Friday, July 30, 2010

King's College Maughan Library

Congratulations! 4 weeks of class, 13 class-arranged and 6 optional site visits, four cities, and a mini-break: this is the final official blog for my 2010 British Studies Program Library Science course. Thank you for reading.

When we first arrived at the Stanford Street/King's College dorms I hoped we would have access to King's College's library. While that was not the case (our access was to the Stanford Street information centre and computer labs), arrangements were made for a visit to the King's College Maughan Library located on Fleet Street. Maughan library served as the Public Records Office until the 1990s when the PRO joined with the Historic Manuscripts Commission to become The National Archives, now housed at Kew Gardens.

The building stood vacant for a few years before King's College arranged a 125-year lease on the property and re-purposed it for a university library. Their decision was not without complications--the heritage status of the building means that all renovations must go through a heritage committee--that includes arrangements for new security measure to match with the RFID tagging and self-checkout system they have instituted. In addition, the lease required that King's College retain many of the historic spaces in their original form. While this means that certain spaces cannot be used, I found it fascinating to see the original slate-shelved bookcases and fireproofing measures installed in 1851. Since the building had been designed for records storage little work had to be done for the books--the space for people was another matter. The transition team worked hard to make space for students and at present there are over 1000 seats and 300 computer terminals available.

When King's College took over the space they brought four libraries under one roof. This enabled the library to remain open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day during exam periods. Combining libraries meant combining staff, security, and maintenance allowed the library to extend other services. The Maughan library has over 750,000 volumes (1.3 million volumes within all of King's College's libraries) and serves over 7000 students from The Strand campus as well as the 23000 undergraduates at all of the campuses.

As a former academic who took the time to bring my classes into the library I wondered what relationship existed between the university library and the faculty. Our contact indicated that there is no direct relationship: professors interact with the subject librarians for their department. The subject librarians liaise with the academics, get the reading lists, and provide training and inductions for students. There seems to be little contact between the library staff and the professors, surprising since they are both the people that undergraduates most often interact.

The main library has multiple stack areas. The short-loan area has multiple copies of books that are on academic reading lists. The area is staffed for the first half of the academic year as students get their bearing. The library uses Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system for nearly all of their works--the medical collection uses NMC but the plan is to switch over to Library of Congress.

The second part of our visit had some impressive tourist and researcher highlights. We were taken into the "Round Reading Room" which was part of the Public Records Office. Our guide mentioned that this is the one space which library staff does not have to police for noise--in fact the students researching in this room looked askance at us for interrupting their study time.

Our tour guide then took us to the Foyle's Special Collection room. Housed in a different building one must exit the main Maughan library and walk across the courtyard. The Foyle Special Collections has over 150,000 items (60,000 belong to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office collection) and specializes in medical texts. The Special Collection librarian was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his library. The space, however, was less than ideal from my perspective as a researcher. There were three small tables with four seats each meaning that there is very little room to spread out—I wonder how four researchers, with their laptops or notebooks and sources can fit comfortably. On the other hand, it would be wonderful to interact with a librarian who is so in touch with his collection.

I was once again reminded of the difference between Special Collections and Archives: all of King’s Colleges manuscript sources are kept at the Archives on the Strand—Special Collections is rare books only. The SpecColl uses LCSH, and follows AACR2, MARC and DCRMB standards for their catalogue. In addition they maintain a card catalogue (limited to single access points) in case the OPAC goes offline. Most of their records are downloaded from OCLC and are then edited to match the collection.

The staff seemed to follow the MPLP (More Product, Less Process) protocol for the newly acquired FCO collection--they have processed 14,000 records but have made them all available to researchers. Materials or parts of the collection that are requested are fast-tracked for processing. The FCO records do not seem to have been well-integrated into the rest of the Foyle collection. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.

One more point of interest: the collection is used by the medical school--a history of medicine course uses the archive's collection to research and write papers. This places the Foyle collection in a unique position--and speaks well for their efforts to promote their collection and remain integral to the university.

I enjoyed the visit to the Maughan Library though I must admit that even I was a little exhausted and found it hard to come up with new and interesting questions. I did realize that this was our only library visit devoted exclusively to an academic library: our visit to Oxford's Bodleian was more about it's role as a research library than it's central place as part of Oxford University. It also reminded me that other than Greenwich's Maritime Museum Library, the National Archives of Scotland and the British Museum Archives most of our "archives" visits would count as Special Library or Special Collections in the US. Most of our visits have, therefore, been to public libraries; while interesting I am definitely archives track. I like the fact that sources are "unique," I even like the idea of records schedules and am fascinated by the role of standards for archival description--I guess it is all about bringing order to chaos.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

National Archives of Scotland

Our fourth and final visit in Edinburgh was to the National Archives of Scotland. Housed at the General Register House (with annexes at West and East Register Houses also located in central Edinburgh) and the purpose-built Thomas Thomson House (for conservation and storage), the NAS looks after the records of Scotland and makes them accessible to the people of Scotland. They oversee over 70,000 kilometers of records dating from the 12th century through the present. Organized between the three buildings, the records are separated into two divisions related to records and functions of the archive:

(1) Record Services, which encompasses Government Documents, Court and Legal records, Collection Development and the National Register of Archives--a register of finding aids privately-held records that are accessible to researchers
(2) Corporate Services, including Reader Services, Conservation, Finance, Accounting, and ICT (information and communication technologies)

NAS is responsible for sixteen types of records from charters (on vellum) to e-records of the recent Scottish Parliamentary session. The most significant collection (from size and scope standpoint) are the State and Parliamentary Records (pre-1707 and post-1999), and the Registers of Deeds and Sasines [seizins] as well as Wills (1501-1901), which are digitized and available to the public, as well as valuations and railroad records. Most of the records are used for the purpose of genealogical research, which is a major focus of the Scottish National Archives.

The ScotlandsPeople Centre, established in has 80million records online including wills, births, deaths, marriages, census records, coats of arms, and Catholic and Protestant parish registers. ScotlandsPeople creates revenue for the National Archives of Scotland. Visitors receive a free two-hour introductory session. From there, visitors can books a $15.00 day ticket or purchase time to do research online at home. The website includes information on how to use both the site and the records a researcher might encounter.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this visit. Not only were we given an informative and well-designed tour by an enthusiastic guide, we were given the opportunity to handle a selection of primary sources--with or without white gloves--that represent a cross-section of the Archives' collection.

When our guide, archivist Tristam Clarke, mentioned that the Archive remained in the same building since it's founding I asked whether this was due at all to the fact that Scotland had not had an independent Parliament for the years 1707 (Act of Union) through 1999 (Scottish Parliament restored). Therefore, all Scottish governmental records would be held at The National Archives in Kew Gardens for that era. The archivist paused, reflected, and remarked that it was certainly one of the major reasons. I enjoyed conversing with him about the archive's organization, his own background (PhD in Church History), and the structure of the NAS' General Register House (a Robert Adam building). The General Register House, built 1774-1780 was purpose-built by famous architect Robert Adam to house the records of Scotland. The first reading room opened in the 1880s, now it is the reading rooms and the public's access to the records that make the NAS, and nearly all other archives, integral parts of a community and of significance to resource allocators and governmental officials. The fact that a national archive like the NAS devotes so much space and attention to genealogy is something that we all, as library professionals, should take note of.

The archive's digitization program concentrates on the creation of surrogates for preservation and conservation purposes. They have partnered with the Genealogy Society of Utah and created unified online collections including the National Register of Tartans, the National Register of Archives, the Scottish Archive Network/SCAN and a paleography--handwriting--site, Scottish, to help researchers access and understand records.

The National Archives of Scotland also functions as the records-collector of the Scottish government. Similar to most archives, NAS is facing a space shortage--they need to deaccession existing records and hope to create best practices for governmental divisions to limit the amount of files that are submitted to them. The court and legal division of NAS are in constant dialogue with the Scottish courts, visiting every one to two years to educate court record creators about weeding and accession policies. They have been successful in many ways: the government has set up an office and created staff training to create records retention schedules and best practices. The goal is to get governmental offices to do the first selection and narrow down what is submitted to NAS--thereby making NAS accession more straightforward and limiting the need for deaccessioning.

On a personal note: can I say how cool it was to have the chance to handle, investigate, and experience primary documents again. This tour felt like more than "library tourism" and I thank our hosts, Dr. Clarke and Margaret McBryde for the opportunity to see the inside, the underside and the inner workings of their institution.

Dunfermline (Carnegie) Library

After spending a wonderful night at Brothaigh House --a fabulous B&B I stayed at in 2000 on my last trip to Edinburgh--and fortified with a perfectly prepared breakfast of toast, egg whites and coffee (despite the B&B owner's amusement at my request for an omelette with no yolks) Gillian, Andrew and I piled in his car and drove to Dunfermline's Carnegie Library. I must admit my navigation skills were not their best and we arrived in Dunfermline but had no idea where to find the library.

After a few minutes Andrew stopped to ask a local:
I rolled down the window and asked, "Do you know where the Carnegie Library is?" since we had been told that this library's fame drew from it's place as the first library built with money from Andrew Carnegie.
The gentleman replied, "Do you mean Dunfermline's public library," in a very pointed voice.
And then gave perfect directions.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library. Image courtesy of

To me this exchange signified two things: first, that the library has been fully integrated into the community as belonging to the people of Dunfermline rather than to Carnegie, and second, that it's identity as Carnegie's first library (est. 1883) may not be of as great importance as previously believed. In truth, the library seemed to be constrained by the Carnegie grant--though incredibly appreciative of the funds given as start-up: 8000 pounds sterling for the building and first acquisitions, the library gained most of it's budget through other means and is now supported by the Fife Council and Scottish Parliament. On it's opening day in 1883 the library ran out of books to lend. The first librarian, Alexander Peebles, an Edinburgh bookbinder, lived at the library (just as I imagined as a kid) with a salary of £70 per year, including free gas and coals.

The library completed a massive renovation in 1992. To accomplish this--and expand their space, they were required to take over an adjacent building--the Carnegie Trust's limitations and the building's status as an A-listed historical building meant that no architectural element--including shelving--could be altered. Once again, a UK library feels like a labyrinth designed by Lewis Carroll or M.C. Esher--the need to keep existing spaces intact requires creativity and compromise when it comes to design. And it must require patience from staff and patrons as they walk up and down stair cases, venture outside to go inside, and remember which rooms are in which building.

The library is one of fourteen libraries in the West Fife library network and serves as SPICe: Scottish Parliament Information Centre. As a public library, their strength is in general collections, fiction and non-fiction.

Our tour of the Dunfermline Carnegie Library included three main areas: the Main Lending Library, the Local History room, and the Special Collection room which houses the Murison-Burns collections.

The Main lending library and children's library catalogues are online. The library has a self-service machine, a free newspaper area (to read in the library) and 22 computer terminals. Both the lending library and children's library have a browse-based organization system--alphabetical "Story Dip" for children and division between fiction and non-fiction for the adults. The library has strengths in foreign language books, in biography and history of Carnegie, and, of course, Dunfermline.

Main Lending Library

The Local History room houses materials related to Dunfermline: the current county as well as historic boundaries including parts of three other current counties. The local history collection has the first climate-controlled space we visited on our library tour. While I am certain that the British Library has such spaces, visitors are not allowed behind the scenes.) We all wondered, most with awe and admiration, why of all the sites we visited Dunfermline was the only one to invest in a climate controlled space for their rare books. Plus it was just refreshing to step into a space with air conditioning after the heat and humidity we experienced in London. The local history room has all the equipment--very noisy microfilm machines, a complete duplicate set of all the photographs in the collection, census records, and a knowledgeable staff--to help visitors research their family history, house history, and information about Dunfermline. To get a sense for the scope of their collection, look at this simplified version of their catalogue.

It should be noted that most of Dunfermline's special collections are not available on the world wide web--the Local History collection catalogue is accessible only at 2 computer terminals within the library. They want to place the catalogue online but are only part way through a multi-year project. In order to do so they cannot simply transfer the records since the existing catalogue system is unique to Dunfermline. Their system, DUlCImeR (Dunfermline Carnegie inspired register) is divided by geography and then by topic and subject. Their arrangement would have to be entirely redone in order to match with existing cataloguing standards.

For example:
F = Fife so categories include Findustry (Fife industry) and Fvillages (villages in Fife). Within the geographical designation the categories are subdivided A-Z. For Dunfermline the categories begin with D and include Dgeneral and Dindustry. In addition, there are shelfmarks related to size and location.

Therefore, as the Local History librarian mentioned, the catalogue cannot be transferred, in order to make an online catalogue for this collection they need to take each item off the shelf, catalogue it individually using a new standard, and enter it into the computer. They have uncovered dozens of works that were overlooked during previous cataloguing efforts.

The Murison-Burns collection is the library's second special collection. Housed in the older part of the building relies on an updated card catalogue and there are no immediate plans to digitize the catalogue.

While I loved the idea of a "living" card catalogue--one that is still in use as the primary means of accessing the collection, the fact that the organization system is so complicated that only the reference librarian can use it is unusual. So much of modern library science is about making records accessible to potential users. This collection, books, manuscripts, images, and artifacts numbering over over 1500 items donated in 1921. The collection is not the property of the Dunfermline Carnegie library: it is held in trust for the people of Dunfermline so must be protected carefully. The special collections librarian, Sharron McColle exhibited incredibly detailed knowledge about her collection and about Robert Burns. We had a very informative conversation about the role of archival standards and cataloguing for a collection like the Murison-Burns that will become part of my research paper. I am grateful to her for her time and expertise and look forward to doing further research.

Note: I could not find information about the size of the Dunfermline library's adult lending library collection.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Edinburgh Central Library

That same afternoon (Monday, July 19) our group had a tour of the Edinburgh Central Library. This is Edinburgh's main public library serving the local community and linked to an additional 25 public library branches all within eight miles of the city center. The Central Library system has over one million volumes for general lending as well as special collections. One of the over 2000 libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Edinburgh library is housed in a building designed by George Washington Browne with impressive central staircases and homage to the site's first function as home to Charles I's advocate, Sir Thomas Hope.

We were greeted by Fiona Myles, Library Development Officer, as well as some of her colleagues in the digital library, reader development, and conservation departments. We were treated to a short presentation followed by a tour of the library's various divisions. Edinburgh's Central Library includes a reference service, Children's Library, Adult Lending Library, Music Library, Fine Arts library, as well as the newly opened Scottish library and the "Edinburgh Room," which holds the most comprehensive collection of works published in and about Edinburgh.

Like many public libraries, the Edinburgh Central Library works constantly to improve awareness and cement its' place within the community. Through such programs as Space Hop (summer reading for children) and Great Scottish Reads (summer reading for adults) as well as free wi-fi, local history events, art exhibits and concerts, the library has worked extensively to place reading at the core of what the public library does while, at the same time, improving the library environment and its' appeal to the Edinburgh public. The Digital Library Development Officer has created a community information website, Your Edinburgh as well as a blog Tales of One City that receives 5500 visits each month. The library also uses Flickr and Twitter as well as providing e-books and maintaining Capital Collections, an online resource selected from the library's over 100,000 images (1600 to present) displaying all aspects of life in Edinburgh.

The reference reading room (pictured below) is an open and welcoming space.

While seats are limited, only 24, I could certainly see myself being very productive here. The bookshelves were specially made for the space--with spiral staircases hidden behind the walls to preserve the correct aesthetic. Once again, the fondness for see-through floors is evidence (and I start to wonder if this is because they realized that solid metal floors were too expensive or too heavy)--the floors of the reference room balcony are honeycomb shaped--one can see through to the floor below, though they are much more stable than those at the London Library).

Due to shelving limitations and the restraints put on Carnegie buildings regarding renovations, the reading room's stacks house only a small fraction of the library's reference materials. As one of UNESCO's city's of literature, the ECPL hopes to increase the scope of their reference and lending library's literature collections.

Historic notes: There was originally a small separate room in the reference library for women who wanted to use the library. The Edinburgh public library was the first building the city to be equipped with electric lights and one of the first to employ women.

The library's architectural structure and organization leaves one with the impression of disconnected spaces: each division has it's own rooms--and the rules set forth by Carnegie--that his libraries could not be modified--mean that to expand the library (as will be seen at Dunfermline in the next post)--one must add to the building. In this case that meant that to reach the Music Library and Children's Library one exited the main building, walked next door and down a flight of stairs. Then up the stairs and turn left for the children's room. While both spaces matched the general tone of the rest of the library, it must be difficult for these spaces to remain on most library visitor's radar: in fact the music librarian mentioned that he often plays music to encourage library users to head down the stairs to see their collections. The Fine Arts Library, located on the second floor of the Central Library, covers not only art history and the fine arts but also graphic design, Scottish artists, and city planning. The art library is used by full time students, architects, theatre and art and design companies. They work to keep the collection as international as possible though they do acquire works related to Scottish artists who are doing well.

Due to the changing demographics of Edinburgh they now have a large foreign language collection including Arabic, Polish and Urdu as well as Scots Gaelic. One needs to know English to search the online catalogue but the self-service machines are available in multiple languages. What I found most interesting (and a bit perplexing) was the variety of cataloguing methods used within the Edinburgh Central Library. While our tour guide mentioned that most public libraries in Scotland use the Dewey Decimal System, the Central Library's Adult Lending Library uses the Library of Congress Classification system. The fine arts library uses Library of Congress but the Music Library has adapted LCSH to their own needs: reference books are alphabetical by composer's last name and other works are catalogued as fits them. The local history rooms have multiple catalogues to access the records: Edinburgh Room has four (4): one each for the image collection, map collection, parish registers/census records and a general one for indexes and catalogues. The catalogues refer to shelfmarks that relate that are exclusive to the Edinburgh Central Library. None of the special collection material seems to have been organized to a cataloguing standard--and most of it is not available online. The ECPL, was, therefore, an interesting mix of state of the art and traditional library practices. It is clearly a significant resource for the city of Edinburgh and the staff does a great job with ever shrinking resources to address the needs of their community and the profession.

National Library of Scotland: Golf and Beards

Our first full morning in Edinburgh, Monday, July 19, the British Studies Program Library Science students arrived for a visit at the National Library of Scotland.

Unlike our other site visits we had no tour scheduled so we were set lose to investigate the Library's exhibits: one on the history of golf, the other related to the John Murray collection.

Thankfully I had followed Prof. Welsh's advice and looked up the John Murray Archive before arriving at the National Library so I at least had some idea of what the exhibits related to. The exhibits themselves were interesting but awkwardly organized--both had entrances off the main hall--but no information leading from one exhibition (golf) to the other (Murray archive) meaning that viewers had to exit one exhibition and re-enter from the main hall to really understand what they were looking at. I personally found the golf exhibit more appealing--it was interactive--with a small putting green, informative, and had a great mix of media--videos, museum artifacts and printed and manuscript material. There were also great quotations related to golf, one from A Grieg spoke to me "Who but the Scots," Grieg said, "could evolve a game that offers such opportunities for humiliation and failure, and no one but oneself to blame for it." Substitute "life" for "game" and you sum up my existence pretty well.

The John Murray Archive exhibit underwhelmed. The website included a wealth of material absent from the exhibit. Clearly designed for children based on the choice of font, style, coverage, and brevity, the displays were designed, at maximum, for two people at time. The exhibit space was crowded and dark--It would protect the documents but made the space feel more like a disco than an archive. This was an exhibit for a popular audience whereas the Archive website is designed for scholarly research. The exhibit did a superficial job of explaining that the John Murray archive is an extensive collection of papers related to the publishing empire built by the Murray family. They published some of the English language's most famous works: Charles Darwin's The Origins of Species, Jane Austen's Emma, and Lord Byron's Childe Harold. The Murray Archive contains the correspondence of Byron and his mistress, Caroline Lamb, as well as the business papers for the two hundred years of the Murray publishers' existence.

The strangest exhibit was that related to Darwin: a glass enclosure, like a snow globe, encased a suit of clothes and a fake beard--but no head, like a scene from Bedknobs and Broomsticks--in the case were a few letters and a bassoon. My first reaction--boy that's creepy. My second thought: I didn't know Darwin played bassoon. On further investigation it became apparent that the bassoon was a bit of a stretch to fulfill the desire to have material objects as well as documents in the exhibit cases: Darwin once asked his son to play bassoon to earthworms to see what happened. These red herrings indicate that some elements of the exhibits could be rethought--viewers who do not stop and investigate all the documents in the podiums may be left with erroneous impressions of the persons and events involved. On the other hand, the interactive nature of the exhibits will likely lead to greater interest and retention of the information presented.

The Murray Archive's purchase was facilitated through grants and partnerships including grants from the Scottish Executive and the Heritage Lottery Fund. A trust, the John R Murray Charitable Trust, was established by the Murray family from the proceeds of the sale. The trust's aim is to assist the library in the promotion and preservation of the John Murray Archive helping to defray the costs involved with the collection.

I do wish the opportunity to tour the library had materialized. As the largest library in Scotland, the National Library of Scotland houses over 14 million volumes and is one of Scotland's deposit libraries. These are libraries that are entitled to request a copy of all printed materials to be added to the collection. (This is different from the British Library, which is required to accept a copy of all publications printed in the UK). As a deposit library the National Library of Scotland can choose what books to add to its' collection. The library was officially founded in 1688 and opened in 1689. By the 1920s the collection was too large to remain private (due to costs) and was presented to the nation with official recognition by Act of Parliament in 1925. With a reading room, extensive stack areas (neither of which I was able to see) and a complement of staff, they address the reference and research needs of Edinburgh and Scotland. Since the re-establishment of an independent government of Scotland in 1999, the National Library of Scotland operates under Scottish government authority. For more information on the Library and it's organization see

The library clearly takes pains to involve the community and encourage both scholars and the general public to explore their collections. I only wish we'd had a chance to speak to the librarians about their take on the exhibitions and the relationship of the Murray Archive to the larger collection.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oxford extra special: John Johnson Ephemera Collection

Based on my interest in digitization and given the time we had in Oxford, I made an appointment with the Curators of the John Johnson Collection: An Archive of Printed Ephemera. The John Johnson collection is one of the world's foremost printed ephemera collections containing more than 1.5 million items on topics ranging from printing to advertisement to social history. The Society for American Archivists provides an excellent definition of ephemera: materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use.

The earliest item dates from 1508 with the bulk of material from the late 19th and early 20th century. The collection emerged from John Johnson's own interests. As a papyrologist a scholar of ancient Egyptian texts, Johnson was concerned that the UK was not preserving its paper heritage. Johnson collected with the goal of creating a museum which would house what is commonly thrown away. The collection, originally housed at the Oxford University Press, where Johnson served as editor, was transferred to the Bodleian in 1968.

Upon first viewing the objects laid out by Assistant Curator Amanda Flynn, I can say that Johnson succeeded with the goal of his collection policy: the materials were colorful, appealing, entertaining and full of educational, cultural and historical significance. The records are used by historians as well as theatre professionals, movie and television producers looking for visual resources, and artists. Most recently there was a request from the producers of the latest X-Men movie for Oxford-related ephemera to include as part of the film.

The collection participated in JISC Phase II--a UK-wide digitization initiative that granted nearly 12 million pounds to 16 digitization projects. More information about JISC Phase II can be found at the JISC website: and in the initiative's 2007 conference report.

The JISC grant allowed the John Johnson collection to digitize 65,000 items from five of their nine categories. (The categories were created by Johnson as he collected and that order was retained as the collection was processed and digitized.) The Bodleian chose to digitize nineteenth-century entertainment, the booktrade, popular prints, advertizing, and those materials related to crime, murders, and executions. More detailed information about the digitization project can be found in the JISC's Phase II summaries and the John Johnson Collection.

The John Johnson collection was chosen for Phase Two as part of JISC's mission to make "hidden" archives accessible. Due to the Johnson collection's limited cataloguing, researchers needed to come to Oxford to do research, and even then the researcher had to wade through hundreds of over-filled boxes. When the collection moved from the Oxford University Press to the Bodleian the librarians' decided to retain Johnson's original organization--with over 700 separate subject categories--one can only imagine the difficulty of finding specific documents.

While only a small fraction of the collection has been digitized--since the JISC grant was limited in time and scope, the online collection is, in many ways, a best-case example for how digitization can not only increase access to hidden archives but also change the way the audience interacts with them. The John Johnson collection interface, created in conjunction with their digitization partner ProQuest is a masterful combination (in my opinion) of cataloguing and common sense. They not only created a fully searchable catalogue--using the services of four full-time cataloguers to complete the controlled vocabulary and create links between resources, they created a browse option that replicated the experience of taking a box from the shelf and flipping through it for those whose searches are non-specific.

The digitization was contracted out to a company called Bister, which had done previous work for ProQuest and with the Bodleian Libraries. They completed a weekly consignment of 2500 images scanned at 600dpi with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) from four (4) directions. The result is an impeccable text-based search that pulls up scanned documents and identifies the desired terms. A few documents were scanned in-house because of fragility or rarity.

The John Johnson collection, due to JISC restrictions, can only be accessed at the Bodleian or through a UK institution of higher or further learning. The access is free to these institutions, but for those outside of the UK or who are not affiliated with an institution, there is a steep fee to subscribe (for institutions). They do provide a free trial that you can sign up for as well as an online free demonstration that provides a taste of how the search and browse mechanism works. For this reason I was unable to reproduce a screenshot of the search system but please do investigate the demonstration to get a feel for how it works. The browse function is arranged into the 5 categories and more than 700 subject headings that Johnson created. The search system relates to the work of the cataloguers who did item-level description for each image creating in-house lists of types of crime that then relate to the broader topics. They followed Allegro bibliographical format based on MARC 21 and AACR2 with Library of Congress name authority headings. In addition, they accessed specialist Thesauri AAT (Art and Architecture) and ICON class for the images and advertising. The aim was to provide multiple access points for search and retrieval. They chose to digitize the 5 subjects that were the most in demand, but hope, when time, funding, and staff are available, to digitize the entire collection.

It must be remembered that the John Johnson collection's digitization succeeded due to good planning and adequate resources: 1 million from JISC and a matching 1 million from ProQuest supported 10 full time staff members. In addition ProQuest assumed the cost of creating and sustaining the online delivery system providing design expertise, resources for market research and public relations, as well as technical support for users. The John Johnson collection provided conservation and cataloguing expertise as well as subject knowledge and advise on the creation of the user interface.

The ultimate goal of the digitization project was to bring together all of the previous projects and make it obvious to users what the John Johnson collection has and improve how it is accessed.

The John Johnson collection is a living collection--ephemera is added to fill in gaps in subjects or timeline and modern ephemera is acquired--mostly relating to Oxford University and student organizations.

Thank you to Amanda Flynn and the staff at the John Johnson Collection for their time and expertise. This site visit, and the visit to the History Library, were highlights of my UK library tours. It should be noted that I arranged these two visits--no support was given from BSP (in fact, our leaders only provided a 60 minute tour--the same tour accessible to all visitors at the University. In addition, I had some issues setting up the appointments because an accurate time table was unavailable until 2 days before we went to Oxford). Students should have been encouraged and informed ahead of time that "visitor" passes we were granted did not in fact allow access to the various libraries at the University.

One of the great benefits of going back to school as an "older" student is an awareness of professors humanity (i.e. imperfection), confidence, and creativity. I realized early on that our tours, focused on libraries rather than archives, were not going to address the questions of standards and digitization: therefore, I found archives that informed me about those critical issues in archival management. Stepping beyond the prescribed path not only helped answer some of the questions I had about current digitization practices and the use of standards in the UK, it was an amazing opportunity to share something I was interested in with my friends and colleagues at BSP.

Images courtesy of John Johnson Collection and the University of Auckland library,, accessed July 28, 2010.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oxford special: History Faculty Library

Knowing that we had an afternoon free in Oxford (having decided to take the morning tour) I decided that I couldn't visit Oxford and the Bodleian without at least trying to arrange appointments with other archival institutions in the town. I was fortunate enough that staff at both institutions I contacted were willing and enthusiastic about a visit.

The first appointment was at the History Faculty Library. I was intrigued to view Oxford's history library compared to Harvard's. My contact at the History Faculty Library was Valerie Lawrence, Deputy Librarian, who graciously agreed to discuss the HFL and her experience as librarian.

Once I found the Library, located in the Old Indian Institute (identified by an elephant weathervane), I climbed a gracefully-curved staircase and arrived at the circulation desk where Ms. Lawrence greeted me by name. It was a wonderful appointment: Ms. Lawrence was font of information about the History Faculty Library and took the time to provide some background information about how the library system at Oxford works: the relationship between the Bodleian, the college libraries and the faculty libraries being of particular interest.

During a tour of the library, we started a conversation that covered the origins of the History Faculty Library, their collections, cataloguing system, and the library's role within the broader Oxford library and university system, the future of the library, and her own role as Deputy Librarian. I left HFL with a real understanding of how the libraries within the university functioned and the changing but still crucial role that faculty libraries play for faculty members as well as students.

Like all libraries at Oxford (except college libraries as explained in the previous blog), the HFL is open to all to all University students and staff with reader cards, though it's primary purpose is to serve the needs of the History Faculty, meaning, in Oxford parlance, the undergraduates, graduate students and professors who read and teach history. The HFL is, interestingly, a lending library where all the books circulate. Unlike the history library at Harvard which was for reference only, the Oxford History Faculty library, with 85,000 titles, lends books to students that were published in the Victorian era. Additionally, this is a living library that purchases new books with each academic year to meet reading list requirements. Their collection is especially strong in English history, Western European history, Art history, history of Science, and the library staff have worked to improve their collection of U.S. history.

Unlike the Bodleian which dates it's founding with precision, the History Faculty Library's origins are murky: it began as a gentleman's collection based in the basement of the examination rooms. The library moved into it's current location in 1968 and has already outgrown the space. They have 59 seats to serve 1000 undergraduates and 3-400 graduate students.
The space itself seemed custom made for reading--abundant natural light, an energetic color palette (white and coral) and a sense of space and airiness. Due to space constraints the collection is almost exclusively printed books--printed journals have been weeded out and electronic versions made available. The library has shifted in the past decade to more emphasis on undergraduate services with some interesting implications: the collection has less material in foreign languages--acquisitions are geared to English-language publications and English-language translations. They often acquire multiple copies of popular texts--two for lending and one for reference. They work with the Bodleian and college libraries to assure that enough copies are available. They use the Union catalogue and are shifting classification to Library of Congress Subject Headings. They do still need to re-catalogue over 10,000 records that remain in a card catalogue.

The library was not only an impressive space, their experience provided an illustration of how libraries evolve to meet the needs of their community. A presence on Facebook and Twitter, research guides to the History collection on popular topics: Modern History, pre- and post-1945 US history, Primary sources online, include bibliographical information as well as annotations about the contents of the resources.

To paraphrase Ms. Lawrence: part of being a librarian is the ability to acquire knowledge--and I truly appreciated the time she took to share her knowledge. And I must say, I was much more impressed with Oxford's History Faculty Library than I was with the History library I used in my first graduate degree. The library at Harvard might have looked more "traditional"--with dark wood and brooding graduate students, but the collection at Oxford is a living thing--adjusting to the needs of the faculty and working hard to maintain it's place within the orbit of Oxford's libraries.

Oxford standard: Bodleian tour

To round out our week of travel, we journeyed to Oxford to a visit to the Bodleian library. I am embarrassed to admit that in all the years I've visited the UK I had never been to Oxford. Honestly, I'm not sure why--the folk festival at Towersey is a stone's throw from the University, and it's not a bad train ride, but I guess it never occurred to me to visit for a day trip. Now that I'm a Library Science student, I couldn't imagine a better place to spent the day--or a career.

Knowing that we had only ninety minutes scheduled at the Bodleian I took it upon myself to schedule two additional library site visits, the History Faculty Library and the John Johnson Collection, that will be discussed in additional blogs.

The Bodleian library surpassed my expectations. From the stonemason's carvings to the rows of ancient texts, the library was exactly as I hoped. The tour might have been geared toward the general public rather than library professionals, but our guide did an excellent job pointing out things of interest to librarians--including the request system, the history of the catalogue, and their standards (Dublin Core).

As part of the oldest English-speaking university, the library opened in 1488, only to be dismantled by the English Reformation when Henry VIII removed all of the books, numbering about 455, as potentially damaging to his new position as head of the English church. The history of Oxford's libraries is linked not only to the success of graduates, but also to the political changes that affected England. For more information see the Bodleian website.

The guide reminded us that most of Oxford's benefactors give to their college--not to the University at large. The Bodleian exists because a few men (in the early days it was all men), Duke Humfries (1439) and Thomas Bodley (1602), made bequests to Oxford University rather than the individual colleges. Without these bequests, most likely, there would be no central library at Oxford. There are many other libraries at Oxford including the College libraries and the Faculty libraries, as well as some subject libraries: most of these libraries have restricted access: members of a college have unlimited access to their college's library--other students or faculty must obtain permission to use the collection. The same holds true for the faculty libraries.

Thomas Bodley's 1602 donation allowed Oxford to revamp and restart their library (which had basically been defunct since the 16th century). His donation came with some strict statutes: the library was to be for reference only and there could be no fire of flame, which meant that there was no artificial light until the installation of electricity in 1928. Great for the books, not so great for the researchers. The Radcliffe Camera (pictured below) and built in 1740s was not subject to the Bodleian statutes and therefore, once incorporated into the Bodleian in 1860, served as a reading room.

As for the "reference only" limitation--it even applied to the king: a private reading room was built in the main gallery for the King when he came to the library to read, but even he could not take books out.

The Bodleian is one of the world's leading research libraries with over 11 million volumes located between the Old and New Libraries and storage facilities at Osney Mead,and the Cheshire Salt Mines, along with a new state-of-the-art facility to be located at Swindon. Like many libraries we have visited in the UK, climate-control is an ever present concern--buildings are seldom fitted with central air conditioning meaning that books are subject to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The library is one of the UK's Legal Deposit Libraries, which allows library staff to acquire a copy of any book printed within the UK free of charge as long as they request it within a year of publication. Like the National Library of Scotland and Trinity College Dublin's Library, the Bodleian is not required to accept all published materials--they can pick and choose what best matches their collection development policy. The Old Library (Duke Humfrey's Library/Selden's End) where we visited houses the Bodleian oldest books (that are not in conservation or a vault). All 14,000 items date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are all shelved in their original order.

The modern Bodleian library's collection is composed of many smaller donations: the most famous being from John Selden (8000 books in 1650) and Francis Douce (18,000 books, 393 manuscripts in 1834) as well as those books gained from Bodley's original agreement with the Stationer's Office to acquire copies of all printed books. The collection is especially strong in pre-1500 books as well as the academic subjects studied at Oxford with over 35 major subject categories within the catalogue. The Bodleian is, at heart, an academic library for the use of researchers and students at Oxford and throughout the world. They participated in the GoogleBooks project and have a strong digital collection and have conducted both in-house and joint digitization projects to make resources more available. Perhaps the best evidence of the Bodleian role as an academic institution is it's usage: over 50,000 readers tickets are valid on a given day with over 2000 in use each day. It is the significance of the collection that drives researchers to complete the steps necessary to become a reader at the Bodleian.

On an unrelated note: I saw this image and thought you might all enjoy sharing what passes for graffiti in Oxford:
It must be said that others saw much ruder writing/images in the city but I was left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of Oxford...though we didn't meet any of the students.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

National Art Library at Victoria and Albert

After our day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, we spent a day in London. Our site visit for Thursday, July 15, was the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum . Slated to start at either 2 or 3 pm, I decided to take the morning and run some errands before our tour of the library. I popped into Primark to find a pair of L2 walking shoes (which feel like they cost 2 pounds--my feet have much more expensive taste) and bought a few t-shirts since mine have suffered from travel--one stain, one rip). I was starting to feel incredibly aggravated with the number of people on Oxford Street so I caught the bus to the V&A arriving a few minutes after 2pm.

Having arrived late, I must admit that it was difficult to find the LIS group--the information desk at the V&A had no information and I hadn't yet put numbers in my phone. Luckily I spotted Courtney who told me where (through the gallery and up the stairs) and when (2:55) to meet the group for the 3pm tour. I then decided to wander the Museum a bit--looking at the British Galleries. While the displays were impressive and I appreciated the chance to experiment with the collections--try on a ruff, build a chair, create my own coat of arms, the V&A reminded me of the Field Museum in Chicago. Both museums have excellent collections but their organization seems less than logical--I could not find my way between galleries, I felt like I was being herded rather than having a choice of where to go. I remember getting lost at the Field Museum--I kept ending up at the man-eating lions: at the V&A I had that same feeling of disorientation--I could not appreciate the collection because the space felt like something out of Alice's nightmares in Wonderland.

At a few minutes before 2pm I ran into Jenn who suggested I leave my bag with the coat check. After doing so, we walked up the stairs the National Art Library. The reading rooms of the National Art Library are beautiful--hard wood, large reading desks, natural light with one room for silent study and a second room where the librarians have their circulation and inquiry desk. The National Art Library (NAL) is a closed access library--the staff retrieves all materials and oversees how they are used and reproduced. Despite these restrictions the library is open to all members of the public who obtain a reader card and are interested in the arts in general or the V&A Museum's collections in particular. According to a pdf on the NAL website, "Subjects covered include those central to the work of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and its collections, including: prints, drawings and paintings; furniture and woodwork; textiles, dress and fashion; ceramics and glass; metalwork; sculpture; art and design of the Far East, India and South East Asia; history of the art, craft and design of the book. The Library is also an excellent source for information about artists."

The library was established when the Museum opened in South Kensington in 1857 though the first designation as "library" with the two reading rooms was not until 1884. They have about thirty staff members and a budget of approximately $150,000 of which half goes to the purchase of periodicals and journals.

Our tour was divided into two stages--the library in general and then the special collections. The general tour provided behind-the-scenes access to the NAL's stacks, staff areas, and information about the cataloguing system and conservation services. In many ways, the NAL seems to operate independently of the V&A--all conservation work is done in-house (within the library) and they are mindful of the demands on V&A conservation staff so at present only the worst cases from the library are sent for extensive conservation. The librarian indicated that in battles with the museum for space, the library inevitably loses--shelves were removed to make way for the 20th century collection leaving books on open shelves that had to be protected with bars from the hands of curious museum visitors.

This provides an interesting opportunity for books to be seen as works of art--though they do not seem to be as appreciated as the pieces in the V&A collections.

This trip has really awakened in me an interest in archival standards and cataloguing. First of all, their catalogue is entirely online--they have no card catalogue and expect researchers to use the computers provided to locate desired materials. The National Art Library, like many other libraries we have seen with older, diverse collections, catalogs by size. Press marks (shelf marks) refer to size and there are findings lists that provide information about where runs of books are located. The "shelf-by-size" system leads to some interesting opportunities for browsing (by staff since shelves are closed to users) meaning that a book on African art can be shelved next a work on Greek columns. The picture below shows some of the interesting "shelf-fellows" that result.

At the same time, since this is a closed stack system and there is no "browsing" capability, the system is kindest to the books and provides the most efficient mode of storage in a library with space constraints. It was mentioned that it generally takes new staff about a year to know the library, including all the niches and locations where books might be stored. There is a backlog of cataloguing due to limited shelf space. At the same time, the library has some impressive special collections--Foster Codicies (Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks), a Shakespeare First Folio, and Charles Dickens' manuscripts along with the general collection of books and over 2500 active and defunct art journals.

On a final note, while the special collections were beautiful, what caught my attention was a full run of Dickens' Bleak House

in the original pamphlet form--a resource that could give the reader a closer-to-the-original experience of those who first read the novel in the nineteenth century, and, in many ways, a critical source in the history of the book and publication.

Shakespeare in Stratford Upon Avon

Our first trip outside the city limits of London took us to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare. Knowing that the day was a free day (with a recommendation to visit the local public library) and having been to Stratford-upon-Avon before (with Lizzy), I decided to arrange a train trip to arrive later in the day--in time for our tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I traveled with Jenn and Laura taking the 1:20pm train from London Marylebone into Stratford upon Avon...the trip took just over 2 hours with local stops but time went quickly once we were joined by Reggie (an actor from Penn State) who spent the time chatting up Laura and appealing to Jenn and me for moral support. It was quite pleasant to spend the day with some polite testosterone-laden company.

The train arrived in Stratford and Jenn, Laura and I popped into the health center for a bathroom, then wandered into Stratford city center and came upon Prof. Welsh and Karen near the Shakespeare Birthplace Historic site. We did some shopping and then decided to visit the Stratford Public Library. Housed, as you can see,

in a period era (16th century) building, the library's internal architecture has been modernized. The building, is, as a result, an interesting juxtaposition of new and old: ancient brick walls lined with DVDs for rent being the best illustration of how older libraries manage to balance modern library user needs with the desire to retain architectural cohesion, especially in a place like Stratford where the tourist industry is so essential.

There is little information about the Straford-upon-Avon public library available online--they are part of the larger Warwickshire Library and Information Service which provides general information about opening times and services. One of the library's head librarians stated that the public library recently underwent renovation (within the past 5 years) increasing space for books and making spaces more user friendly.

The result of the renovation is a well-lit, well-stocked library with service desks on all the floors and special areas for research, reading and a separate children's and teen area. The Stratford-upon-Avon public library serves local residents of Stratford as well as tourists. The library stocks best-sellers, books on local interest and, as one might imagine, a large collection of Shakespeare related materials. Tourist traffic in the library, the librarian indicated, had dropped off since the library began charging for internet access.

After taking a look around Stratford, and before heading off to see the RSC's A Winter's Tale Jenn, Laura and I decided on dinner. We stopped into the Garrick Inn Pub, Stratford's oldest pub, and had a wonderful meal of traditional English fare. I had a fish with potatoes and vegetables and a glass of cider, having, once again, reached my limit with veggie and fruit-free meals. Amusingly, we were joined by two other groups of BSP LIS students. The Garrick had a bit of magnetic pull for Library students.

The Garrick inn has been in business since 1595, is situated next to the birthplace of John Harvard's mother, Katherine Rogers, and was named after Shakespearean actor David Garrick in 1760, who organized a "Shakespearean Jubilee" in 1760.

The greatest adventure of the day was trying to find the theatre--thankfully we missed the worst of a downpour that began while we were in the Garrick, but it was still wet and rainy as we walked what looked like Stratford's "bad neighborhood" looking for the RSC's Courtyard Theatre. For a town that thrives on Shakespeare and depends on the Theatre for tourism you would think they would have better and clearer signage--then again we arrived from town rather than on a tour bus so maybe it was our fault for not being touristy enough. Once we arrived at the theatre and took our seats, I settled down (with a bit of an obstructed view) to watch a new Shakespeare play. (nearly always a joy.)

I find this review in the Telegraph sums up my opinion of A Winter's Tale--I loved Leontes and I thought the actress who played Hermione did an excellent job in the scenes of high drama and really enjoyed the use of books as props. I could have done without Autolycus and am reminded that I seldom like the actresses who play Shakespeare's ingenues--in this case, Perdita. Her voice was high, thin and just this side of grating and her delivery all awkward pauses rather than excitement and eloquence. I wonder if men were cast in women's roles not because they thought women on stage were loose, but because men's voices seem to carry so much better from stage--the deeper register, the ability to project without sounding shrill. The exception being Noma Dumezweni whose voice soared through the house with sinuous skill...her voice's depth and tone allowed the language to be the focus making the words substantial, something to be chewed over later, rather than flimsy like cotton candy. All this is my own opinion. The acting in general was excellent, and I enjoyed the mix of tragedy and comedy that is so rare in Shakespeare.

To continue the bus v. subway/train battle: Train wins--Chiltern Railways was wonderful, plenty of space, smooth ride, and spacious, though confusing bathrooms (the person in the bathroom before me did not lock the door correctly, therefore I surprised both us when the door opened when she was still occupied) and for only 10 pounds. Totally whipped the tightly-packed slightly nauseating (already paid for) bus ride home. Note: city buses versus coach buses--city buses rule.

Information on Garrick Inn Pub:

Monday, July 12, 2010

London Library

Tucked into the corner of St. James' Park is the London Library. Behind a relatively nondescript door is one of the world's oldest independent private lending libraries. Founded in 1841 by historian Thomas Carlyle and his friends, the library was intended as a lending library. Carlyle believed that patrons should be able to take books home with them as opposed to his experiences at the British Library where patrons were required to use books at the library. Determined to follow Carlyle's founding philosophy ninety-seven percent of the London Library's one million item collection circulates--only the 16th century materials are restricted to the reading room. And by circulation, one means not only that members can browse the stacks and check out the books but for those who live far from London (elsewhere in UK or in Europe), the library will ship chosen books by post.

The London Library is accessible to all members of the public but to use the library and its' services one must become a subscriber--at a cost of L375 per annum or the purchase of a lifetime membership. The library is justifiably proud of its' members past and present, especially their close relationship with literary world in London and the UK. Many of the members, the librarians stated, are writers, some of whom use the library as their office.

The staff at the library indicated that their membership varies: they have many who join as individuals as well as representative members--corporations, associations and other libraries that join to take advantage of the library's collection and services. The library's past membership is full of luminaries of British literature: Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Agatha Christie were all members. Tom Stoppard, author of my favorite play, Arcadia is the current president and Mrs. T.S. Eliot is one of the most significant patrons.

The London Library collection includes books in over fifty languages. They do not weed books so a patron will potentially find eighteenth century material shelved next to a recent best-seller. The cataloguing system derives from an unique subject-based system. It includes subject categories one might expect: history, art, biography and law as well as those which might be less clear to the non-subscriber: anecdotes, topography, and science and miscellaneous. This last category not only includes the hard sciences but also anything else that did not fit into the scheme created by librarian Charles Hagberg Wright. This system allows for easy browsing--and is, in some ways, similar to the bookstore model being adopted by many public libraries in the U.S--and is very popular with library patrons. It has, however, decreased the need for the advent of a barcode or RFID system for the books, and the London Library relies on size-based shelving with books given shelfmarks based on size.

As seen above, the library is near to capacity--they just completed a massive renovation to add more shelf space. They instituted a conservation policy and better shelf management to ensure that all books are properly housed--and not placed on the floor, on the tops of other books, or in the aisles. On the other hand, because the library is housed in recognized historic buildings, they are required to keep historic architectural elements. One of the elements is the Victorian slatted metal floor in the oldest part of the building. These floors, through which books often fall to be lost for a time (though usually not in perpetuity), provide great ambiance. The see-through floor did have one side-affect: for the first time, the glory of the books was lost in my near state of panic as I walked on a floor through which I could see, which seemed to shake and shimmy at each step. Those who browse the stacks and work the desks cannot be of faint heart at the London Library.

On a final note, down in the basement in the newspaper and periodical room was the coolest piece of archival furniture I've seen in a long time: these newspaper rests--for the large bound volumes of 19th and 20th century newspapers would have been amazing back when I was trying to take notes while reading copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer and wrenching out my neck, back and eyes.

I have to say, that thus far the trip to the London library is my favorite--the staff were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the tour itself was well run, informative and entertaining, and I could easily get lost (in a good way) in the Library's collection for days. To top it all off the Library's physical space, while quite maze-like had real charm and appeal--a character all it's own that makes the long-lived nature of this space understandable.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two if by...Greenwich

I have to say I have always wanted to visit Greenwich--home of Greenwich mean time...a concept that changed the world, that allows us to function by clocks rather than the sun. I did not wish to visit by sea however. Those that know me understand that water and I get along best from a distance or a swimming pool. I love the idea of being on the ocean but my inner ear disagrees--thus I though I would spend the morning in constant motion, trying to prevent my brain from outsmarting me--yes the boat is moving, but I'm not moving, oh goody, let's feel ill...but this was relatively easy except for a few wakes we passed over. It felt more like a car ride than a boat, whew.

While there was a bus option, I'm glad I didn't know because I got some great shots of London Bridge and the architecture along the water:

Having reached dry land, I took a deep breath and...realized that we had an hour to kill so Traci, Gillian, Andrew and I took off for the University Cafe for coffee and breakfast.

After a leisurely meal, we made our way to the Greenwich Maritime Museum's Caird Library where we had an appointment with Hannah Dunmow, Manager of Archives and Manuscripts. She met us in the lobby of the e-Library and proceeded to give a short talk about the current redevelopment project and the Library's history. The library has been open since 1937, though it is currently only open 3 days, rather than 6 days a week due to the planned move to a new facility. The Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum is named for the Museum's primary benefactor Sir James Caird, a Glasgow shipowner. Caird provided L80,000 to renovate the buildings in which the current Museum is housed. For more information the James Caird Society is a great resource. (Just make sure to scroll to the bottom to differentiate between James Caird and James Key Caird.) The founding collection of books and manuscripts from Caird arrived in the 1960s and the current collection comprises over 20,000 periodicals, 20,000 pamphlets, 100,000 post-1850 "modern" books and 8,000 pre-1850 "rare" books in the library and over 70,000 manuscript sources with the earliest sources from the 1450s.

Upon entering the library one encounters a foyer designed by Lutyens with a bust of Sir James Caird as the centerpiece. Behind Caird is a door that leads to the Library reading room.

The room currently houses reference materials with rare books and manuscripts stored off-site. it is presumed that this will change when the new facility and reading room are completed.

We were given the opportunity to see and, in some cases, touch various sources: a letter from Horatio Nelson, a copy of the Aurora Australis, the only book written, printed, and illustrated in the Antarctic, as part of the Shackleton expedition, a book from the H.M.S. Bounty, and a book of signals captured from the U.S. navy in 1813. These volumes were small sample of the Caird Library's impressive collection of naval, maritime and merchant marine materials. In addition, the library is still accessioning new materials--periodicals, papers and other ephemera of interest to the library.

First of all, this was the first archive at which a clear differentiation between US and UK arrangement became clear: in the UK rare books, those published before 1850, are considered part of the library collection, whereas in the US rare books are most often held with manuscript collections. As Ms. Dunmow explained, the division is due to the similarity between early and modern books--binding, publication, format versus the eclectic nature of manuscripts or archives which can include journals, letters, government documents, and other ephemera. I find the division appealing though it is interesting that the "rare" title goes as far forward in time--I remember pulling books published in 1830 off the Widener Library shelves to check out...something I now realize I should have resisted.

From a comparative archival perspective, I was most interested in their use of MARC standards and AACR2 rules for library cataloging. They follow the ISAD-G (International Standard Archival Description (General)) for their archival collection. It was nice to know that they used ISAD-G, the standard is less popular with US archives. In addition, there is a movement for the creation of an archives hub that would provide access to collection level description for archives within London and the M25 (called AIM 25). This hub would facilitate standardization of archival data to enable searches across archival databases. In the U.S., as we know, most library catalogues have been standardized in MARC but archival collections are still accessible only archive by archive. The advent of EAD has helped, but that is still and internal function.

Overall, the visit was fantastic--materials were presented with knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm and Hannah was a great resource for information about Greenwich and the Maritime Museum and library as well as archival practice in general.

For your edification (and mine)

Edinburgh University Archives defines books as rare if they are:

* Printed before 1850
* Only known to exist in a few copies
* Found to have important manuscript annotations or marks of former ownership
* In very fine or contemporary condition, e.g. in an original binding
* Part of a named special collection, e.g. from the personal library of a notable

Thursday, July 8, 2010

British Library

Today's site visit was to the British Library where I joined the group guided by Kevin Mehmet, Front-of-House Manager at the British Library. Mr. Mehmet provided an entertaining tour of the Library's best attractions and internal workings. His discussions of the library organization, the process of becoming a chartered librarian, and the future of libraries and archives (digitization) were insightful--if not upbeat. I appreciate the reminder that the archivist job is not all old documents and grateful researchers--this is a tough time to be in a library/archives setting--competing with IT for staff, with all departments for resources, and with a world that seems to always be in search of the easy answer--we are needed now more than ever, given the amount of information that is produced every day, but, as we know, our status and our presence is constantly questioned.

On to a more positive track: The British Library is always a joy to walk into: well lit, with people walking around looking studious and often a little awed. The ubiquitous sound of computer keyboards, intent faces magnified by the frames of their glasses, the glare of reading room desk lamps, and the stark simplicity of the King's Library in the middle of it all. The exhibit rooms, Magnificent Maps and Treasures of the British Library, grant access to amazing resources, and include impressive interactive experiences: magnifying glass that enlarges part of a digital map, online display that shows detailed scans of six rare books including the Sherborne Missal in exquisite detail:

The British Library website provides links to their permanent collections including Treasures of the British Library. As part of our tour Mr. Mehmet pointed out the Philatelic collection (stamps) which is one of the largest in the world and available just up the stairs from the entrance. We were taken to a viewing station over the Humanities Reading Room, and through one of the staff areas. The Humanities Reading Room , where I often find myself when at loose ends in London, houses reference works on Information and Library Sciences (some of which I read last year in the reading room) as well as History of Science as well as general reference works arranged in the Dewey decimal system. The reading room has over 100 desks where readers wait for books to be delivered. To request a book, a reader must not only have a reader card, he or she must have a desk number...if in doubt, make one up. Admittedly, the staff needs the numbers to know where to deliver books once they arrive (since there is "desk-service") but it can be frustrating for the novice. When the reader enter the room the first impulse is to hand over requests to the circulation desk--but that must wait until a seat is located and the seat number entered into the request form.

With over 14 million books in their catalogue, 30,000 digitized images and 9 million journal articles from 20,000 journals available online, the British Library has one of the most comprehensive digital collections. At the library, one finds not only access to all the digitized material and the online catalogue, the researcher will be able to access an additional 140 million records including a copy of every work published in the UK and Ireland. To house all of this material (and the 625 km (388 miles) of shelving that supports it) they constructed the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century. The library adds over 3 million items to its collection each year including books, manuscripts, maps, sound recordings, visual media and still images, newspapers, and patents.

While the public galleries provided insight into the best elements of the British Library I know that I, and my fellow students, were really hoping for a tour behind the scenes. Due to health and safety regulations--and security--visitors, as a general rule, are not allowed in the stack area (such a disappointment and such a sure sign that we are library nerds) thought we were able to see the Automated Book Retrieval System that BL developed in the 1970s to order, select, retrieve and deliver the millions of books in their collection. When the British Library became a distinct institution in 1973 (before that the Library was part of the British Museum), they designed a new library building and included the automated system at part of the design. With miles of metal tracks running through every area of the library and into the reading rooms, the system has become a model for other libraries.

Another interesting bit of information Mr. Mehmet passed on related to my particular interest: the comparison between archives and archivist training in the U.S. and UK. He mentioned the status of "Chartered Librarian": which some librarians choose to pursue. Unlike the U.S. where completion of an ALA-accredited Master of Library Science degree is enough to endow the status of librarian (or archivist) in the U.K. one must gain qualification from the Library Association before being able to state that he or she is a librarian.

In the U.S. the closest equivalent to Chartered Membership we have is the Certified Archivists exam which is administered every August as the SAA meeting. Due to the increased number of MLS/Archives graduates more and more job ads state that certification (CA) is preferable. In the UK, similar benefits are said to accrue to Chartered Librarians, depending upon their career path. It is not an easy goal, there are at least ten steps to Chartership according to the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) website. It includes a project as part of your work, reviews by staff and CILIP auditors and a portfolio presented to the Chartership Board. The amount of specialization, the professionalization of the field, per se, is so much higher here in the UK than in the US. This is something I think our field, in the interest of professionalization and our reputation should consider aspiring to--something similar to CPA exams to show that we are experienced and qualified professionals, especially as we seek to compete with IT professionals for our role in archiving the digital record.

To follow the last post:

Bus versus Underground: Bus wins by a mile--those of use who took the bus arrived at least ten minutes ahead--had time to walk over to King's Cross for pictures at Platform 9 3/4 before the rest of the class arrived. And then we walked back to the British Library.

British Library gate image from Wikipedia

British Museum too

After the tour of the British Museum Archives, we were let loose among the collections. After some debate a few of us, myself, Traci, Andrew, Gillian and Daniel, decided to wander together. A schedule was set and off we went--first to view the Rosetta stone, and then to the Elgin marbles--and I must remember that proper pronunciation (yes, Andrew) is el-JIN marbles. The room had been rearranged since I last visited but as always it is the bas-relief sculptures rather than the full life statues that draw my attention. This time it was a set of battles with centaurs that I spent the most time examining--the light and shading, the workmanship, the detail--all skills that are pretty much lost now.

The other exhibit that I enjoyed was the gold and treasure. We wanted to see the Staffordshire hoard (which was in conservation) so we looked at the Sutton Hoo treasure and the rooms leading too it. These pictures should speak for themselves:

Gold G-d why can I never remember this word???

The laws governing the British Museum link directly to the British Treasure Act--a fascinating bit of law I learned while in Folkestone with Andy and Lynn where I watched a TV program about the Staffordshire Hoard. The formal Act can be found at The Office of Public Sector Information and a nice explanation is found in a 2009 Telegraph article on the hoard. The Treasure Act, passed in 1996, regulates all archaeological finds in the UK--and was passed to deal with the questions of who owns it--the Crown if it is large enough and composed of the right materials--and who gains rewards--the finder as well as the owner of the property upon which it was found. The regulations can be quite detailed but they are set up to assure, hopefully, that discoverers contact their local coroner quickly after discovery to allow the professionals to oversee the site and preserve historical and archaeological significance of the site as well as the materials that are found within the dig. The number of hoards/treasures located in the UK is amazing--as is the variety--gold from Vikings, Roman coins, weapons, stolen or looted goods, and most end up at a museum in the UK--and the best and the most significant usually at the British Museum.