Royal Geographical Society

The Royal Geographic Society was founded in 1830 for the advancement of exploration. It currently has 17,000 members. It started with Artic explorations in 1818, went onto Central Africa explorations in the 1850s, Antarctica in 1895, and to the top of Mt Everest in the 1920s.

The job of the library is to disseminate information. It does this by sending out articles in the journal, make objects available for use, exchange periodicals, and plan papers.

The collection consists of 2 million items: 1 million maps, 4,000 atlases, picture collection of 500,000 items, 20,000 glass lantern slides, 250,000 books, and 1500 objects.

The object collection is the smallest collection, but has the highest demand. There are scientific instruments which were bought by the Society to lend to explorers. The librarian was able to tell the story of Livingstone with objects that were actually used by the famous explorer.

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There are food bags and issues of the South Pole Times magazine that was made in the winters of Antarctica. In one issue, there is the ode to a penguin. The objects are meant for a museum, but are available for people to view just like requesting a book.

It is an amazing way to tell history with pictures and objects. There is an eternal mystery of the camera that went with George Mallory’s exploration to Mt Everest in 1924 is still missing. That camera might contain a picture that proves George Mallory was the first person to climb Mt Everest years before someone else.

 

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British Library Conservation Centre

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The job of  the Conservation Centre at the British Library is to take care of physical items. The centre is located behind the British Library and their environment is about preventative conservation. They use scientific research and testing to determine the best treatment. Factors as temperature handling and cold Northern blue light are needed to prevent damage to the materials. They use kettle bells as weights and Japanese paper tissue use to conserve tears in parchment that gives strength without weight. Other factors are being culturally sensitive in the process.

They have many projects from textiles, sewing, digitization. They have specific projects to help other institutions, such as the scroll project.

One project is their textiles department is preserving a set of 2 flags from a Royal Volunteer Company from India. The flags are badly degraded, but the set is the only one left in existence. They are using digital print to fill in the loss of silk. The project fits the conservation requirement of being unique enough to preserve for the future.

Another project is the scroll project. It is about opening, conserving, and digitizing thousand-year old scrolls found near the last battle of Genghis Khan in the Gobi Desert of a dead language. The scrolls will be added to a digital project of material found along the Silk Road.

Their sewing department taught me that the binding process of an item can tell a story as well. The digitization process is determined by a priority list due to the expense.

The staff need to have multifaceted skills, such as science based skills or practical skills. It all comes down to know how to do treatment of an item from the beginning to end. For example, finding different ways to open a thousand-year scroll.

British Museum Archives

The British Museum could have changed history in a different way. A location was needed to house the national collection. Two options were available: Montague House for 20,000 pounds or Buckingham House (aka Buckingham Palace) for 30,000 pounds. A lottery was setup and raised 20,000 pounds, so the location of the Montague House was purchased for the future home of the museum. If the lottery had raised the extra 10,000 pounds, it would have changed the visitor’s guide to London.

The British Museum housed the national library until 1997. It is currently an archive of material related to the museum collections. The location of the Archives is located in tunnels underneath the museum to preserve the material from damage by humidity and light.

The wealth of material in the archives is amazing. There are proceedings from the first board meeting of trustees to documentation to help provide ownership of museum items to old library reading room applications.

I enjoyed seeing the old King George reading room still housing books, even though it is a museum gallery. The books were in bookshelves along the wall, and below stands of items throughout that room.

The experience of visiting the archives is a great example of a library that is in progress of evolution. There is no catalog, but the archivist, Francesca, is working on it. As she tries to fulfills an enquiry with no catalog, it is a possibility that the answer may not be found in an expected resource. It is a great demonstration of turning a librarian into a true detective

British Library

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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom. It receives 1 copy of every book published throughout Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England. The library was located at the British Museum until 1997 when the current location opened to the public. The architecture of the building is designed as a giant ship with limited windows to avoid damage to the books. It has been listed with a Great 1 Historic status built around 2 tube tunnels.

In the middle of the building stands a tall black tower of 86,000 items known as the King George Library. The bookshelves can retract for staff to retrieve books. On display, there is the world’s largest atlas by the Map reading room. By the information desk, you can see the world’s largest tapestry on the wall. If you can find the 3D painting in the public area, please let me know what you think. While you try to find the painting, take a moment to think about it on the open book bench in the lobby. That bench will be hard to move due to the huge cannon ball lock.

An interesting fact for me is the scan pen that is used for cataloging the material. I know a few librarians who would love to use that technology. Being a library in England, the books are classified by size and weight as seen at the Bodleian Library. The 150 million item collection grows 12 kilometers every year. The storage of the British Library has 18 million items in the basement which is divided into compartments. I was fascinated by the fact that each compartment can be contained if there is a fire with vents for smoke throughout the piazza.

Oxford

I went on a journey by train to visit Oxford. A famous location known for the publication of the Oxford English dictionary and to Harry Potter fans. We visited the Bodleian Library and the library of Merton College.

There is a Latin saying that “many will pass by knowledge will multiply”. Fitting words to describe a library with an interesting 600-year history. The history of the Bodleian library starts with the Duke Humfrey’s Library section being a donation of manuscripts from the younger brother of King Edward. I enjoyed seeing it because it is a Harry Potter film location. It is portrayed in the first film as being the restricted section of the library.

Our tour guide explained that the Bodleian library underwent an expansion in the 1600s by Sir Thomas Bodley who gathered a group of the print press owners and convinced them to donate one copy of every book printed by them to his library. Sir Thomas went onto to hire the first librarian, Dr Thomas James.

Overall, the library is the emotional heart of the university with 13 million items. Books are stored on the shelves by weight. For example, the small books are at top of the bookcase with the large books at bottom. There is a fruitcake smell as you walk around the library and that is from the degrade of the oak. An interesting fact is when a book is put into a conservation box, the box is dyed with a veggie dye to match the binding. It is nice to know that the Bodleian Library intends on keeping items safe for the world.

Word to the wise: it is a place of serious research and no noise is tolerated. There are no exceptions, even a fly that was buzzing around was shushed by the tour guide to maintain the silence.

After a break for lunch, the class met up for a visit to the Merton College Library

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Picture courtesy of Merton College Library

which is the oldest continuous library since the 1370s. The library has bookshelves in the Italian style from the 1500s and is divided into three sections of grammar, rhetoric, and writing. The classification is because of Theology being work of the world, Medicine of the human body, and Law of society. In the library, it has a globe from 1740 that has an incomplete map of North America and the funeral armor of Sir Thomas Bodley. An object that I found fascinating was the complicated trunk of Sir Thomas Bodley. Bodley left 200 marks in that complicated trunk – if they could solve it, they could have the money.

National Art Library

As I first stepped through the doors of the National Art Library located at the V & A Museum (also known as the Victoria & Albert Museum), I was overwhelmed by the sight. It looked like a library from my dreams. The reason for being overwhelmed was that I have never been in a library of that style, for I had only seen it in pictures.

The reputation of the library has become the fourth best ranked library of art internationally. The four goals of the V&A Library is as reference library of art and design, museum research, curator and loan items, and as a collection of art

Our class was given a tour around the area and behind the scenes. It was amazing to hear of the collection, especially of the artist books being a piece of art itself. The library uses a visual register containing pictures of books in storage. The classification system is the press mark system which stores the books by weight. There are 3 rooms with 3 storage levels with the aim is for 300 years in storage. However, access to the closed access is by online request only.

I did enjoy how the items are prepared and sent on loan to other institutions for exhibitions. The library’s concept is preservation not conservation. I did learn that most wear is on the head cap (top of the spine) of the book. To take care of the books, the library uses book sofas that hold the books, clean hands to handle the items, the use of pencils, no piles to put stress on books, and the use of cotton tape to hold the books.

Even though it may be a cliche, I truly lost my breath when we were guided out on the second floor of the library. One of the rooms of the library has been converted as an extra gallery for objects of the museum on the first floor, while still maintaining the library collection on the second floor. I think that room best demonstrates the connection of the museum and the library. Each piece can be separate entities, but still support the other.

St Paul’s Cathedral

The stunning 18th century library chamber
   Library                                                 (Picture courtesy of St Paul’s Cathedral)

On the first day of class, I had the opportunity to visit St Paul’s Cathedral. Christopher Wren designed the Cathedral. It is a huge importance to the country as they were preparing for church services to start the festivities of the Queen’s birthday that weekend.

St Paul’s Cathedral contains a two story working theological Library. I enjoyed finding out about the hidden staircase that leads to the second level. The normal visitor will not know that the library is located right above the chapel of St Michael.

One fascinating thing that I learned was about the phase box, also known as the architect box which is used for conservation of an item.

Dr. Wilson instructed us on the proper way to pull a book off the shelves:

  • Push in the books on either side of the one you want
  • Grab the middle of the spine to pull the book off shelf
  • Hand on bottom after book clears the shelf

I had never learned that process before that visit. It makes sense when the library’s collection is archival in nature. It is an interesting concept to apply at a public library where the focus is non-research.

When the words “paperbacks are temporary objects” were uttered, it took me a bit to recover. As a huge paperback reader and collector, I panicked at the destruction of my personal library. However, I came to understand that Dr. Wilson was talking about preservation to exceed my lifetime.