Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Following Lord Peter to Balliol

Dateline: June 30, 2015
Place: Balliol College, Oxford University
Time:  Just before leaving (3:30 p.m. ish)
Temperature: Still 30° C
Song of the afternoon: Lord Peter Wimsey theme song

My parents had a strict Friday night ritual when I was growing up: watching PBS TV including Masterpiece Theatre with Alistair Cooke. While I wasn’t so much into Wall Street Week or Washington Week in review, I loved Masterpiece Theatre. This is where I was introduced to Glenda Jackson playing Elizabeth I, the Bellamy family of Upstairs, Downstairs and, above all else, Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic detective created by British mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers.

Portrait of Dorothy L. Sayers that hangs
in the British National Portrait Gallery.

I watched the series with Ian Carmichael and then the trilogy with Edward Petherbridge and, of course, read the books: Murder Must Advertise, Clouds of Witness, Gaudy Night. I have just re watched Gaudy Night, set at a women's college at Oxford and filled with London references that I now know first-hand ("She went up to King's on The Strand") so naturally I had to tour the grounds of Balliol College while in Oxford--because Lord Peter was a Balliol alumnus, as was his spouse Harriet Vane.

The grounds are beautiful--neat, with banks of lovely flowers and old, old trees just meant to canopy picnickers.
The Fellows' Garden ... but where is the murderer?

And, of course, compartmentalized into open spaces as well as the cloistered master’s and fellows’ gardens … which makes me think of Harriet Vane trespassing in the fellows’ garden as shetries to solve a mystery that, at its root, is about a woman's place in society as well as academic integrity. 

And, just before I leave, I have some cranberry juice fizz at The Buttery, across the street from the college … because the name is charming and yet another Wimsical reference.

Thinking about access at Oxford University

Dateline: June 30
Place: The Bodleian Library, Oxford University
Time:  7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Temperature: 30° C
Song of the morning: Marian the Librarian by Robert Preston

Just as religious pilgrims travel from around the world to experience the Camino Trail or visit the great city of Mecca, so too will librarians and library students make their way to one of the “holy grails” of libraries: the “Old Bodleain Library” at Oxford University. 

Here we are on the steps of the Bodleian Library.

While we may be dazzled by the architecture and the priceless collections, I think it’s also important to be attentive to some of the philosophical issues that are raised by the history and practices of this institution. In particular, the history of “the Bodley” raises questions about the role of librarians in providing access to information--are we primarily gatekeepers or facilitators?

Waiting for our tour in a group study room:
but not a study room like ours!

The history of the Bodleian Library--at least the “old” library--is not unfamiliar. The original library was founded in the early 1300s.

However, despite a period of growth in the 1400s that included a significant donation of books and manuscripts from the Duke of Gloucester (Humphrey), by the late 1500s most of the Duke’s collection had been destroyed and overall the collection was poor.

As such, the library did not adequately meet the needs of students or other scholars. 
As our tour guide, Naomi (a fabulous storyteller), explains, in 1598, Sir Thomas Bodley was a “17th century IT guy” who recognized the need to revitalize the library so that it could become a reference library that would be a centre for research for international as well as British scholars. 
To fulfill this vision, Bodley created an institution that functioned in some ways that seem familiar to those of us working in 21st century libraries: there was collection development, access services, technical services (i.e., cataloguing) and reference services. And a librarian was hired to oversee the daily operation of the library, albeit that no specialized training was available then for this profession.

Our group with Bodleain tour guide Naomi (back row, centre).
In terms of collection development, Bodley invested his own books, manuscripts and money into rebuilding the collection, encouraged others to the same and, most strategically, made an agreement with the Stationers' Company in London to ensure that the library received a copy of everything printed in Britain.

Thomas Bodley
(Oxford University Press)
To provide access to this collection, he hired Thomas James in 1602 as the first librarian. As Mary Clapinson, a former Keeper of the Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian, explains Bodley expected James to be “present whenever the Library was open,” which seems to have meant every morning (8 to 11 a.m.) and afternoon (2 to 5 p.m.) of the week except Sundays and major “festivals” (Clapinson, 2006, p. 36). And James was the sole employee--he had no help until an assistant was hired in 1610 (Clapinson, 2006, p. 36)--imagine trying to “shush” everyone like Marian, the librarian from The Music Man?

In addition to being available virtually every day, James also took it upon himself to produce catalogues that would help the library’s readers make use of the Bodleian collections. 

According to Clapinson, he produced the first catalogue in 1605 that included an index of authors and later also produced subject catalogues for certain topics including theology, medicine, law and arts (Clapinson, 2006, p. 40). 

These catalogues were intended not only for senior scholars but also for undergraduate students, when they eventually were given permission to use the library.

All of these efforts suggest that the library significantly increased access to information for 17th century (and future) scholars--a goal that seems ahistorical. However, in some important ways access to the Bodleian collection was also highly restricted. For example, initially only senior scholars (graduate students and faculty) were permitted access to the library--undergraduates did not have general access until 1611 and, even then, only those with “two years’ standing” who came from aristocratic families (Clapinson, 2006, p. 33).

And books were chained to shelves and could not be taken from the library, as Bodley believed that lending out materials would lead to their destruction (Clapinson, 2006, p. 38). As such, despite his work on library catalogues, James’s role could be described as being that primarily of a gatekeeper who ensured that access to the collection was limited.

Hilda Gifford.
(Carleton University Archives)
This approach is very different from of 20th century librarians such as Hilda Gifford. Gifford was hired as Carleton University’s first librarian in 1948 and she believed that her role as an academic librarian was to bring books and readers closer together. Thus, she designed lending libraries where all faculty, staff and students--undergraduate and graduate--could easily browse the shelves which held the general and take books home for their research.

Being a facilitator was very much a core element of her practice as a librarian (Attridge Bufton, 2014, p. ?) and it is certainly the model that currently I follow in my work at the Carleton library. However, Miss Gifford did restrict access to some materials, such as those in the reference collection and today, these materials not circulate nor do those in the university’s archives and research collections.

These similarities make me realize that although we might think of early forms of librarianship as being very different from those practices today, some thinking around access to information spans the centuries and reaches into modern-day practice. 

And, unfortunately, with good reason. 

Twenty-first century librarians still share Bodley’s concern about the risks associated with lending out materials, especially those responsible for special collections and rare books. These risks include natural deterioration but also the temptation felt by some readers to "borrow" items and not return them.

Attridge Bufton, M. (2014). "A Honey of a Union Deal: Gender and Status in the Labour
    Action of Carleton University Librarians, 1948-1975." In J. Dekker and M. Kandiuk (Ed.)
    In solidarity: Academic librarian labour activism and union participation in Canada
    (pp. 63-79). Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Hilda Gifford. (n.d.). Carleton University Archives. Retrieved July 28, 2015 from

Clapinson, M. (2006). "The Bodleian Library and its Readers, 1602 - 1652." Bodleain Library
     Record, 19(1), 30-46.

Oxford University Press. (2015). "Five Facts about Thomas Bodley." OUPBlog. Retrieved
     July 28, 2015 from

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Evening prayers in a knightly space

Dateline: Monday, June 28, 2015
Place: Temple Church, Middle Temple
Time: 5:45 to 6:45 p.m.
Temperature: Still 26°C
Song of the evening: Carillon by Herbert Murill (Organ Voluntary)

Although my parents were Anglicans (albeit rather late in life), I am not used to attending evening services, except on Christmas Eve. Nor am I used to a more formal, choral liturgy as a member of the United Church of Canada. But I am so glad that I attended evensong at Temple Church, which is the sacred space for the Honorable Society of the Middle Temple. There is something so calming about taking time at the end of the day for a spiritual check-in in such a knightly (or nightly) place.

From top to bottom, left to right:
 Matthew, Carolyn, Martha, 
Debbie and Jenny
This medieval church was founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, the powerful order of crusading monks whose mission was to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land. It was their headquarters in England and is tucked away off a lovely courtyard and located in London, between Fleet Street and the Thames, not far from King’s College. Apparently, the church design mimics that of the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the interior is cool, shadowed without being gloomy, and peaceful.

As we enter, we are greeted by Robin Griffith-Jones, the current “Master of the Temple” (the Church of England priest who leads the service) and then are treated to a small exhibit of the Magna Carta, which has its 800th birthday this year. William Marshall, one of the original Knights, was a witness to the signing of the “Great Charter” at Runnymede and the current display is complemented by his effigy, which is on permanent display in the chancel.

Thomas Heyward (left, Wikipedia) and Temple Church program.
I am at church with Prof. Welsh and four other students, one of whom is Matthew Whitney Haney from South Carolina. 

Matthew is thrilled when we walk into the church and discovered reference to his ancestor, Thomas Heyward (below).

Heyward was one of the signatories to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a document which has its roots in the Magna Carta. We never know when a research opportunity will present itself.

Afterwards I wander back out onto Fleet Street, refreshed and find myself in front of theTwinnings flagship shop at 216 The Strand. 

I don’t buy anything but enjoy the rich aromas of teas, especially Earl and Lady Grey … ah, the scent of the bergamot orange!

The walk over the Waterloo Bridge is an easy 20 minutes back to Stamford Street … 
this is the end to a wonderful first day “at school” in London.

Heyward, Thomas J. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 28, 2015 from,_Jr

The Museum of London: Taking pleasure in the gardens

Dateline: June 29, 2015 (afternoon)
Place: The Museum of London
Time: 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Temperature: 26°C
Song of the afternoon:  Lass of Richmond Hill by Greenwood Muse

Visiting the Museum of London is a natural “second step” in understanding the importance of archaeological records for the City of London as cultural artefacts. While the LAARC records can be used by researchers doing a multitude of projects all over the world, this archive and research centre is part of the Museum’s Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive. Thus, not unexpectedly, key archival materials find their way into museum displays, used by museum staff to tell the city’s story in an informed and scholarly way.

The Museum has a number of permanent galleries as well as special exhibitions. I had time to make my way through the permanent galleries which tell the city’s history chronologically by beginning with “London before London” and ending with Modern London. Given that we could take photographs during our LAARC tour but cannot publish these images, I found it a delight to walk into the first section, which deals with life in the prehistoric Thames Valley and find samples of butchery tools which Kathryn (Creed) had shown us.

 These butchery tools were created in 300,000 BC.

The installation that I enjoyed the most was the remaking of the Vauxhall Gardens, which tells a slice of the cultural story of London in the late 19th century.  The Vauxhall Gardens (“pleasure gardens”) originally opened in the 17th century and were a site of public entertainment (music, clowns, fireworks) until 1859. I was introduced to the gardens in one too many historical novels set in Victorian England, but Vauxhall has been the topic of serious scholarly works as well, such as Vauxhall, Gardens. A History, by David Coke and Alan Borg. 

The exhibit includes posters such as the one below as well as a series of mannequins dressed in mid-Victorian clothing “promenading” through the gardens as Victorians might very well have done on a fine spring or summer evening. 

As Miles points out (2013), the exhibit was created as part of the Galleries of Modern London which she describes as “a dramatic re-representation of the city’s past” designed to engage museum-goers in the changes that have occurred in London, rather than providing yet another “static illustration” of what has happened over time (p. 152).

Miles contends that by using a mixture of presentation techniques, such as a series of photographs, an audio track and dressed figures, a visitor will feel part of the action, rather than merely a spectator. 

As such, the exhibit is a re-making, rather than a “restoration” or “reconstruction” (Miles, 2013, p. 152) and the direct result of historical research. 

As a visitor to an exhibit such as this, I don’t always think about the underlying scholarship (theoretical framework, method and primary research) that goes into making a museum space such as the Vauxhall Gardens come alive. 

However, as a librarian who will be supporting researchers, I understand that I will need to continue to be attentive to how students and faculty frame their projects and use their evidence in a multitude of ways that include, but are not limited to, writing a paper.

Being at least aware of different disciplinary approaches encourages me to be more sensitive to the interdisciplinary nature of various areas of research and thus more insightful in terms of facilitating the information seeking process (e.g., helping students and faculty find information in both expected and unexpected places). 

For example, recently I did a literature review for a Child Studies professor who is planning an exhibit on children's interaction with museums. I needed to think "outside the box" and look in the history literature and the communications literature as well as the child studies literature. 

Coke, D. & Borg, A (2011).   Vauxhall Gardens: A History. New Haven: Published for 
     The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press.

Miles, E. (2013). “‘A museum of everything’: Making the Pleasure Gardens inside
     the Museum of London.” The London Journal, 38(2), 151-65.

And the work begins: A new kind of archive

Dateline:  June 29, 2015
Place: The London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre
Time:  9:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Temperature: 26°C
Song of the day: Dem bones by the Delta Rhythm Boys

What a lark! On our way to
the London Archaelogical Archive and Research Centre

"Excavation records" for the City of London--this is how Kathryn Creed, describes the holdings of the the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) during our class visit this morning. Hearing this definition makes me immediately aware of two things: one, that London is an ancient site; and two, that I am visiting a type of archive that organizes information in a way that is new to me.

Kathryn is responsible for learning services at LAARC. As she explains, the centre is one division within the Museum of London's archaeological archives department and the complex we are visiting has been at this location since 2002. As indicated on its official web pages, LAARC is an active depository that holds data and materials from more than 8,500 sites that have been worked in Greater London since the 19th century although Kathryn says most data has been discovered since World War II. This information is held in both paper and metal stores and, as a result of the vast volume of artefacts, LAARC earned the standing in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest archaeological archives in the world! It is certainly the authoritative source for primary evidence of life in London.

While I have accessed and used documentary archives before, such as the corporate archives at Carleton University, I am not an archaeologist so both the materials and method for organization information at LAARC are unfamiliar to me. We cannot post any photos of artefacts that we see during our tour (and I am snapping photos like mad), but I am learning that there are two categories of materials:

  • registered finds, which Kathryn defines as unusual or unique artefacts that provide evidence to "tell a singular story" (such as the medieval man's shoe with the missing toe);
  • and general finds, which are "normal" because these types of artefacts (like pottery, animals parts and iron nails) turn up frequently at digs and, as "assemblages" tell a common story.

The vast number of finds--both individual and general--are not really surprising, given that London (the city and the greater area) is an ancient place where humans have lived for centuries. Kathryn tells us that people have been inhabiting this area for over 250,000 years, through the Roman ages (starting in 43 AD) and on to the present.

More than 200,000 acid-free boxes and numerous silicon bags (for metal objects) hold the remnants of the past that are found by professional, amateur and perhaps reluctant archaeologists--these latter sometimes being the developers who stumble upon important finds during the course of building new structures in the city.

What I find (no pun intended) particularly interesting is the metadata scheme used for organizing this historic information. Kathryn tells us that materials are organized according to the site in which they are discovered because it is important to know "where something was found, what it was found with, and what was found in it [if relevant]." This approach to archiving allows researchers to make links to what was happening in a given time or period--they can then make connections and "tell stories."  Any researcher can search the LAARC online catalogue and my search for ‘’clay pipes’’ found this detailed record: Site record HDS06. The record tells me far more than just the fact that clay pipes were found on this site. For example, that people had been inhabiting this location at least back to the 12th century.

Not only does LAARC receive archaeological archival material, but in the last four years has become responsible for issuing site codes to new archaeological projects and for collecting fees from commercial contractors who have been issued codes. The work with developers is especially important because, as Kathryn points out, there can be an economic incentive to suppress or even destroy archaeological artefacts found during building--preserving the past takes time and money. The standards for archaeological deposits are also found on the LAARC website. 

Aside from this political issue, one of the other challenges facing LAARC staff is that of resources (at least both space and staff). One solution has been to develop a volunteer program, in which non-professionals are encouraged to help with some key work, such as re-bagging materials already in boxes to make better use of available space.

1. In terms of my own work, both now and in the future as an academic subject specialist, the work done at LAARC helps me to more broadly define “respect des fonds”--the overarching principle for archival collection development--and, in particular, "original order." Whether it is a set of documents or artefacts from an archaeological dig, the order in which evidence is found is important to understanding its significance.

2. Plus, instead of narrowly seeing archives as repositories for documentary evidence, I now understand that these holdings can include a wide range of materials that could be useful to both student and faculty researchers--holdings to which I could refer my own “readers.”