Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 31: The last bits

Saturday morning, I woke up to some true London weather: drizzly and looking to be overcast for much of the day. After some housekeeping things with my library course, and I headed out for a last day of things about London.

On a recommendation from a very good authority, I walked over to Borough Market to take in the foodie stalls and get some lunch. The variety of foods available was great! I tried a number of good cheeses and sausages, all some degree of organic, homemade, &c. I wish I had gone to the market earlier in my trip; I would have had a much more diverse pick of fruit! I decided on a fresh baguette and some comte cheese for my lunch. Perfection!

I then went to my last museum of the trip: the Tate Britain. I really enjoyed this art museum so much more than the Tate Modern, mostly because at least half of the art was more traditional and less abstract. I spent a good deal of time looking at the portraits of society daughters from around 1900--seeing how portraiture progressed was very fascinating to me. I also spent a while in the room dedicated to the sublime; some of those paintings were horrifying, and some were just so layered and beautiful. By the end of my visit, I had discovered a specific thing about my tastes in art: I like the Pre-Raphaelites. Who knew?

A few of us met up at the flats before going out for our last real meal in the UK. Wanting to keep things British, we decided to go to a pub; where else? I thoroughly enjoyed my last fish and chips of the trip, and the ice cream that followed it.


The general mood of packing all of my things for my return home has made me reflective about this month-long experience. The whole point was libraries, and I really did get to do a lot with libraries. In the interests of wrapping things up as far as my trip and this blog are concerned, I shall end with a recap of my favourite libraries from the past month.

5) The Paul Hamlyn and Central Libraries at the British Museum - Despite any previous exposure I've had to big museums and their libraries, I hadn't ever really considered the logistics of how vast a collection a museum should hold, and who should have access to the materials. The duality of the libraries at the British Museum--a public reference room supplemented by a rather huge collection to which staff have full access--seemed to satisfy most potential library needs quite well. And, who are we kidding; the secret door to get into the library was pretty awesome, too.

4) The Dunfermline Carnegie Library - This first on Andrew Carnegie's libraries, located in my beloved Scotland, offers a variety of really interesting services as far as public libraries are concerned. What with their special Burns collections, their local and family history room, their impressive reference reading room, and pretty substantial general collections room, this library provides a whole lot of great material. The children's department, too, was very impressive, both in terms of collections and design. I like that the children's non-fiction was not arranged specifically by Dewey, but instead by topics that seem better suited to the way children browse for books.

3) The London Library - Admittedly, my interest in the London Library has less to do with my personal library academic interests and more to do with my general love of libraries--I would love to be a subscribing member of the library! Intellectually, I was also really intrigued by their unique classification system, which seems to work extremely efficiently both for the staff and library patrons. The number of libraries that opt not to use Dewey or Library of Congress has got me thinking: are we too complacent with our classification schemes? are there better ways, depending upon the collections? At any rate, the London Library's scheme afforded us a number of "File that under Science & Miscellaneous" jokes throughout the month.

2) Edinburgh Central Library - What I loved most about the main public library in Edinburgh was their Reader Development department. That's a whole staff department dedicated to getting more people of all ages and literary persuasions interested in and enjoying reading. Some of their ideas for developing reluctant patrons into readers are definitely worth further thought: for example, using author talks to get at-risk teens interested in reading is a really great idea, and seems to work quite well. The idea of facilitating book groups through the library is also really interesting to me.

1) Winchester Discovery Centre - It should be no surprise that the Winchester Discovery Centre was my favourite library of all during the course of this month. To say I loved it would almost be an understatement; I was enchanted by it. I talked a bit about the fabulous decor in the library, both in the children's department and in the library as a whole, and I still think the idea of injecting a bit of interest into the library space is a great idea for any public library. The Winchester Discovery Centre's inclusion of exhibition spaces, an art gallery, and a cafe, however, really piqued my interest in the whole Discovery Centre phenomenon. I'll be writing my course paper on Discovery Centres, delving into when and to what purpose they started appearing, what actually constitutes one, and how the UK is embracing the idea. I have some hunches about where my research will take me, but I have one definite gut feeling: if more public libraries transformed themselves like the Winchester Discovery Centre, we'd find ourselves being relevant to our patrons and community members in a variety of new ways. And that is always a good thing.


I have been so fortunate to experience 19 different libraries throughout my month here in the UK. Now, I cannot wait to get home to figure out how I can use the best of what I saw in my own library career. Cheers!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 30: V&A pt. II and a play

Friday morning, all of our library course-related activities finished, Holly, Christina and I met up to run some errands in the morning. After getting some theatre tickets, we popped into Topshop, where Holly was successful in finding a floral skirt.

The three of us parted ways after that shop, and I headed over to my favourite of all places in London, the V&A. I first ventured up into the Prints & Drawings gallery, where the current exhibition features Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit illustrations. One room is dedicated to Potter's earlier drawings of her pet rabbits and the works that came before The Tale of Peter Rabbit, while the second room features Potter's original illustrations accompanied by the full text of the tale. What a great look into both process and product!

I spent a bit of time wandering through the Tapestrires gallery, and from there to the Theatre & Performance galleries, where I took time to admire the theatrical costumes on display. I also found the miniature stage sets very interesting; the models recreated ground-breaking and famous stage sets from various productions in London.

From there I took a break for lunch. Today I chose from the cafe's cold offerings: a prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil sandwich; mixed leaves salad; and pesto potato salad. I finished it all up with a huge meringue--my absolute favourite thing to get at the V&A!

I wanted to peruse some of the other galleries in the museum I hadn't really seen before, so I next checked out some of the small special exhibit galleries in the western wing of the building. Two of the rooms are currently dedicated to architects' models of possible renovations to the V&A. For the small exhibit, the V&A challenged several architects to create a large temporary exhibition space for the museum, and to simulatenously make a better entrance to the museum from Exhibition Road. The variety of plans submitted was really astounding, although I have to say my favourite was the version including a labyrinth.

After short walks through the permanent fashion and Rapheal galleries, I took the elevator all the way up to the sixth floor. All ten rooms on the sixth floor feature the museum's ceramics collection, which includes ceramics from long ago to the present and from nearly every place on earth. The whole of the collection on display was rather overwhelming, so I decided to focus on three particular aspects: how British tea things have changed over time; the actual ceramic-making process; and the special exhibit of ceramics by Richard Slee, titled "From Utility to Futility." The Slee items on display were very interesting because, while they were very beautiful, they were impractical and without a function beyong the aesthetic. For example: a variety of full-size and hand brooms with ceramic bristles. The brooms were gorgeous, but would shatter if you tried to use them for sweeping. Think about the statement such objects make.

I spent the last of my time in the V&A during this trip in the two museum shops, the book shop and the main shop. Happily, I had the self-restraint to not buy anything, but I did enjoy one last browse before heading out of the museum, not knowing when I will next return.

I had a quick dinner in my room before meeting up with all the other British Studies Program folks for our end-of-term research symposium. After the symposium, four of us headed over to our theatre performance for the night: The Prisoner of Second Avenue. The comedy, by Neil Simon, starred Mercedes Ruehl and Jeff Goldblum. Oh. My. Goodness! They were hilarious! In all five acts, I don't think I every really stopped laughing. Both Ruehl and Goldblum had great stage presence and perfect comedic timing, and their facial expressions in particular really made a few scenes. I don't want to give any of the hilarity away, but suffice it to say that several surprises and an artistic ending really made the whole production fantastic.

We walked back to the flats along the Waterloo bridge, taking in the evening sights:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 29: The last library, a pub lunch, and a picnic

Thursday morning brought the final library visit of this month of everything libraries. We walked the short distance over the Thames to the Maughan Library, which is one of the libraries in the Kings College London system with which this program is at least residentially affiliated. Crazy to think that I've visited 19 libraries in this time!

Our whole librarian group went to the Old Bank of England Pub following our last tour. Located on Fleet Street, this pub is said to be situated above the tunnels that may or may not have featured in the legend of one barber Sweeney Todd. Christina and I were initially unable to make up our minds as to what type of pie we wanted; that is, until we decided to share between the two of us. She ordered chicken and asparagus, I ordered sweet potato and goat's cheese. Both were amazing.

Three of us then spent some of the afternoon shopping on Oxford Street--crowded as usual--before heading back to the flats to relax a bit. We reconvened at dinnertime for a picnic in the garden just behind our flats. We had a great time eating sandwiches (bacon, brie, spinach, and cranberries--mmm!), laughing about all manner of things, and talking about how we'll fill our last two days here in London before we all fly back to O'Hare on Sunday.

We also enjoyed the flowers blooming in the garden. I particularly enjoyed the thistle, as I always do:

I'll definitely be sad to leave a city with such lovely grounds all over the place!

Library Visit: The Maughan Library

The Maughan Library, the major library in the Kings College London university system, is located on Chancery Lane on the KCL Strand Campus. Interestingly, the looks of the library are immediately deceiving; the building in which the library is located, you see, was built in 1851 as a records office. The Maughan Library has only been housed in this particular building since 2001, making the library itself rather young, especially when compared to other libraries I've visited on this trip.

The combination of the Maughan being in a relatively new space and being an academic library make it particularly interesting in terms of this month of library study. Even though the library collections cover a wide range of time periods--special collections, for example, has items from the 15th centure--the library as an operating institution is rather modern. The old building offers over 330 computer terminals for patron use; the 1000+ patron seats available in the library include group working spaces, currently becoming more and more popular in academic libraries.

The library staff are also starting to think about newer concepts like complete self-service (when it comes to checking out books and renewing items) and roving reference. I am particularly interested in the idea of librarians roving about the library space in order to meet patrons and their needs in situ, as it were. I don't know anything as far as patron feedback statistics go, but I think it would be incredibly useful to library patrons if they could encounter a librarian in the stacks when they actually need assistance, instead of always having to trek back to a centralised reference desk. A set reference desk will still be necessary, of course; but I do like the idea of changing techniques with the changing times.

We got a full, if quick, tour of most of the library spaces. I was particularly impressed with how well the Maughan has seemed to work around the obstacles of their building. Because the building is historically listed, by law the Maughan is unable to make any structural changes to the now-library. Thus, in a time when open floor plans are in vogue for library design, such a plan is architecturally impossible for the Maughan. They seem to be working quite well with what they've got, however. And, so long as students continue using the library, that's all that immediately matters.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 28: The Zoo, the zoo library, and an old friend

Wednesday morning, a small group of us headed over to the northeastern end of Regents Park, where the London Zoo is located. We had the whole morning to wander the zoo as we pleased, and a group of four of us stuck together on our particular adventures. We saw most everything: the gorillas, the pygmy hippos, the giant tortoises; the lions and tigers, the rain forest creatures, and the penguins. We particularly enjoyed seeing the otters. They were making a ton of noise (which sounded like mandrakes, a la Harry Potter), apparently as they were expecting their lunch in the next few minutes. Adorable!

After lunch, our group reconvened for a tour of the Zoological Society of London Library. One of the ZSL trustees talked to us during part of our tour, and he shared his vast knowledge of the library's photo collections detailing the zoo's history. I found it amusing to think about how photographing the animals at the zoo used to be laborious and somewhat rare. Contrast that with how nearly everyone present at the zoo was taking pictures of every animal... My, what a different world we've come to live in!

Following our tour, we decided a stroll through Regents Park to a different Tube stop would be enjoyable. I particularly liked seeing the lovely gardens again:

Everything at the zoo took up most of the day, but I had the pleasure of going out for dinner with my former camp director in the evening. He and his wife (my former camp counselor and a native Londoner) had arrived in the morning, and while Jade went out with friends, Adam wanted to get a bite to eat and stave off jet lag. I, off course, was happy to oblige. We went into Pizza Express, where I had a tasty goat's cheese, caramelized onion, and spinach pizza. Afterward we walked around London a bit, enjoying the nighttime sites. It never fails to amuse me, seeing folks from back home here! Good end to a good day.