The Last Day

As usual, it is the last minute (relatively), and I am finally packing. I can’t feel too badly, though, because I had a fantastic last day and used it fairly completely. M and I went to Westminster Abbey this morning, and it was £24 totally well spent. We used the free audio guide and were soothed by the gravelly tones of Jeremy Irons describing the wonders of the Abbey. And oh, there were many. I finally saw a decent grave of a woman I admire (Elizabeth I, which made up for missing her mother’s), and I completed my trifecta of Da Vinci Code UK locations (Rosslyn Chapel, Temple Church, and Westminster – and I guess Maughan Library, though it wasn’t part of the movie). After Westminster, we met K for lunch at Ping Pong dim sum, which we’d been eyeing for the last week. It was also completely worth the $74 equivalent expense. I highly recommend the black king prawn dumplings.

After lunch, M and K sought out Hampstead Heath and Keats’ house, while I headed for Kensington. I signed up for a reader’s card at the V&A National Art Library, which lasts three years and I’m very proud to have. I next went to the kitchen shop, Divertimenti, that has caught my eye every one of the half dozen times I’ve passed it. It was very similar to Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, but I bought a pastry brush for 95p just because I could. I followed up by avoiding buying Hunter wellies at Harrod’s. Yeah, they are handy and my old ones are wearing out and they are at least $20 cheaper here and I could have stuffed them full of dirty clothes so they didn’t take up too much space in my suitcase. BUT, that is $90 I could spend on groceries when I return. And since I plan to barely leave the house in August, I hopefully will not need the protection.

M is almost completely packed, and I have barely started. I have a Bulmer’s original cider chilling in the fridge, and I need to get on it. M and I are going to stroll the Thames one last time, I think, then we’ll call it a night. The bus to Heathrow leaves at 7:30, and we really shouldn’t miss it.


I Could Swoon

After our visit to the Maughan Library, we went to the Old Bank of England pub on Fleet Street for lunch. What a gorgeous place! And the food was amazing. It was pretty hilarious how everybody but me, M, K, and Courtney ordered soda or water to drink. For me, a big enjoyment of life in Europe is being able to have a drink with lunch without feeling ashamed. I just may have to institute that custom in Boston, at least until I start working regularly again.

Anyway, while eating, I received an unexpected invitation to visit the British Library’s conservation lab in the afternoon. We’d been planning other things, but how could I possibly pass that up? Gillian, Traci, and I bussed off toward St Pancras.

It turned out to be a tour open to any who booked a ticket. That led to some interesting questions being asked by total laymen, but I can’t pretend to be any sort of an expert, so I shouldn’t really talk.

The facility is frankly outstanding. There is an excellent exhibit in the lobby outlining the major processes of book repair. Once you get access into the back, the first thing you see as you turn the corner is an enormous glassed display of book stamps and finishing tools. These are both for aesthetic value and storage, as the tools are still removed from the display regularly for use in the labs.

The main lab stretches the length of the building and contains three main workspaces. The light is fantastic, and the roof is designed to allow indirect northern light that won’t damage materials. Along the far wall is the closed-off wet treatment lab, which we didn’t get to visit. We first spoke with a conservator and apprentice who were both working on various book projects. There was a great disparity between the questions asked by tourists (usually simple and – to us – very obvious) and by us (complicated, insider-ish, and probably boring to the rest). But it was very informative nonetheless. After the main studio, we visited the finishing studio, where all repaired books receive their final polish. The finisher on duty demonstrated the application of gold leaf to the spine, and it was fantastic to watch his expertise in action.

The visit was all too brief, but it was wonderful. I wish I had had hours to spend in that lab and the additional sixth-floor labs. The British Library is a world-class facility, and two brief visits were not enough. I cannot wait to go back and see more.

Tom Hanks Didn’t Visit, But I Did

Our last official visit of the trip was to King’s College London’s Maughan Library, just off the Strand. This library is the one that Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu visit to figure out the tomb riddle that would lead them to Westminster Abbey. Sadly, this scene was omitted from the film, but it’s okay. The information in the scene was somewhat embellished compared to how the library actually operates. Nevertheless, the library was a pretty impressive academic institution.

First of all, the building was originally the Public Records Office, so it was ready for the storage of heavy paper materials. It was the first fireproof building in the UK. It has only been used as the main library since 2001. The Maughan’s collection is over 750,000 items (out of King’s College’s total 1.3 million), including LPs, which was fun to see. The building was full of architectural highlights. The octagonal reading room was modeled after that of the British Museum, and the Weston Room contains gorgeous stained glass windows, a mosaic floor, and Renaissance monuments. The whole building received an excellent renovation when it became a library, though it was difficult due to the building’s listed Grade II status. The bones of the structure remain strong and old and beautiful, and they even left the original metal doors along the corridors, though they no longer close. There is a room in the back full of old Victorian stacks, those fantastic metal grid floors and ladders that I love. The library seems like a maze of smaller chambers, with balconies added and shelves winding in and out. There are a thousand reader seats and about 330 computer stations throughout.

The Maughan has a great hi-tech aspect to it, too. They use a lot of self-check services, and that will increase with an upcoming renovation. They’re considering ways to make their staff more mobile, with roving reference taking over from sitting behind desks. They currently use quick info points, which enable the queues to be filtered instead of all queries standing in the same long line. Books are being transitioned to RFID, but journals are staying on tattle tape. Dual security gates will be installed upon approval by English Heritage.

We visited the Foyle Special Collections library after our tour. It’s a quite small reading room, but the staff member who showed us around had a collection of treasures ready to see. A strong point of the collection is medical, since KCL has a long history of educating in medicine. There are items donated by Florence Nightingale, a 1542 anatomy book, a 1944 book from a concentration camp, and the 1508 Margarita Philosophica. The Foyle also houses the Foreign Commonwealth HIstorical Collection, full of historical and government records from the colonial era. The Foyle’s OPAC is connected to that of the Maughan, so patrons can search all materials. Unique items from the collection have been digitized, and items are often loaned out for exhibitions.

I like academic libraries even though my focus is more toward special or archives. Academic libraries can be so labyrinthine, with widely varied collections. It reminds me of my undergraduate years, when I would spend hours in the main library, reading things that had nothing to do with my classes, simply because I wanted to learn as much as possible. Large libraries tend to enable browsing, and that is my favorite way to find books.

Seriously, a Zoo Library. How Cool Is That?

Today, we went to the zoo. It was M’s first time, and I hadn’t been to a zoo in years. It was so much fun. Because there are two zoos in greater London, they don’t each have everything. We didn’t get to see elephants or rhinos or hippos, but there were giraffes and tigers and lions and penguins. We even saw a giant tortoise. Also, the zoo provided more evidence that British children are frankly adorable and so much less annoying than American ones. I don’t know why this is. Every kid there, even the crying ones, made me fall all over myself with cute. It is a strange phenomenon and subtle, but it is still noticeable, even here in Boston, where there are plenty of reasonably darling infants.

But that is not the point. The point of the visit was to see the library of the Zoological Society of London. The more I study library and information science, the more I realize that literally any organization or subject can have a library. It was pretty thrilling to get to see a zoo’s library, and I have to admit that now I want to just call up every interesting place in Boston and see if they have a library that is open to visitors.

The ZSL was founded in 1826 by Stamford Raffles, who also founded Singapore and administrated Java in Indonesia. He was inspired by the Musée de l’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. There was very little government assistance for such projects in that time, so the museum, menagerie, and library were funded and maintained privately. The early library and museum were kept in the staff offices, and the museum was eventually given to the Natural History Museum at the British Museum. The current building was constructed in 1910. HRH Princess Victoria, who became an ardent and lifelong supporter of the zoo, first visited in 1828, aged 9.

Origin of the Society’s publications were its meeting minutes, then the transactions of the Society. These eventually became a journal, which could be exchanged with like-focused institutions. This helped to build the library and its collection. It is now the largest privately-owned zoological library in the world.

The library was extensively refurbished in the 1960s. Most of its users are staff and society members, though it is open to the public. It contains mostly closed stacks and reference materials. They try to collect all books about zoos, including in other languages. Other stocked materials include past London Zoo guides, annual reports, conference proceedings, exchange agreements with other zoos, stud books, husbandry material, and ZSL publications. The photograph collection is significant. There are around 12,000 glass images in the collection. The first photos of the zoo were taken in 1852. Incidentally, Queen Victoria’s use of the word “photos” at the time was the first recorded. Windsor Castle holds the largest collection of 1852 photographs. The earliest photos held at the ZSL are from 1864, and most of these had to be purchased back later. Commercial photographer Frederick York was commissioned in the 1860s and 70s to take stereoscopic images, a comprehensive survey of the zoo’s collection. His photographs include the only existing quality images of a quagga. We were also shown photographs of Bertram’s zebra, Syrian and Nubian wild asses, thylacines, and the pink-headed duck. All of these species are now extinct, and it was a rather odd feeling to see them in pictures.

The archives of the ZSL contains meeting minutes since 1826, daily occurrences for the two zoos, letters from Darwin, the Society’s charters, staff records, and press cuttings. The online catalog is currently only at collection level, but they are adding individual records, just as they are digitizing requested and important individual documents.

One of the interesting points of the visit was the talk by Emma, the retrospective cataloger. She’s done about 500 records out of 70,000 cards. The benefit of doing the retrospective work is that she can perform a stock check as cards are cataloged, so items can be weeded if no longer needed, and they can do an inventory to see what items have gone missing. The cards, classified in the Bliss system, were typed up in the 1960s, but really weren’t touched after that. Overhauling the catalog has provided the library the opportunity to go through the majority of the collection and update it.

Perhaps the best part of this trip has been exploring special libraries more. Every day I learn something new about the library field, and it only increases my interest. In that respect, at least, this trip has been worth every penny.

Adventure Library

Who says librarians don’t do exciting work? Signing up for the optional visit to the Royal Geographic Society library opened my eyes a bit.

A librarian named Eugene gave us the tour, and it was very thorough and informative. The current building was constructed in the 1870s, with renovations or additions in the 1920s and 2004 (the last through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund). It now includes the reading room and two climate-controlled stores for special collections and archival materials. The building also includes a theatre for lectures and the older section, which hosts special events and a cafe for members. The older portion of the building was absolutely amazing architecturally. I particularly liked the map room.

The reading room at the library is mainly used by members and academics. Anyone in the public can come in and register, which was a change required by the Heritage Lottery. The new library facility united the collections of books, maps, photographs, and artifacts in one area, and thus united the staff as well.

The collection totals approximately two million items. There are over one million sheets of maps, 2000 atlases, and 20-30 globes. This is the largest private collection of such materials in the United Kingdom. There are about 500,000 images in the collection, including photographs, glass negatives, lantern slides, paintings, and prints. There are about 250,000 volumes of books, and about 40,000 of these are available for lending to members. The archives holds about 1000 linear meters of materials and about 1500 artifacts. Because of the past membership of the Society, there are some very iconic pieces in the collection. Researchers are able to access such materials at the discretion of the staff. There is an online catalog for the collection. Cards from the printed catalog are photocopied and sent to India for keying in. There are still about 200,000 to add.

We were shown some of the iconic artifacts of the Society’s collection. There were food ration bags from Scott’s final expedition, one of climber George Mallory’s boots, and, excitingly, the hats that Livingstone and Stanley were wearing during the famous “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” interaction. From the 1960s on, due to space concerns, only major artifacts have been accepted. The Society never intended to be a museum, so they tried not to collect. The objects it has in its collection now are research resources, not museum exhibits. (That being said, items are occasionally loaned out for exhibition at actual museums.)

The staff was not as geographically-focused as I had expected. Most had a general liberal arts background. After all, you do learn more on the job, as the librarian pointed out. I had to agree, because that was why I entered this field in the first place. I didn’t want to get master’s degrees in the twelve fields I was interested in. I figured I could work in a library in any of them and pick a lot of it up, and the RGS was a perfect example of that philosophy.

Hooray, an Archives!

Given that I am concentrating in archives, it is always nice to be able to visit an archival institution. This sort of visit ended up being somewhat rare on this trip. I haven’t really minded so far, because we’ve gotten to see some absolutely amazing things. It is always nice, however, to see the sort of institution I will hopefully be working in in the future, and the National Archives of Scotland is such a facility.

Margaret McBryde, the educational officer, provided us the first half of the visit, an informational slideshow and discussion. The Archives is an agency of the Scottish government, staffed by archivists who are also civil servants and headed by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. It has a staff of about 160 and eight different websites, with seven of them accessible from their homepage.

The Record Services Division has government records, court/legal records, and collection development. Corporate Services manages accommodation services, finance/administration, information and communications technology, conservation services, and reader services. When the new budget is enacted, the administrative structure of the organization will potentially change.

The National Archives holds over 70 kilometers of records from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, in both paper and electronic format. Within the collection are registers of deeds (legal documents) and sasines (property/land), valuation rolls, and wills (which have been digitized from 1501 to 1901). In order to keep the collection manageable as paper records increase at an alarming rate, they are doing some selective deaccessioning, mainly of court records, and are encouraging originating governmental departments to weed before sending records to be housed.

The foundation stone for the General Register House was laid in 1774 by the Lord Clerk Register, Lord Frederick Campbell. Within the building, indeed the first thing you find from the main entrance (as we discovered upon arrival) is the Scotland’s People Centre. This facility is primarily for genealogical research. The West Register House was converted from St George’s Church in 1971. It is mainly used for offices and storage. The Thomas Thomson House, a purpose-built archival facility constructed in 1994, provides storage until at least 2020 and a fully stocked conservation lab. Also at the Thomas Thomson is the workspace for the NAS’ partnership with the Genealogical Society of Utah, which provides valuable access to the records of the Latter-Day Saints.

Some of the recent developments of the NAS include the creation and integration of its OPAC, the digitization of Church of Scotland records, and the Scottish Documents website. “Virtual Volumes” is an in-house program that provides access to high-quality digital copies of documents that can be purchased for download. Current projects include the Registers Archive Conversion Project (digitizing the registers of sasines) and the Valuation Rolls project (digitizing parish records). One important task for the NAS is to assist organizations in records management, particularly after passage of the Freedom of Information Act. One perk of the new law was that the NAS was granted additional staffing money to assist.

I really enjoyed visiting the NAS. For one thing, the facility is very grand and exactly how you would hope a national archives to be. The tour we were given by Dr. Tristram Clarke showed us around the large domed reading rooms and down into the subterranean tunnels with extremely low doorways. The collections we got to handle after the introductory talk included a wide variety of materials, including a 1717 cookery book (my personal favorite) and a collection of materials that Ms. McBryde is currently working on for World War I research. Given the many prominent Scottish people in the history of the United Kingdom, there are some important documents housed in the archives. Being able to handle some of them was quite a privilege. The tour was very well organized and filled the time nicely. We capped off the visit just in time to get dinner, which is always agreeable.

The First Carnegie Library

Special Collections

This morning, we took a bus to Dunfermline, the hometown of Andrew Carnegie and the site of his first library. We were early enough to be able to wander the town a bit, which was excellent. The Royal Palace of Dunfermline and its associated abbey was established as the seat of Scottish power by Malcolm III in the eleventh century. Malcolm’s second queen, Margaret, instigated the establishment of a Benedictine priory on the site, and it was a major ecclesiastical complex until the Reformation. Charles I was born in the palace, and Robert the Bruce is buried in the Abbey. The town is quite beautiful, and I only wish I’d had more time to explore Pittencrieff Park especially.

But that was not to be. We were there only for the morning, to visit the Dunfermline Carnegie Library. It was built in 1883, with a children’s room added in the 1930s, and it gained an addition in 1992 for modernization and extra space. It used to be the main library of Fife, but due to a lack of space, it became a branch. As with most libraries, space is an issue, so the music collection was deaccessioned to make room for additional printed material. Collections include materials in Urdu, Chinese, and Polish, which reflects the changing population of the town.

As it is a public library, much of the tour was fairly redundant regarding policy and issues. There were two interesting spots.

The local history room was similar to the Scottish history room in the Central Library in Edinburgh. It included a crowded closed access space. The entire collection in the area dealt a lot with local history, some Scottish history, and genealogy. The room is a nice workspace, with knowledgeable staff and lots of bound journals and genealogy reference works lining the shelves. The collection is classified as either Fife or Dunfermline. They have binders full of photocopied or scanned photographs, and they’re currently working on listing their maps and combining their catalog with the library’s OPAC. One nice thing about the local history staff is that they try to give foreign visitors as much of their time as possible since they usually only have a short stay to do genealogical research. One collection I found very interesting was 20th Century Dunfermline, bound volumes of photocopied photographs and news articles. They’re arranged in themes, such as sports, and they seem like an excellent resource for quick genealogical searches.

The other intriguing location was the special collections room, pictured above. There are several notable former residents of Dunfermline who have donated their collections to the library. Perhaps the best example is the Murison Burns Collection. John Murison spent forty years collecting anything and everything he could find by and about Robert Burns. Today, there are about 1500 books, as well as prints, pottery, and other memorabilia. Donations are still accepted. Other than the Burns collection, the special collections room holds Acts of Parliament in a spillover from reference, as well as a Second Folio, a 1472 edition of Aquinas’ Summae Theologicae, Euclid’s Elementa Geometriae from 1482, and several gorgeous books of hours. It’s intriguing to see such treasures in a regular town public library. It really makes me wonder what sort of amazing things can be found throughout the United States.