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 shop...as 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 well...one 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.

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