07 July 2011

British Museum archives

Wednesday was British Museum archives day, another early trip on the tube and some chilly grey weather.  We were early (by design), so after class photos we had some time to kill.  I walked over to the small Australian garden that was set up on one side, and then went back over to where everyone was getting coffee and crepes at the little trucks parked out front.  I got a hot chocolate (it was that or ice cream but they didn’t have vanilla), which tasted more like watery milk than chocolate.  I had only taken a few sips and burnt my tongue before we had to go inside, so I had to throw it out.

We only waited for a minute or two inside for the museum’s archivist, Stephanie Clark.  She definitely doesn’t’ fit the stereotype of librarian/archivist, with black hair cut in blunt bangs, cats-eye makeup, and a red and white gingham skirt with grey tights.  She was also fairly young.

She led us down into the first small room of the archives, which we barely fit into.  This is where all the original papers are, with Officers Reports and Trustees Minutes bound up into books.  Miss Clark explained that they sound pretty dull but in fact they are very detailed records, and include things like if someone came into work drunk and whatnot. All of the older records are handwritten, and there is even an index where some poor clerk went through everything and wrote down every time a name occurred. There are transcripts of letters sent by the museum and about 5,000 photos, though each dept. keeps its own records and photos as well.

We moved into a somewhat larger aisle of the archives, and Miss Clark brought out some things to show us, including staff applications including reference letters, reading room applications (Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling and others!), a deed from the 1600s, and very detailed architectural plans from the architect.  One man was a footman applying to be an attendant, and he included some drawings he had made of things in the museum.  For the reading room, every time a person came it was recorded, so there are a huge amount of records, from 1790 to 1970, when the British Library was built.

There were also design books from exhibitions that had been put on by the museum, with photos, paint samples, fabric swatches, tags from the items, all kinds of things that it was pretty amazing to realize had been meticulously saved.

Moving back into the first room, we shown some more things like photographs from the natural history section (which was later moved to the Natural History Museum, and then Miss Clark explained some of the problems with the archives.  When she started the job, she was actually the first trained archivist that had worked there.  The job is a lot of PR, trying to get people to understand what the archives are for, why it is there, what uses there are for it.  There is no digitization because it would cost too much, and with the economic problems in the country even records that are born digital are not being taken care of.  They are just trying to keep everything gathered and organized.

It was a very short tour but I enjoyed it, knowing that most people don’t see or even know that the archives exists.

Afterward we were left to wander the museum on our own, but I quickly lost my group and it was so crowded that after I took a few pictures and bought a couple of small things from the gift shop, I left.  I stopped for a few things at the little Sainsbury’s down the street and then came back to eat. 

After sitting around reading and checking some stuff on the internet, I walked down to the river and made my way over to Westminster Bridge.  It was really windy. There is a sort of summer festival going on along the water, and there was a fake beach, bunches of little beach shacks that held things like art or had videos playing.  There was a book seller, but I didn’t see anything I wanted.

I kept stopping to take pictures of things, lots of Parliament and the London Eye, which I had never seen up close. I finally got to the bridge. The wind was even worse up there and it was chilly, but I made it across and through the insane crowds, taking more pictures as I went.

My idea was to get over to Westminster Abby to take some photos, though I knew it cost a lot for admission.  I made it around to one side, but I got a little turned around and ended up going in a weird circle, getting caught up in a big group of teens who walked so slowly and were so loud that I walked down onto the road and went around.

Eventually I got back around the front and took some more pictures, but then I had had enough of all the huge crowds and went down to the tube station.  It was weird to walk down right in front of Parliament to catch the tube, and then when I got down there it was extremely crowded on the train. I only had one stop so it could have been worse.

Finally I made it back to the dorm and had dinner, and later I took a shower and called my mother. I wasn’t feeling great so I took some sleeping pills around ten, which took forever to work, but I did finally get an entire night’s sleep. 

This morning I walked over to the post office and a few minutes before I got there it started to pour. I got my mail sent and then proceeded to wade my way back to the dorms, where I’ve been hoping my jeans will dry (I doubt they will).  The Paris weekend trip starts loading the buses in about an hour.  I don’t really know that I want to go back to Paris, but it’s a little late now. It has to be better than the botched trip seven years ago. 

Three more weeks and I think I will be completely run down when I get home.

Barbican Library

So after another late night of listening to people in the courtyard while trying desperately to sleep, I was up and out the door for our morning trip to the Barbican Library.

This library is housed in the Barbican Center, so it is right next to a theater and shopping and whatnot. There is a church you can see next door where Milton is buried and Shakespeare worshipped.

The Barbican was a gift from the city of London to the people of London, and I believe the first lending library really available to the public. It started full lending service in 1964, and serves 11,700 residents, most of whom are adults.

When we walked in we went up to the bathrooms, and then tried to figure out how to get over to the library, which we could see next to us. We ended up having to go back down the stairs and around to the elevators on the other side, then up again. We had two librarian guides waiting for us, who led us all over the place.

We started with the basics of the library, talking about how they use an RFID system to keep track of books, and there is a self-return and catalog searching area outside the doors so that people don't have to come in, or can check things in after hours. Just inside the doors is an area used for arts displays; right now there are paintings but they have various things at different times.

Moving further in, we got a demonstration of the self-checkout kiosks, and then the DVD section was next, where we learned that they charge for movies to be taken out of the library. That really surprised me, because in the States everything in a public library that isn't reference is free to check out.

The tour was pretty basic: quiet reference room, computer area with a section of London books, small teen area, break for refreshments (I ate the top off a marshmallow cookie puff thing). Then we went into the children's room, where we found out about all the outreach done and how active a department it is because many business people will bring their children into the city for daycare and then visit the library. There are also homeschoolers (or home-educated), but there aren't many schools within the city itself so few other schoolchildren.

What was really interesting about the visit was the music library. It was opened in 1983, and started from scratch, both with a librarian who was given a budget and some music catalogs, and also with donations. It has a very specialist staff. There are two pianos, one just outside the door and one just inside, which people can book to play (but they have to use headphones). This is the quietest part of the whole place.

There are books, both for check-out and reference, scores, journals and magazines, DVDs, listening stations, everything you can think of. We were told they have around 9,000 books on all kinds of music, as well as things like price guides which are automatically sent when a new edition comes out.

Outside the main doors is the actual collection of music, between 15-16,000 CDs, including special editions that could be too pricey for people to buy. Of course, the CDs have a charge to take out too, another oddity. 

Everything has to be held back three months after release, too, so that hopefully people will go out and buy the music rather than run immediately to the library for it. There is also an "Unsigned London" section, which actually started the day we were there. People who haven't got a record deal can give the library a copy of their self-produced CD for people to listen to so that the music can be out there and heard.

The Barbican is an unusual library to me, being put into a building already in existence and having to adapt to the space. It has sort of strange levels, and the main section looks more like a bookstore than a library to me. I thought it was a bit ugly with all the bumpy stone (concrete?) pillars everywhere, but they have definitely utilized what they were given well.

After we left the Barbican, we headed next door to the Museum of London. There are remains of a Roman stone wall outside, and inside is like a chronological timeline of the city. I'd been there before, so I went through fairly quickly. The first section, on the upper level, charts the beginning of the city, and the lower floor is more modern, with the creepy Victorian walk (dimly-lit storefronts) and even creepier room called something like the Pleasure Gardens, which has mannequins and a video projection of people talking on one wall. Ugh.

 I found the books!

The rest of the floor was displays, things like clothing and cars and stuff from everyday life. How modern London was shaped. I also saw the lord mayor's carriage, all gold and gilt. I was really tired after a while so I left with another student and went back to the dorm to get something to eat.

I had to get ready for the reception planned for later in the evening, and then everyone gathered in the courtyard, in the rain. We stood around with our umbrellas and raincoats for a bit, and then trooped over Waterloo Bridge to another King's College building. It was windy and wet and we were pretty uncomfortable. 

When we got there we settled into the chapel, where eventually we heard several people speak (one read a poem he'd written about the program). After all the professors got up and we gave applause, we filed out to the next room over for wine, soft drinks and little finger foods. I found some chocolate cups things to eat and sat up on the balcony level with a few other LIS students, but it was really hard to hear anything over everyone else. When an hour had passed we escaped and walked back over the bridge, getting even wetter and colder.

 Inside the chapel

I came back and got undressed, and then I just had to figure out how to pass the time until my midnight Skype call with my online class. IT was torture—I could have gone to bed at eight and slept until morning at that point. I did some reading, some puzzles, read some of the articles for class, and even took a shower, though I put on a shower cap because I didn't want to deal with my hair.

Midnight finally came and I just barely stayed awake through the call, and as soon as I hung up I threw everything down and collapsed into bed. And then the alarm came on at eight and I had to get up again. :(

06 July 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral

I was a bit bummed to be spending the 4th of July over here instead of going to the fireworks with my family, especially since this is the country that we celebrate our independence from.

Anyway, Monday was the first day I actually had a chance to relax.  I stayed in bed until about nine and then got up and went out to get some bowls and flatware and a mug so that I could actually eat the food I bought.  II did find lots of gluten-free food, so I'm good on that front, except of course I generally have to come back to my room to eat.

At 12:45 the class met out in the courtyard, and then we went out in front of Waterloo tube station and hopped a bus over to St. Paul's.  When we got to the St. Paul's stop, nobody pushed the stop button, so I did the honors and we got out at the next.  It wasn't a long ride, and we got there fairly early, so we took our time outside, with the obligatory class picture and then some of our own.  I went into Marks & Spencer's with Katie and Jamie to get something to drink, and then we sat down out front to wait for everyone else to come back from wandering around.  Jamie was approached by some girls who wanted to know if she was American, and then started asking her weird questions, I think for a scavenger hunt, along the lines of "How much does a business class ticket to New York cost?"  Because we all fly business class so often, and out of NYC, too.

We finally made our way into the cathedral to meet our guide, whose name, if I am not mistaken, was Joe Wisdom. He is the cathedral librarian and was really nice. First he pointed out the illuminated stone carving above the door, a book (bible) with a heart above it, and asked if anyone had any guesses what it meant. I volunteered "we love books", which wasn't really that far off the mark of love for the Bible.

Before we started someone came over the speakers and asked us all to quiet down for a the Lord's Prayer.

Then we were off, climbing up 140 steps in a spiral staircase, which made my legs hurt a lot.  They were shallow and we were going fairly quickly, so almost all of us were panting when we reached the triforium level, about halfway up the church. 

We were taken through a door into an area that was part room, part hallway.  It smelled very churchy to me (I wrote this in my notes, even). Mr. Wisdom explained that there have been three attempts to make the triforium level into a museum, so there were several artifacts there that had no place anywhere else, including a wall of stonework fragments.

Through another section, and we came to an area holding two former pulpits (um, that could be the wrong word, I'm Catholic not Anglican), one wooden and pretty beaten up, and the other marble and pristine as far as I could tell.  Mr. Wisdom talked about fashion dictating the style inside the church and there was something about the high altar being destroyed when three bombs hit the church during WWII. I'm not sure which pulpit this had to do with or possibly it was both, for some reason I didn't write it down.

As we went through the hall, we got a demonstration of how a huge iron winch worked, one of several used to haul things up into the dome.  I'm not sure they use them now, but he did say there is a crane(s) in the cathedral.

Next we went into one of the coolest aspects of the tour, the room holding "The Great Model".  Christopher Wren designed the cathedral, and this model is a 1:25 scale he completed in 1674 to show how he wanted it to look.  Apparently it was too close to St. Peter's in Rome, though.  The model is huge, and it was intended as a way to show how the cathedral was put together, instead of just using drawings, and also so that if it was damaged it would be easy to see how to restore it.  The best part is that the whole thing is illuminated inside, and actually be walked into.  The floors are mostly not there, so that you can go underneath the big table thing it stands on and actually put your head up into it to see details.  We didn't get to go in, but it was interesting to look through the windows and see the amount of detail put into it.

We went out into the hallway again, down to the end where there is a staircase apparently used in the Harry Potter films. I did not look down it with everyone else, because Mr. Wisdom warned us about people getting vertigo from it and seeing as I am terrified of heights I stayed well away.

We finally moved into the library, which was completed in 1706.  I have to admit that since I was standing near the back I didn't hear all the details we were given about it.  It is mostly filled, with lots of very old books and a few stern-looking busts and portraits.  There was discussion of temperature, humidity, ventilation, all that archival jazz, and lots of interesting but lengthy background on the collection which I will not go into here.
Library photo courtesy St. Paul's website

Just before we left Dr. Welsh (my professor) asked if the class could go down the HP staircase, which made me panic for a minute, but everyone else went and I was allowed to go down the regular staircase with a couple of other people.  I went over and looked up from the bottom, and I never would have made it down.

That was the end of our tour, so we were allowed to leave. I went off to Boots with some of the other girls and bought some sleeping pills which have yet to do me any good.  Then we took a bus back to the dorms--I finally got to ride on the top floor of a double-decker.  We went up the stairs while the bus was in motion, so I almost did a face-plant, but it was cool to be up there.

My attempt to get a full night's sleep fell flat when I only took one sleeping pill; by the time I realized it wasn't working it was too late to take another.

So far this trip has been pretty hard on my body.  Lots of waking, stairs, hills, etc., and carrying around my bag is killing my shoulders.  I am starting to get used to it a little, I think, and hopefully it won't be so tough soon.

I have another couple of posts to catch up on, which I will try to do tomorrow, if I can do it around my homework.  I leave for Paris in the afternoon, so no class for me.   I will also try to post some pictures (some on this post, some on Facebook), but tonight is an early night for me.  Sleep!

04 July 2011

First days in London

Hello all! This is the first chance I've had of really sitting down to write out a blog post. Since it would take a lot of time to recount everything that's happened so far, I will try to do a quickish rundown.


The sis drove me to the airport at about 6:30am, and my stomach was in knots the whole way (I don't like setting out on trips by myself). When we got there and made our way from economy parking to the terminal, I checked in and paid $25 (!) for my suitcase to be checked, and then after a quick bathroom stop we said a slightly tearful goodbye. Then I went through security and to my gate, where the wait wasn't too long.

My flight to Chicago was on one of those claustrophobic, tiny two-and-one planes, and I was in the one seat row. It was a quick flight. Once I got to O'Hare I had to pick up my luggage and recheck it, which took half-an-hour, and then I had to go through security again and trek across the airport to my gate. I tried to get some homework done but my computer died pretty quickly, and O'Hare has a dearth of outlets. All the available ones were taken. I waited awhile, listening to a huge soccer team of shrieking girls, wishing I was anywhere else, and then I went in search of food and drink. I got a yucky Gatorade and some chips, and later on a bottle of water that cost me $4.

Once the flight ahead of mine cleared out, I was able to find an outlet, though I had to sit on the very cold floor for a couple of hours. I finished up some homework-y things and then went over to the gate again, where there were some other British Studies students waiting.

We chatted for a while, then a few of us went in search of food, but again I found nothing. Everyone wondered how I had gotten my seat changed, so that I had an aisle seat and wasn't wedged in the middle like most everyone else seemed to be (answer: in my online reservation there was a little red button that said something like "choose seat". So I did.)

After we boarded the plane, I found out that not only was I sitting in my handy aisle seat, but there would be no one sitting in the window seat either. SCORE! So during the flight I got to stretch out a little, and with my borrowed neck pillow actually managed a few hours of sleep. When I wasn't sleeping (or trying to sleep), I played a few games, mainly poker, on my personal TV thingy. BUT, and this is big, we were informed by the pilot that we had to get more fuel and a new flight plan because of the bad weather we had seen out the terminal windows. So, TWO HOURS later, we finally took off.

Friday (+ 5 hours):

We were all fairly miserable when we landed, but the coaches came back to get us, and we finally made it to the dorms, barely awake for the whole ride. Then we had a couple of hours to get cleaned up and change, and my class went out on a walking tour of the Waterloo neighborhood.

We ended at the Texas Embassy, a wannabe Tex-Mex restaurant that is located in the building that used to house the White Star Line offices; this is where people bought their tickets for the Titanic and where the lists of survivors/casualties were posted when it went down. Not that you could tell from what it looks like now.

After another quick shower (yes, two in one day, but my drain was blocked and so they were both about a minute or two each), I went to bed around 11pm, though it took me awhile to go to sleep.


In the morning I had to be at a class meeting for 9am, where we discussed our schedule, and what areas of LIS we are interested in. There are thirteen in our group, and only one guy, but we are pretty diverse for so small a group. At 11am we had an orientation meeting with the whole program, which amounted to the director of the program telling us to do everything but don't mess up and get into trouble, and the professors introducing themselves. There were a few reminders about things like planning our minibreak trips and whatnot. And then they finally let us go for a couple of hours.

At 2pm we had our first LondonAlive walking tours. I chose to tour Brompton Cemetery, which turned out to be more of wandering for an hour or so than a tour. Our professor/guide took us to a house she used to live in just on the edge of the cemetery to see her former landlady, a funny older woman who makes jewelry. Turns out she is originally from Maine, and she either went to college in Chattanooga, TN, or she just visits her friend there. Irony, much?

     A view of Brompton Cemetery


Afterward most everyone went to a little restaurant to eat, but since we were so close to where I lived in 2004, I walked over there and took a picture of my old building. The street leading up to it is creepier than I remember, maybe because the program I was in doesn't house students over there anymore.

Also, since I hadn't been able to find any gluten-free food beyond yogurt, I went to the big Sainsbury's down the street, and found a big selection. I was getting discouraged until I got to the back wall, where there was a ton of stuff (Cereal! Cookies! Snacks!) Of course, I had to drag it all back with me on the tube, but SO worth it. When I got back I realized I didn't have anything to eat with or off of, but I took a paper cup from the kitchen that had been holding sugar packets and stirrers (it was new, okay, put there before we checked in), and I heated up some tomato and basil soup. It was too peppery but it was actual food. Another quick shower, and bed.


I slept a little late, but I didn't have anything until my LondonAlive tour at 2, so I went over to the computer lab and checked on mass times and directions to church, and walked over around 11. My stomach was not happy and the mass was mostly in Latin and sung, plus there were children running around and making noise like it was a playground. I came back to the dorm and tried to eat a little bit before the tour, and at 2pm we all met in the courtyard.

This is where the disaster starts.

We walked to Waterloo station, waited forever for some people to get Oyster cards (like Charlie Cards; you tap them to get in and out of the subway), and then got onto the train for Archway station. We were headed to Hampstead Heath, but the professor had planned we go to Highgate Cemetery first. Of course we got lost. Then we climbed a huge hill and found out that it cost £3 to get in, and no one else but me wanted to pay. So we trooped all the way back down the hill, and finally found the Heath, two hours after starting the tour.

We were instructed to meet him at Kenwood House, which is all the way across the Heath. It was a very long walk, with lots of hills, and we had photocopied maps that were hard to read. One of the girls figured out how to get us there, but when we arrived the house had already closed, and most of the food in the little cafes was gone. Most of us just wanted to leave but we were told we had to spend another hour before we started off back to Stamford St.

View of London from Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath (click to biggify)

I am fairly certain there is a tube station at Highgate that is much closer than the one he took us to. All. The. Way. Back. Around. The. Entire. Heath. I was a very unhappy person making that walk, let me tell you. Then, when we got down to the train at the tube station, we all sat down and were happy to finally be on our way, but the operator told us we had to get off because there was a fault with the track. Then, THEN we were told we had to leave the station, walk down the street, take a bus to King's Cross, and get another train on a different line back to Waterloo.

Let me just end it there and say I didn't kill anybody, but it was a near miss.

Today we had our first class meeting, a trip to St. Paul's cathedral, which will be another post.

And there you have it, my first few days back in London. It has been a rollercoaster and I have wished on and off to just be home again instead of here, what with my online class at Simmons (that really almost killed me this week) and the cruddy things that have happened so far. But I think it may be getting a bit better, and hopefully I will be able to enjoy myself more.

I said I would try to keep this post short, didn't I? I did edit stuff out…

02 July 2011

In London

Arrived in London yesterday, exhausted and feeling like somebody severely beat me up and then hit me with a truck.  Right now I am in the computer lab checking my email, and then in fifteen minutes I have to go to orientation.  Later this afternoon I have a LondonAlive walking tour of Brompton Cemetery, and then tonight I will come back and write all about my lovely experiences so far.