Saturday, June 25, 2016

June 11 & 12

The USM British Studies program offered two optional day trips which allowed us to take coaches to see Dover Castle and Canterbury on Saturday and Stonehenge and Winchester on Sunday. It was great to get out of the busy city for a little while (even though we missed the Trooping of the Colour for the Queen’s birthday) and enjoy the rolling hills of England.

A window sill inside the main tower
Dover Castle

The castle is an imposing grey building perched at the top of a green hill. Its outer walls protect the central tower and hide many underground tunnels. When we entered the castle, a few of us decided to venture off and explore since the castle wasn’t busy yet. We found a great area to take some pictures, but at the same time we inadvertently led another group of tourists up to the same area, which meant that by trying to avoid crowds we had now put ourselves in the middle of one. We instead chose to explore the medieval tunnels under the castle. We had a ton of fun climbing stairs, walking through passages, and finding (unwelcome) spiders! After the tunnels we were able to spend some time in the gift shop before heading towards the main exhibit and tower. On our way we met a wonderful woman that hosts ghost tours at the castle, and had an entertaining chat with her. The exhibit explained how and when the castle was built and its importance to the area, while the tower showed how the residents would have lived at the time. We had a great time admiring the architecture and fancy furniture! We were also able to take a brief look at the World War II tunnels that were used as barracks for soldiers. After walking up and down hills, tunnels, and castle stairs we were exhausted, but had had a great time at Dover Castle!
The outside view of Canterbury Cathedral


We also visited the town of Canterbury on Saturday. I had joked the previous day that I was going to buy a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and read it to everyone in middle English as we drove to the famous site of pilgrimage. I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been well received by the entire coach. When we arrived we found a pub called The Shakespeare where we ate lunch. We were a little disappointed to find out that the Canterbury Cathedral of historical fame was actually not open, so we had to find other sites to see after snapping a few pictures of the outside. We ended up finding the wonderful Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr Eastbridge, which is not a modern hospital, but acted as a place of safe haven and worship to those on pilgrimage to Canterbury after the murder of St. Thomas Becket in 1170. We were able to hear the fascinating history of the museum from one of the employees and learned that the facility still houses and aides those in need. We were able to see remnants of beautiful old frescos, a small chapel, and an amazing stained glass window. It was a wonderful way to learn more about the community. Finally, we took a quick walk through a public library, because that’s what happens when a bunch of librarians are let loose on a town!


On Sunday we had another early morning coach ride. This time it took us to Stonehenge, the site of the famous Neolithic monument! Personally, Stonehenge is one of my favorite places that I have ever been. I think I could literally spend hours there soaking up what I feel is a deep sense of history and power. Now, this feeling could all be credited to one too many Outlander novels, but to me the idea that people spent such a large amount of time and effort on Stonehenge proves that it is a place of immense importance. The site has remained remote enough that you can still feel surrounded by nature as you walk around the monument. This closeness with nature, ancientness of the stone, and the mystery shrouding the methods and reasons for its creation make Stonehenge a truly magical location. I was especially excited that we had a short period of sunshine while making our way around the path. We actually almost left, but after deciding to spend a few more minutes enjoying the beauty of the monument we were rewarded with about three minutes of sunlight!

The Winchester Round Table

After Stonehenge we traveled to Winchester. We visited the Great Hall at Winchester Castle to see King Arthur’s Round Table. Although the table is painted to show King Arthur and his knights, the table is believed to have been built for King Edward I of England in the 13th century and was later painted for King Henry VIII. The large table is actually hung on the wall to allow visitor to view it without exposing it to possible damage. The paintings show Arthur’s knights placed around the table with Henry VIII in Arthur’s place above a Tudor rose. I have always loved Arthurian stories, so seeing the admiration and respect that kings of England had for the legends was amazing. Like Stonehenge, the mystery and stories surrounding the table and King Arthur intrigue me. Along with the stained glass coat of arms, the table makes the Great Hall a magnificent room. I also loved the small garden outside the Great Hall that was built for Queen Eleanor. It was a beautiful small space that would have been perfect for a queen to use as a private garden escape. Before leaving Winchester we were able to stop by the wonderful cathedral where Jane Austen is buried. We saw the plain stone marking her grave in the floor of the cathedral, as well as the more elaborate dedications that were added by her nephew and the public celebrating her writing. We had a great weekend seeing so many important sites of England!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 10


  1. Enjoying the peacefulness of Regent's Park
  2. Finally feeling a sense of accomplishment about my school work
  3. Appreciating the amazing amount of time and attention to detail that goes in to library conservation
  4. And apparently I didn't take a single picture this day...

All the Details:

Regent’s Park

On Friday morning I decided to head to Regent’s Park to get some school work done. I love how easy it is in London to go from a busy area full of loud tourists to a peaceful setting like the parks. I was able to sit on a bench and enjoy the day, and actually got a lot of work done. Then I headed over to the British Library to meet up with my class.

British Library Conservation Centre 

At the British Library Conservation Centre we got a small look into some of the ways that the conservation team works with the library and its patrons. They are responsible for maintaining, not only the print collection held by the library, but also the textiles, artwork, manuscripts, and other pieces in the collections. The conservation team is also very involved in the digitization and exhibition processes. Once a year the conservationists take time to create a prioritized list of materials needing attention to help them focus on items that need the most care. They consider how often the item is used, its current condition, and its unique qualities that add value to the collection. In addition, materials that will be on exhibition or loan to other locations must be checked and prepared beforehand. The over-arching idea of conservation is that any work done to a material must always be reversible. As a result, the team has developed fascinating ways of preserving materials in a way that can be undone if necessary.

After a general introduction we spoke with a conservationist that is currently working on piecing together small fragments of documents found untouched inside remote caves. The documents had been folded and stacked together, forming a large pile of papers. It is the conservationist’s job to pull apart the fragments and piece them back together again in their original order. I was in awe of the skill required to take on a project of this scale. We were basically watching her turn a pile of decaying trash into readable text. Not only must she determine which parts of the pile are from which documents, she also has to place the fragments together to form text, digitize the results, and translate the writing. I was extremely impressed by the final result, which was placed inside a protective plastic cover.

Next we were able to see a small demonstration about book bindings. We were shown examples of many different ways that books can be sewn and bound and then got to see blank pages being sewn together to form a whole new book. The goal of a book binder is to preserve the original binding or replace it with a new binding as similar to the original as possible. Sewing the book binding looked like a fun job to have in the Conservation Centre!

We also got to see how the textiles conservationist is repairing two very fragile flags from the late 1770s. Unfortunately, the flags are in very bad shape and have lost almost all of their original patterns and colors. The textiles specialist has been able to flatten them after years of being rolled up and cleaned them to rid them of a large amount of dirt and soot. The time spent on projects like this is absolutely amazing! Another time consuming project we saw was focused on the digitization of the Hebrew collection at the British Library. The conservationist involved in the project showed us how she uses non-reactive fabrics and gelatin to protect the printed materials. This reduces moisture damage to the pages and ink. Overall, the visit was informative and fascinating. I had always known that conservation played a part in taking care of library materials, but I was not aware of the extensive time and precise technique that was involved. Conservation is definitely a topic that I would like to continue learning more about.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 9

  1. A fabulous archivist that overcomes library challenges on a daily basis
  2. Camel Leopards
  3. Powerful images of London during World War II
  4. A farmer's market
  5. Richard Madden and Lily James in Romeo & Juliet

All the Details:
British Museum Archives

The British Museum Archives tour was extremely interesting because of the way that the material relating to the museum collections has been organized in the past. No catalog of the archive has been kept, which is in direct contrast to the detailed catalog that was maintained for The British Library, which split from the museum. The single archivist on staff, Ms. Francesca Hillier, must answer all inquiries with only her knowledge of where to look in the collection and help from three volunteers. She spoke of a recent inquiry about giraffes that she had difficulty answering. After looking through many volumes and documents, she discovered that the older materials referred to giraffes as “camel leopards”. Changes like this also make it difficult for the archive to collect and organize materials well. She is currently working on a catalog, but the lack of organization and randomly bound archive materials has made this task extremely difficult. She must constantly make decisions about valuable materials and documents without any precedent leading her choices.

The Reading Room
The collection consists of documents with no relation to one another that are bound into large leather books. Some are labeled Original Papers, others are Committee Papers, and the later are Board Papers. These seem to all be similar collections and the changes in name vary throughout the years with no explanation. There are also financial records and staff records that are kept. There are books labeled Departments in Particular, Departments Generally, and even one for the Committee of Cats which kept track of the many cats living on the premises. Within these groups many are bound in leather, while others are kept separately in boxes. There were also six volumes that were transferred into two volumes and two boxes focusing on Lawrence of Arabia. Some of the more organized and useful materials are original guidebooks that describe in detail how the collections at the museum were set up over many years. Due to the lack of organization, the archivist stated that for much of the information in the collection no one knows the facts and “anyone that does know is lying”. She has now put in place policies that will allow her to aid the archive and museum in moving forward with their collection.

It was sad to hear that the beautiful reading room, built by Sir Anthony Panizzi, is no longer in use. It essentially sits empty and underutilized. It is unfortunate that such a beautiful space and historic collection are not seen by the public, which was the original intent. Ms. Hillier is currently working to have the reading room opened to support public access to the archival records.

One of the most powerful things we saw in the archive was a fragment of an incendiary device and photos of the destruction caused by the bombing of London during World War II. This hit me particularly hard because I have heard the stories of the bombings that my grandmother lived through. To see those pieces of history and to know that they had affected my grandmother was a very emotionally charged experience.

This archive, although it poses many challenges, holds many important and valuable materials that would be rewarding to work with. The archivist has plans to create a catalog and organize the materials in way that would make it more accessible to the public, which is especially important for a public archive. 

Lunch with Jessica Green

After the British Museum, we walked down to a small library that focuses on the Holocaust and genocide. One of the British Studies alumni, Jessica Green, works at this library and we had the opportunity to speak to her about her library work. We walked past the library to a farmer’s market and sat with Jessica while we all ate lunch. There was a great brick oven pizza truck where we got freshly made pizza! It was great to hear about her experiences moving to the UK and working in a library environment. She gave us great information about how her library has been digitizing materials and the struggles that come with this task. This was particularly important because most of us will encounter similar problems since so many libraries are now expected to have a digital presence.

Romeo and Juliet

My signed ticket
That evening we got ready and set out from our dorm to the Garrick Theatre for Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo & Juliet. We were extremely excited to see this new version of Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy. The play was set, still in Verona, but it the 1950s. This was reflected in the costumes and music used to enhance the performance. Richard Madden looked amazing, as always, in his suit, and was the perfect brooding Romeo. Lily James played up Juliet’s immaturity and innocence in Act I with her bouncy and girly body language, but was equally as believable in Act II in her grief over Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. Her changing maturity throughout the play was wonderfully done. Derek Jacobi, playing Mercutio, was excellently comedic and added great fun to the ultimately sad story. The story was beautiful and frustrating, because the audience so desperately wants the two to avoid the disastrous end they know is coming. This performance was absolutely amazing, a definite must-see! We were even able to briefly say hello to both Richard Madden and Lily James at the stage door, where they were gracious enough to sign autographs. They were both so kind and took the time to make everyone feel special.
Meeting Lily James

June 8

  1. Finally getting my Hogwarts letter!
  2. Beautiful books at The British Library
  3. A wonderful guided library tour
  4. Shakespeare!
  5. Being my usual over-emotional self and happy-crying in the middle of the street
All the Details:

Platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station
Hogwarts is my home

I awoke Wednesday morning as an eleven-year-old version of myself. I was tired after so many days of non-stop walking, but I could not wait to get to King’s Cross Station and pretend that I was heading to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Our group took the tube to King’s Cross and made our way to the photo area and Platform 9 ¾ Shop. The two guys working the photo area were absolutely hilarious! You could tell that they were thoroughly enjoying their job of photographing the enthusiastic tourists. They had excellent one-liner references to all things Harry Potter and it made all of us adults obsessing over our childhood characters feel at home, just as J.K. Rowling would want. We all took pictures that included our choice of wand and house scarf. My choice of Ron Weasley’s wand was met with “Weasley is our King!” and my Hufflepuff scarf with a “Cheeky Badger” remark. There was even a Red Vines reference thrown in for fans of A Very Potter Musical. Which is fabulous, although not particularly kid-friendly. The pictures turned out great and we were able to look around the shop that sold everything from key chains to books and character themed wands. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning! We then set off to The British Library for a wonderful tour.

The British Library
When we arrived at The British Library we immediately found a beautiful bronze bench in the shape of a book, and all had to take pictures sitting on it. After a quick look through the shop filled with all things Shakespeare we met up with our tour guide, Mr. Kevin Mehmet. Mr. Mehmet was a wonderful British man with a great sense of humor and a monocle that showed us the reading rooms and book transporting machinery of the library. His refrain of “I’m a librarian, I know everything” was greatly appreciated by all of us aspiring librarians.

The lobby of The British Museum
As a legal deposit library, The British Library, like Oxford, has a huge and quickly growing collection. They have created miles of underground, temperature controlled storage for their books and manuscripts. This creates a building that looks more like a museum than a library because very few books are on display. We were taken through to the Registration Centre and shown how to sign up for a Readers Card. This requires identification and a reading list to prove that you will be utilizing resources that cannot be found anywhere else. It also maintains security for the collections. Readers can then enter a reading room where they request specific materials that are sent to them using the MBHS, or mechanical book handling system. This system usually means that a book is delivered to a reading room within an hour and ten minutes of request. This system for delivering books reminded me of the ways that libraries around the world are changing to accommodate their patrons. Mr. Mehmet explained that The British Library’s initial collection was gifted by Sir Hans Sloane to The British Museum before the library split from the museum. Sloane’s main belief was that his collection should be shared with the public because “humankind can only move forward if knowledge is shared”. This idea of sharing knowledge manifests in libraries that focus on becoming spaces for collaboration and study, rather than a storage center. The library’s use of underground storage and a mechanical delivery system show that they are changing with the times. The reading rooms are still silent places for individual study, but there were many other areas that could be utilized for collaboration. This allows for patrons to choose the space appropriate for their needs. 

Another part of the library that reflects its ability to change with the times, is its digitization of the collection. They have an entire section dedicated to capturing materials in a digital format so that they can be accessed from anywhere. Since it is not practical to digitize everything, they focus on small bits that are in high demand or will entice patrons to come to the library to find the rest of what they need.
King George III's Collection
I was most excited by the discussion of Sir Anthony Panizzi’s contributions to the library, since I recently wrote a paper about this topic, and how King George III’s collection inspired Panizzi’s work. Panizzi used King George’s collection to expand the international range of the library’s collection and helped to create the collection that exists today. He also revolutionized cataloging and the shelving of books by size to use space most efficiently. The international range of the collection is reflected by the large number of employees that specialize in languages and translation. When King George donated his collection, he stipulated that it must be on display and always remain a working collection. When the library moved into its new building, separate from The British Museum, a special glass tower was created to display the King’s collection. There are now library assistants that enter the tower to collect books requested by readers. At the end of our tour, I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Mehmet about my research paper topic, which will focus on my genealogy on my mother’s side. Mr. Mehmet directed me to the proper reading room to look into my grandmother’s history growing up in London. He also declared that if I chose to make a move to England, they would make an English Rose of me!

Shakespeare in 10 Acts

After the tour we were given tickets to the exhibit honoring 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. The exhibit was a great way to get me excited about Shakespeare in a way that I never have been. I have read Shakespeare in the context of required readings for school, but seeing the exhibit that showcased his work in the way it was meant to be seen (on stage) showed me that it is so much more than my high school readings.

Covent Garden

After the British Library, I headed out to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden with two other library students, India and Emily. When I was studying at Herstmonceux Castle four years ago, our usual meeting place was near the Embankment tube stop. The area between Embankment and Covent Garden was the place that embodied true London for me. It began to rain as we walked through Trafalgar, so we really got the full experience. We looked through some of the shops at Covent Garden and then had a late lunch or early dinner at a nearby pub. The three of us have a great deal in common and really enjoyed getting to know each other and explore the city. We then decided to walk back towards Trafalgar Square, stopping to look at clothing and book stores. As we were shopping we got a message from a friend that was back at the dorm about tickets to see Romeo & Juliet the next night. We were especially excited because this production would be performed with Richard Madden and Lily James!
Covent Garden
As we walked I had a distinct feeling of being at home in the London that was most familiar to me. I stopped on the street under a small tree and gushed emotionally to my friends that “This was London!”. We quickly decided that my emotional moment needed to be celebrated, so we found a small pub called the Garrick Arms and ordered a round of Pimm’s Cup. Coincidentally, the pub was directly next to the Garrick Theatre that we would be visiting the next night for Romeo & Juliet. This trip to familiar territory left my heart warm with the feeling of knowing that I was in exactly the right place.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 7

  1. Amazing architecture at the Bodleian
  2. We got to go in rooms used for the Harry Potter films!
  3. Humphrey Library- lots of books and knowledge
  4. Cream Tea
  5. Adorable shops in Oxford
  6. A stone table used by Tolkien
  7. A pub with book quotes on the wall - Pippin: What's that? Merry: This my friend, is a pint. Pippin: It comes in pints? I'm getting one.
All the Details:
                                                    Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Bodleian Room used for the Harry Potter Films
We took the train out of London on Tuesday morning headed to Oxford. We were all bubbling with excitement about getting to see the gorgeous libraries in a place steeped in history. We started with a tour at the Bodleian Library led by a wonderful volunteer. She talked to us in detail about the building and design of the library and other spaces at Oxford. I was surprised to find out that so many different people all designed one building. As one mason died another was hired on for the job, and they all had vastly different directions and funds. This led to the buildings having inconsistent architecture and constantly changing decoration. Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester was the main benefactor of the amazing academic library in his name. His vast collection diversified the library that had previously been solely theological and changed it into a library that provided for various routes of study at Oxford University. The Royal Family also had an influence on the library, which gave Oxford precedent for royal attentions.

The beautiful ceiling in the first room we entered, designed for theological students to take oral exams, includes natural, religious, and familial depictions. I have always loved medieval crests and family emblems, so I loved gazing up at the many varied carvings. Our guide explained that although the buildings have experienced changes and additions, there has been very little damage sustained by the decoration. There are a couple of places where symbols have been broken, but not many. Christopher Wren, who also built St. Paul’s Cathedral, was responsible for some of the most drastic changes, which included reinforcing the arches and adding a door. For Harry Potter fans, this was an exciting room because it was used for filming parts of Hogwarts Castle in the movies.

Next we looked at the Parliament Room, designed to create an obvious split between the theological and secular spaces at Oxford, and the court room. The court room began to try cases involving university members, but evolved into mainly a debtor’s court. The court room remained a working court until 1968.
Duke Humfrey's Library
Image retrieved from:

The most exciting part of the visit was the unbelievable Humfrey library. All the librarians were sad to hear that from the original Humfrey gift of 281 books and manuscripts, only 5 are left at Oxford. This was due to the 1550s reformation that demanded the destruction of Catholic and superstitious texts. After becoming a prominent figure, Thomas Bodley made it his life’s work to restore the library to its original splendor. Therefore, the Oxford libraries and other buildings sponsored by Bodley are now referred to as the Bodleian. Since the loss of the original Humphrey library, many items have been collected through legal deposit. Oxford is one of six United Kingdom institutions that obtain materials in this manner.

After hearing a great deal about the collection we finally got to walk up the stairs to the Humfrey library. As we entered the book-filled space, an atmosphere of history and knowledge wrapped around us. We were able to gaze at the old texts, which are arranged by height in floor to ceiling shelving with a second gallery level. It was wonderful to hear about the first catalog and chains used to keep books from disappearing. The beautifully painted ceiling includes the Oxford crest a motto; an open book with “The Lord is my light” in Latin. This room is magical in a way that only a place full of knowledge can be.
Cream Tea

Merton College

Our group had lunch at a lovely little café near the Bodliean, where I had my first cream tea of the trip. It included English Breakfast tea, a scone, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. We then looked through some of the shops in Oxford. I bought an amazing handmade necklace in the shape of a blue leather bound book that includes pictures and names of flower. One of the fun parts of Oxford was looking at the shops selling souvenirs related to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. We then made our way to a short tour of Merton College.
Beautiful Globe

We were shown the “Mob Quad”, so named for the undergraduates that lived in the surrounding buildings and the small cathedral. The space has seen vast changes since its first building. It was unable to be finished due to lack of funds, so its grandeur seems overboard for its size. Also, much of the architecture and stained glass was changed, broken, or replaced based on the vastly different sympathies of the Protestant Reformation and Victorian era. Our group was very entertained by the dolphin crest used by a prominent donor. The so-called dolphin was actually created by someone who had never seen a dolphin, so it looks more like a scaly sword fish than a dolphin.

The library at Merton was amazing to be inside because we were able to walk among the books rather than gaze at them from a distance. There were also two huge globes; one of land and one of the constellations. It was very interesting to see how the map makers had made up their own versions of geography for places they did not know, like Canada. It made these people seem more real and common, rather than bright scholars of their time. This creation of maps also mirrored the dolphin crest we had seen earlier, highlighting how people in history have pretended to know much more than they did. After our tour, we made our way through green gardens to a small stone table supposedly used by J. R. R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings while he was a professor at Merton. We were also able to see the window of his rooms at the college. We ended our day in Oxford at a small pub called The Eagle and Child that boasts as the meeting place of literary minds such as Tolkien and Carroll. It was a fabulous day out!
Tolkien's Stone Table

Friday, June 10, 2016

June 6

  1. St. Paul's Cathedral is gorgeous!
  2. Our librarian/tour guide was the most adorable British man, named Joseph Wisdom.
  3. Saw lots of REALLY old books
  4. Ate Mediterranean food really fast at lunch time to be back in time for our next tour
  5. The National Art Library has pop-up books and Shakespeare's first folio.
  6. Old books fall apart and there are really cool inventions to keep them in good shape or repair them!
  7. There were tons of beautiful books that I wasn't allowed to touch or read, which was extremely difficult.

All the Details:
St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral
Our first real school day started on a high note! We jumped on the tube and headed to the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our professor took a few photos of our class on the front steps and many of us enjoyed a cup of tea at the underground café. We then entered the cathedral and took in the beautiful views. Our group met up with the amazing librarian of St. Paul’s, Joseph Wisdom, who took us up a winding staircase and through historic chambers to a breathtaking library. Mr. Wisdom talked to us about the theological collection and the construction of the room itself. It was interesting to know that because the cathedral was built in a symmetrical fashion, there was another similar room built on the other side of the building, but it is not used as a library. He also told us that this theological collection, mostly utilized by the men and women of the church, was acquired in much the same way all library materials are collected; beg, borrow, steal, or buy. The main purpose of the library was to provide materials for those studying theology.
Although not usually allowed, Mr. Wisdom let us take pictures in the library, but made an interesting statement about his opinion of using photos as a memory aide. He encouraged us to truly live in the moment and absorb what we were seeing, rather than use photos to preserve the experience. This struck me as an extremely important reminder for my trip as a whole. I want pictures that could help me tell my story to others, but I want to focus my energy on enjoying every second of my time in the UK. I believe that Mr. Wisdom’s advice will have a huge impact on the way I experience this trip.
In addition to spreading wisdom and knowledge about life and the library, Mr. Wisdom spoke to us about the proper ways to handle ancient texts. He allowed our teaching assistant, Mary, to show us the proper way to remove books from the shelf to ensure that we are not putting pressure on the spine of the book that will cause damage. While taking about preservation, he also showed us phase boxes that protect fragile books and discussed the idea that anything done to preserve a collection should always be reversible, so that the books can revert to its original condition.
St. Paul's Cathedral Library, Photo retrieved from:

Mr. Wisdom also told us that the oldest item in the collection is a book of Psalms from the 12th or 13th century, and the most expensive is one of the three surviving copies of Tindale’s New Testament that was brought in by the Bishop of London. Before we left I snapped two quick pictures. The first of the pictures and crest over the mantle, the second of some of the wonderful shelves of old books. Although I do not see myself working in a theological library, it was an amazing and historical library to visit.

National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Our group took the tube to the V&A Museum and a group of us set off for the quickest lunch of my life! We wolfed down our food, which was awesome Mediterranean cuisine, and almost ran back to the museum for our library tour. By this part of the day, the jet-lag and extended walking were really starting to wear me down. I had to make a conscious effort to stay attentive during the Art Library tour. We were shown magnificent manuscripts from Charles Dickens, descriptions from a World’s Fair, examples of fine bindings, historical book art, and even a pop-up book about geometry. The highlight of the display was Shakespeare’s first folio that was taken out especially for one of the Shakespeare lovers in our class. It was very touching to see her emotional response to the manuscript.
Shakespeare's First Folio
We were also shown how the library preserves its materials. As materials are used, librarians note any deterioration in an Excel spreadsheet and sometimes tie cloth around a book to keep it together. The preservation team can then prioritize the actions needed to keep the books in top condition. Each book that needs a box to protect it is specially measured so that a one-of-a-kind box can be fitted to its dimensions. Envelopes can also be used for other materials that are not bound. Stickers are then placed on the box or envelope to make it simple for the librarians to identify each one without opening the protective case. A melanex machine can also be used to wrap materials in clear, removable plastic. When materials are on display specialized supports are used to hold the material open to the correct page or location. The plastic supports are so individualized, that they can often only be used once. The library is equipped with machines that allow librarians and users to capture images from any of the materials and save them to a memory stick. The preservation information was all new to me, so I loved seeing how they keep the books in good condition. I had no idea that there were so many ways to care for these books.

We went on a brief tour of the library to see where the librarians work and where the books are stored. While walking through some of the book storage I had to resist picking up the books that looked interesting. There was one book about ballet that I desperately wanted to look through, but I had to keep walking and ignore it.

National Art Library display room and book shelves
This library is mostly used by academics researching specific topics related to art and design. Readers must fill out an online request for the items they would like to see from the catalog. The materials are then collected by librarians and taken directly to the reader. Many of the resources are now also available for readers to view online. One thing that I thought particularly interesting was that the children’s books, which tend to include amazing elements of art and design are actually housed at a separate archive. I also liked the concept that borrowers pay for the expensive of conservation for the materials they borrow. I feel like this keeps the borrowers responsible for how they treat the materials. This trust between reader and librarian is especially important when dealing with such amazing materials.

June 4 & 5

After an extremely long flight and many miles of walking through London Heathrow Airport, I have made it to London!

For those of you that want the quick version, here are the highlights:
  1. Restrained myself from yelling at small, loud, kicking children on the plane
  2. Watched a girl have an emotional break down in the line for customs (but it was in another language, so no idea about the outcome)
  3. Found my group after MILES of walking through the airport
  4. Unpacked at the dorm
  5. Met wonderful people that are as excited about nerdy librarian stuff as I am
  6. Ate burgers and went to sleep
  7. Went on a walking tour of Bloomsbury, the literary and academic center of London
  8. Cruised down the Thames on a boat
  9. Got slightly lost, but got some great pictures
For anyone that wants the details, you can read below...

The British Museum
I found my study abroad group and boarded a coach to our dorm. We arrived at Alexander Fleming Hall, met our professor, and were given our keys. The hall is similar to most dorm buildings, with single rooms and shared bathrooms and kitchens. Near the Old Street Station, we are in a very 'up-and-coming' neighborhood with lots of personality. My Library Science class will be staying here with the Political Science and Dance classes during our time in London, while the other British Studies classes stay at another dorm across the city. Once we had unpacked and settled in, we met in the courtyard to travel to the other dorm.

Unfortunately, our coach was very late coming to pick us up, so we stood on the sidewalk for a very long time. The positive side to this situation was that it gave us lots of time to get to know the other students that we would be spending the summer with. I started having conversations with other library science students, and quickly realized that we had a lot in common.

Once we made it to the other dorm, we were introduced to the British Studies staff and given general information about the program. We also had the opportunity to talk with our professor, Dr. Teresa Welsh, about the trips and events we would be going on. We were all very excited to hear that we would get to attend a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford-upon-Avon! Our class then rode a city bus back to our dorm and ordered burgers from a local delivery service. We were all extremely tired and hungry, so after eating we immediately headed to bed.

The River Thames and Tower Bridge
On Sunday morning we all awoke for our first full day in London. We had all signed up for walking tours and visits led by professors, mine would be a tour of the literary and academic area of London known as Bloomsbury. We were led by Tim Carens, who teaches the Victorian Literature class. Our group got to see and hear about the University College London, various parks and squares, as well as the houses of famous authors. Some of the highlights included the house where Charles Dickens wrote Bleak House and Virginia Wolff’s house. At the end of our walk we stopped to explore a small part of the British Museum. Afterwards, we went to lunch.

That evening, the entire British Studies group met for a river cruise on the Thames. We had wonderful views of various London landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Later, we decided to try to find one of the many library bars in London. However, disoriented from jet-lag, we didn’t take into account the fact that it was a Sunday night and everything was already closed. We wandered around, and eventually made a mad dash for a restroom, before finally finding familiar territory. We took some beautiful photos of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben lit up at night and then headed back to our dorm. Overall, we had had a great time and I was enjoying making friends with the other library students.
Westminster Abbey at Night

Friday, June 3, 2016

And Now I'm Here

One year ago, I completed my second year of teaching and started my classes at the University of North Texas pursuing a Masters of Library Science. I was looking forward to learning new things and exploring a new aspect of education. As someone who has always been fascinated by books, I was excited to find that there was a career path that allowed me to incorporate my love of reading. After teaching for two years I felt like my passion for books was not able to play as large a part in my classroom as I wanted it to. I thought that a library could be an outlet for my creativity and desire to be a true life-long learner. Library Science was a way to broaden the options for my future that kept me working with students and fellow educators.

That summer I took three classes, which, looking back, was a bit much. But I made it through and realized that this degree could provide me with future opportunities that may eventually take me out of the world of education. Since my working experience has always been with children and young teens, I knew that I needed to incorporate some classes that exposed me to other types of libraries. 

This led me to thinking about my amazing summer at the Bader International Study Centre in Herstmonceux, England. Although I was an education major, I took English History, British Studies, and even a class focusing on London's Olympic Games in 2012. Studying in a castle, yes, a castle, was unbelievable! I knew that if there was any way to study abroad for my masters program, I needed to find it! I wasn't extremely creative in the way I went about it. I believe that I literally typed "Library Science study abroad England" into Google. But it worked! I stumbled upon the British Studies Program at the University of Southern Mississippi.  This program would be a way to see a different part of England than my last study abroad adventure, but I would still get to be in a place that I loved.

Later that summer I picked up my parents from the airport and, according to my mom, spent the entire drive to their house talking about the program. In the months to follow, I sorted out the details of adding the program to my degree plan, getting the courses approved, and organizing my finances. Since then, I have been in a constant state of anticipation.

So here I am, at the airport, waiting for my flight to London! I have planned and organized to my heart's content, and now I am ready to be in one of the greatest cities in the world, learning and exploring. I am extremely excited and very lucky to be able to study the famous libraries of the UK! As I travel, I will be posting about the literary, historical, and unique places I hope to see. These posts will allow you to follow along as I'm bookin' it through the UK!