Monday, 20 July 2009

The British Library - 7/16/09

On Thursday, July 16th we went to The British Library. This beautiful building is the equivalent to the United States’ Library of Congress. It is a fully functional copyright library that grows 12.5 kilometers every year! Their collection consists of 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, and 3 million sound recordings. They receive a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland! The British Library serves business and industry, researchers, academics and students, in the UK and world-wide. Each year nearly six million searches are generated by the British Library online catalogue, and roughly 400,000 visit one of the libraries Reading Rooms. They issue about 300 new library cards everyday!

Some interesting collections that the library houses is their philatelic collection which includes 8 million stamps and other philatelic items A very noticeable collection is contained in a tall glass tower in the center of the foyer area. It is called the King's Library Tower and consists of books collected by King George III who reigned from 1760 to 1820. Other great treasures in the British Library include Shakespeare in Quarto, William Caxton's two editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Gutenberg Bible, The Magna Carta, some Renaissance Festival Books including 253 books about festivals and ceremonies in Europe from 1475 to 1700, and a Sample of Malory's Arthurian manuscript. Some of my favorites included some Beatles manuscripts, a very old copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and some original Lewis Carroll Alice and Wonderland things. They also offer these computer type machines that use Turning the Pages™' software to leaf through some of the greatest books including A selection of Leonardo da Vinci sketches, Images from Alice's Adventures Under Ground Written and illustrated by Lewis Carroll, Mozart's musical diary, Codex Sinaiticus, an early work form Jane Austen, and many more. The British Library also house the largest book in the work. It is the Klencke Atlas from 1660.

I found the book retrieval process fascinating! The reader picks which books he/she wants to look at from the online catalog. The information is then sent to the basement and is then put on a little train system to travel up to over a mile long journey to the patron who awaits in it one of the reading rooms.

We also had a tour of the preservation and conservation studio. This too was phenomenal. I don't think that people realize what steps are taken to conserving and preserving old books and manuscripts. The tour seemed rushed and short, but I was glad to at least have a small glimpse of what they do.

In all this was a fascinating experience. I have never been to visit the Library of Congress in the United States, but it will now be a major priority for me!! To see the workings of a national library was amazing and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Link to The British Library

Exterior view of the British Library
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Interior view of the British Library (King George III collection)
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Museum of London - 7/15/09

On Wednesday, the 15th of July, we visited The Museum of London. We sat down for a presentation with Mr. Joe Cotton before being able to walk the museum. Mr. Cotton is a Senior Curator (Prehistory) in the Early London History and Collections department of the Museum of London and he gave us some insight as to what the museum is all about and what it took to create the exhibits.

The Museum of London is an urban history museum that opened in 1976. It encompasses the archeology of the early history of greater London. Located near the Barbican Library which we visited the day before, it is easily accessible from two underground (tube) stations. They have three sites and employ 150 archaeologists. Annually they welcome 4,000,000 visitors, half of them being Londoners, and the other half consisting of students and tourists.

The exhibits are in chronological order and start from prehistoric London leading up to Medieval London in the 1550’s. They are currently constructing an exhibit which will encompass that time period through to the present. They also have a wonderful exhibit that teaches Museum patrons about The Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Great Fire of London began on September 2, 1666 during the night. A small fire broke out in a bakeshop on Pudding Lane. At this period in time, most London houses were dangerously flammable as they were constructed of wood and pitch. There happened to be a strong wind that night sending sparks to neighbouring buildings. The citizen fire fighting brigades attempted without success to contain the fire with their buckets of water from the river. By 8:00 am the next morning the fire had spread halfway across London Bridge. Only sixteen people were said to be lost in the four day blaze, but the property loss was great. Some 430 acres, as much as 80% of the city proper was destroyed, including 13,000 houses, 89 churches, and 52 Guild Halls. Thousands of citizens found themselves homeless and financially ruined. The Great Fire changed the face of London forever.

Joe Cotton was in charge of the prehistoric London exhibit which was fascinating. According to a general public survey of about 2000 patrons conducted by the museum, Londoners had no knowledge of Pre-Roman London. It just wasn’t in their curriculum. His job was to make the general public aware of the prehistoric existence in London. He did this by using four ideas that surmise prehistoric life. First is the Climate. The museum examined what climate change had to do with the backdrop of a pre-roman world. Next we look at the river Thames., They have some spectacular finds on display that were pulled out of the river from flint arrowheads to weapons and pots. Patrons are then meant to look at the people who existed in London before the Roman empire. By examining the evidence on display, patrons will be able to see them as really existing and how they lived. Lastly, we can examine the legacy that these people left behind by seeing the history beneath London, the archaeological finds that proved prehistoric existence in this area.

Link to the Museum of London

The London Museum
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Painting depicting the Great Fire of London in 1666
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Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Barbican Center - 7/14/09

On Tuesday, July 14th, we visited the Barbican Library. The Barbican is a fully functional lending library with books, audio books, videos, DVDs, CD-ROMs, music CDs and scores available.

The library is part of what is called the Barbican Centre and is located in the north of the City of London, England. The Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It also houses three restaurants, and a conservatory. The London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are based in the Barbican Centre's concert hall as well. The site for this beautiful demonstration of Urban planning is situated in an area which was badly bombed during World War II.

It was a very comfortable, friendly public library just like one would find in the United States. The books were classified by category using what appeared to be a variation of the Dewey Decimal system. They had several graphic novels and comic books along the walls as to stick out and perhaps catch a passing young adults eye. I also noticed a small desk that was manned with a person to help city residents with their tax/tarrif forms and other various government forms and information. Above it was a sign that read "City Residents Information Desk".

The Barbican has several specialized libraries within it walls which I found very interesting. They have a children's library, which has various materials and programs for children of different age groups. The art library houses different forms or art based materials including films, plays, and TV shows. My favorite and probably the most fascinating library (seeing as I spent quite a long time wandering about) was the music library. This held biographies of all different types and genres of musicians from Madonna, Bob Dylan and Elvis to Mozart and Chopin. It also held audio and video of what seemed like anything and everything related to music. It housed shelves upon shelves of sheet music categorized by instrument, genre of music, and then several categorized by artist. Some of my favorites that I noticed included Radiohead, Richard Ashcroft, Hank Williams, Prince, and the Rolling Stones. There were also listening booths which held CD and cassette players for users to listen to certain things onsite. Another interesting thing was a silent piano. It allowed patrons access to a piano with headphone plugged in so that only the user could hear what was being played.

It was nice to see a working British public library, and if I resided in the area, I'm sure much of my time would be spent there!

Link to the The Barbican Center

The Barbican Center
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The Barbican Public Library
*Photo Courtacy of

St. Paul's Cathedral Library - 7/13/09

On Monday, July 13th, we were given the rare privilege of touring the library at St. Paul’s Cathedral. We bypassed a throng of people waiting in line with purchased tickets in hand to glimpse the inside of this exceptional London landmark. The Librarian, Joe Wisdom, led us through a large set of doors and into a stairwell with an ornate set of spiral stairs leading to the upper level of the massive cathedral. (These are the same spiral staircase that can be seen in the various Harry Potter films!)

194 dizzying steps later we arrived at the top floor of the cathedral. I have to say, that climbing this magnificent staircase was a bit unnerving, due to the fact that there were no visible means of support. They were just sticking out of the wall! This upper level reminded me of a backstage area of a great theater, with unused treasures strewn about. One interesting thing that I noticed were the set of keys being carried around by Mr. Wisdom. It was an ancient looking key ring with several oddly and uniquely shaped keys. They reminded my of something that a sheriff would have carried around in the wild wild west. I couldn’t help but wonder what other doors and hidey holes they would open.

When Mr. Wisdom opened the door to the St. Paul’s Library, I felt like I had stumbled several hundred years back in time. We were shown into a small, quaint, but quite crowded one room library. This room appeared to be a fantasy, right out of the movies. The antique books were shelved against the walls, and there was a comfortable looking fireplace tucked away to one side. There were several busts and paintings of men whom I’m sure held some significance to the cathedral at one time or another. Tucked away in the corner of the room, hiding behind several old beautifully bound books was an old, outdated computer that appeared to be very out of place among this great collection. The masonry around the upper walls was intricate and full of various library symbolism including depictions of grapes, skulls, wheat, and books.

The collection is theologically based and consists of 20,000 bibliographic items and 13,500 physical volumes. These consist of prayer books, biographies, philosophical works and religious studies. I did catch a glimpse among all these old and ancient books of the bright red cover of a “Who’s Who 2006”, which along with the old computer, rather stood out like a sore thumb. One item of special interest that Mr. Wisdom pointed out was a late 12th/early 13th century book of Psalms.

As fascinating as this collection is, it is not the original, as that was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. I was a bit disappointed that we were unable to wander around more. We were confined to this little roped in area at the entrance way. I do understand though because of the delicacy of this rare collection, and I was thankful that were able to see it at all.

Link to St. Paul's Cathedral

Link to St. Paul's Cathedral Library

St. Paul's Cathedral
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St. Paul's Cathedral Library
*Photo courtesy

Monday, 13 July 2009

First Weekend in London

I cannot begin to describe how fascinated I am with the city of London. I feel like I have
experienced so much already and its only our forth day here and we haven’t even gone on our first class outing yet!
On Saturday, after recovering from a nasty case of jet lag, I embarked on my first London away tour. I was signed up for a literary pub walk, and it was fantastic. We went by several well know pubs along Fleet Street on the north bank of the Thames river. Some of the visited places included the Punch Tavern at 99 Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet Street (a 17th century pub which welcomed the likes of Dr. Johnson, James Boswell, Voltaire, Thackeray and Charles Dickens), and my personal favorite, the Black Friar at 174 Queen Victoria Street. This Pub was built in 1875 and is absolutely beautiful both inside and out.
On Sunday, we went to the Camden Markets. I have never been in a more crowded place. But it was captivating non the less. Camden Town overflows with a variety of colourful markets, shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas and attracts huge crowds of Londoners and
tourists alike. The Camden Lock Market, by the canal, was originally a craft market, established in 1974, but now has a much wider spectrum of goods on sale. My personal favorite was the Camden Stables Market which has a total of around 500 shops and stalls. The market once housed a listed Horse Hospital, formerly used to care for horses injured pulling canal barges. Its cobble stone streets, brought me to a world of savoury smells from every ethnicity imaginable and very stylish fashion and unique jewelery. I will go back to shop more toward the end of my trip when I have a better grasp on my finances!

This afternoon we will have our first library outing to St. Paul’s Cathedral library. I am very
excited about this as my main academic interest lays in special libraries.

The Punch Tavern
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The Cheshire Cheese
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The exterior of the Black Friar Pub
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The interior of the Black Friar Pub
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Camdon markets
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Camdon Markets
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Camdon Markets
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