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

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