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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The British Library’s Conservation Centre

I was really looking forward to this tour as I have no knowledge of book conservation. We got to talk to 3 conservationists and see what they were working on. Again, what is interesting about the British Library is that it is a reading library. This means that the conservations, while they have to conserve items from deteriorating, they also have to try and make them readable. These items, though some may be very old and rare, are meant to be read. 

The first project we saw was a binding of maps from James Cook’s voyages around New Zealand and Australia. The conservationist is taking them part, making repairs where needed, and getting them ready for an exhibition. He is essentially repairing them and reformatting them so that they are able to be read more easily. 

Another project was repairing and rebinding a Japanese instructional book for English speakers. This book was falling apart and has now been given new life. What was interesting about this book was that it did not have any top right corners. Rather than the conservationist adding corners during repair, she kept them the way they were. 

One project, that has been worked on since 2015, was that of a flag made in the 1700s. It was in tatters and covered in soot. Much of it has disintegrated but a textile conservationist has cleaned it and is preparing it to be mounted in a way that will not further damage the flag. This job takes a lot of testing before working with the original piece. Conservationists need to make sure that the materials and techniques they are using will not negatively effect the item. 

Projects like these take time and much is discussed about the process before hand. Every project is different and comes with its’ own obstacles. The main goal is to preserve the item while keeping its integrity. Conservationists want to keep as much the same as possible. How a book is bound can tell someone where a book is from and about their culture. 

New techniques and materials are always being tested by conservationist scientists so that conservationists are using the best for their work. This job takes patience, skill and problem solving abilities and I greatly appreciate these people’s work in preserving knowledge and culture. 

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The British Library

Today’s adventure was to the British Library in London. The British Library used to be part of the British Museum but seperated in the 1970s and it’s new home, just down from King’s Cross Station, officially opened in 1998. The building is gigantic with many floors below ground for storage. Construction took place around the underground below to make room for the library’s large collection. This library’s collection is so large because by law they have to have a physical copy of everything that has been published in Great Britain, including Ireland. Any newspaper, book magazine, etc. A lot of materials are kept at another site that is stories upon stories tall to hold their growing collection of 8000 items a day. Just like the Victoria and Albert Art Library, the British Library shelves items by size rather than topic to save space. This practice also saves time since they receive so many materials a day they would spend a lot of time shifting items to fit the new ones. 

Fancy that, another library that has space issues. 

Can you tell I am excited?

So far this library has my favourite collection of items. In the centre of the library there is a huge display called the “King’s Library” which was the personal library of King George III. He spent 1/5 of his personal wealth on books and the collection shows  for it. There are over 85,000 items in the collection spanning centuries and continents. His son,  George IV, was not a reader and donated the collection on the condition that it would be kept together and on display. Books can be accessed from this display but you must have a good reason to want to look at it. Maybe a note from a professor or you yourself may be an expert in your field and would have reason to see the items in person. 

This picture does not do the collection justice. I recommend googling a more impressive image.

The library has a “Treasures of the British Library” display with 200 of their greatest pieces. This includes a Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, the Linisfarne Gospels, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook (were he wrote notes in mirror image Latin) and handwritten Beatles lyrics. It was amazing to actually see these items in person. Having an degree in history I had heard so much about these items but to see them in person was unexplainable. 

What I loved most about this library was how it was a reading library. These items, some very priceless, are meant to be read. It does not matter who you are you can access the items, though for the more rare and priceless ones a good reason must be provided. I defiantly recommend checking this library out. It has been my favourite stop so far.

P.S. It is so nice to be around people that understand libraries and books and the value they have to culture and knowledge. 

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The Barbican Library

The Barbican is one of three lending libraries of London’s square mile. It serves a population of 11,000 residents, though anyone that visits this part of London often can have a library card.

 The area was heavily bombed during WWII and as a result the entire area was flattened except for St. Giles Church. The government made the Barbican Estate for the people who lived there and is a very active arts centre that has a theatre, symphony, movie theatre, library, gallery and a girl’s music and drama school. The building is a great example of brutalist architecture and because of this it is difficult for the library to make any changes to the building to make it fit their needs.

Barbican’ main issue is the building itself as it was not designed to be a library and because of its design it is hard to modernize as the walls are made of concrete. Changes can not be made easily as permission is needed by two authorities. Changes are rarely granted as the building is protected due to its architectural significance. One thing the Barbican library would really like is a meeting room/classroom for them to use, as well as the public, for programming. They have done their best to create a sitting area in a corner of the library but are not able to put up a wall due to the architectural significance of the building

One thing I learned today that shocked me was that because the British Libraries Act of 1964, the library does not provide DVDS or CDs for free, only books. I work at a library in Canada that provides everything for free no matter what it is or what it is for. The librarians explained that the act was written before technologies such as CDs, DVDs etc. And that without a great amount of funding they would not be able to provide these materials without having patrons pay a small fee for them. I do not judge or criticize British Libraries for this as I know that the cost of these materials and that funding is hard to come by. I also know that libraries would provide these materials for free if they were able. All librarians are very generous with information sharing, it’s in our nature. 

The librarians here do an excellent job of adapting to their surroundings and providing the best services they can with the building they have.

Librarians often have to think outside of the box to make make a cut budget and an old building work. From my experience this is a problem that all libraries face no matter the country or city. Since public libraries receive most of their funding from the government it is difficult to have the funds and the authority to make the decisions the library would like to make. This is the trade off for public libraries being free to the public. It is not always an ideal situation but librarians make it work and provide excellent services and materials that target their specific community. 

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