Wednesday, July 22, 2015 We visited the Barbican Centre in the City of London borough today where the Barbican public library is located.
The library is open Monday through Saturday and is the leading lending library in the City of London. It opened in 1982, though the space was not designed as a library. It was an art center surrounded by residences in a major financial district. There are many online resources and an online catalog, but you have to be a member to access those. Anybody can join to view the materials in the library, but can’t be a member unless you regularly visit the physical library. This is for financial reasons… you need to pay taxes or supplant the local economy with money. The public library needs to benefit somehow, I guess is what I’m trying to say.
The library has done tons of outreach, but still remains hidden to the majority of the public. The vast majority of its patrons are business people, mainly men over college age. The Barbican Centre is almost a city in itself, but not everyone realizes a library lurks on the 2nd floor.
Above you’ll see the fiction section. To the right is the London and classic crime collections. Down to the left of this photo you’d find the children’s library (which is booming, by the way!). They are benefiting from marketing to the local nurseries and babysitting places. Behind us in the above photograph is the art collection and movie area. Behind us and to the left you’d find the music library.
The music library at the Barbican is the second largest public music repository in London, behind Westminster, I believe. There are hundreds of scores, theory books, magazines, periodicals, reference works, CDs, and DVDs for people to check out. The CD selection is the largest in London at 16,000 materials. Two pianos are available to use for hour-long periods. There’s even an exhibition area out front (currently being used by BBC)!
The head of the Barbican Library also came to speak with us for a moment. The main takeaway is for libraries to “be relevant.” It’s just that simple. Libraries, especially public institutions, should be something for everybody. She mentioned the Sieghart Report on Public Libraries as an interesting and poignant read.
I very much enjoyed visiting this library and speaking with the librarians. Before travelling to London I had thought that I wanted to work in an academic setting. I was rigid in this thought. It wasn’t that I disliked public libraries, I just valued academic institutions with rare book collections a tidbit more. After visiting the Barbican and Edinburgh though, my view has been swayed a little. These librarians were passionate about their community and engaged with their patrons. They wanted to give their patrons as much as possible. They weren’t blocking the way of access to information, rather they were finding new paths to reach a larger audience.
As I look to applying for jobs this fall I want to keep myself open to academic and public institutions.
The first room entered was the Reading Room which is public and open to all who desire to use it. They get around 30,000 visitors per year which make up a wide demographic: professionals, researchers, art students, curatorial staff, and others. It’s a reference library so nothing can be checked out, but almost anything can be viewed. They have a couple of items, like the Dickens’ manuscripts, that are also in facsimile form for patrons to view instead of the originals. They also have complete runs of fashion magazines including Vogue. Some of the special collection items we got to see are pictured below.
The above item is the oldest book on pottery production. Recipes and techniques found in here have been tested and still work!
The above pictured books is the first published tailor’s pattern book. Before this, tailoring was sort of mystical and mysterious. This book revealed some of the secrets of the trade for middle class clothing; the secrets of making upper class clothing remained hidden.
Above you see an example of fine binding. The cover is completely embroidered! The contents are on the New Testament.
You’ll also see that the fore edges are painted. Personally, I love this trend. The Lilly Library, where I work, has a nice collection of fore edge painted books.
The next is a sketch book by Pugin. He created (from his imagination) a castle and all it’s decorations, reviving the gothic style. He was only 21 at the time of these drawings and went back years later to write in what he thought was wrong with them. I didn’t think he should have been so hard on himself, but I guess that’s how artists progress.
The above is a reference book for artists to use in order to create new styles and decoration. Use the past as inspiration, according to Owen Jones, and “form without color is like a body without a soul.”
The above pages were created by two sisters, the Fouché girls, who wrote about and drew the fashions they wore between 1892 and 1898. As girls are wont to do, they even went back and wrote in the margins if they were horrified to have worn a particular outfit – a “what were we thinking?” moment that we all experience.
Mr. Séguy took design inspiration from nature; this volume was about insects in particular.
Karl Blossfeldt used a homemade camera to take pictures of plant structures – they’re almost architectural, aren’t they?
The book became an object of study in this library. It was an art piece in and of itself. Certainly the works found within the books can be considered art; but book as object was an interesting perspective that I certainly can subscribe to. Just type “books as art” or “book as object” into Google and you’ll find hundreds of hits that describe the movement better than I can, but to me…
First up this morning was St. Paul’s Cathedral Library with the wonderfully knowledgeable and witty Mr. Joseph Wisdom. Do you remember this building from a previous post?
Now, let’s take a look at the inside… a professional picture…
Now pause for a moment and imagine what the library for this sort of building might look like…
Yeah. Now take a look at this:
It’s even better in real life.
Unfortunately, a researcher was using the library when our tour was supposed to begin which delayed the group from entering. Completely understandable (libraries are designed to be used!), though it did shorten our visit since service began at 12:30. BBC was also setting up cameras to broadcast the Tuesday evening service in remembrance of those killed in the 2005 London bombings.
Our group just got a glimpse of the library, but it was enough for me to fall deeply in love with the room and its contents. Joe Wisdom was also a treasure. He spoke quickly and knowledgeably about any and all subjects. Just to sit and listen to him talk longer would be a dream come true. If he does any talks with library associations I will make it a point to attend – he’s that good, and I only met him for 20 minutes.
He’s the type of librarian that I want to be: quirky and interesting, yet knowledgeable and personable.
The building, when its architecture was first conceived, was alien to English eyes. This was because the dome at the top was very Italian. The original building, before 1561, had a spire. The construction of that building began in 1087 and was consecrated in 1240 (Wikipedia). We saw a replica of it in the Museum of London. The new St. Paul’s with it’s dome was constructed after the Great Fire of London. Consequentially, the current library space was not originally created as a library space.
The Cathedral is located on the highest hill in London and right next to the River Thames. The library is at the top of a very tall, spiraling staircase. Joe talked about the appropriate conservation for the collection – and reminded us that there is no single correct answer for libraries. Each library is unique and each collection needs to be considered individually if librarians want to care for them correctly. That’s hard to think about in a day where time is money and things needed to be done yesterday. Getting to know a collection is time consuming, but worth it in order to be a “good” librarian.
The librarians were kind enough to bring out several of their treasures for our viewing pleasure!
Get ready for a stream of old book images!!
Here is a book published in 1491 detailing plants and animals found in the known world… it’s the last published before the discovery of the Americas.
Above is a short history of Bethlem Hospital… better known as Bedlam.
You’ll see Benjamin Franklin’s signature on The Charters of the Province of Pensilvania…
Here is a bound copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense…
Above is an impression made of smallpox inoculation…
Allen Ginsberg was a lecture at King’s College and this a signed copy of his poetry…
And lastly, this is Nazi propaganda. The Nazis had a Jewish artist create scenes of an idyllic concentration camp to show the Red Cross how “well” everyone was being treated. I found this image of a butchery most haunting…
The Maughan Library, outside of the Foyle Special Collections, was what you would expect from a modern university library… albeit housed in a very neo-Gothic building. It’s looks like a castle, sort of. There is a separate study room for quiet readers (it’s also dodecagonal, which I found atypical but very cool). The whole of the library is fitted for RFID, which makes the whole system fairly self-reliant. Students don’t have to talk to a living soul in order to check out or check in books. They even had an automatic book sorter behind the main counter! We library students loved it, of course.
King’s College has some great material and I hope to be in contact with them soon about my research paper! It’s an academic library that was around during World War II, though the building was the Public Records Office at the time. They had to have been affected by the war, especially since they were located in downtown London. Bombings definitely took place in this area. How were they affected? Did they lose any materials? Were materials sent elsewhere? Did the library remain open during the War? How did being a university library affect them financially during the war? Did alumni help rebuild the collections if necessary?
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The Royal Geographical Society was our next stop and it was AMAZING. It wasn’t something that I was super excited about before coming to London because I didn’t know much about it.
The librarian, Eugene, has been there for 15 years and he made the objects come to life. Here’s a rundown of the stories.
The Society was founded in 1830 to promote and fund scientific geography (exploration). Have you heard of David Livingstone, Ernest Shackleton, or George Mallory? They made trips to find the source of the Nile, the magnetic South pole, and the peak of Mt. Everest. No small tasks! Eugene actually showed us objects and maps from their expeditions! (No photos, unfortunately)
Here’s Dr. Livingstone who set out to find the source of the Nile River. His story sounds very similar to that of Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. (Mr. Kurtz was actually based on Joseph Conrad’s own experiences on a Belgian steamer, but the novella draws parallels between London and the Congo.)
Here is a photo of Ernest Shackleton who raced to make it to the South Pole. A Norwegian man beat him (Roald Amundsen), but Shackleton’s also famed for being a part of the Endurance crew.
And finally, George Mallory. George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew “Sandy” Irving climbed Mt Everest in 1924 to be the first ever to reach the peak. Unfortunately, they disappeared.
It wasn’t until 1999 that a climbing expedition found George Mallory’s body – he was frozen and preserved relatively well after 75 years. (YouTube video of finding the body)
Two major theories exist concerning if Mallory reached the top of Mt Everest: his wife’s photo was missing from his wallet, which he carried with the intent to leave at the summit; and his goggles were found in his pocket, suggesting that the pair were climbing down from the summit after sundown. Irving is said to have carried a camera, which would possibly prove if they reached the top. Irving nor his camera have ever been found. It wasn’t until 1953 that the first successful expedition reached the top of Mt Everest (Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay).
I’m super geeking out about these topics and I didn’t even know it was something I was interested in.
Eugene told their stories in a way that I now want to read more on the subjects! That’s what a great librarian does. He made this library experience for me. The intimacy of the space and the personal touches that Eugene gave as librarian were exceptional in my eyes. He made me realize that he’s the type of librarian I want to be. I don’t believe he had specialized knowledge before becoming a librarian at the Royal Geographical Society; he just learned about his collection. In learning about the collection he learned the above stories and was better able to tell us about them.
I’ve been told by several librarians including my academic advisor at IU that when I get to a new library with different collections, take time during every shift to learn a little bit more about those collections. It could be spending 30 minutes after lunch in the stacks physically looking at and touching the books on a single shelf. Overtime I’ll get to know the collection personally. It’s a living object – materials are added every day and they relate to each other. I want to be personable and interesting, but I also want to be knowledgeable.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Like I said in a previous post… the British Museum is huge and the British Museum Archives is tiny.
Think: “PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS… itty-bitty living space.”
The Archive location is quite cramped. There’s only one room and it sort of feels like a submarine packed with books.
The Museum was founded in 1753 and officially opened in 1759, but the archive has documents dating back to 1738 when Hans Sloane began collecting materials. The original catalog of materials is, unfortunately, virtually indecipherable. Collectors throughout the last 300 years might have gathered incredibly important, amazing materials… but not documented the “whens” and “wheres” as carefully. Financial transactions weren’t documented and stored in an easily identified areas. Different committee and trustee documents were haphazardly kept, stored, and indexed making the finding of information nowadays extremely difficult.
There is no comprehensive catalog of museum materials.
That may sound really surprising to the average person, but libraries and museums are chock FULL of stuff, and things aren’t always documented the same way every time especially over a 300 year period. People take jobs. People retire or leave jobs. Knowledge is not always passed on from one person to the next. Nor are professionals always the ones taking on these major responsibilities. I’m sure volunteers or untrained people tried to do their best for the Museum’s archives, but failed by today’s standards. There’s only been a professionally trained archivist at the Museum for the past fifteen years.
Currently there is still only one trained archivist in the entire Museum.
It’s unfortunate that the archives have taken a back seat to the collections. Yes, some might argue that the collections are what make up the Museum, but the archives are what backup those collections! The documents that are supposed to be found in the archives would help prove ownership, history, monetary value, cultural value, etc. Objects do not have intrinsic value. Humans place value on objects, often arbitrarily. The Rosetta Stone is only a rock with a few marks in it -OR- the Rosetta Stone is the key to solving and reading Egyptian hieroglyphs. That has to be documented and written down somewhere! The past has to be remembered and saved if these objects are to maintain their worth for future generations, I think.
I guess money, time, and administrative higher-ups are universal problems.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015 The London Library is a bit smaller in size and scope than other libraries, such as the British Library.
The London Library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle who was unhappy that he could not take home any of the books at the British Library (then the British Museum Library) to use. The London Library was his response, because it acts as a lending library. The London Library is a member-only library. Anyone can become a member though!
Some of their most famous members include: Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Birginia Woolf, Isaiah Berlin, Laurence Olivier, Agatha Christie, and Harold Pinter. Four Poets Laureate and and nine Noble prize-winners have used their collections. There are currently around 7,000 from all ages and backgrounds. (History of the London Library)
Members can check out the majority of the books located within the building. Some of the reference books must stay in the building, but I find this normal for most library collections. The London Library collections number around 1 million volumes, with 8,000 titles added yearly. The stacks are open to roaming members, though!
The books on the shelves are arranged by subject according to its own classification scheme. All books are hardback on the shelves and none contain dust jackets. This means that space is conserved and mold has no chance to grow between a jacket and binding. On the day we visited, the weather was stifling and hot. The library, like most places in the United Kingdom, did not have an air conditioner and therefore opened the windows to ventilate the space. These books need room to breathe on the shelves due to the changing weather climate.
The building used to be an old house and has been added on several times to house the growing collections. The process is ongoing. The London Library has plans to continue refurbishing all areas where books are held and increase the number of reader’s desks from 55 to 200.
Personally, I ADORED this library. It was intimate, yet professional; cozy, yet spacious; stereotypical, yet on the cutting edge. Our host showed us the newly renovated rooms and updated website. I loved everything about the place!
Wednesday, July 1, 2015 The British Library is housed in a large edifice near King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. It was designed by Sir Colin St John Wilson to look like an ocean liner, and took 36 years to build.
The British Library just formally opened 1998 making it very young. It is the national library of the United Kingdom and a legal deposit library, meaning that the British Library can receive a copy of any book published in the UK or Ireland.
It contains 200 million items in its seven floors (three above ground, four underground), including King George III’s Library located in the middle for all to see.
Previously all collections, and the library itself, were part of the British Museum. It is a reference library, which means all materials must be looked at on site; no book is lent out to readers. Readers cannot roam the stacks, and must apply for a reader’s pass. Anyone can register, but must have a reason for using the collections.
If you can think of it, the British Library probably has it. There are books, manuscripts, letters, paintings, sound recordings, handwritten, typed, documents in any language you’d want, maps, patents, newspapers… the list just goes on!
One of my favorites spaces was the treasures room. It has handwritten lyrics by The Beatles, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks, Jane Austen’s writing desk, and a couple dozen religious tomes both ancient and beautifully decorated. They even had workstations where you can electronically flip through the books! It looks like you’re turning the page! Imagine a Kindle or Nook but the size of a television screen and in High Definition even when you zoom in. There’s some amazing scanning technology behind these computers.
Now on a personal level, I was so excited to visit this library and was slightly intimidated by it’s rules and how mechanical it seemed. This is a well-oiled steamboat! I imagine this is what most people feel like when trying to visit any library; this is the stereotypical “gateway” librarian. A lot of places in America seem to be pushing access, but I didn’t quite get that from the British Library. Yes, Kelsey, this is a different country and they probably have different values. I know. That’s what this trip is about: learning and understanding similarities and differences between US and UK libraries and archives. And if you look at the facts they seem to support patron access:
*onsite space for 1,200 Readers
*16,000 people use the collections each day, onsite and online
*they operate the world’s largest document delivery service providing millions of items a year to customers around the world
(via About US)
But… still… the process to use the materials in The British Library isn’t a walk in the park. You have to apply for (online) and obtain (in person) a Reader’s Card. Fairly normal. You sometimes need a letter of introduction (several students in my library class did). A little archaic to me. You really need to have a reason to use the materials in the library; you can’t browse or see things just for fun. I know, this is probably for security reasons. I understand that. Even electronic access can be a bit tricky on their website, but perhaps I just haven’t spent enough time learning their system.
The British Library works like a machine. They work very efficiently from what I can tell, which is saying great things for a GIANT library.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015 The Bodleian Library is one of those libraries that you hear about in the rare book world. It’s located at a famous university, first off, and has quite a long history.
The doors of the Bodleian Library officially opened to scholars in 1602, but at that time scholars meant men of a certain status. Women were later allowed into lectures at Oxford in 1878. Even before 1602, though, the building had to be constructed. The Divinity School building (above which sits the Duke Humphrey’s) took 65 years to build and was finished in 1488. Funding, unfortunately slowed by the end of it and you can see differences in the architecture. This building did house the books of Humphrey Plantagenet, the youngest of Henry IV by his first wife; this collection is the Duke Humphrey’s of today.
Duke Humphrey’s has a wooden ceiling filled with panels of the University’s coat of arms. There are scores of leather bound books filling floor to ceiling bookcases. Larger books are in the lower gallery and smaller books fill the uppermost shelves. It once was a chained library and you can still see an example near the entrance. There are still lecterns dotted about where scholars had to read the chained materials.
After 1488, though, the printing press began affecting the world. New technologies tend to do that, you know. Administrators pressured by legislation passed during the Reformation (the English Church triumphing over the Roman Catholicism) decided to dispose of many of the libraries materials. Apparently the new regime wanted to rid themselves of Catholic images and documents. Only 50 of the original 500 survive – 12 of them having returned to Oxford.
Sir Thomas Sackville Bodley rescued the library around 1598 and eventually reopened the library in 1602. Thomas James became the first librarian of this library. Thankfully, Bodley was a thinking man. He made an agreement with the Stationer’s Company in London to have one copy of every book published in England and registered with the Stationer’s Company deposited in the Bodleian. This created a wide-ranging library full of many topics, since they’ve been collecting for 400 years.
The Bodleian is a research library, meaning that no book can be borrowed. No book can leave the walls of the building and be taken home. Even the King of England has been refused! King Charles I was denied book borrowing privileges in 1645.
Today, the library’s mission is “to provide an excellent service to support the learning, teaching, and research objectives of the University of Oxford; and to develop and maintain access to Oxford’s unique collections for the benefit of scholarship and society.” There are more than 11 million printed items in the collections.
Space seems to be a problem in all libraries. Being a national deposit library, the Bodleian faces interesting challenges. The buildings are also “listed” and protected, so major construction can’t really take place to add more storage. Off-site storage is important in this instance. Tourism and research are equally important here, I would also claim, though research possibly more so. The librarians did not talk to us, library students. That was disappointing. The tour guides were EXCELLENT and I highly recommend going on their tour, please don’t get me wrong! Just… as a library student… I would expect to speak to library professionals… that’s my opinion though, and it definitely did NOT hurt my experience in the Bodleian Library of Oxford Univeristy.
We visited the National Library of Scotland and toured the Edinburgh Central Library this day. They are literally across the street from each other on George IV Bridge, just off the Royal Mile.
The National Library of Scotland is another deposit library in the United Kingdom. It receives copies of all books published in the UK. We didn’t get a formal tour of the space, but the exhibitions in the front are free and TOTALLY worth checking out. At the time of our visit they had an exhibit called “Lifting the Lid” that detailed 400 years of Scottish cuisine. Everything in the room was fairly interactive! Tons of cases full of actual artefacts and written documentation. There was an area for children to play and draw pictures of their favourite food. It even touched on the modern day. The exhibition runs until November 8, 2015 so if you get the chance, check it out!
The city of Edinburgh has 28 libraries. 28! Some of them are quite small, but that’s still 28 serviceable library areas for roughly a half million people. I would consider the Central Library the crown jewel…
Across the street from the National Library you’ll find the Edinburgh Central Library. It’s 125 years old and was opened in June 1890. It’s an Andrew Carnegie library and the architecture proves it.
The library started as a lending library and reference library where gentlemen were separate from the ladies. There are a mixture of lending and reference services; study spaces; quiet spaces; a difficult balance to maintain. Funny enough, I thought the arrangement of collections throughout the building was very telling: it has a fantastic Edinburgh local history collection making up the bottom floor; the music collection is just above that; the lending collection and children’s rooms are on the floor where you enter; the art collection is just above the entry; and the reference collection sits on the top floor. I metaphorically see the local collections grounding the library with it’s roots and the jewel of a reference collection crowns the library with it’s lofty knowledge and information.
Okay. So maybe it’s a stretch… it was pretty when I thought of it. 🙂
The music library collection features biographies, histories, sheet music, reference, and theory books, as well as a CD collection. There is a small teen collection on the same floor, though that’s mainly a test area at the moment.
The reference library on the top floor is original to first construction. It’s filled with rows of books and looks like a typical “library” in my mind.
The area is for quiet study and has many desks in the center of the room. To reach the books up high there are secret doors!
It was magical! It was fantastic! As if faeries were around! Or Harry Potter!
To bring it back to reality, the reference collection is being questioned on it’s necessity. (This, I believe, is a worldwide problem.) Those that hold the purse strings want to know why such a large, beautiful space needs to be taken up by so many crusty, old books that people can’t even take home so what’s the use of them anyhow?
…obviously I don’t agree with this manner of thinking. By using the reference collection in my home library, I can find answers to particular questions (such as: what was the sign hanging over such-and-such printer’s shop who printed such-and-such book 200 years ago?) easier than doing a Google search. Shocking, I know! A librarian should know his or her reference collection – I think having a physical reference collection located in the reading room is a sign of a strong library.
But that’s just my opinion.
The children’s library is tucked around a corner and technically in a separate building, but is ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL. It was recently renovated (2014) and has separate areas for the under 5 year olds and older than 5.
The area doubled it’s user base in a single year. That’s. Amazing.
The lending collection is located on the same floor where you walk in.The lending library is completely self-service, though librarians still staff the area to answer questions and help patrons. 20,000-25,000 books are issued per month.
Fantastically the staff of the Edinburgh Central brought us back to meeting room and gave us tea and biscuits (cookies)! We then had the fortune to listen to three very intelligent librarians discuss programs pertaining to the library.
Karen talked about collection development – the whole of the library’s collections are available to the public. That was a Carnegie stipulation and different from what I’ve found in other UK institutions. An online catalogue exists, but a card catalogue is still used. The jewel of their library, like I’ve said, is the Edinburgh collections. They’re trying to merge digital with the physical by setting up a website for locals to upload their history. In the past, the people of Edinburgh could donate letters, journals, and photographs to the Edinburgh collections. Since the 1980s things have been digitally sent. People can now go to a particular website and upload photos and other documents to help grow the Edinburgh collections into the new century. Our Town Stories is a digital format for the local history.
Sarah, who has a business/IT background, uses those techniques in the public library setting. She strives for literacy initiatives including programs to help the dyslexic. (Dyslexia-Friendly Resources here) It’s about awareness, engagement, support, and mainstreaming to other branches. Tons of reader development. Brining families together by reading together. Giving 1,200 children books to young children. All great stuff!
It’s a fantastic library… it makes me want to be a part of a public library and help like they are…
The rest of the day was me checking out of the dorms at University of Edinburgh and traveling across the city to meet my Mom and friend at a hotel. Unfortunately their original flight was cancelled so they arrived late and without luggage. We wandered down to Prince’s Street to get them some warmer clothes and had dinner before returning to the Sheraton for bed.