Friday, July 18, 2014

Additional Visit #2: Freemasons' Hall, London

18th and 25th of July 2014
Freemasons' Hall Library and Archive is a very special place for me. This place is the original 18th Century lodge which began the world-wide phenomenon of this most famous benevolent fraternal organization. Because of this, this current Art Deco structure, completed in the 1930s as a Temple of Peace, houses many lodge rooms, a gift shop, a museum, a library and an archive. I had the great fortune of being welcomed in this wise space by a front desk staff who were friendly and quickly sent me upstairs with directions to the library. The actual space is a rectangle with a wrap around wrought iron mezzanine with pentacles and hexagrams replete. The work space is elegantly simple, each fine wooden desk being tucked back into each of the alcoves which hold the main closed stacks of books. My preliminary internet research had given me a list of items to request. The vast majority of these books began with an 'SRIA', which I found out later was a collection that was specially being taken care of by Freemasons' Hall for the Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia, a similarly structured society to that of the Masonic tradition. After a day of research, I knew that another day had to be scheduled, so I ended up meeting the archivist, Susan Snell, who agreed to give Dr. Welsh and me a personal tour of the archival space. When that day came, I was able to finish up my research before Dr. Welsh got done with her tour of the building. We then got to explore the basement storage facility. The space had not been designed as an archival space and when Ms. Snell assumed the archival position, the materials had never been catalogued. She basically started from scratch, has accomplished herculean goals, and has further evolutionary steps planned. This was the only archive I've ever toured with the water-damage prevention method whereby metal trays are assembled beneath all of the water pipes (which are all close to ceiling-level) so as to channel any ruptured pipes away from the collections below. It is a novel idea that I've never even read about. She didn't take credit for the idea, but I feel it's a fantastic modification for an archival space that has been adapted into an area that has overhead water piping. Ms. Snell showed us the acid-free boxes that she's implemented, as well as, the inert plastic sheeting that protects individual papers. The section of SRIA looked incredible and I could have easily spent a day browsing the collection, but, due to the culture of this closed library setup, I believe that would be slightly out of the question. She then took us to two of the vault rooms which were built into this structure. Originally constructed to hold the most valuable documents of the order, it continues to protect some of the rarest artifacts of Freemasonry. One of the crown jewel pieces that Ms. Snell showed Dr. Welsh and me is correspondence of Prince Hall, the man who organized African-American Freemasonry around the time of the American War for Independence.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Additional Visit #1: Dunfermline, Scotland

16th of July 2014
Dunfermline, Scotland is a quaint, picturesque town ('city' in the 10th Century!, I was informed by a local!) that ushered out the national hero Robert the Bruce, being his resting place in the abbey church, and, welcomed to the world quintessential industrialist Andrew Carnegie as he was born there to a working class textile family.
We began the day by taking a bus from Edinburgh, and I got the pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Welsh, my adviser, and talk with her for the 45 or so minute trip about my research paper. We first toured the abbey, which is a glorious early Gothic style with real choppy, blocky, and still in Romanesque mindset flying buttresses. Robert the Bruce's brass engraving gleams as if brand new...his memory is still strongly venerated for his leadership in Scottish independence. Interestingly enough, the vote for independence from the United Kingdom is currently on the ballet in Parliament.
Next, Dr.s Welsh, Griffis and I walked to the Carnegie statue which was very inspirational and informative. It's been such a pleasure being on this trip with Dr. Griffis, who has so much passion and knowledge about Carnegie libraries. We got to talk extensively, although not enough, about the intricacies of that evolutionary period in library history. It is apparent that the residents of Dunfermline are truly proud of their native son.
After a wonderful little lunch in an ancient abbey building, we met up at one of the auxiliary buildings for the very first Carnegie Library. After a century of service as a library, it is currently stripped of books and furniture in order to undergo a massive change. The interior of the structure will be refurbished and a new section is going to be added, doubling the interior size. This will give room for a museum dedicated to the Carnegie Library System and then still allow room for it to be a working library. The regional government has taken lead in this project and it is concerning that many of the local workers have not been consulted about the plans, seeing as though they will be the people effected and they have the best ideas, through direct experience, of what will work and what needs to be rethought.
This first Carnegie Library is a stunning masterpiece of local craftsmanship and design. From its entryway carved stonework stating “Let There Be Light”, to the interior stone fireplace mantlepieces, hidden doors, wooden animals and gargoyle, the structure, is by its very manifestation, a synergistic work of art.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Week 2 Overview

One of my most favorite places in London...Temple Church was built by Knights Templar in the 12th Century and one of their symbols, two knights on a single steed, represents their vow of poverty and sits atop this pillar in the courtyard of the church. The following is an e-mail I sent my family, updating them on my second week of the BSP. Hey Family, Week two just ended and week three is getting starting, like it or not! It's Saturday night and tomorrow morning, bright and early, our library/information science class and the psychology class are getting on a coach for Edinburgh, Scotland. We'll be spending four nights there and then our five day mini-break begins, therefore, I need to quickly explain this past week! This is a truly intense program. I love it, yet it is kept at a concentrated pace...this week was five days of volumnous note-taking on my part. It even gets to the point where taking pictures is a challenge. I'm keeping it going though! Monday began with the London Museum's Archaeological Archive complex in the morning, and, in the afternoon, an undisclosed high profile corporate law library. Tuesday showed us The Barbican Public Library in the morning and St. Paul's Cathedral Library in the afternoon. Wednesday took us to The Royal Naval Academy Library and Archives in Greenwich. Thursday morning was The British Museum's Archive and the afternoon availed to us The Weiner Library for Holocaust Studies. Friday was the most beautiful experience at The Royal Botanic Gardens Library and Archives at Kew. Just a quick reminder that these are not simple tourist trips...we are shown many behind-the-scenes places, as well as in-depth scholastic lectures. Library and information professionals tend to be very giving of their time when they know a group is interested, and, especially, when they are addressing the next generation of their fields. These people never cease to amaze me with their passion for disseminating knowledge and staunch freedom of information to all who may benefit. Everyone we've met so far has given their all in preparation of our arrival and then kept us around until the last little question is asked. They also seem to be very empathetic with the fact that we've been non-stop since getting here, so, when questions can no longer be asked through parched lips and arms can't be raised from writer's cramp, they compassionately understand! In other words, this is a chivalrous group of people, these library and information professionals are, I tell you! Anyway, enough about that...what were the specifics of this week? It is amazing to imagine the age of London, officially established as Londinium by the Roman Empire, yet, being abuzz with human activity far before that. Being one of the major capitols of the world, London continues to transform with new construction and with each new building excavation comes the inevitable possibility of uncovering remains of cultural significance. Anytime this happens, the London Museum archaeologists are put on the case. Their archaeological archive is the largest of its kind in the world and contains artifacts dating back tens of thousands of years and up to the 20th Century. Over 7,000 individual excavations have ended up in this educational storage facility. Any and all types of material culture was seen...Paleolithic stone tools, Roman mosaics, Medieval loaded dice, Victorian wrought iron, and even the 1950's-era telephone circuitboard from Buckingham Palace! All of this stuff is sandwiched in-between layers upon layers of the different incarnations of one city. Of course, all of the paperwork to give provenance, or identity, to the objects is meticulously filed away, just as the individual items are. The Barbican Library is part of the larger Barbican 'City', which is the phoenix that rose from the obliterated ashes of WWII. The Nazis wanted to bomb St. Paul's Cathedral so badly, to symbolically demoralize Britain, by destroying such an iconic piece of London's architecture. They did eventually hit it, but it stayed tall; the nearby area that is now The Barbican was almost totally leveled during the Blitz, being the product of many missed shots. Now, The Barbican houses impressive music, children's and business libraries. St. Paul's Cathedral Library is old and truly smells of aged paper and leather and looks like a classical library should be, along with a wrap around mezzanine and bookshelves filling all four walls to the ceiling! The National Maritime Museum Caird Archive and Library, in Greenwich, was reached by The Thames Clipper, giving our group amazing views of London from her sacred river. The building is of Classical Georgian age and style, replete with grand glamour and unequalled symmetry. The inside, however, is a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility which houses its large specialty library and huge archive of all-things-nautical. This repository is very important to the education and evolution of the world's information about maritime history; it houses the memory of the primary tool that allowed 'the sun to never set on the British Empire'. The British Museum Administrative Archives was a totally unsettling and enraging experience. This staggering collection of the world's accumulated knowledge is the home of The Rosetta Stone, Minoan gold, colossal Middle Eastern and Egyptian statuary, along with untold riches. However, it is only but a cabinet of curiosities without knowing the provenance, or sources and descriptions of each individual item. Our group was led into a non-climate-controlled basement room with no obvious method of fire suppression to view the endangered accumulation of the living history of The British Museum. The collection includes complete board meeting minutes from the first idea of the institution's conceptualization to lists of all the donations and acquisitions that make the collection world famous. This information functions as the memory of the institution and the archivist does her best as the collections degrade in dangerously fluctuating environmental conditions. For a world class institution, this is a shameful show of disrespect from the current administration. The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide is a heavy, yet empowering collection, that, next to the Holocaust Museums, is the largest collection of this specialty material in the world. The founder of the library, Dr. Alfred Wiener, was a German Jew who had to flee the Nazis, yet founded a fascist watchdog organization in the 1920s that helped the Allies win the war. All this accumulated information became the library, which continues to follow hate groups to this day. On a lighter note, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are a gorgeous collection of plants from all over the world, arranged in exquisite artistic displays of landscaping. Their archives house world class specimens of pressed plants, seeds, and books/papers concerning botanicals. One of the many rare books specially displayed for our group is worth over a million pounds (over two million U.S. dollars). Another interesting facet of Kew Gardens is that Beatrix Potter, of Peter Rabbit fame, is inextricably linked, albeit rather tragically, with the history of the place. Alright, that's the quick overview of week two! More will follow, along with the blog I keep promising, which will be much more detailed. I love and miss you all. Yours truly, Patrick

Friday, July 11, 2014

Academic Day 9: Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Library and Archive

11th of July 2014 Today at Kew Gardens, I took the most pictures of any day so far. It was such a treat for the senses! We began with a morning presentation with around two dozen incredible primary resource materials, on display exclusively for us, a walk into a Victorian-era continuously working herbarium, and then a very enchantingly intricate lecture concerning Beatrix Potter. The Kew Gardens Royal Botanic (not 'botanical'!) Gardens Archives and Herbarium is a world-class educational institution. Not just in the dozens of different gardens held within the site does this institution teach. Multiple complexes are constructed for the education of children; adapted structures house rotating exhibits concerning herbal and plant uses, and the archives and archival herbarium has and will continue to produce world class health and wealth through information. Medicinal herb gardens are abundant on site, from different time periods and in different formats. King George III's medicinal herb garden, from the American Colonial period, was laid out in a rectangular shape; while, across the property, there is a giant human shaped garden that has growing in the different areas of the body, medicinal herbs that are beneficial for that specific part...foxglove in the heart, calendula on the skin, liverwort at the liver, and so on. Mr. Andrew Wiltshire is a charming, knowledgeable, and humorous man of many talents. He participated in our class' walking tour, engaged many in conversation, including me. Looking at the exhibited artistry of an East India Company botanical artist, Mr. Wiltshire, who has international business experience, gave me a bit more of the background of that company, which, he said “owned the world” at its height. I told him about the land corporations owning the lion's share of mineral and property rights in Appalachia, still to this day, and he just laughed and our conversation on that topic ended. He went on to give us a very deep presentation where he made multiple connections concerning multiple people in multiple time periods which led to the decipherment of Beatrix Potter's encoded diary. After the presentation, I asked him if the code-breaker felt a bit uneasy publishing her diary. He responded by telling me of a family member in who was mentioned in a, by nowadays standards, benign reference to a family member that upset the older folks in the family...possibly the mentioning of an uncle who overindulged in pints. They were able to print the diary only if they omitted these passages, so they did. Years later, another addition was published and the original wording was put back in.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Academic Day 8: British Museum Administrative Archive and Wiener Library of Holocaust & Genocide Studies

10th of July 2014 In the a.m., our class toured the British Museum's administrative archives to which there seemed to be a general consensus that a major error is occurring. The new archivist, Francesca Hillier, is wonderful, both, in her passion for preserving and disseminating the public record, and, for taking on such a daunting task. Obviously from somewhere in the administration, a low priority status has been placed on this record room which houses the pure memory of the British Museum...from the beginning documents that began the rumblings of this amazing institution, to the incendiary bomb shell casing which destroyed part of the complex during WWII. All of these totally unique pieces of information are buried in the dank cellars beneath the complex, with no apparent method of maintaining optimal, or even just constant, indoor environmental qualities. True, this is a perfect place to protect the priceless information from another Blitz, but far more likely, and much more apparent, and happening as I write this, is the leather and paper degradation taking place due to excessive moisture and unmonitored temperatures. This form of cultural neglect is something more akin to the US, than to the UK.
Out of all the archives we toured, this was, by far, the most concerning in terms of administrative ignorance to the importance of its very own history. This coming from the iconic cultural heritage institution of the British Library was all-around shocking and personally ireful. What's even more infuriating is that the answer is staring the institution straight in the face, yet someone or some cabal continues turning the blind eye. Since the British Library moved out of their round reading room at the center of the British Museum complex, other than some random exhibits, I believe it has been virtually empty. Does not this institution's central circular structure of information seem destined to house the archives, they memory of its existence and its world renowned collections? The British Library's signature influence deserves to be evolved into the sustainably resilient message that both institutions aspire to: protection of posterity for the people.
In the p.m., we toured the Weiner Library which was a complete polar opposite from the British Museum. Small and carefully monitored, therefore understood and respected, state of the art storage facilities. Every square inch of this former residence is used in very wise ways, all-the-while, none of it looks crowded or cramped. Its design shows careful attention to historic architectural detail (both in and outside) and replete planning is evident of the compassionate conversion of spaces not originally built to house delicate materials (such as correspondence, photographs, film negatives, newspapers, and books). Despite the heavy subject matter of this library/archive, the professionalism by which all employees perform and attention to detail in their layout, this institution, is both inspiring and encouraging.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Academic Day 7: National Maritime Museum's Caird Archive and Library

Wednesday, 9th of July 2014
This was a wonderful day of exploration because we were taken from the London Eye to Greenwich via a boat taxi. This allowed for us to get views of London from the River Thames...the sacred river that assisted this area become globally influential. It became clear to me, on this river jaunt, that the Industrial Revolution concentrated people and development into urban centers in a unique way, which led to the amalgamating of all the surrounding towns into London boroughs. The densely packed industrial factory buildings left only lapping room for the waves of the river. These buildings virtually form walls in which the river flows. These structures appear to be repurposed as residential sites...the wise and thrifty Britons thrive on the challenges and adventure of adaptive reuse. Furthermore, regarding the river, stories I've heard credit the Industrial Revolution with the draining of swampland around London, developing it with constructs, and therefore narrowing the great river dramatically.
After disembarking at Greenwich, we learned that the Old Royal Naval College complex was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, that the former site was a palace where notable monarchs were born, and the Royal Observatory sets Greenwich Mean Time, therefore systematizing humanity's time beginning here at 0 degrees longitude.
This is the place where we also began learning about Lord Nelson, a national war hero of mythical proportions, much like George Washington of the US. He was described to us as a superb commander who ultimately died at the Battle of Trafalger. Many items associated with this man are safely housed in the Caird Archive/Library, including some of his notes regarding mutinies throughout the British warships, which we got to look at.
To begin with, our group was split in two and Assistant Archivist Graham Thompson showed my group a selection of artifacts that represent some of the archive's collection. Several of these items were snugly packed within inert materials and displayed in a "journey box" which can be taken out and about for outreach such box contained three early 19th Century items: a ship surgeon's manual; a ship chaplain's diary; and, a ship whistle.
James Caird was a ship-owner and art enthusiast who left his personal collections to the library, which was significant enough an event to name the library after him. The library and reading room have currently embarked upon a 'heralding campaign' to raise awareness of their existence, which I felt was another way the British use the power of words to embolden ideas.
The library has around 15 staff members, plus volunteers. They use a dumbwaiter for multi-level material transport, since the archival storage is on a different floor from the library. Roller racking is exclusively used in the are we toured, which was very cold and humidity controlled. The walls are made of an anti-humidity material and there are rodent traps, water sprinklers, security cameras and no windows in this archival space.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Academic Day 6: Barbican Public & St. Paul's Cathedral libraries

Tuesday, 8th of July 2014 In the a.m., we toured The Barbican Library of London. This facility was built after Nazi bombs obliterated the area during WWII...apparently, they were intent on destroying nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral, the iconic heart of London, but to no avail. Their multiple misses destroyed the vast majority of structures on the site of what is now The Barbican, or "fortress" in Latin. The complex of concrete, steel and glass structures is described as ‘a city within a city’. Apartments, restaurants, movie theatres, a music hall, library, et cetera were all planned out in the development of this creation. Like many other post-war buildings, this complex is very controversial in design...stark concrete, yet softened by the use of plantings and water features.
The actually library space was not designed to house such an institution, yet, it is wide open and airy. The library is also centrally located within the complex, which Geraldine, our tour guide informed us was a mixed blessing. The location is great for visibility to the masses of people who walk through The Barbican complex, yet, she lamented, it is a noisy spot, with loud events often taking place just outside the doors or one level above. This public library has three components: a main lending library with emphasis on travel, business, health, local history, computer usage, art, periodical, young adult and dvd selections; a children's library from birth to 14 years with emphasis on Rhyme (or 'Story') Time, summer reading themes (Mythology this year), Saturday events, parent outreach to assist in appropriate material for children, reading groups by age, and community volunteership; and, the music library which was the most awe-inspiring for me simply because I didn't know that anything like this existed, especially within a public library system. This music library included: exhibitions (the current one being 'family trees' of rock bands), specialty music for diverse cultural population of london (ie. Bangladeshi), keyboard with headphones, billboard for local concerts, 9,--- books, 16,000 collections of sheet music, large reference section, 16,000 cds, an unsigned local musician section, a music periodical database, and an on-line presence.
My favorite section was the London history bookshelf. Old books, new books, and all for the general public to learn from. A vast amount of books have been written about London and Londeners over the centuries and many can be found here.
In the p.m., we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral Library, led by cathedral librarian Joseph Wisdom. This incredibly knowledgeable man kept our group on its toes by consistently asking questions to us, virtually in a riddle-like fashion. His ‘Socratic method’ to spark conversation amongst us didn’t seem to work too well, as I feel we are all still a bit nervous around each other. Mr. Wisdom gave us a quick behind-the-scenes tour on the way up to the library, of which he kept promising us that we actually would get to books and a library eventually! We walked down a hallway of curiosities, including architectural stone masonry that belonged to the four or five churches which had stood on that very spot before Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece was created (in other words, four centuries of architectural details). This was my first experience within one of Wren's churches. It's totally gorgeous and grand, along with circular shiny brass or bronze grates to allow air flow to the crypt, which also holds the cafe, restaurant and gift well as the dead! Again, very commonplace are the individual churches to have cafe's in order to support itself and out of the many I went to, always had a good experience with good food and drink. Back to Mr. Wisdom, such an intriguing fellow. He took us down the hallway of curiosities, around a couple corners past a perfectly cylindrical staircase that could have possibly been used in a Harry Potter set, and into a spacious room with a big model replica of St. Paul's Cathedral in the center of it. The room's walls had books carved into them, making it apparent that this room had been the original designated library. However, the building had another chamber that was going to be a library space as was going to be a copyright deposit office ("a 'metropolitical library' idea" as Mr. Wisdom put it) and the other would house church documents. Seeing as though symmetry was a key to Sir Wren's design of this structure, Mr. Wisdom told us to find the current library and that it was the mirror image of this room...we were able to walk directly to it with that minimal instruction. We walked into the library which was a staggering experience for both sight and smell, both of which discerned the age and wisdom in this single wood paneled one story mezzanined room with shades drawn. The original church library had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, so the aforementioned two library spaces were included in Wren's current cathedral. As far as Mr. Wisdom knew, Sir Wren didn't integrate any interior environmental stablization features into his design. Now, modern conservation methods/environmental controls keep the room a constant temperature and humidity. This is the private library of the clergy, but others must have good reason with advance notice to use the library's holdings. Mr. Wisdom then summed it up by saying that the library is open "to anyone who can make good use of it. When asked about cataloging, Mr. Wisdom said that items were beginning to be put into a digital database, although many already are in other regional book databases: ESTC, WING, and COPAC.