Saturday, 6 August 2011

Royal Geographical Society

Librarian- Eugene Rae

The Royal Geographical Society was created in 1830 as a bit of a gentlemen’s club.  Members would get together, eat dinner, and debate and discuss issues concerning geography and exploration.  Its goal was to promote the advancement of geographical science.  In the 180 years since its founding, the goal of the society has not changed.  But, now there is a larger focus on research, publishing, and the physical collection the society maintains.  The society’s collection is housed on site and maintained by the library there. 

The collection is open to the public for a cost of ten pounds, but educational users and members get in for free.  In 2004 the collection was reorganized and the Reading Room was opened.  Originally, there were four different collections with four different catalogs, now everything is in one catalog, which is also online.  The library has over 2 million items onsite; this includes around 1 million maps, half a million photos, 1,500 objects, and a quarter of a million books and periodicals. 

We had the opportunity to see some of the society’s more impressive catalog items.  When the society was created in 1830 there was a great deal of interest in finding the Northwest Passage.  Many of its members attempted to find this passage and brought back items from their adventures.  One of the most interesting items we were shown was a can of meat from the ship named the HMS Resolute.  The Resolute was commissioned to explore the artic but got stuck in the ice and was abandoned.  It eventually broke free and was found by an American ship.  The Americans returned the ship to England, and it was eventually decommissioned.  Wood from the ship was then used to make at least three desks one of which was given to the President of the United States.  The Resolute desk has been used by almost every president since, and to this day it still sits in the Oval Office. 

The Society has many items from both arctic and Antarctic explorations including supply lists, different styles of sunglasses, magazines printed on board different ships, a bible, and even a pair of Inuit boots.  But, the society also has item and materials from places other than the Arctic and Antarctic.  There are sketch maps drawn by Lawrence of Arabia, Charles Darwin’s pocket sexton and a number of maps and photos searching for the source of the Nile in Africa.    


There is a small town on the River Avon where 450 years ago one of the greatest playwrights to have ever lived was born.  William Shakespeare was born in Stratford and is buried there.  His tomb is accessible at the Church of the Holy Trinity right outside of the city.  Stratford is a very beautiful city surrounded by the river and canals.  There are small boats that line the rivers banks.  These boats often serve as homes, but some have been converted into small shops and restaurants. 

While in Stratford, I attempted to go to the Shakespeare Library, located in the same complex as Shakespeare’s birthplace, but it was closed.  So, I took this opportunity to do a little shopping.  Stratford has many small boutiques and I was able not only get a few souvenirs, but indulge in a little selfish shopping for clothes and shoes. 

After an afternoon of shopping, I went to a play….a Shakespeare play of course….well maybe.  I went to see Cardenio.  Originally it was called The History of Cardenio, and was known to be performed in London in 1613.  But, the original manuscript did not survive.  The play is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s two lost plays.  In 1727 a manuscript was published claiming to be this lost play of Shakespeare’s.  Even though its authenticity is still questioned, the play was really enjoyable.  I went into thinking that it was going to be either boring or really hard to understand, by the end, I was glad to be wrong on both accounts.  It’s pretty cool to say that I went to a Shakespeare play in his hometown…well maybe. 


There was an opportunity for British Studies Students to travel to Paris for one weekend.  I took this opportunity and am glad that I did.  Unfortunately, I did not fall in love with the “city of love”, in fact; I didn’t really like it at all.  But, I was able to look past my feelings of disgust at how dirty the city was and enjoy some of the many sights it had to offer.   

I was able to visit the Louvre Museum and see the Mona Lisa, but I found the actual building to be even more impressive than the paintings and artwork housed there.  The Louvre is a converted palace.  There have been expansions and additions to the original building, but old structure is truly remarkable.  A rather long walk away from the Louvre is the Eiffel Tower.  The tower was built in 1889 for the World’s Fair.  It was built to be taken down after the Fair, as it was only to show what steel and iron are capable of, but it became such a hit, that the city decided to keep it.  An even longer walk away is the Arc de Triomphe.  The Arc was built to honor all those who fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WW1.

My favorite site of the weekend though was Versailles.  Versailles was home to the French Monarchy from 1682 until the French Revolution forced the monarchy back to Paris in 1789.  The building itself is quite impressive; although, I believe it has been damaged and ransacked since it was last used in 1789 by the monarchy.  Many of the walls and some of the decorations appeared to be replicas.  But, I found the surrounding gardens to be the most impressive part of the palace.  Included in the gardens are numerous fountains, a Grand Canal, and the Marie Antoinette’s estate. 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Victoria & Albert Art Museum

The Victoria and Albert Art Library was founded in 1837, before the museum was even opened.  In 1850 the museum officially opened and the art library moved in.  The art library is unique in that it not only collects books, but all mediums associated with art.  Objects that can be found here include glass, textiles, ceramics, paintings and drawings.  The library does not function as a lending library and it is not open to the public, but it is fairly easy to get a membership.  There is an extensive periodicals section with over 8,000 titles, of the 8,000, 2,000 are current.   
The art library has an interesting way of cataloguing their books.  They are mostly organized by size because the library has a fairly large budget and is constantly taking in new materials.  The library is home to over 3,000 artist books.  We were able to view one of these books.  It was made entirely from rabbit fur.  The artist was making a statement on how we as humans kill animals for things other than food.  We were also able to see some of the Vogue magazine collection, which is one of the libraries larger periodicals collections.
On out tour of the library, we were able to see some impressive pieces in their collection.  The library is home to some of da Vinci’s originally manuscripts.  We were able to see a copy of original, as the actual original is too fragile for viewings.  But, we were able to see an original Dickens’s manuscript.  The library houses 11 of Dickens’s original 14 manuscripts.  They were left to the library by a friend of Dickens named John Forster.  Forster, left the library over 18,000 items.  It may seem odd that an art library collects things like this, but they are interested in the history of books and it’s not like they could really turn down something like and original Dickens manuscript. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

London Library

Librarian- Jane Oldfield, Head Librarian- Inez Lynn
The London Library first opened its doors in 1841, since this time, the library has amassed around one million books.  In other words, about 15 miles of shelving.  The libraries main focus is on Humanities and Arts, but they do have a great deal of books on other subjects.  It is the largest independent lending library in the world.  This basically means that members have to pay to use the library and its services.  Because of the libraries extensive resources, it has always had a few famous members.  Past members include Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Winston Churchill (he also served as President of the library for a time), T.S. Eliot and Agatha Christie.  On our tour we were told that there are a few famous celebrities that are current members, including Robert Pattinson and Hugh Jackson.
There are currently about 8,000 members, this number includes both private members corporate bodies.  Because the library’s budget is completely dependent on member fees and donations, they are very responsive to their members.  Membership is open to all who can afford to pay the fees, although they do offer reduced fees to those that need it.  They have a very generous return policy; there are no late fees. 
Since its opening in the 1800s, London Library has gone through quite a few makeovers.  These changes are evident in the building as all of the sections look very different.  The art room has a very modern feel with glass balconies, but the literature section is dark with a steel floor.  This floor is quite spooky to walk on at first, you can see through holes in the material, which gives you a view of floors above and below you.
The collections housed in the London Library include books written in over 50 languages.  All of these books are shelved together by subject.  One unique thing about London Library (its only unique to the UK, its normal practice in the US) is the ability of the members to wander the stacks and pick out their own books.  Most the libraries here have patrons fill out cards with the names of the books they want and a librarian goes and retrieves them from stacks.  At London Library, members have access to all of the books and periodicals the library owns.  But, first the members have to figure out how the books are catalogued and organized.  The catalogue at London Library is unique to the library and is based on subject, within each subject; titles are alphabetically organized by author.  
I found the set up of the library to be very interesting.  Before this visit, I had not been to a library that charged its members.  But, if I had the money and lived in this city, I would probably join. 

The Old Royal Naval College

The Old Royal Naval College can be found on the banks of the Thames in an area called Greenwich.  The buildings here have a long history that dates back to Henry V.  Henry died young, so his young son took over the crown.  The new king’s regent decided that Greenwich would make a fine place to watch for invasions, since one could see both a land or see invasion from the spot.  The king grew up and married Queen Margaret who fell in love with Greenwich and decided to take it for her own.  Henry VII loved Greenwich too and decided to build the Palace of Placentia for his new wife.  This palace was a favorite to many royals including Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. 
After Henry VIII died, Elizabeth was given the Greenwich Palace.  She often stayed there waiting for her ships to return.  When Frances Drake captured a Spanish treasure, he brought it straight to Greenwich and asked Elizabeth to come aboard so that she could inspect it.  Before his arrival to Greenwich though, Spain had sent word to Elizabeth of the piracy and asked for Drake’s head in return for the treasure.  Upon boarding the ship, Elizabeth is said to have pulled a sword and Drake.  She knighted him instead of killing him and so he became Sir Frances Drake. 
When William and Mary took the throne, they wanted to build a naval hospital for old seaman.  So, Wren was hired to redesign the Palace into a large naval home.  The domes Wren built still stand today.  The site served as a naval hospital from 1705 to 1865.  When it closed, the Royal Naval College leased the buildings to use for training their officers.  When the Royal Naval College moved out in 1998, the buildings were to be leased on to educational institutions.  It currently houses the Trinity College of Music and the headquarters of the University of Greenwich.
There were so many interesting stories about the history of the campus and so many amazing things to see here.  There is a statue of Sir Walter Raleigh that faces toward North America.  The largest painted ceiling in Europe is here.  This room, called the painted chapel is where Lord Horatio Nelson’s body lay in state after his death.  In the basement, there is a skittle (bowling) alley built in 1860 to entertain the navy men.  The site is home to so much history. 

Stephen Lawrence Gallery

Curator- David Webb
The Stephen Lawrence Gallery was opened in the year 2000 to promote diversity in art at the University of Greenwich.  It is can be found at the Old Royal Naval College.  The gallery is named after a young black boy that was murdered in 1993.  Stephen’s murderers were never brought to trial which caused a public uproar.  In a report filed in 1999, investigators concluded that Stephen’s attack was racially motivated and that the police force did not fully investigate the case because of racial issues.  At the time of Stephen’s death, his mother was a student at the University of Greenwich.  In 2000 when the university decided to honour Stephen, his mother wanted his creativity to live on in an art gallery open to all.  So, in 2000, the Stephen Lawrence Gallery was opened to celebrate visual culture. 
The current exhibition at the Lawrence Gallery celebrates local history that has national importance.  In the late 1960s and 70s, groups of artists started buying and renting abandoned industrial buildings in Greenwich.  Uncaught Hares, in a series of works from artists that worked in Jeff Lowe’s studio in Greenwich from 1974 to 1994.  The current exhibit is artwork these artist have done post 1994.  This is the second exhibition from this group of artists.  The first was made up of pieces the artists completed during their time at the studio.  Along with the actual art pieces, various archival materials were shown. 
Webb informed us that many of the exhibitions they show in this gallery are shown with archival materials.  The exhibition we saw was done mainly by abstract artists.  I found some of the pieces to be interesting and even pretty, but others were just odd.  I also liked that there were pictures of the artists from the 70s when they were all working together and current pictures taken when the exhibition opened.