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.

Library Visit: Zoological Society of London Library

The Zoological Society of London Library is located in the ZSL office building just outside of the London Zoo itself. The library got its start as a shelf of books in the ZSL Secretary's office way back in the day; today it occupies a good-sized room all of its own, complete with reading space and some comfy chairs for informal reading.

The current library facility was last refurbished in the 1960s, so the vibe of the whole place is reminiscent of that time and place. The library collections, however, continue to be very up-to-date. In addition to continuing to hold historical monographs, pictures, and archives, the library actively collects zoological literature from the world over. Some of the zoo library-specific collections include zoological conference proceedings; zoo guides from zoos anywhere in the world; stud books, or those volumes that give the ancestry information of zoo animals to aid in breeding efforts; and books on animal husbandry.

These niche collections reflect the variety of users that the ZSL Library aims to serve. On any given day, readers may include London Zoo staff members, ZSL members, students from the nearby Institute of Zoology, and just regular curious members of the public. Anyone with an informational pursuit is welcome to use the library.

One particular project that was mentioned on our tour, and which I found interesting, is an 18-month Retrospective Book Cataloguing Project. Currently in month two of the project, the ZSL Library was able to use a grant to hire a restrospective book cataloguer specifically for this work. She's been working her way through the card catalogue that still provides search access to much of the collections, and as she catalogues each item, she also performs stock checks and weeding as necessary. I would personally find a year and a half of nothing but cataloguing tedious, but I know it needs to be done. When all is said and done, the ZSL Library's collections will be that much more accessible once all of their holdings are searchable via OPAC. I'm not entirely sure how many people without an explicit interest in things zoo and zoological would opt to search the collections this way, but even the opportunity for easier access is a positive thing!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 27: Explorations and Indian food

Tuesday started rather low-key, with our library class actually assembling in the Kings College building for a somewhat-formal class meeting. We spent the time together talking about paper topics, these blogs, and the plans for our last few days here in London; hard to think it's gone so quickly!

In the afternoon, I went with nine other librarians-to-be to an optional visit to the Royal Geographical Society and their library. I had forgotten how fascinating I find the history of exploration! The librarian who lead our tour was extremely knowledgeable about the plethora of memorabilia located throughout the building. Did you know, for example, that when David Livingstone died in Africa, his companions mummified him so that they could get his body back to England for burial? And, in mummifying him, they removed his heart, buried it under a tree, and carved a grave-marker of sorts into the tree bark? Yeah, the grave-marker piece of that tree trunk is located in the RGS. I saw it.

I just had a short time between returning from the RGS and meeting some librarian friends for dinner. Having enjoyed ourselves so much last time, we ventured out for Indian food again. This time we headed to a place on the other side of the Thames; it did not disappoint. And, despite the cloudy skies, the walk back to the flats was very nice!

Library Visit: Royal Geographical Society

Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society is the UK's group of people, British and otherwise, who share an interest in things geographical: exploration, history, you name it. They've been in their current Exhibition Road location, just south of Hyde Park, since the 1912; the original 1870s building has undergone two expansions since.

The most recent expansion, completed in 2004, was undertaken as part of the RGS's "Unlocking the Archives" initiative. The necessary funds came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which awards funds to heritage insitutions (museums, libraries, &c.) with the stipulation that the funds go toward providing comprehensive public access. For the RGS, this access largely consists of a new reading room, wherein anyone--RGS member or no--can come to peruse and learn from the Society's holdings.

The 2 million items in the collections are all geographical in nature, as may be expected: 1 million+ maps of all dates and kinds; half a million pictures, many of which are photographs; 250,000 books (40,000 of which are circulating for Society members); nearly as many items in the archives; and 1500 artifacts. The librarian who gave our RGS tour showed us a number of really interesting items from the artifacts collection. For example, I've now seen a wash basin and pitcher from the HMS Erebus; Shackleton's balaclava from his trip on Scott's Discovery; George Mallory's climbing boot, on his foot when his body was discovered on Everest; and the hats Stanley and Livingstone were wearing when they met in Africa. Pretty darn cool.

I have to say that I like the overall mentality of the RGS library as it still pertains specifically to members. While any member of the public is welcome to utilize the collections, the majority of readers are still RGS members. These members have been used to browsing the newest publications of geographical interest, and the library still serves that need: several shelves of the few open stacks in the reading room are reserved for new publications, both popular and scholarly, which might interest a member. What a great balance between getting the masses interested while still serving the patron population!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 26: Back to London for the home stretch

Before having to take a train back to London for the final week of this library program, I spent my last morning in Bath walking around. I looked a bit more at the neat streets, the boutique shops, and I even stumbled upon another park/garden that was impressive for both its flower beds and its huge trees:

How I shall miss Bath! Hopefully I'll visit again, although at this point I really have no idea when that might be.

The rest of my Monday consisted of getting back to London and getting situated for my final week here. I did my laundry, went to the grocery store, noted the times my library group is meeting this week, topped up my Oyster card... basically nothing of particular interest, but all little things necessary to making sure I'm ready for everything that is coming this week! The free time has been devoted to reading--I'm currently on book #6 of this trip, and if it continues to be as good as it seems now, I'll make it to #7 before the week is out.

Hard to believe there are only five full days left, and but three more library visits!

Day 25: Who can ever be tired of Bath?

When I first learned that this month-long library class would include a 5-day mini-break, I immediately started thinking of things I might like to do with that time. I toyed around with the idea of heading to Paris, specifically to spend a lot of time in the gardens at Versailles. The prospect of getting to and from Paris, however, especially from the starting point of Edinburgh, was a bit much; too much time traveling, not enough time doing things.

Then I thought of Bath because, well, I just love Bath. Also, from there it would be easier to do a day trip or two as I wanted. A good book club friend even gave me some recommendations of places to go and things to see on said day trips. I had them pencilled in on my calendar and everything.

And then... I just kept loving Bath too much, I suppose. I got to thinking about two things on Saturday night, when I was deciding what to do with my Sunday. 1) Sunday would be my last day of this trip that doesn't have some educational claim to it, and so relaxation might be very nice indeed. 2) For the same amount it would cost me to go to Cardiff--take the train to Cardiff, bus to the museum I wanted to see, pay to get into the museum, take a bus back to the train station, and another train back to Bath--I could spend four luxurious hours at the spa and have loads of free time as well. Such considerations.

Sunday I stayed in Bath. I enjoyed another hot breakfast at the hotel before walking around the city a bit prior to mass. The mass I attended was accompanied by a French choir (the mass itself was in English!), adding a really interesting feel to attending religious service in a significantly old stone church. I continued this brief French thing through lunch at a patisserie, where I had a really tasty croque monsieur.

Then it was to the baths: Thermae Bath Spa again, this time for four hours instead of two. The weather was beautiful for the rooftop pool, with fluffy white clouds cruising along the bright blue sky. My fingers may have been quite prune-y by the time I was done, but I was definitely relaxed.

I grabbed a gelato--cherry, freshly made!--on my way back toward the cricket grounds, where I wanted to try to expand my understanding of the game by watching another match.

A very nice young Englishman named Victor, who has been living in Australia, was kind enough to explain some of the finer points of the game to me. I now know what a "duck" is, what constitutes a hat trick for a bowler, and the names of some of the fielding positions, for example. The match ended up being really exciting at the end--Bath won by 1 wicket in 44 overs (I know what that means!!!), exciting the home crowd. I may have to see about catching a match while I'm still in London this week.

After such a relaxing day, I am ready to take on the final, busy week of this library program!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 24: Dresses, Gardens, Tea, and Cricket

After having breakfast at my hotel again, I took advantage of the Saturday market held at Green Park. I got some terrific strawberries before heading over to the Assembly Rooms (formerly the Upper Rooms) and the Fashion Museum housed there.

The musem is part permanent exhibit, part special exhibit. The permanent section deals with both the history of fashion, particularly in the UK and US, and more contemporary styles, 1963-present. A panel of fashion critics choose a dress each year that is meant to express the mood and style of the whole year, and then some of those Dresses of the Year are on display. The most current dress is a bit of a sheer LBD that Gwyneth Paltrow apparently wore at some point. I guess that explains why I've seen so many people in London wearing see-through clothes? I mean, they wouldn't wear sheer if it weren't the style. Right? Right? Anyway, I also thoroughly enjoyed the current special exhibition The Diana Dresses, a special exhibit featuring ten of Princess Diana's dresses and commentary about how they show her progression from timid teenager to self-assured style icon.

It was a short walk from the Assembly Rooms to Royal Victoria Park, where I enjoyed some time walking about and sitting in the Botanic Gardens. I sat on a bench and ate my strawberries--they were so sweet and juicy, it was like eating strawberries that had been macerating in sugar; except they hadn't been! The Botanic Gardens boast some very nice paths and gorgeous flower beds, and there is also an interesting tree sculpture that I don't remember from the last time I visited:

I meandered about town for a while after my strawberries lunch, taking some time and sitting alongside Bath Abbey and reading, listening to street performers, &c. There was one street performer playing Tchaikovsky on a recorder. On a recorder! I was pretty near flabbergasted, he was so good. When they tell you that Bath has some of the best street theatre and musicians, they mean it.

My evening meal was a formal tea at the Pump Room. The special blend tea was a bit strong for my taste, but I really enjoyed all of the food: small finger sandwiches in ham and tomato, egg salad, and cream cheese cucumber; plain and raisin scones with butter and strawberry jam; and a pecan bar and a caramel cream puff. There was so much food, I needed to take some back to the hotel with me to enjoy later in the evening.

One of the pathways from the city centre to my hotel takes me past the Bath Cricket Club. Tonight there happened to be a game going on, so I sat down on a bench out in the field and watched the game. Note: Cricket is not the sort of game that one can pick up just by watching. Trust me. Luckily, a few very nice older Brits explained the rules of the game to me. Cricket, it turns out, is actually quite fun to watch when you understand what's going on. I hope to return, at least for a bit, to one of the games going on Sunday.

All in all, I'd have to say it's been a pretty good birthday!

Day 23: Taking the waters

Friday morning brought sunny skies; just the kind of weather that shows off Bath's uniform yet stunning architecture. After breakfast at my hotel, I started walking toward the city centre, popping into shops as they caught my eye. I did that till about 10 o'clock, which is when most cultural things start to open in the UK.

My first stop of the day was the Victoria Art Gallery, a small art museum just over the Pulteney Bridge. I really love small specialty museums, especially when it comes to art collections. A huge art museum can just be so overwhelming! Not this one, though. The exhibition space on the ground floor was dedicated to Matthew Smith's landscapes; they were calling him "the English Matisse," and perhaps you can tell why when you see the rich colours that grace his paintings. I enjoyed learning about this painter I'd never heard of before. The upstairs gallery is dedicated to the permanent collections, and the oil paintings room was arranged particularly well. If one circulates the room clockwise, the gallery is set up to show the styles and development of English painting beginning in the 18th century. Again, I learned quite a lot without once feeling overwhelmed by the artwork.

After the art museum I made my way over to the Jane Austen Centre, where I took in the introductory talk (which I could probably give myself, at this point) and the Bath-related exhibition. It hadn't changed from when I was here with friends last year, but I still enjoyed it. Then I went up to the Regency Tea Rooms for lunch. I had my favourite warm cheese scone with tomato basil soup, complete with a pot of Jane Austen blend tea. Can I say how glad I am to finally like tea on this trip to the UK?

I walked around town some more after lunch, shopping and seeing some of the more famous buildings, like the Circus. I'll see more on Saturday, when the weather is meant to be particularly nice.

The rest of my afternoon was, admittedly, indulgence. I went to the Thermae Bath Spa, a day spa that takes advantage of the natural spring waters for which Bath is so well known. I treated myself to the two-hour package, and I spent my time alternating between the open-air rooftop pool, the Minerva bath complete with lazy river and massage jets, and the steam rooms. The view of the city and surround hills was really spectacular from the rooftop pool, but I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed the steam rooms. That floor offered hot and cold showers, foot baths, and four different steam rooms, each infused with an essential oil. I found the lavender steam room quite relaxing, but my favourite was the peppermint one. You know that refreshing feeling you get from drinking peppermint tea? It was just like that, but all over. So nice!

I wanted to keep my relaxation after the spa, so the rest of my evening was rather low key. After getting some pizza from a cute little place with an outdoor patio, I headed to Marks & Spencer to buy some fruit. I spent the rest of my evening, until it got too dark, reading (Persuasion, of course; what else do I ever read in Bath?) in Sydney Gardens, just down the street from my hotel. I love all the manicured parks and gardens here. But I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that before.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 22: Getting to Bath

Thursday started pretty early, as I had to get up before 6 in order to get the bus from Dalkeith to the train station in Edinburgh in time for my 8 a.m. train. I spent a good 7 hours on the train, which was very comfortable. It was also lovely weather for looking out the window; occasional drizzles, but mostly sunshine and beautiful, fluffy clouds.

Of course, having enjoyed nice weather through a train window most of the day, I stepped out at Bath station into a drizzle which quickly turned into a full-on heavy rain. (But we do not feel it here, with our nice pavements.) I made my way to the hotel where I'm staying; cozy indeed!

After freshening up a bit, I donned the really useful raincoat that saved the climb up Arthur's Seat and went out to look at the shops before they closed. I did a bit of recon, as it were, trying to figure out what all I want to fit into my time here in Bath. I stumbled upon a really nice bookshop, Mr B's Emporium, to which I shall probably be returning because I've finished yet another book (amazing how that happens when you don't have a television!).

I finished my first evening in Bath with dinner at Jamie's Italian, one of Jamie Oliver's (love him!) restaurants. I decided to treat myself for the first meal of my mini-break (I only had munchie things and fruit on the train); you'll know that I really treated myself, because I started with a glass of Prosecco. I opted to have the fine breads selection for an appetizer: the cute little presentation included 6 types of bread, all delicious and served with some great olive oil and even greater balsamic vinegar.

Main course was the wild garlic tagliatelle, which had asparagus, peas, broad beans, tomatoes, and fennel mixed in with the tender pasta.

I couldn't resist the look of the ice cream on another table, so I got a bit for myself for dessert: small scoops of chocolate, plum, and vanilla honeycomb with toffee and orange sauces. Mmm!

I window-shopped a bit on my walk back to the hotel, where I had a nice cozy evening in and a hot shower. I wanted to be well-rested, as I'm quite excited for my continuing adventures in Bath!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 21: Lewis Chessmen and Arthur's Seat

Wednesday started with a hopeful sliver of sunshine peering through the clouds as Holly and I left Dalkeith in the morning. By the time we got into Edinburgh, it was full-on cloudy, but we didn't think too much of it. After all, we were headed into the National Museum of Scotland, where we spent a while in their current Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked exhibit. Have I mentioned before how much I love the Lewis Chessmen? Luckily Holly shares my enthusiasm, and we enjoyed the exhibit (and gift shop) immensely.

We finished up with the Lewis Chessmen around lunchtime, and we headed down the Royal Mile to a fantastic little place my aunt recommended back when my parents and I first visited Edinburgh during my semester abroad. The place is called Chocolate Soup, and they are known for their thick hot chocolates. We each indulged in a hot chocolate--mine with marshmallows, of course!--and muffin for lunch.

The sugar in the meal was probably a good idea, considering that next we decided, despite the continuing overcast skies, we would climb Arthur's Seat, a 251 metre peak right in Old Town, as we had originally planned. We decided to climb even when we couldn't actually see the summit because of the low mist:

It turned out, as we kept climbing, that it actually started to rain. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mom and dad for getting me that waterproof jacket before I left for this trip; really, thank you, it made a huge difference. Holly and I kept climbing, the rain kept coming down, occasionally the wind would blow quite a bit so that we could see the mist moving around us...
Then, after climbing up a whole lot of stone steps, none of which were of uniform size and all of which were slightly slippery due to the wet conditions, we reached a high spot. The mist was pretty darn thick at this point, but standing where we were, we could not see any place that was higher than where we were currently standing. If all other directions are downwards, one must be at the top, right? Well, as it turns out, while we were enjoying the non-view and trying to find our path back down, two other climbers came into our little peak. I asked if there was a path the way they had come; they said yes, the path to the summit. I said, "This isn't the top?!?"; they said no and directed us toward the real summit. At least our little break at the pseudo-summit (Arthur's Ottoman?) gave us energy to reach the real top.

Ah, the real top of Arthur's Seat. Apparently there's an easy climb from a pretty easy path that gets you right to the top. Unfortunately for Holly and me, with all of the mist we couldn't see said easy path to climb, and instead we carefully climbed up a rocky area. We did finally make it to the top, though! We saw the two stone markers signifying the peak, and tried to get a picture of ourselves there without subjecting cameras to too much rain:

See how it's so misty that it's like we're at the edge of the world? Yeah, it was like that for all of the climb down. And see how we're both pretty much drenched? Again, it was like that the whole climb down. Once again, apparently there is a nicely sloping, well gravelled trail leading from the summit back down; we did not find this trail. The end result was that, by very carefully making our way downward and slipping only a few times, we did finally make it down to the bottom again, entirely unscathed if you don't count a bit of soreness from the whole climb. We figure, not many people can say that they climbed the rugged trail up and down Arthur's Seat in mist so thick there was literally no view from the top. Now we have a good story.

We made the slow and damp walk back to the train station in central Edinburgh to meet another IU library student who happens to be in the UK this summer, and with whom Holly is traveling over the mini-break. After she checked into her hotel, the three of us walked up the Royal Mile until we were hungry and had found a pub that looked good. Can I just say that Scottish steak pie, complete with puff pastry crust, mash, and steamed broccoli on the side is a wonderful warm remedy for a damp but pleasant afternoon? Minus the fact that my feet were sloshing about in my shoes, I was quite happy.

A hot shower also felt great upon my return to Dalkeith Palace, where I'll stay until tomorrow morning when I go back into town to catch my train to Bath, where I'll be spending my mini-break. I'm not sure when I'll be able to get to a computer, so I might not update very frequently over the next few days. Rest assured, however, that I'll fill you in on all my mini-break adventures in good time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 20: Dunfermline and Edinburgh

Tuesday was bright and sunny and blue-skied in Edinburgh:

You know it's going to be a great day in Scotland when the sky is the colour of the Saltire!

After a bus trip over the Forth Bridge to Dunfermline, we had nearly an hour of free time before our first library appointment of the day. Conveniently, right behind the library are the remains and ruins of Dunfermline Abbey. What was once just a priory church located at the seat of Scottish government under Malcolm III and his wife St. Margaret was raised to the status of an abbey in 1150. There were kings and their royal families buried; some kings, like Robert the Bruce, were even crowed within the Abbey itself. The Abbey was home to monks as well, and the remains of their living and working quarters are the more ruined parts of the structure. The cathedral centre, however, is still in quite good condition:

Having enjoyed the little morning walk about the ground of Dunfermline Abbey, our library group headed into Andrew Carnegie's first library, the Dunfermline Carnegie Library, for what was a really good tour. From there it was back on the bus to Edinburgh, where our second appointment of the day was to take place.

A few of us took advantage of our free time for lunch and the really beautiful weather to have a picnic in Princes Street Gardens, which includes the Walter Scott Monument:

From there we made the short walk over to the National Archives of Scotland, our finally library tour in Scotland. After that finished, we librarians were officially on mini-break! After visiting 16 libraries in the past 19 days (not counting Day 1, which was all travel), it's nice to look forward to the next few days' break! A few of us did a bit more shopping on the Royal Mile before taking the bus back to Dalkeith, where we enjoyed good pub fare at the Buccleuch, a pub named for the family that has historically owned the Dalkeith estate at which I'm currently staying. We enjoyed a fun, laughter-filled evening at the pub, complete with some really tasty fish and chips and peas and warm cookie cups with ice cream and toffee sauce.

Oh, Scotland! Always so many thing to enjoy.

Library Visit: National Archives of Scotland

The National Archives of Scotland are still housed in the same building purpose-built in 1780 for storing and providing access to registers and other historical records. Actually, 1/3 of the NAS is still housed in this building; another 1/3 is located down the street in another period building, while the final 1/3 is housed in a modern purpose-built facility, complete with up-to-date storage and conservation studio.

Why might a national archive for a place the size of Scotland need to occupy three whole huge buildings? Well, the NAS is actually split into 8 total departments, each specialized in a particular type of research that can be conducted via the archive records. Do you want to track down court records of any old court case? There's a division for that. Same goes for things like tracking down Scottish wills, records of the Kirk, and family history.

Tracing one's family history, in fact, has become quite the popular pursuit as of late. The NAS had so many visitors with this particular goal that, following recent renovations, a large portion of the main building across from the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street is now dedicated to ScotlandsPeople, an entirely computer-based series of readings rooms and records that can allow visitors to track down their lineages. According to one of the librarians who spoke during our visit, between 80 and 90% of all reference enquiries pertain to family history. The NAS was quite smart, in my opinion, to take steps to really satisfy those archives users.

Despite housing some really historical records (70 kilometres of records, to be exact, spanning from the 12th century to the present day), the NAS is also very much keeping things modern and as accessible as possible. They have a fully searchable OPAC that users can search on- and off-site, and they are taking on some really substantial digitisation efforts. One such "Virtual Volume," as the NAS calls them, is a complete digital record of Scottish wills from 1500-1901. Because the wills themselves are so fragile, now that they are digitised (of a very high quality, from what I saw), readers can view and even take home a copy without any threat to the original, which will be preserved for posterity. The NAS also has an initiative to digitise all of its Church of Scotland records. Again, these records will be more easily available without having to worry about document preservation concerns in the reading room.

All grand efforts to satistfy the twofold mission of the NAS: to preserve, protect, and promote their national records; and to make them accessible to educate, inform, and engage readers.

Library Visit: Dunfermline Carnegie Library

Back in 1881, in his Scottish hometown of Dunfermline in Fife, Andrew Carnegie gave £8,000 for the building and stocking of the first of what would come to be many Carnegie libraries. The Dunfermline Carnegie Library officially opened in 1883; on its first day of operations, every single item in stock was checked out. Every. Single. Book.

The public library is still very much alive and kicking to this day. In fact, it serves more than perhaps the average public library, and has a number of special divisions to best meet the varied needs of a wide variety of patrons. One particularly noteworthy division is the Family and Local History room, wherein patrons wishing to learn more about Dunfermline-related historical topics can come for expert advice on conducting their research. The librarians in this room have everything, from microfilm of newspapers and copies of local records dating quite far back to binders of indexed images and commonplace books of sorts that act as primers to the subjects within the library. Our tour librarian informed us that many library visitors are actually out-of-country visitors looking to track down their family histories; the library is well equiped to serve them.

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library also boasts a rather impressive Special Collections room, which houses three distinguished collections--including a large Robert Burns collection second only to the one in the poet's home town. All of these items are available for exhibit and for patron perusal, a huge benefit for the library and its users. These Special Collections are housed in a separate room just off the original lending library in the space, which is now used as the reference library. Its walls are covered in open-access books, and tables and PCs fill the floor space. A very good library feeling, indeed.

The general collections of the library were pretty impressive, with the bookshelves in a round orientation circling the enquiries and issues desk. Perhaps most interesting and out of the usual way of things in the general collections room was that the bookshelves are all original to the room. I had never seen such intricately-carved bookshelves before, complete with gargoyles atop some of them.

Children's was impressive, bright, and sunny as well. Usefully for children, the non-fiction children's books were not organised according to Dewey Decimal order but instead according to broad subjects--Earth and Space, Famous People, Foreign Places--that better mimic how children think. I've really been surprised at the number of libraries I've visited this trip that have forgone Dewey for their own schemes; perhaps we're missing some key thought process in the US.

Two of my favourite aspects of the Dunfermline Carnegie Library operation:
1) They have a Book Prescription Service, wherein a person is prescribed a book by a doctor the same way they might be prescribed a medication. These prescribed books run the gamut from books about diseases to more psychosomatic and social topics, like divorce and abuse. The library is getting ready to expand the program to children's.
2) They are currently in the fundraising stages of adding on to the library space. The new space would allow for a museum and art gallery to be connected to the library proper, essentially following the "discovery centre" movement that I'm growing more interested in by the day.
All in all, awesome library. I would be more than happy to work there should any openings appear!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 19: Edinburgh!

We took the bus from Dalkeith into Edinburgh this Monday morning, and we headed straight into the National Library of Scotland when we had gotten off the bus. After exploring the interesting exhibits there, a bunch of us ventured down the street to The Elephant House, a little coffee shop and eatery that has come to fame as of late because the owners would let a then-poor J.K. Rowling work on her new idea for a novel, some tale about a boy called Harry, while sitting in the shop. It's a good place to visit: the "Mallow Delight" hot chocolate was really good.

From there we ventured down to Greyfriars graveyard, the cemetary of Greyfriars Bobby lore. While perusing the grounds, it started to rain (which it would continue to do off and on all day, in true Scottish style), and so we took a bit of cover while deciding what to do next.

Holly and I went for a spot of shopping, enjoying all of the tartan and woolens. We stopped at a lovely place for lunch called St. Giles, where I thoroughly enjoyed a grilled bacon-and-brie sandwich on fresh ciabatta with a salad on the side. Really, anything with brie would be good, but melty as well? Perfect.

The whole library contingent met up again outside of Central Library Edinburgh for a talk and tour there, which was very interesting. Afterward, we meandered through St. Giles Cathedral, admiring the beautiful stained glass windows that I could never tire of viewing. One large window in particular, of Jesus calming a storm, is just breathtaking.

The cathedral made a good final stop for our first day in Edinburgh; from there we headed down to the train station to sort out some errands, and then took the bus back to Dalkeith and ate dinner. I'm not quite sure what shall happen with the rest of the night: perhaps a movie in the basement movie room, or perhaps some quiet reading. Whatever it turns out to be, I'll be happy; after all, I'm in Scotland!

Library Visit: Central Library Edinburgh

Central Library Edinburgh is the main hub of the 26-branch Edinburgh City Libraries system. As the centre of all things libraries in the area, Central Library runs several of the main initiatives associated with pretty much any major public library these days, and some initiatives that are more cutting-edge.

One such necessary iniative is what is professionall called "Web 2.0"--that is, using the internet as another space for interaction between, in this case, library and patrons. Central Library's goal in their particular implementation of of Web 2.0 is twofold: to give greater access to library patrons on a 24/7, off-site basis, and to increase the public image of the library. They are accomplishing these goals by offering a variety of online resources going above and beyond the average library's online databases. They also offer one of the largest collections of e-books, and they have a digital image collection numbering in the thousands that pertains primarily to Edinburgh. They're also blogging, tweeting, and using other social networks to get people involved in their library.

Another major initiative has to do with conservation and special collections. While the general mission of Central Library is the same as most public libraries--to give patrons access to the kinds of information they need and want--Central Library has one added dimension: they are a definitive resource of information about Edinburgh, and on a slightly smaller scale on Scotland as a whole and Scots in general. As such, they have a variety of resources on these topics spanning from the 15th century to the present, including some unique collections. These types of materials require special care and, even though they are non-circulating items, they are items available to any library user. These items do get used, and so the library must and does devote resources to maintaining the physical integrity of the items.

Two librarians chatted with our library group about one initiative--and in their case, department--that I found extremely refreshing and extremely necessary for public libraries: reader development. One of the librarians summed up reader development with the neat phrase "the right book for the right person at the right time"; reader development is all about making sure patrons are able to access the resources they want, not just the ones someone else thinks they should read. One practical implementation of this policy is that Central Library maintains book club sets of books, multiple volumes of one title that local book clubs can check out to use in their clubs. Hand in hand with these physical resources is an initiative to have book groups and discussions meeting in the library itself.

The other reader development librarian cleverly quoted his author friend in saying that reader development is also about promoting leisure reading: "we've made books like spinach, when we need to make them like cake." In other words, instead of telling patrons--teens in particular--that they should read because it's good for them, we should be showing them that reading is a fun treat. Central Library and some of their outreach partners have had some success in spreading this mentality among Edinburgh teens by having author events aimed directly at teens; these events show teens that the process of writing a book was enjoyable for the author, so the process of reading it will probably be enjoyable as well. What a great philosophy for getting more people to read!

Our visit to Central Library ended with a quick but thorough tour of the library proper. They boast a beautiful and impressive top-floor, rotunda-ceilinged reference section, complete with quiet, wi-fi, and plenty of tables. They also have an extremely well-stocked fine arts library; a photography-prone friend was particularly in awe of their extensive photography book holdings. Central Library also has separate Edinburgh and Scotland rooms, wherein patrons can access the wealths of information that the library maintains on both subjects. Mind, all of these four collections I've just mentioned are non-circulating.

There is a lending section available as soon as one walks into the library. While the lending library shelves are entirely full, the holdings seem perhaps less impressive compared to other public libraries. This sparsely-resourced look is an illusion, however, because at any given time the majority of the library's circulating titles are checked out; patrons can access the full holdings online and place holds from there. Also circulating are the small children's library and a good-sized music library, both of which have a particularly Scottish bent. I really liked that in addition to supplying general interest items that seem to be in every public library, Central Library has a variety of resources that show Scottish pride. This quality also makes the library a good research point for visitors.

Two closing facts about Central Library Edinburgh: 1) They have over 1 million items, 60,000 of which are on open shelves for patron perusal; everything else is visible on the catalogue but needs to be fetched by a staff member. 2) They use the Library of Congress classification scheme, perhaps something of an anomaly both for public libraries and for UK libraries, but a choice that reflects the breadth of the collections.

*photo courtesy of Edinburgh Scotland

Library Visit: National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland, located just off the Royal Mile in Old Town Edinburgh, is one of six legal deposit libraries in the UK. Since they receive a copy, or at least have the option of receiving a copy, of everything that is published in the UK, they are a tremendous resource for scholars and inquisitive people of all types. Since the collections also have a Scottish bent, they also make a great resource for anything Scottish.

Held among the 15 floors of the main building and an off-site storage facility are the library's 14 million plus books and manuscripts; 2 million atlases and maps; 300,000 music scores; 32,000 films and videos, including the entirety of the Scottish Screen Archive; and 25,000 newspaper and magazine titles. Even with all those items currently in the library collection, the NLS still receives around 6,000 new items every week. (Poor cataloguers!)

Like the other research libraries I've seen on this UK library excursion, NLS readers must register with the library to get a reader's card. None of the items in the collection are available to be checked out of the library; rather, any research needs to be done in one of the library's reading rooms. Alos like with the other research libraries I've seen, the benefits of working with some really unique materials far outweighs the potential obstacle of only being able to work in the library proper.

What I most enjoyed about my short visit to the NLS was the variety and depth of their exhibits in their public visitors centre. One special exhibit going on now, in honor of the just-finished British Open at St. Andrews, is about golf and its history, first in Scotland and then the world. The number of artifacts they have pertaining to golf was really astounding to me; but maybe that's just because I don't really like golf too much...

A more permanent exhibit has to do with the personal papers of John Murray, otherwise known as the complete everything having to do with the seven generations of John Murrays who published some of the greatest works of literature and science, &c., from their London publishing house. The entire papers are owned by the NLS, and they have taken it upon themselves to make public some of the wonderful things contained within them. The exhibit currently covers such Murray authors as Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Darwin, and Jane Austen. I really love that a research library such as the NLS, which could seem elite and cold because of its readers-only policy, is taking the time and resources to share some of their gems with the general public. And I'd be saying that even if one of the subjects on exhibit didn't include Jane Austen.

*above photo courtesy of Scottish Places

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 18: Trip to Dalkeith (outside Edinburgh)

8+ hours on a coach bus = :-(

Arriving in Scotland to fine Scottish weather (occasional glorious sunshine, occasional rain) = :-)

Staying in Dalkeith Palace, a country estate built outside of Edinburgh in the early 18th century, complete with reputed haunting, secret passages, a grand staircase, and the remnants of servants' quarters = AMAZING (and me pretending I'm in Northanger Abbey...)

For real, people, this is where I'm staying while in Edinburgh:

Requisite library things commence Monday morning.

*photo courtesy of Librarians Scotland Tour

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 17: St. Martin and Sweet Charity

Ah, sleeping in a bit on a Saturday after a very busy week! When Christina and I ventured outside this morning, it was off to Leicester Square to get some matinee theatre tickes--Sweet Charity for me, Mamma Mia for her. We ended up running into another librarian friend, and we all headed over to the big Waterstone's near Piccadilly to help in his quest for a few books.

Christina and I then headed over to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a church on Trafalgar Square. We explored the underground floor first. After all of the old, older, and older still churches and cathedrals we've been seeing this month, we were really taken aback at the modern minimalism of this newer space. There was a lot of glass and stark white space, which really had a good feeling to it. I imagine that praying in the chapel there, bare white except for a white-clothed altar and three wooden statues, would be very good for clearing one's mind.

On the recommendation of our library professor for the month, we got lunch at the cafe that is now operating in the crypt of the church. Oh, man, was this a good idea. We both enjoyed the vegetarian hot lunch option, which included baked pasta with cheese, a garlic roll, and salad with a dill yoghurt dressing. Mmm! After such a tasty lunch we headed up into the main church space, which was again rather minimalistic. The altar window was made entirely of clear, colourless glass with a design to form a cross, and the wooden pews--some of which have doors--seem pretty old despite the modern-looking feel of the space. The pipe organ, too, seemed pretty spectacular. St. Martin's is known for giving concerts, so I think I may be returning to one later in the month.

Before heading to our respective matinees, Christina and I each got a treat from a restaurant with a to-die-for pastries window. I ate my strawberry tart, she her strawberry gateaux, sitting in Leicester Square and people watching until it was time to go our separate ways.

Sweet Charity was a really great show. I usually enjoy musicals with strong female leads, and this show was no exception. The music was catchy jazz, and the sixties setting made for some really fantastic costumes. I also really liked the show's overall message, that a girl can be herself and make it just fine in the world, no apologies necessary. Gotta love that sort of happy ending.

After walking home from the theatre across the footbridge near Charing Cross--where the weather, as you can see, was quite fine:

--I met up with five other library folk for dinner. We chose the Indian place just near our flats, and everyone was very happy with the choice. My chicken masala was terrific, and it was great to share a leisurely meal and good conversation without feeling rushed to be anywhere. It was also a nice little evening out before we all had to head back to the flats to pack for our departure from London tomorrow morning.

We'll be leaving bright and early (I'm calling it half past nonsense) for Edinburgh, where we'll be a few days doing library things before everyone scatters for our mini-break. The moral of that story is that I'm not sure when or how frequently I'll be able to post again. Rest assured, however; I'm pretty sure I'll continue having a great time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 16: Day Trip to Oxford

Oh, morning trains; they are so, so crowded! I was very happy to alight on the platform at Oxford this Friday morning, having stood in a very crowded train car for the duration of the trip from London Paddington.

Along with others of the librarian contingent, I went pretty much straight from the station to the Bodleian Library at the heart of the Univeristy of Oxford for the day's requisite library tour. Following that very interesting adventure, which included very old books, a much newer underground tunnel, and a bit of Harry Potter, some friends and I perused some new Alice in Wonderland-themed gargoyles outside the main library building before heading to a pub for lunch.

We wanted to head back over toward Christ Church after lunch, and on our walk there we encountered a very talkative Englishman named Jessie who, although he didn't try to sell them to us, was chatting to people about paintballing opportunities around England. (While this meeting may seem unimportant, it will come up again later.)

After a short stop in an Alice in Wonderland-themed gift shop, it was straight into Christ Church. The college was hosting noticeably more tourists than there were the last time I was there; apparently Harry Potter has increased in tourism popularity in the last five years. We took our time walking through the hall, where Christ Church students eat their meals and where scenes for the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films have been filmed. There are also some really great stained glass windows in the hall, which I enjoyed searching for Alice in Wonderland characters.

Next in Christ Church is its cathedral, a beautiful and quite old building in which Christ Church students still worship on Sundays. Their stained glass windows were simply stunning--so many amazing representations of angels and angels' wings, I really was beside myself. I can't wait to see Holly's pictures of them when she gets them uploaded to Flickr.

The weather was still gorgeous when we finished our tour through Christ Church, and in the meadows just adjoining the college's space the scene was very pastoral and very English:

We used the last of the good weather for walking through a topiaried rose garden abutting Magdalen College and the Botanic Gardens. Really, it isn't at all a wonder why England is so often associated with roses when you actually see the beautiful ones they have all over the place here:

The sky was beginning to get dark and cloudy when we hopped on to the hop on, hop off tour bus to take the city-wide tour past some of the other main sites and back to the train station. The train back to London was again rather full, although not nearly as packed as in the morning.

Then, lo and behold, who do we see standing just on the other side of the train compartment than Jessie, the English guy who chatted to us on one of the pedestrian streets earlier in the afternoon! One could definitely see why he would be good at sales, as he talked pretty much non-stop. He had lots of questions about the US, which he'd like to try living in for a while, and he talked a bit about himself as well. More than anything, he was really, really amusing. That, as it turns out, was very lucky for us, as our return train was a bit on the slow side due to some electrical issue or another. I don't think I've ever felt a delayed train ride go that quickly, especially after a busy and tiring day about some place so exciting as Oxford.

Library Visit: The Bodleian Library

Oxford University, the oldest university in the UK, names its official opening date as 1201--that's when the university first stated its statutes and elected its first chancellor. For those of you who don't know, Oxford operates on the collegiate system; that is, the University itself is made up of different, academically-independent colleges. Students wishing to "go to Oxford" must apply to a specific college, as they will be a student at that college specifically, not at Oxford as a whole.

Because of this collegiate system, wherein students formerly only studied at their own college,
the college libraries throughout Oxford are effectively older than what is now the university library at Oxford, the Bodleian. (However, what with the wonders of OPACs, the materials accessible via college libraries are catalogued in the Bodleian's overarching system.)

The first university library at Oxford actually began with the donation of Duke Humfrey's library upon that mans death--this first library officially opened in 1488. Beginning in 1598, however, Thomas Bodley began to make arrangements to donate his own substantial library to the university library. It was this gift of around 14,000 items that allowed the library to reopen in 1602 under its new and lasting name.

Bodley did a lot for his library. In 1602, he hired a librarian to tend the books (the Library maintains a staff position called "Bodley's librarian" to this day). In 1605, he commissioned the creation of the first catalogue of the library's holdings. Then, in 1610, he negotiated a copyright agreement with a stationer that allowed the library to receive, free of charge, a copy of everything published in the UK. Today the Bodleian still reserves the right to a copy of everything, although they actually only receive items that they request.

Bodley's library is still kept in the room purpose-built to house it, and the books are on the shelves in the same order and fashion in which Bodley and his first librarian left them. These resources are available for reader use upon request, and according to the tour guide they do get requested. Duke Humfrey's library sits just off the Bodley Library room; his books line the shelves there, and reading tables are available for reader use as well. (Fun fact: Duke Humfrey's Library is used as the Hogwarts Library in the Harry Potter films.) Readers can sit in this or other rooms, including the reading room in the oft-pictured Radcliffe Camera building:

Today the Bodleian acquires around 5,000 new items every week. They have a total of more than 11 million items, more than half of which have to be stored off-site at least until planned expansions can be built. The end result as far as on-site book storage goes is that books have taken up pretty much every space they can. They line walls and stack in the original Bodleian Library building, and they fill high-density shelves on 11 floors of a newer library building (1933) just across the street. Because all of these library stacks are closed and readers will never be browsing the shelves, new materials are shelved in order of item receipt--really, all that matters is that the books have a definite findable location on a library shelf, not that they be in any sort of subject organisation.

To move requested items from the stacks to where they will be read by readers, the Library employs a conveyor system that runs through underground tunnels. Our tour took us along part of its path, and it really does seem fantastical that the original conveyor system is still in use (albeit it will undergo enhancements soon).

Perhaps what I most like about the Bodleian, aside from its obvious beauty and history, is that the library is available to all scholars, not just Oxford students. Open accessibility was a strict requirement of Bodley for his library--he understood that knowledge is not just for a few, but for all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 15: V&A Day!

Anyone who has every heard me talk about London, or museums, or possibly a variety of other subjects (I love to talk about the V&A!) knows just how much I love the Victoria & Albert Museum. I. Love. It. Whatever a person has interests in, whatever types of museums a person usually likes, everyone, I am certain, can find something to interest and excite in the V&A. Everyone. Their holdings are so diverse, and their exhibits always changing, so that there are always wonderful new things to see there. Thus, I am proud to say that the V&A is the one single place I've returned to on each of my visits to London. I will not miss this museum.

Thursday's visit was by no means a disappointment. Indeed, I am so excited about the things that I saw, that I am half-tempted just to make a bulleted list of links to the great things I saw so that you can explore them yourselves. But, because I am afraid that those of you who haven't witnessed the wonders of the V&A would just skip looking at them, I'll talk about what I saw. And happily.

Some friends and I got to the museum soon after it opened in order to avoid too large of crowds at the current exhibit Grace Kelly: Style Icon. As the V&A is a museum of art and aesthetics, they have a permanent exhibit on fashion, and they more often than not have special exhibits on the topic as well (e.g. I've seen one on the fashion of the Supremes and on hats, both awesome). This particular exhibit focused on specific outfits and ensembles that the Kelly wore at various stages of her life: as actress, as bride to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, as Princess Grace, and as an enduring style icon. I really loved the way the museum blended the actual outfits and descriptions of them with photos of Kelly wearing them--on film, at the Academy Awards, in Monaco, with foreign dignitaries, &c. They also had about 12 minutes of film and television footage of her wearing some of these beautiful pieces interspersed throughout the exhibit. Thus I got to see, in one corner of the exhibit, the film scene from High Society in which Kelly wears a party dress; a photograph of her on set in that same dress; and the dress itself. The narrative created by the information panels and objects really characterized Kelly in a new way.

On an entirely different note, I was captivated by an architectural exhibit throughout the museum, 1:1 - Architects Build Small Spaces. The exhibit consisted of seven unique built structures, small-scale "escapes" that were chosen from nineteen architects' submissions to be fully realized within the V&A. They were all so interesting and whimsical, but I definitely had a favorite. It was The Ark, a wooden structure that was essentially a three-stories-tall bookcase--books lined all the exterior walls--with a spiral staircase winding around the centre, where one could repose for a bit on reading benches. Really, anything resembling a bookcase is bound to catch my attention. But a bookcase haven escape? That catches my attention and fancy, full stop.

Inspired by all this architectural thought, I went up to the architecture section of the museum, where I had never before visited. Some of the models were really interesting. I always enjoy looking at floor plans of houses (odd, I know), but these three-dimensional models of actual buildings really expanded on that enjoyment.

Next was the glass gallery, another room I hadn't visited on my previous visits. Really, it was like walking into the most amazing showroom in Murano--everything was bright-coloured glass, and the gallery walls were covered in mirrors, making the light bounce around everything even more. I couldn't help imagining that, with some of the fantastic glass vases on display, the addition of flowers to the vases wouldn't ever be aesthetically necessary.

I made my requisite stop in the photography gallery--the photos on these walls change every few months, so I have always been guaranteed to see things new and interesting on every visit. This time the museum was displaying images from the 1970s to the present, showing in small samples the movements through which the art has gone in the last four decades.

Lunch! I absolutely love the cafe at the V&A (I'm pretty sure that's no secret, either). They really have delicious food, nothing like the McDonald's or Pizza Hut one tends to find rented out in American museums these days. I enjoyed a chicken, carrot, and spinach pot pie, and later had a yummy scone for tea. I love sitting in the ornate old rooms that make up some of the seating area for the cafe; I don't know that I've seen many rooms more beautiful:

After lunch was a tour of the National Art Library housed within the museum. I have really enjoyed on this library adventure getting to go into secret-like library places within some of the buildings I love most in London! This visit to the National Art Library, I assure you, was no exception.

Following the tour, and before making my requisite visit to the museum shop (the best museum shop in the world, I am convinced), I ventured into the History, Periods, and Styles galleries up on the fourth floor. I love moving slowly through these rooms filled with the items that filled really people's houses throughout British history. I particularly enjoy going to the Regency area of the gallery; I love having a new view in mind of the settings for Jane Austen and her novels after visiting these rooms. Something about seeing the dinner services and furniture that would make up the scenes of an Austen book, details that enrich one's reading but which she never focuses upon herself...

I discovered a new small room off of these historic style rooms. This small room houses a film screen and some rows of comfortable chairs where one can sit and watch videos detailing aspects of British history and life. I loved seeing the insides and outsides, and how they changed, of English country houses in one film, and I found it very interesting to learn about the Great Exhibition, how the V&A got its start, in another. On my next visit to the museum, whenever that may be, I'll have to make sure to see what if any new videos are available.

You're probably thinking I've talked far too much about what I did and saw at the V&A. All these things are what comprised my visit, however, and I hope you found even just one thing interesting enough to click through a link and see and learn a bit more! I'll leave you with an image of the lovely hydrangeas lining the V&A's central courtyard (everything here is beautiful!):