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 Handwriting.com, 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 http://bookcalendar.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

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 www.nls.uk/help

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.