Thursday, July 4, 2013

Emily Creo, bicontinental librarian... sort of.

Track 7/04: The Lovetones: "There is No Sound"

Well, no parade and no fireworks, so we began our July 4th by visiting King's Cross station and having a group nerdfest at the site of Platform 9 3/4. A group photo was taken and all pretended that we had our owls packed up and ready to head off for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. None were actually successful on making it through the wall, so we instead resigned ourselves to careers as muggle librarians and headed off to our appointment at the British Library.

Britten Exhibit
The British Library is massive, and it is astounding to think that only 16 years ago the library hadn't resided in its own space. Previously, the books were a collection of the British Museum, and despite a separation a number of years ago (which disseminated the library holdings among 4-5 different locations), the collection did not move into the purpose-built site the library now resides in until 1997. The holdings are so extensive and the operation is so large it requires a staff of 1,700 (2,700 before the economic downturn), one third of which are librarians. There are over 200 MILLION items, 35 million books in the basement, and the stamp collection alone boasts more than 8.25 million! The British Library does not subject index, and instead the books are filed by size (to condense spatial requirements). This library, like the Bodleian, is a copyright library, and as the national library of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they aim to compile and maintain a bibliographic catalog of all published national works. This published output amounts to 8,000 items arriving each week, and this adds 8 miles of shelving every year.
To utilize the collections here one must obtain a reader's card. This process is not as simple as acquiring a library card in the US. International patrons especially are carefully assessed to prove their requirement of materials as they must know which specific items they plan to access and have proof of academic or professional affiliation supporting their need. Once admitted to a reading room all items must be requested through a computerized system as there are no open stacks here, and then the wait begins. The British Library processes about 2,000 items a day and getting a requested material can take as "little" as 20 minutes and as long as an hour and ten minutes. To retrieve an item, a ticket is created which allows the staff to send the volume to the patron by scanning barcodes for the correct book and location and sending it off via a conveyer system. I was able to use the equipment, so I'd like to point out that I was unofficially employed by the British Library for about 5 minutes!

The structure of the library is really interesting as the heart of the building is The King's Library, which is a 6 story tower consisting of the collection of George III. It is not only visually striking, but functional as it is utilized by librarians throughout the day to retrieve rare books and music.

One notable item on display here is the Klencke Atlas, from Amsterdam c. 1660, presented to Charles II, which stands 6 feet 1 inch tall and contains 41 printed wall maps. There are changing exhibits at the library as well; currently they are featuring "Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten." I've found in general here that there is a greater integration of books and music as 'literature' and music/composers are not so treated as an entirely different entity.
Klencke Atlas
A permanent exhibit (where unfortunately, photographs are not allowed), "Treasures of the British Library," displays some of the most staggering pieces of their collection including Magna Carta, Jane Austen's writing desk, the 11th century Beowulf Manuscript, Beethoven's tuning fork, a Shakespeare First Folio, Elizabeth I's prayer book, original Beatles' lyrics, the list goes on!

I had to detox the historical and literary centers of my brain that were positively buzzing by following the visit with some shopping. I found the biggest Topshop in London (where in addition to clothes and accessories one can purchase a full range of beauty services in their salon, or maybe eyebrow threading was on your shopping list? For a more alternative shopping experience Topshop also features a piercing studio and a tattoo parlour!) and I also visited the flagship Marks & Spencer, and rounded out the trip with Selfridges. Jeremy Piven was not present.

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