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.

Entry #9 Oxford Bodleian Library

I knew our trip to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University was going to be great when I recognized the main hall as one of the locations in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie. We even had to sit on opposite benches like they do in the dance scene. Even better than all that was when we walked out of our tour back into that room and saw a school field trip taking place where all of the students and teachers were wearing wizard robes and hats. Too cute!

As for the library itself, Bodleian is the main research library of the university. Founded in 1602, it has over 8 million items and is the second largest library in England behind the British Library. Our guide pointed out that while they are big in England they are nothing compared to a library like the Library of Congress who has over 134 million items. Shockingly, he said that their librarians make almost daily calls to the LOC for questions about cataloguing and such. When you think of what a literate country England is and how many great books come from there it’s hard to imagine how their collections can be so much smaller. One reason for this might be lack of space, which seemed to plague every British library we visited. Even at the prestigious Bodleian Library they did not have enough space to store all of their materials. I think over 1 million items in their collection are not even on their property due to shelving constraints.

Within the site are Duke Hemfrey’s Library, the Old Schools Quadrangle, the Clarendon Building, and the Radcliffe Camera – Britain’s first circular library. The first time we went to Oxford I was disappointed that we couldn’t go inside the Camera, as public access is forbidden. So I was delighted to be able to see the inner operations and the beautiful dome room at the top. An interesting tidbit I learned after visiting is that scene’s from one of my favorite childhood movies, Young Sherlock Holmes, were filmed there.

I’ll end my thoughts on the library with a funny story the guide told us. Hundreds of years ago there was a king in town who was bored in his room and asked his servants to fetch him some books from the famous Bodleian Library. When the servants arrived the library refused to give books to the king because he did not have a reader’s card. No matter how hard they pressed, the librarians would not cave in. Eventually the king came back and had a funny statue of himself placed in the Quad, settling the peace between him and the library. Even now I can’t decide if I’m embarrassed or proud of those staunch librarians who refused to bend the rules for anybody!

Entry #8 Individual Trip to Westminster Abbey

Since 1065 Westminster Abbey has served as a place of worship, the site of royal marriages and coronations, and the burial site of royalty, writers, musicians, and more. It started as a worship center for Benedictine monks but has evolved over time and become recognized worldwide as one of the great historical landmarks. Located in London, England, next to Westminster and a short walk from Buckingham Palace, worship at the Abbey is free and open to the public, though sightseeing visitors are charged up to £10.00/person. They do not receive money from the Crown or the Church, and only occasionally receive project support from the State, so those fees are the main source of income to keep the Abbey running and to pay for maintenance. This surprises me since it is a huge historical landmark, but I guess that’s the price you pay for independence from the State.

The area I was most looking forward to seeing was Queen Elizabeth I’s effigy. Her legacy to women is so inspiring, and I’ve always admired the strength and integrity she maintained under political and gender-related pressures. Seeing her tomb and the memorial to The Innocents in Henry VII’s chapel was such a special experience. I didn’t learn until after my visit that both Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots were placed in the Abbey by orders from King James VI – Mary’s son – and that he purposely ensured that Mary’s monument would be larger than Elizabeth’s. I can’t believe the people of England let him get away with that!

Speaking of royalty, it was also wonderful to see the coronation chair that has been used for every monarch since William the Conqueror, excepting Edward V and Edward VIII. During one of my London Alive events Professor Weist explained that if you look closely you can see names and figures carved into the seat. These are not graffiti marks made by the public; they are made by the monarchs to etch themselves into history. That was just amazing to see. Whether it be scratches in the coronation chair or signatures in a bathroom stall, it’s interesting to see that in some areas human nature succeeds both time and class.

Finally, one of the spots I enjoyed the most was Poet’s Corner where famous writers are buried and others memorialized. With the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens, Chaucer, and Eliot was a plaque in honor of my favorite author, Jane Austen. One of Austen’s novels of course is “Northanger Abbey,” a light-hearted spoof of gothic novels and culture. Besides that book, Abbey’s and churches are also central locations in her works, making this individual trip to Westminster Abbey rewarding on a personal level and a great place for information and understanding to be put into my long Austen research paper.

Entry #7 Individual Trip to The Jane Austen Centre

Since I’m doing my long research paper on Jane Austen a trip to Bath was a must. After viewing the Roman spas and walking around town we ended up on Gay Street at the Jane Austen Centre – a few houses away from where Jane lived for a few years. We entered the narrow building and walked into the most fabulous collection of Jane Austen wares that I’ve ever seen. There were books, tapes, postcards, handkerchiefs, quill pens, and more. Dragging myself away from a Mr. Darcy picture, and with the promise that we would have time to come back and look, we bought our tickets and were ushered to the waiting room with several other women to wait for a presentation. There are guides who give speeches twice an hour about the life and works of Jane Austen. This was the best part of the visit for me because they focused on the history of her family, which is what I’m doing my paper on! There were so many things I had never heard before, and it’s amazing how every one of her books contains the names and real life situations of her family. You could spend years dissecting her books on this basis.

After the speech we were lead to a small display area downstairs that was arranged to look like the kind of home Jane would have lived in. As the ITV recently filmed “Persuasion,” there was a 15 minute video about how the costumes were made and ITV lent several of the dresses to the center to be put on display. Throughout there were bits and pieces of her writings along with visual costumes or furniture pieces to highlight the text. Although the display was small, what it did contain was pertinent and very enjoyable to see.

Once we had seen everything and I had bought a huge bagful of memorabilia, I approached one of the guides to ask for advice on which books to look into for my research project. She and another lady were more than helpful, giving me free magazines, listing the names of the best sources, and telling me some additional Austen history. They were so knowledgeable about everything Jane Austen, and now I’m kicking myself for not asking how they got into this field. It would be my dream job!

Besides the tour I went on, the centre offers a multitude of other services. They provide Jane Austen walks through the city that showcase places she lived and visited, they produce a 6 issue a year magazine – Regency World – with articles, news, and reviews, have regency tea rooms, and maintain an excellent website with links to all of these items. I would definitely recommend this place as a must-see to any other Jane Austen aficionados.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Entry #6 Individual Trip to The Women's Library

For one of my individual field trips I went to The Women’s Library at London’s Metropolitan University. They have over 60,000 books and pamphlets, over 3,000 periodicals, over 460 archives, and a series of electronic resources that focus on documenting and exploring “women’s lives in Britain in the past, present and in the future. It inspires learning and debate and is an international resource for women’s history research.” When we got there we were allowed to view their current exhibition for free, but had to apply for a free day pass to get into the reading room. On the application we had to give our permanent and temporary address, what we were researching, what types of documents we would be using, and we had to show a form of ID. Also, we had to check our purses and jackets in the basement cloakroom, and could only use pencils to take notes.

The upstairs reading room was a quiet and peaceful environment. The books were catalogued in the Dewey Decimal System and there were about 15 shelves worth. A separate room was set aside for periodicals (a big room), and there were private areas for reading and computer use. Near the computers was a large bulletin board where scholarships, classes, studies, and other announcements pertaining to women were posted. Such a great resource – I would love to go to some of the meetings they had on there! There was one librarian working the entire reading room, and other workers came in and out giving tours to visitors. Two women worked the front desk downstairs and were extremely helpful providing information.

Their current exhibition was my favourite part though. It was titled “What Women Want” and focused on seven areas that encompass what women want. Each stop had thought provoking writings about the area and provided related new and old pictures, magazines, and materials, First, a Home Life. This area talked about how the definition of a home has changed so much, but that women want the right to design a home and family in a way that is comfortable and normal to them. Second, Freedom and Independence. Women need to feel free to express their sexuality, travel on their own, do things without having to depend on men. Third, Safety and Security. In the past and in the present women deal with issues of rape, domestic abuse, and more; they want to be free from being viewed as prey, or weak, by men and other women. Fourth, Equality at Work. Equal pay for equal work, respect in the workplace, and halting sexual harassment that is sometimes seen as acceptable and “just in fun.” Fifth, Beauty. Women want to feel beautiful, though what beautiful is is hard to define. Sixth, Pleasure. Women want to find pleasure in whatever leisurely activity they choose whether it be feminine or not, like playing sports. Finally, women want a Voice. This includes the right to vote, the right to run for office, and the right to have a say in their community and world.

A large bulletin board was set up on one wall and had an area for each of these categories. Paper was provided so that women could write their thoughts about the subjects and post them. The Beauty section was so striking. Some of the comments to “What makes a woman beautiful?” were: self-confidence, compassion, originality, heart, knowing yourself. I wrote “a wise and oft-used mind.” Yet, the majority of women worldwide don’t feel beautiful because they don’t feel they measure up to society’s idea of what beauty is. It’s so sad to reflect on the way media images and pressure stop many women from revelling in their true beauty.

I definitely recommend this place to any woman, and plan to go back there to do some more research for my Jane Austen paper. As a woman who observed and documented the behaviors and societal restrictions on women, Austen is someone who would have loved this library and what it stands for.

Entry #5 St. Paul's Cathedral Library

Our trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral Library was special because it isn’t normally open to the public, just researchers and special appointments, and because we got to take pictures in it, which is forbidden. I’d love to post a picture on here, but we promised not to post them on the web! Going up the stairs that didn’t seem to have any support was a little unnerving; but when he told us that the staircase was used in a Harry Potter film I thought it was cool J

Their library collection was pretty much destroyed by the London fire in 1666. Starting with almost nothing, they began collecting materials from other libraries, people in the town, and grew tremendously with Henry Compton’s gift of almost two thousand books in 1712. The collection has old Bibles, choir books, theological books, and more; the items there aren’t necessarily “library” materials, but encompass a series of church-related cultural deposits. The temperature in the room stays around 18.5 C to preserve the books, though our guide was quick to point out that library temperatures vary greatly due to the types of materials they contain.

Joseph Wisdom, who gave us a tour, is the only qualified librarian for the entire collection. A group of volunteers help him in conservation and shelving matters, and cleaning crews are allowed to do minimal work – not too much, lest they ruin something in the collection. I’m surprised that there’s only one librarian for a collection so large and valuable; honestly, it doesn’t seem very smart. If something were to happen to the one librarian, or if he left, it would be hard to train someone completely new.

I really enjoyed how Mr. Wisdom took the time to point out carvings in the walls and molding and elaborate, or guesstimate, on their meanings. For instance, the skull, grain, grapes, and book in the library that represent holy communion, God’s word, and Jesus’ victory over death. Many times I’ve admired the carvings and marvelled at how they were done, but I don’t ever stop to think about what they mean. From now on I plan to study those more to see if I can decipher the subtle meanings intended by the artists.

Entry #4 Museum of London

The Museum of London was built in 1976 and used materials from Guildhall and the London Museum in Kensington to start it’s collection. There are three sites comprising the museum: the one we visited near St. Paul’s, which focuses on the urban development of London and employees 150 workers; one in Hackney that deals with archaeological archives; and a third branch near Canary Wharf related to the economic and social history of the London Docklands. The Museum of London is the largest urban museum in the world, and deals with prehistoric through present day London.

Our guide is a curator at the museum and is in charge of the “London Before London” exhibit dealing with the prehistory. His goal was to present four main areas about prehistoric London to visitors: Climate, how it has changed and what that means; The River, how the River Thames is responsible for London being what it is; People, focusing on past residents as individuals not just dead peoples; and Legacy, the legacy that has been passed on to present Londoners. I’ve never really though much about how museums get designed or why they are set up the way they are, but our guide’s talk about how they worked hard to make the exhibit modern but classic, easy to maneuver, chronological, and more, I was struck by the amount of work that has to be done before the actual building begins. Above all, I thought their idea to make one side of the collection blue – to represent the Thames – was a great idea to remind people about the importance of the river.

As far as the collection, I enjoyed that there were items for the public to touch – like a caveman’s club – because it made the item seem more real. I was interested in some of the old jewelry and skulls, but after a while some of the items seemed repetitive. All of the flints and tools started looking the same and started to lose interest. However, I did enjoy the London fire exhibit, especially the six minute video that gave a visual of how much of London was consumed by the blaze. It helped give perspective on how damaging it was to the city. I did think it was funny that the fire started on Pudding Street and ended on Pie Street, and many people thought that was a sign that God started the fire to punish gluttony in London!

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Entry #3 Parliament

Today’s trip to Parliament began by entering through the Victoria Tower, which is the entrance used by all Sovereign’s. How cool was it to walk through the same doorway as kings and queens?!

Westminster was built in 1845 and is home to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Queen Victoria was the first Sovereign and Queen Elizabeth II is the current one. However, due to issues with the monarchy in the past, the Sovereign is not allowed into the House of Commons where the real power lies. Instead, she/he has a messenger that runs interference for her/him from her throne.

Public tours are available by appointment, and there are guides and guards aplenty to ensure that you are well supervised and informed. Though Parliament wasn’t in session when we were there, we learned that the public can line up and take turns going into the balcony during debates – which I plan to do next week. I was a little disappointed in our tour guide because he didn’t seem to have his presentation put together and he didn’t talk very loud, but having been around for a while he had some interesting personal stories about seeing presidents like Reagan and Clinton, so that helped. There are three areas that stood out to me most.

First, I loved, loved, loved seeing paintings of present and former royals in the Royal Gallery and Prince’s Chamber. Seeing those made them seem more real than hearing about them in a textbook because now I can visualize their faces when I’m reading about history. In particular I enjoyed seeing all of Henry VIII’s wives. You can see where he married for beauty, pleasure, duty, and on accident. I love the movie “Anne of the Thousand Days,” which is about Anne Boleyn, so it was satisfying to get to see more of what she actually looked like.

Second, as we toured the building I kept dwelling on the position of women within the British government. There is the Victoria Tower, a large painting of Victoria in the front room, and a huge statue of her in the Prince’s Chamber. Yet, despite this appearance of acceptance of women, the whole building and current government are still male dominated. Wives of the Lords still cannot enter the rooms, the House of Lords and Commons are overwhelmingly male, and it wasn’t until 1928 that women were allowed into the House of Commons – thanks to Emily Pankhurst, who now has a statue in the gardens. Margaret Thatcher, a former Prime Minister, is another one who stands out with a large bronze statue situated among the other male statues of former Ministers. Even though her statue is the largest in the room, she is still the only woman in there.

Finally, something that stood out to me was in the House of Lords when the guide pointed out the red seat of power that a woman/baroness currently sits on. He explained that when a person assumes that seat they must become apolitical, not favouring their party more than the other. What a great idea; can we do that with American presidents? Imagine how much progress could be made if a politician in charge could become apolitical to best meet the needs of the country.

Entry #2 The British Library

I was expecting to be in awe of the collection size and operation of the British Library, but I wasn’t expecting to be bowled over by the contents of the collection. Maybe if I had done more research I would have been prepared to see sketches by Galileo and DaVinci, musical scores by Mozart and Beethovan, and a letter from Queen Elizabeth I. I think seeing part of a Dead Sea Scroll and a book penned by Jane Austen’s were what got me the most. Like others there, I had to sit down for a minute to wrap my head around what I was seeing. It is so incredible that anyone from the public can walk in and see these items for free. On that note, I was surprised to learn that anyone from the public – with a research a need – can access library materials for free. I think it’s great that the library is devoted to meeting the information needs of the entire community and not just those with a lot of money or power. In fact, the library hosts events almost every day and almost all of them are free and open to the public.

Before I continue on my thoughts about the library I’ll offer up a few facts. The British Library is the 2nd largest library in the world, behind the Library of Congress, with over 150 million items. Interestingly, books are stored by size not subject. There are four levels above and below ground housing the materials. It is the most government funded institution in the UK, but also relies on donations from the public. It is purely a reference library, and patrons cannot pull books off the shelves; rather, they must get assistance from a staff member. There are 1200 workers at this institution and their jobs mainly consist of helping the public by working on the welcome team, as a library assistant, a curator, or in the conservation center.

Besides the Sacred exhibit and Sir John Ritblat Gallery, I was most struck by the system they have set up for book delivery within the library. There are conveyor belts that have a barcode unique to each floor. To send a book to a different floor they scan the barcode of the destination, place the book(s) in a bin, scan the barcode on the bin, and the books are delivered in that way. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It may take longer than just running it up or down a floor or two (15-20 minutes), but it certainly makes it easier!

One final thing that stood out to me is the Turning the Pages touch-screen system that lets you flip through, magnify, and hear audio commentary on 15 historical books. Of course I was most enthralled by Jane Austen’s History of England! Because of the system I was able to read and see sketches from the whole book instead of just the two pages on display behind the glass. Our guide informed us that the initiative was started by Bill Gates, who had half of a historical document that fit with a half that the British Library had. He wanted to make sure that the public was able to see these masterpieces in their full form. It’s also a great way to make sure that the documents are available for inspection long after their physical deterioration.
I had a great time at the library and am hoping to go back to inspect more of the floors and maybe do some research for my Jane Austen project.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Entry #1: Oxford/Stratford

Today we spent time a little time in Oxford before heading to our main destination, Stratford. In Oxford, a few of us took a tour of the city and saw old sites like the first museum in England, the Radcliffe Camera, and we stopped in a few bookstores to check out their collections. The most amazing stop for me was St. Mary’s Cathedral. From several display boards we learned that John Wesley had preached a service there, and it was so controversial that they banned him from ever returning. The actual pulpit he preached from is no longer there, but the layout and design of the church remains the same. The boards also informed that Queen Elizabeth I had attended disputations at the church. We’ve been in several historical buildings and places, but something about St. Mary’s gave me chills. Many other places have been commercialized or changed to reflect how the owners “think” it might have looked. But St. Mary’s was authentic, and the reverent manner in which you are asked to behave preserves the spiritual power of the place.

In Stratford I visited three historical sites: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Nash’s House & New Place, and Hall’s Croft. All three homes, along with three others, are owned and cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. According to its website, the Trust is an independent registered educational charity that depends entirely upon the public for support, relying on the income generated from visitors, Friends and donors. On the site, people can Adopt a Trust Treasure, make a gift in your will, volunteer time, or join the Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust with an annual gift that gives free admission and discounts.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace is, of course, the place where Shakespeare was born. It was the home owned by John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden from 1556 until John’s death, when it was bequeathed to William. When we toured the home there were two people dressed in Shakespearian garb telling the history of some of the rooms and another women modernly dressed was in a room between the two making sure traffic flowed smoothly. According to one of the workers, William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway briefly lived there when they were first married, but soon moved and never lived there again. It’s historical significance is not only for seeing where he was born or how people back then lived, but seeing his surroundings and understanding how they influenced him and his writing. From the glorious flower gardens to the farming and trade work of his father, his upbringing made nature a prominent theme, and the colors and flowers he so often saw influenced the way he saw and perceived humans and the world. In fact the flowers, for me, were the highlight of the tour. It’s hard to describe the many colors and designs within the garden. There were poppies of brilliant red, dainty flowers in skin colors of pink and peach, and wildflowers that gave an air of whist and romance. I think I noticed this more because of Dr. Welsh talking about the man during her British studies who pointed out how the flowers and plants of Stratford were worked into his plays and poems. Seeing the blooms in the place where Shakespeare lived makes his writings seem more personal, and makes him seem more approachable and humanlike versus some stuffy old bard from years ago.
The Nash House & New Place and Hall’s Croft, owned respectively by Shakespeare’s granddaughter and daughter, were certainly interesting from a time period historical view, but didn’t hold the same impact as the house where he grew up. At Nash there was a woman who gave a brief history of the place before letting us roam around, and there wasn’t anyone at Hall’s Croft.

Following our walk through the houses and through Stratford, we all met up to see Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theater. The theater was a modern version of the Globe, though it sat far less than the original. I was struck by impact of the music and props, and will never forget the moment that Macduff’s wife was killed and they sliced open her stomach and a bloody looking fetus fell out. I thought I was going to be sick! The actors did a great job of portraying emotion, and the movement and gestures were helpful in fully portraying a story that would have been almost not understandable with the wordy and heavily accented dialogue.
Overall, today was the high point of my London experience so far!