Friday, 20 July 2007

Friday: Research Day- British Library Conservation Centre

So today was yet another research day. I was able to get some things done online and then trek over to the British Library to view their Conservation Centre. Separated from the main area of the building, the Conservation Centre is across a terrace in a very small area for the public to view and learn more about the art of conservation in progress at the British Library.

Upon entering the centre, there are several places to sit and listen (headphones) to various recordings. The British Library is the National Archive for Recorded sound. They work with all media types including wax cylinders (such as the ones Thomas Edison created in 1877), vinyl, cassettes, CD's, and of course digital media. Their sound recordings are forever being transferred into new media types for preservation purposes. There are specially trained Sound Archivists who perform the processes to conserve original sound recordings, remove distortions and repair damages to the original recordings. There are three main processes to sound archival. In one section of the Conservation Centre, you are able to manipulate digital recordings by turning a dial located in front of the computer screen. It is very interesting to do this while wearing the headset, and at the end of the fine-tuning of your interactive sound archival process, you can compare your own finished product with that of the "real thing". I was only a little bit off with mine, as I had a hard time eliminating the background noise.

The three main processes for sound archival are:
  • Speed- adjusting playback speed changes the pitch
  • Background noise removal- utilizing a software program called CEDAR, background noise is separated from the main voice
  • Treble & Bass adjustments- just like a normal equalizer in your home stereo, archivsts adjust treble and bass to effectively create understandable recordings.

In addition to the sound archival information, there is a plethora of hands-on interactive quizzes that patrons can sit and take part in while at the Conservation Centre. This was very interesting to me, as I was able to "guess" the best method of conserving a book back to its original condition. A book is described and then three options for conservation methods were offered. For example, a 15th century book printed in France on vellum pages and untanned animal skin has the following issues: split spine, worn velvet (rebound) cover, broken head-band. The options for conservation were: rebind with leather, full conservation, starch paste and Japanese paper repair, or place in archival box. (The correct answer is Japanese Paper and starch paste/repair.) After selecting a method, the patron is then informed of the pros and cons of utilizing this method, and then told whether or not it is the best method for conservation of this particular book.

Patrons may also find out more about the problems with old books and why they fall apart so easily. Books throughout the years were often created out of organic materials (animal, mineral, plants) so they decompose over time. Some examples:

  • Animal: egg whites for attaching gold leaf, animal skins for book covers
  • Vegetable: papers from plant fibers, linen & cotton. Plant based ink.
  • Mineral: gold-leaf, iron/carbon inks, paper whiteners, lime to treat vellum

The Conservation Centre also goes over the many different types of damage that books often go through: mold, insect infestation, brittle paper (acid), iron gall, dust and pollution, water and heat damage, amateur repairs, etc.

So mainly the Conservation Centre is an educational resource that explains the types of damage that can occur, how it can be preserved, options for conservation of items, and how conservation is carried out at the British Library.

The British Library attempts every effort to bring items as closely back to their original format as possible. They view the conservation process as a decision-making process, where they must decide what the best route to take is, with minimal intervention. They attempt to use conservation techniques that can be reversed. They consider many factors when deciding which techniques to use: including the cultural home of the piece, the amount of damage, the way it will be accessed/used in the future, etc.

I found this centre to be incredibly interesting, and I look forward to drawing this information in comparison with the techniques and processes carried out in the U.S. The most difficult part about this exhibit was by far my inclination to want to walk past the public-exhibition and into the REAL conservation centre doors that said Staff Only.

So for the average book-lover, this helps people understand the issues with conservation.

Thursday: Oxford & Bodleian Library

I love Oxford. Even though we went before, I still love this town. (Being from Columbus, I think I have a soft-spot in my heart for college-towns.)

We took the Tube to Paddington station and then a train from Paddington to Oxford. I love trains. They make me sleepy and you can stare out the window at the countryside. I've noticed that most of the farm animals here are pretty lazy. The horses, sheep and cattle are usually laying down for some reason. They can't ALL be sick, can they?

At any rate, we had a guided tour (as a class) of the Bodleian Library. I was REALLY excited for this tour.
We started off in the Divinity School, which is the oldest part of the college and built in 1420. You can tell it was originally a theological institution, as the room itself is incredibly ornate. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you may recognize this room as being the Infirmary at Hogwarts, AND Professor Madonagal's (sp?) Ballroom Dancing School. This room took 65 years to complete.

As you can see in this picture, this room was used for examination, mainly what we would call "defending dissertations" today. The student would sit in the corner, the professor across from him, arguing his research findings. A Regent's Master would sit in the middle (right behind my head) and act as a "judge" of sorts to keep things in line. All oral examinations were in Latin, and they could take hours or days to complete. Students who attended Oxford did not study only one area, they were required to become masters of all areas: Mathematics, Juris Prudence (law), Philosophy, and Medicine. Yikes!

This particular room's ceiling is a celebration of the contributors to the building itself, as it took so long to build because the school was continually running out of money. In addition, because of the constant back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism, the windows (used the be stained glass) were destroyed. The crucifix above the door is gone. A sculpture of St. Peter (in the ceiling) was decapitated. In 1424, they began building the second level of this Divinity School, which became the library. The library itself didn't open until 1602 when it was finished.
The vaulted ceilings in one of the more recent rooms (This is the convocation house) were created to help support the upper level library. So though they are ornate and beautiful, they do have a purpose. The room seen here is the Convocation house, where administrators and faculty would meet. The throne in the middle was created for the Chancellor. And apparently, when the plague was ravaging London (around 1620), Parliament would meet in this room. Very cool.

Upstairs I was able to STAND IN THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY which was basically torture. Of course no one is allowed to touch any of the books, and of course you have to have a reader's card, and a specific explanation for whatever it is you're looking for. I mean, I highly doubt someone's going to hand over a manuscript I'd like to peruse that was written in the 1350s. Jeesh.

The strangest thing I noticed immediately was the shelving of the books, which were spine-in. Apparently, the books were previously chained to the shelves themselves so no one could check anything out. They still have a sample of what this looked like. And of course I couldn't take any pictures of the books. And for some reason I'm having a hard time finding images on google (or their website) to show you here. So you'll just have to wait until I get back with my informational guidebook of the library. (Or, if you're interested in Oxford in general, there's a picture gallery here.) But you can take my word for it. The ceiling of this library is all wooden panels, and no two are identical. They all have different colors of open books (which is the bottom of Oxford) on them, and each read (in Latin) "Lord is my Life". There are 9 satellite Bodleian libraries, some of which you may check out books, but of course this is a reference-only institution.

Some of the benefactors to the library include: the Rockefeller foundation (1933), Oliver Cromwell (1654), Kenneth Grahame (the Wind in the Willows proceeds after his death went to the Bodleian).

We then trekked to the Radcliffe Camera, which is a round building with two reading rooms (Upper and Lower levels). This building opened in 1749 but wasn't owned by the Bodleian until 1860. This place was breathtaking. I wanted to lay in the middle of the floor and read a book or just look at the dome-ceiling. The Bodleian's conveyor belt (materials handling system) beneath the library delivers the books to readers in either of these two levels. Again, no pictures of the inside, so sorry folks. BUT- Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass book is being turned into a movie called Northern Lights. And it was JUST filmed in this building, the Radcliffe Camera.

We then walked beneath the Camera underground through the tunnel to where they house the REALLY valuable stuff. (J Floor, if you're ever interested in stealing incredibly valuable books). The conveyor belt system is hilarious-- as it was installed in 1940 (talk about forward-thinking!) and it looks incredibly archaic, but still works wonderfully.

So we ended our trip to the library, and had the rest of the day to Oxford. I ended up shopping because things are much cheaper in the smaller towns surrounding London. I ended up getting stationery (I really need to stop buying paper's starting to get ridiculous) and trinkets for people back home. Oh, AND a pair of jeans and a jacket. And jewelry. Okay so I bought a lot of things, but it was totally worth it and I don't feel bad about it at all.
I have more pictures of Oxford and I look forward to sharing them all with you when I get home. I can't believe this trip is halfway over already!

Outside Class Visit #2: National Archives and Kew Gardens

So Wednesday was a "research day" which means you can either sit in the computer lab all day and try to catch up, or you can go out and visit another site on your own...or gather research for your papers.

So I started off doing some quick research to see WHAT I could find more information about so I could pick a solid topic for at least ONE of my papers. Yea....that is hard. I decided to go to the United Kingdom National Archives (all the while scolding myself for never having seen the U.S. National Archives). It's about a 40 minute Tube ride...and that's if you get on the right train. A couple of flub-ups on the train lines (I picked the wrong easy mistake) until I eventually arrived at the Kew Gardens stop, which is a quick 10 minute walk to the National Archives.

The Kew area is "kewte"...hehe I couldn't resist. I took some pictures of the things I saw initially getting off the train. (Notice that Kew has itw own "storefront library") Kew appears to be a suburb just like any other...tiny houses lining streets and small shops and pubs on the corners. It was a gorgeous day, so I started my walk down to the National Archives. After passing through the gates of the building, well I was overwhelmed by how out-of-place the building looked in comparison to its quaint surroundings. But it's a beautiful place...surrounded by water and very modern.

And as soon as I walked through the doors of the National Archives....well, I was told that their museum and exhibits were closed. All I was able to view was a COPY of the Domesday book and the chest it was housed in. I was not pleased. Of course I was invited to enjoy a £5 coffee in their restaurant or perhaps purchase some souvenirs regarding genealogy at the gift shop, but otherwise that was it...until April 2008 the exhibit is CLOSED. I was so upset! It was a long trip, I was excited to see it, I was by myself, etc.

**The Domesday Book is the most famous and earliest surviving public record. It is a survey and value listing of all land held by the King and his tenants in the late 11th century.**

I was planning on using the Archives visit as one of my off-site (not required) visits for one of the assignments I have. Obviously, since all I was able to see was the gift shop and some replica of a book, this would not work. So, the only other thing remotely interesting at this tube stop was Kew Gardens. I'm typically not the Garden-y type, but I've heard they are beautiful, and figured it was worth it since I made the trip. So I walked all the way over there, paid £12 to get in, and started walking. And it is truly stunning. I went on the perfect day, and took amazing photos. But there is only so much one can do in a garden...without a book to read. So I walked around, took in the sights and smells (that's one thing I wish I could convey on this blog...the fragrant lavendar.....amazing!) and basically walked the paths of the garden for about an hour before I started to wonder if I was getting sunburnt...and headed back to the Tube.

The entire time I was walking this garden, I kept thinking, how am I going to explain this garden being relevant to libraries?! I can't-- it's basically a really pretty yard. It's a garden for Pete's Sake! And I wasn't about to shell out another handful of cash to visit Kew Palace. I continued taking gorgeous pictures and pondering the tie in between library science and the garden. Then I came upon this Taxonomy in Action sign. A-Ha! This is precisely the tie-in between libraries and Kew Gardens. Classification of plants. They're all labeled- they're all organized, they all must be cared of in precise ways, because the plants are from all over the world, have different requirements for sustinence, and of course- the groundskeepers need to know where they put everything! So there it is....taxonomy.

So after my long trek through the gardens (and certainly not even seeing half of them) I headed back on the Tube to Waterloo station, and had some pints with Rachel before going to bed. It was a long day, and I'm glad I went out to Kew. I'm finding that the things I'm most fascinated by tend to be things I don't plan. I had no intention of paying nearly $24. for a walk around a garden, but it ended up being a really good idea-- and a really peaceful place to settle-down in my head and just soak in the surroundings.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

St. Paul's Library & Outside-Class visit #1

This morning our class outing was to the St. Paul's Cathedral Library. It's not that big, small in fact, when compared to the rest of the building. Because I couldn't take pictures in the building (or I could and not publish them anywhere) I'm having to pull pictures off of and link you to the website, to get an idea of what I experienced. Probably better off that way anyhow, because I found there are virtual tours here, so you can actually see a moving image of what I did today.

Upon getting to St. Paul's, I realized that (like my adoration for Big Ben) I have a hard time limiting the number of pictures I take of this building. It's so large that it's impossible to grasp unless you're right up next to it. I have a ton of pictures of the sky and PART of the building, but in order to see the whole building, one would have to cross the river and take a picture. You can see me here, in front of the building...I'm a spec compared to only a few of the many pillars outside the main entrance.

(Oh, and the sky was beautiful today. When I took this picture of the dome next to the sun, I could not look directly into the camera, as the combination of the sun and the glare off of the gold cross on top of the dome made it almost impossible to see. )

At any rate, we first ventured up the Geometric Staircase, which some of you may recognize from Harry Potter. There is a virtual tour for that, too. It was scary- climbing up 90 steps that appear to be hanging in mid-air, though our librarian told us not to fear-- they're incredibly sturdy. Though the staircase itself is not recommended for people with a fear of heights OR bouts of vertigo. Ha! I managed to get up there unscathed and without losing my breakfast.
When we arrived at the top, we were taking into what was originally created as a Reading Room, evident by the plasters on the building walls: vines with quill pens, ink pots, books, etc. intricately woven into the design. In this room, Wren's original model of the building itself remains, made of oak and plaster, at about 1:25 scale. It's huge, so huge that I wondered how it ever got in and out of that room. The librarian working with us said it has only left the room a few times, one of which when it visited the States in the 90s...and then he mentioned that would NEVER happen again. Ha ha ha...

This entire time we were "behind the scenes" of this gorgeous church. the library itself (pictured above) was crammed full of books that had since been acquired after the fire of 1666, mostly by Henry Longdon/Henry Compton (a bishop who got a hold of other collections for aquisitions.) A plaque remains by a statue of his bust stating, "I came to it burnt down, and left when it built up."

I found numerous things about this library interesting. First off, most of the books are held together with binding wraps, as the boards are broken. The library itself is open to all who "can make good use of it", though I have a feeling they are selective in who makes "good use". Our guide is also the only librarian on staff there, and is currently embarking on a conservation project. I asked for his email address and am hoping to meet with him later this week to discuss this project, among some other things for a research paper I hope to write on U.S. and U.K. methods of preservation of print materials (mainly books).

At any rate, I love this building, and am excited to hopefully speak with the librarian again to get more information and more hands-on (or shall I say hands-off!!!) experience there and discuss conservation of materials that are apparently available to the public.

After this visit, we were left to explore on our own again. Rachel and I had been planning a visit to the Wellcome Collection, which is part of the Wellcome Trust. From their website:

"The Wellcome Trust is an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health. Established in 1936 and with an endowment of around £13 billion, it is the UK's largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research."

What intrigued us about these galleries, were adverts in the tube explaining just some of what's on display. There were three exhibits, The Heart, Medicine Man, and Medicine Now, all of which were free. (Bonus!) Strangely enough, Henry Wellcome (and his partner Mr. Burroughs) were Americans, who came to England after starting their pharmaceutical company in 1880. After Burroughs died, Wellcome set up some research facilities to study further medical related issues.
In addition to being a scientist of sorts (and obviously an entrepreneur) he was an avid collector of medical-related artifacts. The galleries we visited included The Heart (illustrates the evolution of humans' understanding of the heart in medicine, art and culture), Medicine Man (an exhibit that displays many of Wellcome's collection of artifacts) and Medicine Now (mainly an art exhibit that deals with medical-related issues of today).

Some of the things I enjoyed on display in The Heart Exhibit:

  • A wooden table with entire (REAL) human veins/arterial system varnished into the wood work outlining a human body laying on top of the table. (Joannes Leonius 17th c.)
  • Leonardo DaVinci's anatomical drawing of the heart, liver and arteries
  • Rene Descartes L'Homme 1664
  • Pacemakers throughout the years
  • Speakers in the walls with songs about "heart" playing. Also speakers to listen to a normal heartbeat versus a mitral regurgitation.
  • And She Had Heart painting by Lombardo, 1890
  • Egyptian Book of the Dead
  • Separate caskets made of lead and silver, for burying the heart away from the body.

The Medicine Man gallery had the strangest things, as it portrayed only a portion of the odd-collection Wellcome had created up until his death. Some of the things I saw and enjoyed there:

  • Torture elements/torture chairs (which are placed in the same exhibit space as a dental chair, ha!-- I can agree with that placement decision.) One of the torture chairs had blades all along the back and seat, with spikes on the arms.
  • Over 5000 pieces of medical/scientific glassware from throughout history and the world
  • Artificial limbs dating from 1500-1930s
  • An impressive collection of bone-saws (I badly wanted a picture of this for my dad) and forceps (ick!)
  • Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush
  • Ivory dentures from the 1700s
  • Tatoos on human skin from 1850-1900 (the skin looked like stretched leather, gross)
  • A mummifed Peruvian man
  • King George III's hair (had traces of arsenic in it...) You may remember me mentioning this King George, as his book collection is on display at the British Library.

After going through these exhibits, the last one was more contemporary/controversial art pieces reflecting medical concerns from today around the world. For example:

  • a map on canvas with mosquitos sewn into it to outline countries- a commentary on the malaria problem
  • Mosquito nets with malaria medicines sewn into them
  • An enormous sculpture of fat, a blob if you will, with legs commenting on obesity.
  • Many many pieces of art using EKG printouts and things representing the double-helix of DNA.

So the galleries alone were stunning and incredibly interesting.

And then we saw that the Wellcome Trust had a library. So we ventured in.

Gorgeous! A newer space, with beautiful wooden shelves in the first room. A librarian (roving reference?) approached us and asked if we needed help, and she told us there are three main collections: The History of Medicine, Clinical Medicine, and Science & Society. There is also a Rare Books area. The rooms we ventured through were stacks and stacks of beautiful old books, and in some of the rooms, they were stacked modern metal/glass shelving. There was an enormous amount of study-areas/tables. It was interesting to walk through the stacks and notice the different collections- titles outlining diseases, afflictions, solutions and breakthroughs in the medical industry.

This library is a working, full service library...all related to medicine. The main room was large, two stories (similar to St. Paul's Library) with names such as Nightingale, Mendel, Darwin, Hippocrates, Galen, Pasteur, etc. carved into the woodwork. Large anatomical paintings hung on the walls there. It was wonderful.

And it made me wish I were studying medicine. Haha. Can you imagine? But still, the space was so relaxing and well-laid out, I truly felt lucky to have happened-upon it.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Museum of London

Well, today we started with our class trips again, this time embarking upon the Museum of London, which was really neat.Before the start our our own investigations through the galleries, we were lucky enough to experience a short "history" of the galleries and the Museum of London itself, which was really neat.

The man who spoke to us was named John Cotton, and he is a curator in prehistory at the Museum of London.The museum started in 1976 and put together the London Museum that previously existed in Kensington Palace (from 1911), the London Archaeology Museum and Archives, and also the Guild Hall Museum (1825) in the City of London.The Museum of London capitalizes on "the city" that was once the square mile.

Their innovative marketing campaigns include a truck with a huge sign on it that they park in front of rival museums. The signs state things like, "London only has one museum" which is intriguing and really gets people through their doors. I asked and found out that they have their own in-house marketing department that creates the great campaigns. Awesome.

They have one USP or "Unique Selling Point": They are the largest Urban history museum in the world.". But the problem they have is, how do you utilize this USP and still illustrate that there is a vast amount of information there regarding prehistoric times/people? The National History Curriculum in England (all schools) begin with invaders and conquerors and do not include prehisoric times.

While they were investigating how to work the prehisoric periods into their marketing and promotions, they found that they typically have 3 types of visitors:
  • Those who want to know about Victorian London (19th century)
  • Those who want to know about Tudor London (16th-17th century..that's me)
  • Those who want to know about Londinium (Roman London)
They based the design of newer spaces (galleries have been updated in both 1998 and 2002) around this information, and were able to integrate the prehisoric era into it nicely.
The newer galleries are more people-centered, more negotiable and conversation-starting, the pieces ask questions and start discussions between people who come to view the exhibits. They decided to center the focus of the exhibits around four things: Climate changes (global warming), People, the River Thames, and Legacy.

They created 3 design elements to work these things into the galleries. There is a wall of things that were found in the River Thames, and the river weaves throughout the galleries, so people can bounce between the plinths (exhibits) and the River Wall. There is also the Landscape wall around the outside of the gallery, explaining the changing landscape and climate.

It is truly an interesting museum, but much moreso when you have the background information that goes into planning and designing a space like this. I had the opportunity to speak with curator regarding space issues and mentioned the renovation and space issues in our library- and how that is effecting the overall design of it all.

It was basically just really neat to have a one-on-one conversation with a curator, and talk to him about application of space/design/marketing for a cultural heritage institution. I really enjoyed today's tour a lot.

Some things I learned:
  • London was originally 1 square mile, surrounded by a wall, and very crowded, smelly and gross. It later grew and grew and grew....
  • But in 1665 half of the population died off anyways from the Black Death (or the plague)
  • And then there was the Great Fire of London.....which was started by a baker who forgot to put out his fire (entirely) for the night.
  • On September 2, 1666 at 1am, the fire began and the city burned for 4 days. No one had fire insurance, and a lot of people ended up in jail because they couldn't pay their debts.
  • It took London 50 years to rebuild the city.
  • The fire was said to be started by gluttony, as it began on Pudding Lane (by a baker) and ended on Pie Corner. (haha!) And a fat-boy statue commemorates this fact in the city.

A few of my favorite things I saw:

  • In the prehistoric gallery, it was evident that the River Thames was a spiritual/sacrificial river in which people have been laying precious sacrifices for hundreds of years. As they dredged the river, hundreds of artifacts from the past are dug up-- swords, coins, skulls, beads, all sorts of interesting things. Among these was a human male skull that had a hole in the top of it as a result of a surgery called trepannation. A trepannation involved the patient being conscious, and their skull was chipped away by a flint blade. The interesting part about this particular skull was that the man apparently lived for a year or more after this surgery, as the bone regrowth indicated he lived on, and probably died from other causes....amazing!

  • I also really enjoyed this stone that had the following quote engraved on it:
"Here by permission of Heaven, Hell broke loose upon this Protestant City from the malicious hearts of barbarous papists by the hand of their Agent Hubert, who confessed and on ye ruines of this place declared the fact, for which he was hanged (vizt.). That here began that dred-full fire, which is described and perpetuated on and by the neighboruing pillar."
-This remained at the site where the fire started for 200 years, even though the papists obviously were not responsible for the fire starting, and Agent Hubert was determined innocent in 1667. Poor guy. They didn't remove the stone until 1830. haha!
Tomorrow we head off to St. Paul's Cathedral Library, and I'm hoping to speak to a conservator there. The library is closed to the public, so I'm also anxious to see what secrets we get to see. I'm (as noted from all the photos) quite enamored with this church.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Friday: Parliament

Even though I have a plethora of pictures of this clock at home, I can't seem to quit taking pictures of....Big Ben. It's so beautiful, and reminds me of so many things (namely a part of the movie Peter Pan)...and I have more pictures of this clock than anyone would ever need. But I love it.
At any rate, what you may or may not know is that clock is attached to Parliament. The rest of that massive building is where the House of Commons and the House of Lords exist. We took a tour of Parliament, and got to take the Sovreign's Entrance (Victoria Tower) and the "Queen's route" that she takes when she comes into Parliament to give her annual speech each November. (Apparently it's similar to our state of the union address, only she doesn't stutter, pronounces everything correctly, and sits on an enormous golden throne that was built in 1845.)

Starting off in the Sovreign's Entrance, our tour guide gave us some history regarding the things we were seeing as we waited to go through airport-like security, where every person gets patted-down and people/bags go through an x-ray machine, etc. As we waited, we learned that the building that stands today was rebuilt in 1845 after the fire. Kings of England had lived on that property for centuries. Henry VIII (you may remember him and his wives) was that last King to live on this site. And of course there was no photography permitted for the most beautiful aspects of this tour, so you'll have to bear with my descriptions.

There are some other neat tidbits regarding the history of government here.

  • They have a copy of the death warrant with wax seals all over it from 1649, that was a warrant for Charles I. Oliver Cromwell tried Charles for treason, and he was hung drawn and quartered.

  • There was no Sovreign for 9-10 years after that, but Charles II came back in 1660 (from Paris) and reigned.

  • The sovreign may never enter the House of Commons, they may only enter the House of Lords.

  • There is a messenger at the door to relay messages from the sovreign to the House of Lords, down a long hallway.

  • Most everything within Parliament's decorations on the inside of the building has something to do with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. (initials, paintings, etc. everywhere).

  • Victoria came to the throne at age 18 and reigned for 64 years (the all-time record thus far).

  • Enormous beautiful murals hang on the walls representing different parts of England's history. Two of the ones I particularly liked were the Battle at Waterloo (It was a naval battle against the French. and Duke Wellington was the man in charge of that victory); and also the Death of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. It's really incredible to see the paintings and realize that I'm sitting in the same spot where a battle happened.

  • During WWII Parliament was bombed, so the House of Commons was rebuilt in 9 years time. The archway into the House of Commons is still damaged, you can see the blemishes from the bombing in the stone.

  • None of you probably know this, but I really like to watch the House of Commons on CSPAN. I particularly liked watching it when Tony Blair would have to answer rapid-fire questions and everyone would shout their agreement or disagreements at him. I couldn't believe I was standing in that room...the one I watch on television.
House of Commons

First, all of the benches are green (my favorite color). For the most part, seating is on a first-come-first-serve basis, though depending on which way they voted on a particular issue they're discussing that day, the two sides (that face each other) will sit on the Aye or Noe side. The Sargeant at Arms carries what's called a Mace, or a silver sceptre-type thing that is representative of the sovreign's presence as the House of Commons does business. On top of the table in the middle of the room, there are brackets on which to place the Mace. Only the Sargeant at Arms is permitted to touch the Mace. I need to look for that when I watch it on CSPAN again.The carpet is also green, but there are two long red lines in front of either row of benches that are apparently 2 swords-length long, so people who disagree may not draw their swords on one another. (Obviously this was an older rule.) There is also a sign above the cloakroom requesting them to "Hang Swords Here" on hooks, but instead that's where they place their umbrellas (which they need most of the time here.)

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall is enormous. This is the place is the oldest remaining building on the site, and dates back to 1097. I did get a chance to take some pictures of this hall, as well as the stained-glass window within it. This place is not only huge, but it is incredibly easy to see how it worked for people hundreds of years ago, as a center for commerce, celebrations, proclaimations, etc. Really neat. And we ended our trip to Parliament with some pics just outside the building, since I'd never been able to get behind those big black fences before. I also took a picture of Big Ben again, from an angle that I'd never seen before with my own eyes.

I really enjoyed the visit to Paliament more than I expected I would. I wish our tour guide would have gone into more detail regarding the artwork however. Luckily there is information about it online, so I can supplement my memory of what I saw with informational tidbits here.

Thursday: British Library

British Library
Thurday we went to the British Library, which is at the Kings Cross/St. Pancras stop on the Tube. We had a chance to get a picture next to the Platform 9 and 3/4 that I'll include here. (Even though I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, I understand the importance of this "stop".)

So once we arrived at the enormous library, we waited for a while and perused the gift shop before starting in on our tour of the building. I took vigorous notes, as this place was amazing. It's absolutely enormous, and unfortunately due to funding cuts, they will not be expanding it to the size they originally planned. Back in the 1960s there was talk about moving all of Britain's special collections/rare items, etc. into one large British Library. In 1972, they began bringing all of them together. The building took 14 years to finish. The first reading room opened in 1997 and it was officially opened by the Queen in 1998.There are 200 MILLION items in the collection, and it grows every day by 8000 items PER DAY. It continues to grow so much because nothing can actually be checked out from this library. It is purely a research library. (No weeding!!!!! Talk about huge shelf-space concerns!!!)

So, individuals who wish to utilize the services of the British Library must register their application. To utilize their facilities, you must provide-- proof of signature, proof of address, photo identification, reading list/letter from employer/why you're studying there, etc. Users of the library can only have access for up to 3 years, but most applications are processed to be used for only 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year...or at the very most, 3 years.

Their materials handling system is amazing. Being the second largest library in the world (second only to the Library of Congress) they have a state of the art conveyor belt system that brings books from the bottom 5 floors beneath the library, and takes them to one of the eleven reading rooms. When a person requests a book, they fill out a form, and a card is printed out. The card is then sent to the appropriate area, placed on the shelf for someone to pull. At that time, the person pulls the book and puts it into a red box with a barcode on the box, scans it, and sends it to its appropriate room. Once it's scanned a person knows it's on its way to them. The goal of the library is to have 90% of all requests filled within 70 minutes. But it often takes 2 days to process some items. After an item comes to you, you may reserve to use it for 3 working days. After that, it goes back to wherever it came from in the depths of the basement (or one of the four off-site storage facilities). At that point, the researcher would have to fill out another request and the 70 minute to 2 day process would start all over again. I would love to tell our patrons they had to wait 70 minutes for a book....AND that they couldn't check it out!

Interesting sidenote: apparently a person kept coming into the British Library and request Harry Potter. After she'd finally requested it for the last possible time, someone told her she needed to go to a public library. I said, "Well the public library's copies are probably all checked out...that's why she comes here. HP is always here, and she could just read it while she was here, come here everyday for 3 days and finish it." (I thought that was pretty funny.)

Some other things I found interesting from the British Library tour:

  • There are 1200 seats for researchers in the building, and 298 in their largest reading room-- the Humanities reading room.
  • The basement beneath the library is 24 meters long, the deepest basement in London, and actually is 4 floors of nothing but movable stacks of books.
  • If a disaster would occur, the british library has a contract with surrounding markets (the supermarket kind) to utilize their freezer space while they wait for proper preservation facilities.

King George III's Collection

They also have this amazing (what looks like a piece of art) book tower viewable outside of the reading rooms that is created out of 80,000 volumes of books from King George III. Apparently he created his library by appearance as opposed to by subject/interest, so it's a beautiful collection, but there are some strange titles within it. The 80K volumes make up 6 floors of books, which were donated by King George IV, who was not as keen on reading as his father. There were two requirements regarding use of this library: It must be a working collection, and it must be on display. I thought that was pretty clever. Because it is very difficult to display 80K volumes of incredibly old books, they created this tower, and it is made of glass, so all books can be viewed from the outside. Evacuation from the tower can only be done through the roof or the basement, so only qualified and trained individuals can actually get in the tower to retrieve an item.

Items on the shelves are still categorized by size/appearance, and are actually categorized that way throughout the British Library, thanks to a man named Sir Anthony Panizzi. He introduced the size sorting concept to the library, and also spear-headed the library becoming a legal depository for all published information in England. So as the collection grows 8000 items per day, they are continually being placed on shelves based on size. So strange, but understandable, as they are obviously VERY concerned about space.

Treasures Gallery

This was amazing, and I had very little time to appreciate every piece I wanted to see. Here are some highlights:

  • Shakespeare's First Foliio (worth at least £3.11M)
  • Only surviving document with Shakespeare's signature on the world.
  • Leonardo DaVinci's Sketchbook
  • Handwritten version of Alice in Wonderland
  • Galileo's sketchbook
  • Gutenberg Bible (stunning)
  • Magna Carta

In addition to these items, the Library was having an exhibition in which they were currently in possession of the remaining piece from the Dead Sea Scrolls. It honestly looked like a piece of trash I would otherwise throw away...but I was glad I got to see it. How many people get to say that in their lifetime??

Turning the Pages

There is a multi-million dollar contract between Bill Gates and the British Library to digitize their most precious items in order to provide access around the world to all who would like to view some of their treasures. This is actually a very cool software they use, here's where you can check it out. I'd seen it a long time ago, and actually spent a long time perusing Blake's notebook online. It's worth a look. I thought it was interesting that the guide also mentioned (in addition to the digitization efforts) the continual effort of the library to be future-oriented and forward thinking in technique (technology). It reminded me that though this library is very much a cultural heritage institution (and very museum-like) it still very much exists for their users/researchers. They work to fit the needs of their patrons as any other library would. I thought it was really neat...and I want a card now. :o)

I was pretty disappointed that I didn't get a chance to see the Conservation department. It was closed that day. Apparently they have an exhibition hall within the Conservation department that is open to the public, so I'm hoping to get back there and possibly utilize that visit as one of my 3 "extra" places to see aside from those we attend for class.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Oxford and Stratford

Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon

Our bus left at 7am sharp, and we embarked on a day trip to Oxford first. Oxford is a college-town, and incredibly OLD college-town. It's busting at the seams with tourists right now, and the bulk of the people walking around the streets are pretty young. I loved this city. Because we're visiting Oxford again later next week, I decided to shop a little bit instead of going to see all of the touristy sites within the hour and a half we were there. So I sat down with my friend Rachel and had a Tomato, Basil and Cheese Pasty-- mmmm (they're these tasty little Hot-Pocket-like things they have here, and they're delicious). So that was my breakfast/lunch for the day. Then I walked around with Rachel some more, found a hair-dryer (finally) and took a few pictures of Oxford. Most of the pictures are just random things I found pretty. Next time we get to Oxford I'll be seeing the Bodelian Library, so I'll have more historic-type things to report on that day.

After the light shopping (we were able to leave things on the bus) we got back ON the bus for another 2 hour trip from Oxford to Stratford.

If you know me well, then you know that I own more Complete Works/Anthologies of Shakespeare's plays than one would probably admit publicly. I just love it all so much...well, that's not entirely true. I never liked (or read) the Histories...just the Tragedies and Comedies, because they're a lot more entertaining.

Shakespeare's Birthplace
We started off at Shakespeare's birthplace, which is really neat. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures of the inside, so you'll have to take my word that it's a lot bigger than you'd think. The house is recreated to look as it would in Shakespeare's day in the 1500's. The inside walls are covered with painted fabric for insulation, and the ceilings are painted with lye to prevent the wood from deteriorating, so they were why.

In addition to the regular house-portion, there was also a loft-room for apprentices (John Shakespeare-- William's father) was a glove maker and would have had apprentices living with him. Another neat thing about the house was that the front door was wide enough for a carriage to bring in carcasses for John to skin and make gloves from. The front door leads directly to the back door, where he could unload the truck of dead animals, and begin tanning the skins. He used sheep and rabbit fur, which had to soak for 6 months in huge tubs of urine (gross & surely smelly) in the backyard before the pores would shrink up, and it would be good enough to make pretty leather gloves/goods from. John's business was also located in the house, and the front window where his "office" is located would have shutters that horizontally to create a counter and an awning. That way, customers could stop as they walked down the street to purchase his products. It was pretty neat.

Hall's Croft
The next stop we went to was Hall's Croft, a house where Susanna (Shakespeare's daughter) lived with her husband (a doctor). The house itself is also beautiful, though the garden was breathtaking. I took more pictures of flowers than anything else at this place. It was absolutely amazing. We also learned something interesting about her husband, Dr. Hall. He created a remedy for scurvy-- that included three different herbs steeped in warm beer. It worked for people because the herbs he chose had high ascorbic acid content, which is Vitamin C. Apparently the richer folk got scurvy quite a bit, because they gave the healthy (cheap) foods such as fruits and vegetables to the peasants, and kept the white-bread and red-meat for themselves. So, the malnutrition would often lead to scurvy (like the type pirates supposedly had) where those afflicted would lose their hair and teeth and become very very weak and ill. Because Dr. Hall used so many herbs, there are many flowers and herbs around the house in beautiful arrangements, and they smell fantastic. In the backyard, the scent of the different herbs can be overwhelming! Also, there was a friendly garden kitty who loved getting his picture taken.

Nash House/New Place
The Nash House is also called New Place. After Shakespeare became wealthy from his plays, he purchased a beautiful country-style house with many bedrooms and gardens and a courtyard that was located conveniently in-town. After he died, it was purchased by a jerk who had problems with his taxes, and tore it down to avoid having to pay more taxes on it. Now, only a church and small portion of the foundation are seen here, along with a Mulberry tree, that is likely a remnant from those Mulberry trees that Shakespeare had in his courtyard, before his death. There is a stunning Knott-style garden that can be viewed through a covered hallway of orchids. Again, breathtaking flowers/landscaping! Upstairs there was a collection of Shakespeare's Completed Works, all behind glass of course. I noticed little papers in the corners of the displays that measured the humidity, and also air filters in the back of the display in order to keep the books in good-condition. Then I noticed that one of the books looked VERY similar to my own copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare (that my brother bought me for christmas) and I wondered, it the same one? So I sparked up a conversation with a person "standing guard" there and he mentioned that I could contact one of the librarians for the Shakespearean Complete Works Archives. I think my eyes glossed over and I know I got really excited because I immediately said, "I'm in school to be a librarian!" like an idiot. I guess I should've known they would have particular librarians for this sort of thing...but in Stratford, dealing only with these books?! It was like finding out that I could potentially become a millionaire or something. To think that a job opportunity like that exists...well I was floored. So I plan to contact them at some point, and see exactly what it is they do there. And also find out if they know how much my own copy of Complete Works is worth....not that I'd ever part with it.

Trinity Church/Shakespeare's Grave
Perhaps my favorite/most important destination on this trip was Trinity Church. I have to say, that I had an overwhelming sense of sadness and appreciation as I walked in, and I wondered if Shakespeare would laugh at the fact that he's now buried beneath the stones where preists now stand to preach. The same people who called his plays blasphemy...irony at its best. I have many photos from this church, and will try to post them here in a way that looks decent. I particularly love the quote on his headstone, and was able to get a re-print of it that I plan to frame and hang in my house.In addition to these lovely things, I was also able to have some time to stroll around and have lunch at a place called Caffe Uno with two friends. We had a LARGE lunch (we were starving) that included dessert. I would've felt guilty had I not walked for 8 hours that day. Phew! My feet and back were killing me! I was glad I brought a backpack to shove all of my gift shop purchases in.

And lastly, perhaps the most pivotal point of the evening, as a class we attended a 7:30pm showing of Macbeth in the Swan theatre by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Never in my life have I seen anything like it. Macbeth wasn't even one of my favorite plays, however I was on the edge of my seat and hanging on every word. It was thrilling and exquisitely performed. At one point I realized that I have memorized a 40 line soliloquy by Macbeth in undergrad and as he was speaking aloud, my mouth started moving. I can't believe I remembered that much of it! "If it were done, when 'tis done, t'were well it were done quickly..." Wow. At any rate, the play finished and we were piling on a bus again at 11pm, arriving back in london at 1am, and I was finally asleep by 2. Talk about exhaustion! But every minute was worth it, and so far it's been my favorite part of the trip. (of course I couldn't take pictures of any of that!)

Monday, 9 July 2007

This will be my reflective journal for LIS 580/587 through USM British Studies Program.