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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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: