Friday, 15 July 2016

The Imperial War Museum

On one of our days off, I went to the Imperial War Museum with two of my classmates, Kim and Veronica. We got there a little early (we forgot to see when they opened, oops!), but that just gave us time to look around the beautiful garden outside!

Nurse's outfit, located near many other uniforms
worn by women during the war

Once we got inside, we decided to follow the museum chronologically and start with the World War I exhibit. While I’m not as interested in World War I as I am WWII, but it was still fairly interesting. Much of it was about war, but there was a section covering what roles women and children played, which is more aligned with my interests. Interestingly, there was a section of the large exhibit that was meant to give visitors a feeling of what it was like to be in the trenches. You walked through an small area with winding trench tunnels, with speakers and lighting recreating the atmospheric conditions that soldiers experienced.

After we finished going through the exhibit, we headed upstairs to World War Two. I sped through the main exhibit, wanting to see the area that talked about the home front. While I really wish I had been able to see the recreated 1940s house that used to be in the museum, the exhibit that they have now was still pretty interesting. Instead of focusing on general experiences, it followed one family through the war. There was a miniature recreation of the family’s house, as well as a digital display that let you zoom in and get more details. Farther in, there were full-scale reproductions of various rooms in the family’s house, including the sitting room and kitchen. Scattered around were documents that families such as theirs would have had, as well as other household items (such as sewing kits and knitting bags). Kim and Veronica also pointed something out to me that I was too excited to notice at first – there were large fashion drawings on the walls! At the end of the exhibit was an example air raid shelter, similar to the one that the family would have had in their yard.

We quickly looked through a few more exhibits in the museum before hitting the gift shops and heading for the Churchill War Rooms.

Backyard Anderson shelter

WVS uniform

Bletchley Park

Located a little over an hour from London, the town of Bletchley seems to be an unassuming little English village. However, some of the most important events of World War Two happened here.

Bletchley Park is a place I’ve wanted to go to ever since my first visit to London in 2013. During the war, it was a major codebreaking facility. Until relatively recently, absolutely nothing was known about what happened there due to the Official Secrets Act. The secrecy was broken in the 1970s, and ever since then, more and more attention has been given to the park, as more people hear about it from books and productions such as The Imitation Game and Bletchley Circle.

The Bletchley Park itself is formed of a former manor house, surrounded by many 1940s buildings that were constructed as offices and workspaces for those who worked there. Today, many of the original huts have been either restored or reconstructed, though there are still several that need restoration and are not open to the public.

The first building we went into was Block B. The lower level of the building focuses on the Enigma and Bombe machines. While there’s a decent amount of enigma machines left, all of the large bombe machines were destroyed at the end of the war. However, there is a full-scale reproduction of one of the machines located in the building and it is frequently run to show visitors how it worked. On the same floor, there were multiple small exhibit areas featuring Alan Turing and his life, including (to my amusement and excitement) his teddy bear! Upstairs, there was an exhibit on what I’m truly interested in: the home front, and how codebreakers lived.

After visiting Block B, we went to the manor house. Most of the house isn’t open to visitors, but they had a recreation of Commander Dennison’s office, as well as a library. The back of the area open to us was home to an exhibit on The Imitation Game, which has proved to be extremely popular as it was supposed to end months ago! I quite enjoyed it, and ended up buying the movie on Amazon on the train ride back to London.

The rest of the time I was at Bletchley Park was spent looking at the various different huts. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy most of the park as much as I expected. I loved the hut that explained how the renovation and restoration work was done, and what was found during excavations. I still loved going there, but I think my dad would have enjoyed it a lot more than I did.
The library

Costumes worn by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly in The Imitation Game 
Me, in front of the manor house

I was a little excited when we got to the library!

Edinburgh Central Library & New College Library

Technically, the first library we visited in Edinburgh was the National Library, where several of us received readers cards (including me!). After a little bit there, we headed across the street to the Central Library.

Central Library

The main lending library
This library was founded in 1890. The Scottish Collection room, the first room my group visited, is one of the original rooms, though the mezzanine was added in the 1960’s and was completely refurbished in 2014. You can borrow books from this room, but it’s mostly reference. The mezzanine has the music library, a small young adult section (other branches have larger ones – there simply isn’t a large demand for them at this branch), and an acoustic box for meetings. The main floor, which houses the main lending library, still has the original shelving! I noticed a fairly sizeable section of books in different languages – the ones I could spot from where I was standing were in Arabic, Chinese, and Urdu.

Part of the children's library
The building that the children’s library is in was bought in the 1930s. There are three main sections, as well as a crafts room: an area for babies to four year olds, meant to increase connection between parents and children, an area for under-fives, and an area for five year olds and older. A local book illustrator donated the murals on the wall. When we visited, the summer reading challenge was about to start, and this year it has a Roald Dahl them.

On our way to the reference library, we were shown something I honestly didn’t expect to see: a memorial to nurses who died during World War I. It’s the only memorial to the women of WWI in Scotland.

The reference library - this portion was the ladies library
The reference library is perhaps the most “traditional” of all of the rooms. Only a third of the collection is actually out on the shelves, which are split between the main floor and a gallery that only the staff are allowed to access (by hidden staircases!!!). Originally there was a ladies library located in the room, located right around a fireplace.

After our tour of the library, we were given talks about programs that the library runs. One is Youth Talk, which aims to engage local kids and teens in the library and their community, as well as creating better places for them to hang out outside of school. Another was Digital Toybox, which is funded by the Carnegie Trust. The focus is to engage kids in school and their libraries, as well as with new technology. They’re given a suite of equipment, including kits to build simple electronics, a small lego robotics kit, a mini synthesizer kit, and a 3D printer that utilizes an Xbox Kinect sensor as the scanner. There’s also the Scottish Minecraft program, which has kids building Scottish landmarks in the game. Finally, we were told about the library’s digital presence. The website essentially functions the same as my home libraries websites do – digital resources, as well as a history collection. Interestingly, the library was the first in the UK to have its own app!

New College Library

After a quick lunch at the famous Elephant House Café with some of my classmates, the café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books, we headed to the New College library. The collections primarily relate to theology (250,000 volumes), though they do have a sizeable collection (90,000) of rare books and manuscripts. There’s a small staff here, as it’s the principle library for the 500-student school of Divinity, with Edinburgh Univeristy’s libraries having a wider variety of items.

The library is spread across three floors, with a special collections and main library floor on one
level, and three floors of stacks below the library. Stack one has the majority of the lending stock. Stack two is mostly periodicals and journals, with a small, locked area for special collections. Stack three has more of the special collections, including a first edition of Calvin, and many non-religious rare books. Each floor has a separate area for the books that have not yet been entered into the Library of Congress classification system. There’s currently a plan in place to renovate the college and the library – currently, there’s no climate control, and the shelves are actually supporting the ceiling, which means rolling stock can’t be put in, which limits the amount of materials that can be stored on-site.

Group photos credit: Dr Welsh

Durham University Libraries

Our first day in Durham
First, a little history on Durham University: it’s the third oldest university in England, founded in 1832. Henry VIII had tried to start a university in London, but obviously, he didn’t get around to that. Cromwell then tried to issue a charter, but the monarchy and Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) stopped that. Durham Cathedral eventually decided to start a university, and the university was born. It’s a collegiate college, and you have to apply to both the university and the college you want to be in. The first library was in Palace Green, but it eventually outgrew its buildings (with expansions taking place all the way into the 1950s), and what is now the Bryson library became the academic library, with the special collections remaining at Palace Green.

Bryson Library

The first library we went to in Durham was the university’s main academic library. Some of the individual colleges have a library, and there’s the library at Palace Green, but this is the primary one for students to borrow books from and study in. The library is at what is called the “science site” – a secondary location for the university where, as the name suggests, many science programs are headquartered. 

A study area
The library seemed pretty similar to university libraries I’ve been to at home, just with more focus on students, as it seems more students actually take advantage of the library here! There are 64 loan-able laptops available to students, as well as many digital resources. There are volume-based study areas around the library – silent, quiet, group, and surprisingly, a specific area for postgraduate students! My current school has a specific library for undergrads, but nothing really specifically saved for grad students. If we had something like this at Wayne, I’d probably make the trek down to campus more often!

In the lobby, there’s a ping pong ball poll about the current furniture in the area! I think that’s a fantastic idea – probably works much better than emailed polls, which most people just delete.

Palace Green

After our tour of the Bryson library, we had snacks and tea at a café in the Palace Green library’s building. We were shown the current exhibit, Somme 1916, which displays some documents and books from the battle. The impact of the exhibit is measured through written notes (many in memory of a family member that died during the battle) as well as (surprisingly!) Twitter.

After that, we went into the actual Palace Green library’s reading room. It is part of a 1960’s expansion, and while the exterior of the building blends in very well to the 1400’s building, you can definitely tell it’s from the 60’s! It reminded me of the first office of Sterling Cooper from the show Mad Men.

We were quickly shown the conservation studio, which was designed essentially by the conservators, and then we went on to Cosin’s library. Originally, it was one of the school’s libraries – Cosin’s collection was on the ground floor, and the university’s books were located in the gallery, accessed by a ladder. A staircase wasn’t put in until the 1850s! Surprisingly, the library contains books that aren’t in the French national library! It also has a somewhat unique classification system – there are portraits of authors above where their books are located.

Next, we went into the Bamburgh Library, named after the Bamburgh Castle Trust. The members of the Sharpe family gave their books to the university for safekeeping, so this library has an interesting mix of books. It contains the typical theology, philosophy, and local history books, but it also has music (located in the cathedral’s library currently), how to run estate books, books on building lifeboats, and abolitionist pamphlets. There’s also some bits of the Sudan archives in the library – a drum is currently being stored in here.

In the dungeon/basement, the library has a small digitization setup. It has 4 stations, three being an average size, and one larger one, for maps and similarly sized items. The current project is the pre-reformation and Benedictine libraries.

Ushaw College

One of two chapels at the college

Next, we headed half an hour outside of town to go to Ushaw College. We got to eat lunch in the parlour, formerly used as the professor’s dining room. The furniture in the room dates from the 1860s!

The college itself used to be a Catholic seminary, which closed its doors in 2011 due to a lack of students.

We were given tours of the two libraries: the Laurel library, which holds the older books, and the undergraduate library, which contains modern books.

The Laurel library contains both books you expect to see in a seminary and secular books. Many of the books were gained from donations, as well as monastic troubles on the continent. They still have a card catalogue (which was super exciting to me – I love the convienence of digital catalogues, but there’s just something about card catalogues…), and are working on creating a detailed catalogue of the library. In the undergrad library, despite the closure of the seminary, modern Catholic materials are still being purchased. It’s also recently been reclassified with the Dewey Decimal System and many are in the university’s catalogue, resulting in a leap in inter-library loan requests.

Group photo credits to Dr. Welsh.

Middle Temple Library

My class outside Middle Temple Church
Photo credit to Dr Welsh

It’s kinda impossible for me to summarize the library itself before I talk about what I really want to: the absolutely beautiful architecture! I literally gasped when we walked through the doors to the library and the Princes Room. It’s so pretty! (And I’m pretty sure the walls are the same colour as my bedroom, haha)

The Prince’s Room, named after honorary member Prince William, was formerly the benchers smoking room.

The hall was built in 1570, after the treasurer at the time talked members of the inn to fund it. It has a double hammer beam ceiling, one of four in the world. It’s the largest example of that type of ceiling, and it’s also the largest of all of the inn’s halls. It’s currently used for dining, ceremonies (including weddings), and other inn functions. On the walls are the coats of arms of the readers. The bench we stood next to was donated by Elizabeth I!

During WWII, a bomb hit near the building, and destroyed the screen, though it was rebuilt after the war. Thankfully, the stained glass windows were removed before the bomb hit, and were saved.

Middle Temple is one of four inns of court, and their focus is on European Union and United States law, as well as ecclesiastical law. Because of this tie, the current U.S. ambassador is an honorary member. Five of the members of Middle Temple were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and seven signed the U.S. Constitution! A lot of pictures were taken of a copy of a lithograph The current library was founded in the 1640s, though it may be older, as books have gone missing. They have three globes on display – two are a unique pair of a standard globe featuring landmasses, etc., and a celestial globe. While there are others in existence of these two globes, this is the only pair in the world.

The floor holds only current editions of books and journals. English law is based on precedence, so 
all past editions are kept in storage just in case they become relevant in a court case.

Interestingly enough, Middle Temple has a Shakespeare connection: the Twelfth Night was performed in the hall, and is possibly mentioned in Henry VI. 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Maughan Library and Special Collections

I’m having a hard time figuring out how to start this post so I’ll just say this: the Maughan library was pretty darn impressive.

The library is part of one of one of the top universities in the world, and is tucked away just off Fleet Street (yes, the same Fleet Street from Sweeney Todd fame). When we got there, there was a selection of books set out on the tables. We were given a short talk on the contents of the library, as well as our guides specializations, and then told something that I don’t think any of us expected: we were allowed to touch the books!!! Among them were a copy of the Charters of the Province of Pennsylvania, signed by none other than Benjamin Franklin. There was also a copy of Allen Ginsburg’s collected works, signed by Allen Ginsburg himself, a book by Thomas Payne from 1776 with empty spots printed for politically dangerous stuff to be hand-written in, a bible in the Romanch language with a sycamore leaf pressed in it, popular medical books, and several others. Probably the most impressive to me, tied with the book signed by Ben Franklin, was Der Anti-Nazi. It’s a Jewish publication from 1930s Berlin consisting of arguments against the Nazi party. This specific copy was from a Holocaust survivor.

After we looked at all the books on display for us, we headed over to the Weston Room, which was a chapel until the 19th century. We had tea and biscuits here (I discovered no, I really don’t like coffee!) and had time to look at a small Shakespeare exhibit before heading off on a tour of the rest of the university’s library. When the university acquired the building, which was formerly the home of the National Archives, there were many small rooms with the best fireproofing methods that the architect could think of: stone walls, metal fixtures, cast iron doors, natural lighting, and small storage areas to contain any possible fire. When the building was renovated, the architect left some reminders to the building’s past, including one of the original rooms with floor-to-ceiling metal shelves, but most of it was renovated to become a modern university library. The Round Room, a silent study room now, used to be a reading room when the building was part of the national archives, and it definitely reminds me of the Victorian era!


National Maritime Museum

I had the awesome luck the day we went to the National Maritime Museum to have a broken pencil with me (It had lead in it, but none was coming out!), so I’m probably going to miss a lot for this post. Oops!

I’m going to preface this first story with the fact that this happened a little over a week before the UK voted to remain in or leave the European Union.

The day started off veeeery interestingly. Instead of taking the tube and DLR all the way out to Greenwich, my professor decided we would take the river taxi down the Thames from Blackfriars instead. It started off as a normal, quite peaceful ride down the Thames. It didn’t take long for us to start noticing an unusual amount of police boats out. Then a (former?) tour boat with a SWAT (or the British equivalent?) team on top. And then boats with “IN” flags, and later “LEAVE”. A few of us had suspicions about what was happening, but it wasn’t till the next day that we realized we had gone through the Brexit Flotilla!!
Not the best picture of the flotilla, but you can see some of the boats here!
Once we got to Greenwich, we took a quick class picture in front of the Queen’s House and the old Royal Naval College before heading into the National Maritime Museum itself. We were given a short talk about some of the items they had selected to display for us, and were told about Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar and the first man to swim the English Channel. After this, we were split into two groups and shown the library itself.

The museum’s library seemed fairly small at first, with just a single reading room open to the public. The room was split down the middle, allowing for a silent study area. There were several floors of archives behind the reading room however, which holds thousands of documents, including crew lists. Something interesting we were told on our tour is something I heard on a Titanic documentary (of all things!): the library doesn’t have all of the records that they could, as an archive in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland has them!