851. The library itself was founded in 1837 at Sommerset House, where it was part of a school of design, so most of its collection was then trade-based. It relocated to the museum, where it continued to expand its collection.

There is a third room like the two main rooms, but this room is mainly storage. It will be made into a 20th century gallery space in about seven years. The top part of this room still houses books, among them much material from 1899, when the library was in its first stages. This part is also one of the few places where the collection is grouped by subject. They've utilized their space so well that even the boiler cupboards house books. (They also store less requested materials in the crypt area under the museum.)

When a member of our class asked about restoration, we were told that this library sadly does not have a restoration budget, so only key items are restored.

We were then taken into another staff area, which contained a small staff library, the offsite access section, and the cataloging section. They have a large back log of items to be catalogued, but these items can be retrieved as soon as they are acquired. She also showed us where acquisitions come in, which is also where they store gift materials and items from exchange programs that they have with other institutions that still need to be processed.

On the third floor is where they store more of their special collections. They have 18th century exhibition and sale catalogs, both the main ones from Britain and also from abroad, organized by country, gallery, and year (although later ones have been organized by size instead). Sixty percent of these are in a foreign language, mainly German, French, Chinese, or Japanese.

Next, another woman named Jennie Farmer let us look at some of the books from different parts of their collection. She showed us a journal penned and illustrated by Henry Cole, the first director of the museum, to demonstrate their efforts to preserve their own institution's history. She also had laid out a universal catalog of books on art (a grand idea started by the Victorians that now seems a little ridiculous), an early printed book from around 1499, historic collections of trade literature (such as a book on elevator cars from Cleveland, Ohio), a priced sale catalog (this example was rare because someone wrote in what the lots actually went for), a book of stenciled fashion prints, and Islamic bindings (sadly the books within them were lost, but the bindings were beautiful). Also on the table were Jonathan Swift's own copies of Gulliver's Travels, a facsimile of da Vinci's sketchbooks, the corrected proof of David Copperfield, and a wide range of Artists' Books (one called 'Killing' was filled entirely with rabbit pelts; another was a folding alphabet book, another consisted of poems and illustrations about Detroit, while still another was made out of an old school desk). There is a book conservation department in the museum, but the only books that receive attention are those going on loan or those going on display. Therefore she demonstrated how they tried to preserve books in a cost-efficient manner: by putting them in phase boxes, dust jackets, envelopes, and plastic covers, and by making facsimiles of delicate items. She also showed how collections of letters were once pasted into books, but now ideally they would like to place each letter in plastic and put them into binders with each letter having its own manuscript number so that people can read single letters without touching them. Another item on display was the magazine Vogue in various forms - in bound form, as an individual magazine, and in microfiche form. It was absolutely amazing to look at and touch these items. I only wish that they could receive more funding to preserve their amazing collection.

Gulliver's Travels:

David Copperfield:

A book made out of an old desk:

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Museum of London

Jonathan Cotton, the senior curator of the prehistory section of the museum, was kind enough to speak with us about his collection and let us explore the museum.

The current building which houses the Museum of London was built in the 1960's and 1970's, so it is a fairly new building, although it is already too small. This museum deals exclusively with the history of London. The institution is part of an older series of institutions - it was put together from the Guild Hall Museum, which dates from around 1825 and was set up by the library committee of the time, and the London Museum (a private institution in the Kensington Palace dating from 1911). They came together on the present site in the mid 1970's. Since 2000, they have opened a second site called Dockland which deals with the city as a port (the earliest part of that museum starts with the Romans and goes through the sugar and slave trade and Jack the Ripper). They also have a third site, the LAARC, in which archaeological archives are stored. That building houses 5,000 sets of site records.

The Museum of London is the world's largest urban history museum. Although the museum starts its galleries with a prehistory exhibit, most people think of the city's history as dating from the Romans. Mr. Cotton thinks this is due in part to the National Curriculum, which starts with the invaders and settlers (the Romans, Saxons, and Vikings) and leaves out prehistory.

Mr. Cotton explained how they try to customize the museum to fit the visitor demographic. The museum receives 400,000 visitors a year. Fifty percent of those are Londoners and schoolchildren, 10% are British non-Londoners, and 40% are foreign tourists, the majority of which are from English-speaking nations (former British colonies). For this reason (in addition to saving space and wanting to have less text), there is no non-English labeling or panels in the museum. He also explained that there are three reasons that most people visit the museum. The first are those who want to learn about 19th century or Victorian London. The second are those who are studying Tudor and Stuart London (16th and 17th century), and the third are those interested in Roman Londinium.

Since no one usually comes to the museum thinking about prehistory, they did a survey asking people what prehistory means. Thirty percent answered 'dinosaurs'. Others thought of the Flintstones or the Anglo-Saxons. Only five percent said the answer that they were looking for - that prehistory was the time before written records. (That makes prehistory a relative term. In Britain, prehistory is before the Romans, whereas in Australia, it would be before the arrival of Captain Cook.) Mr. Cotton wanted visitors to his gallery to think of prehistoric people as adaptable, sensitive, and ingenious people. They don't have any preserved bodies, but they do have a couple of skeletons, so to recreate the people, they had to look at objects instead. Mr. Cotton showed us the example of a clay pot decorated with thumbnail prints from around 3000 B.C. that was found in the Thames river. In holes in the neck of the pot, they found imprints of the tip of a finger and nail. It was likely the little finger of a woman, as women were responsible for pottery in many early societies, and her nails were very well kept. Unlike our traditional mental picture of prehistoric people as short, squatting types, Mr. Cotton believes they were more likely tall, wiry, and muscular - about our size, but perhaps slightly differently proportioned. He said that stunted growth was much more likely in the horrid workshop conditions of the Victorian era.

Mr. Cotton also discussed the power of place and landscape to move and effect humans. He showed a photograph of a huge man-made earth mound that makes a major statement in the landscape and was obviously sacred. He mentioned the problems with sites like Stonehenge and Seahenge (a circle of wooden posts in the water surrounding an upturned oak tree in the middle) - many people still see these sites as sacred and are not very keen on archaeologists trying to preserve or excavate those sites. Even excavating only reveals the mechanics of how the sites were created, not the reasons why they were made. Of course, many historic sites that have been excavated can't be on display in the Museum because they are currently under office buildings. This is true of the Rose Theatre.

The obvious London landmark is the Thames River, which was most likely a sacred river. They have dredged up all kinds of materials that have been thrown into it, most likely as funerary rites but perhaps for other reasons. People have once again began throwing things into the river in recent years - they have found Hindu deities and other religious icons in the waters (perhaps local Hindus are using the river as a substitute for the Ganges).

Mr. Cotton then told us of the changes that his prehistory gallery had undergone. Starting in the 1970's, they displayed flint tools, a section of recreated architecture, and sections on the Thames. They redid the exhibit in 1994 to put more focus on the people who lived during that time. A panel confronting misconceptions of prehistoric people dominated the exhibit. The exhibit had quite a lot of text as well as full-on displays that evoked a spot like an entrance to a roundhouse. It was also more hands-on, allowing visitors to touch some objects. In 2002, two new galleries were commissioned. One was the World City gallery (Victorian), and the other was the London before London gallery (prehistory). He and the other curators had to work with the designers that they had hired (retail designers, oddly enough) to create the space. They decided to predominately cover four messages: climate, the river, people, and legacy. Mr. Cotton said that it was at first problematic to work around the straight lines that the architects wanted, but they ended up liking the effect. They have a landscape external wall, freestanding plinths that tell the architectural story, and a river wall on the other side, which is what they feel people are most likely to remember. It displays objects that have been dredged out of the Thames River. For the landscape wall, they tried to recreate what people might have been thinking by delving into creation myths. They have samples of texts and poetry on the walls in addition to objects (more than one by Mr. Cotton himself). Mr. Cotton says that the text has drawn mixed reactions from visitors. Some like the poems, while others think that they are pretentious.

It was very enjoyable to look around the prehistory section of the museum and see some of the things that he had discussed. I think it would be very hard to organize and display a collection with such a magnitude of historical significance. They seem to have managed very effectively. I also explored the other open areas of the museum - Romans, Medieval, and the London Fire. The exhibits were supplemented in many places by room recreations, audio sound clips, and videos, which I found enhanced the galleries.

Old Roman wall right outside the Museum:

Thursday, 10 July 2008

British Library Archives

July 10, 2008

Our class was fortunate enough to go back to the British Library to tour the Archives. On our way in to their working area, we passed exhibitions on how they cleaned and restored materials. Our tour guides pointed out how the structure of their work room aided in their work: the skylights provided natural lighting, which is very important to the restoration process.

A few of the workers explained to the group the projects on which they were working. One had a collection of newspapers that had been bound together as a book, but the boards were broken and the pages were very acidic. She cut the binding and sewing away, dry cleaned the pages with a smoke sponge, washed the pages in warm water to wash out acids and dirt (I was amazed to hear that paper could be washed, but they said it was possible as long as the inks were oil-based), added alkaline to buffer and stabilize the paper, sized the pages, and strengthened the edges with thin Japanese paper (Japanese paper is long-fibered and very strong). All in all, a very time-consuming process. Other conservationists explained the importance of exactly matching the strength of the paper. They also emphasized that what they were doing was minimal intervention: binding, strengthening, incorporating cloth in endpapers, and many other things that increase the life of the book. They are careful to document their work through pictures so that they can piece it back together as close to the original as possible.

We were taken past the room where they do gold leaf finishing, but as no one was working that day, we were unable to see the process.

Conservationism sounds like a very tedious but most rewarding job.

The Barbican Library

July 10, 2008
This was the first public library that we visited - and likely the only public library that we will visit as a class. The library is in the Barbican Centre, so they sometimes have problems with noise from the Centre disturbing their patrons. They try to make the best of it, though.

As the Barbican is an arts centre, they have done their best to incorporate the arts into their library. They have art exhibitions on display at the library entrance which is apparently very popular, as applicants face a two year waiting list to exhibit their art.

All of the employees that we met were very kind and good humored. Amanda Owens gave us a tour of the Children's Library, which is at the end of the Adult library. On our way there, we passed the Enquiry desk. We were told that they now have a self-issue service featuring RDIF technology. The gentleman said that it worked fairly well for books but not as well for electronic media.

The children's library was brightly decorated in primary colors. They had small stairs for sitting on, beanbag chairs for story time, and books alphabetically arranged in boxes on the floor for easy access. The children's library employs two full time and six part time employees. Since they're at the end of the adult library, they don't worry too much about being noisy. They have 24,000 items in stock, and 15,500 of those items are actually on the shelves. The others are in the basement. They cater from birth to age 14, and they progress from board books to picture books, under fives, first readers, stories 5+, 10+, and young teenage (12+). The young adult section is just outside the door in the adult section. They also have nonfiction and a small reference area. They recently shortened the shelving to help with both the lighting and with reachability.

She also showed us their audiovisual collection. They have books on CD and cassette (which they are phasing out), but they also have playaways, which are like MP3 players. They are fairly new, but they've been getting positive feedback about them.

There are no age restrictions on cards - they are available from birth. The books can be checked out for three weeks, although other items like CDs and DVDs are one week loans. Anything in the actual children's section is free. Children do not have to pay fines, but an adult who checks out a children's book on an adult ticket and does not return it on time would have to pay a fine. Children can check out up to eight books on their ticket.

This library hosts class visits from local schools. They also give out bulk loans of 40 books each to schools. Between three and four schools are frequent visitors, and they also receive visits from local nurseries and playgroups. In addition to books, they also have toys for little kids, and their storytimes include singing for younger children. Their programs enable area mothers to meet and talk together. They also have an outreach program, in which they send a librarian to an organization with staffing problems. One of the librarians also hosts reading groups for older children once a week for about 45 minutes. She has about 8 children between the ages of 10-14 that regularly attend. Their group shadows the Carnegie Medal and reads books that are short-listed for the award. Between all of their visits, they maintain a pretty fixed schedule.

In addition to their visits and groups, they also have a regular Saturday event, which could be anything from crafts to puppets to author visits. They last about an hour. They also hold Children's Book Week the first full week of October, during which they have a program of events, and World Book Day, which is the first Thursday in March.

Ms. Owens also discussed Book Start, which is a government funded initiative that strives to give every child in the country three packs of free books before the age of five. The first pack is given to children between the ages of 0-18 months (2 free books, a rhyme sheet, and booklets for parents), the second to children between 18-30 months (coloring books and crayons are included), and the third (a treasure chest with two picture books, coloring pencils, and a pencil sharpener) to those 36-48 months. The local libraries are responsible for distributing them. According to Ms. Owens, their library doesn't have very many babies in their area - only about 50 babies a year are born in London. They also have the Reading is Fundamental program, which is sponsored by Starbucks. Parents can choose a free book for their child after the event.

Like all children's libraries, they also have a summer reading program. Children read six books over the summer, and they are rewarded by going to the Mansion House for a ceremony at the end of the summer. This year's theme is sports because of the Olympics.

Ms. Owens believes that her library has an adequate budget for their population. We were told that the patrons of this library could also use the three branch libraries in the city of London with their card. Anyone who lives, works, or studies in their burrough can join, although the majority are those who work in London, as only eight or nine thousand people actually live in the city.

After they provided us with tea and biscuits (very polite of them, not to mention delicious), Liz Wells gave us a tour of the music library. It is one of the two largest public music libraries in London. As Barbican is an arts centre, the library decided to try and focus on developing a strong arts collection. They did not have much of a music library when they moved to the Barbican in the 1980's, so they had to build their collection from scratch. Therefore, their strengths lie in modern publications. Many of their patrons are students from the Guild Hall School of Music and Drama, which is also in the Barbican. They try to provide both academic materials as well as basic materials for casual users.

They have a very substantial CD collection - over sixteen and a half thousand CDs covering as wide a range of music as possible and organized by genre. The genres include classical, jazz, pop, film, country, and world. In addition to genre organization, they are more specifically organized by composer, performer/group, and male and female performers. They use this simple classification system to prevent genre arguments with their patrons. They add 60 or 70 CDs each month, and they have to continuously weed their collection to make space. Ms. Wells stressed that it was a living collection, not an archive. It costs 40 pence to borrow a CD for one week and £2.75 for a DVD. It is much harder for them to get people to check out DVDs, and the librarians want them to lower the rates, especially since they are more expensive than online rentals. There has also been a drop off in the number of CD loans due to the other ways of getting music that have developed in recent years.

Ms. Wells also showed us some of the online resources available for her musical patrons. Whomever has a library card can access these resources wherever they are. The listening materials available on Naxos Music Library doubles their collection, and Oxford Music Online gives patrons access to the twenty volumes of the Grove Dictionary of Music in a much more searchable format than its text counterpart (which the library also owns). Ms. Wells is hoping to add more online resources in the future, as they seem to be very popular.

The text part of the library contains periodicals, conducting resources, musicals and libretti, sacred music, pop and rock music, composer biographies, and many other resources. The resources are classified by Dewey, and they recently jumped from Dewey 18 to Dewey 22, making them change all of their catalog entries and spine labels. They also have an electric piano. Its intended use was for people to try a piece of music before they checked it out, but many patrons use it for daily practice, so much so that they have to have a booking system.

The two qualified music librarians on staff do most of the stock selection, and they use many of the journals in their collection to help them. They also rely on other staff to fill gaps in interest as well as comments from customers.

In addition to their other resources, they have 15,000 printed scores in their collection. Unlike the CD collection, they hang on to less popular items, as there are few collections of printed music, and much of the music is out of print and would be hard to replace. The printed music scores are not catalogued according to Dewey. Instead, they use a scheme designed by McColvin and Reeves in the 1930's and classify it according to how it is performed. The vocal music section begins with scores for one voice and progresses to duets, trios, choral, and eventually opera. The instrumental music has a section for each instrument and then progresses to chamber and orchestral scores. The library does not buy orchestral parts or multiple sets for choirs, however, but they can acquire them for patrons through their organization of music librarians. All of their scores are hardbound to make them more durable: even though it is expensive, it greatly extends the life of the score.

Amazingly, they have indexed all of the songs in their anthology volumes, and this index is available on their website. Other libraries also use their index of over 60,000 entries. Ms. Wells also said that they have to do quite a lot of original cataloging for their collection.

In addition to their text resources, the library also has listening booths. A patron does not have to pay for them, but he or she does have to surrender a piece of ID in order to get headphones (the headphones are expensive). There are six CD booths, one for cassettes, and one for LPs. They still have some LPs due to a project in the UK that was started in the 1970's. They wanted there to be a networked archive - an interlending system for recordings - but it has since broken down due to staffing and other issues. This library was responsible for classical composers C-D, jazz performers P-R, and folk music from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

Although we weren't scheduled to tour the main lending library, Jonathan Gibbs from IT kindly offered to give us a quick run-down. They have a computer area that they limit to one hour per day with one renewal to prevent people from running businesses from the library. He showed us their DVD collection and explained how they were gradually phasing out VHS tapes. He also talked about the architecture and how they had to work around the lift pillars, the poor lighting, and the noise from the Centre. They do have some of their fiction section by genre, but most of it is organized by author A-Z.

Mr. Gibbs was also nice enough to demonstrate their new RDIF system. They don't have the system installed in the cards, but they do have the barcode information in each book. The self checkout has an RDIF reader in it that will check each book out as it is stacked on a counter (it even reads through other books). Adults can check out 12 items each. Interestingly, you have to use your library card to return the books (apparently book drops are a terrorist threat).

Mr. Gibbs showing off their new technology:

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The British Library

  • Kevin and Professor Welsh in front of a giant atlas
July 8, 2008

As we waited for our tour guide to arrive, our class was able to look at "Turning the Pages", a rather large digital touch screen that allows people to look at old and valuable manuscripts without compromising them. In addition to being able to turn the pages with one's finger, one can also zoom in and out and rotate the book to examine it from a different angle. I was able to look at William Blake's journal. His sketches were amazing.

Our tour guide was Kevin, a donations officer who has been working at the British Library for 25 years. The library building that we were in had just turned 10 years old. It is a working library that also happens to include exhibitions and gift shops. Altogether, they have around 2,300 staff. Kevin said that the library had three legal obligations: to acquire the entire national bibliographic output within one month of publication; to keep that archive forever; and to make that collection available to all. Their professional obligation is to compile a national bibliography, among other things.

Kevin explained how the library building itself was structured to protect the millions of valuable books and other stock. They store the collection over 75 feet below the forecourt, and there are smoke ventilators that can be broken in case of a fire. They have over 35 million items down there.

He also told us how the current library came to be. Up until 1961, the British Museum was the custodian of the National Collection, but then it was decided to separate the artifacts from the book collection. In 1973, land was purchased from the British Railways, and a separate organization called the British Library was created. Around 1980, all of the records came under one roof, and the library officially opened on June 25, 1998 after what Kevin called the largest move in history.

Kevin led us past busts of the library's "founding fathers", one of which was Sir Hans Sloane. Although Sloane was many things (a traveller and an academic, among others), he is probably best known for bringing chocolate to the Western hemisphere. He was also a collector of books, and he wanted knowledge to be shared, so he shared his library and left his collection to the nation. The government acquired Montagu House for his books in 1753 (which is now the British Museum). The other busts represent men who had also donated large collections. He also pointed out the decorative tapestry on one of the side walls. This massive work weighs 220 pounds and had to be attached with industrial strength Velcro. In addition to its aesthetic function, the tapestry also has a practical function - it absorbs some of the sound that echoes around the front entrance.

Our next stop was a quick look at the Library's Philatelic Collection, which consists of many rare and valuable stamps - over 8 million items. The most valuable stamp in their collection is a Victorian Stamp. It was a commemorative stamp for a party in 1847, but it was printed with incorrect wording, so it was withdrawn. There are only 14 in existence, and this library has two of them.

We also looked at a model of the library. Kevin pointed out its boatlike shape (the architect had been in the Royal Navy in the second World War), and he showed us where the books were stored underground in a cut-out cross-section. He also told us about the water management system, as water is far more dangerous to books than fire - water causes rot. They have industrial freezers in warehouses as a contingency plan in case the books get wet.

Only about 60% of the collection is actually in London. There are a total of 170 million items, which equates to about 800 miles of shelving, and it grows eight miles a year. Despite these enormous numbers, it still isn't the largest lending library in the world. That honor belongs to Moscow. The Library of Congress is the second largest, and this library is the third.

Due to the location of the stacks, there is no shelf browsing, and their integrated catalog is not subject indexed. Instead, a patron or "reader" fills out a paper-free application and goes through an interview, where a physical check of the person's identification documents is performed. Then they present the person with a pass (also called a 'ticket' or 'card'), which grants them access to all material and reading rooms. The interviewer also asks the person what he or she is researching so that they can guide them to the appropriate place. Even though the books are not arranged by subject and are not subject indexed, the reading rooms are arranged by subject so that patrons can receive assistance from specialized reference librarians. As Kevin wittily said, in the British Library there are eight steps to get to the books (but only seven steps to get to Heaven in traditional Catholicism).

After a person has requested his or her books, the machine prints two tickets to verify the requests. People with trolleys down in the basements collect the books that correspond to the tickets. When they remove a book from the shelf, they replace it with the corresponding ticket in an orange jacket. The other ticket goes in the book. They have a national standard that holds them to deliver the books within an hour and ten minutes of its being requested (and a person can request up to ten items). Through bar code scans, the automated system monitors every book off the shelves. A worker scans the basket and the code for the location of the reader, and the machine rolls it out to wherever the reader is. All told, there are four systems working together to get the books to the readers. It is quite an amazing system.

The British Library uses the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules and cooperates with the Library of Congress, as English is, after all, a very popular language. However, since "Americans can't spell", the spelling differences have to be taken into account in the catalog. (Poor, poor letter 'u'. I should probably type 'catalogue' instead.) Unlike most libraries, they use the size classification system to maximize space. They use a grid reference (building, location, floor, and quadrant) to locate their books.

After the publisher sends them a new item, they put a minimum of three dye stamps in each monograph and double check the books they receive against the list of books that have been published. Kevin said that publishers are usually very good about sending books, but sometimes they do get lost in the post. The book then goes off to cataloging. If they think the book can be categorized as "high usage", then the book will be placed in the London collection. If not, it goes to Yorkshire or elsewhere. A patron or reader cannot take books out of this library, although they can copy some pages within copyright.

Despite being the national library of Britain, they do have a foreign language section - 35% of their users are overseas researchers, making it the most popular national library in the world. They even have curators who speak most languages.

Next we stopped by King George III's personal collection: 90,000 volumes displayed in a glass tower of books. He left in his will that the collection had to be on display and that it had to be used.

Up the lift, we encountered a book the size of a table - the Klencke Atlas (1660), one of the biggest books in the world. Kevin used this book as an example to tell us about conservation. They strive for minimal intervention, as covers also tell a story. He explained that after someone purchased a book, they then had to go to a binder, and the binding would be whatever quality they could pay for (as this atlas belonged to the King, it was very fine indeed).

Kevin also discussed the digital aspect of librarianship. He speculated that 40% of published material would be digital in 2020. At the British Library, 75,000 pages are digitalized each day. However, although publishers are good about sending monographs, they have a problem with digital files, as they are worried about their copyright. How can they ensure that only one person is reading their digital file at a time? There are also, of course, issues of changing formats.

The British Library has a budget of 120 million pounds a year. They receive 100 million from the government and generate the rest by selling their catalog, through their inter-library lending service, and through licensing. They spend quite a lot of their budget on people and service. Some of the money is also naturally spent on preservation. This is particularly a pressing issue now, as in the 18th century publishers switched to using wood pulp, which rots.

Our tour ended in an exhibition room which displayed many wondrous ancient texts beneath glass - I saw Shakespeare's first folio, Beowulf, the Codex Sinaticus (a 1700 year old Greek New Testament), the Gutenberg bible, religious texts from many of the world's faiths, the Magna Carta, works penned by the hands of Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath, original scores of Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and the was beyond words, standing next to the actual works that have shaped the centuries.