12. Going Digital at the Wellcome Library (part 2)

C0034458 Wellcome Building, exteriors.

Wellcome Building, exteriors. Photo credit: wellcomecollection.org

As I compose my research paper and dive into my literature review, I have found that, despite Dr. Christopher Hilton’s claims that “Nothing is finished yet,” much has been accomplished within the thriving library and archives department at the Wellcome Trust in regards to digital preservation and access. The Wellcome Library has the financial resources to experiment and test innovative ideas for its library and archive. Ideas, it hopes, that can be shared. Hilton explains how in the past the Wellcome Library has learned from others and relied on other institutions for the base of its standards related to imaging practices. Now, in the twenty-first century, it is trying to give back.


The Wellcome Trust. Photo credit: wellcomecollection.org

While the task of digitization is daunting even for large organizations like the Wellcome Library and its impressive resources and a hefty allocation, the hard work of these more established organizations and their innovation through a somewhat expensive system of trial and error has and can continue to pave the way for imaging practices for those on smaller budgets.

For my literature review, I found a helpful source that specifically supports the idea that larger institutions can help their smaller counterparts save money while creating and maintaining digital collections. In Practical Digital Preservation: A How-to Guide for Organizations of Any Size (2013) Adrian Brown guides the “non-specialist” through the overwhelming and confusing masses of information available on imaging practices. He breaks down and aligns the simplest steps toward an effective preservation strategy. Through international case studies on organizations based in the United States and the United Kingdom such as Central Connecticut State University, Gloucestershire Archives and even the Wellcome Library, Brown conveys the best practices used by real organizations in digital preservation. He argues how digital preservation has become a critical matter for all memory institutions, regardless of size and resources. What was once a concern of the larger, generously funded organizations with the finances to staff a specialized team is now a matter that information agencies and “non-specialists” on every level are facing. They look to the established institutions like the Wellcome Library for help.

After my research visit to the Wellcome building and talking with Dr. Christopher Hilton, the senior archivist, Dr. Christy Henshaw, who oversees the Wellcome Library’s Digital Program, and also Rada Vlatkovic, the archive content and metadata officer, I have been accumulating and formulating the basis for what I feel confident will be a well-rounded analysis of the progress the Wellcome Library is making for digital preservation. In my paper, I plan to document the history and resources of the Wellcome Library and its recent innovation in digitization equipment and software, techniques and workflows, and its standards related to imaging practices. In 2007, what began as a project to digitize 480 historic Arabic manuscripts turned into a £20 million endeavor to create an entirely new digital infrastructure for the Collections, which, as Dr. Christopher Hilton explains, was “one phase of mass digitization.”


Brown, A. (2013). Practical digital preservation : a how-to guide for organizations of any size. American Library Association.


Photo credit: wellcomecollection.org

This is a short clip published by the Wellcome Library in 2013 that highlights the details of the open access fund. Notice The Reading Room in the Library! Only two years ago, it had a much more scholarly, academic aesthetic compared to what the space looks like today. See my first post on the Wellcome Library to compare.

Wellcome Library Open Access Fund


11. Information Technology at Bletchley Park

The visit to Bletchley Park was our last and to me one of the most fascinating trips on the course schedule. As a die-hard fan of the history around World War II, I found the nature of the Park intriguing in itself. Its history dates back to late August of 1938, when “Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party” arrived at a mansion house in the Buckingham countryside. The “party” were members of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), “a secret team of individuals including a number of scholars turned Codebreakers” (History of Bletchley Park). These individuals were the ones who decided whether the location would be suitable as a wartime base to support intelligence activity for GC&CS and elements of M16. They agreed, inevitably, that it was and thus began the legacy at Bletchley.


Beyond the history of the Park, however, I appreciated the National Museum of Computing. We were introduced to an array of massive computers, including the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC), started by Morris Wilts in 1949, which is unique in the sense that it is the world’s oldest digital computer still in operation.

IMG_1148 IMG_1149

This past year I took an Information Technology course for my graduate program at Wayne State University. During the semester, we honed our Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access skills to solve professional problems of practice. In addition, we were introduced to the interactions of computer hardware, software and networks and the history of the computer. Our syllabus states:

The 21st Century library and information professional is faced with an ever-changing environment with new and updated technologies as well as an increasingly tech-savvy patronage. The very existence of libraries depends upon the professionals who work there. Providing information to patrons in a way that is both appropriate and relevant is the key to survival. This course provides the framework for students to understand the important role of technology on the information center, to develop an understanding of the technology lexicon and to confidently adapt to changing technologies. (LIS 6080)

Visiting Bletchley Park and understanding the evolution of the computer was significant to me in that it solidified the global impact of technology and helped me conceptualize where our technology originated. To me, Bletchley Park is one of the “birth places,” so to speak, of what is now such an all-encompassing aspect of everyday life: digital technology.

 IMG_1150 IMG_1152 IMG_1154

Technology is also a vital aspect of library and information science. In a previous post, I talked about technology in libraries, explaining:

If society is embracing technology and the use of social networking platforms, blogging, microblogging, image sharing, audio, and cloud computing, so must the library. Not only will the library’s involvement in these technological mediums help it stay relevant to the population it serves, it will further stretch its range of resources and services to its community. (A Sandbox of Technology)

The purpose of technology has always been to solve problems and providing humans with information, whether that be in the context of a war torn country or a public library.

IMG_1153  IMG_1155

Breaking Enigma and massing together an industrialized workforce of math-minded codebreakers and computer technology had a vital impact on winning the War. “Breaking into these ciphers” Bletchley Park’s website explains, “allowed the Allied staff planning for the invasion of Europe to obtain unprecedented detail of the German defences” (History, Strategic Cyphers). The purpose of technology has been to provide humans with information. Now, in the 21st century, information professionals continue to utilize computer technology to better serve the community around them.



Bletchley’s Polish Memorial, commemorating “the [prewar] work of Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski, mathematicians of the Polish intelligence service, in first breaking the Enigma code. (Wikiwand)


History of Bletchley Park. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/hist/

LIS 6080. (2013). Retrieved from http://slis.wayne.edu/profiles/6080.pdf

A Sandbox of Technology. (2014). Retrieved from https://danaemariejournal.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/a-sandbox-of-technology/

10. A Closer Look at the Barbican Library

Of the three lending libraries in the city of London, the Barbican Library is the largest. The Library opened in 1982 and, although not originally designed as a library, is now a major lending library nestled within the Barbican Centre“Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue presenting a diverse range of art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events” (Barbican). 

Geraldine Pote, one of the adult lending librarians, gave us a tour of the libraries within the Barbican, including the award winning Music Library, the largest in the country. The librarians work hard to keep a balance between general and academic materials in the Music Library to meet the needs of the diverse population of users. Other highlights of the Music Library include more than 16,000 CDs, the Barbican Song Index, over 9,000 circulating books, scores, DVDs and music periodicals. In addition, the Music Library offers listening booths and two practice pianos to book for up to an hour each day.


Geraldine Pote demonstrating the book return system :


After the tour, the librarians offered punch, cookies and an informal discussion on the programs and other details of the Library. I found this particularly helpful since we covered more than the general information available online or in brochures. Natalie, the youth librarian, briefed us on the Children’s Library, explaining there are 23,000 circulating items including board books, picture books, nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, and ebooks. The staff at the Children’s Library visit local schools, host “Rhymetime” and storytime three times a week and also organize reading groups for ages 7-9, 10-12, and teens. In addition, the Library offers a Read to Succeed program: adults in the community volunteer to support school aged children by reading together for a half an hour every week.

The Children’s Library provides board books like the ones pictured below for children born in the UK.



The director of the Library also sat down with the British Studies class and shared about her vision for the Barbican Library. An issue of concern is what the library will become for future users and what the changes in user interfaces and technology will do to libraries. The directer stated that libraries must be relevant, they must continue to be something for everyone from cradle to grave. She references the Siegart Report, which states:

The library does more than simply loan books. It underpins every community. It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life and learning, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading. Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist.

The report goes on to appeal to the central government to create a library taskforce to work toward the investment and survival of libraries throughout the UK. After visiting the Barbican Library, it was clear to me that The US and UK public lending libraries are not so different. While the Barbican may circulate a special collection about London with books dating back to 1739a publishing date older than the United States itself, much less any book in its local libraryboth countries have a distinctive history and familiarity with the library despite the fact that public libraries in both countries struggle for founding, resources, and space. Nevertheless, it seems public libraries, regardless of their country of origin, are determined and resolute to stay relevant, to keep their doors open and their computers on, and to serve and better their community.



The Barbican. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.barbican.org.uk/

Siegart Report. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388989/Independent_Library_Report-_18_December.pdf

9. At Kew Gardens

Although the founding year of Kew Gardens is approximately 1759 (based on a letter noting botanic activity and plants being studied there), Kew Gardens Library is only about 160 years old. The collections started with 600 volumes and grew from the middle of the 19th century onward. The Archives date back to 1840, however, as with many old historical buildings, there is no “official” starting date.

The reason the name is plural (Kew Gardens) is due to King George III who inherited two gardens from his grandfather and grandmother. He set about to create one estate and the plural name stuck. Currently, over 200,000 pieces of botanical art are stored in the collection, together with 300,000 books and pamphlets, 5,000 periodicals (only on botany and not horticulture), and 7 million sheets of paper in the Archives. Approximately 30,000 specimens are added to the archives per year.


The first half of our visit to Kew Gardens Library and Archives comprised of a lecture by Andrew Wiltshire, a member of the Beatrix Potter Society. He shared the history of Potter from her motivation to write an encrypted journal to her inspiration for the beloved Peter Rabbit series. Before she published any of her famous works of fiction, Potter possessed a keen interest in Fungi and how it spread. Excited about her personal research, she presented her hypothesis in the form of an academic paper to Kew Gardens. However, Kew refused the paper on the terms that she was a women and therefore her work could not be taken seriously. The picture below on the right is the only item from Potter that Kew Gardens currently owns.

IMG_1126 IMG_1133

Kew Gardens was not the first special library the British Studies class was introduced to in the UK. Unlike lending libraries, university libraries and medical libraries, special libraries like Kew typically keep all the items acquired in their collections and are not necessarily concerned about weeding through and getting rid of anything since items published hundreds of years ago are still valid information in the collection today. The oldest item dates back to 1370: a manuscript in Latin (pictured above to the left, although not in its original binding). The oldest printed book is in German, dated 1485. Fiona Ainsworth, the librarian who guided our class through the tour, explained that some of the oldest most valuable manuscripts the Library owns were made into facsimiles. One, surprisingly enough, was even scented to imitate its prototype as closely as possible!

IMG_1127 IMG_1129


After touring the Library and Archives, the class was able to explore the grounds and visit other historical sites nearby like the Kew Palace and also see the diverse plant specimens within the gardens. For one of my initial book reviews, I chose to read and write about For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. The book outlines the life of Scottish botanist Robert Fortune, who was charged to “steal” the coveted Chinese tea recipe, which was the best black tea known to the modern world at that time. Fortune also took expeditions around the world and transported plant specimens he discovered to the Kew Gardens. Knowing this bit of history before my visit gave my experience at the Gardens a greater meaningful edge.

IMG_1135 IMG_1138 IMG_1139

I genuinely appreciate the timelessness and uniqueness of special libraries like Kew Gardens Library and Archives. The Kew collections consist of published and unpublished works, a treasure trove of information much of which is impossible to find on the Internet. Perhaps one of the most profound realities that struck me on this trip was just how much information is available and yet how much of it is completely inaccessible for remote users. Despite how idealistic and unrealistic it may sound, I hope that Kew, like other beautiful, historically rich and distinctive libraries, will be able to provide open access to all of its materials in the future.

Below is a video about the Fungi collected at Kew. I thought the video was meaningful not only because of Beatrix Potter’s initial interest in Fungi (and Kew’s rejection of her paper), but also because it goes to show how books are not the only things that can be stacked and classified. The Gardens store and catalogue vast amounts of plants.

8. Exploring the Royal Geographical Society Library and Archive

To experience the Royal Geographical Society Library is to experience an extension of the National Maritime Museum, a component of Royal Museums Greenwich. Its website explains that the collections “comprise of over two million documents, maps, photographs, paintings, periodicals, artefacts and books, and span 500 years of geography, travel and exploration” (Collections). Visitors walk through the Museum to enter the Library and Archives. The Library itself provides a pleasant atmosphere, perfect for reading or quietly perusing the Internet. James Caird, a wealthy manufacturer and philanthropist who sponsored the Geographical Society’s early expeditions, started the foundation for the RGS Collection in 1830 and it has been developing ever since.

Joining and using most libraries in the UK, I have learned, is not difficult. At the RGS Library, like most other places, readers need only to present a form of ID and a home address to have access to the materials. The registration process usually takes place online, although people can come physically into the Library and register there as well; at least two professional staff members are always working at the reference desk. Since the Library is a reference only library, none of the items are allowed to leave the premises, yet patrons can order up to 20 prints and/or drawings at a time to view in the Library or scan for personal research purposes.

The RGS Library boasts itself as “one of the finest Earth Science libraries in the world” (Library and Information). The collection includes loose papers and maps dating back to the 16th century, the Nelson letters, and a comprehensive stock of books on slavery, piracy, shipping companies, social history, navel battles, biographies, astronomy, architecture, war ships, journals, and much more. The Archive also holds a large collection of business records off site that needs to be weeded. However, due to limited resources and staffing, this has been difficult to accomplish. I came to appreciate the special maritime focus of the Library, especially after hearing a lecture from Eugene Rae, the Principle Librarian, who took us through the history of the Geological Society from its earliest expeditions in Alaska and Africa to its later involvement in geographical research.   IMG_0978One of my favorite details of the tour was being introduced to the scanner below on the far left. The Library is unable to digitize its entire collection of over 300,000 volumes of books and serials and 40,000 maps, yet readers interested in using an item in the collection have access to a machine that creates a personal digital copy. I think this is a innovative solution to grant people access to the information they need despite the Library’s limited resources.

IMG_0979  IMG_0981 IMG_0982

Overall, the visit to RGS Library and Archive was helpful to understand the different types of libraries and the specialized areas these different libraries craft into their collection. The Victoria and Albert Museum has the National Art Library: a collection based predominantly an art related materials. Here, the National Maritime Museum has the Royal Geographical Society Library, and the collection centers on geographical topics and research. Before my trip to the UK, I did not consider or have much exposure to the variety of venues in which libraries are established. By witnessing the evolution and diversity of libraries and collections, my fundamental knowledge of what a library is has been “fleshed out” (so to speak), and with this well-rounded understanding, I am beginning to distinguish between the different job descriptions and information skills that comprise the librarians’ day-to-day responsibilities.

I found an online database (Wiley Online) that provides access to digital journals that would be helpful for librarians who want to give patrons more information related to topics like the Royal Geographical Society. Here is a link to The Geographical Journal.


Collections. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.rgs.org/ourwork/collections/collections.htm

Library and Information Services. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/library