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.


Tuesday at the Barbican Library

The Barbican Centre

The Barbican Centre

Fifth Class Blog Post:

We got up fairly early to head over to the Barbican Library, which is a public library within the City of London.  I was quite confused about the whole City of London vs London concept, but as far as I understand (or quickly Googled), the City of London is basically a city within London.

I was very thrown off when our librarian tour guide informed us that only 50 babies are born each year in the City of London.  That definitely made me pause and think about that.  The City of London has a different government structure, known as the City of London Corporation.  The area is filled with businesses and the financial district, so that might explain why only 50 babies are born within the City of London each year.

Within the Barbican Library, there is the Children’s Library, the Music Library, and the General Library.  I can see the advantages of having a space completely devoted to kids because they have the opportunities to host programming events in the same space, close the door, and play music/games without disturbing the rest of the patrons.  I also noticed that different libraries call their patrons/users different names as we do back home.  At the Bodleian and the British library, they are readers and at the Barbican, I recall the Children’s Librarian referring to them as customers.  Perhaps, they are customers because they are in the financial district and have a very commercial-oriented mindset.  I would not be surprised.  Every institution must cater to different clientele.

I do not know a great deal about children/youth services, but I did notice that they do a lot of the same programming such as reading mentorship, reading challenges, and story/play time as back home.  One of the very novel ideas we learned about was about the project loan service, which the Barbican does for the schools around the area.  If I recollect properly, schools have to pay for project loan services to supplement their teaching (i.e. they might order 60 copies of a book on the human body).  I found some useful information on the City of Westminster School Library Service’s website, in case anyone is interested in learning more.

We went to the Music Library next.  I have never seen a dedicated music library in a public library before, so it was great to see the set up.  One of the most important things the music librarian mentioned was that they need a dedicated staff because their material is so specific.  They had everything from CDs to music reference books to scores, with areas to listen to sound recordings and two keyboards for people to use for practice.  The keyboards have headphones, so as not to disturb the rest of the library.  The music library is great in its ability to provide services I don’t normally associate with libraries: somewhere to listen to music and work, practice on the keyboard, and borrow sheet music.

We did discuss some interesting aspects of librarianship during various points of the tour.  I asked about digital licensing of ebooks  and I learned that the Barbican seems to have more flexible arrangements than we do in the US.  They actually buy the electronic copy of the ebook instead of licensing packages, which expire and/or have limitations.

In terms of patron privacy in regards to check out records and hold shelf names, the UK has the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act to ensure that sensitive patron information does not make it to the public.  I wonder if we are more weary of protecting (i.e. shredding/deleting) patron records in the US because of the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act and how it allows the government to obtain sensitive patron records.

I also learned that the UK does not implement a bright line percentage in terms of copyright, but they do use 5% as a guideline (I believe we use 10% in the US, though it is not a set bright line either).  The librarian at the British Library did inform us that the copyright laws are more relaxed in the UK than the US.  I am definitely interested in copyright issues, especially in regards to access and digitization, but reading about copyright law can definitely be tiresome.

Touring the British Library

Note inside the British Library

Note inside the British Library

Third Class Blog Post:

Our plan for the day was to tour the British Library.  First, we took the tube to King’s Cross Station where we stopped to take a class photo at Platform 9 3/4.  We got there at a great time because we didn’t have to queue for long.  There’s a little gift shop adjacent to the platform, so I popped in to look.

Class photo at King's Cross

Thanks to Dr. Welsh for the photo of our class at King’s Cross

At the British Library, we visited the gift shop.  I’ve come to realize that there is probably always going to be a gift shop everywhere we visit and I must actively avoid buying all the things.  So far, so good.

Our tour guide, a librarian named Kevin, gave us some background information about the British Library.  Its American equivalent would be the Library of Congress.  I can hardly cope with the sheer amount of work they do at the British Library because it is a legal deposit library, meaning that this library receives a copy of every printed item in the UK and Ireland directly from the publisher.  Its three main obligations are to collect published output within three months, maintain said materials, and make those items available.  That is a lot of processing across multiple departments – acquisitions, technical services, and cataloguing come to mind first.

One of the most interesting aspects of the British Library was the storage and retrieval of items.  I have toured the University of South Carolina’s annex, where I first learned about shelving by size rather than traditional call numbers to maximize space, which is something they also do at the British Library.  Libraries almost don’t seem like libraries without a Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress call number (to me at least).  Since the British Library is a legal deposit library, storage is a vital.

Some people might be confused by the system at the British Library because the items are not browseable, that is if someone who is interested in researching the Monarch butterfly wants a book about Monarch butterflies, they cannot manually find and retrieve the book him- or herself.  They have off-site storage, but it does take an average of 48 hours to deliver the book.  Some of the books are stored underground, which is actually the largest subterranean facility in Europe.  Apparently the largest subterranean facility in the world is a prison in Colorado.  I definitely think that says something about differing social values in our respective countries.

I digress.  Since one cannot browse the shelf for 595.789 (the Dewey Decimal call number for Monarch butterflies), a reader may request items in the online catalogue.  An automated book retrieval system receives the information and then a mechanical book delivery system delivers the items.  This system makes for a relatively quick and easy retrieval system.  The order-to-pick up process must be under an hour and 10 minutes to maintain federal funding.  That is a lot of pressure to keep the system working properly.  Engineers check the systems every Sunday to ensure that things run smoothly.

This system somewhat reminds me of the BookBot at the Hunt Library because of its use of automation and storage.  The BookBot uses technology to better service and the Hunt Library also shelves items by size to save space.  I think that both libraries are quite innovative in the ways they solve problems of storage and service.  I love learning about ways libraries evolve to meet changing needs.  I think that ability to adapt is crucial to a library’s successful survival.

Since the readers/patrons/users cannot retrieve the books or other materials themselves, they must send their items to a reading room.  Though the books are not shelved by subject, the reading rooms are still categorized by subject matter (humanities, science, rare, etc.).  This system allows readers to have access to subject-appropriate reference librarians.  I never thought about structuring reference work this way because I have never witnessed it or worked in such a huge library before.

These types of services and setups are alternative systems that I do not recall reading about in any of our introductory and/or reference textbooks.  We read about single service points, roving, and reference work versus reference transactions, but I do not recall information about alternative shelving systems, automated book retrievals, and their subsequent effects on reference work.  This visit was most illuminating, as I learned about other ways libraries function.

Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society

After our trip to the British Library, the gals and I headed to an exhibit at the Royal Geographic Society.  I’m glad that we visited because it ended the next day.  The photographs highlighted a variety of environmental issues around the world such as pollution, infanticide, and climate change.  It is amazing how much a photograph can say about the topic at hand.  Much to consider, friends.

I met a nice fellow today

Beautiful Oxford

Beautiful Oxford

First Class Blog Post:

I met a nice fellow today at Christ Church.  The day started off alright.  We got an early start towards Oxford at 7:15am.  Our ride on the coach was about two hours and I was definitely feeling some motion sickness.  Taylor generously supplied me with some dramamine (thanks, friend!).  The rest of the ride was okay – not great, but I was feeling better about fifteen minutes after we got off the coach.

Our agenda for the day was to visit the Bodleian Library, which is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the main research library for the University of Oxford.  Those facts alone are extremely impressive and intimidating.  Our other stop of the day was Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford.

First, we strolled the area around the Bodleian, which was gorgeous.  Everything from the architecture to the grounds was stunning.  It’s amazing to think about the work and planning that went into creating these magnificent, old structures.  I especially loved the stained glass windows, which beautifully captured the light.  It’s very humbling to be in a place of such historical and cultural significance.  Amazing scholars and people of influence once strolled the same grounds I did.  J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, for example!

Feminist Sven Reads at Oxford

Feminist Sven Reads at Oxford

Beautiful flowers at Oxford

Beautiful flowers at Oxford

We took pictures of Radcliff Camera’s exterior because visitors are not allowed inside.  Radcliff Camera used to be one of Oxford’s libraries, and as our later tour guide mentioned, it is unique in its implementation of ground level and underground level storage of books.  Apparently, people believe in storing books on higher levels to protect them from threat of flooding and vermin.  Higher levels tended to have better light as well.  The ground level and underground levels also provided much more space to store books.  Sometimes the innovations seem very obvious to me because I do not understand the full reality of living centuries ago.  Things always seem obvious later.

Feminist Sven poses in front of the Radcliff Camera

Feminist Sven poses in front of the Radcliff Camera

After that , I visited the Bodleian Libraries’ Shop where I bought an awesome tote bag featuring the oath that readers must take before using materials.  One side of the bag states:

I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library,”

while the other side says the same thing, but in Latin:

Do fidem me nullum librum vel instrumentum aliamve quam rem ad bibliothecam pertinentem, vel ibi custodiae causa depositam, aut e bibliotheca sublaturum esse, aut foedaturum deformaturum aliove quo modo laesurum; item neque ignem nec flammam in bibliothecam inlaturum vel in ea accensurum, neque fumo nicotiano aliove quovis ibi usurum; item promitto me omnes leges ad bibliothecam Bodleianam attinentes semper observaturum esse.”

As a future librarian, this purchase has easily got my vote for best souvenir ever!

Our tour began in the Divinity School, which was the setting for the infirmary scenes in Harry Potter.  I instantly thought about the scene where Harry drinks the Skele-Gro.  Gross!  It was also fun to imagine Dumbledore saying, “Alas, ear wax!”  Yum?

We made our way upstairs to the Duke Humphrey’s Library, named after the man who donated a large number of manuscripts in the 15th century.  In the early sixteenth and late seventeenth century, the building was renovated under the care of Thomas Bodley for whom the Bodleian Library is named.  Bodley made many changes during his time: changed the style of the desks and installed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to accommodate more books, replaced chaining with a locked security system, reinvented the cataloguing system, and put books upright.  These interesting innovations are captured today in the front part of the Duke Humphrey’s Library, so that patrons and visitors may witness the library as it once was.

I was most intrigued by chaining, which was a method of ensuring that patrons did not “accidently” walk off with precious books.  The side opposite of the spine is chained to the bookcase.  The spines themselves are not chained to preserve the stitching.  The chains require that the books be stored upside down, with the titles printed on the book edges.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs in the Duke Humphrey’s Library, so I do not have a personal example.  For more information, see here.

The thing that struck me the most about the Bodleian is that Thomas Bodley renovated the library with the intent of opening access to the public, but as it exists today, the library is only accessible for those with a reader’s card.  Those affiliated with Oxford have easy access and those without may gain access by paying a fee.  In an ideal world, the library is accessible to all who wish to use the library, but I understand that the constant battle of access versus preservation are at odds here.  Access and preservation are prevalent and relevant topics in the library and information science field that I cannot anticipate disappearing.  I do believe that we should preserve the library for future use, so the added layer of security definitely helps.  On the other hand, I am an advocate of access, so I get weary when I contemplate Bodley’s intent in comparison to the reality.

These issues of access and preservation have geared me towards digitization.  I love how digital collections and libraries open access to people, provided that they have internet access.  One does not have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to travel to a specific collection, but rather, they might easily browse a collection of Theravada texts in the comfort of their home and pajamas.  I understand the limitations of digital copies as they will never replace the original.  We might lose the scale and feel of the original, but the digital surrogate can really provide many with a suitable alternative for research.  The future of digitization is a complex and fascinating one.

Another one of the great tidbits that I learned today was that the first foreign (American) chief librarians (called Bodley’s Librarians) was also the first female!  I love to hear about women entering traditionally-male dominated roles.  Though the LIS field typically has a very high female-to-male ratio, the past Bodley’s Librarians were all men.  Go Sarah Thomas!

Our other major stop of the day was Christ Church, another college in Oxford.  We got to walk through their dining hall, which was a major influence on the design of Hogwart’s Great Hall.  There are many Harry Potter references in this post because the HP filmmakers loved filming in Oxford.  The buildings are beautiful, so I can understand why.

Feminist Sven at Christ Church

Feminist Sven visits the dining hall at Christ Church

Shortly after, I sprained my ankle.  Boy, did I wish Madame Pomfrey was there to give me some of that Skele-Gro (in my mind, it helps sprains too)!  Here in the day’s story is where I met the nicest fellow named Mr. Green, a porter who fetched a wheelchair for me, cleaned up my ankle (a minor scrape), and retrieved a cold compress for the swelling.  Mr. Green graciously took care of me way beyond my expectations (of which I had none) as he gave me a long umbrella to serve as a walking stick and called a cab to take me to the Eagle and Child pub, which Tolkien and Carroll frequented.  His genuine hospitality and friendliness were touching.  Here’s to a relaxing and well-deserved forthcoming retirement, Mr. Green.  May you enjoy the sunshine!

And to everyone else, thank you for reading and remember to stay cool, friends!