Checking in at the Wellcome Library

Second Research-Related Blog Post:

I unexpectedly found a few hours to visit the Wellcome Library to do research on Marie Stopes for my paper.  I was stressed about finding the time to go because we had a morning visit to the Royal Geographic Society (which was super cool because we got to see and learn about some really amazing explorers) and I had to pick up my cousin Michelle from St. Pancreas Station.  Fortunately, Michelle gave me the wrong time, so I walked over to the Wellcome Library (it is about ten to fifteen minutes away from St. Pancreas).

Wellcome Library

Picture of the Wellcome Library taken from because I did not have my camera on me during my impromptu visit.

The Wellcome Library’s collections generally relate to medical history, so I was not surprised when I initially learned that they have a Marie Stopes archive.  The building is in a very sleek and modern style.  As with many libraries, the collections/archives are not browseable and one must request the items for use.  This system can be frustrating for the researcher because we have no idea about the physical capacity of a collection.  Reading a finding aid is not the same as looking at a collection and understanding the scale of the collection.  It is often not physically feasible or at all likely, especially in an archive, for a researcher to browse the collection, so I know that I have high and unobtainable hopes.

At the library, I first signed up for a reader’s card using two forms of identification, akin to the requirements at the British Library.  It was a quick and painless process.  It took less than ten minutes for me to obtain my reader’s card.  I am always amazed at how easy the process can be to obtain access to these world-famous institutions.  I love it.  After depositing my personal belongings in their lockers, I headed over to one of their desktop computers to start looking up information for Marie Stopes.  I wish that I had my laptop, but I made it work.

I had a bit of a rough start figuring out how to request and obtain the materials, as the collection is an archive of her materials and I had to filter through several layers of a finding aid.  Basically I had to go from collection and box levels to the item levels to request items.  I do not have a lot of experience working with archives and finding aids, so I assume that other people could have easily figured it out, but I am definitely more used to catalog entries, so I had a bit of a struggle.  I had some help from a nearby librarian who graciously explained the system to me.

Screenshot of the Marie Stopes archive contents

Screenshot of the Marie Stopes archive contents

It took a bit of time sifting through the large amount of items in the collection.  I ordered a few items of interest, but I knew that I did not have enough time to stick around and look at them, as they need processing time to retrieve and deliver the materials and I needed to be back at St. Pancreas Station in thirty minutes.  The librarian who helped me earlier actually suggested ordering materials before the end of the day, so that they would be ready on Saturday.

Overall, the trip to the Wellcome Library really helped me grasp my head around my paper more.  I definitely left the building feeling more confident and aware of my paper.



Discovering the Old at the New College Library

Tenth Class Blog Post:

We started our day off at the New College Library, part of the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh.  I really enjoyed looking at the beautiful room the main part of the library is housed.  The library space actually used to be a church, which one can still see evidence of in the architectural elements of the room, especially the stained glass below.

Beautiful Stained Glass at the New College Library

Beautiful Stained Glass at the New College Library

The library itself houses about 250,000 items, which is the largest theological collection in the United Kingdom.  Within the library, they have a substantial special collection of rare books.  Much of the special collection items are housed in their closed stacks, but they do have a space cordoned-off within the main part of the library for use and minimal storage.

Special Collections Area

Special Collections Area

Above is not the best picture, but it does illustrate how the area is separated by glass from the rest of the library.  The area looks much like an afterthought. I imagine that it can be difficult trying to negotiate modifying older spaces.  One wants to be respectful of original structures, while maximizing function and efficiency.  It can be difficult finding the right balance.

In the special collections area, the librarian laid out a variety of materials for us to browse.  We saw all kinds of things from old bibles to a copy of the The Common Book of Prayer  to a copy of a Torah scroll.  It was nice to learn that the New College Library does not focus on one particular type of theology.  In fact, we learned that they have three main special collection areas which include hymn books, books from 1850 and older, and pamphlets.  These are very broad categories that can expand in many ways, regardless of the subject matter, though perhaps the hymn books are quite subject specific.   Outside of the special collections, the collection mostly depends on whatever the faculty focuses on, since the library is for the use of the Divinity School students and faculty, in addition to the broader university and public.

The librarian in charge was the only one on our trip who remarked on her library’s weeding process.  Every year, the librarians and the students work on a book sale, which sell donated book as well as weeded books.  The proceeds of the sale mostly go towards conservation.  With such a large number of rare and old books, conservation must be a big issue.  Some of their funds do come from the Church of Scotland, but that money is often specifically allotted for things such as journal purchasing.

I took a course on special collections last spring, so I know a little about some of the issues associated with special collections.  They can range from the pros and cons of having a collection development policy; security, fire suppression, and general preservation issues; conservation; access including finding aids and content management systems among a variety of things.  It can really vary from collection to collection or library to library depending on the available amount of funds and staff.  I wish that I thought to ask more about access and conservation at the time, but it just did not occur to me.

Overall, I really enjoyed this tour of the New College Library because of its particular focus on theological materials and its unique position as a college library with funding from the Church of Scotland.  As with other libraries, we learned that cataloguers here are often temporary or part time. I believe that they employ one full time cataloguer, who splits his time between libraries.  I am constantly amazed with how institutions don’t value cataloguing.

Researching at the British Library

British Library Sign

British Library Sign

First Research-Related Post:

I knew that I had to go back to the British Library because they have two collections of Marie Stopes materials.  I ended up going there twice for research purposes and could probably benefit greatly from a handful or more visits, but alas a month in London means that time is limited.

British Library Entrance

British Library Entrance

I pre-registered for my reader’s card online and it was relatively quick to actually obtain the card.  I had a list of items that I required, but I could not easily request these items from the British Library catalogue for reasons I did not understand at the time.   I explained my predicament to the lady processing my card (one of the requirements of obtaining the reader’s card is to provide a list of required books to prove that you have a valid need of the card).  She quickly looked up my materials and suggested that I get some help from a reference librarian in the Rare Books Reading Room.

Upon my arrival to the reading room, I headed straight to the reference librarian who was very helpful and explained how I could narrow the collection.  I learned that I needed to add a wildcard to a modified version of the shelf location (she had to omit the spaces and full stops) in order to get a concise list of the actual items in one of the collections.  That was not exactly intuitive for me, so I’m glad that the librarian was there to help me.

For the other collection, I couldn’t access it that day because they were not exactly sure where it was located.  I had to email the Rare Books Librarian, who in turn referred me to a social science curator.  From her, I learned that the items for that archive do not exist in the online catalogue, therefore I had to sort through their card catalogue (which was the first time that I ever legitimately used one).  Some of the items are actually largely unsorted in boxes and quite fragile.

If anyone wants to follow along my journey, you can click here to see the two collections named (you do have to scroll down for the two Stopes, Marie Charlotte Carmichael listings).  Note that they do not have hyperlinks or any indication of how to access the materials.  Here is the catalogue results list for “marie stopes,” which does not include any limiters that indicate either of the collections.  This disconnect really threw me for a loop, so speaking with the reference librarian really cleared things up for me.

My struggles learning how to use the British Library really surprised me.  I assumed that it would be extremely intuitive because I can only imagine the large number of readers they have, but perhaps it is the peculiarity of the items I am researching.  I cannot imagine that everyone has the same amount of difficulties trying to access the materials they need.  From my experience and the constant reinforcement that cataloguers in the UK are mostly temporary and almost never full-time positions, I do not really understand how the LIS field in the UK survives on temp cataloguers.  It appears to me that they need to put more emphasis on the record, so that users can better understand it.

Specializing at the Wiener Library

Wiener Library exterior

Exterior of the Wiener Library taken from

Ninth Class Blog Post:

After our visit to the British Museum, we grabbed lunch and then headed over to Russell Square in search of the Wiener Library.  I imagine that one usually has a reason to visit this library, as it is housed in a flat on Russell Square with no particularly loud signs.  The Wiener Library is specialized, as it has the oldest Holocaust archives and focuses on Holocaust and Nazi Germany-related materials.  Generally, the nature of the materials and the relative anonymity of the building lends itself to visits from those in the know rather than the random tourist.

I absolutely adored the space itself, as it made practical use of a rather narrow flat.  The front reception/exhibition room is multifunctional as it employs a divider to close or expand the space as needed.  The exhibition panels are custom-created magnetic sheets, which the person(s) in charge of exhibition can easily move and rearrange if necessary.  The interior is painted white and makes use of the vertical space and light, giving the entire library a very light and airy feel, which is an odd contrast to the serious nature of its collections.

As seems typical in the UK, the Wiener Library employed its own classification system.   The library grew from Alfred Wiener’s collection of Holocaust materials, so the library and staff developed an organic and specific classification system to meet the needs of the collection and their users.  They seem to have a very intimate knowledge of their books and archives because of their system, thus allowing them to better aid their users.  I particularly like the idea of working a specialized collection because one can really develop a decent understanding of the material, which appeals to me.  It is one of my goals to work with a specialized collection, though not necessarily a special collection.

The function of the building definitely seems tailored to the specific needs of this library.  For instance, the reading room had very tall shelves, which seem impractical because the top shelf books are unreachable without the use of a ladder.  Since the Wiener Library uses its own classification system, they can tweak their shelving to place less frequently-used books at the top, while keeping the more popular books at eye-level and within reach.  This allows maximum use of storage.

Overall, I think that the Wiener Library is a great example of a special library that has customized everything from its space, exhibitions, classification systems, and shelves to better suit the needs of their patrons.  It was a pleasure learning about the unique collection it holds and I really think that it is a valuable resource for those interested in genocide, Holocaust, Jewish studies, and its related fields.

Exploring the British Museum

Eighth Class Blog Post:

We ventured to the British Museum, which is a mad house because there are so many people, artifacts, and exhibits everywhere that it can be positively overwhelming.  We split up into two groups, which we often have to do because of our large number (24 students and 2 professors).  I was part of the second group, so I got to explore the museum first and then take part of the archives tour.

On our own, we visited the Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Asia sections.  I was excited to see famous pieces that I ever only read about in textbooks, so I was in awe looking at the Rosetta Stone and the Lamassu, as well as an amazing Burmese Buddha and awesome Ganesh.  I did a minor in art history, so I definitely have to go back to the British Museum to explore.

When it was time for our tour, we went downstairs to the Central Archive, which holds the administrative records for the British Museum.  Each department has a dedicated archives and there are nine departments in total, so I can only imagine the vastness of the archives as a whole.

The archivist who led our tour was obviously passionate about her work.  She explained some of the particular struggles she faces as someone whose paper-based work often takes a backseat in an object-central institution.  She will embark on a process of cataloguing the materials in the archive, so that they are accessible.  It is particularly interesting that the items are not already catalogued because the British Museum is such a large and important institution, which surely must use the archives for research into provenance and general history.

I can see the reasons why museums put more value in objects than the written word because the art or archaeological objects are its showcase.  The archives and the information they hold can be secondary, but they hold vital information about the museum’s history that might be otherwise unknown.

We got to see a few cool pieces in the archives.  One of which was an incendiary bomb that hit the British Museum during World War II when it was used as a shelter.  Though the museum was used as a shelter, they did not close down their facilities, so they had some issues with storage and making sure that their pieces were safe from looters and such bombs as these.

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Incendiary Bomb from WWII

Another cool object that we saw was Bram Stoker’s signature in a reader’s card application for the library that was in the British Museum.  This type of item in the archives can be important for contextual biographical history.  I can only imagine that the British Museums has many more types of treasures held uncatalogued in the archives.

Bram Stoker's Signature

Bram Stoker’s Signature

I noticed a recurring theme on this trip – that of the LIS professional constantly making sure that they and their work are visible to their employers.  The LIS world often seems like a bubble where only people in the field hold any sense of value of the field, but in a larger or different context, say in a law library or a large national museum, an LIS professional might be somewhat underappreciated because their job may not appear to be immediate or central to the organization.  This is definitely something to ponder when the job hunt commences!

Navigating our way around Greenwich

Ship in a giant bottle

Ship in a giant bottle

Seventh Class Blog Post:

This morning we made our way to Greenwich on the Thames Clipper.  It was fun to travel via a boat ride rather than the tube, bus, or coach (not that I do not love the tube).  We got a great view of the Thames and the surrounding areas from another perspective.  The boat was not too crowded – our group made up most of the passengers, but then again, I think that we were out and about a bit earlier than the rest of the London.  I am constantly shocked about how “late” (relatively speaking, of course) things open and close.  I am used to Honolulu where stores and businesses seem to be open for longer or even all day and night.  Kapahulu Safeway comes to mind.  My observation is that the city does not really wake up until 10 am.  It’s so quiet, bar the workers making their way around London.

Tudor Palace Plaque

Tudor Palace Plaque

We stopped to look at the exterior of the Old Royal Naval College.  There, we found a plaque commemorating the spot where the Tudor Palace used to stand.  King Henry VII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I were all born there.  I am forever in awe of the amazing things I stumble upon during my time here.  I love the history and culture lurking around the corners here.

At the Old Royal Naval College, we walked by a film shoot, though we did not see or notice anyone famous.  I heard rumors that Sacha Baron Cohen was lurking around in a green football jersey, so we peeked around, but alas, we had no celebrity sighting that day.  I speculate that they were filming for a movie called Grimsby.  Who knows?

We grabbed some coffee before heading to the National Maritime Museum.  We had a nice presentation of some of the archive’s treasures.  They have some great ship’s logs that document various seamen’s accounts of life on the water.  One of the logs by a man named Sandown was about a ship involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, so the information is definitely useful to learning more about that particular time of history.

One of my favorite objects is a replicated letter that Admiral Nelson wrote and posted on his door that boasted about his ability to command his crew and about their undying allegiance.  It seems like self-generated propaganda, but as someone who dominated in the Battle of Trafalgar, I guess he earned the right to brag about all things naval.

Admiral Nelson's Letters and Papers

Admiral Nelson’s Letters and Papers

We toured the Caird Library within the museum.  The library mostly serves academics, various researchers of private interests, and people interested in family history.  The public area is split into two spaces, one for group research and another for quiet, private research.  I would imagine that most of the patrons/readers would rely on the library for academic work, so I am surprised that it is also a place for family history.  I have generally associate public libraries with genealogy and family history services, but I guess  that it really just depends on the family.  Every library must cater to the needs of their users.  And in the case of the Caird Library, they must have found that enough people needed family history material from them.  In fact, the library is gradually making family history available online.  That is very helpful because the Caird Library does not lend their materials.  One may visit the library and access the materials, but they cannot borrow it.

It must be difficult to reconcile with limitations because I can imagine that most institutions want to make their collections easily accessible, but they must also negotiate with the facts that some materials are too rare and/or precious or that the institution might not have the time, budget, or staff to allow patrons to borrow their items.

After we left the tour, Jade and I hit a Chinese noodle house for lunch.  From the menu and the exterior of the building, I had a feeling that it would be akin to traditional Chinese food and it was!  The food was tasty and fresh.  I got something called ho mein and wonton.  I am not sure what “ho mein” is, but they were tasty rice noodles.  I am all about rice noodles.  It can be a challenge interpreting Chinese menus because it could go either way.  I still take the risk!


Fresh and Tasty Chinese Food at Greenwich

Fresh and Tasty Chinese Food at Greenwich

We went in search of the Prime Meridian, so we could take that iconic photo straddling the line.  One foot in the west and one foot in the east!  I’m really glad that we did this!

One foot in the east and one foot in the west!

The rest of the day was okay.  I got motion sickness on the 188 bus back to Waterloo.  I was fine after I sat down and decompressed.  Jade and I went on another book bench hunt, but near Russell Square this time.  We found Sherlock Holmes, Mrs. Dalloway, and Pride and Prejudice.  Yay for book benches!  We had dinner and then headed to the South Bank where we ran into Laura K.  We all took an evening stroll, which was a great ending to the day!

Until next time, stay cool, friends!

Accessing the library at St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

Sixth Class Blog Post:

We ended our Tuesday with a tour of the library at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  We were not allowed to take photographs inside, so I do not have any great photos to share, but it was exciting to tour the areas that aren’t normally open to the public (not even those with paid tickets).

On a Harry Potter-related note, we got to look down at the Winding Staircase/Geometric Staircase where they filmed the Divinity staircase scenes in Harry Potter.  The librarian leading our tour did not specifically point out that it was the Winding Staircase (maybe he isn’t as interested in Harry Potter as we are), but we knew.  It is a pleasant surprise to encounter Harry Potter filming locations around town because I am not looking for them and yet, there they are.

I think that the general air of the St. Paul’s may make a person feel as if he or she is intruding.  To enter the physical space, one must buy a ticket or attend a service.  The idea of buying a ticket to visit a cathedral seems contrary to the purposes of a holy space, but then again, it is rather unfathomable for the cathedral to accommodate such a large number of tourists who are there to look at the place, rather than use it as a holy space.  The modes of entry are quite limited and can deter one from visiting.  Since the cathedral does not appear to be accessible beyond service and admission, why should the library?

In fact, the library is actually more accessible than one might initially think – a person just needs to demonstrate need and proof of identification.  This seems to be the basic requirement for most libraries – definitely at the British Library where I got my reader’s card.  In fact, at the British Library, one needed to provide two forms of identification, so they might require more than the library at St. Paul’s Cathedral does.  The security around St. Paul’s always makes me think that the library is not open to the public, but the basic tenets of libraries are to provide open access and share information (thanks Ranganathan!), so I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that anyone with a need may have reasonable access to their library.

I get the general feeling that anyone with reasonable needs to use materials within a library, no matter how restricted that library may seem, should just inquire because the chances are that the librarians will work to accommodate or point you in another direction.  The point of libraries are to share information and pass on knowledge.  I can imagine that some institutions cannot or will not share their resources, but one cannot force the hand of a private institutions, just merely make your case and hope for the best.