Monday, 25 August 2008

Independent Excursions in London: Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Westminster Abbey

I decided to explore London by myself. These times I found to be some of my most favorite memories as I was able to drift in and out of these institutions with no time constraints or responsibility. I chose to visit the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and Westminster Abbey on my own and savored the moments spent in each.

The Tate Modern: My first stop was the Tate Modern which I was instantly intrigued to visit after walking past it on one of my London Alive tours. The gallery was established in 2000, and the modern structure of the institution overall, was a fresh view in comparison to some of the older architecture that is a staple of a London visit. The Tate Modern holds art from across various mediums, dating from the 1900's on.

Collection displays can be found on the 3rd and the 5th floor and are part of the institutions permanent exhibits. The 3rd level includes displayed collections entitled "Material Gestures" and "Poetry and Dream." Here, I found paintings and sculptures dating back to the 1940's and 1950's, including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. I found myself most interested in the "Poetry and Dream" collection, specifically the work by Francis Bacon entitled "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion" which displays images of half-human, half-animal beings that appear taunted by something in front of them. Here is a close-up of one of them. All interpretations are welcome as I don't know entirely what to think of the below.

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I also enjoyed paying a small fee to view the traveling exhibit located on the 4th floor of the gallery. This exhibit is entitled "Street and Studio" and includes 350 photos and portraits from all over the world. One of my favorites rooms in this exhibit, was room number 7, which displayed works by Walker Evans, who discretely hid a camera and photographed passengers on a New York subway.

Tate Britain: The Tate Britain's origins date back to 1897 and was originally called the National Gallery of British Art. The gallery was made officially responsible for the national collection in 1917, responsible for international modern art and British art dating back to the 1500's.

I wasn't able to view all of the collections as my feet at this point were calling me to take a rest, but I did have the opportunity to view "The Lure of the East" which focuses on the influence of the orient on British fashion, art, cultures, and ideals. I toured this exhibit with a headset. This allowed me to visit each piece and listen to the background and history of the painting. One of my favorite pieces was a portrait of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, by Augustus John. This image below is the portrait I saw and is the influence of the classic "Lawrence of Arabia."

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Westminster Abbey: Amazingly, Westminster Abbey has been the coronation church of kings and queens since 1066 and holds 17 monarchs. The overall Gothic architecture is enchanting and any visitor feels a sense of majesty wandering through each part of the Abbey.

Here again I was guided by a headset which served of a knowledgeable companion throughout the tour. There are a total of 3,300 people buried at Westminster Abbey to include about 600 monuments and memorial statues. Those buried here include tombs of kings and queens as well as famous writers, who can be found in the Poets' Corner.
The Poets' Corner is located in the South Transept section of the Abbey. Here, a visitor can see commemoration to poets, playwrights, and writers. Lord Byron is given memorial in this section as well as Shakespeare.

Finally, I ended my tour in a wooden pew listening to a choir practice. After seeing such greatness on the tour, this part of my visit allowed me a moment to sit and take in what I had just seen.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Shakespeare Centre and Library Archive: July, 18th 2008

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If you are not a fan of Shakespeare, you surely will be if you have the opportunity we did today to visit the Shakespeare Centre and Library Archive. Clare Maffioli served as our host and gave us an overview of the history of the library as well as the collection. The Library and Records Office houses Shakespeare and Local Collections to include printed book collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Royal Shakespeare Company as well as books, photographs, and maps relating to Stratford-upon-Avon. I found the latter collection most significant when Jo Wilding, the User Services Librarian, presented a collection centered around Midsummer's Nights Dream. She included various resources that hinted to both the cultural and environmental impact on Shakespeare's work. I found this presentation to provide a more holistic approach to analysis of his work and the times. The library own 3 of the first editions of Shakespeare's folios that date back to 1623 as well as first editions of his plays.

We also had to opportunity to see some of the archived materials of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Each time we entered a different space, we were further awe struck by the depth of the collection. The collection includes records of individual Shakespeare productions. These records are comprised of reviews, costume design, photographs, posters, and videos. There is also a collection dedicated to Shakespeare himself. The latter includes periodicals and journals dedicated to the study of Shakespeare, editions of 17th century quartos and editions of his work dating back to 1709, as well as translation of his plays and biographical information.

University of Strathclyde and The Bridge Arts Centre: July 22nd, 2008

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As with all of our hosts here in Scotland we were again warmly greeted by two professors at the University of Strathclyde, Alan Poulter and David McMenemy. The University of Strathclyde was founded in 1796 when a Professor of Natural Philosophy, John Anderson, left monies in his will for a university that would be available for the public. We learned through Professor McMenemy, that there are currently 25,000 students across the University's two campuses and that the Information and Library Studies program is the 2nd largest postgraduate course at the University (exciting!).

While at the University, we had the opportunity to listen to Christine Rooney-Browne, a PhD. candidate in the Computer and Information Sciences Department.

Mrs. Rooney-Browne's presentation was inspiring and served as a wonderful transition to visiting The Bridge. Her research includes discussing the social-value of public libraries as she is finding more and more libraries are taking a marketing approach using quantitative data rather than qualitative. A major argument in her research is that libraries should be examined by understanding the value libraries serve for specific communities. Rooney-Browne is working on implying Social Impact Methods in five public libraries throughout the world. Interestingly, she is studying the social value of public libraries in New Orleans. The latter, definitely "hit home" as many of my fellow students and professors reside near or around this area and were personally impacted by the events that unfolded and continue to unfold from Hurricane Katrina.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit The Bridge. This library opened in 2006, in an effort to provide a community center to a low income population on the outskirts of Glasgow. I found such inspiration in The Bridge's innovative approach to how library's can now serve as a conduit for promoting education and boosting the community moral. This is seen in the fact that The Bridge is connected to a local community college. Here patron's can see where an education can take them and our speaker, noted that the library collection includes both academic and nonacademic reads.

The Bridge not only promotes education, but is also a place promoting art, culture, and leisure. This can be seen in the Bridge's availability of a swimming pool, cafe, and dance and recording studio and auditorium.

National Archives of Scotland: July 21st, 2008

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After perusing Edinburgh through parks with Elizabeth and sitting in awe at the beautiful Edinburgh castle that seems to have a constant watch and presence where ever you are in the city, we lingered through a bath and body store with Amanda, purchased some goods that would make us smell great and finally reached our destination at the National Archives. Although I only have a short time here in Scotland, we were again warmly greeted by Margaret McBride in a relaxed way that seems to be a reflection of the people and landscape of Scotland.

Margaret McBride gave us a tour of the facilities as well as a powerpoint presentation. Through her presentation, we learned that the Archives is an agency that is funded by the government. Their main goals are to promote, preserve, protect, and make accessible all items that are contained within the archives. The archivists here will select public records that are seen as viable enough to receive preservation.

Amazingly, they have records dating back to the 12th century to include: church records, wills, maps, records of businesses, and state and government papers. They also have partnerships and outreach to promote equity to access of information. Some of these partnerships include:

- Scottish Archives Network: Those partnering up for this initiative include The National Archives of Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Genealogical Society of Utah. I was surprised that the latter institution was involved, but partnerships across the globe appear to be more and more apparent with the rise of virtual communities. The Scottish Archives Network provides more than 50 Scottish archives and digitizes original records.

- Scottish Family History Network: NAS is working with the General Register Officer for Scotland and Lord Lyon in an effort to provide a concise collection of the genealogical data in Scotland. This partnership was highlighted in the presentation given to us by Mrs. McBride. It provides access to wills and testaments recorded in the court registers by Scots from 1500-1901.

I think the the above projects demonstrate NAS's goal to, "enhance the learning and teaching of history" through providing high quality access to information for patrons that would not be so readily available if these organization did not collaborate.

National Library of Scotland: July, 21 2008

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We were kindly greeted where ever we visited in Scotland and today's tour of the National Library of Scotland set this precedent. The National Library of Scotland was established in 1925 under the Act of Parliament. It boasts as the largest library in Scotland and one of the ten largest libraries in the world with approximately 13 million printed items, 100,000 manuscripts, 2 million maps, and about 25,000 newspapers and magazines.

Our tour guides gave us a brief overview of the library's history, but focused mainly on the John Murray Archive collection. This archive was purchased from the John Murray publishing house and includes over 150,000 items published during the years of 1768-1920. Our guides provided a wonderful overview of this collections conception and I eagerly awaited to view the exhibition.

The displays within the John Murray Archive were amazing. The room consisted of approximately 7 areas, each dedicated to different authors (i.e. Jane Austen). Each area included clothing and items specific to the respective author as well as an interactive computer that provided information on the items on display as well as the significance and connections the items had respect to one another. Included in this room was also a computer game that allowed visitors to get a "hands on" idea of the publishing process.

It is interesting to see how traditional libraries are actually turning more and more into museums and cultural centers. This allows for libraries to open up the spectrum of patrons that frequent these institutions and provide informational needs to a larger audience. In turn, the more different audiences are considered when deciding collection presentation, the more the collection will resonate with patrons. This transformation was evident when our guide explained to strategic planning that occurred prior to the exhibit opening and the consideration of educational standards and curriculum in the design and presentation of the collection.

Bodleian Library, Oxford: July 17th 2008

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Today we had the opportunity to take of tour of the Bodleian Library at the University at Oxford. Our greeting by Sidney Hicks was quite offical and it was apparent that, in comparison to some smaller library collections we have visited, the Bodleian runs a tight ship with the tours (Oh no, Maritime Museum has made its mark on my current vocabulary. I need to stop with the references to life at sea). Mr. Hicks provided us with a detailed history of the Bodleian Library as well as an outline of how the library has transformed from its conception.

We started our tour in the Divinity School. This is were a professor of Divinity would supervised oral examinations of candidates and Mr. Hicks noted that some orals examinations involved hours upon hours of arguments to promote critical thinking and one's ability to support any assertions made. This is the area that contains wall and ceiling fixtures that are packed with religious symbolism as well as monograms and shields that commemorate benefactors of the library and individuals who have advocated for the library's restoration and sustainability. The first floor of the building also includes the Convocation House which still holds meetings today and is a wonderful example of what a 17th century "Parliament House" would look like.

Finally, we went upstairs to the Duke Humfrey's Library. This library originally consisted of only manuscripts of scholastic and legal texts. It's history include many books and manuscripts being destroyed by the King's Commission during the reformation. However, it was revived though by Sir Thomas Bodley, a student himself at Oxford. Mr. Hicks stressed that Bodley's vision was to make the library more global and this is reflected in the multi-language and multidisciplinary texts available in the collection.

On an average the library serves about 54,000 readers a day. One interesting project noted by our guide was a digitization project in partnership with the Folger Institute. This projects is one of the first of its type between British and American institutions and seeks to make 75 of Shakespeare's quarto plays in one collection with an interactive interface.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Caird Library, National Maritime Museum: July 16th 2008

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Anchors away.

Quite appropriately, we took a boat to the Caird Library located in Greenwich. We were kindly greeted by Hannah Dunnow, the archives and manuscript librarian at the National Maritime Museum. The museum origins date back to 1934 although it was not made accessible to the public until 1937. The National Maritime Museum is one of the largest libraries of its kind and the collection holds approximately 2.5 million items which are loaned to museums across Britain. Items included in the collection are charts, maps, atlases, personal diaries, and naval logs.

The mission of the museum is to,"illustrate the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people." The latter idea is reflected in some initiatives the museum is implementing such as access to a Climatological Database which provides resources on the environmental impact of industrialization on the world's oceans.

We started our tour of the library with a brief overview, after which we were led to a room filled with rare books. Here, Hannah introduced us to Rene and Mike, two conservationists who gave us a broadstroke view of some of the items available at the library.

Buried Treasures: The items we viewed pertained to life at sea. One item I found particularly interesting was a "how to" guide of becoming a sailor as well as a book that was bound by gun pellets and meant to sink should a ship come under siege. All in all, it is amazing to see the primary sources hidden within library walls.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

National Art Library: July 15th 2008

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Today we went to the National Art Library. Climbing up the stairs to the entrance of the library, I couldn't help but notice the greeter's at the door: Titian, an Italian artist; Mantegna, a Renaissance artist; and Vischer, a German sculptor. These gentlemen set the tone that we were entering a space that supports the arts. The NatioArt Library is available to the public as a reference library in conjunction with serving as the curitorial department for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We learned that although some reference books are stored within the readering rooms, most are closed access and need to be requested from patrons. Similar to The British Library, readers need know what they would like to see and request the materials with forms. The retrieval system currently in place has been in effect since 1899!

The subjects covered in the collection include texts and artifacts specific to theVictoria and Albert Museum such as: drawing; paintings; ceramics; sculptures; and art, as well as information on specific artists. Surprisingly, our guide noted that they their policy for art books is generous and the library accepts most published art books. A majority of the National Art Library's collection can be found online at .

Interestingly, part of the West Room of the library is being cleared and made into a gallery of 20th century artifact, so I assume that there may be some internal struggles with delagating space for the collection of the library and space for new exhibits. This visit also further reintereated the idea that a library is not only a place to hold books, but is more and more becoming a depository for the preservation of culture and peoples.

Following our tour of the library, we were able to view books in the conservation area of the museum. The items held here are sometimes loaned by other institutions or are used in displays and exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Musuem. I think that this was the most exciting part of our tour as we were able to view Jonathan Swift's draft of Gulliver's Travels and see the final changes he made (wonderful). This is the time we were also able to view books that were actual pieces of art in and of themselves such as Killing, a meditation on the treatment of animals for consumer goods.

The Museum of London: July 14th 2008

(photo taken from The Museum of London's website

Today we visited the Museum of London and received an wonderful presentation from John Cotton, Senior Curator of PreHistory at the museum. The Museum of London is the world's largest Urban History Museum and inhabited the new building in the 1960-1970's.

John Cotton really touched upon the network of partnerships and strategic thinking involved in museum collection development, organization of space, and marketing. For example, because the library has a large population of tourists, they have developed space tailoring to this demographic. The latter is reflected in the organization the exhibits and presentation of artifacts using a retail art gallery approach.

As Cotton's area of expertise is PreHistory, he provided insight into the value of understanding this population within the context of the following:

- Massive changes in the landscape through human and natural elements.
- The centrality of the Thames in the London Before London story.
- The dynamic and adaptable nature of those who dwelled here.
- The prehistoric legacy after AD 50.
(taken from handout provided by John Cotton)

There are three main design elements within the gallery: a Riverwall (blue hues), a Landscape Wall (poetry, quotes) and a series of wooden plinths that house the main artifacts on display. Cotton noted that it is the hope that a visitor will remember one key elements.

The London Before London Exhibition: The new gallery is only 5-years-old and we had the opportunity to view this space. Upon entering, the first thing I noticed was The Riverwall. This wall was organized chronologically and my appreciation for the artifacts displayed was heightened by Cotton's presentation and underlying passion for his area of expertise. I also found it interesting that those who currently dredge the water find holy relics in the Thames River. Furthermore, because we resided along the Thames, I found myself having a new appreciation for the River and its history when I spent moments alone wandering along its banks; in essence, the river is a living being with its own story.

Overall, because the exhibition space provides minimal written explanation of the artifacts, a visitor is allowed to make his or her own assertions about who theses people were, how they lived, and the innovations they made.

As a future librarian, this opportunity provided a chance to think about a library space and holdings in terms of organization of space and key ideas you want patrons to take away when visiting a library as well as partnerships that can be formed with a library and other community organizations to better serve patrons.

The Barbican Public Library: July 10th 2008

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On our tour of the Barbican, we had the opportunity to learn about the Children's, Adult, and Music collections and resources available to patrons. Our guides warmly welcomed us and even provided refreshments.

We began our tour in the Children's section of the library with our host Ann Holden. The Barbican Children's Library is the largest children's library in London, with over 25,000 loanable items. This collection includes books for children under the age of fourteen. The latter I found interesting as I wouldn't think that a 13 or 14-year-old would want to be associated with a children's collection. With regards to space, the Children's Library is colorful and welcoming.

A couple of interesting facts I learned through the tour of this section of the library:

1. Government Initiatives: It was wonderful to hear about the BookStart Initiative, a government funded program that promotes literacy through providing parents with free packs of books (up to age 5). These packs are compiled with literature for three age groups (0-18 months; 18-36 months; and 36-48 months). Mrs. Holden noted that it is the libraries responsibily to distribute these packs.

2. Parent's have access to what books their children are taking out. This fact I found in contrast with many of the local libraries located in Albany, New York. I have heard many public librarians describe angry parents who are appalled that they cannot view what his or her child has taken out due to privacy policies.

After receiving our tour from Mrs. Holden, we then proceeded to the Music Library where we were greeted by Liz Wells.

The library boasts a wonderful music collection that was the result of the thriving arts and cultural community present in the Barbican area. The collection includes 16.5 thousand CD's that are organized by genre. To support the usage of the collection, there are ten listening booths available to patrons as long as they had a valid photo id. In turn, the Music Library includes musics scores and more enticing, archives of audio and video interviews and live performances ( One particular unique aspect of this library is the availability of a piano. Patrons can book the piano up to one day in advance.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The British Library: July 8th, 2007

A mecca and place of pilgrimage for fellow librarians.

If I was blown away by the ambiance of Saint Paul's Cathedral Library yesterday, the British Library sufficed my pallet to view a collection with breadth and depth. The British Library is actually the 3rd largest library in the world, housing a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland, and adding approximately 3 million items a year. The collection is comprised of a total of 150 million items to include books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, maps, and drawings. Interestingly, the library stores books by the size and not content. In retrospect, the latter is more common in the libraries here than I had anticipated.

There are a total of four levels above and below the ground that house this collection. Although the library is a reference library and open to the public, patrons are not allowed to pull books from the shelves and must see a reference library for retrieval of items. Thus, one can assume that most patrons are visiting the library for personal or scholarly research endeavors. Users of the library must also register for a reader's pass. This pass is available to any member of the public who has a permenant addresss and identification.

Speaking of retrieval, I found the system that they have set of for retrieval interesting. Kevin, our guide and a donations officer at the library, gave us a tour of one of the rooms in which a conveyor belt inhabits. Each floor has conveyor belts with barcodes unique to the floor a librarian is on. To send a book to a different floor, a librarian scans the barcode of the destination floor, puts the book in a bin, and the book is then delivered to that floor. How intuitive a system is that?

Finally, Kevin allowed us to view the exhibits. I think that we all found this the most memorable part of the tour as we were able to view the Magna Carta, Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, and one of my personal favorites, Charlotte Bronte's handwritten Jane Eyre. Wow.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

St. Paul's Cathedral: July 7th, 2008

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It is not everyday that someone has the opportunity to visit St. Paul's Cathedral library, but thanks to some wonderfully connected British liaisons, we were able to experience this space and take a guided tour through the chambers encompassing the Triforium of the building.

Our tour guide, Jo Wisdom, who is the sole librarian at St. Paul's, welcomed us warmly and served as a witty and knowledgeable guide. We began our excursion at the Dean's Stairs, a spiral staircase that was used during the filming of Harry Potter. At the top, we reached the Triforium and were able to peek through a key hole of the library and get a sneak preview of the wonderful treat that awaited us.

Walking through the hallways, my eyes found walls that hint to all passersby that these rooms were dedicated to literature. The first library chamber we entered did not contain books though. Instead, this room displays Christopher Wren's architectural model of St. Paul's Cathedral that was rejected. We learned through our guide that many English Protestants during the 17th century believed that the dome structure too much resembled Catholic churches like Saint Peters in Rome.

Finally, we reached the library. The dimly lit room contains musty smelling, leather-bound books that reside in numbered shelving within the walls, from floor to ceiling. A majority of the collection consists of biblical texts and sermons, but does include some works on the subject matters of the classics, sciences, art, and medicine. When we asked Mr. Wisdom what classification system the library used he said matter-of-factly, "The larger books go on the bottom while the smaller go on top."

Although St. Paul's library is not open to the public, the general population can call or email Mr. Wisdom and his colleagues with research questions. Mr. Wisdom noted that he is currently monitoring the environmental impact on the collection for preservation purposes. Because of the latter, the size of our tour and time we spent in the library was monitored.