Wednesday, 16 July 2008

National Art Library: July 15th 2008

(photo taken from:

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

(photo take from

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

(photo taken from )

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.