Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Museum of London (Revisited): 29 July 2008

Courtesy of Elizabeth Minter


This morning the class discussed our paper topics, mine being the accessibility of information via displays and exhibits for the Young Adult. My colleague, Jane Daughtery suggested that I return to the Museum of London to explore the London's Burning: The Great Fire of London 1666 exhibit.

I am really glad that I did. The exhibit provides access to a variety of visitors and addresses numerous learning styles. For instance, the text is a large and simple font style for easy reading. It also provides probing and thought provoking questions for the younger audience such as "How did people cope?" and "Who caused the fire?"

In addition, the height of the objects on display and the text accompanying it are at a reasonable height for the younger visitor while also accommodating the adult visitor. There are also audio and visual accompaniments to the exhibit. Computers allow the visitor to research various aspect of the fire and the time period including themes, people, the timeline of the fire and an "Ask the Curator" aspect.

Every aspect of the exhibit asks the visitor to stop and reflect on the causes, the nature of, and the aftermath of the fire. It invites the visitor to take a part in his/her own education and learning through family activity sheets and poetry/picture projects that are displayed in the exhibit.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh: 23 July 2008

Courtesy of Wikipedia

On my Independent Day I chose to visit the Museum of Childhood which contains the history of childhood and toys, past and present. It opened in 1955. Not only was I excited about the content which is applicable to both adults and children, but I was curious to see the display and how interactive the Museum was.

I was both impressed and disappointed. The display of toys was unbelievable with dolls dating back to the 1800s, trains and games of my great grandmother's childhood. However, the labeling was lacking. Oftentimes I would find an object I wanted to know more about and there would be no information about it or it would simply say the name of the item with no descriptive qualities attached. As impressive as the collection was, the choice of display was overwhelming and unwieldy. It was impossible to see everything and I even spotted a film of dust along the shelving implying that there has not been much in the way of adapting the collection to the needs of today's visitor.

In addition, I discovered that there was no map or brochure to guide the visitor to specific areas of the Collection. One had to just meander through the jungle of toys and hope to discover the collection of Steiffs or the history of school uniforms. After visiting the Roald Dahl Museum & Centre and the National Library of Scotland's display of the John Murray Archive, I was amazed to see how old the display style of the Museum was. It lacked the interactive elements that engage children of all ages and the staff did not seem to be very enthusiastic about providing further information.

University of Strathclyde: 22 July 2008

Our visit to the University of Strathclyde was a day packed with information. The University was extremely welcoming. We were greeted by David McMenemy and Alan Poulter, both professors in the Computer Information Sciences department. In addition to these two speakers, we heard from Christine Rooney-Browne and David Dawson.

While the talks were extremely insightful (discussions of the social value of the Public Library and Forensic Readiness of Local Libraries in School), I found our visit to the Bridge in Easterhouse the most intriguing. Here we met Stephen Finnie who gave us a tour of the facility. I say facility because the space was much more than a library. It opened after 10 years of planning in 2006 "as the hub of the most innovative, integrated approach to leisure, learning, arts and training in Scotland" (Library at the Bridge handout).

The community in which the Bridge resides is a depressed and impoverished area so the opening of the Bridge is expected to have a plethora of benefits both intrinsic and extrinsic. The Bridge has a swimming pool, dance studio, sound recording studio, costume workshop, theatre and is attached to the Community College. Though there are a number of parties involved, the building is completely integrated and a visitor has access to any aspect of the facility. The Bridge has extensive programming. Even as we were touring several programs were going on. The difficult tween age group had a workshop on animation. There was also a face painting program for the younger ages. This took place in the Children's area which is conveniently shelved on movable shelves allowing the reorganization of the collection to accommodate programming needs.

I was absolutely amazed by the collaboration and partnerships involved in bringing about such an impressive and welcoming place for the community to come. The space was open and airy, a hub of activity. Instead of the silence of conventional libraries, one heard the activity of learning.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

National Archives of Scotland: 21 July 2008

After our tour of the National Library of Scotland we walked through Edinburgh to the National Archives of Scotland. The National Archives are comprised of three buildings: General Register House, West Register House and Thomas Thomson House. General Register and West are accessible to the public while Thomas Thomson is primarily for conservation. The Archives:
"exists to select, preserve, and make available the national archives of Scotland in whatever medium, to the highest standards; to promote the growth and maintenance of proper archive provision throughout the country; and to lead the development of archival practice in Scotland." (http://www.nas.gov.uk/about/default.asp)

The Archives have over 70 kilometres of records some dating as far back as the 12th century. They continue to try to improve accessibility of these records by various digitization projects and their five websites. One of their digitization projects was the digitization of Scottish wills spanning from 1513 to 1901. In addition, they provide research areas for anyone interested in tracing their heritage. Their public and historical records are available free of charge while their legal documents are provided for a fee.

National Library of Scotland: 21 July 2008

Our main focus when we arrived at the National Library of Scotland was the John Murray Archive which was acquired in 2002 for the exorbitant price of £32.5 million. David McClay, Curator, noted that the price paid is most likely well below the actual price of the collection. Estimators had been given 12 months to quote the collection. At the close of that time period, they had only reviewed a portion of the collection. The Library has since discovered treasures that they were unaware they possessed and the surprises continue as they go through the cataloging process.

The Archive contains over 20,000 authors and is a compilation of 7 generations of Murray publishing dating back to 1762. So the major questions facing staff members are: how does one conserve and preserve these items; and how do you present the materials to the general public. The answers are not easy to come by.

With the volume of items in the collection, it is impossible to have them all on view and accessible. After partnering with a design firm and collaborating with various staff members, the Library devised an interactive exhibit that highlights certain areas of the collection. After discussing the design elements and the process with Emma Faragher, Education and Outreach Manager, we were given the opportunity to view the exhibit. It was phenomenal. The displays incorporated all of the learning styles (i.e.- aesthetic, visual). It included audio aspects and visual supplements to the texts on display. At the same time, the dim lighting provided atmosphere and protected the manuscripts from harmful light. In addition, the collection can be rotated throughout the exhibit as the needs and interests of the community changes.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Shakespeare Centre Library & Archive: 18 July 2008

"Words. Words. Words."

Where to begin? Stratford-upon-Avon's Shakespeare Centre Library & Archive was a plethora of information and any Shakespearean fans dream come true. The Deputy Head, Clare Maffioli gave us a brief overview of the Library's history and collection and then led us Jo Wilding, User Services Librarian.

Wilding was as giddy as a child as she uncovered and discussed the numerous items that covered the large conference table in front of her. And I am certain that her enthusiasm was fed by our amazement and absolute awe at the items spread before us. The Library owns three of the known 228 first edition folios which were published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. Two of the three are imperfect copies, some having bits missing and facsimiles added in. Nevertheless, it was breathtaking to view a first edition of Shakespeare's 36 plays. To complement the folio we beheld, Wilding displayed source books such as a Bestiary dating to 1658, playbills, prompt books and photographs of early Royal Shakespeare Company performances.

And if this was not enough, Wilding suggested bringing us down to the stacks to view a myriad of additional treasures. The stacks themselves were impressive. Each stack was a separate 'vault' with a heavy steel door perhaps 5 inches thick. The doors had heavy steel cross beams that slide into place as the key turned. In addition, many of the rooms were temperature and humidity controlled to protect the books and items.

Since I left the Library, I've been trying to formulate some coherent resemblance of an emotion to describe the experience. Unfortunately, all I can say is that words simply are not enough.

Bodleian Library, Oxford: 17 July 2008

Courtesy of Professor Welsh

We were greeted by the dry and clipped welcome of Sidney Hicks, Visitor Host. At first I was a bit put off but I quickly found that Hicks' intensity was not annoyance but enthusiasm for his job and the beautiful history of the Bodleian Library. He was a wealth of information and the short period of time we had was not nearly enough time to digest it all.

Part of the collection actually pre-dates the Bodleian Library, going back almost 500 years. However, in the 1550s during the Reformation the King's commission essentially destroyed the library. One can see signs of this destruction by noting the lack of stained glass windows and the missing crucifix. The King's Men determined which books were appropriate and which were not. Unfortunately, many were burned, sold or dispersed of in other ways such as being given to glovers for pressing.

Sir Thomas Bodley who was a student and scholar at Oxford for nearly 15 years undertook the task to restore the Library in 1602 at his own cost. From the outset, Bodley wanted the library to be a global one. It is evident that this dream survived as more than 5% of users live outside the United Kingdom. Hicks noted that there are over 50,000 readers on any given day and there are nearly four and a half million download requests.

In order to keep up with the number of readers and also to conserve materials, the Bodleian Library is undergoing a serious of digitization projects. One of these projects is in conjunction with the Folger Institute. This year long project aims to digitize 75 original Shakespearean quartos which will be freely available with the ability to overlay images for comparisons.

It is clear the Library continues to grow as it receives nearly 3,000 items per week. The Library is one of six Legal Depositories in England and thus receives a copy of anything published within the United Kingdom. This continued growth and it 's forward-looking goal of digitizing the collection furthers Bodley's dreams of a global library perhaps more so than he ever imagined it could be.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Museum in Docklands: 16 July 2008

Courtesy of Museum in Docklands Website


Today I found myself at the Museum in Docklands near Canary Wharf. I'll be honest and admit that my intentions in going were not related to class. However, I quickly found things that pertained to my chosen path of children/YA librarianship.

I went to view the Jack the Ripper and the East End exhibit which had been recommended to us by Jon Cotton, Senior Curator of Prehistory at the Museum of London. Due to the nature of the Jack the Ripper crimes, a certain amount of discretion had to be used when displaying and giving access to information. I find that this parallels the discretion that children/YA librarians sometimes have to use. It's clear that as a librarian you don't want to refuse information just as the curators of the exhibit don't want to hide information. But it is important to respect those who do not want the full view or who may be upset by some of the information.

The information within the exhibit was explicit and disturbing but the arrangement let the viewer decide how much they wanted to be exposed to. I believe that librarians have the same responsibility. But it is a very fine line between "protect" the patron and depriving the patron of information. I was very interested in the way the exhibit dealt with it and how I might apply their methods in a future library position.

Caird Library, National Maritime Museum: 16 July 2008

Today we were greeted by Hannah Dunmow, the Archive and Manuscript Manager of the Caird Library. The Library moved into its current building in 1937 and is one of the largest research libraries on maritime history. The collection has over 100,000 books dating as far back as 1850 and onwards; 20,000 pamphlets; and 8,000 rare books dating from 1474.

After a brief overview of the Library, we were led through the Library to a separate room where we were introduced to Mike and Rene. Both deal with the rare books collection and pulled several items for us to view. They discussed the historical significance of the items at hand and also spoke a little on conservation procedures.

I think the item I found most interesting was the USS Chesapeake: A set of signals presented to the Navy of the United States by John Barry, Virginia, 1800. The signal book is weighted with musket balls along the spine. The reason behind this is to sink the book if the ship is ever compromised. Unfortunately for the USS Chesapeake the HMS Shannon took the ship within 15 minutes and gained the signal book before it could be disposed of. A new book of signals was issued within the year (Mike).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

National Art Library: 15 July 2008

We opened with a pleasant and succinct tour of the Library. The National Art Library is housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum and actually pre-dates the Museum. The Library was established in 1837 when it was housed at the Somerset House just across Waterloo Bridge from Stamford Street. The Library then moved into the Museum building in 1899.

It currently has two reading rooms open to the public with a third which is undergoing construction for a 20th century exhibit. Each reading room has a gallery which like the majority of the books is staff accessible only. The Library runs much on the same circulation system as it did in the late 1800s where items are closed access and must be requested. The collections are undeniably impressive as we soon found out.

After the tour, we were greeted by Jennie Farmer, Assistant Librarian. She has worked for the Library for close to five years and has been in her current position for the past year and a half. Her position is undoubtedly one I covet! She gave us a tasting of the myriad of items the Library contains. She also gave us a brief idea of the preservation processes they follow. Unfortunately, conservation and restoration do not occur often due to the size of the collection and budgetary issues. Instead they do the best they can to preserve. Some of their preservation techniques include the use of a phase box which is essentially a cardboard box fitted to encase the book, dust jackets, envelopes or, in the past, the use of microfiche.

Of the items we were able to view and handle, my jaw absolutely dropped at the sight of Jonathan Swift's own annotated copy of Gulliver's Travels. And lying right beside it was Charles Dickens' corrected proof of David Copperfield. As I said, these items were only a taste of the vast collection housed at the National Art Library. And I am happy to know that most of the resources are accessible to all scholars and researchers.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Museum of London: 14 July 2008

Courtesy of Elizabeth Minter

Power of Place

Today we met with Jon Cotton, Senior Curator of Prehistory at the Museum of London. He gave an interesting lecture on the power of place as it relates to history and to the accessibility of information. At first one might ask what use is it for a Library and Information Science student to visit a museum, but there are surprising parallels. For instance, both locations are asked to display information in an appealing and accessible atmosphere.

While Cotton addressed the importance of location in the two areas mentioned above, I found the portion on space in regards to accessing information most interesting. He discussed the design of the original gallery for prehistory and the ways in which it addressed peoples conceptions of prehistory. In 2002, the new gallery was unveiled. The planning committee interviewed several design firms and ultimately chose a retail design firm. This seemingly unique choice of firms was chosen in order make the space more inviting and familiar to the visitor. It also created a disparity between the designers and the curators which over time and with continual contact merged into the gallery one sees today.

According to the handout Jon Cotton gave us, the gallery strives to get across four main messages to the visitor:

1) The massive changes wrought on the landscape by natural and human agencies
2) The centrality of the Thames to the London Before London story
3) The dynamism and adaptability of human communities in the region
4) The prehistoric legacy after AD 50

Three main design elements help to convey this information. The Riverwall leads the visitor through various objects which have been dredged from the Thames. The Landscape wall enfolds the gallery and tries to show the changing landscape of London. Within the center of the gallery there are wooden plinths which display information and objects in regards to people, settlement, subsistence and belief systems.

The idea of using space and design is equally important within libraries. Libraries should be welcoming and easily navigable. I find that all to often that older libraries are oppressive and intimidating to patrons who are unfamiliar with them. In addition, the use of the library as a gallery space often occurs. Many public libraries are asked to do historical exhibits of their town or city in addition to exhibits of local artists and writers.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Barbican Lending Library: 10 July 2008

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” -Dr. Seuss-

As we walked into the Barbican Library we were greeted by the friendly children's Librarian, Amanda Owens. I could feel the enthusiasm streaming out of her. It was very obvious that she took pride in her work.

The Children's room is set off in a nice corner separate from the adult area. This location is ideal for the boisterous noise of children. The comfortable and inviting room contains two computers and numerous books. Additional books are below the building in storage and can easily be recalled. Every where I looked I was met with bright colors and natural light. Bean bags and colored book boxes cover the floor. I was happy to note that the set up is children-friendly with low shelving and stools for easy access.

Not only was I impressed with the spacial arrangement but I was also really excited about the programming. They work primarily with school groups. In addition, in order to keep ties with schools that are unable to visit the library they do out-reach services once a week and visit the schools. They also have "Babytime" which may involve singing or storytime among other things. "Babytime" allows children to grow comfortable with library settings.

However, I think I was most impressed with the government initiative "Book Start." It is completely funded by the government and has been in existence for fifteen years. The program entitles every child in the country to three packs of books before the age of five. it is the local library's responsibility to distribute these packs which are broken down as follows: 0-18 months, 18-36 months and 36-48 months. According to Amanda Owens, about 90% of eligible children are reached yearly. I believe that access to books is extremely important but to be surrounded by books at home is just as important if not more so because it instills a stronger love for reading and learning in general.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre: 9 July 2008

Courtesy of the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre


The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, established in 2001, is located in Great Missenden just a short train ride from London. The Museum is hands-on and aims:

"To inspire in everyone a love of stories and creativity, particularly creative writing, through the Roald Dahl Archive, his stories and life. "

For anyone who loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, or any of Dahl's many masterpieces, the Museum is like walking into one of those stories. The exhibit halls interactively led me through Dahl's creative process and allowed me to try out some of his techniques like creating my own vocabulary. It also included biographical information about Dahl and many of his books were about for reading. Perhaps one of the most exciting things was discovering the alternative ending to Matilda.

The Reading Room allows the researcher to view original documents and audio-visuals. Unfortunately, the archives were not open on Wednesday but the website does have an on-line database which I highly suggested checking out.

After leaving the Museum, I followed the Village Trail. If you follow the BFG's footprints down Church Lane you'll find his grave site. I also discovered the Matilda Library where Matilda spent much of her time, the BP Pumps that were the inspiration for the garage in Danny the Champion of the World. It was a lovely way to spend a rainy day in England!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The British Library: 8 July 2008

Images courtesy of British Library and Elizabeth Minter
(L-R: King's Library, Book and Chain bench, Jane Eyre manuscript)

A Librarian's Dream

The British Library is the third largest library in the world, preceded by the Moscow Lending Library and the Library of Congress respectively. It houses a total of 170 million items or the equivalent of 800 miles of shelving. This number grows at a rate of 8 miles per year. The organization which was separated from the British Museum in 1961 has three legal obligations: 1) to acquire everything published in the UK; 2) to keep these archives forever; and 3) to make their collection available to all who wish to access the items.

Though the Library has been independent of the Museum since 1961, it's own building was not completed until 1997 and its doors opened in June 1998. It took almost 4 years to move the entire collection, a large portion of which is stored beneath the forecourt. This space descends 6 stories and contains over 35 million items.

It's important to note that there is no shelf browsing within the library. Patrons must know what they wish to request. The process of requests is quite intricate and fascinating. There are four systems integrated to bring the item to the patron within an hour and fifteen minutes time. The items within the British Library are not classified according to subject but rather by size. What at first thought seems ridiculous to those accustomed to libraries in the United States is actually quite efficient. This classification system allows the best use of space and less work when new acquisitions come in.

While all of this was fascinating, I found that the most exciting part of our visit was the items on display within the Library. I was left speechless by the original manuscripts of Jane Eyre, Beowulf, The Gutenberg Bible and many original musical scores. The magnitude of the collection and the availability was absolutely inspiring! I will certainly be getting myself a reader pass or as we Americans would say a library card.

St. Paul's Cathedral and Library: 7 July 2008

Faciendi Plures Libros Nullus Est Finis
(Of Making books there is no end)

Our tour of St. Paul's began appropriately with the introduction of our guide, Joe Wisdom. He was a personable and enthusiastic librarian with many a comic quip. Mr. Wisdom led us to the Dean's Stairs or the Geometric Stairs (you may be interested to know that a portion of Harry Potter was filmed on those stairs). The spiral staircase leads up to the Triforium and library. Everywhere one looks there are clues to where the library is located. there are stone-carved books above the doorways and within the friezes inside the library chambers.

Before making our way into the library we saw the famous "BBC view" of the Cathedral where many of the great moments in St. Paul"s have been taped. WE continued on to discover a "cemetery" of pulpits. A Mr. Wisdom compared, Henry James says Americans go to Paris when they die, pulpits go to St. Paul"s Triforium.

We then made our way into the first of two chambers which comprise the library. This chamber contained the friezes mentioned above and the original model of St. Paul's Cathedral. This "Great Model" was designed by architect Christopher Wren in 1673-74 and is made of oak and plaster on a scale of 1:25. It cost Wren £600 to complete, the equivalent of a good London home. However, this model is not the same as the St. Paul's Cathedral which its visitors view today. it was rejected for political reasons of appearing a little too Catholic. (It is reminiscent of St. Peter's.)

Our next destination was the second chamber of the library. Mind you that we proceed through large wooden doors that were opened by those almost mythological, giant keys. As I walked through the door I caught a cedar-like smell in the air. My eyes slowly adjusted to the diffused light streaming in from the South facing windows and discovered a librarians dream. The walls were covered in books from floor to ceiling. A gallery ran along the upper portion of the room. The dimness gave way to light as my eyes traveled up the shelves of books and friezes to a white, high-arched ceiling that allowed the light from the windows to reflect below. the chamber itself was dark with wooden shelves and carved brackets supporting the gallery. The books were leather-bound and exquisite. upon closer observation, I noted that each portion of wall had a number and each shelf a number. The larger books appeared to be on the lowest shelf and growing smaller as the shelves got higher. Mr. Wisdom later confirmed that indeed the books are classified by size and that shelf or press marks (similar to the U.S. call number) denoted a book's placement. It is clear that a good catalog is necessary to locate particular books.

The center of the room was covered with high desks and wooden benches. The desks were covered with busts and books. one of the books laid out was a Psalter (book of Psalms) dating back to the late 12th or early 13th century. It is the oldest book within the collection and it was amazing to think I was a few mere steps from it. Had I dared, I could have reached out and touched it. The core of the collection is made up of theology books, bibles and liturgies. however, it does include the Journals of the House of Collins and Earls, Civil history, civil and canon law, science, art, medicine, etc.

I was amazed to discover how inept the environment was for such a collection. the room is "clearly compromised" by outside factors such as the south facing windows allowing light in, the fireplace and the visitors who come in and out. Nevertheless, I am glad that I was a visitor whom they allowed to view such a spectacular and historical collection.