Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Tuesday, July 22: University of Strathclyde & Library at The Bridge

The last scheduled class session took us to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The univeristy offers a postgraduate degree in Information and Library Studies. Our class was addressed by several of the universities staff but the discussion was lead primarly by David McMenemy. Mr. Mcmenemy also asked a doctoral student to present her research and a member of the IT staff to demonstrate their online database.
The student working for her doctorate performed her research on the way libraries are assessed and measured for the public good. It was her opinion that the current methods of examination are flawed and that is difficult to calculate how valuable a library is to certain communities. She suggested that a more progressive and all encompassing survey be taken to recieve a more accurate representation of use by varying groups. Her study looked at the role of the library in rural and urban environments and even those affected by natural disasters. One of her case studies followed the citizens New Orleans and their use of libraries after hurrican Katrina. The most surprising part of the presentation was that no one had conducted research similar to this in Scotland. Mr. McMenemy also indicated that there were few studies in the field of library science in his country. He also encouraged the class to send their research papers to him in order to print them in an academic journal the program publishes. Perhaps if my own research paper is strong enough I will send them a copy.
Following the guest lectures Mr. Mcmenemy wanted to show us a few libraries of importance in the area. Unfortunately we were running behind schedule and were only able to see one of the libraries. And what a library it was; The Library at the Bridge opened in 2006 in effort to bolster the community in Glasgow which had been deterioating in recent years. The library was established as a place for arts, culture, and learning. It literally is a bridge between leisure and education standing between the community swimming facility and its college. The building has space for a public reading room, auditorium, dance and recording studio, and a cafe. The library is challenging the traditional idea of what a library should be and it appears to be working. The fact sheet given to us by our guide indicates that visitation, reference questions, and library cards have all increased dramatically from previous years. The Bridge has also appeared consistently in the top 6 best libraries in the city since its redesign.
I have never seen a library which incorporates so many leisure and artistic activities. The Bridge is truly at the cutting edge of public libraries. I think it may become necessary for more libraries to adopt a model similar to this in order to envigorate public interest in libraries. Also, if the Bridge is any indication, city governments and councils should consider projects like this when a community is faced with declining population and quality of life.

Friday, July 18: Stratford-upon-Avon and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

The last trip for the week was to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library in Stratford-upon-Avon. On this trip our group was joined by some of the other students as we had tickets to see a play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company that evening. The bus ride was fairly quick and we arrived in the town early. The class walked to the Shakespeare Museum where Shakespeares home stood originally. The library is adjacent to the museum and its stacks are located in the basement.
The Trust was estblished after the purchase of the Shakespeare family home. The library was an extension of the Trust and is responsible for the managment of two collections. The first, Shakespeare Collection consists of printed collections of the Trust and an archive for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The second, is comprised of local historical documents including those related to Shakespeare and his family.
Our tour began in one of the reading rooms of the library. Sylvia explained how the library ran and its signifigance to the memory of Shakespeare and the RSC as well as to the community. She mentioned how local students used the library to support small research papers as well as Shakespeare historians and enthusiasts. The library is also used to trace family histories as they have many historical documents relating to the history of the town. An important fact that Sylvia mentioned was that the Trust, which includes the library, is not subsidized by the government in any way and relies on donations for funding. I was surprised to hear this because of Shakespeares importance as a writer and historical figure. It would seem that the government would help bolster an organization responsible for the preservation of such a noteable British subject.
The tour was continued by Jo Wilding in a nearby conference room. Jo had selected several items from the collection for us to look at. In the items she selected were photographs from past RSC performances, books printed during Shakespeare's life, and a copy of Shakespeares first folio printed after his death. This items were exhilerating to look at and we were quite lucky to have the experience. Jo extended our tour by taking us down into the various locked stacks below the museum. She showed us a copy of Shakespeare's quatro as well as some of the archived material from the RSC.
I found this trip to be interesting because it was one of the first small specialized libraries we visited. The difference between the Trust library and the enormous Bodleian was astounding. It was hard not to compare the two as we had seen them back-to-back. A library whose work is as vital as the Trust library should recieve funding from a government agency.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Thursday, July 17: Oxford and the Bodleian Library

Today's visit was to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The group took a train from Paddington station to Oxford and then got on a tour bus for the city. We drove around for a while listening to the guided tour of the area, and got some history of the numerous colleges at Oxford. The group got off the tour outside of the original Bodleian Library. Once we arrived we were ushered in very quickly and split into to groups.
Our tour began in the large room at the center of the bottom floor of the library known as the Divinty School. The guide explained to us that this room was intially used as an examination room for students. However, the exams taken back then would have been drastically different from those we know today. Students were questioned for hours and asked to argue their case in front of an observer. This was all done in Latin, by the way. The ceiling of the hall was covered in carvings depicting religious scenes, crests, and other symbols.
The group was then taken to the room behind the Divinty School called the Convocation Room. This room, pictured above, is used as a cermonial meeting room. Alumni of the college meet here when a new president of the college is to be decided. Some students recieve diplomas in this room. This is usually reserved for recipients of honorary degrees.
The Bodleian Library itself is located atop the two rooms mentioned previously. The library was built in its current location in the beginning of the 17th Century. A library had existed prior to the Bodleian but it had been declining in recent years. Thomas Bodley decided to donate some of his personal collection and resources to restoring the library. He also encouraged others to donate to the library and expand it further. The library is now one of the six legal deposit libraries in the UK. The collection has around 8 million items at several locations around Oxford. One of these is the New Bodleian library located acrossed the street from the old.
I was intrigued by one point the guide made in particular, the libraries plans for digitizing the collection. He stated that it was the library's goal to completely digitize the entire collection. I thought this was interesting because most of the libraries we had visited previously had not enough employees or budget to complete such a task. The Bodleian Library is fortunate enough to have the Oxford Digital Library to help with the transfer. This group was established in order to digitize the collection and it recieves most of its funding from donors.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Tuesday, July 8: British Library

Our second excursion found as at the British Library near King's Cross station. This library is national library for the United Kingdom and includes more than 150 million pieces in its collection. The library contionually adds to its collection and each year expands its collection size. Several types of media are acquired by the library including, but not limited to, books, newspapers, magazines, manuscripts, CDs, DVDs, databases, and philatelic items (stamps). The goal of the library is to provide all citizens the opportunity to access information and to preserve these items for future generations.

The library is short walking distance from the tube station. There is a large courtyard occupying the entrance to the building. According to the library professional we toured with this is one of the larger open spaces alotted to an organization in the city. The building itself was designed by a former British Naval Officer and is designed with to have the appearance of a ship.

The library has four levels and each of these contains several reading rooms for specific subjects. Each reading room has reference staff who specialize in the area of study. The 1st floor has reading rooms for humanities, rare books and music, business, and social sciences. These subject categories are broader in scope and within each reading room contain more narrowly defined fields. For instance, the humanties reading room is comprised of subjects such as american studies, celtic studies, drama, media studies, and philisophy.

Reading rooms are only accesible to citizens who register and recieve a library card. Two forms of ID are recquired with a proof of signature and address. With a library card patrons are able to access millions of documents in the collection. The library staff recommends that patrons have items they would like to research already picked out. This is because of the time it takes to retrieve items from basement storage. Users are encouraged to find items over the internet and order them prior to their visit to the library.

When a patron has selected an item they must fill out an inquiry and meet with a member of the staff. The staff member then processes the request and the item is retrieved from the basement stacks. The library also stores collections at offsite locations. On average an item ordered that is onsite is delivered in an hour. Items requested which are stored offsite can take from 2 hours to two days depending on the location. This is why the staff recommends patrons select items in advance.

The British Library is also home to some special collections.

Monday, July 7: First stop, St. Paul's Cathedral

The first journey for our class was to St. Paul's Cathedral at the center of the city. We arrived at the cathedral after a bit of debate in front of the tube station. The dome of the cathedral dominates the skyline from a distance, but it is slightly harder to find when standing near the building as it is blocked by sky scrappers.

The cathedral, as it stands today, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1710. There have been other cathedrals dedicated to St. Paul that occupied this same location; the earliest dating back to 604AD. A decision was made to reconstruct the cathedral after its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666.

Our class was fortunate enough to be given a private tour of the Library and Triforium. Joe Wisdom, a member of the library staff, guided the class through several of the cathedral's private rooms. The first of these rooms was a private staircase used by the Bishop of London. According to Mr. Wisdom the Bishop used these steps to access either the cathedral or the library and corridors above. The staircase is supported by cantilever and rise three stories to the library and triforium above.

The triforium our class was able to view held a large scale wooden model. This model was designed by Christopher Wren and was the architects original plan for the cathedral. However, Wren's initial view contained an even larger dome and considered by more influential powers to be too Roman and ornate. The room also contained schematics for the cathedral. Most of these were not original copies this is because the room lacked the necessary conditions for the preservation of these documents. Mr. Wisdom informed us before leaving that this room was originally intended to be the library. This point was illustrated by the inclusion of several texts carved into the marble beams in the room.

Joe took us next to the cathedral library. The room itself was almost identical in size to the other triforium but furnished with wooden bookcases. The collection is comprised of theological texts and those pertaining to Christopher Wren. Mr. Wisdom explained that the room was not ideal for preservation and that many of the volumes were in disrepair. The collection is organized by the size of text with the largest at the bottom. In this way space can be used more efficiently. The cathedral's collection is used primarily by researchers interested in the history of the cathedral, Christopher Wren, or theolgical texts.

I found the tour to be a great look at a specialized library and the concerns and troubles which face an institution such as this.

I'd also like to add that if incarnation does in fact exist I would like to return as Joe Wisdom.