Friday, August 28, 2009

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow."

Tower Bridge, London

Cardiff, Wales

Hamish, the Highland Cow, Scotland

London Eye

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland

British Library, London

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” - Miriam Beard

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” - Pat Conroy

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” - G. K. Chesterton

Yes, I love quotations. They come the closest to articulating feelings I cannot translate into words. I can throw around the words "amazing, wonderful, awesome" etc. all day long, but I cannot effectively demonstrate how I have been permanently altered. Before this trip, I longed to travel; now, I know I must never stop.

I have also cemented my love for librarianship/information science. I know I have chosen the right profession, and I cannot wait to have a job in this field. I'm interested in federal and international librarianship, when before I had never really even considered them. I'm still interested in academic and public libraries, of course. But my options seem absolutely endless now. If you're a potential British Studies student, or even just a potential traveler, my advice is this - do it. Go. THIS opportunity, the one you're considering right now. If you don't have one, make one. If you don't have the money (I didn't), get a loan. I have experienced so many things in one month that I never thought I would do in a lifetime, and the stories are too many for this blog. So I would encourage you to go have your own adventures, and maybe I'll see you there.

"The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in and scramble through as well as we can." - Robert Cushing

"Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life." - Herbert Otto

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Women's Library, London: "Celebrating and Recording Women's Lives"

I got very lost trying to find the Women's Library, and in the time I spent wandering around I could see that I was in a more impoverished neighbourhood than any other I'd seen in London. When I finally found the the library, it was down a street, just far away enough that I didn't see the sign until I got much closer. The inside of the library changed my initial impression; I thought it might be in a situation similar to the Feminist Library's (I hoped not, but women still get marginalized even today), but instead I found myself in a pretty nice space.Through later research, I found that the library was not always in a great space. The library began as the Library of the London Society for Women's Service, established in 1926, and its first building was a renovated pub. Its first librarian, Vera Douie, managed the library from 1926 to 1967. In 1953, the library was renamed Fawcett Library after Millicent Fawcett, a women's suffragist who led the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (formerly the London National Society for Women's Suffrage, the origin of the library) for 20 years. Like the Feminist Library, the Fawcett Library was in danger of closing in the 1970s, but was rescued by the City of London Polytechnic (London Metropolitian University) in 1977, and is still a part of the university today. Until 2002, the library lived in a basement that was prone to flooding, and received the new building from a grant of £4.2 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The library also changed its name to the Women's Library after the move.

The Women's Library claims to be the number one resource for women's history in the UK, and anyone can come visit the library to see exhibitions or events. Anyone can access the reading room for free as well, but one must join the library in order to do so, bringing ID and pencils only (rules very similar to the other libraries I've visited in the UK, such as the British Library), with other belongings stored in a locker. Readers can access materials printed after 1920 on the shelves, but older published materials and other special collections must fill out a retrieval slip. It is suggested that one look up materials in the catalogue and request them early, since some materials can take days to retrieve.

The collections cover many topics dealing with women (primarily women in Britain), such as suffrage, health, employment, reproductive rights, education, and sexuality. The library does not cover material before the year 1800, and focuses on the nineteenth century to the present. There are over 60,000 books and pamphlets and 3,000 periodical titles, and there is a museum collection of 5,000 objects such as photographs, posters, and badges. They do not weed anything once it is cataloged, but they do not acquire material they cannot properly store and preserve, catalog and provide access to.

The GENESIS catalogue is also a fantastic resource for women's history resources in the British isles and some global sources; it lets people know where in the world they can find the information they need.

One thing I truly love is that the library has a zine collection, and as a person only recently introduced to zines by a feminist friend (I grew up in an incredibly patriarchal atmosphere, long story), I think it is amazing that they have so many titles cataloged there. Print zine-making still occurs worldwide, on every topic imaginable (the Women's Library even recently hosted a zine workshop), but the need for feminist zines has somewhat decreased with the advent of the internet - marginalized people can reach each other incredibly easily now. I think, though, there is still something beautiful and special about the creation and craft of zines, and that amazing messages and information can still be spread through them. I highly recommend checking out zine collections if you ever have a chance.

The library constantly hosts events; their big exhibition when I visited was "Between the Covers - Women Magazines and their Readers," which takes a look into the history of magazine publishing as it related to women, and how it has evolved. They also host performance events, comedy writing workshops and comedy nights, a "women and the archive" panel discussion, creative writing workshops, a children's art day, and women-themed guided walks around London. There is truly an event for every interest, and I am so impressed with the event offerings from libraries in London - I could spend all of my free time going to library events alone!

I talked to one of the library's archivists, Teresa, and asked her about the differences between the Women's Library and the Feminist Library. Essentially, there is a bit of tension, as the Women's Library has funding and the Feminist Library doesn't, and Teresa said the FL has some resources that neither the WL or the British Library has. It's complicated, and I, an American library school student, do not want to attempt to hash it out here, but I came out still feeling that the Feminist Library has to be preserved somehow, even if their collection has to be split up (worst case). If the Women's Library received it, I know they would treat it with the care it deserves, and that makes me feel better. Both have amazing collections and important missions.

For more information, visit:
Photo of the interior from The Women's Library website - photography was not permitted

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh: "Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance"

The Scottish Poetry Library is just a twenty-minute walk down the street from the other libraries/archives we visited in Edinburgh (Edinburgh feels so small compared to London!), and I am so glad that a few of us decided to check it out. Even though I've written poetry, I do not consider myself a poet like quite a few of my friends in creative writing. I knew that they would absolutely love to have a resource (and beautiful space) like this nearby. I definitely appreciated seeing the space, and knowing what a wonderful resource it must be for poets and poetry lovers.

Unfortunately, my camera died just as I managed to snap this lone picture, but I wanted to make sure I captured the natural light that cascades through the entire library, as well as show the bits of poetry that are written on the walls in a red font.
The library was founded in 1984, with the building financed by the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund. However, the library is a registered charity, and welcomes support from Friends. It is free for anyone to use. The collection's focus is contemporary Scottish poetry (written in English, Scots, and Gaelic); however, the collection also contains historic Scottish poetry, contemporary international poetry, poetry for children, audio and video, magazines, and collections for the visually impaired. The library also houses a wealth of published works by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, who was the first poet laureate of Glasgow.

The Scottish Poetry Library is a lending library, and I was surprised to learn that you can also have materials mailed to you for 50p each. You can even borrow materials through interlibrary loan. I doubt they ship or send materials ILL to America, but the Scottish people are so nice, I wouldn't be surprised if they did!

I noticed that there in addition to services for poets and readers, there is a "for librarians" page on the website. One of the more exciting opportunities is a "Poetry in the Branches" class that librarians can take to promote poetry in their libraries. They also go into detail about their catalogue, indexing, and collection policy, and offer an e-newsletter specifically for librarians. This library seems to understand the importance of collaboration with other libraries, even though it is not a traditional public library. It also seems to know exactly what its poets and other readers need in a collection and a space, as poets have a number of resources available to help them flourish (and even publish), including a School of Poets group that meets monthly in the library. They also hosts all kinds of reading events and reading groups every month, each of which is completely unique, and therefore appeal to a wider audience. My favourite part is the poetry artwork all over the building - it is beautiful, inviting, and thought-provoking. If I lived in Edinburgh (it's still possible!), I would definitely take advantage of all the resources this library has to offer its community.

For more information about the Scottish Poetry Library, visit:

First photo courtesy of Dr. Teresa Welsh

National Archives of Scotland: Where lineage comes to life

The NAS has been around in some form since the 13th century, but it became a government agency in 1993. Before 1999, NAS was known as the Scottish Record Office. I think the new name is more descriptive and accurate, as the NAS is far more than just records - it is a Scottish historical goldmine. Anyone who knows something about their Scottish ancestry can come in and do further research, utilizing the 70 kilometres worth of records available--materials which date from the 12th century onward. There are three buildings, 160 staff members, and eight websites. I think it is amazing that the Scottish recognize this as important enough to be a government-funded government agency; as a result, the space, the materials, the staff, and the websites are phenomenal.
We began our tour overlooking the research room, the main area where patrons can conduct their research. Margaret McBride, Education Officer, pointed out the lovely Adam Dome to us, then led us to a conference room, where she delivered an incredibly informative presentation, and then allowed us to view some of the NAS's fascinating materials.

Some of the highlights of Margaret's presentation:
--The NAS's mission is to preserve, protect, and promote the nation's records, and to provide the best possible inclusive and accessible archive that educates, informs, and engages the people of Scotland and the world

--They do not do research for people, but guide them in finding what they are interested in. Readers should have some idea of what they want to research because otherwise it is too difficult to know where to begin.

--The types of records they have include church, taxation, family and estate, government, and business records, wills and testaments, deeds and sasines, and so many more. Essentially, they have any kind of record of Scottish history you can think of.

--They have digital data, but they need to make sure it can't be tampered with, and they don't know how long it will last due to the rapidly changing nature of technology. Margaret stressed that this is a big issue for archivists.

--Space is also always an issue - they have to have conservation boxes of archival quality.

--They have a lot of major developments in the works, including an online catalogue, 'virtual volumes' in-house, digitization of Church of Scotland records, and a Scotlands People Centre

--One of their eight websites (you should check them all out - they're unique and informative) is, where you can learn to read old Scottish manuscripts by improving your knowledge of old Scottish website. I love this! It's very helpful in addition to being fun. is also wonderful.

--If interested potential readers are located outside of Edinburgh, they can call, e-mail, or write NAS, giving details of what they wish to see; it is important to plan ahead before visiting.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to view some of their records, especially when they hit close to home. My favourites included personal letters (1836-1853) from Dr. Roderick Morison, who moved to Hinds County, Mississippi (where one of my friends lives!) and wrote back to his sister in Scotland; prison records and correspondence regarding Fanny Parker, a 1914 suffragette who starved herself and was forcefed; and a crisscross letter from another Scot who had gone to America and wrote home when paper was scarce, so that his letter was on the same paper time after time, eventually becoming almost a puzzle to read when he wrote diagonally in the white spaces left on the page.

NAS was my first visit to a large archive, and even though I didn't have any of my Scottish ancestry information with me, I definitely will when I return to Edinburgh. Seeing lineage come to life is truly special.

For more information, visit the NAS website:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Central Library, Edinburgh: "Tecvm Habita"

After a break wandering around Edinburgh that included lunch at the Elephant House (the coffee-house where J.K. Rowling wrote tons of Harry Potter) shopping for fabulous old books, and eating crepes in front of Edinburgh Castle, our group met up at the Central Library. I was very interested to see a public lending library in Scotland, and Central did not disappoint me.Central was founded in 1890, and it has the distinction of being a Carnegie Library; there is a bust of Andrew Carnegie inside to commemorate his generous endowment (£50,000!) for the building. The motto on the outside of the library, "Let There Be Light," is a Carnegie Library characteristic. The library is now funded by the local authority, although they receive grant funding for special projects. Central is quite large, and is comprised of the Edinburgh Room, a unique local history/archive for Edinburgh with 100,000 books, maps, photographs, parish registers, newspapers, and more; the Learning Centre, a place for free internet and Office applications; the Resource Centre, similar to the Learning Centre, but for people with certain disabilities; the Fine Art Library; Children's Library; Music Library (the largest in Scotland); Central Lending Library; and the Reference Library. Central is one of the largest public lending libraries I've ever been to, and I was impressed by their array of buildings and services. Ian Wright, Development Officer for the library, gave my half of the group a tour around the non-public stacks, as well as all of the rooms I listed about. The children's library is a great space; the music library was very similar to the Barbican's in sections and material, but I'm sure it had more of a Scottish focus. I absolutely loved the reference library - the ceiling is high and domed, there are chairs and tables everywhere just to sit and read. The space in every section is beautiful - the Art library had lots of natural light, and the stacks in the other shelf areas were beautiful wooden bookcases. However, as I've seen in other libraries in the UK, beautiful, fixed bookshelves often create space issues, so many books have to be retrieved from storage in employee-only stacks. In almost every library I've been in, both in the US and UK, there are problems with aesthetics versus practicality in the design of buildings, and space is usually a problem no matter what. Central Library has barely had any renovation since it was built, and it does not have a lot of wheelchair access. This is disappointing, but they are aware of it and working on it.After the tour, Ian and the other group guide, Fiona, took us to a huge conference room and offered us tea, coffee, and biscuits (cookies), as well as free "Edinburgh Public Libraries" cloth bags. Their hospitality was absolutely incredible - they, and every other Scottish person I met, were so helpful and nice.

While we had tea, resident Reading Champion Colm Linnane talked to us about some of the projects he's been involved with regarding reader development. He has primarily worked with young people in children's homes and group homes, trying to get them interested in reading by making reading fun, not something they just associate with school. He discussed how he and his team do not impose taste on what people read; they just want young people to want to read, whatever that might be. He tries to match a person's interests with books they may be interested in, and often finds that particular "in" to get them reading. Colm also arranges book groups that have become very popular. It was very easy to see that Colm is incredibly passionate about his work, and he stated that he just wants to show others how important libraries can be. It is no shock that his program was nominated for a national award.A moment that stuck with me - on the tour, Ian pointed out a door near the reference library with the Latin inscription "Tecvm Habita," which he said loosely translates to "Be comfortable with who you are." This is a wonderful message for a public lending library, I think. No matter who you are, you belong here. Be comfortable in your own skin. The Scottish people I met certain seem to have that concept down, and the Central Lending Library is a wonderful place to be who you are.

For more information about Central:
Central Library
For more information about the first Carnegie Libraries in Scotland:

--Outside building photo from Flickr page of Liz McGettigan, Library and Information Services manager at Edinburgh city libraries (scaffolding is currently on the building, so I didn't get an exterior shot)
--Reference room dome photo courtesy of Dr. Teresa Welsh (my camera died)

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh: "Scots Wha Hae"

The National Library of Scotland is one of the six legal deposit libraries in the UK, and the only one located in Scotland. It is a wonderful resource for all things Scottish, and for innumerable other subjects as well. Like many of the other libraries we've visited, the NLS is a reference, non-lending library, but there are so many incredible resources available for readers. They have over 14 million items, 100,000 manuscripts, 25,000 newspaper (every Scottish newspaper!) and magazine titles, and their materials contain almost 500 languages. The collection is now funded by the Scottish government (with some additional funds from fundraising and the Heritage Lottery fund), but the library was originally established as the Library of the Faculty of Advocates by Scottish lawyers in the 1680s. In 1710, under the Copyright Act, the library was named as a legal deposit library. The library did not become the National Library of Scotland, however, until 1925.

While the library has always attracted academics, students, and local researchers, there is a movement to attract readers outside of the traditional user base - the general population. Increasing access is one of the main goals of librarianship, and I was both impressed and inspired by the NLS's approach. Our guide, Emma Faragher, an Education Officer for the library, works with a team of six people to increase library exposure and perform outreach services. The Education Officers create library education programs, develop and design exhibitions, and travel around Scotland to demonstrate what the library has to offer.

Some of the unique strengths of the collection:
--manuscripts from Scottish authors like Robert Louis Stevenson
--rare books, including the only known copies of nine of the earliest printed books in Scotland
--the John Murray archive
--a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (which has been digitized and is available online)
--last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, six days before her execution
--a wealth of Gaelic material, and works in Scots and Gaelic, ancient and modern

I enjoyed their interactive learning format and their current affairs exhibition space. While we were there, they had an exhibit (of which we could unfortunately not photograph) called "The Original Export: Stories of Scottish Emigration." It was filled with Scottish emigrants' correspondence, journals, and artifacts, and it was truly touching to observe. I loved my NLS experience: I love the preservation of Scottish heritage, the push for increased access, and the beautiful space in general. The visit was simply not long enough. I would love to pay another visit to the NLS (especially in the form of an internship) and experience new exhibits, and obtain a reader's ticket to explore the wealth of the collection.

For more more information about the National Library of Scotland, visit:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Feminist Library: "Women Are Revolting"

When I found the Feminist Library of London on the directory website London Libraries, I immediately knew that I wanted to visit it on my own. I didn't really know what to expect; I knew that it was only open on Saturdays from 11 pm - 5 pm or by appointment, but I hadn't surmised how dire their financial situation was. Located at the end of Waterloo Rd., not that far from our flat, was a treasure trove hidden in a dilapidated building.

The sign itself indicated that the groups housed in this building were mostly historically marginalized groups (not sure what the London School of Law was doing there - the building isn't huge). I pressed the button labeled Feminist Library on the side of the door, and Jenn, Kendra and I waited a moment to be buzzed in. Natasha, a volunteer, met us at the front and led us upstairs. The library consisted of about four rooms, total, but the collection is far from small: there are about 7,500 nonfiction books and 2,500 fiction books, 1,500 periodical titles, and 500 poetry publications, not to mention zines and thousands of pamphlets. The collection is archival in nature--it is not a lending library--and the dates range from 1900-present day; the collection's strength lies in the Women's Liberation Movement and women's history, but there is an incredible amount of variety in subject matter. Their main subjects include: History, Education, Politics, Health, Crimes Against Women (includes violence against women), Sexuality, Lifestyles, Work, Law and Rights, Communications and Mass Media, Arts, Leisure, Sport, Women Travellers, and Society, Customs, and Beliefs.

They do not have an online catalogue (although according to their March 2009 newsletter, they are working on it), but a card catalogue, and the cataloging system it is a non-patriarchal system of their own creation. In the past couple of years they been holding cataloging sessions for volunteers. Speaking of volunteers, the entire staff is voluntary; there are a few librarians and library students within the volunteers. They are primarily funded by personal donations. For the past 2 1/2 years, the focus of the library has been on keeping the collection alive, and finding a more suitable place for all of the irreplaceable materials, even if it means splitting the collection (a last resort).
One of my favourite periodical titles was "Bitches, Witches, and Dykes," a publication from New Zealand. I also enjoyed the following book:
I know they have so many treasures worth exploring; I wish I could've spent more time there. I absolutely loved the posters they had hanging on the walls, and know that there are many more amazing posters in the collection.
The Feminist Library is an incredible resource, an irreplaceable historical gem; even if the future of the collection means separation, I hope each piece is adequately preserved and cared for.

For more information, and to make a donation to this incredible resource: