Bletchley Park

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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Middle Temple Law Library

Those who are barristers in England must join an ‘in,’ where they have access to law materials and offices if needed. Admittance to this library is by membership as well as meeting all qualifications. Each ‘in’ has royal patrons that encourage fundraising and attended dinners. Membership is reasonable and patrons are able to access a plethora of information. The library also supports itself from rentals of chambers and buildings they own.
The building is very beautiful and very old. The dining hall dates to 1570 and the stained-glass, which was removed during WWII, survived and was reinstalled.


There are mulitple ‘ins’ and to save space and money they try to not have too many duplications. Middle Temple Law Library focuses on American Law and European Union Law in addition to core materials.


The head librarian did say that law librarianship was a stable field as those in law will always need information. It is important to realize that information is needed and will always be needed. Having a spot where this information is easily accesssed and is reliable is a great benefit.

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King’s College Maughan Library

I learned a lot about acquisitions for a special collection during a visit to the Maughan Library at King’s College in London England.

First of all ‘special collections’ does not automatically mean just old and valuable books. Aquisition librarians look for items that are unique and have a story to tell. That could mean having a book that is readily available but has an inscription or interesting ownership history. Books can also be considered rare because they were not seen as valuable by book collectors before so they were tossed aside. Often these were items for the lower classes or items that were not meant to be collected but used such as a collection of Anti-Nazi magazine articles that were meant to be used so people could argue against the Nazi Party (before they came into power). The Maughan Library also has a collection of ‘chap books’ which were pop entertainment written for semi-literate people. These small books were written simpley about crimes, history, fairytales, folktales etc. There would have been a lot of these printed but because they were not seen as valuebale they were not collected.

An Acquisition librarian will look for special items to fill in the gaps of their collection in good condition and prefereably with a story to tell. Such as who owned it, a unique history or feature (like an inscription). This way it is easier to create stories out of printed objects for exhibitions.

A lot of the material from special collections are from donations or bequeathments from collectors. Special collections usually have an aquisition budget (though small) to purchase new material at rare book fairs. Other times special collections will receive collections from other libraries that are closing down or need more room. They want their material to go somewhere so they will donate it to a collection that they think would benefit from it.

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Maritime Museum- Greenwhich

Our first stop of the week for class was at the Maritime Museum in Greenwhich. Collections related to British sea life and culture are kept here.


I really appreciated the different collections on their catalogue for people to browse such as “Pirate” and “Titianic.” They also have a “Treasures” section where one can see the ‘highlights’ of a collection. I really appreciated these features as I find it difficult to get the public engaged in a collection if they do not have a specific research question. Another way the Maritime Museum highlights their collection is having an “Item of the Month” blog where they feature an interesting item. Initiatives like these are a great way to engage the public who may be interested in maritime culture but do not know where to start or what even exists out there that they would want to see.

In my experience public libraries have some sort of archive that usually holds local history and genealogy of the area. There are so many interesting things in the collection that the public do not see because they are not found on open shelves. How often do librarians come across funny or interesting things in their collection but no one has asked to look at it because they do not know it exists. Having a display of interst pieces from an archive can be one way to show the community that the archive exists. If your library has digitized photos have a list of the top most interesting ones, or beautiful or funny. Put together collections of interesting topics such as legends or folklore of the area. Add a feature to the catalogue or website that randomly generates a photo or other digitized article. As librarians and archivists we know that collections hold treasures waiting to be discovered and enjoyed but the general public does not. It is our job to create collections and present them in a way that are accessible by the public.

I saw some interesting items at the Maritime Museum today. We looked at the journals of two ship Chaplains, one who loved life at sea and one who absolutely hated it. Both were filled with funny anecdotes of life at sea and maritime culture. Both were interesting but I would never think to ask to see them because I did not know they exist.

So let’s make our collections accessible and show the public just how cool archives can be. Haha.

And yes I know that budgets are being cut and we are all short on staff… but what’s new?

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Blythe House

Today’s class was at Blythe House which is an offsite storage space for the Natrual History Museum, British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum and Library. Sites like these are important as much of musuem’s collections are not on display. For example, only about 7% of the Victoria and Albert Museum is on display. The employes at the V&A Blythe House have many roles including working with the public, researching for exhibitions, lending pieces to other exhibitions around the world, conservation, preservation and … the dreaded cataloging of items. Anyone who works in archives knows that cataloguing is always a game of catch up.

Just one small section of the enormous Blythe House.

Our class got to see a collection of Beatrix Potter’s artwork. I gained an even better appreciation of the importance of collecting and observing objects. I have always been a believer in protecting history for the sake of knowledge, culture and an identity of self. Today I saw these beliefs confirmed. These paintings told the story of a well-off Victorian woman living on the outskirts of London. She began drawing from an early age and loved drawing flowers and animals. Her drawings are very detailed and technical so she spent hours and hours obderving nature. She collected insects with her brother and like many well-to-do Victorians during this time, had a cabinet to showcase these insects. Oddly enough, right after this class some classmates and I went to a local pub for lunch and directly behind me on the wall was an article about Victorians and their insect display cabinets. Fancy that.

Some of Beatrix Potter’s work. Notice the great detail in her drawings and how many aspects of these drawings were part of her later books.

Her work also tells us that she was practical and intelligent. She studied fungi and wrote a paper about how fungi form but the paper was dismissed as she was a women. One expert suggests that if she had continued her work and her line of thinking she may have discovered penicillin well before Fleming. Take note: never dismiss someone based on their sex. The world is poorer for it now and will be poorer for it if this continues. Beatrix Potter was also very imaginative and took inspiration from other works and made them her own in her personal drawings.

I would have like to have a more behind the scenes look at how Blythe House and the work they do and the obstacles they face. The building is also impressive and I would have liked to see more of the inside.

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