22 July 2014

Maughan Library, King's College London

Maughan Library
This morning, our class had the option to visit Maughan Library at King's College London. Because this was one of the few academic libraries on our agenda, I jumped at the chance to go. The building was formerly a public records office, so the building is a bit like a maze. The old iron fire doors have been removed and retained by mounting them on the walls next to the doorways. They also have a round reading room that looks really impressive from the outside. Unfortunately we couldn't go in because the room was in use during our tour.

Laptop rental machine
I was most impressed with the technology and services the library provided. The library has an automatic book sorting machine that separates books into piles based on where in the library they need to be shelved. It was fun to see it in action, and I bet it saves their employees lots of time throughout the day. Another really cool service is a laptop rental system the library has in place. The laptops are stored in lockers that keep them charged, and students can check them out without the assistance of a member of staff. This is in addition to the self-checkout and self-return machines in the main lobby. Staff members are on hand at the Enquiries desk to answer questions, and machines like these allow them to devote their time to helping students.

Weston Room
Another gorgeous space in the library is the Weston Room, which was housing a World War I exhibit during our visit. The room is an old chapel space with stained glass windows depicting the coats of arms of previous Masters of the Rolls. The exhibit is one of several in London this summer commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

After our tour through the library, we visited an area with several items from the library's collections on display for us to see and touch. King's mainly collects items related to theology, health, history, and foreign policy. They are also especially interested in where the items they collect have come from -- who they used to belong to and where the document has been during its life. There were many really cool items including a book called The Charters of the Province of Pensilvania and City of Philadelphia that had Benjamin Franklin's signature on the cover page. They also have a book on sanitary history with the first published colored graphs and an inscription by Florence Nightingale. My favorite item from the collection was a scrapbook of photographs and memorabilia from Queen Elizabeth II's coronation celebrations across the globe.

18 July 2014

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House grounds

Today Lindsay and I traveled by bus from Sheffield (where we are staying) to Chatsworth House, which is a leisurely hour-long ride through the gorgeous English countryside and an adorable town called Bakewell. Bakewell looks like what you would picture in your head as an "English town" for a movie. True to its name, Bakewell had an old-timey shop selling artisan bread loaves that made me want to stop and taste. Carbs are my weakness! But I stuck to the plan and we continued on to Chatsworth House.

The staircase featured in the P&P movie

Chatsworth is a huge house with even bigger gardens. I believe the term "house" is a little bit of an understatement for a building like this. This house is rumored to be the inspiration for Jane Austen's Pemberley, and it was used as Pemberley in the 2005 Pride & Prejudice film starring Keira Knightley.

Mural above the grand staircase

Wood-paneled wall carvings
We started exploring the inside of the house, where each room seemed to be more beautiful than the one before it. Almost every ceiling was an exquisite mural with a Roman theme, usually gods or angels surrounded by more gods and cherubs. The rooms were all impressive, starting with the grand staircase in the main room and continuing through to the elaborately carved wood-paneled room with busts made into the walls. This room also contained a letter composed by Elizabeth I, which was an unexpected surprise. The hallways are lined with statues, paintings, and artifacts of all types including large rocks, urns, and Egyptian carvings.

Veiled Vestal Virgin
In one of the long galleries, there are several marble statues that are so life-like you almost believe that they will move if you stare at them long enough. The most impressive statue was a woman wearing a veil over her face that manages to look sheer because you can see her features "through" it. The craftsmanship was so amazing that I didn't believe at first that this wasn't just a statue with a cloth draped over it. The statue is formally called the Veiled Vestal Virgin and was carved by Raphaelle Monti in the mid 1800s. This statue, the ceilings, the house's front staircase, and the gallery were all briefly featured in the P&P movie.

The formal dining room

Part of the library

The library that the statue is housed in would make any reader insanely jealous. It was converted from a long gallery originally used to showcase paintings, then spills into the next room and the next smaller room connecting it to the formal dining room. And all of the splendor inside is magnified by the view on the outside. The house overlooks rolling hills and fields with a river running through for the many sheep roaming around to drink from. There are several ponds and fountains on the property with the most impressive ones being located near the house. There is one behind the house called the Cascade, which is located on a hillside and made up of a series of waterfalls to follow the hill's descent. The other impressive one is a huge, geyser-style fountain on the side of the house with a large reflecting pool. This is so lovely that I would have had the roads redone so that this side of the house would become the front. It's what I would want people to see when they drove up.

The Cascade

15 July 2014

Central Library, Edinburgh

Central Library entrance
Reading Room
After lunch today, the class did a tour of the Edinburgh Central Library, which is one of over twenty public libraries in Edinburgh. The Central Library is a modern space inside a Victorian building. I thought that was an interesting contrast, but was glad to see some of the older elements still peeking through around doorways and in stairwells.

One of the most impressive rooms is their reading room, which houses the reference library. I was excited to learn that this library is another that still uses its card catalog! The cards are still used for items from 1918-1980 that have yet to be digitally cataloged. I like the card catalog at my library, so I was glad to see another still in use.

Children's Library
Central Library has several smaller specialist libraries that were introduced in the 1930s including a children's library, local history library (the Edinburgh & Scotland Library), an art library, and a music library. This is another library that has a newly-created young adult section, which is exciting because the need for these areas means more teenagers are becoming involved with their libraries and are reading. This space is near the music library to promote the link between teenagers and music. It has a couple of couches that form group seating, a study table, and computer for teens to use.

Although the reading room might be the most impressive space, my favorite would still be the children's library. This area is filled with modern shelving where kids can sit inside areas on the wall, a tree-shaped shelf with painted animals clinging to the branches, and a separate craft room that is kid-friendly. Having a craft area for kids in a children's library makes so much sense, and I wish more libraries in the US would do this. Crafting encourages creativity just like reading does, so both benefit a child's learning and development.

The art library was another cool stop on our journey through the library. The books are about half and half lending and reference materials, and there are some really cool items in the collection including a copy of The Corpuscle Story by James Clegg that is completely covered in fur on the outside. It looked like something straight out of Harry Potter! The art books were probably some of the most beautiful in the library, and they are also a valuable resource for artists in the area.

New College Library, University of Edinburgh

New College Library

We started the day today at New College Library, which is a part of the University of Edinburgh. The library holds over 250,000 items (50,000 of which are special collections) and is one of the United Kingdom's biggest theological libraries. The library is used primarily by the students of the Divinity School, but can also be accessed by other University of Edinburgh students and the public.

The space is absolutely stunning and was used until the 1930s as a church. The original pews were used as much as possible in the redesign, so the desks and shelving have a very unique look. The stained glass windows have an especially interesting story because they were funded by the church members but were finished after the space had become a library.

New College had an intriguing set of special collections items on display including a massive eighteenth-century Torah scroll. The scroll was left open to a place where we could see the details of the hand stitching holding the pieces together. They also had several editions of the Bible from the fourteenth century, including one made by the "printer to the Queenes most excellent Maiestie" in 1585, also known as Queen Elizabeth I's printer. It was interesting to see that the edition was printed with extensive notes in the margins because this edition was used by the church members, not the general public. There were also a couple of works by John Knox on display, which is especially relevant because his statue is in the courtyard outside of the building. There was also a first edition of John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion.

Hymnal collection
We were able to journey into the stacks outside of the main reading room where the journals, pamphlets, overflow books, some special collections, and oversize books are housed. Here lives one of my favorite parts of our time at New College -- a donated collection of old hymn books. My fingers itched to go through them, and I secretly hope one of the 1928 Oxford Book of Carols is among them. If not, many of the hymns from that amazing anthology are probably contained in these old hymnals from around the United Kingdom. Because some of my all-time favorite Christmas carols are old British ones no one in America has heard of (e.g., "Poverty," "Gloucestershire Wassail," "Children's Song of the Nativity," "Coventry Carol"), I would have loved to spend more time perusing the shelves.

14 July 2014

National Library of Scotland

National Library of Scotland
(photo courtesy of the Gazetteer for Scotland)

This morning the LIS class visited an impressive organization -- the National Library of Scotland. Anyone can obtain a reader's ticket here and all items in the facility can be ordered for examination including manuscripts worth £1,000,000. They also offer remote inquiry services (where users can request copies of documents) and have several digitization projects going to make items more accessible to users all over the world. The building is located on the George IV Bridge and spans 15 floors because the back of the building actually descends beneath the bridge and onto the ground below. The books in the stacks are shelved by height, not subject or author. This allows as many shelves as possible to be used within the 6 floors of book space they have.

One large collection the library holds is the John Murray Archives, which is a collection of publishing company John Murray's records and published works spanning 234 years. One of the new exhibitions in the library features a recreation of the London John Murray reading room, complete with some of the books published by John Murray on the shelves. It is surprising that many of these are sitting out where visitors can remove them and flip through them!

The rest of the exhibition is a collection of "living figures" depicting famous authors, poets, and explorers whose works were published by John Murray. Some of the people included were Sir Walter Scott, David Livingstone, and Charles Darwin. The living figures are made up of a costume related to the person surrounded by original books and manuscripts related to their work or life. The cases also feature mood lighting that reflects different colors for each person and interactive touchscreens that visitors can use to explore the items in the cases. The custom designed lighting only highlights the items being viewed so that each item is only exposed to light while being examined. Once the user selects another item, the lights will go off and a new item will be lit. Music plays for certain items and animations are shown on the screens for others. Users even have the option to have letters and shirt manuscripts read to them. The readers are actors who have been told to use the specific accent or way of speaking that the author would have used to give the performance authenticity. I was truly amazed at the thought and planning behind each individual element, and can safely say that this is the most engaging exhibit I have ever seen. No photographs were allowed inside, so I unfortunately cannot show you how amazing this exhibit was.

09 July 2014

National Maritime Museum & Caird Library

View from the boat

As a special treat today, our class got to ride one of the Thames Clipper boats to Greenwich. Traveling by boat has been my favorite way to see the city so far because it's more scenic than the bus and a lot less stressful than the Tube. Plus, being from the coast I feel like anything on the water is the same as being at home. The scenery definitely changed from old world to new world as you moved eastwards down the Thames. We passed landmarks like the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Westminster Palace, and the London Eye.

Lord Nelson's letter

Our class visit in Greenwich was to the Caird Library and archives at the National Maritime Museum. The museum is an interesting mixture of classic and contemporary because the exterior is straight out of the 18th century while the interior is sleek, modern, and boasts state-of-the-art technology. Our guide for the morning was archivist Mike Bevan, who was wonderfully accommodating and showed us some of their world class collections of rare books and correspondence. One of the highlights was one of Lord Nelson's letters that was extremely well-preserved and still had the wax seal affixed to the page. It was suspended in a cardstock frame so we could lift it and examine the "GR" and crown watermark on the paper.

Another fascinating set of items were the travel journals of various sailors and explorers. One had such beautiful watercolor paintings of what the person had seen that it's a shame they could not be framed and put on exhibit. I particularly enjoyed flipping through these visual representations of the journey, and really wished I had time to read all of the stories behind the pictures.

One of the stunning watercolors

The most innovative part of the library itself was an interactive display that allowed the user to look up ships' plans and view or manipulate the images on screen. This would be an invaluable tool for researchers, and also is a fun way to view documents without placing stress on the originals. Another amazing aspect of the library's services is their phenomenal digitization and its presentation on their web site. Many of the letters and handwritten documents we viewed on our tour are available in almost better-than-life quality on the collections web site. This is another way to give access to thousands of people without harming the priceless original documents.

Elizabeth's song

My favorite part of our time in the museum was after our official visit was over. Mike took a few of the students through a "secret" door in the wall of the museum, which gave our whole side trip a decidedly Narnian feel. From there, we went into a part of the archives where they keep the story boxes, or ready-made collections of small items that are used at events. Although the box sitting on the shelf for "Lord Nelson's Women" looked intriguing, we were on a mission to see the contents of the "Spanish Armada" and "Pirates" collections. In the Armada box there was a celebration song written by Queen Elizabeth I to commemorate the Armada's defeat. I was so excited to see and touch (through the coverings, of course) something personally written by one of my idols! There was also correspondence to the queen in the Pirates box signed by her chief adviser William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and her secretary/spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.

08 July 2014

Barbican Library

Barbican Library entrance
Today our class went on some of the best class trips we have had so far in London. The first was to the Barbican Library, which is one of the City of London's three public libraries. The Barbican immediately won me over because it was a beautiful, modern space with low wooden shelving and cutting-edge technology. Their self-checkout machines can scan a whole stack of items at once! Seeing how nice this public library is makes me a little jealous on behalf of the main branch of the CCPL back home, which before now I thought was a pretty nice facility.

The Barbican charges for CD and DVD rentals, which is a trend I am noticing is very popular in the UK. Educational DVDs are free to check out, but there is no completely free movie rental system like I have become accustomed to in both the public and membership libraries in Charleston. Two of the notable collections in the library are the London collection which is made up of items related to the city and a business library that holds market reports and information for people looking to start their own business.

Children's Non-Fiction
The Barbican has separate areas for the Children's Library and Music Library. The Children's Library is a welcoming, closed-off space where children can be loud and find materials just for them. The library holds fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, picture books, books on parenting, audiobooks, and access to ebooks. During our visit, the staff members were preparing for a summer reading program and the decorations were phenomenal. The maze painted on the glass in the library was beautiful!

Portion of the CD collection

Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the library was the Music Library. This area is filled with biographies and periodicals related to music, but the best part is the vast collection of scores (approximately 16,000) they have on hand. These are sorted into sections by instrument rather than by genre or composer. They also boast the biggest CD collection in London and have a program to feature local artists by having their albums available in a special display for users to check out. These CDs cost 55p to check out for one week, or £1.65 for three weeks. There are two public use keyboards in the library for use and listening booths for users who want to listen to items before checking them out.

An intriguing exhibition was taking place outside of the Music Library during our visit to the Barbican. An artist had done extensive research about several bands and made up "family trees" of each band's members, feeder ensembles, and changes throughout their career. These were both informative and visually interesting, so I wish I had a picture to share (no pictures were allowed of exhibitions). I can't remember all of the bands represented, but I do remember there was a poster for Fleetwood Mac, as I studied that one for a while.

07 July 2014

London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre

Archaeological Archive
Today was a really special journey into the Museum of London Archaeological Archive, also known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). LAARC is the world's largest archaeological archive; they have the Guinness World Record to prove it. The facility is where items from archaeological digs around London are cataloged and stored. There are millions of objects in the building that date anywhere from prehistory to World War II, but only 253,000 are available for researchers to inspect. Because of London's wet climate, materials that are rarely found preserved in other areas like leather, fabric, and wood are more commonly found here. This makes some of the objects in the archive especially important to understanding everyday culture throughout history.

The Museum of London also uses part of the Mortimer Wheeler House for storage, so we were able to see some awesome non-dig-related items on or tour like their toys and games acquisitions and the telephone switchboard from Buckingham Palace. One of the more interesting yet completely random items was the king's urinal from the Royal Opera House.

Pilgrimage tokens
Several items from different digs were on display for us as we toured the facility. One collection of items that was exciting for me personally (to most other people probably not so much) was a set of silver platters from Nonsuch Palace. These are particularly special because the palace was started by Henry VIII and was called Nonsuch because there would be no such place that could rival its grandeur. Unfortunately, Charles II gave the palace to one of his mistresses who demolished it and sold the parts to pay her debts. It's one place in this world I can never visit, so I want to go ten times more (kind of like Cuba). But there were several other really interesting items, all of them metal and small. These were tokens from pilgrimages that people would purchase and then throw into the Thames. One was identified as a figure of Thomas Becket, the sainted Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

I knew that one of these trips would try to sway me away from my LIS concentration, and this site was it. Seeing the work that goes into the storage and maintenance of these items made the job seem daunting, but it also seems like an amazing place to work. Touching and working with bits and pieces of history every day would be so rewarding. Even if it is something seemingly insignificant, it may be the only mark someone has left on the world and that makes every item special.

06 July 2014

Hampton Court Palace

The Tudor portion of Hampton Court Palace
The LIS class had a free day today so Lindsay, Jessica, Ashley, Kayla, and I decided to take the 30-minute train ride to Hampton Court Palace. Words cannot describe how awesome the experience was. There were so many beautiful rooms, items, and gardens that my camera battery couldn't withstand the sheer amount of pictures I felt it necessary to take. Seven hours and over 350 pictures later, I had finished one of the best experiences I've had in the UK so far.

Henry VIII's Great Hall
We started the day in Henry VIII's Great Hall, where the most impressive items were the stained glass windows showing the family trees of each of his six wives. These were closely followed by some of the largest tapestries I have ever seen that enveloped the room from wall to wall. This Tudor flair is a simpler type of grandeur than shown by later kings, but the hall has the feel of a glorified hunting lodge and completely fits Henry's personality. Unfortunately this is one of the few Tudor-era rooms that remain because William and Mary decided to renovate the palace when they came into power.

Chapel Royal ceiling
Following Henry's hall is an area covered in portraits of Henry and his family that leads into the Chapel Royal, where the king would have attended services while staying at Hampton Court. Henry's son, later King Edward VI, was baptized in this chapel in his youth. A replica of the Tudor crown worn by Henry and his descendants can be seen in the royal pew. The original crown was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, and the reproduction was made in the early 2000s using a contemporary painting as a guide. While the crown was interesting, the chapel itself was much more stunning. I'd wager that the ceiling is one of the finest in the world and has been painstakingly preserved and restored to maintain its Tudor glory. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the chapel, so the photograph is from their web site (linked above).

After such an amazing start to the day, I didn't think anything else in the palace could compete with the morning. Our lunch break in the Privy Cafe quickly proved me wrong. This cafe was modified from the privy kitchens of Queen Elizabeth I, so I found myself eating a sandwich in the same place that QE1 would sit and take her private meals. This was a completely surreal experience because I have looked up to Elizabeth for many years. It could be because we share the same name or because she was the first female monarch who proved that maybe, just maybe, a woman could do a man's job.

Cutting a quill pen
After lunch, we walked through the final part of the Tudor experience called "Henry VIII's Kitchens." These rooms are reproductions of Tudor-era kitchens complete with dishes and food (some of it real) and costumed staff who are on hand to discuss Tudor cooking with tourists. One of the most surprisingly entertaining experiences was also taking place in the kitchens. A man was sitting at one of the tables carving quill pens out of goose feathers, talking visitors through the process as he worked. When he was finished, he allowed all of us to try out his creation by using it to write our names in a book. He says the books stay at Hampton Court, so we could have left our mark for hundreds of years to come.

Superior maze navigators

One of the fun outdoors attractions at Hampton Court is the hedge maze. It was one of the first mazes in the UK that didn't have just one path, so now people would encounter dead ends and potentially become lost which adds suspense and tons of fun! Naturally, this was a big hit and people came from all over England to try their luck when the maze opened to the public. The signage mentioned an average journey of 20 minutes to reach the center, but being the infinitely clever and resourceful library students that we are, we made it to the center in about 5 minutes. The signs in the center urged us to take a "Georgian selfie" with the decorative frame in the center (and of course you have to obey the signs).

The maze is right next to the gardens at the rear of the house, and those are spectacular. There are several gardens around the palace, and each has its own personality. Some are entirely green, some have an occasional pop of color, and some are a riot of hues and flowers. In this case I believe pictures would speak more eloquently than any words I could come up with to describe them, as I have a brown thumb and know nothing about horticulture.

03 July 2014

British Library

The King's Library

Model of the British Library
Visiting the British Library proved to be one of the best experiences I have had in London so far. Upon entering the library you see the six-story King's Library, which houses a collection of about 65,000 books gifted to the nation by King George IV as well as the Thomas Grenville collection. This structure, designed by architect Colin St. John Wilson, is stunning and interestingly the only place in the library where you can see books on shelving. Unfortunately, only staff can enter the structure. One of our first stops on the tour was near a model of the building, which clearly reflects Wilson's time in the Royal Navy as it resembles a large ship. This also shines through in the building's details like the porthole-style windows in the doors. The ceilings and walls in the building are designed to reflect natural light, and as a result the main room almost glows.

Much like the Library of Congress, the British Library receives copies of everything published in the UK, which leads them to receive about 400 new items per day, which amounts to 9 miles of material per year. The items in the collection cover every known language on Earth (including Klingon for all the Star Trek fans in the UK). About 40% of their collection is on-site in the basement levels, including high-traffic materials and rare or fragile items. These materials are delivered to the main floor via ABRS (Automatic Book Retrieval System), which consists of 1.2 miles of track throughout the building. A book's journey from basement to the reading room is approximately 70 minutes long. The library uses their own system of shelf marks to delineate an item's category, size, and location. With the vast amount of materials available, having this intuitive system probably helps employees locate items more quickly.

Entrance to the "Treasures of the British Library" gallery

All of the experiences in the British Library so far were great, but a visit to the Treasures Gallery proved to be even more exciting. No pictures were allowed in this section of the library because of the value and rarity of the items contained within. The Tudor enthusiast in me was thrilled to see the prayer books of Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey and the handwritten letters of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI. There were pages from da Vinci's notebooks, Michelangelo's letters, Jane Austen's writing desk, an early Beowulf manuscript, and so many gorgeously illuminated manuscripts. The music collection was quite extensive and held a copy of the first printed music as well as handwritten scores by Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Purcell, Bartok, Vaughan Williams... I have studied and adored so many of these composers over the years. This room is quite possibly my version of heaven.

The last little room in the Treasures Gallery is a low-light area holding two copies of the Magna Carta. This is an important document for England, but also significant to me because I am a direct descendant of King John and five of the 25 Magna Carta barons. To be so close to a document that was most likely touched by six of my ancestors was especially moving. For anyone who may be interested in the barons, here is some light Wikipedia reading on my ancestors:

02 July 2014

Stowe House

Stowe House
Today after another journey via motor coach our class arrived at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire. Stowe is a large and beautiful eighteenth-century house and garden that has been used as a school since the early twentieth century. The history of the house and its library was fascinating and read much like a BBC drama! Carol Miller, the librarian at Stowe House, told us the tale of the Temple-Grenvilles and their money problems which led to the house's colorful history. The contents of the house were sold off three times to pay off debt, and then when the last family member perished the house was sold (empty) to the organization that turned it into a school. The school started in 1923 with 99 boys and has grown to its current size of 780 students of both genders.

Stowe library
The library itself has a varied history -- it started as a ballroom, was divided into two rooms, and then was made into one large room once again. The third incarnation in 1797 is when it became a library. Non-fiction and reference books are housed here, and fiction is in another adjacent room. The £86,000 ceiling was added later, and shines with 23 1/2 karat gold leaf. The ceiling is gorgeous and rivals the ceilings in many of the palaces in and around London. Because the books were all sold off, old books were donated in the 1920s to serve as shelf fillers. Some of these books are still on the shelves today.

Gothic Temple

Me and Liz
While the house is impressive, the grounds are even more so. There are 40 monuments and temples in the gardens, which are now under the protection of the National Trust. There are several classically-inspired structures throughout the grounds, each with its own theme and style. We weren't able to explore all of them during our time on the grounds, but one of my favorite temples was the Gothic Temple. I'm a sucker for Gothic architecture in general, but I loved how the building felt remote even though it is a part of the larger network of Stowe. You can rent the Gothic Temple for a vacation, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to go back! There was also a monument to British heroes like William Shakespeare, John Locke, and Sir Isaac Newton, but I was most excited about getting to take my picture with the bust of Queen Elizabeth I.