Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Library For The World

The Edinburgh Central Library reminds me a bit of how the Public Libraries in New York City are laid out. There is one central library and then there are several branch libraries throughout the city that are connected to the main branch. While Edinburgh is not as large a city as New York, it does boast 27 branch libraries that are connected to its Central Library.

Our visit allowed us to tour and learn about the Central Library, which almost acts as one of the large learning institutions in Edinburgh. It almost reminded me of the Barbican Library in London, but with more branches, more employees, and more services. Founded in 1890, The Central Library is a Carnegie Library. Carnegie gave 50,000 pounds for the construction of the library, which translates into about 45 million pounds today. His gift and vision allowed the library to grow into what it is today. Here are some numbers and facts about the library:

The stacks are really quite beautiful
- It has about 1/2 a million items and the libraries get about 1/2 million visitors each year
- The library gets about 8-10,000 new members each year. The membership is free and anyone can join. Even if you don't live in Edinburgh or Scotland. You are allowed to join the library and use their online services.
- They are strong advocates of self-service and allow their patrons to check out books by themselves. They can be renewed online as well.
- They are pioneers in the digital world for public libraries. They have a very interactive website with online newsletters, access to some of their large collections of documents and photographs, as well as learning resources, such as language courses and driver's licenses classes. All of this is available online and free with your library card, which is also free!
- Their Reading Champion Program is really awesome and it attempts to get books to looked after and accommodated children. This can kind of be equated to children living in foster homes in the United States. They focus on those living in Edinburgh and it helps foster a desire to read among these children, thus to lessen the high number of illiteracy in the city.

Overall, the Central Library of Edinburgh is a great organization. They really reach out of all of their patrons and are a step ahead of the curve in the digital world. It is truly a library for the world.

Photo Courtesy of The Edinburgh Public Libraries:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Someone Please Stop Putting the Archives in the Basement

When in doubt, the archives often find themselves in either a basement or an attic. Now an attic is the worst, for all the changes in temperature and humidity have a major impact on the documents and their preservation. Basements can have similar issues with temperature and humidity, but are often cooler than attics (that whole hot air rises, cool air falls thing) and so it's not that much of an issue. Still, people and organizations tend to put their archives in the basement because it doesn't garner a high level of attention and importance.

Well. at the British Museum, the archives of the institution are in.....the basement. When one walks up to the building, they see this beautiful 19th century building with classical undertones all over the facade. You walk inside, and the center of the building has recently been transformed to adapt to the 21st century needs of the museum, for it now has a huge glass dome that holds the temporary exhibits, the gift shop, and several small cafes. A glass domed ceiling towers above you and one can know the weather outside by just looking up.

However, to get to the archives, one must leave the large dome and head into the depths of the building. You  walk down steps and head through a heavy steel door that takes you to the underbelly of the original 1850s building. Stephanie Clarke, our guide and the museum's archivist, takes us through the hallways until we happen upon this door to my right. It reminds one of a submarine.

Stephanie took us into the archives and gave us a great overview of the holdings. She joined the museum about six years ago, after the museum had hired an archivist who was, well, not trained to be an archivist. Suffice it to say, Stephanie had a lot of work to do and she's been able to get a great handle on the collection during the past six years. Now I could go into all of the really exciting aspects of archives and use big words, like provenance, and record series, and finding aids, but I will try to put explain what they have and what Stephanie has done to, in a sense, organize the collection. 

The central archives of the British Museum holds the administrative history of the museum. Each department in the museum takes care of their own collection so Stephanie only has to oversee one area. This administrative area is split up into several records series, so they are easier to access my researchers. They are as follows: trustees minutes, staff records, finances, building records, temporary exhibitions, excavations, and the round reading room. While we didn't get to see all of these, we did get to see examples from a few of them. The trustees minutes are very important for reference inquiries, for they give evidence for all of the items donated to, or purchased by, the museum. They also include correspondence with different people who had an impact on the museum and its growth. The building records include both plans and deeds of the building. The records of temporary exhibitions includes binders filled with information regarding the make up, construction, and layout of each exhibition. All are very important to the history of the exhibition as well as allowing curators to see what was done in the past.

The archives of the British Museum are small but filled with valuable information. The most upsetting aspect of this is that there is no finding aid or online catalog of the collection. Currently, the only listing of the collection is located in an in-house Excel spreadsheet. However, there are now plans in the budget to put together an online catalog so hopefully that will be available to researchers in the next two years. There is a lifetime of work do to in these archives, but they are extremely important to the history and future of the British Museum. 

A Touch of Normality in the Disney World for Shakespseare

Stratford-Upon-Avon is a tourist attraction, built up around the fame of William Shakespeare. It has been a tourist attraction for a couple of centuries now, and it's tough to find the local aspects of the town in one that is so inundated with tourists and shops/inns/pubs/locales that cater to the tourist crowd. However, right next to Shakespeare's birthplace and museum, is the Stratford-Upon-Avon Public Library. It is unassuming in its outward appearance, for it attempts to stick to the 17th century themed-buildings that populate the town. Over the door is a small sign that says, Public Library, but nothing more to make its presence known. Tourists pass by it without glance, rushing quickly on to see the more popular attractions of the town.

However, when you actually take the opportunity to enter this building, you're walking into a modern, yet small, public library. It reminds one of a local public library branch in any small town in America. It is a Carnegie Library that was founded in 1905 and has stood there ever since. When you walk into the library, the first aspect you notice are the 16 computers, all of which are being used by library patrons. There is a woman checking out her books on one of three RFID scanners, and other locals are milling about in the small alcoves. The library is small but it fulfills the purpose of this town. We saw only three employees working, one re-shelving, another sitting at a reference desk, and one hovering nearby the computers in case anyone was in need of assistance.

When you walk through the library, you can get a sense of the demographics of Stratford-Upon-Avon. There is definitely an older crowd in the library and this is also evident in the books on the shelves. However, there is also a large children's library, showing that they do have a sizable number of children who use the books. Upstairs, there are the non-fiction books as well as the genealogy section. This is more extensive, once more showing what is important to the patrons of the library. Computers can be found throughout the library and one can access them via their library card # and password. The library uses the Dewey Decimal System and one look at the bookshelves shows that it has room to expand its collection.

Overall, the public library in Stratford-Upon-Avon has a very homey feel. It reminded me of the library that I grew up in and the one that played an important role in me becoming a librarian. While it is very unassuming from the outside, the inside is very modern and one feels very much away from the tourist trap that is Shakespeare's birthplace.  

More Than Just Words: A Walk-Through of the National Art Library

A modern binding of Shakespeare's
Ten Greatest Plays
If there is one thing that you learn by touring the National Art Library, it's that books can be more than just words on a page. As a future librarian/archivist and lover of books, I already knew this and could see the beauty in a book beyond the words meticulously chosen by the author. A book's specific binding matters, as does the font used and the size chosen. Choosing a hardback over a softback; the type of paper used; all of these matter to how the book is recognized by the public and by private collectors.

A 16th Century Bible
bound in Tortoise Shell
At the National Art Library, located in the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of the collection policies of the library is to collect books with rare and interesting bindings. In fact, the library has a very wide array of books that fall under their collection development policy. The library is currently one of the three major reference art libraries in the world and holds about 1 million books. It is one of the peer institutions for the study of art, craft, and design, and collects books dealing with these subjects. However, it's collection is quite extensive and varied. As stated above, it collects books dealing with the design of the book. Thus, it will collect a very popular and well known book that is published everywhere, but only if it has a very different and special binding. This photo here is an example.

The Book Of Nails! You cannot open it!
Moreover, the books it collects do not have to have words to still have intrinsic value and be deemed of value by the library. Books as art, or Artist Books, is a very popular genre of art and one that the library focuses much of their collection on. Here is a website that explains much more about these books, for it can be hard to put into words. Some are one of a kind, because these artists only make one copy of these books. Others are not, for the artists want their work disseminated throughout the world. Of these, the library has about 4,000 items.

A Dickens Manuscript of Bleak House
These are just a few aspects of the National Art Library that make it stand out as a special institution in the study of art. They also have some very special documents, given to them by John Forster in the 19th century. The Forster Collection really helped this library expand and branch out in several different directions. Some of the items from this gift include manuscripts from Charles Dickens', a good friend of Forster, as well as Leonardo Da Vinci codices. A museum library is very different from other types of libraries. It must collect items that correspond to the holdings in the museum but can also branch out and collect different items, such as this one does in collecting Artist Books. Most museums have libraries, but they are often hidden from public, so next time you're in a museum, make sure to scope out the library and see what it has to offer. It may surprise you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The London Library: Tradition with a Twist

The London Library is a unique institution in several aspects. From its history, to its architecture, and even its collection., the library stands as a very important institution to the history and future of London. The London Library is tucked away in a corner of St. James Park. It is located in a region full of townhouses, and was actually a townhouse at its founding in 1841. This library was founded mainly because several intellectuals were annoyed at the British Library. As stated in a previous blog, the British Library is a non-lending library. Thus, you must go to the library to use the books but cannot take them home. These intellectuals believed that one should be able to go a library and borrow any book. Thus, these intellectuals, who most importantly include Thomas Carlyle, founded the library which has continued to grow to its present size and is now the largest lending library in the world.

What is especially interesting about the London Library is the fact that it requires a membership to join. Anyone can join but it will run you about 445 pounds annually. You can also get a lifetime membership, costing between 1000 pounds and 18,900 pounds, depending upon your age. The library requires a membership because it is completely independently funded. Membership fees makes up about 80% of the budget, and the other 20% comes from fundraisers and donations from patrons. Being entirely independent from an organization or a government allows the London Library to follow its own course. During it's history, the museum has grown to the size of 1 million items, 97% of then that are able to be browsed and borrowed. These books are in 50 different languages and in several different subject areas: Arts and Humanities, History, Literature, Biography, Art, Topography, Science and Miscellaneous, and Religion. They date from the 16th century to modern day, and only about 30,000 are rare and cannot be borrowed.

The architecture of the London Library is also quite unique. The library has a policy of not weeding the collection and thus need to constantly expand their stacks. Each part of the library has a different flavor, for it was built during a different time period in the library's 150+ year history. The main area feels as if you're walking into an old Victorian townhouse. In other parts of the library, there more early 20th century aspects. Part of the library was actually built in New York and then shipped over to London. There are grated metal floors, through which you can see several flights up or down. Not all of the shelves are the same, but they are unique to when the building was constructed and one can tell the history of the building through its architecture. The library just finished an expansion that will be able to house the yearly income of 8,000 books for the next 25 years.

Overall, the London Library is a truly unique institution. From its foundation as a library in response to the British Library, to the way it collects and preserves its collection, to how it grew architecturally over time, the London Library is very important to the history of London and the world. Its members consist of famous authors before their names were written down in the history books. Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, Charles Darwin, and Agatha Christie are just a few of the many who have benefited from the library and in turn, given to the library to make sure it continues to be a haven for budding writers and artists of the 21st century.

Monday, July 9, 2012

In the Greenwich Meantime

Our class took us to the Greenwich Maritime Museum today, where we toured a special exhibit. Normally, the group gets a tour of the library at the museum but it has been closed for the past two years, first for construction and this year because of the Olympics. That is upsetting but we rallied our spirits and took the exhibit by storm.

The exhibit is titled: Power, Pageantry, and The Thames and is sponsored by Barclays in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. The exhibit runs until September 9th and goes through the importance of the Thames in royal processions over the years. It was both a wonderful and educational exhibit, beginning with the importance of London Bridge in the 16th century as the only crossing in the capital and one that connected all of the palaces together. It then traced the history of the royal family through their processions on the Thames, the construction of major palaces along the riverfront, and the importance of the Royal Navy for British Royalty.

The exhibit took about 30-45 minutes to go through and really soak up all of the information. There wasn't a lot of technological aspects of the exhibit, possibly because it is only a temporary exhibit. Along the back wall of the exhibit, there clips of a video rolling across the screen but I was unsure as to what they pertained. The only other confusing aspect of the exhibit was the direction in which one walked. When you entered a room, you did not begin immediately on your right but needed to walk to the other side of the room and the proceed in a semi-circle to your right. As an American who is used to everything being done on the right, this was sort of confusing, but I quickly got used to it.

Overall, I really enjoyed the exhibit and thought it was well done. The lighting was excellent and the explanation of the exhibit cases were very good. Moreover, the items displayed were quite stunning, with books the detailed processions to outfits worn by the royal family on these processions, and many more amazing items. It was a great exhibit and it is took bad that it will only be around for another two months. I wasn't able to take photos of the exhibit, but one can purchase a book of it at the gift shop located at the entrance to the exhibit.

The British Library: A Pioneer in Library Technology

On the fourth day of classes, we went to the largest library in the United Kingdom: The British Library. Located near the St. Pancreas and King's Cross Station's, The British Library is the paramount library in the United Kingdom, and possibly the 2nd or 3rd largest library in the entire world (The Library of Congress is the largest, by far.) The building of the library began in 1973 and it was finally finished in 1997 (yes it took quite awhile but the monetary needs for the library were seriously under. Before the building of this structure, the library was part of the British Museum but since the library receives one copy of every item published in the UK, it grows by 3 million items every year. To tell you everything I learned about the British Library would take several paragraphs and would be too much to put into words. Thus, I want to focus on the technological aspects of this library that make it a pioneer in library technology and one of the premier libraries in the world.

Library Collection: From the outside, the library is very deceiving. It looks as if could not hold even a quarter of the roughly 180 million items that are in the library's collection. That is because not all of the collection is located at the British Library. Only 60% of the library's collection is actually on site and the other 40% is located in West Yorkshire. Of that 60%, it is located underground in a subterranean tower block. There are four levels of shelving underneath the library, where most of the books are kept. This tower block is kept at 17 degrees Celsius and 50% humidity, the temperature and humidity levels that will preserve the books best. There are many issues with books being underground and the major one is the water table. The shelves are located 73-74 feet under the water table and the flooding of the stacks could occur. Thus, there are large underground cisterns that collects the water around the tower and then pumps it into the Thames.

Access to the Collection: Accessing the collection is a nice mixture of automated and personal attention. When a researcher comes to the library, they must know what they are looking for. They then enter their information into a computer and wait to be called by an attendant. Here, the British Library employee will further question them about their visit, make sure their credentials are valid, and assist them in getting the documents they need. The researcher then heads to one of the 11 reading rooms and chooses their desired items from the collection.

ABRS: This information is sent to the ABRS (Automated Book Retrieval System) or the coolest piece of technology I've seen in a library. It holds all of the catalog information and knows where all of the books are located in the library. It prints out two slips for each request: one to be placed in the spot where the book is removed from the shelf and the other is placed in the book itself. The book is retrieved by one of several runners that work in the underground tower. The ABRS tells them what track the book needs to be on to be sent to the correct reading room and the runner scans the book out of the shelves and onto the track where it is sent to the correct room. There is over 1.5 miles of track in the library and it will take any book to any reading room above. From here, the researcher has access to the book while in the library and must then return it at the end of the day.

Touch Screen Technology: In addition to the technology that exists for the researchers in the British Library, visitors and researchers can also access several of the library's more treasured items through touch-screens scattered throughout the library. The British Library has developed an in-house touch screen technology, called "Turning the Pages," and has scanned books like John James Audobon's Birds of America. This book is massive in size, measuring roughly 39 x 26 inches. It is also a treasured book, for it is the original edition of the book as Audubon could only find publishers in the UK for his book. Now everyone can access it, either in the library or at home, using this technology. One can turn the pages themselves, zoom in and out to see the detail of the life-size birds, and listen to someone give more information about the book itself. Here is the website for the British Library's Virtual Library. It's a really great program that allows worldwide access to the more fragile yet important parts of the collection.

While the British Library is not the largest library in the world, it is definitely the richest in the diversity of its collection and the technological services it offers its patrons. It's a beautiful building and a real testament to what a library can be in the modern day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Four Hundred Years of History Within Four Hundred Feet

Between the walk from the train station in Oxford to the moment you enter the Old School’s Quadrangle of Oxford University, you are transported 400 years in the past. As you walk into the Old Divinity School, you are stepping even further into the past and you can imagine monks from all over Britain and Europe sitting in this late English Gothic room with vaulted ceilings, pouring over religious texts in Latin and Greek. Our tour guide, David Knowles, was a tall Englishman with much knowledge and a quick wit. (He also went to Cambridge so he may have been slightly biased).

David took us on a tour of the Bodleian Library, one of several that exist in Oxford. This is the oldest and holds the richest materials in the collection. Above the Old Divinity School is the most famous aspect of the building: Duke Humfrey’s Library. In the mid-1400s, the duke gifted his manuscript collection of 250 items to Oxford. They built the library to hold these manuscripts but it soon fell into disrepair as the printing press took the world by storm. However, in 1600, Thomas Bodley wrote to the chancellor of Oxford, informing him that he wished to spend his own money to refurbish the Duke’s library. Thus, the Bodleian Library was formed and it has continued to grow in size ever since. Bodley even instituted his own catalog system in 1605, and was out of space by 1607. He then built more bookshelves on the outside of the original library, which are believed to be the first example of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in Britain.

Since then, the collection at Oxford Library has grown to epic proportions. Here are some facts about the library today:

  • The Radcliffe Camera is a building to the south of the Bodleian. It has several reading rooms and there were underground bookshelves and a tunnel that connected it to…
  • The New Bodleian. This was finished by 1948 and it used to hold some 4 million books. It is currently under construction and will be completed by 2015. Thus, about 98% of the library’s 11 million books are located about a half hour away.
  • It is a non-lending library so users cannot take out books and must come to one of the 32 reading rooms to use the collection.
  • It also has a copy of every book published in the UK since 1600.

Oxford is such an interesting place and the library is just fascinating. One can see the transformation of architecture in England from the 1400s to the 1700s. There is a 1400s English-Style Gothic, Renaissance-style 200 years after the fact, and 1300s Jacobean Gothic. If one is looking for the history of the town and the university, one should go no further than the Bodleian.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My Books Are My Fortress

The Barbican Library is an atypical public library located in the City of London. The City of London should not be confused with Greater London, for it is only one square mile and it is the extent of what London was during the Roman and Mediaeval periods. The library was built in a region of London that was bombed extensively during WWII. All that survived was the church where Milton was buried and Shakespeare worshipped. When they decided to rebuild the area, they made it into a barbican, or fortified gateway. The area is built like a fortress and it can be a bit confusing to get into, which was the idea.

The Barbican is a lending library, and serves the population of the City of London as well as those who work in the square mile. It was built in the 1980s, but has been modernized over the course of the last thirty years. They are actually celebrating 30 years of the Barbican this year! There is a lot to impart about this library and I could go on for a long time, but I want to focus on what I believed was the best part of this library: its music library.

The Music Library is located on the ground floor of the Barbican Library, which is actually located in the larger Barbican Centre. It just recently won the Excellence Award, and excellent it is. We spoke with the Here are some fun facts about the music library: 
  • It was the first music library in the City of London
  • It has TWO practice pianos that patrons can use for an hour a day, as long as they reserve in advance. So cool!
  • They have a collection of 9,000 books and nearly 16,000 scores.
  • They also have a collection of 15,000 CDs, which is the largest in London and one of the largest in England
Overall, the Barbican Library offers some amazing services throughout their library. The librarians who gave us the tour, Geraldine Pote and Jonathan Gibbs, are determined to make the library as self-serving as possible. They use RFID to scan in and out books at self-service counters, and these RFID scanners are very high-tech and allow users to just place their books on the scanner and have them be read by the machine. They also have this for the CDs that patrons borrow from the library. They also have a great children’s library that offers tons of programs to the patrons of the library as well as children in the city of London. This is definitely a public library to strive towards.

Also, the children's librarian discussed this program that the UK has for all of it's children. It's called Bookstart and it gives every child born in the UK a book at birth, and then again at age three. There is something of this sort in the US but it's not a national program and we should definitely strive to do that. Here is the link if you would like to read more about it.