Monday, 20 August 2007

Entry #16: The Guildhall Library

Our final class visit was to the Guildhall Library. I have to admit that by this point in the summer I was sick of libraries, museums, and anything scholarly, but I did my best to pay attention and take note of they showed us!

The City of London is a small area within Greater London that is mostly known for being the head of global finance. Within the city are five libraries supported by thirty-three local authorities. These libraries include one dedicated to City business, the Guildhall, and three lending libraries. The largest one is the Guildhall Library, which is a reference library open to the public and specializing in materials about/related to London. Materials are divided into three main sections: Printed Books, with 10 staff members; the Print Room, 4 staff members; and Manuscripts, 10 staff members. There are also 19 service assistants to help patrons gather materials.

The library hasn’t always been in its current location; in fact, it is the fourth building in the library’s history. The first building, built in the 1420’s, was located next the Guildhall Chapel. It later changed locations but was destroyed by the Blitz in December of 1940. The Library was rebuilt in 1974, and has since relocated to the current location.

Guildhall Library has international importance for political and cultural reasons. Most notably, they are the only library to have a complete compellation of London Stock Exchange annual reports (taking up 2 ½ miles shelf space), and they house the Lloyd’s Marine Collection.

The library has several computers with limited Internet access and allows digital cameras for recording use. They use two systems of classification for their materials, the London Classification for London works and the Dewey Decimal System for the rest. Something our guide mentioned that I hadn’t heard before is that their librarians do fee-based work. For example, a member of the community can hire them for £50 an hour to do specialized research. What a great way to make use of librarian research skills! The cost can go even higher than that depending on the services. This helps ensure that the entire staff isn’t always off doing long research projects, making more staff available to help the general public.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #15 The Barbican Library

The Barbican Library is one of three lending libraries in the City of London. Housed in the Barbican Arts Centre, the library has five separate divisions for Art, Music, Children, Young Adults and Adults. The beginning of the library stems from the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act which called for a lending library to be available to the community. There are currently over 45,000 members, 50% of whom are full-time workers, who collectively check out around 500,000 materials a year. With so many areas and aspects to cover, I will narrow this down to my thoughts on the Music and Children’s Libraries and the use of RFID technology.

One of the first things that jumped out at me in the Music Library was the huge collection of CDs. They have over 17,000 discs set out in a large area and have 10 listening booths where people can exchange a form of ID for headphones and listen to whatever they choose. It’s 30p for a one week hire and 90p for three weeks – not bad considering the price of music over here. Besides CDs and printing from the computer the only other library service that requires payment is the DVDs, £2.75 a week. Our guide explained that the Public Library Act specified that books and certain other materials be free to the public but did not mention tapes/DVDs and CDs. The fees don’t go straight to the Music department but rather to the general fund. Two other things that stood out to me in that library were the piano and large section of musical scores. People can book the piano for up to a day in advance and just put on headphones and go to town. As a pianist and strong music advocate, I think it’s great that people have a place to practice. For the aforementioned reasons I was also salivating at the shelves bulging with music books. With the piano so handy it would be awesome to try out some of the music to make sure you’re comfortable with the level and sound before buying it in a store.

The Barbican Children’s Library is the largest children’s library in London. There are 10 members on staff and over 25,000 loanable items. I was impressed with the set-up of the area. A colorful bulletin board greets patrons and parents at the front with advertisements for upcoming programs and reading-related opportunities for kids. Once inside, there are wooden boxes full of picture books covering a large area. This makes it easy for children to sit down and flip through several options and see all the cover illustrations. The boxes have wheels on the bottom so they’re easy to roll away when it’s time to have some sort of children’s programming. Their programming includes several arts and craft events, three times a week there is story telling (different age group for each day), and a Tuesday afternoon reading group for older children. It’s a comfy area to gather in and I think it would make children more comfortable with the library if they are used to having fun time in the actual room where the books are. There’s so much to say about this area but not enough space.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the RFID technology. I did a paper on this subject last fall but have never seen it used in a library before. While it’s not being used on DVDs and CDs yet, the library has been integrating the technology into books and other materials since 2004. So far it has been a success and the IT director assured us that the hassle was worth the outcome. It was cool watching how it works at the self service desk. There is a computer where you can choose to check out a book, renew a book, or look at your account. To check something out you push the appropriate button, scan your library card, and then set the books down on a platform the same size as a mouse pad. Because of RFID, the computer immediately reads the titles on the platform and shows them on the screen. You push a finish button a and a receipt pops out with the names of the books, the due dates, and any fines you have. Checking the books back in is down the same way at a machine outside of the library with a drop-off box attached. The drop-off door opens once you’ve scanned your card and placed your books on it, and the information is transferred to the library computers inside. It’s a great time-saving technique and is a tremendous help for inventory purposes.

Entry #14 The National Maritime Museum and The Royal Observatory

The National Maritime Museum was founded in 1934 and opened in 1937. It’s located on the former site of the Royal Hospital School – a school for orphans of sailors – and is now a three story complex with maritime relics, a restaurant, and a reference library. The library is open to the public after they obtain reader tickets, however children are not allowed to use the facilities. They have story time on the weekends for kids and allow educational tours for schools, but they feel that the material is too delicate and not appropriate for people under eighteen.

Sir James Caird was the first director of the library and is responsible for the design of the reading room. The room contains over 25,000 books and over 100,000 volumes. They are working on building a new archive section to better serve the increasing number of people who are coming in and wanting assistance for research projects, especially family history. They are funded by the government and consequently have a committee that reviews all of their book purchases and discarding. Like most libraries they are running out of space and have several materials that are in storage but still available. The items that are catalogued are done in the Universal Decimal Class – a system closely related the DDC, but with the addition of punctuation marks to denote items like subject and language.

Our private lecture and viewing session with two of the archivists was by far the most enjoyable part of the tour. From their 4 ½ mile long supply of manuscripts they brought up some of the more interesting pieces and explained their history. Although their collection dates from 1322 to the present, they were only able to bring materials dating back to the 16th century. Some of my favourite items included a real pirate’s log complete with hand-drawn maps, a spy book, a log book from The Pearl recalling the capture of Black Beard, a book covered in part of the sail from the HMS Bounty, and pictures taken by a Titanic survivor of the iceberg and survivors being placed in boats. (Picture of the iceberg attached) The conservation department has done a great job of fixing the items so they can be easily handled by people. I know I’ve mentioned this several times already, but there is nothing quite like touching pieces of living history. It never stops being overwhelming.

Following the NMM we hiked up to the Royal Observatory to see the Prime Meridian , the big red ball signifying Greenwich mean time, and a great view of London. How many people can say they stood in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time? I can! The apartment and longitude/latitude exhibits didn’t interest me very much, but it is nice to say that I’ve been at 0 degrees.

Entry #13 The Victoria & Albert Museum

We bypassed the floors of artwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum to get a personal tour of the National Art Library housed within the museum. It’s a reference library classified by the Dewey Decimal System that holds materials based on content and appearance. My group started out doing a tour about the basic set-up and operation of the library.

The library provides a digital camera and copy machine for patrons to make records, and instead of using RFID technology – which they deem too costly and burdensome – they require everyone to carry see-through bags. Obviously that saves a lot of money, but seeing as how their stacks are bulging and they are out of space I would think that the technology might be worth it for inventory purposes. As far as what’s in their collection, our guide mentioned Charles Darwin manuscripts, Victoria & Albert publications (3 copies of each), Masters and PhD theses from RCA students, and over 8,000 publications – 2,500 current ones – that include international and Victorian works.

Something our guide said stood out to me; she said that there is a constant battle with the gallery people who want the library removed – for more gallery space – because they think the library is “taking up space” and that they aren’t a relevant part of the museum. This goes back to how you define the library. Throughout our course we had discussions about how libraries are not only book holders, but holders of cultural deposits. It seems awfully ballsy to deny the link between the library and the gallery; many display items come from library collections, along with the history on them. For some reason that got under my skin, but I digress …

The second part of the tour was spent looking at books that were valuable not for their content but for their binding. There were so many unique items to look at. “Aunt Sallie’s Lament” was a story about a quilt maker explaining how her painful history was woven into her quilts. The book came out of the jacket and at the end you had a beautiful quilt design made from different pages of the book. Another one I liked was “Drawings In a Nutshell,” which was a bag of real nuts and a shelled out walnut that contained a pull out sheet showing pictures and names of different nuts. For people who aren’t great readers or too many words bore them, these types of books provide a way for them to connect with the message in a way they might not have been able to in a normal book format. I enjoyed seeing all the different styles and it has encouraged me to think outside the box on what I consider a quality book.

Entry #12 The Writer's Museum

Our final group visit in Edinburgh was The Writer’s Museum. Located in Lady Stair’s House, built in 1622 for Sir William Grey of Pittendrum, the museum memorializes the lives and works of three prominent Scottish writers: Robert Burns (1759-1796), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The collection includes personal artifacts and pictures of the authors along with helpful biographical information.
There are also temporary exhibitions honoring other Scottish writers who have contributed to the “development and diversity of Scottish Literature.” When we were there Ian Rankin, author of the Detective Rebus crime novels, was being featured. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this museum. It was located through an unnoticeable alleyway and looked old and unused. While most of the museum was on par with what I expected, for some reason I was enthralled with the Ian Rankin display. I had never heard of him or read his books (sorry, I know it was on the recommended reading list!) but the display got into his mind and helped me understand a writer’s process unlike anything I’d ever seen.

They had copies of his typewritten manuscripts with his penciled in notes, posters with quotes from Rankin telling how he developed his stories, how often he wrote and in what environment, and how he used life experiences from himself and others to inspire plots. After seeing some of his manuscripts and getting sucked in – he writes killer opening sentences – I knew I had to read his books and wanted to learn about him. In fact, I left the museum and ran to a used bookstore to buy a few of his novels before boarding my plane to Italy. His books do not disappoint, and I’m working on reading through the other 14 books in the series.

Rankin says that every one of his books develops from a theme that is important to him; he waits until he has a message that he wants to share with the world before he starts writing. Once he has a theme he spends about 6 months working on characters and plot before piecing it all together. Reading this information inspired me to start writing again. I’ve always wanted to work on a mystery novel but get sidetracked by school, work, or life. Seeing the labor-heavy printing press used by Sir Walter Scott enforced this desire as it reminded me how easy it is to write nowadays. We don’t have to write with a pen, use a typewriter, or even sit still at a desk. With laptops we can be anywhere and jot down thoughts, using spell-check and other tools to clean things up later. Here’s hoping I don’t forget that inspiration and can discipline myself to finish a book!

Entry #11 National Archives of Scotland

Our visit to the National Archives of Scotland was one of the most pleasant visits of the summer. From the more than friendly staff, sound of bagpipes wafting into the room, and mid-lecture break for tea and biscuits, the whole time spent there was comfortable and relaxed – precisely representative of the Scottish people and their culture. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the best parts of the visit during which they brought out several hundreds-years-old items from their collection and let us touch and examine them. I still can’t believe we were able to hold a letter from Mary Queen of Scots; we felt the paper and got an up-close view of her handwriting. Experiences like that are what make the whole program worth it – getting to view and inspect materials and areas that the general public will never have a chance to see.

The National Archives of Scotland is housed in three different buildings: the General Register House; the West Register House, formerly St. George’s Church in Charlotte Square; and the Thomas Thomson House. The General Register House, opened in the late 1780’s, is where we had our tour. Known for the Robert Adam Dome, this is the main building where the public can obtain reader’s cards and access the records of Scotland. They have state/parliament, church, and private records, wills, deeds, taxation, and more that are helpful for genealogy searches. West Register House, opened in the 1960’s, came about due to the need for more space. This building has court/legal, government, business, railway, and nationalized industries records, including maps and plans. Finally, still needing more space, the Thomas Thomason was built in the 1980’s in the form of two separate building joined together. One building is for record storage and the other is for the day-to-day aspects of the organization such as reception, staff offices, and sorting areas.

My mother’s side of the family is from Scotland (the Dunbar’s) so I came to the center hoping to get some information on how to start looking into my own ancestry. I was pleased when our guide – an Education Officer – informed us that the majority of patrons came in for genealogy help and then proceeded to give us a ton of information about how to start the search and continue it. The first step she suggested is going to and using the Wills information to find out names. I’m excited to begin learning about my family!

Entry #10 National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland was established in the twentieth century by the Act of Parliament 1925. The collection was formerly located in the Advocates Library, founded in 1682, which served as the deposit library for Scotland until 1925. Today it is the largest library in Scotland and one of the ten largest libraries in the world with more than 13 million printed items, over 100,000 manuscripts, two million maps, and 25,000 newspaper and magazine titles. They add around 320,000 new materials annually and their collection encompasses 490 languages.

While our lecturers gave a small introduction to the library’s history they mainly focused on the archive collection. Their archives are worth over £45m and include the famous John Murray Archive. The John Murray Archive Collection was purchased from the publishing house of John Murray with the help of £17.7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £8.3m from the Scottish Executive, and £6.5m gathered from fundraising. There are over 150,000 items covering the fields of literature, science, politics, travel and exploration during the years of 1768-1920.

I was amazed when we went to view the set-up; they arranged the room to look like the publishing house circa 1800’s and had wonderful displays. In the first room were about 8 tall pods that had outfits and items related to different authors. Beside each pod was a computer screen giving information about the author and the items. Being a Lord Byron fan, I loved standing next to a life-size mannequin wearing his clothes and seeing works penned by his hand. Along with these pods were a publishing computer game, an area designed for children, and three rooms of India/Scotland archives. Of all these I was most interested in the children’s area on India. They had a chalkboard for kids to practice writing Hindu, masks, Indian books and stamps, toys and more. It was obvious that the designers worked hard to help children relate to the culture and language.

With the main thrust of the library being the archive collection I stated thinking about how modern libraries seem to be morphing into museums. Libraries contain cultural deposits and are centers for learning, but with the Internet and technology making content more readily accessible libraries are having to update materials and their presentation to reach out to people. By setting up these “museums” and displaying items in an easy-to-read and understand method, they are drawing in members of the community that otherwise would not visit. The hope is that patrons will be interested in the items and use library materials to learn more or else just become more familiar with the library and want to come back to see what they have. Either way, I think this is a great way to overcome problems presented by technology and to make patrons better informed and involved in history.