The British Museum Archives

The British Museum is one of the most well-known museums in the world. In the mid-1750s this museum was created and has grown into the museum that it is today. The museum keeps everything that it acquires for the museum. The founding fathers and subsequent leaders of the museum kept detailed records of their meetings and aaquisitions. All of these records are in the tunnels below the museum.

Our class had a tour of the archives from the archivist and it was very enlightening. The British Library has only had a professional archivist for the past 15 years. 15 years out of the 250 years of it’s exsistance! The archive holds meeting minutes, lists of aquisitions, building plans, reading cards etc. These items are full of information but are not catalogued. In fact the archivist was only able to get a catalogue 2 years ago. There is only one archivist at the British Museum who is aided by 5 volunteers. 

The fact that there hasn’t been an archivist until very recently can be seen. A lot of what is in the archives and how it is organized does not make sense. There are random scrapbooks of images, letters and plans that have been pasted in with no despcriton. 

Each department now has their own librarian to help research for displays and exhibits but the archives still need to be consulted. Sometimes departments want to know when the Museum acquired an item and any history about it, and sometimes the museum has to prove ownership of an item. Since the archives are not catalogued no one is able to do it but the archivist who, after 11 years of working there, knows the collection the best from experience. 

For example: The archivist was asked to find out when the giraffes came to the British Museum. The archivist had to scower the aquisition books to find an entry about the giraffes. She could not find any mention of them until she realized that at the time the museum would have acquired them, giraffes were called ‘camel leopards.’ 

The wealth of knowledge in this room is astronomical. Shelves upon shelves of books, some of which are still a mystery to their contents. There are boxes of reader cards from when the British Library was at the British Museum. We were shown Bram Stoker’s reader card. It was so neat. There are boxes upon boxes of reader cards that have not been all read. Imagine the secrets they hold.

One major problem is that the items are not catalogued. The archivist explained that it would take over 20 years to catalogue everything. The archivist spends most of her time answering inquiries, roughly 8-10 a day. She answers every question, no matter who it is from. She even received an email from a 10 year old boy asking about Christopher Columbus. Rather than ignoring the email she found some materials for him and emailed him back. The questions from the public and museum take up a lot of her time which means she usually only has 1 day a month where she is able to catalogue. 

By the end of the tour all of us wanted to stay in London and help the archivist out. 

I cannot stress enough the importance for decision makers to value archivists and they work they do. Since nothing is catalogued in this archive the archivist is the only one that can navigate it, from years of experience working there. If she is no longer available, for whatever reason, there would be no one who knows the collection. I hope people realize the importance of archives and libraries and the information they provide. Archives and special collections are full of items that you cannot find anywhere else. If they are gone or not taken care of that information is gone forever.

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The Austrian National Library

The Austrian National Library, previously known as the Imperial Library, is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. It was created in the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna to show the magnificence of the royalty and their patronage to art and science. This library is still accessible by the public and now houses all items that are published in Austria. Similar to the British Library in England.

The library was constructed in the Baroque style so it is symmetrical, and decorated with many frescoes and statues. The books are still in the same order they were in in the Baroque period. The wooden shelves and thick walls halve kept the matierlas in good condition as they regulate the temperature. 

There are 8 million items belonging to this library. These items are an accumulation of Hapsburg libraries, donations of other libraries, acquisitions etc. All published works of Austria are collected here, no exceptions, as well as selected material from all over the world. 

There is an audio-guided tour that I highly recommend. The tour describes the library and it’s history as well as in-depth descriptions of the arcitecture and art. There are also rotating exhibits that are put on in the library. People who are interested in history, architecture or libraries would love this site. 

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St. Paul’s Cathedral Library

St. Paul’s is a Labirynth of awesome. We met some tour guides who gave a great history of the building and the architecture as well as the changes made throughout history. It was interesting to hear about the precautions made during WWII to protect the site and its’ treasures. There was a volunteer fire brigade housed in St. Paul’s and valuable items were taken elsewhere to protect them. The building suffered some damage from bombs but many missed or did not detonate.

We climbed a BUNCH of stairs to the second floor where the library is kept. The shelves are full of old books on topics such as theology, philosophy, dictionaries and topographic from travels of the holy land. The books were originally organized by size, small books on top and big books on bottom and then by author and still are.

Anyone can use the library that can make good use of it. They are able to read the books in the main library room with a librarian present. The database was lost so everything is not currently in one database anymore. There are other catalogues elsewhere that have certain parts of the collection catalogued such as a catalogue that has cathedral music. 

This year the books will be removed from the library as cleaning will be done. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is an organization that promotes the protection of ancient buildings. They stand for protection and conservation rather than demolishion or restoration. According to the St. Paul’s Librarian their motto is “as much as is necessary and as little as possible.” 

I loved St. Paul’s but I would have liked to spend more time in the library and seen some of the items in the collection.

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The London Museum

I was very impressed with the London Museum and the variety and breadth of displays that they had. The London Museum showcases London History from Roman times to present day.

I thought that the museum did a great job of showing how the different eras in London history connected and flowed into each other. Each exhibit showed a time period on London history and the main political and social features of that time. 

I really appreciated the exhibit on the Fire of London of 1666. There was video, and objects that survived the fire that told the story of this great tragedy. 

I also really enjoy the Victorian Era and loved the display they had for that. There was a “Pleasure Garden” that had video of different classes and their role in society as well as some outfits that would have been worn. There was also a Victorian Era Street with shops to see some of the different goods that would have been for sale during this time. 

The Museum did a great job of using space, even using the floor to display items. There were also different mediums used to display information such as objects, videos, images, interactive displays, models etc. This museum is defiantly worth checking out.

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Bletchley Park Library

Since the movie the number of people that attend Bletchley Park has risen greatly. This shows that people are interesting in history but benefit from a story. Not everyone has the time to sort through documents and other materials to piece together a story, but when one is in the form of a film, book or interesting exhibit then there is interest. 

Bletchley Park tells this story right where the story occurred. It was chosen as it had access by train to London, the North, South, East and West but was not too near that it would be an obvious target by enemy bombing. There were many buildings added to house all the workers working on intercepting enemy messages, translating these messages, cracking them, and archiving/cataloguing them. 

I appreciated having the collection spread out around Bletchley park so that I got a feel for what it would have been like. There were interactive displays, interview clips, and objects that told the story of Bletchley Park and what went on in each of the buildings. The work was intense but this small town was bustling with all the people working there. There were many socials and clubs that one could participate in during their time off. The work was intense and demanding but these men and women made the most of it.

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Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographical Society was established in 1830 to promote scientific geography. They worked to create geography as a discipline in it’s own right and wanted to fill in the blanks on maps.

The Royal Geographical Society’s Library has over 2 million items including maps, atlases, books, images, objects and the archives of the society itself.

I really enjoyed the presentation by the librarian. He detailed voyages into African in search of the source of the Nile as well as voyages to the Antarctica to discover what was in the interior (nothing). he used images of the explorers to tell their tale as well as maps to describe where they journeyed, what they saw and what was thought of the geography at that time. Objects were also used to further the story such as scientific instruments and what they were used for as well as personal objects and what they can tell about the journey as a whole but also the individual who owned them. A pair of explorers’ shoes were well-worn and obviously self-repaired, which depicts a tough journy and a need to be inventive when supplies were not readily available. 

A skill that librarians, especially those in archives or special collections, should try and cultivate is story-telling. Being able to tell a story from the objects that you have is a way to present them to the public in a way that they understand and is interesting. 

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Christ Church Library at Oxford

Christ Church Library at Oxford Univertiy in Oxford was beautiful. I went in knowing I was going to be impressed by the collection as it is one of the top most prestigious universities in the world and very old. It has the benefit of age and prestigious alumni and with that comes amazing special collections. We saw a few peices such as Queen Elizabeth I prayer book, a book explaining how to be a chivilarous knight and a 1st edition of The Origin of Species.

What impressed me most though was the library’s attitude of their role in University Life at Oxford. Students work very hard to attend Oxford and as a result feel a great pressure to succeed. The course load is heavy and the library tries to eliminate some of this stress as much as possible. 

If a student needs a book that the library does not have the librarian will walk to the local bookstore, purchase the book, catalogue and process it within 45 mins.

A room full of old and rare books. Does anyone speak Latin?

During exam times the library tries to do some fun things to give the students a little break such as providing cake and ice cream. 

There are only about 450 undergrads and 200 postgrads which allows the library staff to get to know the students well. They are able to suggest items for them that they think the student would like. They also know if something is wrong and a student does not show up for a few days or in tears. 

I loved the library’s attitude toward their service role in the University. The head librarians was a delight and you could tell he had a reall passion for the students and the special collections. 

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