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.

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