St. Paul’s Cathedral

Wednesday June 28

Our final class visit was to St. Paul’s. We had a private guided tour of the galleries at above the main floor of the cathedral, as well as a chat with their cathedral librarian Mr. Wisdom. Anne was our tour guide and she was just a total hoot. To get to the cathedral we took the long way around through the gardens and they were beautiful. The hydrangeas here in England are just superb!

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Anne took us upstairs (100+ stairs to the first level) and we got to see some of the original sketches for the mosaics that are in the cathedral, as well as some of the original stones that were part of the old cathedral before the new one was built by Christopher Wren. We also learned that the cathedral was designed and built very plainly, but when the Victorian age rolled around, they added massive amounts of bling, most of which are still there today. Personally I like the bling, it gives the cathedral some nice flavor.

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Then we met with Andrew Wisdom, who is the only professional librarian on staff at St. Pauls. He was, aptly, full of wisdom. I liked that he spoke to us as professionals and not just a group of students, the respect was very nice. The library holds religious items, including Bibles, liturgy, theology works, scared topography and the like. It’s also open to anyone who might make good use of the materials, though their catalog isn’t quite public for all to see. Due to an IT issue and a bug, the online catalog isn’t viewable to outside persons, but parts can be found via other 3rd party sites like co-pac. The library is arranged pretty simply, with big books on the bottom shelves, and small books on the top shelves. Early next year the room will be deep-cleaned and preserved so all the books will be removed at that time. It’s still unclear where they will go when the cleaning is taking place but I’m sure Mr. Wisdom will sort it.

Of course I forgot to bring my phone into the library with me to take photos, but trust me when I say it was amazing. Organized chaos at it’s finest.

The cathedral is in the Baroque style, which relied heavily on symmetry. So that means the library has a mirror image room on the other side. It’s not a library on the other side, but home to the Great Model, a 1:25 scale of the cathedral built by Wren in 1674 as a model for the king.

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For the price of the model, Wren could have purchased a nice house at the time. It was quite the extravagant model to commission. It was originally the same stone gray color that the cathedral is today.

After our tour concluded with Anne, we were ushered upstairs to visit the Whisper Gallery and the Stone and Golden galleries. In total it was 528 steps. Amazing views, but you can feel the toll in your thighs!

Mini Break!

June 22-26

For our mini-break I decided on a whim to go to Amsterdam. Because I waited so long to make reservations, I could only get reasonable accommodations for two nights. Oh well, two nights it was!

I took the train there, a nice mixture of the Eurostar and a local line. Pretty cool to tell people I went under the English Channel, no big deal. The weather in Amsterdam was much cooler than London!!! It was a nice torrential downpour with a healthy dose of thunderstorm when I arrived so I ponied up for a taxi to my AirBnB. I wondered the neighborhood for some dinner and then called it an early night.

The next day I ventured out to the Rijks Museum. It was fantastic! It was 4 floors of awesome. The museum was arranged in a very orderly fashion, and flowed in a timeline fashion, so with each floor you were covering a few centuries. There was a sizable gap between 1650-1950, but I guess there wasn’t much in the way of art that the Rijks Museum curators thought was interesting enough. There was a library attached, but it was closed when I tired to go in. I peeked in and it looked vaguely like the round reading room of yore from the British Museum.

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They had a display of an old Monastic style book cabinet which I found very interesting. This one is from a Dutch naval vessel and was used to store atlases and maps.

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Of course I was able to locate the only book on open display in the museum, due to my librarian senses. It’s a genealogical manuscript from the 1590’s.

They also had a small section on the most famous Dutch artist- Van Gogh. They had his famous self portrait on display, and it was literally the only piece I had to stand and wait for people to move to see what it was. Because I got to see the sunflowers in London, and the self portrait at the Rijks and I know Starry Night is in New York, I saved myself the long lines at the Van Gogh museum! Score.

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This is a sculpture of Sleeping Beauty. I don’t remember posing for a sculpture… πŸ™‚

The next day I wandered around some more before I had to leave to catch my ferry. I ended up in Rembrandtplein, and saw this cool statue of Rembrandt. Check out the cute little girl riding on the dog statue!

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Around the corner was the Museum of Bags and Purses, which I couldn’t say no to! It gave an overview of all the types of purses that have been in use since the middle ages, plus they had a beautiful tea room!

Check out this cool crocodile purse! Now that’s using the whole carcass.

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To experience Europe to the full, I decided to take an overnight ferry back to England. This means I got to take a million busses to ports and stations and stand in the rain, but it was still a cool experience. Here is my ferry cabin. The bed was more comfortable than my dorm bed 😦

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On Monday night I decided to take myself on a fun night on the town and went to see Wicked. It was wicked good

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Royal Geographical Society

Tuesday June 27

We met Eugene at the Foyle Reading Room inside the Royal Geographical Society. Eugene has worked there or 17 years, and has worked in archives for his whole career, starting out in Liverpool (and he kind of looked like he could have been a Beatle too). The Society has about 2 million items, half of which are maps, go figure. They have about 1,500 objects, things like personal effects, scientific items or souvenirs from around the world.

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Eugene set up a table to show us some of the highlights of the collection. One side of the table was the “hot” side, and chronicled the search of the origin of the Nile, the other was the “cold” side and was a history of Antarctic exploration. Eugene is a consummate storyteller, and it was clear he knew his facts. The stories he was able to tell us about each piece of ephemera or map was truly impressive! We weren’t allowed to take any photos, or else I would show you the cool things he had laid out for us. We got to see Livingstone and Stanley’s hats, as well as Stanley’s boot and Shackleton’s Bible given to him by a queen. All very interesting things to a group of librarians and archivists in training!

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The Society currently has an exhibition on the Endurance Expedition (a great survival story if you have the time to read about it) that is traveling around the UK and will go to the US next year. Eugene said that the society often times will seek out museums and special collections to send exhibits to, however sometimes they do receive requests for their items for display at other locations. Eugene said as long as the location meets their requirements (security, insurance, etc.) the item will pretty much always be loaned out for a fee. The more popular an item the higher the fee, which is a nice profit for the society as they don’t receive government funding. The typical users are PhD students and academic researchers, who don’t have to pay to use the materials. Members of the general population that just want to read about geography and explorations do have to pay a standard fee of 10 pounds per day.

The library is working on digitizing their collections, particularly their maps. They have over 18,000 items digitized and available for viewing online. They have a small in-house conservation team for basic repairs like bindings and loose pages, but for everything else they need to have a specialist conserve the item. It would probably be in the societies best interest to hire a full time conservationist just to take care of their maps, paper has this persistent tendency to degrade, how annoying! The collections department has less than 10 members of staff, so with 2 million objects I would guess they are pretty busy.

As we were leaving we saw two very fancy horse drawn carriage things. I asked the security guard what was going on, but he seemed very nonplussed about the whole thing. Must be typical in a town that houses a monarch.

 

My faithful Ellen came along to enjoy the raining gray English day with us

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Oxford- Pitt Rivers Museum and Christ Church College Library

Wednesday June 21

Our Oxford day trip started out with a bang for me. We had bus tickets, and about 7 minutes into our 1.5 hour trip I started to feel ill. Let’s skip the gross parts and say that I don’t do well in cars or busses. Upon arrival we had a short walk to the Pitt-Rivers Museum. To get to the Pitt Rivers, you have to walk through the Oxford University Museum Natural History which has some cool animal displays!

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Check out the cute sea otter I got to touch! It was surprisingly soft, if you stroke the opposite direction you would with a cat or a dog. The Pitt Rivers museum is kind of a mish mash of different things. It was visually overwhelming, and there wasn’t much in the way of placards to explain each piece. The items were grouped by function or type, rather than the typical museum set-up where items are grouped by region which I found intriguing and sensible. The cases were stuffed full, and some of the cases had drawers below them which were also stuffed full of things in plastic bags. This museum could really use a good curation, and some archivists because it looks like all their holdings are on their three-level museum floor. It was a bit precarious in my opinion, but still worth the visit.

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After the museum a few of us had a nice lunch at the Eagle and Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to meet every Sunday to discuss their writings with some friends. We sat in the same room where they used to meet. I’m not a fan of either author, but it was still a nice little part of literary history.

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After lunch we meandered over to the Christ Church College Library. Oxford and Cambridge share the same system of colleges as part of the overall whole of the university. I liken it to when I went to college and each department had it’s own set of resources just for their students (we had a fancy library with children’s books!). We met Steven, who is the newest college librarian and has been at Christ Church less than a year. He was very enthusiastic and young, and was so fun! He reminded me quite a bit of my former supervisor, young and eager to change the old system to something new and refreshing. He told showed us the Allestree Library, where 4,000 volumes are stored in a little cupboard room away from the main library. The bookcases are original, and the shelves actually pull out to make retrieval easier. All of our little librarian minds were blown.

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I was really surprised that all these old texts were just kept in this room, with little to no use, but when Steven showed us the main library it was pretty clear that these aren’t the special books! The cool part about the Allestree library is the tiles on the floor, which Steven said were the oldest things in the room, and were the original tiles from medieval times. Very cool. In the way of preservation, the library has added in temperature and humidity controls for the room. It smelled like old books and I loved it!

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After Allestree we went back to the main library. Because the first floor is reserved for quiet study we went upstairs, and oh was it glorious! The library was founded on lots of donations of early printed books and manuscripts and they line the walls in the upper level of the library. It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and it was so dreamy. The stools that were scattered around the room were original 17th c. Chippendales pieces, and were the most comfortable wooden stools I have ever had the pleasure to sit on. The library has it’s own digitization studio in the attic space, and Steven estimates that at least 60 items have been digitized so far. It’s difficult to tell because some items are made up of multiple parts and some are just one pagers. Manuscript are difficult that way.

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Steven then showed us some of the treasures that the library has. The oldest item is from about 1150 and is a Greek illuminated manuscript of the gospels. Some other highlights include a prayer book belonging to Queen Elizabeth I, as well as first editions of Newton and the Origin of Species. One of the coolest things we saw all day was the copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that was a manuscript inscribed to the actual Alice. Lewis Carroll used to be the college librarian at Christ Church, and he would watch little Alice outside of his office window, now Steven’s office. He was kind enough to let us look in his office and out that notorious window to the gardens. The black door to “wonderland” is hidden by the trees.

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Because the university life at Oxford is so high pressure the library staff at Christ Church tries to go above and beyond to make sure students have the materials they need. When someone needs a book, library staff will go purchase and catalog that same day, and Steven said the quickest turn around from request to book in hand was about 45 minutes. Talk about impressive, when people request items for purchase at my library it can take 6 months! Different systems for different purposes I guess.

We also got to see the stairs where some scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot.

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And Ellen and I touched a bear

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And then I took the train home because a bus was not happening again. Even with getting lost and a train delay, I was still back before the people on the bus that got stuck in rush hour London traffic.

 

Middle Temple Law Library

Tuesday June 20

After a bit of a bumpy start to our morning, we trekked off to the Middle Temple Law Library to meet with Renee. Before we went in she told us a little bit about the law profession in England. There are two types of lawyers, solicitors and barristers. Solicitors are the more common function lawyers, and barristers are the lawyers who participate in court trials. Middle Temple is one of the 4 Inns of Court, who as a whole are responsible for calling law students to the Bar. After being called, the student must then attend Bar school and pick an Inn. Becoming a Barrister sounds very challenging, with lots of hoops to jump through, and only 20-30% make pupilage, or get chambers. The others are employed by other entities, like the government or private companies.

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The first Renee showed us was the Hall. It’s used everyday as a lunch venue for members of the Temple, as well as an entertainment venue and a hall for lectures. It was even home to the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The hall was built in 1570, and is mostly still original, however all the stained glass windows are all original. The hall was slightly damaged during the Blitz in WWII, but was easily repaired with some glue.

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Renee then showed us a “bench apartment”, which was just off the back of the hall. This particular one was the Parliament of the Inn, which is exactly what it sounds like. Before that it was the original library for the Inn, and was quite small. In the mid 19th century a new one was built, but was badly damaged in the war and was torn down and in 1958 the existing library was built. Each Inn has royal Benchers (basically honorary board members) and the current royal for Middle Temple is Prince William. Previous royals included the Queen Mother and Princess Diana. My royal-loving heart swooned at that! There was a gorgeous painting of the Queen Mother in the next bench apartment we saw, named the Princess room in honor of the queen mum and Diana.

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The library itself began in 1641, and like most libraries of the time was a gentleman’s library before it’s focus was law. The library is 4 floors, with 2 levels of basement storage. Most of the books in the stacks are law related, the others from the beginning of the library’s history are in storage because they are now so old and considered rare books. Nothing is discarded, definitely not the legal materials because English law, like American law, is based on precedent. All 4 Inns communicate to avoid duplication, and all focus on different areas of the law for their collection development. Middle Temple focuses on American and European Union law.

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Before Renee took over her position the official title was “Keeper of the Library” and she still has the sign on her office door to prove it! It’s since been changed to Librarian, but it was a cool title. If I recall correctly many academic libraries in the UK still use the Keeper title to denote seniority and to keep with tradition. For example, a senior archivist would be the Keeper of the Archives.

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Ellen came along today!

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Bletchley Park

Monday, June 19

We took the tube to Euston and had a short walk to the Euston rail station to catch our train for Bletchley. Since it wasn’t a direct train, it took about 50 minutes. The first car we were in was BOILING hot, so we moved to a different car with moderate a/c. It was the hottest day on record in London for the last 20 years! In a country where air con is a luxury, this means I was hot and cranky, and so was pretty much everyone else.

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Bletchley Park was made famous by the Benedict Cumberbatch film “The Imitation Game”, and it’s where English codebreakers decoded Nazi transmissions in WWII. It was also used in WWI, as I learned in my favorite exhibition. Because wireless technology was all the rage during WWI, the English were able to use radio waves to intercept telegrams and the like, and the first order of business when the war broke out for real was cutting all German wired transmitters to force them to use wireless. The types of people employed included historians, classicists, linguists, scholars and injured soldiers, so the facility wasn’t entirely military during either war.

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In the 90’s the National Trust acquired Bletchley Park and restored it as a site for visitors. Some of the huts and buildings are original, others are facsimiles. On the grounds there is a beautiful mansion as well as a lake and a series of military style buildings that were erected during WWII. Housing was a problem, and was the subject of another display. 3/4 of the workforce was women, and they were housed in local residences because there wasn’t enough room in the Park itself. There were lots of extra curricular activities for the employees, one classmate likened it to Google, and the services and quality of life they provide for their employees. A happy employee is a productive employee.

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The Park also houses a remake of the Colossus, which is the first computer ever made. It was developed during the war in an effort to decode the Enigma code faster. I didn’t make it over to see it, but I hear it was turned off because of the extreme (and I do mean extreme) heat. Because of course Bletchley doesn’t have air conditioning.

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To be frank, this visit wasn’t really my cup of (iced) tea. It was hard to process lots of the technical and mathematical facts that were thrown around, and it’s just really not my thing anyway. I did appreciate most of their multi-media design, it was brilliantly put together. It was also very cool to just look at the machines and replica machines and read about the life they lead while sequestered at Bletchley.

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Ellen and I sweated it out together. Also my face sunburn has turned into a tan(ish) while the rest of my burn has turned to molting snake skin. Cute.

King’s College Maughan Library

Thursday June 15

Today we visited the Foyle Special Collections at the King’s College Maughan Library. We were greeted by Katie and her colleague John. The Maughan Library is one of 9 King’s College libraries spread throughout the city, and houses the humanities and law materials as well as the special collections. The college itself is strong in the medical field, and has quite a lot of material in the special collections relating to that. They have a team of 8 working in the special collections, and according to Katie this is average for special collections of their size in the UK. Like many special collections around the world, they have a modest to small acquisitions budget, so most of the collection is made of donations or bequeathments.

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The library does exhibitions about three times a year, and after the exhibit is taken down, all the material is then digitized and put online for public use. This is a great way to make sure the collection is being digitized and a cleaver way to have a wider audience view exhibits. Some of the past exhibits were on revolution in any sense, and a Shakespeare exhibit. The Foyle collection has a copy of the first edition UK version of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, as well as a book about the charters of Philadelphia printed on a press owned by Benjamin Franklin, and signed by him too! It was fun to see a bit of American history all the way across the pond.

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After we looked at some of the collections we had a brief tour of the library. I didn’t catch our guide’s name but she was a cute little Scottish girl from Glasgow. She showed us the original cells, which were rooms with iron doors and iron and slate shelving that were used before the library belonged to King’s College and it was still used as archives for the national government. When the college acquired the building, they were able to make quite a few changes, as long as they kept some historic facets, like the original cells. We also got to see the round reading room, which was in a wing that was added on in the 19th century. It was designed to model after the reading room in the British Museum, which is still locked up and not able to be used by the public. The round reading room has a zinc ceiling, one of the few surviving in the UK. The room is a quiet study space, and when we walked in you could have heard a pin drop everyone was so quiet. There was barely any noise and a good number of people studying. It would have never happened in an American academic library, that’s for certain!

Afterwards, we met in the Weston Room which contained original 16th century funeral monuments and stained glass, and was absolutely gorgeous for some tea. The Weston room is now used for displays and special functions, and there are no books stored there.

While the round reading room and the Weston room were breathtakingly beautiful, my favorite part of the library was the working card catalogue in the Foyle special collections area. A librarian’s dream! We were all a little fascinated by it, and I admit I spent a long time flipping through the cards.

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Ellen came along for notes, but our photo together wasn’t too flattering so here is a modified Ellen selfie

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Stratford Upon Avon

Wednesday June 14

Yesterday was our day trip to the birthplace of the bard himself, Stratford-Upon-Avon. The bus ride was just shy of three hours, but I can nap anywhere so it was extra sleeping time for me! When we arrived it was about lunch time so a few of us wandered the small city centre until we found a cute pub with a nice beer garden to eat in. Being the fool I am, I took off my cardigan because the weather was so nice and now I’m sporting a serious sunburn on my chest, shoulders and back. Good going Sarah!

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While we were there we paid the (hefty) entrance fee to see the house where Shakespeare grew up, as well as the location of the house he lived in after he made his fortune in London. In his birth home there were two actors who would recite any sonnet or scene from any Shakespeare play upon request, which was highly impressive and entertaining. The house itself still had the original floors which was the coolest part of the house. The new place, or the house he moved later, was razed years ago, so there was a beautiful art exhibit installed there along with some truly magnificent gardens.

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After visiting the houses and walking around some more, we went for a walk along the Avon, and saw a horde of swans. They were everywhere! Much like pigeons they were begging humans for food and getting alarmingly close. We had a small snack, and then resumed our walking.

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Now I will confess, I don’t really care all that much for Shakespeare. I appreciate his influence on modern writing and plays, but in the general sense I am pretty hard pressed to care too much about him. Stratford is like Shakespeare Disney. If you are into Shakespeare, it’s awesome. If you aren’t, it’s just another small town with lots of swans.

There is a Carnegie library in Stratford, unfortunately it was closed for repair work during our visit. We peeked in the window and it was totally gutted so it looks like a renovation is taking place (check out that sunburn!)IMG_1449

British Museum Archives

Tuesday June 13

We got to meet a little later this morning to take the train to the British Museum. Since we got there a bit early, we were able to walk around a little before our tour with the archivist began. I got to see the Rosetta Stone (!!!!!!!!) and some Egyptian sculptures right as the museum before all the crowds and classes got there. Our tour guide for the morning was Francesca and she is the archivist for the museum. She lead us down a maze of underground tunnels to the main archival store.

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Francesca gave us a brief history of the museum. She also told us until about 15 years ago the museum never employed a qualified archivist! She showed us some of the examples of “archival” work that was done before qualified archivists were hired, it was pretty sad and kind of funny. Mostly, I just feel bad that she will have to go back and correct all the mistakes that were made. The most difficult part of her job is that she is the ONLY archivist for the whole museum. She has a team of 5 volunteers, but that’s pretty much it. It’s 2017, how does a museum like the British Museum not understand the role of archives to the success of their museum?! The museum also doesn’t have a conservation department for the books and manuscripts in the archive, just for the physical items that are on display, which is also a misstep in my humble opinion.

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Francesca said her main goal is to catalog all the items in the archive. At the rate she is able to go (about 1 day of cataloging per month) it will take her over 20 years to finish cataloging. That is just crazy talk. Between her daily duties and answering enquiries Francesca is a busy lady. I hope that the new director of the museum sees the value of a good working archive and will create more jobs or even internships to help Francesca out. Β She also showed us some cool items in the archive, including an incendiary bomb that fell on the museum in 1941. The museum was pretty badly damaged in WWII, and it took over 20 years to restore it back to it’s former glory. Much of the collection was moved out of the gallery space, and into tube lines and country homes away from the city. The archive space even has a bomb shelter a few yards away.

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She also told us about the reading room that is located inside the central room of the museum. It has been closed to the public since 2012, and she isn’t sure what’s going on with it. The previous director decided he didn’t want any libraries in the museum and closed the reading room, and all the books were moved out, and the space was turned into an exhibition area. Now it’s just closed off to all public. Francesca said lots of the staff are pushing to have it reopened to the public, in some way shape or form. She also showed us a photograph of the reading room when it was still a reading room. It was absolutely phenomenal, unfortunately I didn’t get any photos in the archive space, I was way more interested in listening to Francesca’s stories.

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One of the main takeaways from this visit is the number of universal themes we are seeing across all the sites we are visiting and our own home libraries and archives. Lack of funding, staffing and space all seem to be recurring, as well as inability to change the building fundamentally and oftentimes the furniture as well. It’s nice to know that information professionals can expect the same types of things no matter where they go.

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Oh look! I got to touch the Rosetta Stone! Just kidding, it’s a replica but I wish…

After a long leisurely lunch we took in a few more sights at the museum, including the Elgin marbles that are pieces of the actual Parthenon. Greece desperately wants these back and there is a legal battle ensuing. Francesca showed us the boxes full of legal documents pertaining to it, in fact. We also went into the Enlightenment area which claimed that it had the King’s Library, of George III, but if you recall that is actually located at the British Library. After some sleuthing and looking at the dates on the spines of the books we determined that it is not part of the same collection, and that the plaques must have been left up after the actual King’s Library was moved when the two institutions broke up. We also found a secret door! You can see in the picture that it is locked, and has a door bell, and the books are actually fakes! Yay sleuthing!

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I loved today’s visit. Francesca was great, and now I really can’t help but wonder if I should work in an archive next! I guess I need to look into taking a certificate program in archives πŸ˜‰

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Ellen and I had a good time, even though it was a little warm today

National Maritime Museum Library and Archives

Monday June 12

Today started out with a nice hectic Monday morning rush hour ride on the tube. Our whole group was too large for one train, so we ended up on three different trains because it was so busy. We finally made it to Westminster, where we waited for a boat to take us down the Thames. Now I’m not a fan of boats…at all. I get sick and it’s just not a good scene for anyone. Thankfully we were going with the current so it wasn’t too much rocking but it was a longer ride than I was hoping for. We went into the museum and met with our guide for the day Mike who is the archivist at the Carid Library.

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Mike read us some journal entries from various mariners from 1667-1812. Some of the journal entries he read us from a chaplain in 1812 were particularly funny. He also showed us the online catalog the archives uses, where each collection is numbered 1-9 based on it’s contents. Then we had a talk from Mark, who is a library assistant there. He walked us through the basic history and working functions of the library, including their cataloging schemes and patronage statistics. From a pure academic standpoint it was really interesting to hear these stats and compare them to my own library experiences and what I hope to experience in the future. Because of the different software each department uses, there are actually 3 different types of catalog records for the museum, library and archives. The library uses the most popular ILS- SirsiDynix Symphony (that’s that I use too!), the museum and the archives use Mimsy, and the reader management system is on a tool called Aeon. It’s a shame the library museum and archive can’t all use the same catalog system, it really hinders patrons from finding materials they are looking for.

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After that Mark and Mike took us upstairs to view one of the three on site archival stores. The rooms are temperature and humidity controlled, as an archive should be. The items are organized by format and not by collection, allowing them to save space. They showed us the 1543 Copernicus book where he first presented his heliocentric model of the universe! It was very cool. After we came back to the main library we got to see a fun box of Titanic materials. Like any girl my age, I have always been completely obsessed and intrigued about anything Titanic so it was a real treat for me! They had a menu of the last meal served, as well as correspondence with some of the survivors.

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After a nice lunch at a Jamie Oliver restaurant, a few of us trekked over the The Mayflower Pub. The actual Mayflower departed from a dock on the same location, and we thought some of the beams from the ship were in the pub, but I think we might have misunderstood that. We had some beverages and appetizers right over the Thames, and when the tide came in we had to pick up our bags so they wouldn’t get wet! It was a very cool adventure!

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Ellen came along!