Friday, July 30, 2010

Today I went to the Charing Cross Library, a small public library in London. The library looks like many other public libraries with one notable exception--they have a very large collection of Chinese language materials. With a library card, patrons can check out books for free, while for materials like CDs, DVDs, and audio books there is a small fee. Other items in the collection included newspapers, magazines, a small CD and DVD collection, and a small (but packed) children's section. Near the circulation desk, they had a rack of pamphlets advertising local happenings, particularly those at the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, which are right across the street from the library.

Although the library is rather small, I was surprised to find that they had a small used bookshop to generate further revenue. This bookshop was composed of "ex-library stock" and included books, DVDs, and CDs in English as well as other languages. The library was also equipped with several public access computers, which required a library card in order to log on. Members can use the computers free of charge for one hour a day (the library limits access for more than an hour because of such high demand).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

King's College Maughan Library

Today we went to the King's College Maughan Library. The library is housed in the former public records office, which was built in the 1850s. In an effort to better support King's College students, the library is currently working on their roving librarian efforts, which will help get librarians out from behind their desks and into the library to help patrons.

While at the Maughan library, we got to see their special collections which spans from the 15th century to present and holds roughly 150,000 items. One thing I was surprised to learn is that the special collections department still maintains a working card catalog. Thus, every new item acquired has a card made for it. Because most libraries are doing away with card catalogs in favor of online or electronic options, it was interesting to see a library that chose to maintain this format.

The special collections for the Maughan include a strong medical collection, particularly of material pre-1900. During our visit, we saw a book donated by Florence Nightingale, a treatise on surgery from 1514, a manuscript on medicine from 1607. The latter actually incorporated elements of astrology, as it was still widely believed to be an important component of medicine at the time. Another incredibly rare item they have is a book produced in a concentration camp during WWII. This book is one of two known copies and depicts the concentration camps in a positive light; the books were created in anticipation of a visit from the Red Cross. Some of the drawings in the book show the prisoners of the camps in cafes or gardening.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

London Zoo and Library

Today we went to the zoo! I was delighted to realize I still remember quite a bit about animals. Particularly memorable were the otters, who were crying to be fed and looking around eagerly for someone to feed them. Also memorable was something I overheard: two British women were talking to each other when they came to the armadillo tank. The armadillo was nowhere to be seen. One woman said to the other, "what's an armadillo?" To which her friend responded, "it's like a porcupine". I couldn't help but smile to myself.

After the zoo visit, we went to the Zoological Society of London's library. Needless to say, this was the first time I had ever visited a zoo library and I found it fascinating. While it initially focused on maintaining a collection of the society's publications and meetings' minutes, it is now one of the largest zoological libraries in the world. The library is primarily used by members of the society, zoo employees, and the public. In addition to records relating to the zoo and zoological society, their collection also includes journals from zoos around the world, books on zoos, and books on specific zoo animals. They also collect zoo guides, annual reports, conference reports and stud books (the captive breeding information for different animals, used to help maintain genetic diversity). I was surprised to learn that people come to the zoo library to do genealogy research; because the library maintains staff records, people can look up to see if one their relatives worked at the zoo and what they did there.

While at the library, we were able to talk to a man named John Edwards, who had written a book on the early photography of zoo animals. The library has in its collection 12,000 glass plates of original early photographs from as far back as 1860 (some of these we had already seen images of because they had been reproduced for gift shop items). Other interesting items we saw at the library included a letter from Charles Darwin asking the society for help, and a painting they have on the wall that's from 1629. The painting stand out in particular because in it there is a dodo bird that was actually painted from life.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

National Archives of Scotland

After Dunfermline, we visited the National Archives of Scotland. This is a government agency that maintains the records of Scotland. It is divided into two divisions: record services, which deals with government records, court/legal records, and collections development; and corporate services, which deals with finance and administration, conservation, reader services, and communications. The records at the national archives range from the 12th to 21st century and occupy 70km of shelving. They also maintain a digital collection, known as "virtual volumes", which are the digitized records that are accessible in-house and include access to Scottish wills from 1500-1901. Another interesting website they maintain is the Scottish Register of Tartans, which is, as the name would suggest, a "national repository of tartan designs". The site allows the user to search a tartan that's already been registered (using the name of the tartan, the type, or the designer) or to register a new tartan.

For our visit, the staff had pulled out several interesting examples of old records for us to peruse. One of these items was a lawyer's descriptions of cases. The librarian at the archive had been going through them to find examples of merchant ships being sunk by Germans during WWI. Because the ships were sunk and the cargo lost, the ships owners had to seek a lawyer so that they could be protected from legal action. Another interesting document they had pulled out for us was an old medical record listing a little bit of information about the patient and the patient's ailment. The space for "occupation" on this form was particularly amusing; we found one that simply said "nothing" and another whose occupation was listed as "poor scholar".

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Dunfermline Carnegie Library

First of all, Dunfermline is a gorgeous town, as far as I can tell.

Secondly, it's home the Dunfermline Carnegie Library. Carnegie endowed £8,000 to open the library, and it is the first of many Carnegie libraries. This library is the biggest and busiest library in Fife. Among its collections it has a large local and family history collection which contains ordnance survey maps, the local paper back to 1859, the Fife county census information back to 1841, and a large number of copies of old photographs. The photographs are divided into large books and organized based on the location where they were taken.

The library also contains a special collection devoted to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. This collection contains some of Burns' earliest works as well as a large sculpture of the poet himself. One particularly interesting program the librarian discussed is the bibliotherapy, or Book on Prescription program. With this program, doctors will "prescribe" a book (based on a list of approved books) that relates to the patient's ailment or treatment. The patient will take this "prescription" to the library, who has these books set aside, and the patient can check out the book to learn more. As someone who works with a patient library (that is associated with the medical library), I think this is a fantastic idea. Since many doctors don't always have a lot of time to spend with each patients and since there is such an enormous amount of health-related materials on the Internet (where credibility is almost always in question), I think it's wonderful to have specific resources for patients to go to.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Kilnburn

Monday, July 19, 2010

Edinburgh Central Library

Today we went to the Edinburgh Central Library. The library currently has around 850,000 items and was set up as part of an endowment by Andrew Carnegie. One fun fact, all Carnegie libraries have above their entrance the words "let there be light". About a year ago, an emphasis was placed on developing a virtual library and the librarians talked at length about that effort. Currently, there are still several items that can be searched on a card catalog, although most of the materials can be searched for on the library's OPAC. As part of their virtual library, the library has also scanned and uploaded many images pertaining to Edinburgh history, including many images from the early nineteenth century. This image library can be found at the Capital Collections website.

Another interesting aspect the librarians discussed was their reader development programs (what we in the states would call reader's adisory). Some of the initiatives for reader development include author events where local or national authors come to speak at the library. In addition, the reader development librarians work with local readers' groups and book clubs, and organize volunteers to read at seniors' centers.

After the library tours, a classmate and I found a yarn store, which had an excellent selection of Scottish yarns (I only bought two skeins). The rest of the evening was pretty low-key; back in Dalkeith, we explored the area around the palace where there are several trails that go through the woods. It was really pretty, albeit a bit muddy.

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National Library of Scotland

We didn't have a formal tour today, but were allowed to roam the exhibits at the National Library of Scotland at our leisure.

With roughly 14 million items, the National Library of Scotland (NLS) is Scotland's largest reference library, specializing in all things Scottish. The building we visited was opened in 1956, though the NLS itself was established in 1925. A library card is needed to use the reading rooms, so we didn't get to see those.

However, the exhibitions they have were open to anyone, and many of the displays were interactive. I particularly liked the John Murray Archive exhibit. John Murray was a prominant publisher who published some of the most important figures of his day, such as Lord Byron, Jane Austen, and Charles Darwin. The displays on each figure had a touch screen where you could scroll through a brief history of that person, sometimes including more scandalous details of their lives. Another part of the exhibit contained a large table which had an interactive display projected onto it. This display let you choose what kind of book to publish, including the genre, the style, the target audience, and even what the cover would look like. At the end, it predicted what kind of sales your book would have (mine would have low sales, but a strong cult following).

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