August 6: Back to Reality

My suitcase has been unpacked, the pile of laundry is done, and I’m mostly caught up on sleep. I have officially arrived back home from my whirlwind of a trip to the UK.

Now that I am back on a normal sleep schedule, I have had time to really digest everything I saw while I was over there. I visited so many fabulous libraries and met so many great librarians over there. I know that professionally this was a great experience. On a personal level, this trip was equally amazing. I met so many cool fellow LIS students who I now count as friends and look forward to seeing them at various conferences in the years to come.

When I look back on this month, it was much better than any of my previous Julys. Usually they consisted of work, which was nice because I made money. But this summer, I visited England, France, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland! I had never been outside continental North America, so this was something I had dreamed about forever. While it was a lot of money, the experience was worth it ten times over.

It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve been back, and I’ve basically adjusted to life back at home. However, while I’m working on the paper and looking through my pictures it keeps making me realize afresh just how great this last month was.


July 23: Middle Temple Law Library

Law libraries fall completely outside of my realm of knowledge. Today, we visited the Middle Temple Law Library, and it was a very interesting and beautiful library. England’s legal system works differently than ours does, but the librarian and our guide, Renae Satterley, made some key differences clear. For the purposes of this post though, the most important piece is that there are four Inns of Court that barristers (lawyers) can belong to. So, Middle Temple’s library is one of four. These Inns have existed since the 1500s, and they have counted Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, and many others as members. In addition, Middle Temple Law Library was founded in 1641 and survived the Fire of London and the bombings. For a more full explanation of the Inns of Court, I found this Wikipedia page pretty helpful.

Since I had very little previous knowledge of law libraries, I was surprised to find out that they keep a lot of material. They have to keep all previous editions of textbooks because they need to know the history of the law for cases. Since few resources are available online, their physical collection is incredibly impressive. Another fun fact about their collection is that they don’t use labels on the spines of the books. They set their collection up so it is organized by section and then alphabetically by author. Another very impressive fact is that everything in their collection is cataloged: rare books, manuscripts, old textbooks, etc. Since they keep so many items, I can only imagine how much upkeep this is to stay on top of this and make sure they don’t generate any backlog. They also have their own OPAC to make it easier for patrons to search for items. However, they do not have remote access to databases, and they don’t lend books. This makes it essential that they have a nice, welcoming, and available library, which they do. They are open from 9 am – 8 pm and the courts are only open from 10 am – 5pm, which leaves plenty of time for the barristers to utilize the library.

This is just one of the rooms in the library.

This is just one of the rooms in the library.

In addition to looking like a super fancy, gorgeous library, they have really comfy chairs.

A private meeting room with the comfiest chairs!

A private meeting room, the Prince’s Room, with the comfiest chairs!

The vibe in this library was really cool because it was similar to an academic library with a touch more professionalism. In addition, I really loved the architecture, set-up, and decoration of this entire library. It looked and felt like the historic library that it is.

Even though I don’t want to be a law librarian, this visit was still helpful to me.  It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. I have no experience with law, but for some reason I always imagined that law libraries would be super busy with lawyers constantly demanding very specific, tricky information be delivered to them immediately. Instead, it was very calm. I don’t know why I always thought it was so hectic in law libraries, but that was always how I pictured them. Now that I know that they can be a calm, lovely library like Middle Temple, I could be interested in working in one. It definitely opened my eyes to another option within the LIS field.

July 19: Dublin Research Time

My busiest research day was definitely today. I was coming from Belfast with a few other girls from the program, and we took the train down. We arrived at about 10 am, and we hit the ground running. I did my research beforehand and found a couple of key sites that I knew I wanted to see. This way we could just go explore and not worry about where to go next.

The first place was the National Library of Ireland because they close at 12:45 pm on Saturdays.

The outside of the National Library of Ireland.

The outside of the National Library of Ireland.

By the time we got there, it was 11:00 am. After I got my reader’s card, it was about 11:30 am, and I only had an hour or so to peruse their collection. On their OPAC, I had found 1,458 results for Oscar Wilde. I got there too late for them to pull any of the items I had seen online. However, they do have some Oscar Wilde related items digitized, so I can look at them online when I go to write my paper. I did get a chance to explore their library beyond their Oscar Wilde materials. I found that they had a nice library with a gorgeous reading room. I wish I had been able to get there earlier, but logistically there was no way to get there any sooner.

Afterwards, we headed over to Oscar Wilde’s house. It was strange because I thought it would be a major tourist destination and a big moneymaker for Dublin tourism. However it’s closed to the public. It’s owned by the American College Dublin, and academics live in it. Even though I couldn’t go inside it, I still got to see the outside.

The plaque at Number 1 Merrion Square.

The plaque at Number 1 Merrion Square.

Plus, their website shows pictures of the inside of the building. The house is in a beautiful, historic area, but it was very quiet, which I found surprising. I was expecting a lot more tourists to be around, but it was nice to be able to pause and take a picture without having to move super fast.

Right across from Oscar Wilde’s house is a statue of him. It’s still in Merrion Square, and it looks right at his house. This statue is by far one of the most entertaining statues I have seen.

Oscar Wilde statue!

Oscar Wilde statue!

He is dressed so elegantly and is just lounging on a rock looking ever so untroubled and careless. There are two glass pillars next to his statue, and there are some of his quotes engraved on them.

Some brilliance casually displayed in a park.

Some brilliance casually displayed in a park.

Overall, I really liked this hometown monument to Wilde because it felt true to his persona.

The next day, we made our final Oscar Wilde stop in Dublin: the Writer’s Museum.

The Dublin Writer's Museum.

The Dublin Writer’s Museum.

The museum had exhibits on many Irish literary greats such as Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, etc. For someone who knew little about any of them, this museum would be extremely helpful. There were little bios for each author, which was usually placed in context of their time period or literary movement. I found a few new authors to check out and learned some new things about authors I already liked. The museum didn’t allow pictures of the exhibits, but they were very well done.

After leaving Dublin, I felt like I had learned more about Oscar Wilde. Even though I didn’t get to see the inside of where he lived, I got to see and be in some of the same places he was. I also got to explore the town that he grew up in. It gave me a new perspective on Wilde, which I know will prove helpful when I start to write my paper.

July 14: National Library of Scotland

After spending two lovely weeks in England, we moved north on Sunday and went to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a pretty long coach ride to get there, but once we saw the scenery it was well worth it.

This was a view from the rest stop. Not even a scenic  stop, just a rest stop!

This was a view from the rest stop. Not even a scenic stop, just a rest stop!

We stayed on Edinburgh University’s campus, which was also really picturesque.

Walking around campus, and you can see a castle.

Walking around campus, and you can see a castle.

On Monday morning, we went to the National Library of Scotland. It’s a large building in the center of the city, and it looks modern and inviting. We had four guides: David McClay, the John Murray Archive Curator; Beverley Casebow, the Library Education & Outreach Officer; Veronica Denholm, the Library Education & Outreach Officer; and Koen Van der Staeten, the Planning Officer. They were all very welcoming and informative in their tour that they gave us.

As with all libraries located in a city, they have an issue with space. Their solution was to have their building have 15 floors. The majority of the floors are below street level because the entrance is on the 11th floor. The lower floors consist of books and staff space. When we entered the building, I was struck by how welcoming they had tried to make it. There is a cafe space and gift shop where anyone can stop to eat or shop.

They also have their John Murray Archive exhibit on the entrance floor. It is an exhibit space that was one of the coolest ones I have seen in a library. Most libraries have a certain format that they tend to follow when they create exhibits. This exhibit smashed all of the boring, tired conventions for the ways in which information and items are usually exhibited. They had the room kept very dark in order to keep the items in the best shape possible. The best way I can describe the way the exhibits are kept is to say that they were encased in numerous, separate tall glass coverings that looked like the glass cover that goes over the rose in Beauty and the Beast. Each exhibit is about one person which makes it very easy to follow. Within the glass, there’s a costume and various items associated with the person. They had cases on Lord Byron, Caroline Lamb (his illicit lover), Washington Irving, Charles Darwin, and a handful more. Beside the glass, they had a touch screen that would cycle through the items in the case and tell you about them. They also hired actors to read things like letters or poems. The lights would light up to focus on the exhibit when you touched the screen. Also, the voice would speak just loud enough for you to hear, but not loud enough to disturb any of the other visitors. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, but it was truly one of the most innovative and interesting exhibits I have seen.

This exhibit definitely made me think about what goes into creating an exhibit. Beyond that, it also made me think about what goes into creating an exhibit that people want to see. I have had to create exhibits before, and I found it very fun. I was very happy with the way it turned out, and people generally seemed to like it. However, there really is an art to what they are doing with the archive at this library. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to sift through all of that material and create these exhibits from the most interesting things. It would definitely be a lot of hard work and a lot of attention to detail, but at the end you truly get to see your hard work pay off. No matter what library you are in, you will probably have to do an exhibit or display at some point in time, which made this visit extra interesting. It really showed me how you can dazzle the crowd with your exhibit by just thinking outside the box.

July 12: Researching at the British Library

After touring the British Library and seeing how amazing it is, I was super excited to have the opportunity to research there. Since our research topics had to be UK related, I thought that Oscar Wilde’s life and literary history would be great to research. I’ve read The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many of his epigrams. He was so witty and fascinating that I wanted to know more about him and his works. He is an Irish writer who lived and wrote mainly in England, so in the British Isles they obviously have more rare, old, and specific materials relating to him. I was intrigued to see what the difference is between the Irish and English libraries’ collections of his. After seeing the British collection of his, I am interested to explore the Irish National Library and see what they have.

The British Library did not disappoint. They had a lot of items relating to Oscar Wilde. I was looking for items that seemed unique to the British Library, and I found a decent amount. While searching their OPAC, I came across some of his lesser known works (at least to me) like The Fisherman and His Soul and Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young. I also read a bit of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which I had only heard about before but never read. They also had some items that I had never run across before, such as a pamphlet called Mr. Oscar Wilde’s Lectures from 1883. It discusses his speaking tour across America and press reviews of it. They also had a very compelling pamphlet Children in Prison and Other Cruelties of Prison Life that is basically a really long letter from Wilde to the editor of the Daily Chronicle which was published in 1898. These were all published in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Most of the items had a one of ___ amount in the book, which made it seem instantly more special because it was a limited edition. It didn’t hurt that the books were all beautifully decorated in that ornate turn of the century style.

To get to these items, I had to get a British Library reader card. It was a fairly simple process that just required me to have a legitimate need to use the library (which I did and do), have proof of address accompanied with a picture (passport), and have specific items in mind that I wanted to look at. I got my card, which was complete with a terrible picture of me. I had reserved these items easily before I fully had my card, when all I had done was the pre-application part. I loved that they made it so simple to reserve items and get a reader’s card.

Since all of the items were older they were mostly in the manuscript or rare books room. The books had to be reserved and sent to a specific room, where they could be viewed. I couldn’t get a picture of the reading rooms, but from the outside it looks similar to this:

It's the Map Reading Room, but it looks basically the same from the outside.

It’s the Map Reading Room, but it looks basically the same from the outside.

It was a peaceful environment that was one of the better study / research places I’ve seen. One vital component that not all libraries get right is the chair comfiness level. They had great chairs and desks that were super comfortable. When you’re going to be sitting in the same spot for a while, being comfortable is pretty important. The British Library definitely got that one small (important!) detail right.

After a long afternoon of researching, I came out to see the King’s Library area with lots of people sitting and doing work.

The lobby / King's Library / work area.

The lobby / King’s Library / work area.

I found a lot of useful Oscar Wilde information, in addition to finding the British Library to be an exemplary research library with very comfy chairs!

July 11: Kew Gardens Royal Botanic Gardens and Archives

Our visit to Kew Gardens and Archives was one that I looked forward to a lot once I saw it on our syllabus. I used to work in a garden center where I was a cashier, but during slow times I helped take care of the plants. This definitely fostered a love of plants and flowers in me, so I was super excited about out visit!

It’s a bit outside the center of the city, so we had to take a train to get there. From the train, it was also a walk to get to the gardens. Our guide while we were at the archive was Fiona Ainsworth who is the Collection Manager of Library, Art & Archives. She knew a lot about the history of Kew Gardens, the collection itself, and many of the items in the collection. She was a great tour guide who told us lots of interesting tidbits. She showed us around the building taking us to various storage spaces, reading rooms, and other fun spots. I loved seeing the Herbarium,  which is basically a plant library.

The Herbarium in all its glory.

The Herbarium in all its glory.

They keep dried plants and information about the plants in little boxes that go into the white cabinets that are on the left and right sides of the photo. They add 20,000 species every year, which is surprising considering how many plants have already been discovered. It’s crazy to think that there are that many plants out there. This also has to be a very demanding job for the librarian(s) or archivist(s) that handle this. It would require a lot of cataloging, attention to detail, and knowledge of plants to do this job. The job also comes with a few unexpected issues. They have an ongoing problem with pests who like to get into the dried plants and eat them. They told us that they used to paint mercury on the plants to kill the pests, but, obviously, they don’t do this anymore because mercury is poisonous. Their new way to deal with this problem is to freeze the dried plant, which kills any pests currently on the plant before putting the plant away.

The rest of the gardens and archives were just as interesting too. The Gardens were created in 1850, from the private gardens that belonged to the Royal Family. George III joined two gardens into one, which is why it is called Kew Gardens and not Garden. Within their archives, they have 300,000 books and pamphlets, 2,000 illustrations, and 7 million sheets. They also have the largest collection of botanical art in the world. With such a large, old collection, they have a lot of old, rare books. Their oldest book is from 1370, which is certainly the oldest book I have ever heard of! It is about the use of plants for remedies and it is in Latin.

Our guide, Fiona, had set out a selection of interesting books they had within their collection. Whether it was because it was old, rare, or just beautifully illustrated, all of the books that we saw were really neat.

One of the books that we were shown, and it was beautifully illustrated!

One of the books that we were shown, and it was beautifully illustrated!

After we got out of our tour, we saw the gardens, which were incredible. We got a map (a necessity for this garden) and went to our top choices. We saw the Waterlily House, Rose Garden, Magnolias, Azalea Garden, Treetop Walkway, and Pagoda. Even though we seem to have missed peak time for the magnolias and azaleas, the gardens were still stunning.

Outside the Waterlily House, which is just as gorgeous as the inside.

Outside the Waterlily House, which is just as gorgeous as the inside.

The enormous waterlilies!

The enormous waterlilies!

One of the many beautiful roses in the Rose Garden, which is right outside the Waterlily House.

One of the many beautiful roses in the Rose Garden, which is right outside the Waterlily House.

Atop the Treetop Walkway.

Atop the Treetop Walkway.

The most unexpected and thus coolest thing we saw at the Kew Gardens was a random peacock just wandering around.

Random, awesome peacock that we saw right before we left!

Random, awesome peacock!

We were walking to one of the exits when we saw a peacock far off in the distance. Even though we literally ran up to the peacock to see it, the peacock wasn’t scared off, which shows just how inured it is to visitors. It was definitely a fantastic end to a fabulous visit!


July 10: Wiener Library

On a rainy Tuesday, we set off for an after-lunch visit to the Wiener Library. According to their website and what we were told, the Wiener Library is a library that was created from the personal collection of Dr. Alfred Wiener who collected much of the anti-Semitic propaganda that the Nazis sent out. “Dr Alfred Wiener, a German Jew, having fought in WWI, returned to Germany in 1919 and was horrified at the surge of right-wing antisemitism, which blamed Jews for the defeat.” This is why he collected all of these items (Wiener website). The “archive was started just to collect information about the Nazis, which formed the basis of campaigns to undermine their activities (Wiener website).

This was a highly interesting, but very emotionally heavy visit. We had great guides for our tour, which was organized through a previous British Studies Program LIS student, Jessica Green. She interned there, and now she has a full-time job there. Our guides were very kind and knowledgable about all aspects of the library.  The topic was heartbreaking, as were some of the exhibits and items that we were shown,  so it was a somber visit. The library has over 70 years of history and is the world’s oldest Holocaust library, so there was no shortage of historically significant information and items.

Just one shelf of many in the Wiener Library.

Just one shelf of many in the Wiener Library.

A piece of Nazi propaganda on display in the Wiener Library.

A piece of Nazi propaganda on display in the Wiener Library.

One fact that showed just how invested Dr. Wiener was is that when Hitler came to power in 1933 it almost sent Wiener into a nervous breakdown. This showed me just how personal his collection was, and you could sense it in all of the exhibits and the collection itself.

As we learned on our tour, this library is open to the public and has information on a lot of different things dealing with the Nazis and the Holocaust. It provided information for the Nuremberg trial, as well as providing information for people looking for others who were missing after the Holocaust. They have a digital copy of the International Tracing Service, which is a database of 20 million names associated with the Holocaust. In addition to the 17,000 photos in their collection, they have material that looks at the persecution of other groups besides the Jews, such as the disabled and homosexuals. One item we saw that I could not get out of my head was a board game called Jugen Raus. Jugen Raus was an especially atrocious game that means Jews Out and is a game where the players collect Jews, and whoever has the most wins. The level of indoctrination that occurred during the Nazis was shocking and appalling.

Over the years, the library has changed. They are adding materials at a faster rate than ever, and in 2011 they moved into their current location. The biggest change is that they are adding materials about different genocides, such as the ones that occurred in Rwanda and Darfur.

The library had so many interesting, eye-opening aspects to it. One thing that I realized on the tour was that this would be a rather intense job emotionally. If you worked on the exhibits and had to sift through all of those heartbreaking photos and stories, I can imagine that it would start to weigh on you. Of course, it is important and worthwhile work because it needs to be remembered. However, I had never really thought about how the focus of a special collection / special library could affect the librarians who work there. While I had a basic knowledge of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and during the Holocaust, seeing all of the items, exhibits, rooms, storage spaces, and reading rooms showed me many things that I didn’t know before.