Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Walter Hines Page Memorial Library

It turned out that the Walter Hines Page Memorial Library is now located in three rooms in the basement of the English Speaking Union, which, at first glance, seemed to be some sort of business gentleman’s club, of the kind that Eliot spent so much time in after he separated from his first wife. I was looked at strangely by the doorman, who called the librarian, and then was shown through the opulent lobby, across the courtyard, to the offices, and down the stairs to the library, to find Gill the librarian, who filled me in on Books Across the Sea and the Page library.

Books Across the Sea, or BAS, was founded by Mrs. Beatrice Warde, a graduate of Barnard College and an American ex-pat who was living in London in 1941 during Goebbels mis-informative propaganda campaign which fostered a great lack of understanding on both sides of the Atlantic, between the UK and the US. She was first involved with the American Outpost in Great Britain, and used their resources to make connections in the US and to begin a transfer of books between the countries in order to promote better relations and greater clarity. The BAS flourished during the war with Eliot as its president, and he worked hard even after the war to “maintain the spirit of co-operation” that had been so newly founded. In 1948, the BAS organizations merged with the English Speaking Union chapters in London and New York, and libraries to house the BAS books were built under the purview of each organization. That is how the Page library was founded.

What I found, however, was a collection of outdated books that formed a kind of caricature of the United States that is hardly ever utilized, according to the one part-time librarian who works there with help only from a septuagenarian volunteer. I called ahead of time to announce my visit, so Gill had already gone through the papers in the archives—which, she told me, she had rescued from the moldy sub-basement beneath our feet—to find the most pertinent files. I have to say that this library was the most like the libraries with which I am familiar; highly disorganized and highly underfunded, but not for lack of love on the part of the librarian or librarians staffing the facility. I was able to find more information about Eliot’s involvement with the organization, as well as some information about BAS itself and a speech that Eliot gave that has probably not been re-printed anywhere else. Gill is graciously going to post copies of these materials to me back at home.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

King's College, Cambridge

I found out about the Hayward Bequest while perusing another bibliography. Eliot set J. D. Hayward to the task of collecting his correspondence and organizing it, and the personal correspondence between these two friends was made available in the archives in 2000. I thought that there could be no better way to get to know Eliot and the subjects closest to him than to review the materials in this archive. There was, and still is, a catch. One must obtain permission from Mrs. Eliot, via a contact at Faber and Faber, to make copies of any materials that were penned by Mr. Eliot himself. I set about to obtain this permission, but I also went ahead and planned my trip to Cambridge, when, after talking with one of the archivists there, I found that copies could not be made on-site immediately anyway, and would have to be shipped later.
My trip to King’s was an incredibly pleasant adventure. The staff there arranged for me to stay at the King’s Porter Hostel directly across the street from the entrance to the college in the guest graduate quarters, which were very, very nice. They also provided internet access via a password in my room. A staff member even walked with me to the entrance to the library, which I never would have found myself, to make sure than everything was in line for my visit to the archives the next day.
I spent two days at the archives, which opened at 9am and closed at 5:15pm, with a one-hour break for lunch at one o’clock. The archives provided me with a finding aid for the Bequest, which was a much more user-friendly guide than the online finding aid. I was allowed to pull out six items at a time, and I took liberal advantage of this. The Hayward Bequest is divided into eight sections of books, writings, photographs, and miscellaneous paraphernalia that had belonged to Eliot. I was able to look at Eliot's copy of The Odyssey (in Greek, of course), his cancelled passport, and the guidebook that he brought from the States on his first visit to London, when he was still at Harvard. They even have an envelope containing two onionskin sheets with his handprints on them! To be able to place my hands in his handprints was incredible.
I also had the privilege of meeting another Eliot scholar while I was there, one who was also utilizing the Hayward Bequest in order to re-punctuate Eliot’s poems for an upcoming volume. Mr. M and I were able to talk about Eliot over tea, and he, being a fellow of Magdalene college and a very nice man, showed me parts of campus that were off limits to all but fellows of the university, including the Trinity College green. He took me to the old library at Magdalene College, where they have another collection of incredible Eliot documents, including the scratch-pads upon which he first wrote what would be “Little Gidding” and the certificate that he received when he won the Nobel Prize. Thanks are not enough praise for the amazing experience that this kind scholar was able to provide for me while I was visiting.
The visit was quite fruitful, as I was able to better pinpoint my focus of research to the extensive work that Eliot did with libraries. In addition to eventually being a fellow of the Library of Congress, invited by Archibald MacLeish himself, Eliot worked extensively as the president of an organization called Books Across the Sea, which I had never heard of, until I read a speech that was included in the collection, which was given by Eliot upon the occasion of the opening of the Walter Hines Page Memorial Library. I set out, from there, to find this library, and to find out more about Eliot and his involvement with Books Across the Sea.

Monday, 28 July 2008

TSE visits to the British Library

I had specific goals in mind for my visits to the British Library. I had chosen T. S. Eliot for my research subject, and I wanted to review the materials that they had about Mr. Eliot that were unique to that library, my reasoning being that any books that they might have would also be available in the states through my home university library. We had been cautioned early on to know what we were looking for or what we wanted to see before we came to the library—not after we got there, as it would be an inefficient use of their time and space. I took advantage of my reader’s card and ordered everything I could online before my visit so, hopefully, it would be there waiting on me when I arrived.

So, with the bibliography of a biography of Eliot in hand—the Peter Ackroyd bio, acknowledged to be the most complete volume, which is a difficult undertaking, as Eliot himself set forth guidelines in his will that have made it as hard as possible for anyone to write his biography—I set out for unique documents. These were to be found in the letters of the Schiffs, close personal friends of Eliot and his first wife, and in the papers of Harriet Shaw Weaver, publisher of the journal The Egoist, and also the first to publish the slim collection titled Prufrock and Other Observations, which brought Eliot onto the London literary scene with a bang. The British Library holds the account book for this first collection, along with another little black ledger with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man written across the front. There are volumes to be written about this pioneering female publisher, and it was a wonder to get to finger through her business correspondence. They also have, in their rare books collection, a copy of that first 1917 Prufrock, and I requested and was able to thumb through that little treasure as well.

Part of the Weaver collection included her proud publisher’s clippings of all of the reviews of Prufrock when it was first released, which would be nearly impossible to find now and made quite an interesting read, as did many of her other papers. In fact, a great deal of the research that I did felt a little like voyeurism and not much like research, since I was just grasping at straws to find the direction in which I wanted to venture for my project.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

On our final official outing of the class, we began the day by making an entirely fitting visit to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. It was bittersweet to know that this would be the last of our experiences as a group, since the entire course had been such an exciting and thought provoking experience with people I grew to know and respect more and more over the course of the trip. Each individual brought their own knowledge and perspectives about everything that we learned and each place that we visited, which created an atmosphere of enthusiasm about what we were all learning that was invaluable. And at the university, we finished up as we had begun, with only our second day sitting in a lecture hall together, as a class.

David McMenemy, editor of the International Library Review and the Course Director for the library program at the University, started our day by introducing himself and the other associates from the library school and what they would be discussing. David began by giving us a short history of the University of Strathclyde and an overview of the current school statistics. Their library school is the largest postgraduate program outside of teaching. He then led a short discussion of the issues facing public libraries in the UK. There is a legal mandate here for public library services to be made available by local government authorities to the citizens of the area. The problems facing them are greater, even, than the abundance of and confusing overlapping provenances of the local authorities; the re-organization of government and, therefore, re-distribution public funding that has been brought on by the devolution of the Scottish parliament; and the general lack of money that plagues all libraries and public information centers. There is a “crisis of confidence” going on in the UK, and it could be deadly. This discussion was quite enlightening, as was our later visit to The Bridge. The de-professionalization of the business of libraries in the UK has had a deep impact on those serious practitioners, as well as having a negative impact on those who use the library and the quality of service that they receive. This is in stark contrast, of course, to the situation found in the US, where the non-professional population of librarians is being phased out and libraries are embracing, more and more, newly minted MLIS graduates.

This segued perfectly into a presentation by PhD candidate Christine Rooney-Browne, who is doing some very exciting research on public libraries. Her hypothesis is that the quantitative measures traditionally used to measure library performance—i.e. circulation statistics, door counts, and audits—are not adequate to evaluate the full social impact of libraries in the community, which cannot be measured by neat little numbers and stats. She is using established methodologies to assess this social effect of libraries and to possibly provide a way for libraries to communicate their full value. Christine is not limiting her research to libraries there in Scotland, but is also making assessments of libraries around the world, including in developing communities in Africa and in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The next two presenters were Alan Poulter and Alan Dawson, who both gave us excellent presentations on their involvement in library technology and research. Poulter presented his research on developing Forensic Readiness for Local Libraries in Scotland, or FRILLS. The idea that he presented was an excellent plan for re-working local internet access networks in public libraries so that, when the inevitable abuses of library computers for unsavory purposes occurs, such as purposeful illegal pornography download and viewing, there is a way for authorities to come in and review the offenses, as opposed to most current systems, which are wiped with each logon and logoff, and where those logins are completely anonymous. While an exciting and highly potentially valuable plan, Alan has run into problems with the difficulty and complications of implementing such systems. Dawson then gave us a presentation on the digital tools that are made available by the University of Strathclyde and explained how, without any money, they are able to maintain such complex systems of resources. In addition to their several helpful publicly searchable databases, which are maintained with a minimum of cost or space on their local servers due to their structure, including BUBL and CAIRNS, the most interesting part of their web resources are the staff and faculty pages listing their publications and links to digital copies of those publications, how those entries can be edited by their authors, and the safety precautions that have been taken with the databases to prevent any one contributor from making irrevocably uncorrectable changes.

After the University so graciously provided everyone with lunch (and with a CD-Rom of the powerpoint presentations), we were left with less time than we had originally anticipated, so we were only able to visit one additional site. The Bridge in Glasgow, however, was quite an impressive site. The Bridge is the only public library that I have ever visited that has both a theater and a pool—complete with slide. The Bridge is a community center that should revolutionize the idea of public libraries. They combined the collections of the public library and the local community college, with which the bridge is aligned, in philosophy as well as structure, to provide a one stop cultural hub for the community and which has apparently transformed the locality. Architecturally, the Bridge is very modern and very beautiful, somehow managing to combine concrete, glass, and metal with elaborate wooden accents to make an incredibly open and warm space. The community partners came together with a single-minded purpose of improving their area and worked in tandem to create this amazing place that would draw people in and get them reading.

The Bridge was truly awe-inspiring in form and purpose, and our tour guide, the coordinator of the local library system, Steven Finney, was highly enthusiastic about the project and its goals. The most interesting, and, I felt, disturbing part of the visit, was the revelation about the staffing of the libraries in the area, including the Bridge. To save money, the library hierarchies have been re-organized, so that there are only six professional librarians in charge of the fifteen local libraries. The day-to-day operations of the libraries are performed by non-professionals, and are only monitored by degreed librarians. “Money-saving” measures like this are precisely responsible for the crisis of confidence that we began the day by discussing, and it was quite disheartening to see, especially at a facility which was so obviously not under-financed such as this, and to know that this decision was made quite purposefully and without much thought to how professionally trained librarians would make more quality, informed decisions about service, selection, and management of the library and the materials contained therein.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The National Archives of Scotland

On July 21st, in the afternoon, Margaret McBride, of Education Services, gave us a powerpoint presentation introducing the National Archives of Scotland, or NAS, whose mission is “to preserve, protect and promote the nation’s records,” and “to provide the best possible inclusive and accessible archive that educates, informs and engages the people of Scotland and the world.” The archives are a government agency, maintained and staffed by about 120 civil servants and 40 archivists. They report to the Minister of Affairs and Europe, and are under the same minister as the National Collections of Scotland. The NAS is housed in three buildings in Edinburgh, which, due to the country’s small size, are able to collaborate easily with other departments in the government. These three buildings include the General Register House, which was built in 1774, the West Register House, which was acquired for use by the archives in 1971, and the Thomas Thompson House, which was completed in 1995. The latter is not open to the public and is the main storage facility of the archives, with temperature and humidity controls and a nice, open conservation space.

The conservation department of the archives is engaged in a massive digitization project, wherein they dismantle each volume of records to scan the pages individually, and then reassembles the books for perpetuity. Local archivists have the option to have their local records housed locally if they meet certain archival criteria, but otherwise all local records must be moved to the national archives within a certain period of time.

The functions of the NAS include selecting the public records, preserving the archival standards, and promoting public access. They have encountered the same problems that we have seen everywhere with digital conversion and grappling with the inconsistencies of digital preservation media, but they are working to make all of the records that they house accessible digitally. The National Archives also strive to provide advice, guidance, and support for researchers; to take the lead in development of archival practices; and to deploy the resources of the archives in an effective and efficient way. This is difficult when dealing with over 70 kilometers of records going back to the 12th century, including the Register of Sasines—the property transfer records of all of Scotland, going back to the 1600’s. They provide this access via both paper catalogs and electronic catalogs, and through the websites which are maintained by the NAS.

The archives main website, www.nas.gov.uk, acts as a portal to all of the other websites that are operated by the NAS, and provides the main web presence for the archives. It also links to the OPAC of the Archives, which is available to researchers on the internet. The Scottish Archives Network, at www.scan.org.uk, provides “internet access to the written history of Scotland,” and www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk is “the official government source for genealogical data for Scotland,” where researchers can go to search family histories. The local government recently made Scottish history compulsory for entry to the Scottish universities, and for support, the NAS runs www.scottisharchivesforschools.org.

The NAS has recently undergone extensive renovation, which we were privileged to view during our tour, as well as getting to see their on-site conservation lab. They are doing a soft launch of their new computer access to the digital records for six weeks in August and September. In order to try to find a happy medium, users will have two hours of access for free per day, and will have to pay £10 for more access during that 24-hour period. Along with this re-vamping, they have also redesigned their logo and are launching a new image database at www.scotlandsimages.com.

The National Library of Scotland

On the morning of July 21st, librarians Emma Faragheri and David McClay gave us an excellent presentation about the library’s recent acquisition of and display development for the John Murray Collection, which was offered for a mere £32.5 million—and for which payment was mostly comprised of lottery funds, public donations, and subsidies from the John Murray Foundation. Generally collections are donated to libraries, but it was very important to have this particular collection remain at home in Edinburgh, as the Murray publishing organization has been an important part of the history of the region, so they found a way to get the money.

The goals when acquiring and setting up an exhibition space for the Murray collection included making everything in the collection accessible to the public. To this end, they utilized an audience development model with the worldwide public in mind, and they set out to transform anyone into a confident researcher. The library really aimed for the information to be available to the average Joe, and they wanted to help him develop research skills and confidence skills by showing people how to do the research. The library worked with their curatorial staff, exhibition specialists, consultants, artists, and the like to develop an exhibition model and style so that these goals might be successfully implemented.

The whole range of practical issues about any display, such as lighting, space, etc., had to be negotiated with one question in mind: how can everyone understand and enjoy this? There were three concrete categories of pieces that would be displayed. First were the objects, which are usually easy to understand and are reachable to anyone on a surface level. Then there was the art, which is more difficult to grasp and generates an emotional reaction that can provide a gateway to understanding. Finally came the real focus of the exhibition—the manuscripts, which have to be read, often with great difficulty, and must be given context and illumination, even in the face of interpreting handwriting and the ideas contained therein. Other manuscript exhibits had show the staff the risks that came with such a display; these are often text and label heavy, which makes them dry and un-engaging. The National Library development group wanted an engaging exhibition that was displayed theatrically, was object rich and label poor, with information interactives, where light and shadow were used to create atmosphere, and where the robust means of display communicated the process of writing and publishing.

To this end, the team utilized market research and the government learning outcomes to create an Exhibition Goal Design, with manuscripts at the core of a circular graphic diagramming the goals of communicating the archive, the context, and the process of publishing. They felt that visitors should be able to “meet” people represented in the archive in some way, and they should be able to use the exhibition as a step toward developing a relationship with the archive.

The archive itself includes the work of 20,000 authors, collected over seven generations and about 230 years. The John Murrays brought their individual tastes to each generation of the collection, and the Murrays published people from Jane Austen to Charles Darwin. This cross section of authors is meant to be represented in the exhibition of the single most expensive (and arguably the most important) archive in the world. The National Library got to decide the theme of the exhibition and the parts of the collection that they wanted to highlight. The collection encompasses about 150,000 items that date from between 1760 and 1920, and there are about 50,000 more volumes from 1920-1950, and also includes 15,000 images that needed to be cataloged and presented, which was done by digitizing the pictures and presenting the series to complement the writing in the collection. The staff is currently about two years into a three year program of cataloging the materials up to 1920, and they may be done by next year.

The exhibition itself was excellent, involving a huge amount of interactivity, with interesting choices for lighting, sound, and humorous touches in the display. All of the programming updates are done on site using xhtml, and different authors are highlighted and displayed as the staff chooses. There was a conscious decision for everything except the manuscripts to be fabricated props, so that the authenticity of the manuscripts could be better highlighted. It was a delightful display to move through, involving interesting and thorough interactives and targeted sound choices.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Shakespeare Centre Library and Archives

Librarian Clare Maffioli introduced us to the newly refurbished Shakespeare Centre Library and Archives by beginning in the catalog room—which still contained a card catalog, as they have not had the time or the funds to move the catalog online, since the library is totally funded by visitors and private donations. This library houses two collections—the local records collection, which includes documents about the area, and the Shakespeare collection, which focuses on the man and his work. The local collection includes photographs of Stratford and documents pertaining to the history of the town. The Shakespeare collection, which is obviously the focus of the library, includes the Royal Shakespeare Company archive, early publications of his work, source materials, and criticism and commentary about Shakespeare. The RSC archive has all of the information about all of the performances of the company, as well as a comprehensive collection of prompt books, playbills, programs, videos, and photographs of the performances.

Most of the archive materials are held in strong rooms below the reading room, catalog room, and entrance to Shakespeare’s birthplace. These rooms are temperature and humidity controlled, and they provide flood protection. All of the storage is archival quality, so that the materials aren’t damaged while they are kept. Conservation is a key concern of the archive; they use weights for books, only pencils are allowed, and readers must wear gloves when perusing the material. Three thousand readers come in every year, and they get nearly 5000 inquiries via e-mail and phone yearly. The researchers that utilize their facilities include local schoolchildren doing projects on community history, people researching their family histories through the street plan and burial plot records, and local high school students who are required to do a study of Shakespeare and come in to look at reviews, illustrations, and portraits dating back to the 18th century. Many fans of the performers use the image database that they have available for use locally, and which extends well into the past. They also have a performance database that is accessibly publicly online. Finally, they have the contextual researchers, or the serious Shakespeare or theater scholars, who use the facilities and archives for primary source research.

The aim of the Shakespeare Archives is to collect a representative collection of any and all materials related to Shakespeare that will make them a unique library. The staff is made up of about 12 professionals, including library assistants and subject specialists, and they rely heavily on volunteers for things like conservation work and building databases. The collection includes about 50,000 books and thousands of archival items, all housed onsite. Librarian Jo Wilding told us that when the trust to save Shakespeare’s birthplace was founded in 1847, the intention to start a library collection was always there, and the collection began in the 1860’s.

Ms. Wilding provided the highlights of our trip to the Shakespeare Centre—an up close, open air look at one of their copies of Shakespeare’s first folio, and a trip down into strong room 3 to have a look at Lord Strange’s copy of Plutarch, a book that Shakespeare very well may have actually used for reference. The first folio was published in 1623, seven years after Billy kicked it, by his contemporaries in Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The collection included 36 plays, 18 of which had not been published as quartos. These folios were sold for £1 apiece with binding, or about 1/20th of a teacher’s yearly salary. About 750-1000 of the folios were printed, and of those, experts think that about 228 may have survived. The last one that was sold went for £2.9 million. Only 35 of the 36 plays are printed on the title page, and no two copies of the folio are identical. It took almost two years to print all of the folios because they stopped the presses over 100 times to make corrections.

Ms. Wilding also showed the group some of the 250,000 uncounted and un-catalogued photographs that are a part of the collection, as well as some of the old playbills, pre-posters and prompt books that are part of the RSC archive. The collection is organized by a unique and idiosyncratic system that would be too much trouble to change, so they have kept it that way for years, despite the confusion that it causes. The treasures that are housed in the vaults beneath the Shakespeare center are too numerous to name, and it is amazing that they have been able to do all that they do without any government funding.