Saturday, 26 July 2014

The British Library

So I acquired three different cards during my stay in the United Kingdom.  The tube pass, while useful, falls at the bottom of the rankings in terms of how excited I was to receive these passes and my perception of their intrinsic awesomeness.  The other two are neck and neck for number one, with the one I acquired today just barely edging out the Liberty of London loyalty card.  And what could surpass that greatness?  My very own British Library reader's pass.  I'm sure you can see why it is a close competition.

     Visiting the British Library to view the exhibits and space is a trip in and of itself.  The Treasures Room and the towering presence of King George's Library are incredible.  However, visiting the Library to research?  Well that is a whole other level of awesome.
     There are several things that one should keep in mind when embarking on acquiring a Reader's Pass.  First, pre-register.  Not only will this save time, but it allows you to pre-order books, which is an invaluable time saver.  Also, make sure you have the proper identification necessary.  You need two forms, I used my passport and driver's license.  Finally, arrive early.  Not only will this help you beat any crowds, but it will give you more time to research.
      I knew going to the British Library for research would be an experience.  There were a few times during my stay in London and UK were I was actually wide eyed and star struck by my surroundings, and this was definitely one of them.  The reading rooms are massive, and quiet.  It is truly astounding and refreshing to be in such a large space and hear so little noise.  The perfect space for research.  I had, at the suggestion of fellow classmates and the British Library website pre-registered and pre-ordered my materials, so the process of acquiring my pass and getting my materials was relatively short. 
      And here is perhaps the most important thing to remember before entering the reading rooms to begin research, and a hard lesson I had to learn.  Make sure your pencil had lead in it.  Yes, that's right, wide-eyed and ready to dive into research I find out that I am on the very last bit of lead in the pencil.  I made the most of it.  You find ways to improvise when you really need it.  Despite my failing writing utensil I was able to get some valuable research completed on the William Morris Gallery and Archive.  The British Library had a few volumes of interest regarding the early compilation of the collection and on its formation. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery is located on the outskirts of London in Walthamstow.  As the name suggests, the Gallery and Archive are dedicated to collecting and preserving materials relating to William Morris, who was one of the founding fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement.  The Gallery also collects materials relating to Frank Brangwyn who helped to found the Gallery, as well as several of Morris' friends and fellow artists.  The Gallery and Archives are housed in the Water House, a Georgian mansion dating from 1750.  The house is located within the grounds of Lloyd Park.  William Morris resided in the residence during his youth.  The Gallery completed a renovation in 2012 which upgraded the space, and provided for storage for the archive collection.  The library and reading room are located on the upper floor, while the archive and gallery collections are stored within a secured environmentally controlled room in the basement.
      A tour through the Gallery provided information not only on the life and works of William Morris and his comrades, which is vast and varied, but also on the types of materials owned by the Gallery.  The range of items presented was vast and all present interesting preservation and storage concerns.  There were documents and books, but also tapestries, rugs, wallpapers, furniture, and printing equipment.  The Gallery itself is modern, with interactive displays and features.  
      In reviewing documents later in the day, I learned that the collections on display must be kept  in controlled conditions and regularly inspected for conservation concerns.  Items kept in storage are also regularly inspected for condition and are appraised for condition and damage concerns upon being acquired and processed.  Procedures for conservation and preservation action were clearly defined within the Gallery's conservation policy.
      The library and archives are just beginning to digitized their collections.  There is a limited number of items available online.  This applies to the catalog as well.  There are a small number of from the catalog which are available via the Gallery's website.  This does limit the ability to fully research the collection if a site visit is not feasible.  However, the librarians and curators are available via email to answer questions.
      As mentioned the reading room and library are located on the upper floor.  The space has clearly been modernized, but the library space was still cramped.  The reading room, however, was large and bright with amble work space.  The staff was very friendly and helpful.  Not only were they able to answer the questions I had, they took the time and effort to locate administrative documents and reports that they thought would be beneficial to my research. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Dunfermline Carnegie Library

On our last full day in Edinburgh, we had the opportunity to take an optional side trip to Dunfermline.  Our hosts for our visit were knowledgeable, welcoming, and friendly.  Dunfermline is the birth place of Andrew Carnegie and the location for the first Carnegie Library.  The library is currently being refurbished with plans to build an adjoining museum onto the back.  The Dunfermline Library was opened in 1883, following a gift of 5000pounds by Andrew Carnegie in 1879 to the town for the creation of a library.  The building was later added onto in the early 1900s and again in the 1990s. 
      There is something moving about being in an empty library.  Being in a space that is usual filled with objects, people, daily goings on, that is now devoid of all that is both haunting and provides a way to better appreciate the beauty of the space.  The Dunfermline Library is beautiful.  The space is open while still being filled with bookshelves.  The historic character of the space has been preserved, and hopefully will continue to be throughout its renovation.  The original bookcases with there detailed moldings topped with carved figures, and the old fireplace give the space an inviting and cozy feel.  Upstairs in the former reference area, the vaulted wooden ceiling is spectacular.  Equally impressive is the Special Collections room, with its rich wood and closed bookshelves.  Adding to the beauty of the space our the views from the windows. 
      The former local history rooms were of particular interest to me.  Not only was the main room spacious, but there were an additional two rooms that had been dedicated to the storage and use of historical materials.  It was heartening to see such space and resources being dedicated to historical collections in a public library.  Coming from a country were tightening budgets often mean that local history and genealogy funding is quickly cut, it was great to see such resources being provided for these invaluable collections.
    During our visit we also had the opportunity to visit the Dunfermline Abbey, which houses the remains of Robert the Bruce.  Perhaps as equally beautiful as the Abbey were the views from the graveyard.  Scotland has some of the prettiest countryside I have seen.  Our group was also able to visit the Andrew Carnegie birthplace, which is located down the street from the Library and Abbey.  The museum, while small, makes use of modern technology to provide visitors with an informative and engaging experience.
In a follow up to this post... We made the local news!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Central Library of Edinburgh

The Central Library of Edinburgh is housed in a Victorian building dating to the 1880s.  The library itself was opened in 1890, and is a Carnegie Library.  The library is one of over twenty public libraries within the city of Edinburgh.  The library served as a ration book distribution site during World War II, as well as an order distribution point for the volunteer fire brigade. 
     The library uses the Library of Congress classification system with modifications to fit their audience.  The building has been adapted to fit modern demands, including the adding power outlets, Wi-Fi and other technological requirements.  The majority of the library collections are housed within the central area, however, there separate sections for music, teens, and an art library located on an upper floor.  Reference materials are located within the original reading room.
     Adjoining the library is the new renovated children's library.  The building housing the children's collection was a former bank, which was purchased in the 1950s and only recently renovated for the collections.  The children's library offers several programs to encourage developing reading skills in children, such as the BookBug programs aimed at children under five.  The library has also started initiative to engage children with reading disabilities, and are known for their efforts in starting reading groups and programs for children with dyslexia.  Books for the children's library are centrally ordered.
      Following our tour the Central Library, we were treated to a presentation by Jim Thompson about the library and its initiatives.  Perhaps the most interesting thing discussed was the library's creation of the Our Town software.  The software allows the user to view the changing of a given area via a photographic timeline.  The library was also the first library system to develop an app with full access to library collections and information.  The newest libraries being added to the Edinburgh system are housed within community hubs; a collection of community and cultural resources housed within the same building to save costs and space.  Due to the high number of branches within the city, residents are never more than a mile and half from a library.  The library system also operates mobile libraries, prison libraries, and hospital libraries.  The library system has a number of outreach programs geared towards bring people into the library and helping residents improve skills, such as Library 4U aimed at teaching job and social skills to patrons under 25.

New College Library- University of Edinburgh

The New College Library of the University of Edinburgh, despite its name is not in fact new.  The library was founded in 1843, and now serves as the library for the University's School of Divinity.  Fitting then that the library is housed in a former church.  Once again I am impressed by this country's ability and determination to re-use historic space and adapt them to fit within the modern world.  The library is open to both the public and the University.  There is a  fee charged to public users wishing to borrow, but using the reference collections is free. 
     The main floor of the library boast a gorgeous ceiling, stained glass windows, and beautiful wooden bookcases crafted from old church pews, complete with intricate carvings.  The space has been adapted to fit with modern needs including Wi-Fi throughout the space, supplying a sufficient number of power outlets, and creating usable teaching spaces.  The lower stacks are open with the exception of the special collections stacks, and our in starch contrast to the main level.  They are dim and somewhat cramped, even more so with fourteen people trying to squeeze in, but basement stacks general are.  The library utilizes the Library of Congress classification system.
      The library classes rare books and materials as dating before 1850.  A special collections room has been set up in a corner of the main floor.  The room is small,  but the glass walls and security system, allow for greater monitoring of materials being used.  There is no written special collections policy for the library.
     The library collection consists of approximately 200000 items with 50000 items in special collections, and around 30000 pamphlets.  The library also has a large number of journals online and is continuing to grow the number of books available digitally.  The library has a modest budget, approximately 60000pounds.  Weeded items from the collection go to support annual book sales which students help to run.  A minimal amount of funding also comes from the Church of Scotland.  Monies raised from the book sales are used to fund conservation efforts.  Special collections items are generally only added to the collection via donation.  However, special fundraising campaigns and donations are usually sought to purchase specific items, generally via auction or private seller.  The majority of the new collection, however, arrive shelf ready.  Currently the library is working on cataloging online material. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland original started as the Advocates Library in 1687.  The Advocates Library would later merge with the national collections to form the National Library.  The Library serves as Scotland's depository library.  The current building on George IV Bridge was completed in 1954.  In 1995 an additional building, the Causewayside building, was completed.  In 2009 a vistor centre was built within the main building.  The library's conservation services are performed off site, while emergency conservation services, such as freezing water damage, is available within the main building.  The library holds regular events and workshop on a variety of topics, including using the collections, creative events, and lectures.  The collections consists of 14 million books and manuscripts, 2 million maps and atlases, 300000 music scores, 32000 films and videos, 25000 magazine and newspaper titles, and over 6000 items are added to the collection weekly.
      The library collections are stored in environmentally controlled spaces according to size.  Each item is given a mark indicating subject, size, year and a running number.  Most books are stored without dust jackets in order to save space.  However, this creates a dilemma when an item is needed for an exhibition and its dust jacket is located in a completely different place and often in a group of items with no particular order.  The library has six levels of stacks, with various levels of security.  The more valuable collections, such as the John Murray archive can only be accessed by certain staff.  Several of the stacks are kept dark to prevent light damage, and are only illuminated when needed. 
      The library has a permanent exhibit space dedicated to showing the public important artifacts and materials from their collections, namely the John Murray archive.  The exhibit space is modern and very engaging to the viewer.  Displays are housed in large tubes that each contains key artifacts relating to a given person, such as Livingston or Byron.  Each display is accompanied by a touch screen which provides audio and digitized documents relating to the objects.  In selecting the object it becomes illuminated and the viewer is able to scroll through the information as they wish.
     The library also has plans to provide visitors with emails containing transcript and recording of materials they are interested in.  The emails would also contain links to suggestions for additional sources or materials similar to the requested.  The library is clearly active and proactive rather than reactive in creating services to engage their patrons.

Image from the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2014.  Available @

Friday, 11 July 2014

Herbarium Library and Archives- Kew Gardens

The Herbarium Library and Archives is located just outside the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew.  Prior to the formal creation of the library in 1852, researchers used the private collections of the first director William Hooker.  The library today consists of approximately 300000 books and pamphlets, 5000 periodicals, 200000, all of which add to the total of some 7 millions sheets of paper.  The historical books pertaining to botany are still used today by researchers and are essential in producing revisions.  The original house used to house the archives dates from the 1600s, with the oldest wing dating from the 1870s.  The newest wing of the building was completed in 2010 and is modern and open.  It truly amazes and gladdens me of the abundance of examples in this country of continuing to utilize historic buildings and adapting them for modern use, instead of tearing them down and building something new.
     The library and archives is fortunate enough to have a conservator on staff.  However, due to stagnant and decreasing funding, conservation efforts are limited.  Our guide and presenter estimated that it cost between five hundred and one thousand pounds to properly conserve one book.
     Included in the collection is a small number of items relating to Beatrix Potter.  Potter came to Kew in order to pursue research into a theory that fungi reproduce via spores.  Although her theory would turn out to be correct, the dismissive treatment she received during her scientific pursuits but her off to furthering her scientific career.
      We were also able to view, briefly, the herbarium, were specimens are stored.  The herbarium is currently in the process of being re-classified, but was still open for research.  The space is large and open, with specimens stored in large cabinets.  New storage facilities for herbarium specimens are kept at a low 15 degrees Celsius to help prevent pests.  Materials are inspected for pest upon arrival, and regularly thereafter.  While the issue of pests is serious to any archive, it was interesting to be among a collection were even the smallest infestation could be catastrophic.  Providing and maintaining the right environmental storage conditions for organic materials are truly a daunting task.
     Following our tour of the library and herbarium, we were treated to a presentation on Leslie Linder.  Linder is known for breaking the code Beatrix Potter used in writing her journals.  The speaker was knowledgeable and thorough on discussing the life and achievements of Mr. Linder.  The discovery of Potter's secret code allowed researchers a greater insight into the personal life and thoughts of a beloved writer.