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