Sunday, August 14, 2011

British Library Conservation Lab

My experience working with different kinds of paper and my training as a bookbinder made the visit to the British Library Conservation Lab very exciting.  I am always eager to see how different book studios are set up, the different kinds of equipment people use and more than anything to meet the people who work so intimately with books as I do.

The conservation lab lives in a separate building from the rest of the library. There are five teams of conservators and the entire sixth floor is devoted to working with and conserving paper items such as maps, wall hangings, miniatures and archives.

The majority of the work done here is on books. But there is also work being done on items such as stamps and photographs. Some examples of work that has been conserved include a collection of first edition Beatrix Potter bindings and Codex Formaticus which was broken into pieces.

Any item that is conserved has an extremely detailed conservation record where the conservators describe EVERY action taken with the item including an inventory of materials used such as adhesives and papers.

One of the conservators was working on conserving a 17th century palm leaf book with a 14th century text inscribed on the leaves. There are 253 leaves in total and each leaf bound together by a thread that goes through the middle of the leaf. Many of the leaves have been damaged and pieces of the leaf have been broken off. These leaves are difficult to work with because traditional adhesives don’t work. The leaves have been treated with oil and this makes the adhesives ineffective. Since the edges of the leaves cannot be repaired in a traditional manner, the conservator employed a piece of equipment called a leaf caster. I wasn’t able to see this machine but it sounds very interesting. Essentially, a mold of the leaves is made; a paper pulp is made and then pressed through the mold onto the leaf, filling in the missing spaces.

One of the conservators gave a demonstration on gold tooling. Having done golf tooling once before, I was fascinated to see it done again. First, the leather is polished using a warm metal tool; this smooths out the surface of the leather, leaving a polished surface for the gold to be impressed into. Then a mild adhesive consisting of egg white and water is put in the leather followed by a thin layer of Vaseline which makes the gold stick to the spine. Using a thread, the conservator made a small line to make sure the line of text would be straight. Then using a hot tool, the gold is impressed into the spine. Only where the hot tool has touched will there be any gold. It is a very delicate process. The conservator said he had apprenticed doing this kind of work for five years before he started his career. Very impressive.

The kind of work being done in the labs is so fascinating to me and I am so grateful for having the opportunity to see these dedicated people at play.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Middle Temple Library

Little do we know, but Middle Temple has a deep relationship with our young little nation. Middle Temple taught several of the brilliant minds who decided one day to write this silly document called the Declaration of Independence. As a result of this special relationship, Middle Temple Library has an American Law collection. It was built after WWII and one of the largest collections on law in the United States. There is an interesting collection relating to the issues of capital punishment which was donated by an individual who was opposed to the death penalty. The collections are used by English practitioners, commercial lawyers and researchers. Among the publications the library collects are the Harvard Law Review and Notre Dame Law Journal.

The library was founded by Robert Ashley when he donated his own personal library. This collection consisted of 4,000 items including 80 volumes from John Donne’s personal library.

The building where the library is located was built in the 1950’s after the war. The architect was so paranoid about the building getting bombed that it was constructed using reinforced concrete. Over the last few years, some of the rooms have been converted to make space for meeting facilities. The librarian I spoke with expressed his opinion that this is a positive move for the library as it will bring more people in the doors and spread awareness of the library. Some of his colleagues disagree however.

Materials from the library include journals, reference books, trials and ecclesiastical law from the US, EU, Scotland and Ireland. You finicky librarians out there are going to cringe about this little fact nugget but there is no classification scheme. Not to worry though, the librarians seem to manage the collections just fine using alphabetic organization. There are no subject areas so there is no confusion. All editions of text books are kept so that precedent could be traced.

 Noteworthy honorary members of Middle Temple include Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Maughan Library, King's College

King’s College began in 1829 as a godly institution. To this day there is still a very strong theology department at King’s. Among its many campuses, the Strand campus of King’s college is the only non-health related campus.

The building the library lives now used to be the Public Record Office. Due to restrictions on historical buildings and sites, there are two rooms in the library which must remain as they were when the building was the Public Record Office, including the slate shelving. This brings up an interesting situation the librarians have had to work around. It is important to maintain historical sites, but for the library this means working around these unusable spaces. Also, the land that this building is on is legally royal property, but is leased out to the City of London. There are detailed maps posted on all the stacks in the library because due to the historical site restrictions, nothing can be posted on the walls in the building.

There are 11,000 students and 1,000 visitors at the Strand campus. The library contains three-quarters of a million items. The library has gone to great lengths since moving into its current building to make the library an efficient useful space for patrons. There are 300 computers available and wireless internet throughout the building. Social spaces and group study spaces have been created. The library also has a self service for students to use. There is a Round Room, similar to the Round Room at the British Museum. This room is for reference and silent study only.

Materials in the library range from such topics as humanities, law, and natural sciences. Different kinds of materials have different time limits to be checked out. For example, the DVD and multimedia collections are only available for a short loan period.

The special collections department hosts three exhibits a year. Once the exhibit is over, it is then digitized and made available online.

One of the incredibly rare items in the special collections is a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle. There is an extensive medical collection because King’s was once the largest medical school in Europe. There are manuscript notebooks of doctors, noting anatomy and recipes for drugs. There is a copy of Florence Nightingale’s book, Sanitary History of the British Army at War with Russia, signed by the author. There is an original The Charters of the Provence of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia, printed by Ben Franklin. From the Foreign Commonwealth Office there is a photo journal of Queen Elizabeth II coronation from a commonwealth in Africa. One of the most remarkable finds in this treasure trove is a secret photo album of photographs of the Rhine in Germany, compiled before the war in an effort to track all transportation along the river. There is also a rich holocaust collection.

Book arts plug for the day: In the current special collections exhibition is The Saint John’s Bible, by Liturgical Press. This work is a hand calligraphed collaboration between calligrapher Donald Jackson and a Benedictine Foundation in Minnesota. It is absolutely stunning.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library, the first Carnegie library in the world, opened on August 29, 1883. It was built in the domestic Tudor style. As the story goes, the opening day of the library every single book in the collection was checked out.

The library’s 59,000 item collection is mostly fiction, non-fiction, teen and children’s literature. In 1992 the library extended to incorporate a children’s room, a local history room and meeting space. The children’s room hosts craft event, rhyme times with toddlers and has a summer reading program for children ages 5 to 11 designed to encourage them to read during the summer months when school is out.

The Abbey Room is designated for special exhibits. During my visit the exhibit was called Pharaoh in the Fife where in replicas of Egyptian artifacts are on display. The library coordinates with local schools on these exhibitions.

The special collections has a room whose collection is devoted to the poet Robert Burns. This room is closed to the public except for special events. On display in this room is a Shakespeare 2nd folio.,_Dunfermline.jpg

The local interest room is a very interesting part of the library. The books are organized by region so patrons can look for items based upon specific location. The public are welcome to donate photographs of the local area. The Morris Allan collection is a special collection of glass negatives from a local photographer. All the photographs in the library have been mounted on card and then placed in mylar slips. The library has a collection of maps including hand drawn maps of the local area.

There is a section of the room devoted to the history of Dunfermline in the 20th century. The library has nearly every copy of the local publications either in print or on microfiche. The public is free to propose an exhibit for this room as well. During my visit the exhibition was about a local football player who played for Liverpool before the WWII.

This is a lovely library which places much of its efforts into cultivating a sense of community in Dunfermline.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Central Library, City of Edinburgh Council

It is hard to imagine that within the heavy gothic buildings that decorate the ancient Royal Mile and the surrounding streets lives a thriving public library. The Central Library is a fine example of all that a public library can do.

There is an entire department devoted to creating a library environment online. This department is in charge of managing the corporate website but also with providing 24 hour access to the library. Your Library is a program designed to combine the library with social media. The librarians are playing with a library application for smart phones which has the potential to allow patrons to check out books using this application. The library maintains a Google map called Edinburgh Reads where patrons can find book clubs across the city. Tales of One City is a blog designed to bring library resources and events to patrons utilizing various kinds of social media including twitter, facebook, flickr, and youtube. Patrons also can receive a newsletter which is a more expanded version of the blog.

There is a feature called Library to Go which allows patrons to read online or check out e-books and e-audio. Among the references and online resources there are language programs, information on how to get a driver’s license, how to apply for funds and grants and genealogy resources. Within the library, plasma touch screens are features throughout the library providing information on library services, events and collections. There is potential to have digital exhibitions available on these screens as well. This social media and online resource blitzkrieg is designed to bring more patrons into the library both online and onsite.

There is a program specifically for reader development. The purpose of this program is to get people reading more and reading more widely. Author events are hosted. The Royal Book Trust has a program called Live Literature where the trust will match the libraries donation to bring an author to the central library or any of the community libraries. Authors often solicit to come promote their books as well.

The library is extremely active in book groups. There are 46 groups hosted through the library and over 40 more independent groups that work with the library. City of Literature events are events hosted through the library with the aim of promoting literature throughout Edinburgh. Read Aloud is a program where volunteers go into elderly homes and read to the residents and bring some library materials. The library is partners with a number of organizations such as Scottish Book Trust, Scottish Poetry Library, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Book Festival, City of Literature, and Scottish Library and Information Council.

The library also has training programs called Frontline which educates staff members on how to engage with the public, how to set up effective displays, event training. Reader development and book group training is also available.

The Central Library is devoted to community development. In addition to all of the services I’ve already mentioned, the library has a department devoted to adult IT learning. 15 of the local communities join the Central Library in teaching classes. Classes are taught such as beginning computer classes and English as a second language. IT Buddies is a program where volunteers work directly with patrons. Future IT programs include learning IT family history, social media, and employment.

The library is also involved in literacy efforts. The Six Book Challenge is a program designed to encourage reluctant readers to read more. The library is also partners with Dyslexia Scotland which promotes online support software and hosts dyslexia reading groups for children.

I am absolutely blown away by the services offered at this library. This library is a shining example of innovation and community involvement. The library staff are keenly aware of the importance of keeping the library relevant in our modern technology culture. What a wonderful library. And here is the view from the back window...

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

The National Archives of Scotland

The National Archives of Scotland are located just over the bridge from the Royal Mile. The organization is in the midst of combining resources and merging with the National Registrar Office for Scotland. So in fact, it is no longer the National Archives but now the National Records of Scotland.

The archive is comprised of six buildings with about 450 employees. In the main building there is a search room called the Adam Dome where the public is welcome to come and browse the catalog for up to two hours. Further research requires a day ticket. The ground floor search rooms are all electronic. There are five different search rooms. The Thomas Thompson House is a large storage facility which devotes an entire floor to a conservation department.

The Brits, especially the Scots, are very interested in tracing their genealogy. It’s a bit of a craze in fact. So it is unsurprising that the majority of the records held in the National Records pertain mostly to family history. The National Records deliver records for the National Archives of Scotland, National Register of Archives of Scotland, Scottish Register of Tartans, Registers for birth, death and marriage, and an organization called the Scottish People Centre which holds information on Scottish culture.

Here is a laundry list of the kinds of documents the organization manages: state papers, deeds, church records, valuation rolls, family and estate papers, old parish records, birth records, death records, marriage records, court and legal records, government papers, business records, railway records, maps and plans.

The organization engages in an interesting cooperative effort with educators and schools across the country using a program called Glow. This program brings the archival materials to students through video conferencing.

Many of the documents are ancient enough that the unique art of paleography is needed to transcribe the documents. Luckily, the organization provides classes for employees and the public to develop this rare skill. The website has links to a website called

The oldest document the organization has is a brief from King David I granting the land for St. Cuthbert’s Church that dates from 1120 AD. The church is still there, by the way.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Christ Church College, Oxford University

Oxford University is made of of several different colleges. Having seen the central library for the university, we walked just down the lane to Christ Church College. As with the Bodleian, much of the architecture of the college has been used in films, specifically the Harry Potter Series. The grand staircase and the great hall have both been used along with the grounds outside and some of the cloisters.

Christ Church was the home of two great fantastical English authors; JRR Tolkien and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. It is said that Alice Liddell played in the private garden of the head librarian. In the great hall, amongst the many panes of stained glass there are characters from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  including the Queen, the White Rabbit, and Alice herself.

The library at Christ Church was opened in 1772. Materials are organized by collection, or rather the former owner of a collection. The librarian argues that keeping these collections together as they were collected by individuals provides us with valuable information regarding not just the collections people owned but how they built their collections. There are many annotations from the owners in these books as well as the occasional letter from the author to the collector.

The library has 100,000 early printed books. Cataloging efforts for these collections has been underway for 13 years. No small feat. Many of the books descriptions are acquired through antiquarian MARC records. As of now about 2/3 of the early printed books are in the online catalog.

The Ornery Collection is a collection of early printed science books including works by Galileo. This collection also came with a number of scientific instruments and objects which were lent to the Science Museum in the 19th century. There is a collection of around 700 manuscripts including a roman manuscript from 500 AD and the earliest known manuscript in England, the Sermons of Augustus from 1163.

The library has the third largest collection of manuscript scores behind the British Library and the Bodleian including Jacobean and Tudor scores. Plaster ornamentation in the walls of the library reflect the content of the collections including a musical motif which features a number of musical instruments.
There are also some royal collections including illuminated manuscripts from Elizabeth I and a treatise on how to be King which belonged to Edward III. One unique object is Thomas Wolsey's Cardinal Hat. On special exhibition was a collection of original manuscripts by Lewis Carroll and translations of his works in many different languages.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Forty-five minutes outside of London is the lovely town of Oxford. This darling little burg has roots as far back as 700 AD. During these early years, men seeking education had to go to university in Paris. Several monasteries were established in Oxford due to its central location and subsequently, a university was established to keep the young men in the country to get their education. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin was used as the first educational building.

The first library at Oxford University was added to St Mary's in 1320. In those days the library was always located on the upper floor to protect the books from possible flood damage. The galleries were build with huge windows to allow sunlight in because no fire was allowed for illumination. To this day, each student must make a vow to never expose an open flame in the library. In the 15th century the first purpose built building for the university was erected for the purpose of lectures and examinations, all of which took place in Latin.

In 1488 a new library was finished which held the Duke Humfrey's Library and a divinity school. A few years later there was this guy named Henry who decided to shake things up a bit. As a result of his dissolution of the monasteries, all but a precious dozen of the books in the library were burned.

Thomas Bodley was a diploma tin the Netherlands and had been educated in Geneva and England. Seeing the value in education, he returned to Oxford to establish a central library. It is from his name that we have the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian Library was England's first copyright library and by 1610 was the second largest in the world. Each college in the university had their own library so the Bodleian acted as the university's central library. It houses 11 million books. Materials are not available for lending but must be accessed through the reading room.

The interior of the library is visually stunning. Much of the architecture has been featured in films including the Harry Potter series. In fact the library in the movie is in fact the stacks in the Bodleian. Two stories high, the books are packed on the shelves, showing off their beautiful spines.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

Royal Geographical Society

enerally speaking, when most people think of archives it all seems rather boring. Stacks of dry pages recording the mundane conversations of dusty old men talking about the weather from sixty years ago. But there is always a diamond in the ruff, something that makes people stop and wonder at the marvels within. The Royal Geographical Society is one such diamond.,_Kensington.jpg
 Those of us who grew up watching Indiana Jones all secretly yearned for a chance to be just such an explorer. The RGS, founded in 1830, was instrumental to the exploration, discovery, and mapping of much of the world's unseen places. The RGS archive houses 2 million items relating to expeditions of the earths surface. There are 1 million maps, half a million photographs and drawings, 250,000 books and periodicals, and 15,000 artifacts.

The RGS has commonly been viewed as something of an old boys club. The Society wished to make archive's materials  more accessible to the public so in 2004 the Foyle Reading Room was built  to bring more patrons to view the collections. The collections are open to RGS members and to the public but non-members are required to pay a small fee unless they work in education and are doing research for their teaching. The catalog is available online and patrons are encouraged to e-mail what materials they need the day prior to coming to the reading room so that the archivists have time to retrieve the materials. One can drop in unannounced and request materials but will have to wait about 10 minutes for their requests to be retrieved. Some materials are available for lending to members.

Faced with the daunting task of cataloging the archives 2 million items, archivists outsourced the cataloging to India. This saved the staff much time and effort. But such endeavors always come with some minor glitches so the archivists are still involved with ensuring all the information is accurate. To maximize the best use of the place available the items are stored such that the books and maps are together and the artifacts, archives and pictures are housed together.

So just what kind of artifacts are we talking about here? When I arrived, the archivist had a huge table absolutely covered in different objects from various expeditions. There were metal collars with the name of a ship and the longitude and latitude to be placed on foxes to try and locate a ship which disappeared in pursuit of the North Pole. There is an unopened canister of meat left from the abandoned ship Resolute. Timbers from this ship were used to make the desk which now resides in the Oval Office in the White House. There was a hand-drawn map of Arabia by Lawrence of Arabia. There were articles of clothing from some of the most revered explorers in modern history. Included in these artifacts were diaries, log books of ships, correspondence, planning papers, receipts, and sketches.

The highlight of this visit was not just being able to see and touch these incredibly rare objects. Our welcoming host, Eugene Rae, took the time to explain the complete history of these unique items. The RGS is so much more than just and archive, but a living vessel of exploration history; a unique gem for anyone who loves history and to dream of unexplored places.

*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.