Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The British Library Centre for Conservation

The last place we had the pleasure of visiting was the Centre for Conservation at the British Library.

While the various details of conservation and preservation techniques are interesting, the part of the tour that really interested me was the fact that it is part of the Centre's mission to spread the message of collection care to all parts of the UK, so that every facility will be able to properly maintain their individual pieces of history.

After having visited many institutions in London and seeing the importance of their collections, I can see that that is a very demanding job. The Centre provides Preservation Assessment Survey of institutions, determining what the collection needs and priorities should be.

They also provide several informative booklets on individual topics in preservation and conservation, such as pest control and water damage. In addition, they provide great online resources for research and learning.

Online, users can also find information about the Centre's events, displays, workshops, and seminars, as well as resources for professional training with other agencies. Instructional sheets and video offer education and training in the field of archives.

Conservation of the Sutra Ramayana

Conservation of the Sutra of the Ten Kings

Conservation of a Khotanese Animal Zodiac Manuscript

Using Gloves with Collection Items

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Royal Geographic Society

When Robert Scott arrived at the south pole in January of 1912, he found Amundsen and his party had arrive long before them. Scott and his party all perished on their return journey. Historians have argued over the causes of their deaths for a hundred years. One clue to this debate is a bag of provisions that the party was carrying, frozen in time, consisting of tea and curry, which is now kept at the Royal Geographic Society's archive.

George Mallory's boot at the Royal Geographic Society.
Other treasures include many of the possessions of George Mallory that were taken from his body by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition in 1999, to prove they had found him.

The collection at the Royal Geographic Society consists of objects from around the world, collected by the Society's explorers, objects belonging to the explorers themselves, historical scientific data, and scientific instruments. This means most of their collection relates to some particular areas of interest, such as the African Nile, the Polar Regions, including the Northwest passage, and Mount Everest.

The archive is responsible for 2 million items, including 500,000 maps, globes, and pictures, and an expansive library. The Society's reading room was finished in 2004 and the institute tries to have a map specialist and librarian available at all times.

Hats of David Livingstone and Henry
Morton Stanley at the Royal
Geographic Society.
While all the map catalog cards are digitized, there are still 400,000 cards waiting to be digitized. Any person in education may use the archive for free, including librarians and students, and, incidentally, student librarians. If course the Society's members have access for no additional fee. All other users may access the archive at a very reasonable 10 pounds per day.

There are quite a few artifacts relating to Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, including an illustration of the two in their first meeting when Stanley found Livingstone in the heart of Africa, as well as the hats they were both purported to be wearing. Stanley's boots and additional cap are also archived here.

This visit was awe-inspiring, both the knowledge of our tour guide, Principle Librarian, Eugene Rae, and in the depth of the collection. A quick look around the picture library will convince anyone of the overwhelming value of the Royal Geographic Society's archive.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Trinity College

Trinity College exterior.
During our trip to Ireland, I had the chance to visit the beautiful Trinity College campus in Dublin. This is an amazing place to visit. Among its famous graduates are Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Smith, and Bram Stoker.

It was eye opening to hear about all the different traditions and educational culture that are so different from what I have gotten to experience at public schools in the United States.

One very important thing I learned is that Irish, a Gaelic dialect, is the official language of Ireland. All the students that enter the University there must be fluent, which is not too hard, since they study it throughout grade school.

Line for the Book of Kells.
Photo provided by
Since I was so intrigued by the college, I decided to visit both libraries, the modern academic library and the Old Library. The two libraries of very different architecture attract a very different kind of guest. Visitors from all over the world flock to Trinity's Old Library to visit the ancient illuminated texts, the Book of Kells, Book of Mulling, and Book of Dimma.

Admission to the Old Library is 9 Euro. Donations are also accepted for book preservation, and the library has a large gift shop that greets guests and sends them off.

The exhibition spaces are are very nicely designed and include a great deal of background information about the manuscripts.
There are short videos that also depict the process of making and preserving the manuscripts. One video shows the writing of Latin in ink on vellum in the way that monks would have done.

Modern university library at Trinity.
The long room was a dramatic scene with high ceilings and galleys on either side of the room. Historic displays are arranged in the middle of the room. There were lovely photos of the long room when it was still a reading room. There were signs posted indicating that the current reading room was directly upstairs.

Adjacent to the Old Library, the Berkley Library stands in stark contrast. The modern university library is much more similar to the ones most US students have used. Most of the books are available for browsing--80% of the collection. There are signs indicating where subject areas may be found in the library. The cataloging is done in house as a mix of the Dewey and in-house additions.

Security outside library.
Much of the library's space is utilized for private and group study. Undergraduates may issue up to 4 items for 1-4 weeks. Graduate students may issue up to 10 items for up to 4 weeks. Subject librarian offices are labeled and include alternative contact  information, as well as a general work schedule. The offices are tucked within the stacks themselves.

Suggestion box for library.
Out front security is high, with a guard and there is a turnstile and metal detector. Apparently I look enough like a librarian to get a wave from the librarian out front. So yay! Unfortunately, the rare books collection was closed, but I loved the wooden suggestion box out front. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Central Library of Edinburgh

Reading Champion's sneakers.
Niall Walker, Reading Champion for the Central Library of Edinburgh, says that sometimes you need a conversation piece when you spend most of your time talking to teenagers. He spoke to us in his office wear that included baggy jeans and flashy kicks. Niall works to develop a love reading among the children and young people in residential care in Edinburgh. 

Niall says that one of his most challenging jobs is finding the right reading materials. Teenagers in residential care might not be reading at a teenage reading level, but that doesn't mean there interests aren't that of a teenager. The Reading Champion says you have to know where to look. Some publishers offer books for just this purpose.  

Cyberman cutout makes statement the Central Library in Edinburgh.
The most amazing thing about our visit to the Central Library of Edinburgh was that we saw this kind of passion and energy in every other person we spoke to. This library is a pleasure to visit. When budgets are being slashed all over the US and the UK, to see a library that is well funded, well organized, goal-oriented, and genuinely concerned with providing greater access, adapting their patrons to more online resources, and building a collection that useful and inspiring, is...well, useful and inspiring.

One of the most interesting aspects to me is the fact that there is actually have a web team. Employees dedicated to developing a digital direction and plan, who are also librarians. In fact, the Central Library was the first in the UK to develop a mobile app, which allows users to request and renew books. I'm excited by the passion and the progress of these efforts to educate user about e-resources, online community participation (local groups will soon be able to keep their own informational pages through the library), and user generated content (Our Town Stories will have an option for adding content, but is not functioning yet.)

The National Records of Scotland

Our tour guide discusses the merits of wooden ladders.
The National Records of Scotland (NRS) is housed in an absolutely beautiful, historic, Neoclassical building, but the organization that is based inside is the real national treasure.

The NRS hold the records of the old Scottish government as far back as the 1140s. The collection includes Scottish court records, both civil and criminal, contracts, deeds, parliamentary proceedings, and selected church records. Research is free for academics and there is a small daily fee for genealogical research. Legal researchers pay the highest rate.

Some local archives are in possession of their local records, and the NRS offers information on preservation and conservation. Non-historic criminal records are accessible, but only with permission of the court.

The rotunda at the National
Records of Scotland.
I shamelessly take a photo of myself
with the pretty books.
The NRS has made great strides in the area of digitization with the help of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Because the process is so expensive, it is necessary to charge for access. The public doesn't seem to mind paying a small amount to access the records, and thanks to the work the NRS has put into digitization, the process is a good deal more convenient.

The NRS is also the maintainers of The Scottish Register of Tartan, where users can search for tartans by name, designer, keyword, color, and copyright status. They can also register and compare their designs to others.

The NRS facility is amazing and I greatly admire the energy and dedication that everyone we spoke to projected about the importance of user access. I hope that my genealogical research brings me here or somewhere equally well run.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The British Museum Archives

Door to the storage area of the central archives for the British Museum.
The British Museum suffered a great deal of damaged during the bombing raids of WWII. Much of the collection had already been moved offsite. However, the museum stayed open to those brave enough to visit. Employees corresponded between the museum and the offsite locations where they were sent to care for the objects.

These amazing details are recorded for posterity at the British Museum archive, where Stephanie Clarke works single-handedly to maintain the museum's important history. The archive holds the actual steel casting of a bomb that hit the museum. She showed our group photographs of the metals gallery that was reduced to rubble by the blast as well as the letters written from the different locations of the permanent collection.

Stephanie receives 30 outside requests per day for information from the archive, not counting requests from museums staff and associated institutions, such as the British Library and the Natural History Museum, which were both previously a part of the British Museum.

Old sign from when the British Library
was a part of the British Museum.
The Archive is rich with handwritten board minutes discussing everything from employee conduct to acquisitions. The minutes are vast, and I'm sure to everyone's relief, extensively indexed. The massive collection of original papers include letters from the building's architect as well as the current director's notes on the subject.

The Lists of Establishment is an annual record of every employee of the museum, start date, and salary. This has been of special interest to those doing family histories. The archive holds about 6,000-7,000 photographs including stereoscopic images and a viewer, to give an excellent idea of the gallery space from 150 years ago in thrilling detail.

The archive also houses many drawings and documentation on the mid-19th century construction, projections which are amazingly accurate. Deeds for the various plots of land held and sold by the museum in its history, some very old and written in elaborate calligraphy with no punctuation and wax seals at the bottom. Others were typed on typewriters.

The British Museum building.
In short the archive contains an amazing record of the institutional history which is well used by the museum and academics. Aside from the numerous online requests, Stephanie addresses, between four and five readers per week, which is a lot for the size of the collection and more than she has previously seen. The British Museum is an excellent example of a small archive with a rich collection and careful steward documenting an institution that is so important and so beloved.

Bodleian Library of Oxford

Bodleian Library Oath, in Latin, on tote bag
available in gift shop
Photo from the Bodleian Library Shop

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.
--Bodleian Library Oath
Above is the oath that every reader of the Bodleian Library must take before that are allowed access to the precious materials available at the 400 year old library. This is for good reason, as the shelf materials alone can date back to the 17th century.

The collection contains over 11 million bibliographic works. Of the 17 existing copies of the Magna Carta, four are held by the Bodleian Library. The special collections contain over 250,000 books which are older that 1500. The collections grows are 3,000 books per week. Books are digitized as they can be. Our tour guide said that they were about halfway through the collection, working with Google and a 6,000,000 pound budget, employing 500 people. Many of the works cannot be parsed by a computer, however, and remain unsearchable. Most of the libraries books are kept 25 miles off site, waiting for the renovation of a new facility across the street from the Bodleian that will hols 3,000,000 volumes. The renovation is expected to be completed in 2015.

Statue of Bodleian outside of library.
The Bodleian is not a lending library. Students and academics alike must study the works in one of the available reading rooms. We were shown one of the older rooms that still had books chained to the desks, and numbers written on the edges of the book. It is difficult to process how much history happened in these halls. As an example, during the protestant reformation, at least seven works of religious importance were smuggled from the library in 1550, to save them from destruction on the orders of King Edward VI. Read more about the history of the library here.

The Lower Reading room is for medieval script and includes ready reference and source books that are unique. Some Sanscript writings are available there as well. These works must be kept under high security and in a controlled environment. Our tour guide showed us a copy of the original printed catalog printed in Latin. At the end of the room is the location where the Harry Potter library scenes were filmed. The inscription on the ceiling says "The Lord is My Light". 
Inscription above door to library.

Without a doubt the Bodleian library is awe inspiring in its appearance, its depth, its history, and its pride. The students and researchers who study here cannot help but realize they have access to one of the most interesting collections in the world.