British Library Conservation Centre

The British Library Centre for Conservation opened in 2007.  It employs five teams of conservators for their St Pancras building, though they do have room for six teams.  They have studios on the 6th floor of the main building that mainly deal with paper, like maps.  They also have stamp specialists since the British Library has a significant stamp collection.  The conservators do not restore materials.  Instead, they attempt to stabilize the materials using minimal intervention.  They aim for re-treatable methods rather than reversible since some procedures, such as cleaning, cannot or will not be reversed.  The adhesives they use can be removed, and they keep detailed records and photographs of the conservation process.  They work closely with the curators who specify which items need to be conserved immediately.  They also do digital preservation as part of their work.

Visiting the British Library Centre for Conservation was one of the highlights of the month.  I have been in a number of conservation studios of varying sizes, and this was the largest I have ever seen.  It was amazing to have the conservators actually demonstrating how they conserve delicate and unusual items such as palm leaves.  I had also never seen a demonstration on applying gold leaf before.  I had toyed with the idea of working in conservation before, and after visiting the studio at the British Library, I think that I will endeavor to intern in a preservation or conservation studio as part of my degree.  All of the conservators we spoke with were wonderful and took their time to both show and describe what they were doing.

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Middle Temple Library

The Middle Temple Library building currently in use was built in the 1950s.  The original Victorian building was destroyed during the Blitz.  It is built from reinforced concrete in case of future bombings, which is good for holding the weight of the books but makes modifications difficult.  They converted the loft to create a rare book library with proper environmental control.  They do not have a classification system; the books are found by the number of the bay in which they are stored and then by alphabetical order.

The Middle Temple Library contains the collection on American law and was once one of the largest US law collections in the United Kingdom if not Europe.  The collection is largely comprised of donations made by government and law organizations in the United States after World War II.  Up until last year they were receiving all of the regional reporters, but cost and space issues kept them from continuing to collect these.  They do have subscriptions to West Law and another US law database, but the majority of requests are for printed materials because judges prefer it that way.  They also have a collection on capital punishment from 2005 that comprises a donated private library and other donations.  The US law collection is largely used by English practitioners and researchers who need quick access to the information.  Also, for areas in which the US is ahead of the UK in legal issues such as international corporate law, data protection and environmental law, the US collection is useful.

Like many libraries in the US and the UK, the Middle Temple Library is maximizing its potential and finding alternate uses for space to benefit its community.  They have converted some of the space on the third floor into teaching space, which also provides a quiet space for study.  This will bring more people into the library.  Also, they find that many people still do not know how to do research, particularly case law research.  There are four Inns of Court, and each has its own library with its own specializations so that among the four all fields of law are represented in one library or another.

I have never been to a devoted law library before, and it was particularly interesting to visit one with a strong United States legal collection.  It seems a useful division of resources to have the various Inns of Court libraries distribute areas within which to collect, and it demonstrates that every type of library faces the same types of difficulties with regard to resources, particularly financial.  The mention of sharing space on the third floor with educational facilities also demonstrated that all libraries are reconsidering how they interact with their communities and how best to bring users into the library in new contexts to encourage use and educate them in utilizing information sources and services.

I also found it fascinating to discover how many of the founding fathers of the United States had belonged to Middle Temple.  I have often read a great deal about the Inns of Court in literature since that is my background.  I found it wonderful to actually visit one of the Inns of Court and to see their library and great hall and have a reason to wander among the buildings the comprise the law offices and educational facilities.  The rare book collection seems to be a particular strength of the library, and it was startling to discover they had only had a rare book librarian since 2006 and that she had arrived to a collection kept in poor conditions.  It seems to be a similar story among the various libraries we have visited here, as well as among several I have heard of in the United States.  The globes were also amazing to see, particularly once their significance was explained to us.  I have always loved globes, and it was fascinating to see the matched set of the first globes ever created.

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Maughan Library and Information Services Center

King’s College was founded in 1829.  When it started at the Strand Campus, there were four separate libraries.  It is the only King’s College site that is not based around a healthcare profession in some way.  The libraries for the Strand Campus eventually ran out of room to expand their collections.  This library opened in 2009 and allowed them to combine all four of the libraries into a single building.  The building was originally the Public Records Office, which was the first fire-proof building in the country.  When they moved in, they had no problem with load-bearing because it had been built to hold paper, but the shelving was built for closed-stacks, not the kind of open-stacks typical of an academic library.  They also had to work with the wiring, given the current needs for large numbers of computers and other electrical equipment.

The Maughan Library has three-quarters of a million items and three hundred computers for the 11,000 students who use the Strand Campus.  The Strand Campus focuses on the humanities, law, social sciences and a bit of engineering.  They are looking to improve the group study areas, social areas and self-service is already in place.  They are also already doing roaming reference, something that is currently under debate within academic libraries in the United States.  They are also separating from IT services, which they are using as an opportunity to be more front and center within the university community.

Since we had only visited the libraries at Oxford University, which may be academic libraries but on a rather grand scale, it was a wonderful opportunity to visit another academic library in the UK.  Admittedly, the Maughan Library is also a rather grand variety of academic library, inhabiting the former Public Record Office and in possession of significant special collections, but it is also a more typical academic library of the variety seen in the United States.

I enjoyed being able to see many of the items they have in their special collections and being permitted to look through them.  It is interesting to see that academic libraries in the UK are experiencing similar reassessments of space and considering incorporating more social and group spaces into the library for students.  However, unlike many academic libraries in the US, they do not seem to think it as necessary to eliminate the majority of the printed materials within the library to do so.  The British seem somewhat more appreciative of the wealth of their present collections even under the threat of ever decreasing space, whereas US academic libraries seem a bit too enamored of digital resources and willing to throw out the books to make way for computers without considering historical context provided by those books.  In many of the libraries we have visited here, the appreciation for the context of older materials has been obvious.  It too often feels like libraries and people in the US do not share a similar appreciation for that context.  If it is not old enough or unique enough to find a home in special collections and not new enough to be considered the latest and greatest, then libraries and people in the US seem too inclined to dismiss printed materials as no longer worth the paper on which the words are printed.  The respect for the book as object seems much less in the US as well.  These are interesting differences to note, and I think that because of my interest in rare books and special collections, I am more in line with the way of thinking I have seen over here.  It has been an enlightening experience to recognize the differences as well as the similarities between the US and UK methods within libraries and in the way of thinking about books, archival and other materials.

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Dunfermline Carnegie Public Library

The Dunfermline Carnegie Public Library was the first Carnegie Library, built in Andrew Carnegie’s hometown.  It opened to the public on August 29, 1883 and is built in the Tudor style.  The most recent addition to the building was added in 1992.  This allowed them to add rooms for the children’s collection, meeting rooms, and the local history collection.  They host craft events and rhyme time sessions for children along with story time for toddlers.  In conjunction with the Edinburgh Central Library, they do a summer reading program.  This year they had 139 children enrolled so far, up from 85 last year.

There are eight public access computers on the ground floor.  The library collection includes approximately 59,700 volumes.  They also have space for regular exhibitions to encourage people, particularly children to visit the library.  The current exhibition is of Egyptian artifact replicas.  They also have a rare book collection, and their collection includes Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica from 1471 and Shakespeare’s Second Folio from 1632.

Dunfermline Carnegie Public Library

I found this to be a very impressive public library for its location in a rather small town.  Their collection of rare books was of particular interest to me, and I found their efforts at creating exhibitions for the sake of drawing in members of the community to be a great idea.  The exhibition of Egyptian artifact replicas seemed a great way to interest children in the library and a wonderful way for them to gain exposure to history and culture when they live outside of a major metropolitan area.  They are obviously making great efforts to encourage literacy among children in the community as well with their story times and rhyme times.

I was also impressed with the local history collection and the map collection.  It is amazing how much of the history of a place resides in the local public library.  The Dunfermline library seems to be making impressive efforts toward making the history of the area available to its community.

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Edinburgh Central Library

The Edinburgh Central Library is a Victorian Carnegie library.  They have a 24/7 virtual library to cater to their community even when the physical library is not open.  They also use plasma screens, a mobile app with directional information that has the potential for actual transactions in the future, and touch screens with information and directions in the lobby.  They have a Google map on the homepage that highlights books on or written in Edinburgh.  The purpose of the digital services is to provide an alternative to coming into the library but still encourage reading.  They use Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and have a blog that receives approximately five to six thousand visits per month.

They have a two person reader development team, which is meant to encourage reading within the community.  They hold author events at the central library and at the community libraries.  The Scottish Book Trust pays half for the author to visit.  The library thinks of a theme and then asks for the writers to visit.  They also have a number of book groups, and they sponsor a Book Group Bash to encourage membership in book groups.  They also are part of City of Literature, which is a big party ever February.

They also promote computer literacy and adult learning within the library.  They have a class for complete beginners that provides a sensitive and encouraging place to learn how to use a computer.  The class lasts for six weeks and covers the very basic functions and operations of a computer, including turning the computer on and how to use a mouse.  They hold learner celebrations to celebrate accomplishments, and they also encourage their learners to use the free computers in the library.  There are also volunteers called IT Buddies who work one on one with beginning learners to help jump start their independence with computers.

These are just a few of the many services they are offering to their communities in and around Edinburgh.

It was great to see another impressive public library with a large amount of programming for the community and to encourage children to read and adults to learn how to feel comfortable using computers.  It seems that public libraries in the UK are taking great steps to remain relevant to their communities.  It was wonderful to hear all of the innovative ideas they were employing in order to help the people who use the library.  Their efforts to have local authors involved in the library and the community to encourage reading is truly impressive.  It is also great that they find so many ways of finding assistance with funding all of these great efforts to benefit their community.

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National Records of Scotland

National Records of Scotland is an agency of the Scottish government.  On April 1, 2011 the National Archives of Scotland merged with the Registrar to form the National Records of Scotland as part of a government effort to merge organizations within the government.  They have 72 kilometers of shelving and records of births and deaths dating from the 12th century.  They also have the census records from 1841.  There are six buildings in Edinburgh, and they employ 450 staff members.  The public access facilities include six public search rooms and nine webpages, though things are changing now that the merger between the agencies has occurred.

Currently they report to the Cabinet Secretary of Culture and External Affairs, but they have been under various departments over the years.  The growing interest in genealogy has raised the profile of the National Records of Scotland and its importance to the community.  They digitize the most frequently used records in an effort to balance access and preservation needs.  Their oldest document is a brieve from King David I dated in the 1120s.

I found the National Records of Scotland to be wonderfully welcoming, and it is amazing to realize how organize they are and how much access is available to their research materials.  They seem to have undergone their merger with grace.  It seems they have an excellent situation for assisting people with genealogy research, in which I know some members of our class were interested in taking advantage.  I am glad we had an opportunity to visit a national archive and record administration like this during our time in the UK.  It is amazing to see how much more efficiently a national archive and records administration can function in a smaller country.  The national records administration in the United States is often several steps behind because it is just so large and cumbersome to deal with the records of a large nation.  I also found it fascinating that much like NARA in the US, National Records of Scotland has fallen under different authority within the government over time.  It seems that deciding where archives and records fall within a government is a universally difficult matter.

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Christ Church College Library, Oxford University

The Christ Church College Library opened in 1772.  They hold significant collections of rare books and manuscripts.  They estimate they have roughly 100,000 early printed books dating from the advent of printing to 1800.  They also have a special collection of musical scores.  Their collections are organized by donor and include not only books and manuscripts but also the accompanying items that comprised the various aspects of the individual donor’s collection.  For example, a collection of early printed science books also included scientific instruments and another collection also included coins.  The library also has over 700 manuscript collections and one of the manuscripts dates from 1163.  They have a few manuscripts from Elizabeth I and Edward III and manuscripts in other languages.  The decorations around the library reflect aspects of the collections held by the library, such as musical and scientific instruments.

The library has also been digitizing materials.  They have medieval and early modern manuscripts available online in PDF and are planning to digitize more.  They are also in the process of cataloging their early printed books.  They have spent thirteen years on the project so far, and they estimate approximately seven or eight more years before they complete the cataloging.  The reason for the length of time taken is the level of detail which they are devoting to each catalog entry.

I enjoyed seeing one of the college libraries of Oxford, and the Christ Church College Library is such an amazing space.  The way they organize the collections was also quite interesting, keeping them within their original collections rather than separating them out into a larger organizational scheme.  Some special collections libraries in the United States also do this.  I believe that New York University has a collection that is organized according to the classification scheme designed by its original owner.  It felt that the entire library was simply a series of special collections, not just rare book collections, including all of the objects that accompanied the books and manuscripts when they were given to Christ Church College.

I felt we were quite fortunate in being able to visit such a magnificent library with so many varied collections.  The main room was also a gorgeous space with some of the most exquisite decorative flourishes I have seen in a library.  One of the most enjoyable experiences of visiting libraries in the UK is the prevalence of original wooden shelving.  It is much more difficult to find such traditionally structured libraries within the United States, and the library at Christ Church College is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

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