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,, 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, provides “internet access to the written history of Scotland,” and 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

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

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.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Bodleian

Today we visited the historical Bodleian library, the main research library for Oxford University. Oxford is a collegiate university, which means that it is made up of the various colleges which constitute the Oxford system, and each college is nearly autonomous and almost totally independent. The University only owns the buildings that house each college. 125 libraries are part of the university system, and it has been a long and difficult process to get all of these libraries to be a part of an integrated cataloging network.

Oxford University has a long history of scholarship, going back to 750 A. D., as our excellent guide, Mr. John Cross, informed us. The university was officially founded in 1220, and all teaching was done by orders of friars, an ecclesiastical organization, until around 1400. The first college was built in Oxford in 1260, and New College was founded in the 1300’s—meaning that everything at Oxford called New College is at least 500 years old. The university was originally a school of theology, which included the arts and sciences under a common educational nominal.

The library facility there is now called Duke Humphrey’s Library, which serves as a research facility for manuscripts and early books. In 1480, Duke Humphrey donated his holdings to fill out the collection, and these books were chained to the desks and shelves. The manuscripts were displayed on the desks that were arranged throughout the reading room, which stretches around the top floor of the library building. During the Reformation, Oxford was a center of controversy (as centers of learning so often are), and when this movement split the faculty, a great deal of the collection was destroyed. Bodleian came back to Oxford and was horrified by the state of the library, so he asked for and was granted the responsibility of building “the finest research library in Great Britain.” All of the books in the library were chained and set on the shelves with the spines inward, and the contents of each bookcase were listed on the end of each shelf. Bodleian introduced the first catalog to this library, and went on to develop about 14 different types of catalogs for the materials in the library.

The old Humphrey’s library mainly contains the oldest books in the collection and is used for research purposes. We went from there into a much newer part of the library space, the IT hub of the library in the round kamera, a building which used to be the museum of natural history that is situated in front of Magdalene church on campus. The library now contains about twelve million volumes, searchable by author via an online catalog as well as by subject catalogs which are available locally. A huge part of the collection is due to the setup that Bodleian negotiated in 1610, whereby the printing guilds gave a copy of everything that they published to the library for free. This status has continued, so that the library has received a copy of everything published in Great Britain during that whole time! Unfortunately, they must be selective with what they actually keep, unlike the British Library, which has to keep everything. This leads to disastrous de-acquisition decisions, such as the decision to sell the library’s copy of one of Shakespeare’s first folios after the third edition of the folio was released, which led to decades of effort and much more money spent to re-acquire the volume.

The university constructed two sets of underground stacks in the 1890’s, and in the 1920’s had to expand again. The new library was built in 1938, and a subterranean passage, which we were lucky to get to traverse, was constructed to link the rotunda to the divinity school and the new library. Originally requests were transmitted from the libraries to the underground stacks via a series of pneumatic tubes that still exist; now, of course, these requests are transmitted via the internet, and request slips are printed out every half hour. The books themselves, however, are still transported via pulleys, carts, and chains by a system that was built with the help of the Rockefellers, also in 1938.

The library’s unique collection makes the Bodleian the renowned research facility that it remains. Their holdings include five copies of the Magna Carta, 2500 year old papyrus documents from Egypt, two copies of Shakespeare’s first folio, and countless other primary source documents, many of which cannot be retrieved any where else. And the Bodleian, like all other libraries, especially legal depository libraries, is grappling with the issue of digital publications, as well as with the book publishing boom of the past twenty years. To this end, the Bodleian is building another, newer facility on campus, to which much of their collection will be transferred.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

National Maritime Museum Caird Library and Archives

Our visit to the National Maritime Museum’s Caird Library was one that I greatly anticipated. Having just completed Dava Sobel’s Longitude, I was eager to find out whether they had some of the items that were mentioned in her book in their collection, and, after our excellent tour, I was pleasantly surprised.

Hannah Dunmow, archive and manuscripts manager for the library, gave us our introduction to the collection. The Caird Library was part of the original museum, from 1937, and was so named after Sir James Caird, who acquired the original collection. The rotunda, a central architectural focus of the library, was designed by Lutyens, and features a large golden marble bust of Sir Caird. The library also contains the oak bookcases and tables from the original library, which gives the space a warm, but airy and old feel. These essential pieces were designed by Calender and Mags and manufactured by Mssrs. Pyghlle. The library has an entry area that houses the catalog computers and a reception desk where visitors must be cleared before entering the actual collection space.

The Caird Library boasts that it is the largest research library on maritime history. Their collection focuses on information about and relating to human endeavors and the sea, including emigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, prominent people in the maritime field, and the navies of the world. They have many different books that focus on these subjects, and many unique, specified, and rare items, including Lloyd’s captain’s registers and master’s lists, which aide people in finding information about relatives who once emigrated from the UK. The complete collection contains over 100,000 books published in 1850 onward; 20,000 pamphlets which are not fully cataloged; 20,000 bound periodicals, 200 of which are kept current; and 8,000 rare books and documents from 1474-1850 that make up the special collections of the library.

The staff at Caird includes six full time archivists, three subject and materials specialists, two reference librarians, one digital services librarian, and the head of the library, all of whom are professional librarians or archivists. The employees of the library handle between three and four thousand in-person visits to the library per year, but they get between fifteen and eighteen thousand enquiries at the outside desk from all kinds of visitors to the museum. The staff retrieves about five thousand manuscripts for research and about two thousand other archival items per year. This group is also engaged in constant scholarship for and about the collection with which they work. Every month, someone on the archive team chooses a book from the collection, researches it, and presents the information to the public via a blog on the library’s website.

As a group, we were privileged to see a few very interesting items that are part of the library’s collection, including the medical reference book that was used aboard the H.M.S. Bounty, as well as a book called Sea Grammar that was written by John Smith, governor of the Virginia settlement. The latter included chapters on varied subjects, such as those titled “How to Build a Ship” (Ch. 1) and “How to Start a Fight” (Ch. 17). From the manuscripts collection we were shown a real pirate’s journal and a letter to Sir Francis Drake.

I, however, having just finished reading Longitude, and knowing that the same museum that housed John Harrison’s clocks surely must have some of the most important documents that were part of the quest for accurate navigational abilities, was eager to get my own reader’s card for the Caird library and to request a very old book from their archives—if they had it. This library allows any visitor with proper identification to view its documents and use its reading rooms; since they do not lend, they incur no risk with this procedure of openness. I checked their online catalog and found exactly what I was looking for—the 1712 Atlas coelestis.

This was the pirated book of star charts, compiled by John Flamsteed and “borrowed” by Sir Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley and published without permission. They managed to get 400 copies printed, but Flamsteed got his hands of 300 of those and burned them, as he had not had a chance to edit them himself. He later published his collected star charts on his own, but I wanted to see one of the hundred. I was hoping for an original copy, and I found not only an original, but the one that belonged to Newton himself, with his annotations in the margins! They hold it in the archives there at the Maritime Museum. Once again, I was able to touch a part of history.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The National Art Library

Librarian Francis Warrel was our guide for this very quiet tour of the National Art Library, which is a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The library was founded in the 1830’s, predating the museum, and holds over two million items. In its current incarnation, the library space features only two public rooms, the first of which is a reading room, and the second of which is the computer center, where users can search the integrated catalog of the holdings of the library. The main counter service usually has two or three people staffing it, with one specifically for the special collections. They have an inquiry desk in the room with the more popular “ready reference” items, and their computers can access the entire database of the objects in the museum. There are also study rooms located around the building for the use of students and researchers. Books from 1930 or earlier and journals from the pre-1900’s must be photographed, but most other materials can be copied.

From the marshalling area behind the scenes, the retrieval team leader makes a retrieval run every hour on the half hour to get books from the stacks for the users. Almost all of the items in the library are located in stacks that are closed to the public except for the ready reference items, which are out and arranged according to the Dewey classification system. Patrons must fill out request slips in triplicate, and patrons may only view six items at a time (staff many borrow up to 20 items), with 45 minutes to an hour allowance for retrieval time. Everyone that enters the library must take a seat number, and it is to that seat that your items are delivered. This system has been in place since 1899.

The periodicals stacks of the Art library are shelved separately from the book stacks, and are shelved by title. They boast over 8000 titles, with 2000 of those titles still currently subscribed to, and the oldest periodicals dating back to the Victorian period. The periodicals are occasionally used for exhibitions throughout the museum, when reference for a specific era or time period is needed. The museum originally bound all of the journals but stopped because of this display use and individual research use, as well as due to budget constraints.

Three floors of the closed stacks used to be the gallery hub of the library’s special collections, which span back to medieval manuscripts. The art library also has a very large collection of artist’s books and book arts from the 20th century. The library was the recipient of the collection of John Foster, who was an eminent critic and historian from the civil war period, and this collection included a Shakespeare folio as well as some original proofs of Dickens’ novels. Apparently Mr. Foster was a great fan of Dickens. The west room of the library is now being converted into a 20th century gallery of book arts and artists’ books, and they are consciously keeping the surrounding floor to ceiling shelves of books, for the aesthetic effect as well as the issue of space and storage of the volumes. The library is in the process of acquiring the Gilbert collection of book arts, which will be featured in the individual book gallery.

The third floor of the library houses the exhibition and sale catalogs which are a notable feature of this library’s collection. They have all of the auction catalogs of all of the main auction houses of Britain, dating back to the eighteenth century. The catalogs are arranged according to country, gallery, and year, and the size of the collection reflects its goals to be the largest of its kind. About 60% of the material in this part of the collection is in foreign languages, with many of the catalogs in French, German, Japanese, and Chinese.

We were also privileged to see some of the items from the library’s special collections, including some really interesting book arts items, including a red-bound book called Murder, featuring furred animal-skin pages. Some of the sales catalogs in the library’s collection are all the more interesting because they actually feature the prices that the auction lots went for, and we were able to look at an example of this. Probably the two most interesting and popular books that we were able to look at were Jonathan Swift’s own annotated copies of Gulliver’s Travels, and one of Charles Dickens’ corrected proofs of David Copperfield featuring his own notes.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Museum of London

Today we had the benefit of a presentation on the formulation and evolution of the Museum of London’s prehistory display, excellently explicated by the museum’s senior curator of prehistory, Jon Cotton. Mr. Cotton explained a bit about the history of the museum and its displays, as well as its aim to be the “one-stop shop” for the history of the city proper. The institution of the Museum of London really began in 1976, when the Guildhall museum, set up by the City Corporation library committee in the 1820’s, and the Museum Commission of 1911 joined forces on the museum’s current site. While the city proper museum does display artifacts and information that is connected to the Thames (how could it not?), the second location, by Canary Wharf in Docklands, specifically deals with the history of London as a port city. Their third site, in conjunction with the London Archaeological commission, has over 5000 sets of site records for the archaeological work that has been done in the city, and the museum archaeologists are based there. The main location, though, is the world’s largest urban history museum, and views London primarily as an urban settlement.

The other two sites, and the stated aims of the main location, make Mr. Cotton’s work a little bit more complicated, since his subjects are intimately connected with both the port and archaeological finds. His particular difficulty is in the conventional conception that London did not begin until the Romans landed, when thriving communities of pre-historic peoples had already settled the area long before the invaders arrived. Even in the English national curriculum, the history coursework begins with settlers and does not deal with prehistory except cursorily.

The museum has done a great deal of surveying and statistic gathering work, so they have a very precise view of their visitor demographic, what they visit the museum for, and what they respond to. Their survey results show that they have a great deal of English-speaking foreign visitors from what the Museum affectionately calls “the old colonies,” but they also have visits from increasingly more Londoners. The Museum boasts about 400,000 visitors per year, of which 50% are Londoners and schoolchildren, 40% are tourists, and the rest are from the non-London United Kingdom. This museum makes absolutely no concessions for non-English speakers, unlike many other libraries and museums that we visited, but they do try to avoid text-heavy displays.

Out of over 2000 “vox pop” surveys done by the museum, about 30% of the respondents immediately referred to dinosaurs when asked what first came to their minds when they thought about prehistory. Only about 5% of those surveyed said something like “the time before written records.” The museum and Mr. Cotton’s job is to educate their visitors about their conception of prehistory as the time before the Romans landed in Londinum, although prehistory usually has different meanings for different countries and cultures. They had three ideas in mind that they wanted to communicate to the average visitor to the prehistory display: to think of prehistoric humans as thinking, intelligent human beings, just like us; that the power of landscape affects all human beings, and how the place affects us; and the orientation of humanity around the river Thames, as a force connecting prehistory to the present.

To this end, the Museum set out to create a new exhibit that drew on the strengths of the original prehistory exhibit while updating and refining it, as well as creating an entirely new, comfortable, and interactive space. The early exhibits were panel dominated with a great deal of reading, but there was a way for people to interact with the exhibit, through tactile observation of the artifacts. They hired a group of retail outlet designers and worked with them very closely to create an exhibit that ended up signaling a move away from the traditional museum exhibit to more of an art gallery display. The designers were very concerned with the feel of the space and the textures that informed that space; and the museum curators had four notions for the design—the climate, the river, the people, and the legacy of prehistoric London. Together, they created three overriding design elements that draw together the display: that of the design wall, which was done from the point of view of the prehistoric peoples and features imagined dialogue of those peoples; the River Wall, featuring the “gifts to the water” display, which flows through the exhibit just as the Thames flows through the city; and the six island displays that guide the viewer through the prehistory experience, all featuring thick-cut glass with oak finishes.

To hear about the development of the display and to actually see it were totally different experiences, of course, and the effect was surprising in many ways. The librarian purist in me cringed at the thought of retail designers doing this museum work, but this was possibly the reason for the ease with which the display was navigated and interpreted and the extreme aesthetic appeal. The prehistory display was, by far, the best in the museum, and it is beautifully done. The wood and glass, accented with blues and greens, creates exactly the feel of the cold natural space before the city was built. One element that Mr. Cotton did not mention when telling us about the design was the addition of the overhead speakers with precision projection of sound that was often surprisingly pleasant and coordinated with the text of the displays. This was an excellent exploration of the time, work, and money that goes into creating an informative and engaging museum display and introduced many ideas that can and should be used in the same endeavors in the library environment.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Barbican

The Barbican, in the City of London, proper, is the only public library we will visit on our adventure. It was quite impressive. Set up within the Barbican arts complex as somewhat of an afterthought, the Barbican library is the only public lending library that I have ever visited where no staff member even mentioned budget issues. In fact, the children’s librarian boasted of a quite adequate yearly budget to work with. That was a first.

The first part of the library that we visited was the children’s library. This children’s library employs 2 full time children’s librarians and utilizes six general library assistants that rotate in and out of the children’s library staff or who have responsibilities in maintaining the children’s library. They have 24,000 loan-able items altogether, with 15,000 actually out on the shelves and 8, 500 in storage where they can readily be retrieved (in the basement). This children’s library serves young persons from birth to the age of 14, where they literally move from the space of the children’s library out into the adult library—by way of book and shelf arrangement, this transition is made more comfortable.

Some re-arranging had recently been done in both the children’s library and the main adult library to make better use of the space and the lighting in the area, which does not seem to have been designed with readers in mind. The original shelving was replaced with shorter shelves that allowed more light into the room and brightened up the space in the children’s area; in the adult section, newly designed shelves guide the readers from section to section in a place that is not conducive to generally easily navigated and browsable collections.

The children’s librarian, Amanda, described several of their activities to bring people into the library. It was quite interesting that the library was so well funded and staffed to carry out these activities with such a small population of residents in the actual city—only about 9,000 people live there full time. Triple that many use the Barbican library, though, and they are mostly commuters from outside the area. So the activities, like their baby reading times, are generally well-attended, with 25-30 families for each of two sessions during the week. The children’s library also has a rotating schedule of visits from the local state-funded schools, where each class comes in once a week to pick out a set number of books, depending on the grade level and the teacher’s discretion. The children’s library at the Barbican is also responsible for distributing the free book packs that each child in the UK is entitled to between the ages of birth and five years old, as part of the Book Start program. We should have one of these in the US!

We then moved on to a tour of the music library with the music librarian, Liz Wells. Because the Barbican is an art center, the music and art libraries are the specialization there, with one of the two largest music libraries in London. They started building the collection in the 1980’s from scratch, so their strength is in Modern Publications. For instance, this library is home to over 16,500 CD’s, but very few vinyl records. These are organized by genre (like any good music store) then alphabetically by author—and the genres are intentionally kept broad. This music library is also home to over 15,000 scores.

One of the more interesting things about the approach taken by the staff of the Barbican lending library was to refer to the people who use the library as customers—not patrons, or clients, or users, for the most part. There seem to be none of the qualms with taking a business approach to the public who uses the library, and that is probably why the Barbican is doing fairly well at attracting their target demographic to their services. Regular surveys of library users, excellent library services, and the use of updated technology—like the RFID information that is stored in each book and which will, soon, be used to inventory the entire collection, as demonstrated by librarian Jonathan Gibbs—keeps the customers of the Barbican lending library coming back.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The British Library

Our trip to the British Library was a much-anticipated adventure for me, particularly because I have not yet made the pilgrimage to the Library of Congress. The building itself was quite imposing and a bit intimidating because, unlike libraries that am more accustomed to, one does not immediately see books when entering this library. Of course, the books are there, but only those of King George III’s collection are on display to the average visitor, in a six-storey high glass column with compact shelving in the center of the main building, behind the reception area.

Kevin, a donations officer, who served as our guide, was excellent, and seemed to have a great general knowledge of the library and all its workings. The British Library aims to acquire the entire national bibliographic output of the United Kingdom and all other published materials that relate to the UK and her notable citizens, within one month of their publication. This includes everything with an ISBN number, and they intend to keep all of their collection forever. As collections officer, Kevin’s job is made all the more interesting due to their policy of never turning away any donation—they are directed to keep everything that they are given. They also want to make their extensive collection available to all researchers who wish to use their facilities. It is the professional obligation of the British Library to compile the British catalog as a bibliographic record for use for all time.

The actual collection on the main location of the library includes 35 million items housed on six floors beneath the above ground building. These books are protected by a subterranean water management system that flushes the water away from the books, and the system held up even under the flooding conditions of a few summers ago. The contingency plan for the collection includes enormous industrial freezers that are housed offsite, should the books get wet. The items held on the main location are only part of the collection, however; altogether, the British Library is home to 170 million items total, or 800 miles of shelving, and this collection is growing at a rate of 8 miles per year. They are the third largest library in the world.

The collection is arranged by a very simple method- size. This means that you must know what you would like to see before you come to the library, and that the books take time to be located on the shelves, where they are marked with a grid reference instead of a call number or traditional shelfmark. Users of the library are called “readers,” and they are encouraged to use subject-specific reading rooms where subject-expert librarians are available to assist them with their research.

Of course, it is incredibly difficult to get to these collections to use them, as I found out firsthand. One must have one item from a list provided that proves one’s home address and another item that proves one’s identity, preferably with a photograph. Not having brought my US driver’s license with me (this made perfect sense at the time, as I thought I would not be driving and did not want to lose the document), I had to do some work to secure the necessary papers.

Kevin’s description of the difficulties in maintaining the library sounded very familiar, especially when dealing with the difficulties of cataloging digital publications and transferring print publications to digital editions. The copyright entanglements alone are enough to challenge even the most sophisticated library in the United Kingdom, but they have worked out a deal with at least four major publishers to receive all new publications in both print and digital, simultaneously. They are still dealing with the issue of single access, single reader of individual publications, but as they estimate that by 2020 approximately 40% of publishing will be digital, they will have to come upon a solution soon, and then tell the rest of us how to make it work. They are also grappling with the speed of changing technology and alighting upon a medium that will last—we can still read 1700 year old codices, but who has the technology to read a videodisk from the 1980’s?

The tour concluded with a view of the exhibitions—the area of which was kept intentionally dark, I believe, to discourage photography. We were able to see some of the holdings of Sir Robert Cotton, one of the library’s founding patrons, whose collection included the earliest known copy of Beowulf, and whose collection Kevin described as the “cornerstone” of the British Library. I found it a testament to the power of popular culture that this book was displayed in the same exhibition gallery as some original lyrics from the Beatles. Overall, though, the British Library will probably prove the most useful of the libraries that we visited, as I will be utilizing its services for my research. But that will be another discussion.

Monday, 7 July 2008

St. Paul's Cathedral Library, or, the Wisdom Tour




“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh”- Ecclesiastes 12:12

Our class visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral library was nothing short of magical. As overwhelming as the exterior of the church is, the highly decorated, nearly gaudy interior of the cathedral was not adequate preparation for the more subtle joys of the space that we were to view. Perhaps our introduction to Joseph Wisdom, the librarian at St. Paul’s, should have been my first clue that we were about to embark upon an extraordinary few hours. I wish that Mr. Wisdom could be my guide for all of London, maybe even for all of life. He was delightful and extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the cathedral, but most especially the library.

Mr. Wisdom began by pointing out a book carved into the stone over a main entryway. He would go on to point out countless other books in the decorations of the church and the specific spaces that we visited. The multitude of books as decoration indicated that the study of the holy texts of the Church was an important cornerstone of the practice of religion and the exercise of faith there. Through large, heavy double doors was the entrance to the old deanery and the beginning of a cantilevered, curvilinear stone staircase spiraling upward, which, when viewed from below, was more than mildly reminiscent of the inside of a shell, and which led to the triforium. We climbed up the stairs and noted, when we entered the third floor, that the inner space of the triforium was much less highly decorated than the outer, more visible portion—right down to the difference between the decorations on the outside and inside of the same door.

From the outer triforium we went into the space that was originally designated as one of two library chambers, or, as the original documents refer to it, “the library in the northwest tower,” which houses Christopher Wren’s original full-scale model of the cathedral. Wren’s sketches, some from books, hang on the walls of the room around the model, but the model itself is dominating. Wren decreed that his great model should be placed here after it was rejected for display at the British Museum.

Finally, we left the display room and filed into one of the most breathtaking spaces I have ever encountered. The St. Paul’s Cathedral Library (it deserves all caps) is perfect. Mr. Wisdom referred to the inner surfaces as the fabric of the room, and, although I had never encountered that terminology to describe the makeup, the feel of a place, I understood it in the context of this place. The library has two levels, open to the center of the room, with dark wood surrounding, with highly decorated friezes supporting the molding along the edge of the very softly and upwardly curved ceiling, and with books—row upon row of very, very old books, mostly in brown leather binding, infused with the knowledge of the centuries. I asked Mr. Wisdom about the median date of the origin of the books in the library, and he said it was probably around the mid-1700’s. The books on the bottom level, where we stood and discussed the issues surrounding the care of several hundred year old books, range from the 16th through early 18th centuries. The books are arranged by size and cataloged with shelf marks or pressmarks—which makes perfect sense, if you keep an amazing catalog. The main issues facing the library deal mostly with restoration and preservation, or how to keep the books as close to their original condition as possible in a room that was not designed to be temperature and humidity controlled.

Mr. Wisdom said quite a few things about his library, and about libraries in general, that will stay with me. When we first entered the library, he said that libraries are not just books, that they are not just places, that they are not just people—libraries are all that and much more. Libraries are not, however, computers, and he noted the lack of technology in the library space, and I agreed that the fabric of the room benefited from that. He suggested that the space of a library can directly influence the work produced in that space, and that a beautiful, calming space could inspire great work. Mr. Wisdom also showed us his burning building book, a psalter from the late 12th or early 13th century. He described the book as the library’s oldest book, a holy book that is shared with another faith, and one that is at the heart of the purpose of the St. Paul’s Library. This, he suggested, would be a good criteria for our own burning building books.

The St. Paul’s Cathedral library was an eye-opening introduction to British Libraries. It remains to be seen whether the rest of our journey can top it!