Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Household Cavalry Museum

I visited the Household Cavalry Museum today. This museum is located in the Horse Guards Palace.

The museum is a recent addition to the legions of museums in London. It opened to the public at the beginning of July. I was very happy that we happened to be here the month it opened. I don't think many people have discovered it yet, though.

In the museum, you learn interesting information about why things are done the way they are. For instance, did you know that the reason there is an inspection of the guards everyday at 4 pm is because Queen Victoria once surprised the guards and discovered them all drunk? After that, she insisted on a daily inspection. You also learn the differences between the uniforms and how the present day uniform came into being.

You get to see part of the working stables and a set of stalls (shown here) filled with interactive activities. In these stalls, you can take a quiz about the history of the Household Cavalry, a quiz about the horses, and a quiz about the men. In another stall, you can pick up pieces of the uniform to see how much they weigh. Across the room, you can touch the horses' tack. I liked comparing the saddles and bridles that they use on their horses and the ones I use on mine.

In the next room, there are display cases and explanations about the history of the Household Cavalry. It traced their origins in 1661 by Charles II until the current day. Many people do not realize that the Household Cavalry has two distinct roles. One is to guard the Queen on ceremonial occasions. The other is as an armored vehicle unit. This means that the Household Cavalry currently has soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the very end of the exhibit, there were two video screens next to one another. Both of them showed the daily life of a member of the Household Cavalry. The twist was that one screen showed a day in Iraq and the other at the Horse Guards Palace. Both of them were showing at the same time and showed the same soldier going through his day. It was very moving.

This is a postcard from the museum's shop showing a little bit of the activities of a normal day. It takes them 10 hours to be ready for daily inspection.

I found it interesting to learn that, today, many of the new recruits don't know how to ride horses when they arrive. They must undergo rigorous training in order to be a member of the unit. This postcard shows a little bit about the training they must undertake.

This picture is from the 11 am changing of the guard.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Guildhall Library

Today, we met with Andrew Harper, printed books director of the Guildhall Library. The Guildhall is another library within the borders of the square mile City of London. The current Guildhall Library is the 4th one to be built on the site since the 1420s. The first library provided materials to professionals. During the reign of Edward VI, the Duke of Somerset wanted to stock his own library and so took all of the Guildhall books for himself. The current library does own 1 item from the original library, a Bible, but most of the books have been lost over the course of time.

In the 1820s, the library was re-founded but was only open to members of the library/guilds. In the 1870s, a new library was built. In 1875, it opened to the public, becoming one of the first public libraries in the country. The collection included a good deal of business information which later became the business library also located in the City of London.

During WWII, the library was burnt after an inciderary bomb hit a nearby church. Because of the Blitz risk, most of the valuable items had been moved already. Unfortunately, the place where they were "safely" stored also burnt down, losing those records forever. The library ever since has been trying to replace those books/items. There are still a few items which haven't been able to be replaced and remain on the "Burnt Books" list. After the war, the interior of the library was repaired and it reopened.

The location, however, wasn't entirely convenient for library purposes. It was always being used for social and state functions which meant the library was continuously being closed and the reading room arranged and rearranged. In 1974, a new library was built right next to the old library. Today, you might never know that the old library is there unless you know the area well or happen to go around the corner and see it.

The new library has an extensive collection on books about London. In fact, in the 1930s, a Guildhall librarian devised a separate classification system for the London books. Dewey is used for the non-London works but would not have been useful for the London collection. Their collection of British and English local history (parish records, etc), family history and Parliamentary matter is quite impressive.

Here is a picture to break up all of the words in this post. It comes from a postcard which has information about the Guildhall Library Prints and Maps section.

It was interesting to learn that 95 livery companies (i.e. guilds) gave their libraries to the Guildhall and still deposit materials in it today. I guess I never thought that guilds are still around.

One of the most internationally important collection that the library holds is the London Stock Exchange records. The stock exchange gave the Guildhall Library all of their historical records and company annual reports from 1880 to 1964. This collection alone comprises 2.5 miles (!) of shelf space. What a resource for people looking for information about companies!

Another very important collection is the Lloyds Marine collection. Lloyds is an insurance company which once specialized in maritime risk. This collection includes 350,000 voyage record cards which recorded information about every single ship that hit the seas.

The current library has 10 staff members in the printed books section, 4 in the print room, 10 in the manuscript area, 14 service assistants, and volunteers who assist during special projects such as indexing the Lloyds records. The library receives anywhere from 10-15 letters or emails asking questions each day. The first 20 minutes research (done by a librarian) is free but for a more in-depth search, it costs £50 per hour. I found it interesting that the Guildhall Library strives to get requested books to their readers within 20 minutes (if the book is on site). Readers are allowed to photocopy the more modern documents but most are beginning to bring digital cameras to get color copies, instead.

I also found it interesting that the library designed their own digital image database called COLLAGE. Mr. Harper said it was one of the first digitization projects. If a user wishes, he or she can print out a small copy of whatever document or item that they want. If they want a clearer or larger copy, the library will send them one for a small fee.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Barbican Library

Today, we were able to get a tour of a public library. I am very happy that this was in the schedule because I wanted to learn more about the public libraries in Britain than I could pick up by visiting them myself.

The Barbican Library is the 3rd busiest library in the City of London. Primarily, their busiest hours are around lunchtimes. Because it is located in the City of London and not many people live in the square mile, many of the users are people who work near there. The library is located in the Barbican Centre, a centre for the performing and visual arts. The library's collection reflects the strong art influence.

The Music Library in the Barbican is one of the largest music collections in London. One can find sound recordings, chart music or scores, music periodicals, a piano and much more. The library is used by everyone who is interested in music like students studying music, local choir members, professionals dropping by to get the newest chart release, and professional and amateur musicians. The collection has to be, therefore, diverse enough to satisfy everyone's needs.

The CD collection is extensive, some 17,000 items. I found it interesting to learn that the English public libraries charge to rent CDs and DVDs. A CD can be rented for 30p a week while a DVD is £2.75 per week. We asked the music librarian why the library charged for these materials. She said that the public library act specified that some items should be available free of charge. Some of these items were books and periodicals. CDs and DVDs, however, were not specified and it is a way for the library to make a little bit of money. It was also interesting to learn that the library does not make a CD available to the public until 3 months after its release date. The reason for this is that the record companies believed having a CD available immediately would be detrimental to sales.

I think the thing I liked the most about the music library was the patron piano. What a great idea! The users of the library have definitely embraced the idea of it. The librarian told us that one woman taught herself how to play the piano one hour at a time.

The coolest part of the library (for me the technology geek) was their self-checkout and return slot. You just put the books on the special pad and it can tell what books are there without scanning the barcodes! If I lived there, I know I would play with that so much. The return slot, due to security concerns, couldn't be open which presents problems for patrons trying to return items. So they came up with the solution of having a self-checkin which, once everything is returned, causes the slot to pop open. I'm amazed that they haven't had more problems with patrons saying that they've returned things when they really didn't.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Royal Maritime Museum: Caird Library

Today, we visited the Caird Library located in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Greenwich is a lovely suburb of London. It used to be a separate town but, like all large cities, London has spread out over time. Christopher Wren continued his campaign of no sleeping in Greenwich. I swear, he built everything in London! Greenwich has a strong connection to the sea, the Royal Navy, and English shipping.

The Caird Library was named after Sir James Caird, an enthusiast of maritime history. The library was officially opened in 1937 by King George VI. The building's original function was that of a school. The Royal Hospital School was a school for the orphans of sailors.

The library is funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Like the National Art Library, some are wondering what the Olympics in 2012 will do to their funding.

The first thing we encountered at the library was located outside of its doors. The area called the E-Library is located outside of the library itself. The reason for this is that a) it is a space for patrons to look through the library's catalog without disturbing other users, b) the enquiry and reader registration is located there so others wouldn't be disturbed, and c) users under the age of 16 aren't allowed to go into the library but the library wanted to provide a space for them. There is a little seating area next to a low bookcase full of picture books and other miscellaneous books. In this seating area, the library does storytimes occasionally for their young visitors.

In the reading room of the library, 2,500 reference books are located there. These are the only books that the readers are allowed to take off the shelves themselves. The overall collection of the library extends to 100,000 volumes (some 8,000 of which are rare books), 4.5 miles of shelving for manuscripts (letters, shipping journals, Royal Naval logs, etc.), and numerous other items. Like most libraries, the Caird Library is dealing with storage space issues. This problem is especially true in the reading room. Many new items are coming in each year but the library is running out of places to put them. There is a much needed new archive in the works.

After our tour of the library, we were shown some fabulous manuscripts and rare printed books. Can I just say that it never ceases to amaze me the kind of things that libraries/museums have hiding in their collections? Here is the group looking at some of the materials.

Here are some of the highlights of the materials that we were shown: a spy book listing all of the Spanish ships from 1582, a 17th century waggoner book (atlas) once owned by a pirate, a naval log from the ship which captured and killed Blackbeard, a slave ship log which was written by the author of Amazing Grace, letters with Samuel Pepys signature, a letter from Admiral Lord Nelson to his wife (saying it was all over) and a love letter to his mistress, a huge collection of Titanic materials including photos taken while pulling survivors out of the water and of it famous (infamous?) iceberg, a printed Ptolemy Atlas from 1562, a medicine book from the HMS Bounty bound in some of the sail cloth, a book printed in Antarctica, etc. etc. Talk about some real treasures! I didn't even know pictures existed of the picking up of Titanic survivors much less the iceberg.

After the tour was over, a few of us went over to the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. We happened to be there to watch the red ball which was used to mark time fall at 1 pm. Talk about good timing! (Timing, ha!)

After visiting the Observatory, we went into the Painted Hall. Pictures will never do that place justice. I can't imagine taking 19 years to finish it. Talk about long-term commitment to your job.

All and all, a very good trip.