Cardiff Central Library

This visit was also my own little adventure, well myself and two fellow librarians! We set off from London to Cardiff, Wales by train with no idea where we were going to where we would be staying once we got to Cardiff. I must say that this is not a particularly great way to travel if there are specific things that you want see as actual traveling and wandering around looking for the right bus can eat up quite a bit of time! So the only thing that three librarians would do when arriving in a strange city in a strange country is head to the nearest library to get some information. I must say that as the person who is normally behind the desk dishing out information to those who need it I felt a little strange being on the other side. 

While the current Cardiff Library opened in 2009, the original was known as the Cardiff Free Library and opened in 1861. The library contains over 90,000 books with a little over 10,000 being written entirely in Welsh, the library also has a large collection of CDs and DVDs. The building is extremely modern inside and out and considerable effort went into making sure that the facility is as energy efficient as possible. The library boasts a total of six floors and is easily the largest and most modern library I have ever been to. 

I was very impressed by the children’s floor of the library, the Edinburgh Central Library also had an amazing children’s area. I feel that in the States, at least the libraries that I have been to there is very little effort put into the design and overall thought put into children’s spaces and that demographic is crucial for libraries to attract. The Cardiff Central Library had a great overall layout which was really open and inviting there were bookshelves which were appropriately sized for young children as well as these very cool circular reading cubbies.  

After my fellow travelers and I located a floor we felt was appropriate to ask some questions at, I proceeded to ask about some local places to stay and gather some other general information about the area that we were in, the librarians were very helpful and not only printed out some addresses and phone numbers of a few local places and gave us a few maps so that we could navigate around the city. So if you are ever in a new city, country, or just some unfamiliar territory head to the nearest library, they can help you find your way!

For more information about the Cardiff Central Library click here!

Exterior of Cardiff Library

Exterior of Cardiff Library


Marsh’s Library

The Marsh’s Library in Dublin was my own little adventure, on our mini break we could travel to whatever destination suited our fancy, I chose to head off to Dublin, Ireland and accidentally stumbled onto this gem of a library. I heard a few snippets of information while on a bus tour around Dublin and was determined to stop in the next day to see it for myself, I was glad I did because Marsh’s Library is absolutely beautiful and it houses a few surprises inside as well. 

Marsh’s Library was opened in 1707 and was the first public library in all of Ireland, the library was commissioned by the Archbishop of Dublin; Narcissus Marsh. The library takes great pride in the fact that the interior has changed relatively little over the course of the last 300 years. The books in the library are housed in one of two galleries, these galleries are separated into bays and each bay contains material relating to a particular subject the books are then shelved according to size with large volumes on the bottom and smaller ones on top, this was not only to keep the shelving intact but to make it far more difficult for thieves to pocket the smaller volumes as they require a ladder to reach. The library also still has the original cages that served as reading rooms for researchers, the librarian would literally lock an individual into a cell with his selected materials and then would have to unlock the cage for the researcher to be able to leave, all of this was to ensure that the books stayed at the library! The library also has an interactive activity where guests are invited to sit down and try their hand at writing with quill and ink, it was really fun to try although my script was not very beautiful. 

The library is funded by the Department of Arts and Heritage and the generosity of patrons. The library has its own conservation team consisting of two conservationists and its own bindery, in stark contrast to the historical libraries of England these two departments will do offsite work for other institutions in a further effort to raise money for the library. The biggest issue in terms of conservation for the library is funding so it makes sense to hire out these highly skilled assets. Marsh’s Library also has its catalog available online promoting greater access to its materials.

For more information about

Marsh's Library

Marsh’s Library

 Marsh’s Library click here!


National Maritime Museum

The class took another road trip, this time to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum. I was really excited for this visit, my ultimate goal career wise is to be an archivist for a museum and as our group was being led by an actual museum archivist I had lots of questions that I wanted to ask about the job! While the materials we were shown were amazing and I was very interested in the policies and innovations and collections that the museum housed I was rather disappointing with the information I was able to gather from our presenters, they seemed genuinely confused about most of the questions I asked and were not able to fully answer most of them. 

At the National Maritime Museum they use the universal decimal system in their library to catalog materials. The library within the museum is primarily used by academic researchers and family historians. The archive has only 10% backlog which is absolutely incredible. Most archives that I have experienced have at least a 50% backlog due to lack of funding. However our guides gave the indication that there were really no significant funding troubles for this particular institution due to very careful planning in fact items are only purchased for the collection if all of the funds are available.

Materials are arranged within the archive by type, for example all of the books are in one section, folios in another and so on and so forth. Materials are then further separated by subject for example central government, local government, personal papers and so on and so forth. Conservation is a huge issue at the museum as there are many rare and delicate items in the collection in particular the collection of maps. Therefore items are carefully scrutinized by a committee before an acquisition can occur at the museum.  An interesting fact about the museum is that their archive house a large collection on pirates and a large collection of items related to the Titanic and its sinking.  

One very important question which I believe was answered beautifully for me was; what is an important skill for someone looking to work in the archival field? I was told that a huge strength was to be able to look at items laterally, meaning that it is not simply enough to understand why a particular artifact is important. The archivist must understand what was important about the significance of events happening at the time the artifact was created or used, the archivist must understand what is important about the person who actually created or used the artifice and even understand the importance of the materials used to create the artifact. This answer opened my eyes to exactly how broad an archivists understanding must be if the materials in the collection they are responsible for. 

For more information about the National Maritime Museum click here

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum in London

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum in London


Middle Temple Law Library

The Middle Temple Law Library is housed in one of the four Inns of Court in England, this particular library specializes in American and International Law. As I have stated Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of court and calls barristers to the bar, these organizations date back to the Knights Templar (prior to 1500). There are several famous literary figures that are associated with these organizations; for example Charles Dickens was a member of Middle Temple, and Bram Stoker was a member of the Inner Temple (another one of the four). Each Inn houses its own library in order to better accommodate the barristers. 

The building the library is housed in has survived since the 1600s, and in 1641 the library was established by Robert Ashley. The library faces some serious issues which are common to many libraries both in the United Kingdom and in North America, first is that there is a lack of space to house printed materials, and two almost everything is available digitally so what is the point of hanging on to all of these printed materials? The library actually keeps all previous editions of law textbooks for precedence, which as any student knows textbooks take up a lot of room. 

There is no classification system in place at Middle Temple Law Library books are shelved alphabetically by author, additionally there are some basic subject divisions. One interesting feature of the library is that there are no labels on the spines of books like we commonly see in North American libraries, this is due to the fact that the benchers, who are the most senior members of the Inn simply do not like the look of the labels on spines and instead want the library to look and feel like a “gentleman’s library”. The archive at Middle Temple only collects institutional papers. 

The Middle Temple Law Library has a fantastic online catalog they use international subject headings for easier access and absolutely everything in the collection from rare books to contemporary journals is available to view in the catalog. There is no lending of books at the library, however members of the Inns may take textbooks out overnight. An interesting fact about the Middle Temple Law Library is that there are two royal benchers per Inn, the Middle Temple claims Prince William! Prior to Prince William becoming a bencher at Middle Temple the royal benchers were Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. 

For more information about Middle Temple Law Library click here

Middle Temple Law Library reading room

Middle Temple Law Library reading room


Westminster Library

Almost everyone has heard of Westminster Abbey, I know I have! But what I have never heard of is the Westminster Library, turns out there actually is one. I was also excited to find out that the British Studies Program had never visited this particular institution before and we would be the first to experience it.

There has been a church on the site where Westminster Abbey sits today for over 1,000 years. It was originally a monastic church and the room where the library is located today was a part of the monks dormitories. The space was far too large for the minimal amount of monks who lived in the abbey and the room was later divided up. Royal patronage at Westminster Abbey has always been a key element for the church. 

From 1560 on a serious effort was made to reestablish a library at Westminster, and in 1583 the Dean of Westminster gave a large quantity of books to the library and he also donated the bookshelves. In 1587 William Camden was named as the very first librarian at Westminster.The collection very obviously has a strong emphasis on religion and theology in its collection, everything displayed in the collection was written prior to 1850. The library continued to grow throughout the years as various clergymen would donate their own private collections of books to the library upon their passing. 

There are two distinct collections at the Westminster Library the Old collection and the New collection. The old collection is currently  closed collection meaning that the library is no longer purchasing books to expand the collection. The New book collection which is actively growing focuses on all of the various aspects of Westminster. The archive at the Westminster Library contains administrative records for the abbey, the records go all the way back to the mid tenth century. The reading room at the library is very small, able to accommodate only two or three people at a time as such appointments must be made in order to use collection materials. 

The librarians at Westminster answer questions from all over the world about the collection and the history of Westminster. As of right now they are just beginning to create a digital catalog and the card catalog is still the primary method for finding materials. Books at the Westminster Library are and always have been shelved by size not subject!

For more information about Westminster Library click here!

Westminster Abbey Library

Westminster Abbey Library

Edinburgh Central Library

As I stated in my previous blog the time that I spent in Edinburgh was my favorite of the entire trip, and the libraries there are doing some incredible things. As the Edinburgh Central Library is the public library for the city of Edinburgh it was very interesting for me to be able to see some of the similarities and differences between the library in Edinburgh and the public library that I currently work for. It was great to see that the staff were really excited about the work that they were doing and proud to be sharing it with my class. 

The Edinburgh Central Library is housed in a Victorian era building which opened in 1890. The library contains a local history library and in fact it was the first library in the United Kingdom to have a local history collection. The library collects any and all materials which relate to the town or the history of the town, in fact this collection is so important that it takes up an entire floor of the library! Due to the age of the building the library faces significant financial hurdles, which is common among older libraries across the United Kingdom. Much like the Barbican Library in London the Edinburgh Central Library does not require proof of residence in order to get a library card or use the facilities.

One of the things that surprised me the most is that while the Edinburgh Central Library is the largest lending library in Edinburgh they have only introduced self service checkout machines within the last five years. Additionally they still actively use their card catalog, although anything that was purchased for the library after 1984 no longer goes into the card catalog. Our tour guide told us that having a librarian with specialized knowledge was very important to have especially since not everything that they have in their collection is available to view in an online catalog, although it is difficult to sustain specialized librarians as they eventually retire and often there will not be enough funds to replace the position.  

One really innovative thing that the Edinburgh central library is doing is , they have created an app it is a fully interactive app, patrons can even renew materials from their respective devices and this app is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. One thing that they attribute to their continued success is that they make an effort to consult with their patrons and consult them before making changes that way patrons feel valued and like their money is being well spent in the long run. 

For more information about the Edinburgh Central Library click here!

Exterior of Edinburgh Central Library

Exterior of Edinburgh Central Library

National Library of Scotland

I was fortunate that during my time in the British Studies Program I got to see, do and experience some truly wonderful things, but my absolute favorite part of the entire trip was the London Away portion in which our class journeyed to Edinburgh, Scotland. I can not pin point exactly what it was that I loved so much about Edinburgh it may very well have been a combination of all of the things I experienced there, however I do know that the work at the libraries that we visited left a profound and lasting impression on me. 

The National Library of Scotland was an impressive institution; they are an academic library however I did not realize this until I was specifically told. This is because the library does not market itself strictly to scholars and researchers, the National Library provides free access to its collections and even creates special exhibits designed to draw a wider audience to the vast resources that they house. Anyone is able to come into the library and access the materials in the reading room, the reason that the library is so willing to accommodate the general public is that a lot of public money went into funding the John Murray Archives. 

Within the library there is a unique and custom exhibit, the John Murray exhibit. The exhibit is kept in almost complete darkness due to the fragility of the materials within the exhibit and the fact that some of the artifacts on display are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. The exhibit features a custom lighting system that only lights up items when they are being viewed, actors were hired to create recordings of manuscripts in the exhibits making them come to life before the viewer. The exhibit is highly interactive and requires the viewer to explore the entire space in order to experience everything. Our tour guide stated that creativity and innovation are the most important factors to consider when designing for these exhibitions.  

The National Library is very concerned with access, they leave to stone un-turned when it comes to making materials available for the general public. The use of voice recordings is crucial to providing broader access to manuscripts as it brings the text to life, manuscripts are also very difficult due to handwriting, language barriers and general fading that occurs over time. The library provides translations of all of their manuscripts in order to overcome these barriers to information. Full manuscripts have also been digitized in order to provide greater access, the library has an in house conservation team which makes this massive workload possible. 

For more information about the National Library of Scotland click here!

Exterior of the National Library of Scotland

Exterior of the National Library of Scotland