Thursday, 12 September 2013

Blythe House and Beatrix Potter!

Blythe House Archive

Our last class visit was to the Blythe House Archive, which is part of the V&A.  This is where they house the Beatrix Potter and other children’s lit archives.  They also keep the archive of art and design here.  First we learned about the history of the building.  It was built in the 1900s as a bank, and was the headquarters for the post office.  Since the 1970s, it has been split between 3 museums to use as storage for collections.  The Archive of Art and Design was set up in 1978.  More design programs were being established and there was no access to the archives.  Most of the collection is 20th and 21st century British art and design works because that is what was available to them at the time.  They still collect some archives- about 5 to 15 items per year.  Most acquisitions are gifts because they have a limited budget.  They don’t normally take loans.  Next we heard about the Beatrix Potter collection, which is the largest in the world!!  They have 2,000 Beatrix Potter memorabilia, including original artwork since 1902.  My favorite piece was an 1879 sketchbook of flowers and animals.  Beatrix was 9 years old at the time! They always have a rotating collection on site at the museum.  Next we heard a really great talk from Andrew Wiltshire.  He told us about the personal connections between Beatrix Potter and Leslie Linder.  Linder is the person who discovered the code that uncovered the secret diary the Potter kept.  Part of the strange connection was that Linder and Potter both came from well-to-do families.  This allowed Potter to spend her time writing and drawing, and allowed Linder to spend 10 years trying to crack Potter’s code.  

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Middle Temple!

Middle Temple Law Library

In London, there are four Inns of Court: Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Grey’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn.  We took a tour of Middle Temple Library.  Middle Temple has a huge archive because British Law is based on precedent, so they must keep all old materials.  This library opened in 1958 because the last building was twice.  They built the new one out of concrete.  A really interesting thing about Middle Temple is its association with the USA.  The 3rd floor of the library is the American section.  When the English were first living in America, they sent their sons back to London to study law at Middle Temple, and that is how they set up a legal system.  Five Middle Temple guys actually signed the Declaration of Independence! We got to see a lithograph copy of the document and signatures from the 19th century.  It was so amazing.  Middle Temple still has exchange programs with some law schools in the U.S.  Another interesting thing about this library is that they don’t use a classification system.  There are no labels on any of the spines of the books.  Books are organized by author, and people must use the catalog to find a title because it is hard to browse. 

After the library, we toured some other incredible rooms.  They all were very prestigious and had a lot of history.  There is one room that was called the Smoking Room, but was changed to Prince’s Room when Prince William accepted to be a bencher there.  We also saw the Queen’s Room and Parliament Room.  Next we saw Middle Temple Hall.  It looked a lot like Christ Church Dining Hall, except for the double hammer beams which I was told are very expensive.  The first performance of Twelfth Night took place in this hall! It was an amazing tour and experience all around. 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

British Library Conservation Studio

British Library Conservation Centre

A conservation team leader took us on a tour of the studio.  I was really interested in the design of the building because it was built specifically for the purpose of conservation.  The room is light and airy, and the ceiling windows are all north facing.  This is because they don’t want direct sunlight to harm the items they are repairing.  They also built the air conditioning system at ground level instead of at the ceiling where it normally is.  They did this so there wouldn’t be pipes that could leak on the materials.  There is also a fireproof cabinet to store items.  It is clear they put a lot of thought into designing a great facility.  The room is really big, with a lot of large workspaces for the conservationists to complete their work.   

Most of the items in the Conservation Studio are from the British Library’s collection or items that it has on loan.  Before an item is accepted for conservation, the conservationists have to estimate how much time it will take for the job to be completed, and how much it will cost.  Then they come to an agreement with the head of conservation and the curator.  The conservationists have to prioritize the best treatment based on how the item will be used and how often it will be handled.  I found it really interesting that for items that are used for reference, the emphasis is placed on making the book durable rather than keeping its original material.  This is because they know these books will be handled by the public more often.  The books need to actually be functional. 

Next we went into the gold finishing room.  I had never seen anything like it.  It is where they use special tools, like typeholders, to put the wording or emblems on the leather bindings of the books.  This process takes an unbelievable amount of precision and skill.  The people who do the finishing at the studio have been working for many years on honing their skills, and they are really talented.  For example, the tools need to be heated to just the right temperature.  It needs to be hot enough to put the finishing on, but not too hot or it will go right through the leather.  The words also need to be straight and in the right spot on the binding.  If there are any mistakes, the whole book needs to be rebound, so the finishers need to be very careful to make sure it’s right.  It was so cool to see the real gold that they use sometimes.  Real gold needs to be cut using a gold knife on a gold cushion.  It is very, very hard to handle because it’s so thin and light.  I touched the gold and it stuck to my finger! It would take a lot of practice and dedication to work in finishing!

Edinburgh Central Library and New College Library

Edinburgh Central Library and New College Library

The Edinburgh Central Library was one of my favorite visits of the whole trip.  They have such a wonderful organization and I loved hearing about all of the services they provide to their community.  It also helps that their librarians are so nice and welcoming.  They actually won an award for best library service in 2012, and their people satisfaction survey showed 97% satisfaction for the same year.  Their presentation was broken down into 3 sections- social, digital, and physical.  I really don’t know which part I was most impressed with because all of them are really incredible.  For their social section, they have magazines and a lot of programs.  They programs start with Bookbug for 0-3 year olds, and go all the way up to programs for the elderly.  I loved the program they have with Dyslexia Scotland.  This program is great because it focuses on young people to try to get them to come to the library and make reading fun, not a challenge.  They can feel comfortable and get help.  It also raises awareness about dyslexia.  Another great program is the Reading Champion Project that is for children in care who have negative or no education and literacy experiences.  They have about 100 kids in the program.  These are only some of the services the library provides.  There are many more and I think it is inspirational to see all they do and the community involvement. 

The digital library is also extremely popular.  It has been showing exponential growth.  In the future, they want to gear services for the next generation and incorporate new technology.  For digital services, the library has a 24/7 digital library with 50 e-resources.  The most popular is a driving test resource.  They also use social media a lot to promote the library.  There is one employee who spends 100% of his time developing and expanding platforms.  It has show to really pay off for them.  They do YouTube videos, and they promote everything on Twitter, where they have over 7,000 followers!  They also have a blog that is more serious but takes more time and they are trying to use it less.  They also use Facebook for event promotion.  I loved their Your Edinburgh site.  It has a lot of community information.  It is free for organizations to register and create a web presence.  They also have a special collection about Edinburgh with 6-7,000 images.  I also loved which has maps of the city from 1890 until now. So cool.  A really great thing they have now is a mobile app for smart phones! It is the first in the UK! I was just really impressed with the Edinburgh Central Library.  They are doing a great job!

Next we went to New College Library, which was very unique.  It actually used to be church, so the building is gorgeous.  In 1936, it became the library.  There are beautiful windows throughout the building.  In 2005-2006, the library was remodeled to include wireless internet and outlets.  The library has ¼ million books.  They receive external funding from the Church of Scotland.  They also received a $1 million donation for special collections.  The library is open to students, as well as the public.  They have 5 stacks which we got to tour, and that was really interesting.  I was impressed that everything after 1985 is available online!  Before that date may or may not be online.  One of the best things I saw was a first edition King James Bible from 1611.  It was really an awesome moment for me.  One of the most interesting things about the library, I thought, was the late returns fines.  I am always interested to see how different libraries handle things like late items.  Here, they use fines as a preventative measure, not as a punishment.  They charge 2p each minute that the book is late!! After a fine reaches 10 pounds, the person is not allowed to check out books.  I had never heard of a policy that goes by each minute late.  It is really interesting, but it seems to work for them! 

National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland

The National Records of Scotland was a very fun visit.  Unlike some of the other archives we have seen, this building was built to hold records.  The NRS is where people come to research their family history.  Prior to the NRS, records had been stored in the castle, but they knew they had to move them out.  The NRS is funded by the government, and they are responsible for care, access, and info.  A really great thing about this organization is that they are online, too. is available worldwide for people who can’t come to the NRS.  Because of this, they are working to digitize more items for people online.  They try to digitize the most popular records.  They will also digitize records that are too fragile to be handled.  Right now they have less than 50% of the collection digitized.  We actually got to tour the digitization studio and see digital imaging in progress! I was completely amazed. I had never seen the actual process before.  They are using a combination of new and old methods.  They use these big camera machines that have a padded platform to hold the book and glass above the book.  The platform moves up to the glass and it closes down on the item and then convert the image to .jpeg.  I always thought this would be a slow process, but the machine moves really fast.  They check the photo for quality control, and then it goes online.  

After our tour around the space, we got to see some of the records they keep at the NRS.  They have 72 km of records, including some from the 12th century.  We saw 14th and 15th century music scores, some maps, and plans.  Then I got to look at 19th century health records and government records from WWII.  Among my favorites were letters from America back to Scotland detailing what life was like.  I think those are amazing.  I also really enjoyed the letters from the French government to the Scottish king asking him to side with the French against the English.  The letter was from the 14th century and signed by King Louis VII.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Royal Geographical Society & British Museum!

July 11: Royal Geographical Society

Our visit to the Royal Geographical Society may just be my favorite one yet.  It was so interesting! The society was founded in 1830 and was dedicated to scientific geography, which at that time meant travel, exploration, and cartography.  They wanted to collect accurate information to be published in the society’s journals.  Some of their most famous explorations are to find the source of the Nile, to Antarctica, and to Mt. Everest.  The collection consists of 2 million items, of which 1 million are maps.  They have 2,000 atlases; half a million images; 150,000 books; and 100,000 bound periodicals.  There is not a huge budget for digitized photos, but they try to digitize them when someone requests something.  The RGS has 1,500 objects and artifacts which are very interesting and in high demand for exhibitions.  When they loan out any of the objects, they are very particular of how they are packed, shipped, and stored.  Most of the items they acquire are donations.  They are more selective now because space is a concern.  They do not have a classification scheme here.  They just record the number of the shelf that the item lives on.  The staff consists of 8 team members, and they have a volunteer group that comes in once a week to clean the books.  We were told it is somewhat of a social gathering for the group to come there every week, which I think is so cute.  When necessary, they also have a professional conservationist that they can enlist the help of.  One thing I thought was really great was that the tables had round edges so that when maps are laid on them, they won’t crease if people lean on the table! What a great idea! It was so fascinating to see the collection of items that were brought out for our class.  We saw the hats that Mr. Stanley and Dr. Livingstone wore (Dr. Livingstone, I presume?).  We saw some of the clothing that Shackleton wore on his first trip to Antarctica.  There was also a pocket sextant that belonged to Darwin from 1835-36.  And many more really amazing things!

British Museum Archives

When we got to the British Museum, we had to split into two groups because the archives aren't big enough to hold our whole class at the same time.  I opted to go on the second tour, so I had some time to wander around the museum.  I have been to the British Museum a couple of times before, but it is always interesting to see.  I saw the Rosetta Stone again, and I always like seeing the mummies.  There were also some new exhibitions that I hadn't seen before.

I was very surprised by the archive because it was not what I expected, but it was very, very cool and the archivist is wonderful.  She is the only archivist for the museum's archives.  I think I was so surprised because I was expecting collection archives, but there are actually 8 collecting departments and each has their own archives.  The Central Archive is where they keep museum generated administrative records.  This includes the minutes from trustee meetings dating back to the foundation of the museum in 1753!  The minutes were really interesting to see because the trustees talked about everything.  Some of them were really funny too, because they would talk about certain patrons or other topics and everything was recorded. 

Another part of the archive holds property records.  We saw the records from when the land that the museum is currently on was purchased.  The mansion that was on the land at that time was called the Montagu House.  We saw drawers and drawers full of blueprint plans for the building of the museum after the Montagu House was demolished.  The builders would submit plans to the trustees and the trustees would give them feedback, so the builders would draw another plan.  There were lots of them by the end!  Another thing they keep in the Central Archives is information about their exhibitions.  They have about 12,000 photographs of exhibitions they have done in the museum since the 1960s. 

Some of my favorite things we saw were the records of the round reading room.  The reading room was very prestigious.  We saw the signatures of some of the readers, like Beatrix Potter and Karl Marx.  Another of my favorites was using a stereoscopic to look at photos and make them 3D.  It was amazing.  One picture was of the Egyptian Room in 1857. 

Some Shakespeare and the V&A

July 9 & 10: Stratford-Upon-Avon and The National Art Library at the V&A

We spent July 9 wandering around the beautiful city of Stratford, better known as Shakespeare’s birthplace.  I did a little shopping and then spent most of the day in their little library, working on blogging and research.  Later, I met up with some of the girls over by the river across from The Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  We sat in the grass and it was sooo nice outside.  Then we went to see As You Like It at the theatre that night.  It was an incredible performance and I loved it.  We ended up getting back to London around 2 am, which made for a rough morning the next day!!

On July 10, we ventured over to the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum to visit the National Art Museum.  This is one of the top 4 art libraries in the world, and is the leading reference library on this subject in Britain.  They have 1 million items, and have 30,000 visitors a year.  Many visitors are history of art and design students.  Then there are members of staff and other people that check out books and research.  The library began in 1837 in Somerset House, and in 1884, moved to the V&A.  This is a closed access library, meaning everything must be requested online.  There are 2 rooms open to the public- the reading room and the center room.  One section of the library is being used for an exhibit, and we were able to see an aerial view of it.  Right now, members of the library can access databases inside the library, and they would like to make access available offsite as well.  Members of the staff collect requests every hour, on the hour.  Items are then reserved for 3 days.  They have an in house classification system by size.  All of their collections are on site except their children’s materials.  They have the largest Beatrix Potter selection (which we will see later on).  The National Art Museum has an annual budget of $175,000.  About half of their acquisitions are gifts.  They hold some collections for the British Library, and they also collaborate with other major institutions.  This is so they don’t all try to acquire the same material, and they are able to complement and supplement each other’s collections.  They have an international collection here.  43% is comprised of languages other than English.  The librarian said they would love to digitize the collection, but it really depends on how much money they receive in donations.  I loved seeing some of the items from the collection here.  I even touched a limited edition Picasso of which there are only 850 copies, maybe even less.  There was also a DaVinci facsimile worth about £20,000.  I also really liked that this library has a lot of information about preservation and conservation of their items.  The staff goes through a lot of training to handle these items.