July 9: National Maritime Museum Caird Archive and Library

On this, our thirteenth day here we visited a totally new part of town to see the National Maritime Museum Caird Archive and Library in Greenwich. We took a riverboat taxi down the Thames to get to the library. Normally we see the water from walking along in the city, so it was cool to get a different view.

Our riverboat that we took down to Greenwich.

Our riverboat that we took down to Greenwich.

We got to see Tower Bridge from a bunch of different angles.

We got to see Tower Bridge from a bunch of different angles.

When we got to the area where the library was we had a little surprise. There was a movie that was filming there! We heard gossip that it was a movie that had Sacha Baron Cohen from Borat in it. We came to find out later that this was incorrect, and it was Curse of the Hendon that was being filmed there. Regardless, it was super cool to stumble upon that and see the film crew milling about.

Moving onto the library itself, it is very historical and has a very focused collection. Since it is a maritime museum and library, all of its collection centers around Britain’s history with anything maritime, like sea trade, exploration, and the like. Our guides were Mike Bevan who is the Archive Manager and Graham Thompson who is the Archives Assistant. They informed us that the collection they had set up for us to view is from the 18th and 19th century. There was a large table in the front of the room, and it had around 15 to 20 items on it for us to look at. They had a lot of primary documents, like letters and journals.

A letter from the 17th-18th C.

A letter from the 17th-18th C.

Greenwich

One of the items was a log book of a ship that transported slaves. It was shocking to see such an old primary document dealing with such a sensitive, awful piece of history. Normally, the only old, primary materials that I’ve seen in a library have been fiction books or religious documents. This showed me a different facet of a special collection, which was especially interesting for me because I work in one now and am interested in possibly working in one in the future.

I imagine that the research needs of the patrons using this collection would be different from other special collections. Their need to use this specific collection would probably be pretty urgent and specific because it seems like these materials are very unique. It isn’t like a published book where you could usually find it elsewhere. People don’t tend to write 20 copies of their journals or letters. So the librarian helping these patrons would have to be very responsive and speedy, as well as being sensitive to the time constraints of the patrons.

This library was interesting for both its collection and what it showed me. I have never seen so many primary documents of such historical importance outside of a museum. It was really eye-opening to peruse them after hearing the history of the library and museum itself.

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July 8: Barbican Library

Today, we went to the coolest library ever: the Barbican Library. We were led by Jonathan Gibbs who is the I.T. and Operations Librarian. He was one of the best guides we had on our library tours because he was so funny and enthusiastic. He easily answered all of our questions and was very knowledgable.

The Barbican Library itself was also amazing because it was so different from any other library. It is part of a complex, and it’s basically a city unto itself. There are apartment buildings, a gift shop, restaurants, an auditorium, theaters, an art gallery, cinemas, and then the library too. There’s a detailed map of everything that is in the complex. The building itself is very interesting looking as well because it looks like a fortress.

Such an interesting looking building!

Such an interesting looking building!

The courtyards are really beautiful as well. They have plenty of fountains and greenery to soften up the stark exterior.

Really pretty area.

Really pretty area to see outside your apartment window if you live here.

The library wasn’t too shabby either.

They have a very large selection.

They have a very large selection.

As Jonathan informed us, it has been a lending library since 1964. They have about 35 full-time staff plus the part-time people, along with 9 librarians. Since it’s a huge place, it makes sense that they’d require so many people. They are located in and serve the City of London. This helped explain why it had such a business looking exterior. Inside, however, it looked very inviting and comfortable. We saw their children’s room, which looked very welcoming. It was super cute and had plenty books for kids from 0-14 to choose from. The way they organized some of their books was interesting because they separate them into age groups: 5-9, 10-12, and 13-14. Instead of author last name or genre they went with this so kids of a certain age and their parents could just go to a certain spot and pick a book. Some other interesting things about the children’s library are that they have a growing graphics novel collection, 1,500 children’s e-books, and books in other languages. They also do class visits to nurseries and schools to do rhyme times and get the kids reading. Some other cool things they do are their reading mentoring program, Read to Succeed, and their Summer Reading Challenge.

As we continued on our tour, Jonathan informed us that their oldest book in the library is from 1738. It is from Georgian times, and it is, quite shockingly, available for loan! Another awesome thing that they do is to offer free e-language courses. Needless to say, it made me very happy when they said you don’t have to a resident of the city of London to get a card!

July 7: London Archaeological Archives & Research Centre (LAARC)

This Monday, we journeyed down to the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archives & Research Centre. It’s in kind of a random part of town, and the building looks like an average office type, professional building. We walked in, and they separated us into two tour groups. On our tour, we were led by Dan Nesbitt who is the Assistant Curator. He was very knowledgable about the items, and the history of LAARC itself.

When I looked on their website, it said “the LAARC holds information about more than 7,500 archaeological sites that have been investigated in Greater London over the past 100 years.” The website adds that “the LAARC stores the full archives for many of these sites as the records and finds from nearly all archaeological work in London come here.” When we were walking through the storage sites, this was incredibly apparent. They had so many objects to look at that it was almost information overload! We were told that they have 250,000 objects in just the social and working section!

I don't remember what storage site this was, but it illustrates just how much stuff they have.

I don’t remember what storage site this was, but it illustrates just how much stuff they have.

Throughout the tour, we learned that this building is the third building in the Museum of London, and it isn’t really open to the public as it is more of a storage building. They have conservation, storage, and x-ray rooms on site. They have six storage rooms, and each room has a rough theme for all the objects within. Apparently, there is a small radiation risk, which wasn’t even something I was thinking about. The Victorian watches and clocks emit a low level of radiation. It is such a small amount of radiation that it would take something like 100 years to even begin to be hurtful. This opened my eyes to the fact that not everything that is dug up would be safe. You would have to be really careful with the objects, which is something I hadn’t really considered before. Who knew being a curator could be so dangerous?

Their cataloging system was very interesting too. They seem to do the same thing that most UK libraries do, in that they needed to create a cataloging system to suit them because they are so specialized. Their system is called MIMSY, which stands for Museum Information Management System. I found this interesting because here in the US we tend to force our collections to fit into an already existent cataloging system, unless it’s a very specific library like a music library.

Browsing through their storage collection, I saw how many varied, cool things they had. They have the Buckingham Palace switchboard, which had a bunch of royals’ names on it.

 

The Buckingham Palace Switchboard.

The Buckingham Palace Switchboard.

They had a bunch of  human bones. My favorite item that we walked by was a Furby. It is so random and totally unexpected, which made it totally awesome that they had it.

Furby!!! Haven't seen one of these since the '90s.

Furby!!! Haven’t seen one of these since the ’90s.

I don’t have any experience in a museum setting, so it was really interesting to get this behind the scenes look at how they operate and what they contain.

July 3: British Library

One of my favorite libraries that I have ever been to is the one that we visited today: the British Library. It was an absolutely stunning library that was stocked with amazing items. Walking into the building, I saw what an interesting floor plan they have. It is very open, which allows the patrons to see each individual floor from the central atrium.

A side view of the entrance / atrium type area of the library. Get a nice look at some of the floors of the library.

A side view of the entrance / atrium type area of the library. Got a nice look at some of the floors of the library.

Once our tour started, we learned a lot about the library. The library was opened in 1997, and it is a national library that is one of the six deposit libraries in the UK. Within their collection, every language is represented, even Klingon. Also, the storage capacity within the library is astounding. There are eight floors beneath the plaza outside, which means there is a lot of storage space. However, this library is so massive that they needed more space, which is what their Boston Spa storage space is for.

There are numerous reading rooms available for patrons that have reader’s pass. One of the coolest ones that we saw was the News Room, which had a lot of neat technological add ons. They had a huge screen that had a few different news outlets’ headlines flashing by, so the viewers would always be constantly updated.

From my own exploring, I found the library’s website which has some amazing items in their collection. They have a specific collection of Victorian and Romantic literature, which I am very interested in because these two periods of literature are some of my favorites. One of the original manuscripts that they have is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I didn’t get a chance to see this while I was there, but it is definitely something I will be checking out later.

There were quite a few fun, quirky facts about the library that stuck out to me. For instance:

  • There are 8 million stamps in their collection!
  • Easter is the library’s busiest time of the year because of people procrastinating doing their dissertations.
  • Someone once used a pen whilst in a reading room and caused 40,000 pounds worth of damage!

Also, their Treasures Room was literally chock full of treasures. We weren’t allowed to take photos, and, honestly, I was so wrapped up in staring at all of these rare books that I forgot to take notes. From what I remember, I saw a lot of old religious texts, some original Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen items, and a copy of the Magna Carta. It was super cool!

This library was interesting because of it’s setup, collections, and location. I really loved exploring the library on our tour, and I plan on definitely coming back to research here for my paper!

July 2: Stowe School

On our sixth day of being in London, and our third day of class, we went to the Stowe School. All I knew about it beforehand was that it was a very prestigious school, and it had alums like Richard Branson. On the drive up the path to the school, I came to see that it was far grander than I had anticipated. It looks just like the house in the Kiera Knightley Pride and Prejudice, where she and Darcy have their moment in the rain. I never did ask, but they did say that a few movies had been filmed there. The whole place legitimately looked like something out of a movie.

If you were a student here, this would be your everyday view.

If you were a student here, this would be your everyday view.

 

It really felt like we had walked onto a movie set.

It really felt like we had walked onto a movie set.

We were going to take a tour of their library, and I learned that the prestige was well deserved beyond just the gorgeous grounds. The whole school looks amazing, and the people who work in it (at least the ones we met) were very knowledgeable and friendly. The librarian, Carol Miller, and the House Custodian & Research Manager, Anna McEvoy, offered us tea and cookies and then took us into the library. Throughout her talk, the librarian highlighted some of the unusual problems she comes across in a school library.

 

The incredibly impressive library at Stowe School.

The incredibly impressive library at Stowe School.

She had undertaken a large renovation with the library because a few years previously their ceiling was literally caving in. Pieces of the original material were flaking off and falling onto the floor. They even had to have a special, heavy-duty net stretched under the entire ceiling, just in case the entire thing did fall. The net would be able to hold all of the weight of the ceiling, which would protect both the ceiling and those underneath it. During the restoration of the ceiling, they decided to use 23.5 carat gold leaf gilding. Obviously, it looks absolutely amazing.

Since it is such an old school, there are lots of uncommon issues that arise. I have no interest in being a school librarian; however, I found her talk very interesting. In addition to being a type of warden for the ceiling, she also has to be a bit of an historian about the school. She gave a great talk peppered with interesting tidbits about the history of the building and the family it belonged to. In 1921, the last heir died in WWI and then in 1923 the first 199 male students came to the school. In 1989, the school couldn’t keep up the extensive gardens, so it was given over to the National Trust. Since 2009, the school has become fully co-ed. The school serves 13-18 year old students and is made up of 90% boarders. For more information, I looked to their website, which was helpful.

Overall, the school is very beautiful and seems to deserve the great reputation it has. I was blown away by our walk around the grounds, and the library was not too shabby either.

June 30: Oxford

Why start slow, when you can jump right into things?

For our first day of class, it was a whirlwind of activity. We set off in a coach to Oxford, saw the Bodleian Library and Christ’s Church, and toured the town.

Outside the Bodleian.

Outside the Bodleian.

 

Seeing the Bodleian Library was phenomenal. It is an old library filled with equally old books. One of my graduate student jobs is in a special collections working with older books, from the late 1800s on. For me, seeing the books in Duke Humfrey’s Library was astonishing as most of the books are incredibly old, from the 1600s on. According to their website , there are even books from before 1641. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take pictures during this part of the tour. But, suffice it to say, the books were very impressive.

I am interested in basically all of the possible paths that librarians can take. Since I already work in a special collections right now, I found this tour especially captivating. The amount of history that goes along with that building is slightly mind boggling. Our tour guide said that there is over 600 years of history in that building. The  original library was built in the 1400s, but the library was renovated in the 1600s by Thomas Bodley. Bodley kept some key things the same for his renovations; mainly the medieval setup of the library. He kept the bookcases at a right angle, away from the walls to protect them from leaks. This organically creates study stalls for the library users. He also stacked the books upright and not on their sides. This was a new concept and was the first time that it was done in England. Seeing all of the ancient advances in preservation was very interesting. Today, the advances are more along the lines of keeping the temperature and humidity at safe levels.

There were many quirky, little things like this that we discovered on our tour of the library. For instance, their cataloging was different from what I would have expected. Instead of Dewey or Library of Congress (which obviously didn’t exist then), they created one. It had four categories, two of which are Bachelor of Arts and medicine. They also chained their books, so they couldn’t be stolen. However, the side they chose to chain their books left them no choice but to put the spine facing the shelf, which meant no one knew what the title was. In addition to these fun facts, there were loads of amazing sights.

Some of my favorites that I saw at the Bodleian were:

The Bridge of Sighs at Oxford! I definitely sighed a little upon seeing it...

The Bridge of Sighs.

Saw the Radcliffe Camera as well.

The beautiful Radcliffe Camera.

Afterwards, we broke for lunch, and then continued on to Christ’s Church. It was another sight that could have easily taken a few days to examine the entire place. Since we have such a limited amount of time at each place, it has made me a pro at quickly touring the sights I want to see. We toured most of the building and saw quite a few things. One of the standouts was this random staircase, which doesn’t look like much. However!

The staircase at Christ's Church, which may be the staircase that the Harry Potter movies based their staircase on.

This may be the staircase that the Harry Potter movies based their staircase on.

We also saw the place that may be what the Great Hall of Harry Potter is based on. It looks like this:

Possibly the Great Hall of HP's source material?

Possibly the source material for the Great Hall of HP?

After that, we had a bit of time to explore the city itself. At one of our professors’ suggestion, we checked out a very touristy, but very fun shop.

Just embracing the touristy side and visiting the official Alice's Shop.

The official Alice’s Shop.

The Alice Shop was jam-packed with people, but it had a lot of cool little trinkets for my friends back home.

All in all, it was a busy, but incredibly enlightening day. I have a sneaking feeling that the rest of the trip will fall somewhere along these fantastically fun lines.

 

Journey to London?

During the long, frigid winter, I received an email. On one of the many list servs, I saw an email offering an opportunity to study abroad in London during July. Having never studied abroad during my undergraduate career, I thought that this was not a possibility during my graduate studies. Library and Information Science doesn’t necessarily lend itself to study abroad experiences.

However, the University of Southern Mississippi boasted an incredibly enticing program: go to London, visit numerous different types of libraries, keep a blog, and write a research paper. Oh, and it included a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Needless to say, I set my heart on going pretty quickly.

I worked a bunch and saved as much as I could. Then the day finally came when I flew over to London. It was a long, red-eye flight, but I arrived on June 27th in the morning. I was so excited and exhausted that I was in awe of everything. The professors took us back to the dorms, and then another girl and I explored our new neighborhood. We walked past Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, and other iconic London sights.

Just a short stroll from my new home.

Big Ben, which is just a short stroll from my new home.

The London Eye in all of its glory.

The London Eye in all of its glory.

After a neighborhood tour from the professors, I felt a lot more comfortable with the area. I am incredibly excited for the upcoming month because I know that it will be crammed with amazing things!