Oxford, Part the Third

A shelf at the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University
A shelf at the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes University

Well, I learned from my first trip to Oxford Brookes and made sure to have everything in order for a visit to the National Brewing Library this time around.  And, lo and behold, everything worked out great!  I corresponded with Eleanor Possart, the archivist in charge of special collections, who was on holiday the first time I visited and who was also away on my next visit.  Thankfully I was left in the very capable hands of Jodi Wilkinson, a library assistant who works with the special collections.  Ms. Wilkinson was extremely helpful and was nice enough to print out informational materials for me and give me a tour of the library.  She could not have been more helpful.

As you might have guessed based on the first photo, the National Brewing Library is more of a collection than an entire library unto itself.  It consists of only about ten shelves of materials and is located within the special collections of the Oxford Brookes University library.  However, it is treated like a library all its own.  It is classified by Dewey and covers and extremely wide range of topics; almost everything, in fact, related to alcoholic beverages.  This includes science (the science of brewing and distilling); medicine (the health effects of alcohol); hospitality (the practice of running a pub, restaurant, or hotel bar); literature (poetry and fiction related to alcohol); and much more.  Almost any topic that has anything to do with brewing, distilling, or alcohol in general can be found here.

Books related to the science of alcohol
Books related to the science of alcohol

Most of the books are in English, although some volumes in other languages can be found (mostly German, Dutch, and French).  Most of the collection has been classified, although there were a few boxes of unclassified materials.  The collection is actually set to be moved to a different location, so the librarians and archivists in charge of classification are waiting until after the move to begin classification on some materials.  Some of the more interesting unclassified materials I saw were patents related to the devices and processes used in the production of alcoholic beverages.  There were literally dozens of boxes of these patents from all over the world.

Boxes of patents and patent applications
Boxes of patents and patent applications
A patent application for a hop-picking machine
A patent for a hop-picking machine

Housed right next to the National Brewing Library is a related collection:  The Michael Jackson collection.  No, not that Michael Jackson; Michael Jackson was an English beer and whisky writer and one of the premier authorities on those subjects.  His collection includes a full range of his books in multiple languages as well as his personal collection of books on alcoholic beverages.  It also includes over 20 filing cabinets filled with his writings and miscellaneous items.  These range from small, handwritten notes of no apparent significance to an entire folder filled with labels from beer bottles.  Essentially, upon his death the materials in his office were donated, sorted, and filed.  This means that a large range of materials can be found in the collection.  Thankfully the collection is cataloged and searchable online.

An assortment of beer labels from the Michael Jackson collection
An assortment of beer labels from the Michael Jackson collection

For a beer aficionado like me, both the National Brewing Library and the Michael Jackson collection were utterly fascinating.  Really I could spend all day going through these collections.  It was great to see how a library deals with collections like these and a great insight in general into special collections.  I feel privileged to have worked with these collections.

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The Barbican

Entrance to the Barbican Library
Entrance to the Barbican Library

This post brings us to one of the more interesting libraries that I saw in London.  The Barbican Library is located in London’s famed Barbican Centre, which is a center for performing arts.  However, the library is not actually a part of the Barbican Centre, per se.  It is just a tenant, really, paying rent the same as any tenant would to its landlord.  It actually rents the space it occupies from the Barbican Centre, a place which is, shall we say, not always conducive to library activities.  In fact, while we were there a graduation was letting out and jazz was being performed, all of which could most definitely be heard quite clearly in and around the library.

A drum set sitting maybe 100 feet from where people are reading books.
A drum set sitting maybe 100 feet from where people are reading books.

Witnessing such a setup really showed me what sorts of strange circumstances certain libraries must work to overcome.  The Barbican Library is not a small library, either; in fact, it is the largest lending library in the city of London (behind Shoe Lane and Artizan Street).  And yet, it has no meeting space, so semi-open areas must be used for group activities.  The Barbican Library overcomes its lack of study space by encouraging its users to to access the library outside of business hours, which means using the library’s extensive online resources.  Unlike some of the other libraries we visited in London, the Barbican’s entire collection is cataloged and classified using a modified version of Dewey.  It is a truly modern library in this respect.

The Barbican Library also uses its location to great effect in reaching the community.  For example, it puts on frequent exhibitions.  These exhibitions are usually music-related (although not always) and are advertised via social media.  One exhibition is put on per month and exhibitors must “audition” for the opportunity to show their exhibitions.  The exhibitions create a vibrant atmosphere and are great for community outreach.

As one might expect, the Barbican Library has an extensive music collection.  This, of course, includes the largest CD collection in London at about 16,000.  Listening booths are available free of charge.  Two digital pianos are also available to patrons, who can play them for up to an hour a day for free.  Musical scores are a large part of the collection and range from pop to classical; a good bit of money must be spent on binding for sheet music.  The library, being a library, also contains books (about 9,000).  These range from academic to popular books.

Some books of sheet music
Some books of sheet music

Overall, the Barbican Library is an incredibly fascinating place.  It has adapted incredibly well to the unique challenges it has faced and has embraced its identity as a premier space for the arts.  It’s a great study in what kinds of challenges libraries can face and how they combat them.

Edinburgh Love

A loch in Edinburgh
A loch in Edinburgh

I will begin this post by saying that I was completely unprepared for Edinburgh and its beauty.  I had never really thought much about Scotland.  I knew very little of the place besides the usual:  Scotch, bagpipes, kilts, Highlander, etc.  It didn’t take long, however, for Edinburgh to become one of my favorite cities on the planet.  The landscape and the architecture are stunning.  There is so much old-world charm there that it is unbelievable.  Gone is the modernity and bustle of London, replaced with castles and towering Gothic monuments.  Pretty much every view from every part of the city is picturesque.

Oh, I almost forgot: haggis!
Oh, I almost forgot: haggis!

But I’m not here to gush about Edinburgh, although I could do quite a bit of that.  I’m here to talk about library stuff.  The first stop in Scotland was the University of Edinburgh’s New College library.  The New College of the University of Edinburgh is known to have one of the premier seminaries in the U.K. and its library reflects that.  A large portion of the library’s collection is made up of theological materials.  This can be seen in the building itself, as the New College’s current building was once the Free High Kirke (kirke being Scottish for church, I think).

A courtyard outside of the University of Edinburgh library. Rather impressive, no?
A courtyard outside of the New College at the University of Edinburgh. Rather impressive, no?

The history of the library began in the 1840s with the destruction of the Church of Scotland.  Part of the church was reborn as the Free Church of Scotland.  This church was very interested in libraries and began asking for donations from private individuals, many of whom were women.  This is how many of the library’s materials were acquired.  In the early 20th century the Free High Church was adapted for library use after the reunification of the Church of Scotland.  The library officially opened in 1936 and is now one of the premier theological libraries in the U.K.

Inside the library. Note the stained glass windows, indicating its former status as a church.
Inside the library. Note the stained glass windows, indicating its former identity as a church.

The library currently has about 250,000 volumes, 90,000 of which are rare books and special collections.  Many of the special collections came from the original donations.  Some of the items in the special collections are truly unique.  For example, there is a chair that supposedly belonged to John Calvin.  There is also a book which purports to detail all of the animals that were included on Noah’s ark, one of which was the unicorn.

(Allegedly) John Calvin's chair
(Allegedly) John Calvin’s chair
A (partial?) list of the animals that were (allegedly) on Noah's ark
A (partial?) list of the animals that were (allegedly) on Noah’s ark

The library is an interesting study in how a historical building must adapt to modern usage.  The technology is limited by the historic nature of the building, so there is no wifi throughout the library.  There are, however, computers which have internet access and can access the library’s catalog.  The library also has a large reference collection and many journals which are provided both in print form and online.  In addition to its substantial Christianity print reference collection, the library also has materials on other religions such as Buddhism and Islam.  These materials are available mostly online.

The book that got Galileo in so much trouble with the church
The book that got Galileo in so much trouble with the church

The stunning beauty and interesting history and materials of the University of Edinburgh library made it one of my favorite stops of the trip.  I hope that I am one day able to revisit it.

It’s (Mean) Time for Greenwich!

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

On Thursday, July 9, we headed out to Greenwich on a boat.  It was quite fortuitous that we were traveling by ferry because there was a London tube strike which would have made traveling by the underground impossible.  Thank you, transportation gods!  The boat ride also made for a lovely trip and afforded us great views of the Thames and especially the Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge as seen from the boat to Greenwich
The Tower Bridge as seen from the boat to Greenwich

Once we arrived in Greenwich we headed to the National Maritime Museum where we were shown some rare books from the museum’s archives.  Unsurprisingly, the library and archives at the museum mostly contained items of a nautical nature.  However, they may not have been items that the average person would expect to see.  For example, the archives housed a large number of certificates for Master Mariners, or people who had achieved a particular rank as a mariner.  These are fascinating documents which often had the addresses and physical descriptions of the recipients.

A Master Mariner certificate
A Master Mariner certificate

There were also a number of books published from the time when Arctic exploration was of great interest to English people.  These books often had idealized and inaccurate depictions of the indigenous peoples, with the Eskimos often depicted as innocent and happier than people in developed civilizations.  Other items of note include the journal of Jeremy Roche, a member of Cromwell’s army; a portrait of the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson; and atlases dating back to at least the 16th century.

An illustration from a book on Arctic exploration, depicting a family of Eskimos
An illustration from a book on Arctic exploration, depicting a family of Eskimos

The library at the National Maritime Museum is open to the public, although the bulk of its users are off-site.  These users typically include family historians, hobbyists, and professional researchers.  There are about 200 written inquiries per month along with 150 phone inquiries.  Users can search for materials using three catalogs:  one for the library, one for the archives, and one for artifacts.  A good number of the library’s materials are digitized and searchable, including the Master’s certificates.

Documents relating to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson
Documents relating to the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson

After exploring the museum for a bit we had to make the journey to the top of the Royal Observatory.  It was quite a hike but it afforded fantastic views of the London skyline.  It also gave us the opportunity to straddle the Prime Meridian and exist in two hemispheres at once.  It’s an opportunity that one must not pass up when in Greenwich.

View of London from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich
View of London from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich

Oxford, Part Deux

My research paper got off to a bit of a rocky start.  To begin with I didn’t really know what I wanted to do my project on.  Considering my background in English (oh, yeah, I have a background in English) I thought about doing my research on an English author.  The problem was that I couldn’t really decide on one, and of the authors I was considering no major collections of their work were housed in London.  So, I shifted focus and began to consider my hobbies.  One hobby which I had indulged several times in the early days of my stay in London was that of beer.  I am quite the beer enthusiast and enjoy trying new beers any chance I get.  So, I thought, why not search for a collection related to beer?  The U.K. has such a rich brewing heritage that I was sure some such collection must exist.  Well, I was in luck.  There is one such collection not far from London.

A proper pint of cask ale from a pub in Oxford. AKA: research.
A proper pint of cask ale from a pub in Oxford. AKA: research.

The National Brewing Library is housed in Oxford Brookes University in the town of Oxford.  Per the University’s web site, the library is a collection related to brewing, distilling, beer, whisky, and other alcoholic beverages and dependent trades.  Its location in Oxford means that it is about two hours from London by bus, but it was a journey I was willing to take in order to study a subject that was of such great interest to me.

This too, however, got off to a rocky start.  I was unable to contact the person the web site said to contact in order to request access to the library.  However, the site also said that users could access the special collections at Oxford Brookes University simply by showing an ID and applying for a Reading Room pass.  This seemed easy enough, so I hopped on a bus to Oxford one rainy Friday morning in pursuit of beery research.

Oxford Brookes University. From http://www.fhharvey.co.uk/sectors/Education/oxford-brookes-uni-headington-campus
Oxford Brookes University. From http://www.fhharvey.co.uk/sectors/Education/oxford-brookes-uni-headington-campus

However, upon my arrival at the university, I ran into another road block.  The archivist in charge of special collections was on holiday (how delightfully British!) and the assistant was nowhere to be found.  Unfortunately, this meant that I would be unable to access the collections on that particular day.  However, the lady at the inquiries desk left a message with the archivist for me and I was able to walk around the campus a bit and see where everything was.  That left me much more prepared for the next time I went to Oxford.

Maughan-day Wednesday

A funerary monument in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library
A funerary monument in the Weston Room of the Maughan Library

On Wednesday, July 8, we went to see the Maughan Library at King’s College, which just so happens to be the college at which we are staying for the duration of our time in London.  Unfortunately we can’t just walk there because it’s in a different building in a different part of London, but it was not a long ride.

The Maughan Library is widely renowned for its medical collection and the number of old and rare medical texts here is impressive.  We were given a look at some of the special collections to start off our tour.  Some of the many interesting texts included a first edition of John Connolly’s Indications of InsanityThe Penny Lancet, which is a self-help book on how to deal with cholera after the 1831 outbreak; Joseph Lister’s papers; and Edward Jenner’s treatise on smallpox.  The special collections also include textbooks which would have been consulted by doctors in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

A page from the Penny Lancet
A page from the Penny Lancet

Of course, the special collections house more than medical texts.  They also include works of historical, natural, and literary significance.  These include the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, a marriage of text, illustration, and woodcuts which attempts to depict the history of the world to that point.  There are also books on wildlife and a large number of books on African exploration.  Some more modern works include rare texts by Alistair Cook and Allen Ginsberg.

A signed book of poems by Allen Ginsberg
A signed book of poems by Allen Ginsberg

One of the more interesting items in the collection was of particular significance to the American Revolution.  It is a copy of Tom Paine’s “Common Sense” bound together with “Plain Truth.”  The interesting thing about this particular copy is that the printer had left out a significant portion of text which was deemed to be too controversial to print.  However, the text was later added back by hand.

A page from Tom Paine's
A page from Tom Paine’s “Common Sense”

After viewing the special collections we were taken on a tour of the library itself.  The Maughan Library was originally four or five separate libraries which were located on King’s College’s Strand campus.  These separate libraries were eventually merged to form the current Maughan Library.  The building which now houses the library was begun in 1851 and built in stages, not always with the same type of stone.  Different sections of the library may be built from different materials.  The building was originally designed to hold and keep many documents safe and therefore has many fireproofing features.

The Maughan Library contains 1.25 million books and ebooks.  It houses several self-service kiosks to help patrons check out and return books on their own.  Until recently King’s College had subject librarians who would order books for their particular disciplines; now acquisitions are done by the people who order books.  Online reading lists assist them with book ordering.

One of the self-service kiosks at the Maughan Library
One of the self-service kiosks at the Maughan Library

A couple other interesting features of the Maughan Library include the round reading room and the Weston room.  The round reading room was built in imitation of the reading room at the British Library.  It is still quite active and many students could be seen studying there.  The Weston Room was originally a temple and is now used for exhibitions.  It contains funerary monuments, some of which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

A monument in the Maughan Library's Weston Room
A monument in the Maughan Library’s Weston Room

It’s Art, Man

Entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum
Entrance to the Victoria and Albert Museum

July 6 was a particularly busy day because in addition to seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral we were afforded a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A for short) to see the National Art Library.  The V&A is billed as one of the top museums in the world for art and design.  Although we did not get to look through the museum itself very much, the library certainly did not disappoint.

We were taken on a tour by Aisha and Sally, who did a great job of showing off what the library had to offer.  First we had a look at some of the library’s treasures:  rare books and manuscripts about the history of art and design.  These treasures include very old books such as Cipriano Piccolpasso’s Three Books of the Potter’s Art (an extremely influential text in the art of pottery) and Juan de Alcega’s Book on Geometry, Practice, and Patterns (the first treatise on tailoring published in Spain), both of which date to the 16th century.  They also include more recent, 20th century works such as a book of insects by the French architect Seguy which successfully combined art deco and art nouveau; and Art Forms in Nature, a book which was intended for study but was embraced by surrealists and became popular as art.

Perhaps the most impressive item, though, was a Dutch binding of the New Testament which dated to between 1594 and 1598.  It was bound in white silk and the edges were painted with Biblical scenes.  It had held up amazingly well and was obviously extremely well cared-for.  It was truly an impressive treasure.

16th century Dutch copy of the New Testament
16th century Dutch copy of the New Testament
Detail of the side of the New Testament book showing Biblical scenes
Detail of the side of the New Testament book showing Biblical scenes

After viewing the treasures, we were taken on a tour of the library’s reading room and center room.  These are the library’s two access points for the public.  It is quite a privilege for the public to have access to this library, as it houses materials from what is considered one of the top four art museums in the world.  The strength of the collection is documentary materials concerning the art in everyday, functional objects around us.  There are an estimated 1 million books in the library, all of which are accessible to patrons with an ID and proof of address.  Most of the materials can be requested online, although some rare materials must be requested in person.  There are approximately 30,000 users at the library.

IMG_20150706_135909
Reading room at the National Art Library

The National Art Library opened in 1837 as a library for government school of design in the Somerset House.  It moved to Marlboro House in 1852 after the Great Exhibition of 1851 raised funds for the library.  In 1858 the library moved to its current location.  It expanded a lot during the 1860s and 70s, and by 1890 it had expanded 12 times over.  The current rooms were designed in 1884 and were among the earliest to be designed for use with electricity.  Although the National Art Library is a public library, its materials cannot be moved off premises.  Users are encouraged to request items ahead of time (which, as mentioned earlier, can usually be done online).

Visiting the National Art Library at the V&A was a fascinating experience.  It was quite a privilege to witness so many amazing artifacts and visit a place considered to be among the top four art museums in the world.  The general public of London is lucky to have such an amazing place to visit.