7. National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland conveyed a distinct attitude of dedication to and investment in its surrounding community of Edinburgh. What stood out to me most profoundly was the optimism the librarians clearly portrayed of their library’s current and future services.

The Library itself has an extensive history. The original Central Library is the successor to the historic Library of the Faculty of Advocates, which opened in 1689 (Places, n.d.) and continues to be the most used section of the Library today. The Library is also one of the four libraries in the UK to be a legal deposit library, which means every book published in Great Britain and Ireland automatically goes into its collection (about 5,000 per week). This copyright act was granted by Queen Anne in 1710 and still remains in place even now. In October 1999, the Central Library was closed during a five year £12.7 million refurbishment program (Places, n.d.) when it was joined with the neighboring building to create more space. The newly attached building became the Art Library and Reference Library with forty study spaces.

The Library is also available to host events such as author visits, concerts, talks about artists, and even weddings. During the refurbishment program, the NLS also updated their children’s room. A storytime is held every Thursday in the new children’s area and the craft room is utilized for parents who can bring their children to create planned projects together. The Library also maintains a Teen Zone filled with graphic novels and magazines and even a WWI “hub” with wifi and coffee. The largest collection on the history of Edinburgh is kept at the NLS, including not only books, but maps, photographs, ephemera, published articles, genealogy materials, and newspapers.


Children’s Room


Children’s Room

While I was impressed with the Library itself, it was not until the “lecture” the staff members gave (with complementary tea and biscuits) after the tour that I began to truly appreciate and more fully understand the challenges the Library faces and how they are approaching their responsibility to meet the needs of the community. The business development manager explained in detail the Library’s efforts to work with Dyslexia Scotland. The Library approaches the issue of dyslexia in four stages.

1. Awareness

2. Engagement

3. Support/resources

4. Mainstreaming

The Library also organizes events like Chatterbooks, Edinburgh Reads, the Reading Rainbow Programme, and Gourmet Reads to encourage people into the Library. Large events take place in the beautifully designed Reference Library while smaller events are in the surrounding community libraries.

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Another interesting aspect of the Library for me personally was Edinburgh Libraries Online. As I am keen to learn about digital technology and how libraries are utilizing these tools to promote their services, understanding what the NLS is doing with their online resources peaked my interest. The NLS provides 24/7 online service. It was the first library in the UK to have a digital portal: Your LibraryTales of One City is a social media blog the Library uses to promote events, together with their Twitter account and Facebook page. In addition to ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines online, the Library hosts a site for information about the community of Edinburgh called Your Edinburgh. Another intriguing aspect of the Library’s online services was Edinburgh Collected, a place where members of the community can continue donating their information to the city to sustain the preservation of the digitized or born-digital history of Edinburgh as it happens day by day.

The National Library of Scotland is invested in their community. In addition to the energy they put into planning their programs, hosting their events, and designing their digital resources, the Library intentionally seeks to support staff and patrons through the transition into digital technologies, promote libraries through multiple channels, and increase the use of Edinburgh Libraries (succeeding by 9% in 2014).

Here is an introduction to the National Library of Scotland:


Places to Visit in Scotland: National Library of Scotland. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.rampantscotland.com/visit/bldev_visitnls.htm


6. The Wellcome Library (Part 1)

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” – Antonio Gramsci

Dr. Christopher Hilton, head archivist at the Wellcome Library, uses Antonio Gramsci’s quote to refer to the massive digitization project at the Wellcome Library. “Nothing is finished yet,” says Hilton, “but we’re willfully optimistic.”


Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

For my research paper, I will seek to focus specifically on the Wellcome Library’s archives, both analog and digital, and what the Library is doing to develop its imaging practices to promote and maintain its hybrid collections to preserve its cultural and artistic heritage. The Wellcome Library’s collections began with Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936). Briefly, I will explain that Wellcome intended to use his independent wealth to amass his expanding medical history collection into a library and museum for public accessibility. While he did not live to see his vision properly through, by a series of continuous improvements, the Wellcome Library is now an online open-access platform featuring cover-to-cover books, video and audio, entire archive collections and manuscripts, paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, ephemera and more (Digitisation, 2015).


Stairs leading to Reading Room and Library | Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

After his death in 1936, the bulk of Wellcome’s medical history collections were given to a group of trustees who created the Wellcome Trust. In 2007, the Library became part of the newly remodeled, “newly conceived” Wellcome Collection. Its website explains that, “Wellcome Collection seeks to explore the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future; at its heart lies the curiosity that drove Henry Wellcome to amass his diverse collection” (History, 2015). The Medical Photographic Library was also newly conceived in 2007 and renamed Wellcome Images, complete with a new website and online database of digital images for public access. I intend to focus my paper on both the Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Images to understand the current digital projects designed to engage public research and improve user experience.


Reading Room | Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

One thing that stood out to me while taking a tour of the Wellcome Library was its progressive atmosphere. In addition to the state-of-the-art technology for the ongoing digitization projects, Wellcome was rethinking the concept of “library” and offering new types of services for users. Like the Library/Trust itself, the Reading Room was a combination of a museum exhibition and library with one hundred objects and approximately one thousand browsable books on the shelves. Different locations in the library were designed for different functions. For example, there was a mind section, complete with the latest books on psychology and brain research, a body section with books on anatomy and an interactive computer to learn more about your body, and a face section with paper, drawing materials and a large mirror where patrons could sit and draw themselves. One of the walls were lined with faces drawn be former visitors. It was obvious to me the space was designed for fun, stimulating activity for both children and adults alike. The Reading Room is open to the public, no membership is required. Getting a membership is easy, one just needs to sign up. After being granted membership, users then have access to the Library’s rare materials room and the entire archives collection. However, in order to see anything, users must send in a specific request before their visit.

C0108490 Reading Room

Reading Room | Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images


16481226127_a84c7d4d9a_b Gallery (upper level) | Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

A brief look into the spectacularly refurbished Wellcome facilities:


Digitisation at the Wellcome Library (2015). Retrieved from http://wellcomelibrary.org/what-we-do/digitisation

History of the Wellcome Library: a short history of the Wellcome Library from its foundation to the present day (2015). Retrieved from http://wellcomelibrary.org/what-we-do/history-of-wellcome-library

5. The National Art Library in Comparison

I work in the Art and Research Library at the Detroit Institute of Arts, an art museum not unlike the Victoria & Albert Museum. As our group set out for a visit to the V&A, it came as no surprise that this museum, like the DIA, has an art library (the National Art Library) and it was interesting to compare and contrast the two.

IMG_0936 IMG_0937 IMG_0942 IMG_0947 IMG_0948 IMG_0939

The V&A’s library is open to the public with about 30,000 visitors a year. There is direct access to it on the second floor of the museum and a wide variety of individuals flow in and out with various motives: either to use the quiet space to read and study or take advantage of the extensive art book collection. In contrast, while the DIA’s art library is also open to anyone, it has restricted access and available only by appointment. Visitors (primarily scholars and graduate students and not the general public) are received on the first floor of the museum at one of the back entrances by the head librarian, Maria, or one of the interns and taken up three floors via the elevator, which requires an employee’s badge to operate.

Since the V&A is a national library and the DIA’s library is not, there are some obvious discrepancies in the development and very nature of the two libraries. Nevertheless, the similarities are striking. Both libraries are academic in nature and relate to the study and practice of art. V&A’s library came much earlier and was first designed to train students the basics of design in a small, practical learning environment. The original collection was not art focused and burnt down around 1851. In 1857 this library moved to where it is today and was officially named the Victoria & Albert National Art Library in 1899, only 28 years before the library at the Detroit Institute of Arts was built (1927). Both are reference only libraries. Visitors have access to all books in the general collection but cannot take them out of the library. Staff members are able to “checkout” books, but no books are allowed to leave the premises (although at the DIA, we suspect they do anyway).

After comparing and contrasting these two libraries, it was helpful for me in my work as an intern at the DIA to know we are not the only library of this kind, and are actually international in nature and design. I think this reflects the era these libraries were built, when art was expanding into the academic discipline it is today. I have always been delighted to work in the Art and Research Library at the DIA, but after seeing the National Art Library at the V&A and knowing the DIA’s library is so comparable, there is a deepened sense of appreciation.


Insectes; vingt planches en phototypie coloriées au patron (1928)


Nieuwe testament en Psalmen (1594-1598)

4. Wisdom in St. Paul’s Cathedral

There is more than one thing to love about St. Paul’s Cathedral. Tucked behind the south-west tower on the triforium level, a chamber was designed for a special purpose: to house the Cathedral’s Library of Dean and Chapter. The chamber holds every bit of antiquated mystery and appeal as one might expect from a library nestled in a lofty corner of a beautiful old cathedral, yet even this is not its only charm.

What I found particularly delightful, in addition to the beautiful library, rich with history and encompassed by floor to ceiling shelves and the smell of leather-bound books, was the librarian himself. As I reflect on our visit, I realize there are several reasons why he stood out to me as a particularly important figure as I develop into my own career.

The name of the librarian, appropriately enough, is Joseph Wisdom. Although he would probably chuckle at my commentary, I found him to be a kind, sophisticated, and well educated gentlemen who by very nature goes against the stereotypical librarian in more ways than one. I mentioned in a previous post that librarians typified in Hollywood movies are indefinitely up-tight females. In my mind, Wisdom, like the Library of Dean and Chapter itself, represents an era before the U.S.-generated Hollywood librarian. I think of him as the “original” librarian, so to speak. Developing and maintaining a collection for a library used to be a man’s job, and it was not until the 20th century that the field was dominated by women.

I highlight Wisdom’s gender not because I think that the “original” male librarian is better than other librarians, but to address the different approach libraries had prior to the 20th century–an approach I hope the library can regain in the 21st century as the gender divide decreases. Passet (1993) explains in Men in a Feminized Profession: Male Librarians, 1887-1921, that “Like office work, librarianship was at mid-nineteenth century practiced almost exclusively by men who had entered the profession by life experience, degrees in other fields, or through a network of other contacts” (p. 386). Passet goes on to explain that the professionalization of librarianship developed during the first feminist movement and therefore might explain why, according to the federal census, “approximately 80 percent of all library workers in 1870 were male, but by 1900 nearly 80 percent of all library workers were female” (p. 386). Without getting lost in debate over the significance of this gender shift, I want to focus back on Joseph Wisdom, namely, who he is and what he taught me as a librarian.

Beyond his gender, Wisdom, like I said, represented another era of librarianship–a sort of “pre-professional” or “pre-industrial” persona–before “such genteel values as benevolence, virtue, and manners increasingly gave way to those of competition and consumption” (p. 385). For example, in addition to his impeccable manners (he was by no means the commonly portrayed thoroughly nettled “shush”-er), Wisdom had a very different approach to library work, specifically cataloging and classification. The books at the Library of Dean and Chapter are organized by size, not subject. To the American, post-industrial librarian, this is next to abominable as it makes finding anything in the collection much more challenging. However, Wisdom shared something to us that will stick in my memory. Before the end of the tour, he referred to the over-classification of libraries and claimed Melvil Dewy and the modern librarian’s Dewy-Decimal classification system as borderline obsessive compulsive extremism. He granted that a balance was needed, but perhaps that balance did not exist in Dewy’s perfect number to the “nth degree.”

As I enter the “profession” of library science, I want to remember Wisdom and his pre-industrial understanding that the library is more than a profession. The library first and foremost is a house of knowledge and existential wonder (whether in analogue or digital form) and is something that cannot possibly be quantified or classified. To be at the heart of librarianship is to be the gatekeeper of wisdom, like Wisdom himself.


Passet, J. E. (1993). Men in a feminized profession: the male librarian, 1887-1921. Libraries & Culture28385-402.

An interesting video on St. Paul’s Cathedral:

3. What You’d Never Guess About the British Museum’s Archive

After visiting the British Museum’s Archive, I concluded that at least three points of public archival work are vitally important for the successful organization of an archive: funding, space, and professional staff.    Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 4.09.25 AMSince the British Museum is a public institution, its financial support comes primarily from the government. However, due to lack of funding, there isn’t much to spare on the Museum, much less its archive. As a result, it is hard to maintain, hard to improve, and almost impossible to move the British Museum’s Archive to a better location. Currently, due to limited financial resources, the archive is pinched in a small space with only one archivist on staff.

Space is another problem in the British Museum’s Archive. The earliest records housed date back to 1758; they were founded by a collector, Hans Sloane, who donated over 10,000 books and manuscripts. The number of items in the collection has only increased since then and there is no space to organize the books and manuscripts properly. Some of the collection sits on the floor, precariously vulnerable to flooding. With little funding and no other space to house materials, there isn’t much that can be done to improve the situation.

In addition to a general lack of financial resources and space, professional expertise is also a challenge for the archive. Throughout its long development, there were stretches of time when no trained archivist worked on staff to properly catalog the materials. Instead, historians or others interested in helping the British Museum randomly selected various bits of information they deemed important to save and pitched the rest. As a result, the current head archivist is left sorting through huge gaps of information that is stored at random. She explained that it is difficult to sift through and find information due to the general lack of consistent organization throughout the entire collection. While she and the professionals before her have worked hard to resolve the issue, with only one full-time professional and a handful of volunteers, every undertaking to improve the archive requires a significant amount of time to ensure it is properly and professionally done to best practice standards.

As a professional pursuing a certificate in archival administration, it was helpful to see the politics involved in public archival work. I am interested in working for a museum, therefore this experience was doubly helpful. It was apparent the archivist we met with was not interested in working at the Museum only for the salary it offered her; she felt pride in her career choice. She said the most helpful thing to possess as an archivist is historical knowledge of your given institution. Knowing the finer details of the institution I work for requires no small level of dedication, resolve, and sincere interest. Wherever I end up, I want to care about where it came from so I can appropriately put my efforts to improving, maintaining, and giving access to its priceless past.

A short video with some photos from and of the British Museum Archive:

2. The British Library is Huge


The British Library Lobby : http://www.theguardian.com

Nothing related to immense size can be understated when applied to the British Library. The size is the first striking characteristic about the structure, which collects 3 million items a year and houses over 200 million items total. Not only is the British Library the national library of England, it is the largest library in the world.

Multiple memorable structures in the London area have been relocated at least a few times in their long history. The British Library is no exception. All the books used to be housed in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Now, in the twenty-first century, the national library has a enormous house of its own.


It’s not difficult to get a Reading Card from the British Library; anyone can register. Like the Bodleian, the British Library is a legal deposit library and has kept a copy of everything published in the United Kingdom. The relatively new structure is designed like an ocean liner and took thirty-six years to construct. Although the Library was never completed through all phases of the original building design, it can still proudly boasts itself as the largest public structure in the UK (and the basement only houses half the collection, the rest is stored off site in another city!). Nevertheless, one of the leading problems the British Library faces is, like most libraries, limited space.

One aspect I found particularly striking about the British Library was that, besides the centrally located castle-like structure containing 100,000 volumes of the King’s Library, books were not visible. To find a particular book, readers search in the online catalog and send a request to the shipping room, where books are given two bar codes, packed in boxes, and shipped along a conveyer belt stretching a mile long.


The King’s Library

In addition to the John Ritblat Gallery of the British Library, housing over 200 priceless items such the Lindisfarne Gospels, Sherborne Missal, Barcelona Hagadah, Gutenberg Bible, and the Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most exciting things to me about the British Library was their recent 2014/15 digitization project. In its Annual Report, the library explains:

Using the Legal Deposit Regulations alongside innovative partnerships, the Library will enhance and extend the range of digital content available to researchers. And by enhancing and improving the way in which we collect, preserve and provide access to the UK web domain, we will extend both the volume and format types available to include web, video and maps.

The Newspaper programme will culminate with the completion of the move of the Newspaper collection from Colindale to the Newspaper Storage Building at Boston Spa. The Newsroom will provide researchers with access to 750 million pages of newspapers and periodicals (once the collection move is complete in the autumn of 2014) as well as to 4.8 million archived websites and thousands of hours of broadcast news.

Making the enormous Newspaper collection available online will be an incredible feat for the Library. In my opinion, this is the beauty of well-funded libraries: not only are they able to conserve and give access to the past (i.e. the john Ritblat Gallery), they are able to use the most recent technology to spur research and information in the future. Utilizing the strengths of the present to protect the past and benefit the future, this is the beauty of the British Library.

A fun video for visuals on the British Library:

1. The Unforgettable Bodleian Library

When it comes to libraries at the University of Oxford, variety is not an issue. Most academic departments and each of the 38 colleges at the university have a library. The university’s website provides a list of libraries A-Z to help navigate its vast number of collections. What UO can boast of in quantity does not suffer in quality. Prominent libraries are based in Oxford, such as the ongoing digitization of the Oxford Libraries Information System and of course, the Bodleian. As an American graduate student in Library Science who is genuinely impressed by “ancient” European libraries, discovering this building will have a lasting impact on my memory. 

Sir Thomas Bodley, who founded the library in1598, spared no pains to ensure the Bodleian was as prestigious as the information it housed. Standards and regulations for the library have changed over time (for example, until 1878, women were strictly prohibited from entering the building), but the timeless nature of the structure is unmistakable. One enduring rule throughout the centuries has been the restriction on borrowing books. Although the book chains are no longer in place, the Bodleian is more like a treasure trove of current and antiquated knowledge, locked and closely guarded. Since the Bodleian is now a legal deposit library, which means every book published in the UK must be added to its collection, the size of the collection expands about 3 miles each year. There are currently over 8 million volumes, making up approximately 150 miles of shelving. The Bodleian is the second largest in the UK next to the British Library.  

When I stepped into the building, what struck my imagination first and most profoundly was the extravagant stone details that thickly layered the late English gothic style ceiling of the Divinity Room, one of four rooms represented in the Bodleian’s 600-year history. Stepping into the first room was like stepping into the architectural heart of the fifteenth century. Originally serving as a lecture hall, the Divinity Room has an intricately detailed gothic roof with no supporting pillars.


The second room was from the 17th century, the Convocation House, a brain child of William Laud. The room is reminiscent of Oxford’s chapels, encompassed with oak paneling. Now, the room is used for electing the chancellor and the professor of poetry.

The Chancellor’s Court, added in 1640, is the third historic room within the Bodleian. At its origin in the City of Oxford’s history, there were two court systems: this represented one court room at the university and there was also the town’s common law court across the street. In the 1960s the university finally surrendered its court and now keeps the police out if its disciplinary affairs.

Arts End was the final room in the Bodleian, a room we were not allowed to photograph. It is a two-story extension added in 1610-1612. The ceiling is designed with rows upon rows of coat of arms in the middle of the panelling, all unique. There are book cases from floor to ceiling, larger books lining the bottom and smaller books stacked on top. A gallery or loft-like structure enables access to the higher shelves, but with only one entrance and exit near the librarian’s desk so that each reader could be checked carefully to ensure that no books left the building. 


Me standing in Radcliffe Square by the Radcliffe Camera, a part of the Bodleian Library

As an aspiring librarian, it was a privilege to see and experience the Bodleian, a relic used throughout the centuries and still evolving. The library is resolute in its dignity and character and feels permanent yet ever-growing. As an information professional, I will take the memory of this special library with me into my career, understanding that when something is done excellently, indeed, beyond excellence, it acquires a lasting nature of its own. Wherever I work, I want to share the timeless qualities of the Bodleian: to be dedicated to and deeply rooted in the acquisition of knowledge.


The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. Couldn’t have asked for a better day.


Would’ve loved to see the Great Hall! Unfortunately, it was under construction.

Here is an informative video for more information on the Bodleian:

Published on Sep 20, 2013

A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of Oxford’s vast main library, the Bodleian, and how its staff are working to make this ancient institution ready for future generations of readers.

Category – Education / License – Standard YouTube License