Sunday, August 14, 2011

British Library Conservation Lab

My experience working with different kinds of paper and my training as a bookbinder made the visit to the British Library Conservation Lab very exciting.  I am always eager to see how different book studios are set up, the different kinds of equipment people use and more than anything to meet the people who work so intimately with books as I do.

The conservation lab lives in a separate building from the rest of the library. There are five teams of conservators and the entire sixth floor is devoted to working with and conserving paper items such as maps, wall hangings, miniatures and archives.

The majority of the work done here is on books. But there is also work being done on items such as stamps and photographs. Some examples of work that has been conserved include a collection of first edition Beatrix Potter bindings and Codex Formaticus which was broken into pieces.

Any item that is conserved has an extremely detailed conservation record where the conservators describe EVERY action taken with the item including an inventory of materials used such as adhesives and papers.

One of the conservators was working on conserving a 17th century palm leaf book with a 14th century text inscribed on the leaves. There are 253 leaves in total and each leaf bound together by a thread that goes through the middle of the leaf. Many of the leaves have been damaged and pieces of the leaf have been broken off. These leaves are difficult to work with because traditional adhesives don’t work. The leaves have been treated with oil and this makes the adhesives ineffective. Since the edges of the leaves cannot be repaired in a traditional manner, the conservator employed a piece of equipment called a leaf caster. I wasn’t able to see this machine but it sounds very interesting. Essentially, a mold of the leaves is made; a paper pulp is made and then pressed through the mold onto the leaf, filling in the missing spaces.

One of the conservators gave a demonstration on gold tooling. Having done golf tooling once before, I was fascinated to see it done again. First, the leather is polished using a warm metal tool; this smooths out the surface of the leather, leaving a polished surface for the gold to be impressed into. Then a mild adhesive consisting of egg white and water is put in the leather followed by a thin layer of Vaseline which makes the gold stick to the spine. Using a thread, the conservator made a small line to make sure the line of text would be straight. Then using a hot tool, the gold is impressed into the spine. Only where the hot tool has touched will there be any gold. It is a very delicate process. The conservator said he had apprenticed doing this kind of work for five years before he started his career. Very impressive.

The kind of work being done in the labs is so fascinating to me and I am so grateful for having the opportunity to see these dedicated people at play.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Middle Temple Library

Little do we know, but Middle Temple has a deep relationship with our young little nation. Middle Temple taught several of the brilliant minds who decided one day to write this silly document called the Declaration of Independence. As a result of this special relationship, Middle Temple Library has an American Law collection. It was built after WWII and one of the largest collections on law in the United States. There is an interesting collection relating to the issues of capital punishment which was donated by an individual who was opposed to the death penalty. The collections are used by English practitioners, commercial lawyers and researchers. Among the publications the library collects are the Harvard Law Review and Notre Dame Law Journal.

The library was founded by Robert Ashley when he donated his own personal library. This collection consisted of 4,000 items including 80 volumes from John Donne’s personal library.

The building where the library is located was built in the 1950’s after the war. The architect was so paranoid about the building getting bombed that it was constructed using reinforced concrete. Over the last few years, some of the rooms have been converted to make space for meeting facilities. The librarian I spoke with expressed his opinion that this is a positive move for the library as it will bring more people in the doors and spread awareness of the library. Some of his colleagues disagree however.

Materials from the library include journals, reference books, trials and ecclesiastical law from the US, EU, Scotland and Ireland. You finicky librarians out there are going to cringe about this little fact nugget but there is no classification scheme. Not to worry though, the librarians seem to manage the collections just fine using alphabetic organization. There are no subject areas so there is no confusion. All editions of text books are kept so that precedent could be traced.

 Noteworthy honorary members of Middle Temple include Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Maughan Library, King's College

King’s College began in 1829 as a godly institution. To this day there is still a very strong theology department at King’s. Among its many campuses, the Strand campus of King’s college is the only non-health related campus.

The building the Maughan Library lives now used to be the Public Record Office. Due to restrictions on historical buildings and sites, there are two rooms in the library which must remain as they were when the building was the Public Record Office, including the slate shelving. This brings up an interesting situation the librarians have had to work around. It is important to maintain historical sites, but for the library this means working around these unusable spaces. Also, the land that this building is on is legally royal property, but is leased out to the City of London. There are detailed maps posted on all the stacks in the library because due to the historical site restrictions, nothing can be posted on the walls in the building.

There are 11,000 students and 1,000 visitors at the Strand campus. The library contains three-quarters of a million items. The library has gone to great lengths since moving into its current building to make the library an efficient useful space for patrons. There are 300 computers available and wireless internet throughout the building. Social spaces and group study spaces have been created. The library also has a self service for students to use. There is a Round Room, similar to the Round Room at the British Museum. This room is for reference and silent study only.

Materials in the library range from such topics as humanities, law, and natural sciences. Different kinds of materials have different time limits to be checked out. For example, the DVD and multimedia collections are only available for a short loan period.

The special collections department hosts three exhibits a year. Once the exhibit is over, it is then digitized and made available online.

One of the incredibly rare items in the special collections is a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle. There is an extensive medical collection because King’s was once the largest medical school in Europe. There are manuscript notebooks of doctors, noting anatomy and recipes for drugs. There is a copy of Florence Nightingale’s book, Sanitary History of the British Army at War with Russia, signed by the author. There is an original The Charters of the Provence of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, printed by Ben Franklin. From the Foreign Commonwealth Office there is a photo journal of Queen Elizabeth II coronation from a commonwealth in Africa. One of the most remarkable finds in this treasure trove is a secret photo album of photographs of the Rhine in Germany, compiled before the war in an effort to track all transportation along the river. There is also a rich holocaust collection.

Book arts plug for the day: In the current special collections exhibition is The Saint John’s Bible, by Liturgical Press. This work is a hand calligraphed collaboration between calligrapher Donald Jackson and a Benedictine Foundation in Minnesota. It is absolutely stunning.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library, the first Carnegie library in the world, opened on August 29, 1883. It was built in the domestic Tudor style. As the story goes, the opening day of the library every single book in the collection was checked out.

The library’s 59,000 item collection is mostly fiction, non-fiction, teen and children’s literature. In 1992 the library extended to incorporate a children’s room, a local history room and meeting space. The children’s room hosts craft event, rhyme times with toddlers and has a summer reading program for children ages 5 to 11 designed to encourage them to read during the summer months when school is out.

The Abbey Room is designated for special exhibits. During my visit the exhibit was called Pharaoh in the Fife where in replicas of Egyptian artifacts are on display. The library coordinates with local schools on these exhibitions.

The special collections has a room whose collection is devoted to the poet Robert Burns. This room is closed to the public except for special events. On display in this room is a Shakespeare 2nd folio.,_Dunfermline.jpg

The local interest room is a very interesting part of the library. The books are organized by region so patrons can look for items based upon specific location. The public are welcome to donate photographs of the local area. The Morris Allan collection is a special collection of glass negatives from a local photographer. All the photographs in the library have been mounted on card and then placed in mylar slips. The library has a collection of maps including hand drawn maps of the local area.

There is a section of the room devoted to the history of Dunfermline in the 20th century. The library has nearly every copy of the local publications either in print or on microfiche. The public is free to propose an exhibit for this room as well. During my visit the exhibition was about a local football player who played for Liverpool before the WWII.

This is a lovely library which places much of its efforts into cultivating a sense of community in Dunfermline.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Central Library, City of Edinburgh Council

It is hard to imagine that within the heavy gothic buildings that decorate the ancient Royal Mile and the surrounding streets lives a thriving public library. The Central Library is a fine example of all that a public library can do.

There is an entire department devoted to creating a library environment online. This department is in charge of managing the corporate website but also with providing 24 hour access to the library. Your Library is a program designed to combine the library with social media. The librarians are playing with a library application for smart phones which has the potential to allow patrons to check out books using this application. The library maintains a Google map called Edinburgh Reads where patrons can find book clubs across the city. Tales of One City is a blog designed to bring library resources and events to patrons utilizing various kinds of social media including twitter, facebook, flickr, and youtube. Patrons also can receive a newsletter which is a more expanded version of the blog.

There is a feature called Library to Go which allows patrons to read online or check out e-books and e-audio. Among the references and online resources there are language programs, information on how to get a driver’s license, how to apply for funds and grants and genealogy resources. Within the library, plasma touch screens are features throughout the library providing information on library services, events and collections. There is potential to have digital exhibitions available on these screens as well. This social media and online resource blitzkrieg is designed to bring more patrons into the library both online and onsite.

There is a program specifically for reader development. The purpose of this program is to get people reading more and reading more widely. Author events are hosted. The Royal Book Trust has a program called Live Literature where the trust will match the libraries donation to bring an author to the central library or any of the community libraries. Authors often solicit to come promote their books as well.

The library is extremely active in book groups. There are 46 groups hosted through the library and over 40 more independent groups that work with the library. City of Literature events are events hosted through the library with the aim of promoting literature throughout Edinburgh. Read Aloud is a program where volunteers go into elderly homes and read to the residents and bring some library materials. The library is partners with a number of organizations such as Scottish Book Trust, Scottish Poetry Library, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Book Festival, City of Literature, and Scottish Library and Information Council.

The library also has training programs called Frontline which educates staff members on how to engage with the public, how to set up effective displays, event training. Reader development and book group training is also available.

The Central Library is devoted to community development. In addition to all of the services I’ve already mentioned, the library has a department devoted to adult IT learning. 15 of the local communities join the Central Library in teaching classes. Classes are taught such as beginning computer classes and English as a second language. IT Buddies is a program where volunteers work directly with patrons. Future IT programs include learning IT family history, social media, and employment.

The library is also involved in literacy efforts. The Six Book Challenge is a program designed to encourage reluctant readers to read more. The library is also partners with Dyslexia Scotland which promotes online support software and hosts dyslexia reading groups for children.

I am absolutely blown away by the services offered at this library. This library is a shining example of innovation and community involvement. The library staff are keenly aware of the importance of keeping the library relevant in our modern technology culture. What a wonderful library. And here is the view from the back window...

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

The National Archives of Scotland

The National Archives of Scotland are located just over the bridge from the Royal Mile. The organization is in the midst of combining resources and merging with the National Registrar Office for Scotland. So in fact, it is no longer the National Archives but now the National Records of Scotland.
The archive is comprised of six buildings with about 450 employees. In the main building there is a search room called the Adam Dome where the public is welcome to come and browse the catalog for up to two hours. Further research requires a day ticket. The ground floor search rooms are all electronic. There are five different search rooms. The Thomas Thompson House is a large storage facility which devotes an entire floor to a conservation department.

The Brits, especially the Scots, are very interested in tracing their genealogy. It’s a bit of a craze in fact. So it is unsurprising that the majority of the records held in the National Records pertain mostly to family history. The National Records deliver records for the National Archives of Scotland, National Register of Archives of Scotland, Scottish Register of Tartans, Registers for birth, death and marriage, and an organization called the Scottish People Centre which holds information on Scottish culture.

Here is a laundry list of the kinds of documents the organization manages: state papers, deeds, church records, valuation rolls, family and estate papers, old parish records, birth records, death records, marriage records, court and legal records, government papers, business records, railway records, maps and plans.

The organization engages in an interesting cooperative effort with educators and schools across the country using a program called Glow. This program brings the archival materials to students through video conferencing.

Many of the documents are ancient enough that the unique art of paleography is needed to transcribe the documents. Luckily, the organization provides classes for employees and the public to develop this rare skill. The website has links to a website called

The oldest document the organization has is a brief from King David I granting the land for St. Cuthbert’s Church that dates from 1120 AD. The church is still there, by the way.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Christ Church College Library, Oxford University

Oxford University is made of of several different colleges. Having seen the central library for the university, we walked just down the lane to Christ Church College. As with the Bodleian, much of the architecture of the college has been used in films, specifically the Harry Potter Series. The grand staircase and the great hall have both been used along with the grounds outside and some of the cloisters.

Christ Church was the home of two great fantastical English authors; JRR Tolkien and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. It is said that Alice Liddell played in the private garden of the head librarian. In the great hall, amongst the many panes of stained glass there are characters from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  including the Queen, the White Rabbit, and Alice herself.

The library at Christ Church was opened in 1772. Materials are organized by collection, or rather the former owner of a collection. The librarian argues that keeping these collections together as they were collected by individuals provides us with valuable information regarding not just the collections people owned but how they built their collections. There are many annotations from the owners in these books as well as the occasional letter from the author to the collector.

The library has 100,000 early printed books. Cataloging efforts for these collections has been underway for 13 years. No small feat. Many of the books descriptions are acquired through antiquarian MARC records. As of now about 2/3 of the early printed books are in the online catalog.

The Ornery Collection is a collection of early printed science books including works by Galileo. This collection also came with a number of scientific instruments and objects which were lent to the Science Museum in the 19th century. There is a collection of around 700 manuscripts including a roman manuscript from 500 AD and the earliest known manuscript in England, the Sermons of Augustus from 1163.

The library has the third largest collection of manuscript scores behind the British Library and the Bodleian including Jacobean and Tudor scores. Plaster ornamentation in the walls of the library reflect the content of the collections including a musical motif which features a number of musical instruments.
There are also some royal collections including illuminated manuscripts from Elizabeth I and a treatise on how to be King which belonged to Edward III. One unique object is Thomas Wolsey's Cardinal Hat. On special exhibition was a collection of original manuscripts by Lewis Carroll and translations of his works in many different languages.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Forty-five minutes outside of London is the lovely town of Oxford. This darling little burg has roots as far back as 700 AD. During these early years, men seeking education had to go to university in Paris. Several monasteries were established in Oxford due to its central location and subsequently, a university was established to keep the young men in the country to get their education. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin was used as the first educational building.

The first library at Oxford University was added to St Mary's in 1320. In those days the library was always located on the upper floor to protect the books from possible flood damage. The galleries were build with huge windows to allow sunlight in because no fire was allowed for illumination. To this day, each student must make a vow to never expose an open flame in the library. In the 15th century the first purpose built building for the university was erected for the purpose of lectures and examinations, all of which took place in Latin.

In 1488 a new library was finished which held the Duke Humfrey's Library and a divinity school. A few years later there was this guy named Henry who decided to shake things up a bit. As a result of his dissolution of the monasteries, all but a precious dozen of the books in the library were burned.

Thomas Bodley was a diploma tin the Netherlands and had been educated in Geneva and England. Seeing the value in education, he returned to Oxford to establish a central library. It is from his name that we have the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian Library was England's first copyright library and by 1610 was the second largest in the world. Each college in the university had their own library so the Bodleian acted as the university's central library. It houses 11 million books. Materials are not available for lending but must be accessed through the reading room.

The interior of the library is visually stunning. Much of the architecture has been featured in films including the Harry Potter series. In fact the library in the movie is in fact the stacks in the Bodleian. Two stories high, the books are packed on the shelves, showing off their beautiful spines.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Royal Geographical Society

enerally speaking, when most people think of archives it all seems rather boring. Stacks of dry pages recording the mundane conversations of dusty old men talking about the weather from sixty years ago. But there is always a diamond in the ruff, something that makes people stop and wonder at the marvels within. The Royal Geographical Society is one such diamond.,_Kensington.jpg
 Those of us who grew up watching Indiana Jones all secretly yearned for a chance to be just such an explorer. The RGS, founded in 1830, was instrumental to the exploration, discovery, and mapping of much of the world's unseen places. The RGS archive houses 2 million items relating to expeditions of the earths surface. There are 1 million maps, half a million photographs and drawings, 250,000 books and periodicals, and 15,000 artifacts.

The RGS has commonly been viewed as something of an old boys club. The Society wished to make archive's materials  more accessible to the public so in 2004 the Foyle Reading Room was built  to bring more patrons to view the collections. The collections are open to RGS members and to the public but non-members are required to pay a small fee unless they work in education and are doing research for their teaching. The catalog is available online and patrons are encouraged to e-mail what materials they need the day prior to coming to the reading room so that the archivists have time to retrieve the materials. One can drop in unannounced and request materials but will have to wait about 10 minutes for their requests to be retrieved. Some materials are available for lending to members.

Faced with the daunting task of cataloging the archives 2 million items, archivists outsourced the cataloging to India. This saved the staff much time and effort. But such endeavors always come with some minor glitches so the archivists are still involved with ensuring all the information is accurate. To maximize the best use of the place available the items are stored such that the books and maps are together and the artifacts, archives and pictures are housed together.

So just what kind of artifacts are we talking about here? When I arrived, the archivist had a huge table absolutely covered in different objects from various expeditions. There were metal collars with the name of a ship and the longitude and latitude to be placed on foxes to try and locate a ship which disappeared in pursuit of the North Pole. There is an unopened canister of meat left from the abandoned ship Resolute. Timbers from this ship were used to make the desk which now resides in the Oval Office in the White House. There was a hand-drawn map of Arabia by Lawrence of Arabia. There were articles of clothing from some of the most revered explorers in modern history. Included in these artifacts were diaries, log books of ships, correspondence, planning papers, receipts, and sketches.

The highlight of this visit was not just being able to see and touch these incredibly rare objects. Our welcoming host, Eugene Rae, took the time to explain the complete history of these unique items. The RGS is so much more than just and archive, but a living vessel of exploration history; a unique gem for anyone who loves history and to dream of unexplored places.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Victoria & Albert Museum National Art Library


nyone who loves art and also happens to love books would kill to see the National Art Library in the Victoria & Albert museum. Roaming the halls of the building you are confronted with some of the greatest artworks from across the globe. The library rests at the top of a grand staircase and is floor to ceiling books on one side and floor to ceiling windows on the other. The windows look out onto the central courtyard of the museum and it is all to easy to get lost in the fantasy of this place.

The Library began in 1837 and was the library of the School of Design and was housed at Somerset House. In 1850 the library was moved into the V&A and in 1890 it moved into the rooms it occupies today. The collection spans all kinds of art from across the globe including textiles, glass, ceramics, theatre, prints, drawings, architecture, and even computer art. The library even keeps trade and exhibition catalogues and gallery and auction house catalogues. These catalogues are essential when tracking the provenance of an artwork.

The National Art Library has a very different approach to the public that many other libraries such as the British Library. Rather than having to apply and needing references, anyone can come use the library. It is a reference library and not a lending library but anyone who wished to use the materials is more than welcome to. The librarians will assist patrons to make copies of what they need to substitute being able to remove the items from the library.

The classification scheme for this library can only be described as wonky. It is mostly classified by size, but some materials are classified by the date of the item's arrival into the library. The librarians have detailed and complicated maps assisting them to help find the books they need and the system seems to work well enough. But I can see a really anal US librarian's brain exploding thinking about this particular classification scheme.

What do I love most about this library? Artist books!!!! The National Art Library has the largest collection of Artist Books in Europe at just around 3,000. They have an online catalogue with pictures for patrons to see the books before they request them.

The library is primarily a reference library but it does have a special collections department which houses some materials which a reference library would not ordinarily have. For example, they have 11 of 14 Charles Dicken's manuscripts. I personally got to see the manuscript for David Copperfield. Another treasure I finally had to opportunity to see: John Audobon's Birds of America. The John Forester Collection contains more than 18,000 books. This collection features materials relating to English literature, the history of theatre, rare and illuminated manuscripts, and British history from the 17th century.

I think I found where I want to work :)

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

London Library


very hopeless book romantic dreams about a secret place where you disappear into and find yourself surrounded by thousands and thousands of books. Books from every corner of the world; books in every language; books you've never heard of and didn't know existed; books that might, if you simply cracked it open, change everything for you. Carlos Ruiz Zafon described a place like this in his novel Shadow of the Wind, known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There is a place very like this and it is the London Library.

The library was founded in 1841 by Sir Charles Hayberd Wright. The emphasis of the library was as a lending library, but a lending library where one could borrow anything including the rare materials. The library was founded on the basis of subscription and continues this practice to this day. Members pay a fee to use the library. This way, the library is completely independent. It relies completely on the support of their 7,000 members and does not receive grants or funding.  Membership is rather expensive, but if used enough does pay for itself. Although there is a trust for students or researcher who cannot afford the monthly fee. They even have a royal patron. I believe you know her as the Queen.

The library contains 15 miles of shelving and predominantly features arts and humanities materials. There is materials representing 50 different languages, mostly European. The collections include history, literature, biography, topography, religion, and an incredibly broad category known as "Science and Miscellaneous." There are over 1 million books starting from the 16th century to the present. There is a rare materials collection which has 30,000 items. 97% of the collections are available for lending. The other 3% consist of the rarest and most valuable books such as a first edition Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species and an original King James Bible. They have 2,500 publications, 750 of which are current publications. The library acquired 8,000 new books a year and has subscriptions to electronic resources.

A short list of the literary  personalities which have held subscriptions to the library include George Eliot,  Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, and TS Eliot who was president of the library from 1952-1964. Virginia Woolf began her membership when she was 22 and retained her membership for the rest of her life. As a child, her father was the president of the library.

The building itself is an enigma unto itself. The building has been built onto and added in so many ways it seems impossible to navigate as a novice patron. Due to the extreme weight of the books, the building itself began to sag. To remedy the problem, steel shelving was put in to make the structure for the books secure. On the top floor, one can look down through the metal grates which are the floor, all the way down seven floors. Those afraid of heights might want to keep your eyes up. This unique method to shelving presents certain challenges. The open grates allow for water to trickle down through all layers of books with nothing to hold it back. The same is true of flames.

There is a small preservation department which oversees the preservation management of the materials. There are no dust jackets. Any books that comes in as a paperback is taken to a binding firm and hard bound. The preservation team binds or re-binds 4,500 books a year. The team is also responsible for cataloguing the provenance of an object. The library keeps all versions of a book. The current head librarian enforces this as she believes that it is just as important to see not just the text but the manner in which it is interpreted across time.

The current head librarian has a wonderful quote which relates my own feelings in regards to books: "A good book is the essence of the human soul... The good of a book is not in the facts that can be got out of it, but the kind of resonance it awakens in our minds."

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Steven Lawrence Gallery, Greenwich

I boarded the boat towards Greenwich expecting to see the Greenwich Naval College Library. I then learned that the library wasn't available to be seen because it is being moved to another facility. So instead we went to see the Steven Lawrence Gallery.

 The Steven Lawrence Gallery was created in 2000. The beginnings of the gallery are steeped in deep sorrow. Steven Lawrence was fatally stabbed at a bus stop in London. The police did not seek to prosecute the parties involved as their families  were criminal informants. Thus the racially motivated murder became a scandal. The term "institutionalized racism" emerged in the wake of this tragedy, revealing the corruption which was playing out in the system. Steven Lawrence's mother wished to establish an art gallery which would feature dynamic visual art which she felt expressed her son's own creativity.

The gallery features exhibitions which are especially pertinent to Greenwich. The current exhibition features a collection of pieces from a group of artists. In the 1970's a group of artists around the Greenwich area, needing studio space but unable to afford it, started taking over abandoned industrial buildings to live and work in. The group worked in this way until the mid 1990's. Jeff Lowe, one of the groups founding members, later founded a charitable studio organization for artists in need of a studio space.

The exhibition is designed to pair pieces with similar color and emotion are coupled together. The pieces were a mixture of paintings and sculpture. Several of the artists featured were spouses or in relationships with the other artists, revealing just how close this group of artists are.  This exhibition is the second of a two part exhibition. The first show displayed archival materials from the group's organization.

After the visit to the gallery, we took a tour of the grounds of Greenwich. The place is the site of such history its hard to keep it all straight. It was the site of the Royal Naval College, the Palace of King James IV, the birthplace of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It served as a naval hospital for retired sailors. It currently houses the college of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music. There are so many buildings build and each one seemingly built at a different time.

Walking the grounds, viewing the original foundations, and seeing the grand hall which the sailors found too fancy to eat in, one feels just how much history there can be in one place.

One of my favorite features is the Skittle Alley. Built for the sailors entertainment, the old bowling alley has pins made from the wood of old ships and the balls are left over cannon balls.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Roald Dahl Museum

bout an hour north of London in Buckinghamshire there is a little town called Great Missenden. In this town there lived one of the greatest children's book authors of our time. He lived in a house with a Gypsy's Caravan and a private hut where he spend nearly everyday creating worlds of such wonder and terror that have beguiled the imaginations of many a child during the second half of the last century to this day.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is a delightful institution which welcomes lovers of imagination. The museum itself is rather tiny compared to the sweeping halls of the British Museum but for those who have interest in the life of the author will find the place rich with information. There are three exhibition rooms. One room contains information from the Dahl's childhood and reflect much of the of the autobiography Boy. Exhibits relating to the author's time away at school and inspirations for future stories are featured here.

Another room contains information and exhibits relating to the author's time in the Royal Air Force and his profession as a writer immediately after. The delightful ting about both of these rooms is that there are exhibition cases with the personal archives of Roald Dahl himself. The museum houses the complete archive including photographs, manuscripts, and objects. There are more than 200 items in this collection. Every three months a new selection from the collection is rotated out of the exhibition cases to ensure the unique materials do not suffer any light damage. The archives are available for access by appointment and can be viewed in the archives reading room. Given that the catalogue is not available online, those looking to access the archives can purchase scanned PDF's of the archives.

There is another room relating to Dahl's practice are a writer with a replica of his writing hut. One of the most remarkable things about this museum is the efforts gone to make the young visitors engage in creative activities. There is a shadow puppet theatre, rubber stamps to decorate their own stories and several stations for collage work. In addition to the three exhibition rooms there  is a craft room and a story telling room specifically for the groups of children who come to the museum.

The place is designed to engage and encourage the imaginations of its visitors; children and children at heart. The darling cafe next door, Cafe Twit, caters to candy lovers just as Dahl himself was. Personally, I enjoyed the Fizzlecrumper (Lemonade with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sprinkles).

This combined with a few days staying in a quiet, elegant B&B reading books and scribbling away in diaries and journals greatest hopes, dreams, and story ideas made for a wonderful weekend. Countryside is littered with wild flowers, caterpillars and ponies.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

British Library

ne cannot see the British Museum and rule out the British Library. Mostly because the Library existed before the Museum. A gentleman by the name of Sir Hans Sloane had the strange belief that knowledge should be shared. Sloane was rather educated; he was a physician, traveler and scholar. Amongst his many other accomplishments he invented quinine tablets for treating malaria and perhaps most important of all... he introduced drinking chocolate to Europe. He intended for his books to be used for a library after his death.

Another noteworthy founder of the library is Sir Robert Cotton. He was keen enough to gather up many books before they were destroyed by Henry VIII. These two collections were the beginning of what would later become the British Museum and the British Library.

The British Library is also known as the National Library of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Similar to the Library of Congress in the United States, the library is responsible for housing one of every publication with an ISBN in the UK. This means that the library receives 8,000 new titles EVERY DAY. This presents a monumental cataloguing task. The books do have CIP of Catalogue in Print data which has some cataloguing information. However, since this data is being provided by the book's publisher, the cataloguers must do their own cataloguing in order to ensure there is no bias.

The library's materials are spread out among four facilities. The main branch houses some 35 million books. Built below the building is the largest subterranean tower block in Europe. There are four floors of shelving and the underground Piccadilly line actually runs through the stacks. This place is huge. In the countryside of Yorkshire there is another even huger complex which houses 60% of the library's materials. 185 million items. Big.

The main building in London as it exists now has only been in operation since 1997. In the 1950's the idea was proposed that the library should be removed from the museum and have its own facilities. In the 1960's construction began on the new building. 36 years later, the building opened. So what happened in all that time in between? As the librarian put it, "Monumental Cock-up." Due to poor planning and finances the process took much longer than anyone expected. And the consequences: the building is half as big as it should have been and cost twice as much.  Half the room, double the price. Rather than becoming a failed attempt, the library is thriving and making due with the limited space. One would never know. Perks of seeing behind the scenes, eh?

How do you use the library? You have to come in knowing what you are looking for. Because you cannot just cruise the stacks yourself, you have to look at the library's catalogue and know what you want before you can really get started. Bring an ID or passport and a debit card and fill out an application and you will be issued a reader's card which will get you a spot in one of the reading rooms.

How do the books get to you? The library uses a system called Automatic Book Retrieval System. Once the librarian has located the book, he or she will place the book into a basket which is placed on a conveyor belt which takes the book to the appropriate reading room. This process involved a lot of scanning of bar codes and it will take about twenty minutes for the book to get to you.

The library is the worlds 3rd largest library but is considered the world's richest library.  The library has made a point of cultivating a diverse collection that would reach any patron. There are 180 foreign language curators and 35% of the libraries patrons live abroad.

One of the first sights you will see upon entering the library is the stories high glass tower of stunning gold-tooled, leather bound books. This collection is known as the King's Library and is the complete personal library of King George III. There are 67,000 books in this collection and all are available to look at. In fact about 30 books a day from this collection are requested.

Some of the many treasures the library has is the Klencke Atlas, the world's largest atlas. The worlds largest stamp collection lives here including the worlds first stamp, the Penny Black. To name just a few of their other collections are manuscripts by Milton, Austen, Wordsworth, Bronte, Johnson, Wilde, Conrad, Woolf, Marlowe, Middleton, Chaucer, Darwin, Freud, Hayden's Messiah, Beethoven, Schubert. They have a collection of Beatles documents including hand written lyrics by George Harrison and John Lennon and lyrics for unrecorded songs. Oh, and the Magna Carta.

There is also a fantastic exhibition of science fiction which traces the earliest manifestations of what we now call science fiction and how the genre has grown and expanded to include such a diversity of ideas. And as if they knew I was coming, waiting in a case for me was the artists book Edwin Abbott's 1884 Flatland by Arion Press.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Capproject.

Monday, July 11, 2011

British Museum, Central Archives


ow on earth could you archive something so huge and broad as, say, one of the largest museum in the world? Very, very carefully. I had no idea how such a thing could possibly be done. Simplicity is best, wherever possible. I thought we were walking into an archive of everything. Luckily, the British Museum is much smarter than I.

The Central Archive of the British Museum is an archive consisting of materials relating to the Museum as an institution and does not contain archives for each department's collection. Silly me. The archive lives in the labyrinthine maze of tunnels that make up the underbelly of the museum. In a series of rooms, which seem much to small for the weight of information housed within, live materials like minutes from Trustee meetings, day to day information on the staff, finance, exhibition and building records. Original papers and correspondence have been meticulously ordered and bound into huge volumes, designated by year. There are more than 5,000 photographs of Trustees and the buildings. Before I delve deeper, a bit of history...

The land where the Museum now rests originally had perched upon it a house called the Montague House. Montague House held the first collection of books which would later become the British Library. (More on this in a later post.) Whilst telling us the history of this site, the archivist pulled out for us the original 1725 hand painted plans for the museum. Soon enough the collection was too large for the building and Montague House was demolished to make way for the designs drawn up by Sydney Smirk. Again, the archivist just happened to pull out the elegant plans. What is most remarkable about these plans is one can see just from looking at them that this is exactly what the museum looks like now. I don't know if you are familiar with construction plans, but that doesn't always happen as elegantly as it has here. And the British Museum was reborn!

The archive hold staff records including a record of every employee, when they got a raise, and what their salary was. There are records of staff applications and references. One humble footman by the name of Aaron Hays applied to the Museum for the position of an attendant. These are the folks who stroll through the galleries making sure all is well. In addition to his application and letters of reference, Aaron submitted his own drawings of the museums collections. The drawings were elegant chiaroscuro representations of all kinds of objects and sculptures in the museum. I saw them. They were wonderful. Mr. Hays was hired and stayed with the Museum for 30 years. Doesn't that just make you smile?

There are photographs of exhibitions, not to document what was there but rather to document how the museum space was used. There are paint chips and fabric samples for various exhibitions. These Brits are quite thorough.

And perhaps one of the true treasures of this archive is the records of the Reading Room. These records do not reflect the entire history of the reading room but applications and dates of use can be found for such persons as Beatrice Potter, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wild, George Eliot, and Bram Stoker. Yeah, I saw their signatures. One of the archive's regular patrons is writing a book about women users of the Reading Room.

So can you believe that with all of this record keeping that the Museum did not have an archivist until 1970? The work being done here is monumental. The archivists have managed to reorganize and simplify several hundred years of information. Well done.  Much of the success of the current archivists is due to the meticulous organization of previous record keepers which brings us to a messy crossroads. How will we manage the records and correspondence of the digital age? How do you archive millions of e-mails sent out each day by people too lazy or unwilling to keep their own records? The future for keeping this kind of material is murky. Will useful information be lost because we just hit delete?

How did I soothe my anxiety after this discussion?

By seeing this.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Barbican Library

very once in a while, one comes across a truly great public library. Sometimes it is because of their collection, sometimes it is because of the sheer beauty of the place, sometimes it is because of the people who work there and the efforts they put into making that library a place people want to come. And every once in a while you find a library which is all of these things, my favorite library for example. The Barbican Library in the City of London is one such library.

Barbican is a section of the City of London, close to St. Paul's Cathedral. During the London bombings of WWII, this area was pretty much decimated. During the1960's and 1970's this area was transformed into a massive complex with many towers of apartments, restaurants, an Arts Centre, the Museum of London, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the City of London School for Girls, a YMCA, and the Brabican Library. This huge complex provides the public and residents endless cultural events and activities.

Situated in the heart of London's financial district, known as The City, Barbican's residents are primarily single men between the ages of 25-45. However, the collection at the library caters to many different demographics. They house a collection of Management and Accounting materials to cater to the business crowd. But there is also an Arts section which provides materials on pure, applied, craft, and performance arts.

Despite the small amount of children who live in the complex, the children's section is almost always busy with little ones. There are a few primary schools close by and a number of day care facilities for the working folk. But most remarkable about this section is the efforts the staff go to in order to bring events to the library and to bring the library out to the public. Twice a week the library hosts what they call "Rhyme Time" in which the librarians, the parents, nannies, and au pairs along with the little ones play games and learn through rhymes. They host reading challenges for children and have prizes. They have 3 different reading groups for young adult readers. They bring their collection out to nurseries. They host a gaming group called The Warhammer Club. Each week they host a new event, have crafts, or have a special speaker. Basically, the staff go so above and beyond to make the library an engaging, fun place for kids to come while fostering an environment of learning.

One unique collection this library holds is an assemblage of about 9,000 books on the history of London. About 1,000 of these books are in the stacks for patrons to peruse. The remaining books are housed elsewhere but are in the library catalogue and are available for patrons to check out. Even the oldest book in the collection from 1742 is available to check out.

Barbican is housed in an epicenter of cultural events, many of which surround music. With the Guildhall School of Music just around the corner, the Barbican Library has established for its self an amazing music library. They have the largest CD collection in the UK, around 17,000 CDs for all musical tastes and backgrounds. There is even a new section the staff is just starting to play around with called "Unsigned London." Local musicians who have produced a CD but are not signed to a label can donate a CD to the library where eager listeners can find the up and comers in the music scene. So you can honestly say, "I loved them way before everyone else did." There is also an exhibition space which currently features a display of picture records. Right now, Billy Idol is staring some kid in the face who has never seen a real record before. Luckily for the library, the music library staff work only in the music library. This works well for a number of reasons. The staff must have a comprehensive knowledge of music so the patrons are really getting the best help they can get. This also makes it possible for the music lib staff to manage their part of the library without having to be pulled away to help the regular staff with something. The library has more than 9,000 items including instructional DVDs, CDs, musical publications, composer society journals, 5 listening booths, 5 laptop booths, 2 keyboards, and scores and scores of, well, scores! Sorry, just had to do it.

Management of these diverse collections has become a little easier (and a little harder) through the use of a new technology called RFID. Radio Frequency Identification Scheme, which is the full title, uses tags which are placed in books and other materials. When brought to an RFID machine and your card is swiped, the machine automatically reads the tags and assigns them to your account. This allows for more efficient management of a collection, easier and faster check-out for patrons, and will even notify the patron if there is a missing element from the item. For example, if you are checking out a boxed set of ZZ Top and there are many CDs but one is missing, the RFID machine will read the tags of all the CDs present and will flash red when it recognizes the missing tag is not there. All this newfangled technology has its hiccups though. There are still some funny glitches that do occur and there is the argument that a machine like this is essentially getting rid of someone's job.

There are pros and cons to everything and as librarians we have to make tough decisions. Do we use a new technology that will make this easier but that harder? Do we use new technology without knowing of our patrons will choose to use it? Do we modernize to strive for efficiency or merely to prove that we are still relevant in the world of Google? Do we adopt a technology that might replace the job of a human being? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes the answer is no. But it is our job to come up with those answers when the question arises.

More than the music and the technology and the beautiful views, the reason this library is such a wonderful resource is because of the people who run it. The staff are truly dedicated to fostering an open environment and creating a space and collections that will enrich the communities they serve. All of their efforts are spent bringing unique opportunities and encouraging the public to use them. They were even so kind as to offer these poor little graduate students juice and biscuits in their personal break room.

This is the kind of library which makes one want to work in a public library.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Library at St. Paul's Cathedral


or those who don't remember, several years ago there was this little fire. It began early in the morning at a little bakery. After four days this little fire had consumed around 70,000 homes of London's 80,000 people. St. Paul's Cathedral fell victim to the fire as well.

The present St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. I had the pleasure of seeing some behind the scenes action here today, led by the very kind and hilarious librarian, Joseph Wisdom (Isn't that a perfect name for a librarian?).

He led us up the 140 stairs to a private gallery which held a number of unique artifacts including a Viking grave marker. This space has been used as an exhibition space a number of times, however, many of the objects do not have a cohesive history with each other. Showing us this hodgepodge of artefacts (yes, that's how they spell it) Mr. Wisdom pointed out that often when one did not know what to do with something such as an artefact, one brought it to a librarian. In the end, we are cataloguers and archivists as well.

In this potpourri of artefacts were essentially chunks of stone which once belonged on buildings. Mr. Wisdom pointed out that the cataloguing of these items was rather varied. There were chunks catalogued by chronology such as Gothic or Norman, there were chunks catalogued by region such as a specific chancery church, and there was the oh so eloquent category of "various." The good librarian's point was that as librarians, it is our job to establish a consistency in the manner in which we catalogue items. Chronology and region are certainly relevant to the cataloguing of an object, but consistency is the name of the game as it were.

He also impressed upon us the importance of a good accessions policy. Religious institutions are typically viewed as charitable organizations either in need of charity or willing to dispense charity. For the purposes of the library however, it is impotant for the library to maintain a level of professionalism and similar policies to that of thier secualr counterparts. The library cannot possibly take every book which is offered as a donation, nor should the library be willing to loan out its unique materials, just like any other research library. One can't be too "soft round the edges," as Mr. Wisdom put it.

The library itself is housed in southwest side of the building, just behind a grand entryway called the Geometric stairs. For all the HP nerds out there, this stairway was used in the movies as the stairwell which leads to Professor Trelawney's Divination classroom. Walking into the library you are met with a thick aroma of what can only be described as "books." Librarians and ultimate awesome nerds know this aroma quite well. Yet somehow it is concentrated, almost as if you could bottle the smell, ship it across the world, and when opened in China or Australia or Brazil the recipient could open the bottle and the room would be consumed in the must of ye olde England.

The celing is high and there is a gallery stuffed with leather bound books. The shelves are a deep chocolate color which bathes the room in a perpatual semi-darkness. All the better for the books, my dear. Seeing that the great fire was coming towards the cathedral, the clergy packed up the books they had and sent them away for safe keeping. Only 10 books and 3 manuscripts returned to the new St. Paul's. One of these books was a beautiful mideval Psalter. In contrast another book brought back was a secular work containing mideval learning. Another noteworthy book in the library's collection is an original 1526 Tindell New Testament of which there are only 3 in existence.

The current collection in the library contains mostly theological texts, texts relating to the history of St. Paul's and several noteworthy figures who have played a part in the cathedral's history such as Sir Wren and John Donne. Certainly, the library cannot be a comprehensive collection of every work on such historical figures. To acquire books of the library, the church sought solicitations for donations but also bought many of the books. A popular method was to buy the books of a clergyman who had recently died.

So who uses the library? In the 19th century the library ceased functioning as a theological library and currently works as a research library. A novelist writing a book on Jane Wren and the Blitz is using materials. Another researcher on Donne's sermons is there as well.

Farvourite little fact nugget: Above what used to be the librarian's office is inscribed "FACIENDI PLURES LIBROS NULCUS EST FINIS." This prhase is a bit odd and doesn't quite make sense for a librarian. But for a book artist and binder of books, it makes all the sense in the world.

"Of making books there is no end."

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project. 

Where the History Comes From

he devastatingly hilarious Eddie Izzard described Europe as "You know, where the history comes from..." I find that so often we Americans with our American Dream, Manifest Destiny, and From My Cold Dead Hands credos seem to forget that despite our stubborn independence our history starts somewhere else. Started, recorded, and preserved somewhere else. We don't all come from the same place but Jolly Ole London Town is at the heart of nearly all of the worlds major history. Think of all the great artists, writers, scientists, journalists, and thinkers that have either come from this city or spent significant time in it.

For the month of July, I am going to be traversing the land of British libraries in an effort to see how some of the oldest and greatest institutions in the world house and preserve our collective histories.

In addition to our histories, I am particularly interested in discovering how these institutions house and preserve the creative expressions of our histories. I am a book artist. This is a title have have often struggled with as I don't view myself as an artist but rather a practitioner of the book arts. But works produced by book artists are perhaps some of the greatest works of art in the world because the mastery of so many different skills and talents is essetnial. So many different kinds of art go into book art that I believe it is one of the truly great art forms. One must be a Renaissance Man. I know where these books exsist in the United States, but are they here? How do I find them? Where do I go? I hope to find these answers and many more in the month that I am here.

Here is where I will jot down my thoughts. Some will be bibliographic, some will be observational, some will be funny, all will be painfully nerdy.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.