Sunday, 16 August 2015

Keeping an Eye on London

Dateline: July 6, 2015
Place: London
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Temperature: 24°C
Song of the evening: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

Before I left for the UK, I had lunch with my colleague Andrew Riddle. Andrew went to King's College London and knows the city well and I was hoping for tips on what sights to see.  He suggested a walk along the South Embankment (prescient!) and mentioned the London Eye but not with much enthusiasm.

Here's a shot of the London Eye I took from the north side of the Thames.
The building behind the Eye houses the London aquarium.
However, I couldn't miss the Eye as I walked about the South Bank--to the Houses of Parliament and Lambeth Palace--and it looked like fun, although the prices start at £19.50 so definitely could qualify as a "tourist trap." And if looked like a wonderful way to get a bird's view of the city. So tonight finds me making the short walk to the London Pier and riding along with classmates as well as other British Studies folks.

(Google Maps)

Wow ... what a view!

Starting in the top left-hand corner, this is the screen that identifies all the key buildings looking east along the Thames; top right-hand corner is an early view of the South Embankment; bottom left-hand corner is looking east down the Thames towards St. Paul's Cathedral; bottom right-hand side, of course, is Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Dr. Dave Davies, the chief factotum of our trip (i.e., the prof. responsible for the entire program, not just the library science group) was kind enough to take a photo for me as I'm not too good on selfies ... and he contributed the shot of an Eye pod (sorry, no pun intended). 

I felt like I was in a very spacious, slow moving ski gondola and I highly recommend being "trapped" by the Eye.

Google Maps. (2015). [Stamford Street to the London Eye]. Retrieved from,+London+SE1+9NQ,+UK/London+Eye,+Lambeth,+London+SE1+7PB/@51.5040672,-0.1179752,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x487604b74b8a9af9:0x54b703a8b21d032b!2m2!1d-0.111794!2d51.50543!1m5!1m1!1s0x487604b900d26973:0x4291f3172409ea92!2m2!1d-0.119543!2d51.503324!3e2

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Game, set match: taking in a Wimbledon game

Dateline: July 10, 2015
Place: The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (Wimbledon Championships)
Time: 6:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Temperature: 27° C
Song of the day: Anyone for Tennis? by Cream

Wimbledon was definitely on the my "to do" list for London this summer ... but the idea of getting in "The Queue" was not so appealing until MaryRodgers Beal, a classmate, said, "Anyone want to go to Wimbledon?" I said, "Yes!"  

MaryRodgers (left) figured out how to get there (easy train west from Waterloo) and we left this morning at 6:30 a.m. Walking from the train station to the tennis grounds, we began to catch tennis fever. 

Today is the day that Andy Murray plays Roger Federer (spoiler: the game doesn't work out as he plans).

There are flags on many lamp posts throughout town
bearing the Wimbledon standard ... 

we know we're in the right place (Google Maps)!

Hopes are high that Andy will advance to the second round and
fan fever is high (left).
Wimbledon is a lovely community ... and posh (right)!

If you don't have pots of money for tickets (over $1000 for good ones), then your only option is to join "The Queue" so that's what we did--it's so popular with the masses, there is even an online "how to" guide.

There were approximately 2,200 people in the queue with us ...
the previous Friday there had been about 10,000.
This is an amazing experience... we're part of a human snake of a line that beings in a big open field that can hold thousands of people, and continues through archways and past amusements on our way to security and the ticket wicket where we pay our £15 for a seat at any match except a main event, unless we want to pay £35. This is the ultimate temptation of the queue--sometimes seats are still left for "good" games but you don't know until you make it to the ticket

We are issued a queue ticket and a guide book ... but still need to buy
the pass to get into the grounds. Cash only! The tennis ball sculpture?
Clearly waiting in line is a bore so we need entertaining.
Standing behind a row of 10 bobbies, we wait for the official opening and when it comes, everyone is like lemmings to the sea as we rush to get a seat at one of the other games.
MaryRogers and I take the men's doubles invitationals:

Jamie Baker (UK) and Frabrice Santoro (France)
Fernando Gonz├ález (Chile) and Albert Costa (Spain)

Gonzàlez (far left), Costa (near left) and
Santoro (near right) and Baker (far right)
Eating our strawberries and cream, of course and MaryRodgers helps me remember that players have to win sets (best out of 6 games), then matches and then the game ... it's been a long time since tennis lessons! 
My one and only bowl of strawberries and cream
while I was away ... too busy eating cream teas!
And I have never seen so many folks around a court, not playing tennis ... linespeople, ball catchers ... whew! So serious, more serious than the tennis players who are just having a good time in the sunshine!
Martin (left) and me, takes 1 and 2 ... his idea!
An obliging firefighter joins me for a photo and suggests swapping hats. It's been a lovely, lovely morning and I am so glad I made the trek that I call Ian from the train station platform going back to London.

Google Maps. (2015). [Wimbledon Tramtrack Stop to All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club]. Retrieved from,+Church+Road,+London,+UK/Wimbledon+Tramlink+Stop,+United+Kingdom/@51.4272831,-0.2226286,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x48760f345b43f485:0xcee40a1e57bb6a74!2m2!1d-0.2144883!2d51.4342911!1m5!1m1!1s0x487608b74564fba3:0x22621fbdfebb4dda!2m2!1d-0.20579!2d51.42105!3e2

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Advocacy: The importance of professional associations

Dateline: Thursday, July 23, 2015
Place: The Barbican Public Library
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Temperature: 23° C
Song of the day: Respect by Aretha Franklin 

Librarians in North America and the United Kingdom have a long history of belonging to professional associations but not always happily. Out of our visit to the Barbican Public Library emerged the fact that some British librarians are displeased with the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals (CILIP) to the point of refusing to be members any longer. I wonder if this contradicts or demonstrates the professionalism of the profession?

Library associations have been around a long time: the ALA was formed in 1876, the Library Association (of the UK) began in 1877, the Ontario Library Association (OLA) came on the scene in 1900 and the Canadian Library Association (CLA) was formed in 1946. 

Advocacy for the profession is a traditional responsibility for each of these organizations and has been achieved with varying degrees of success. The work of ALA has ensured that there are professional training standards and accredited more than sixty library schools in Canada and the US while CILIP has accredited more than fifteen programs. 
Melvil Dewey, founder of the ALA
Dr. Freda Waldon, first president of the CLA
(Hamilton Public Library)
The Canadian Library Association, pushed for a National Library, which was created in Canada in 1950. 

The Barbican Centre is located on the north side of the Thames, near St. Paul's Cathedral and the Museum of London, both of which we visited earlier in the month (Google Maps).
However, while these organizations are described as "national voices," they are not always successful in advocating for the professions or libraries. Currently, the work of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has changed: it no longer is the main collector of Canadian materials nor does it offer interlibrary loan services. 

Despite these fundamental changes to the LAC mandate, advocacy campaigns by library associations such as CLA and OLA have not been successful in reversing what many see as a trend towards less access to information nationally. The CLA is mounted one advocacy campaign but Canadian librarians don't necessarily see the organization as having a strong enough voice to mobilize public opinion for a change public policy. Likewise, Barbican librarian Jonathan Gibbs is discouraged by the lack of support given to public libraries by CILIP.
The Barbican Library is one of the organizations housed in the Barbican Centre. The day we were there, so was Benedict Cumberbatch--rehearsing for Hamlet!
The library entrance is tucked away on the second floor and librarians would prefer greater visibility.
As Johnathon explained during our visit, public libraries in the UK have undergone major budget cuts since the last stock market crash in 2008, despite the important role these institutions play in so many communities. The Barbican, for example, offers not only basic lending services but also has a vibrant children's library as well as a well respected and popular music library that services the community, students at the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama and visiting professional musicians. 

When cuts started happening, "CILIP did not have a critical voice," says Johnathon and thus did not advocate on public policy. As a result, he has withdrawn his membership and is much more supportive of organizations such as the Association of London Chief Librarians because he believes that these organizations are doing a better job of advocating for changes to public policy. This advocacy is important at a time when further austerity measures are being introduced in the UK.
Librarian Johnathon Gibbs (left) and a display in the Music Library--a jewel in the Barbican crown--featuring the BBC Proms, a seasonal smash hit.
This raises some interesting questions: Is it professional to be political? Should we take sides and be radical or are we just biting the hand that feeds us i.e., local, provincial and/or federal governments? And, if so, how do we do this?

I think the answer is yes, we need to be political and that we can do so, in part, by supporting the organizations that we think best represent us. In Ontario, the OLA is a well organized group and I have been active in the Ontario College and Academic Libraries (OCULA) division for six years. OCULA is the academic library division of OLA. This group keeps its "ear to the ground" and is very responsive to provincial and national issues, such as the censorship of academic librarians by publishers. I will continue to support this organization, although as I wrote in an earlier post, I am considering how to get involved with CLA given that I live in Ottawa, where CLA has its office.

But I also think that other groups, like unions are critical. Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug Ford, backed off from making cuts to the Toronto Public Library in part because the staff unions mounted a very successful campaign to fight against the proposed changes. Being professional can also include belonging to a labour organization.

Dr. Freda Farrell Waldon. (n.d.) Hamilton Public Library. Retrieved August 11, 2015 from

Google Maps. (2015). [Barbican Centre]. Retrieved from,-0.093263,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x48761b56fb64b275:0xc756e26675d21f40

Melvil Dewey. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 12, 2015 from

Reference Services: Different models at New College Library and the Maughn Library

Dateline:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015 and Monday, July 27, 2015
Places: Edinburgh and London
Time: Over time
Temperature: 17° C and 19° C
Song of the day(s):  Let's call the whole thing off by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Tomato, tomahtoe; laugher, larfter ... what's in a pronunciation, especially when Fred and Ginger need each other? While the characters that Rogers and Astaire play in the film Shall we dance? manage to resolve their issues, perhaps the differences in reference service models in an academic library are more profound. We're undergoing a public service review at Carleton that could affect the responsibilities of my department, so I'm interested in how reference staff at New College Library (University of Edinburgh) and the Maughan Library (King's College) organize their work. 

At Carleton, we use a liaison model for reference services in which both subject specialists ("paraprofessionals") and librarians ("professionals") offer core services: information literacy instruction, collection development and research help desk support (all queries, including both routine and in-depth questions). Delivering these services depends upon building good relationships with students and faculty. 

Neither UK institution has a model that is exactly the same as that at Carleton. However, the King's approach offers an alternative that, in theory, would be interesting to consider--at least for someone like me who enjoys the teaching component of the work the most.

New College
At New College, I had a chance to quickly chat with Christine Love-Rodgers and Linda Blackwood. Christine's official title is Academic Support Librarian-Divinity as this library supports the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and is one of the twelve main libraries at the university. The university also has fourteen class libraries. Linda is the Information Services Helpdesk Supervisor at the New College Library. 
The New College Library was founded in 1843 as the library of the Free Church College. After we entered the courtyard for the college, we took a Hogwarts-like door to get to the library.
Based on my conversations with Christine and Linda, it seems that New College might have a model similar to that at Carleton, although New College is a much smaller library and thus staff responsibilities may be combined due to the limited number of employees.

I chatted first with Linda, who has a full-time position and works alongside several part-time staff. These employees are considered support staff and do not have library science degrees. They provide administrative support and are responsible for answering routine queries such as those related to using the catalogue and IT services as well as providing support for special collections. In addition, they process new acquisitions and weeds books from the shelves, although make none of the decisions as to what is purchased or discarded. 

It almost seems that the support staff are responsible for circulation, technical services and routine reference services, again perhaps because the library is relatively small (i.e, few staff and a relatively small budget; Christine indicated that her acquisitions budget is £38,000).

Christine is the only librarian (i.e., she has a library science degree). She holds a half-time appointment to the library and is responsible for the overall management of the library and thus is responsible for making all the key decisions related to collection development (including special collections) and research support in additions to other activities such as social media outreach.

While Linda and other desk staff may handle the routine questions, any in-depth reference questions are referred to Christine. I did not ask Christine if she does any information literacy instruction. However, the School offers both undergraduate and graduate programs so she might very well offer at least basic library orientation sessions. Interestingly for me (given my interest in university unions), Linda has the option of joining a union whereas Christine automatically belongs to the faculty union.
The Enquiries Desk, where Linda Blackwood works, is just to the right of the security gates.
We have signs with a similar message at Carleton ... just part of the job!
King's College, Maughan Library
At the King's College Maughan Library, I had conversation with Liz Murphy. Liz is the Library Learning and Teaching Manager (Arts & Sciences) at King's and, overall, is responsible for information literacy instruction. Liz explained that until last year, the Maughan Library followed a liaison model very similar to that at Carleton. 

A number of subject librarians (e.g, law, social sciences, health) did both instruction and collection development. However, last year there was a reorganization (in part due to available resources) that split the librarians into teams by function. As a result, there are now three separate teams: the Collections and Research Support Team; the Partnership and Liaision team; and the Training and Skills Team.

The Maughn Library subject support page features some of the same services we offer at Carleton, and I like the visible access to important links from this main page such as citation support.
This is a very different approach to reference work than that taken at Carleton in that, broadly, the partnership team manages relationships with faculty, the training team delivers instruction and the collections team handles acquisitions, cataloguing and other technical services in addition to archives and special collections. In addition, these functions are quite separate from the that of the Compass team, which is responsible for the main Enquiries desk which handles routine reference questions as well as circulation (e.g., book returns). 

According to Liz, individual Compass staff are not required to have a library science degree although she thinks that a few might have this qualification.

The Library Services Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 highlights the delivery of good customer service, rhetoric that is used at Carleton as well, where financial constraints (i.e., lack of funding) puts pressure across the campus to deliver "value for money." It's unclear if some of the same fiscal issues are a driver at King's, but this is a certainly an interesting model for delivering what I think of as reference services.

This is a promotional video for King's College but there are shots of students in the library!

The occupational boundaries between librarians and support staff are well defined in both institutions.  

Support staff do the routine work, whereas librarians do the work that is clearly considered professional and carries with it more decision-making authority. This is very different from how the reference work is organized (or done) at Carleton where paraprofessionals make many of the same kind of decisions as librarians.

Whereas at New College, one librarian is doing all the professional work on a part-time basis which is not an option at Carleton (for one thing, we have 16 subject specialists and librarians in our department), the King's model is an interesting alternative to what we have now. 

To have a single team devoted to information literacy, for example, seems to allow for a targeted approach to teaching including systematic and consistent assessment across instructors. However, the division between professional and non-professional staff suggests that only librarians would be eligible to do this work.

Here are some of our Reference Services team. Along with other library staff, this spring we co-taught a week-long course for middle and high school students as part of Carleton's annual Enriched Mini-Course Program.

Becoming a reader at UK libraries

Dateline:  July 2015
Places: Lambeth Palace Library, British Library, National Library of Scotland, 
              University of Edinburgh Library
Time: Over time
Temperature: From 18° C - 36° C
Song of the day:  Off to see the Wizard by Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man 
                              and the Scarecrow

While I understand the need to register users in non-lending libraries, the process of becoming a reader in British libraries has felt a bit like having an audience in front of Oz, the Great and Power ... a bit intimidating as I justify my need to gain access to certain resources.

I applied at four libraries and although the process now feels more routine, I am still struck by procedural continuum, from highly open to very closed. Carleton University is on the "highly open" end of the spectrum as opposed to the University of Edinburgh, which could be described as being at the other end.

Just to provide some context, at Carleton, the process of consulting the general collections is quite simple:
  • If someone wants to take a look at a particular book, he/she can simply walk into the library (during business hours), use one of the quick reference catalogues available on the main floor and then proceed to the stacks to take the book off the shelf and browse for others.
  • To use the proprietary databases, a reader has to be on campus but can easily ask the students at the IT Help Desk for a temporary login and password to use any computer in the library to do searches and download online copies of articles. Alternatively, they can take a bound copy of a print journal off the shelf.
  • And using our Archives and Research Collections (ARC) services? All a reader has to do is email Lloyd Keane, our archives and rare book coordinator, with the information about the materials he/she would like to use, and Lloyd will set an appointment and have items ready when the reader arrives--no address required. As Lloyd said to me in a recent email, "We try to eliminate the barriers."
  • Of course, there are restrictions on what can be borrowed from the library and access to video games (which are really expensive to replace and very tempting to some patrons) is particularly restricted. However, in general our are pretty inclusive, at least for folks who live in Ottawa as well as visiting scholars.
I am a reader at four UK libraries now-- the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Maritime Museum and the University of Edinburgh--and, to varying degrees, the process for setting up reader privileges seems more involved at these institutions.
I'm not sure how well I could be identified using the Lambeth Palace Library photo ...
 what if I change my glasses? Pretty grim ... and 
for the Edinburgh University Libraries card, I had to supply my own photo.
The basic process seems to involve several key steps:
  • Apply for a reader's pass or ticket, either online (a pre-registration) or in person. Sometimes, like at the Lambeth Palace Library or the British Library, materials have to ordered in advance--it seems that this is in part a way of demonstrating the validity of one's access to a collection--and sometimes not, like at the National Library of Scotland.
         (Identification is crucial: at least two pieces of photo id must be presented and 
         one of these has to include a current address. My friend Pamela Walker suggested I
         also take along a hydro bill and a letter of reference when applying at the British
         Library (BL). I must admit that the officer processing my application at the BL was the
         most thorough in terms of asking about my research topic.)
  • Get the photo id card. Except for the University of Edinburgh, all the institutions took my photo for the card. However, in Edinburgh I had to produce my own photo (so found a Timpson's in Waverley Station that does passport photos ... now I have 5 extra snaps of myself).
  • Request materials for viewing. Again, I didn't always have to request the material ahead of time. At the National Maritime Museum, Penny Allen (the librarian who helped me and is a fellow Canadian!) was happy to take over 30 minutes to explain the system to me and help me identify some documents to view.
  • In all cases, although I didn't have to request materials ahead of time, there was a delay in receiving the materials I wanted to see. In fact, in most cases if a request is made after mid-afternoon, a reader has to come back the next day to view the materials, especially those stored off site.
  • Viewing materials means using the reader ticket as an electronic pass card. At all the libraries except Lambeth, there are electronic gates and the card is needed to get and out of the library. I was also surprised to discover that at both the University of Edinburgh and King's College, the same access system is in place, which is very different from Carleton where anyone can walk in during "office hours."
While I understand why these processes are in place for non-lending (reference) libraries which hold valuable collections of rare materials, the procedures still encourage some reflection on the recurring theme of access, which is clearly contextual in nature. 

I am surprised that university libraries have a different approach to use than Carleton as I expected to have more freedom to move in and out of the various buildings and to be able to use the computers and wifi system. I realize that I have been assuming that universities are publicly funded and therefore, well, open to the public. But this could definitely be an erroneous assumption.

Today I had the opportunity to ask a reference librarian at the Maughn Library why that library limits who can freely enter and she said, "History--it always is in this country."

This library is on the main campus of Edinburgh University and a bit hard to find but overlooks a lovely park while the Maughn Library (right) faces a quiet garden. Library as contemplative space?

Research stage two: Tracking HBC families through Scottish newspapers

Dateline: Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17, 2015
Places: Orkney Library and Archives, National Library of Scotland and the Edinburgh
                  Public Library
Time: Over time
Temperature: 18° C (both days) 
Song of the day:  Anything from Brigadoon by Lerner and Lowe 

"Dear Martha,

One important source, though time-consuming to research, is local newspaper accounts, which contain occasional news items about Native people in Orkney. You might find it useful to look at newspapers published shortly after the HBC ships returned to Orkney each year, to see if they have comments about people returning (and their families, if any) ...  Orkney newspapers are undoubtedly available on microfilm .. [and be] useful.


Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the
Canadian Northwest and Borderlands

(AU Athabasca University Press)
Associate Professor Patricia A. MacCormack is with the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. 

One of her areas of research interest is Aboriginal peoples in Scotland. She's written a chapter entitled "Lost Women: Native Wives in Orkney and Lewis," in the volume she co-edited with Sarah Carter entitled Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands. 

We've had an email conversation about my original research problem and I decided to take her advice and see if I could identify and examine local Orkney newspapers. In particular, I wanted to see what was available in digital format in addition to what I could access in either microfilm or print.

Step One: Orkney Library and Archives
My first step was to email Lucy Gibbon, the Assistant Archivist in Kirkwall to find out what was available at the Orkney Library and Archives, even though I decided not to travel to the Orkneys. Lucy confirmed that:

1. The two local newspapers that were printed during the 19th and early 20th century were The Orcadian (1854 - present) and The Orkney Herald (1860 - 1960). 

2. The Orkney Library and Archives holds both on microfilm but only has one index, for the Orkney Herald from 1919-1932, so readers have to consult them "page by page." 

Lucy is kindly going to look at copies of The Orcadian published around 1911 to see if there is any mention of Native families. She will send me scanned copies of any material that she might find.

Step Two: British Newspaper Archive
My second step was to consult the British Newspaper Archive. This archive is the product of a partnership between the British Library and findmypast and since 2011, millions of British newspapers (many local) have been digitized. We don't have access to this database at Carleton. My colleagues Scott Turner (Newspapers) and Margaret McLeod (History), looked into purchasing it but the price tag is too high for us (C$45,000 annually). 

I knew I could consult this electronic archive at the British Library, but chose to access it at the National Library of Scotland, in part so that I could also consult print copies of the newspaper, given that the library is the main repository for Scottish newspapers. 

The reading room at the National Library of Scotland is a lovely space. 

It is designed in the tradition of big long desks, solid mahogany shelving and comfortable leather chairs. 

To enter, you pass through these doors to the security area and then on to the reading room itself, which has two floors.

I used computers on the second level to access the digital archive. When I was looking at paper copies of The Orcadian, I worked at a desk on the first level.

The general section includes family histories.
I discovered that the digital archive only has copies of the Orkney Herald for a limited period of time (1860 - 1871) and, similarly, that print copies are available for a limited run:
  • 1892
  • 1895
  • 1897
  • 1900
  • 1916
  • 1934
  • 1937
  • 1938
  • 1950

I did a search of the digital archive, using terms such as "Hudson's Bay Company," "Rupert's Land," and "fur trad*." I found advertisements for labourers to work with the I did a search of the digital archive, using terms such as "Hudson's Bay Company," "Rupert's Land," and "fur trad*". I HBC but nothing more specific that was related to my topic.

I also ordered those papers from 1900 - 1950 but unfortunately the copy from 1900 was in too poor shape to be consulted. I did look at the others and although there were articles related to the Hudson's Bay Company and individuals who were either in Canada or had returned from Canada, there was no specific mention of Native families.

Unfortunately the copy of The Orcadian from 1900 was too fragile
to view but I did look at this copy from 1916
as well as several from the 1930s and early 1950s.
The best source of newspapers is the Orkney Library and Archives, so any scholar interested in pursuing my topic and newspaper archives will have to make the trek to the Orkney Islands.

Using newspapers is a challenge, in part because unless an article specifically identifies an individual as being Aboriginal, identifying HBC fur trading families will be difficult because presumably the surnames are Orcadian (e.g, Flett). I did do follow-up research at the Edinburgh Central Library, which has a local history section, and found a book entitled Orkney Surnames, by Gregor Lamb (1981), which could be a useful secondary source. I also discovered that the Central Library holds the parish records for the Orkneys until 1855, when the official census began. 

These records are located in the family history section of the Central Library, located on the lower level of the library.
There are 30 boxes of parish records available in microfilm at the Central  Library. The records date up to the mid 1800s. 
Again, however, without knowing the surname of a particular family, these records have limited value.

Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderland
     (n.d.). AU Athabasca University Press. Retrieved August 14, 2015 from

Monday, 10 August 2015

The right to stitch: Visiting the Magna Carta

Dateline: Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Place: British Library, Magna Carter Exhibit 
Time: 10 - 11:30 a.m.
Temperature: 21° C
Song of the day: Oo-de-Lally by Roger Miller

The Magna Carter (or "Great Charter") is having her 800th birthday this year and the British Library is celebrating with a special exhibition that runs until September 1, 2105. 

Although it's an "optional" visit for our class, who wouldn't want to go back to the library and pay homage to the document that brought to the citizens of many nations the right to a trial by jury ... theoretically a fair trail. And vanquished (sort of) bad King John?

The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 at Runnymede and according to the description of the exhibit on the British Library (BL) website, the exhibit includes:
  • Two of the four original 1215 Magna Carta documents (two other copies are on tour in Canada this summer);
  • Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence;
  • one of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights, both on display in the UK for the first time;
  • and other manuscripts, paintings, statues and royal relics.
(Google Maps)

The BL exhibit is detailed and interesting because it traces the history of events leading to the initial demands for reform through to the influence of the ideas contained in the document on other nations (e.g., the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

What I found really captivating, however, was the display of Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery). As the BL web page on the embroidery explains, this project reproduces in stitch the entire Wikipedia article on the Great Charter as it appeared on the document’s 799th anniversary in 2014. Many hands worked on the stitchery from all across Britain, "from prisoners to lawyers."

I teach students to avoid depending upon Wikipedia as a reliable research source ... but now I will have to qualify this advice as clearly it can be a source of tremendous creativity and understanding of rights at a fundamental level.

The right to stitch ...

Google Maps. (2015). [Runnymede and Heathrow Airport]. Retrieved from,-0.566031,13z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x487670a3d510c4c7:0x3bc6c9ff2d410d7a

Handle with care: rare books and information literacy

Dateline: Monday, July 6, 2015
Places:  St. Paul’s Cathedral Library and the National Art Library 
Times:  10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 - 3:00 p.m.
Temperature: 23° C
Song of day: Dear hearts and gentle people by Bing Crosby

Visiting a rare book or special collections library, at institutions such as St. Paul's Cathedral and the National Art Library, is like walking into a treasure trove of primary sources filled with beautiful old books and manuscripts. These visits remind me that such materials are important resources for researchers but helping students gain "primary source literacy" is a challenge for those of us doing information literacy instruction, especially if we only have "one shot" to teach a range of literacies (Daines & Nimer, p. 1). Should we try to include such sources and, if so, what and how to teach?

On the steps of St. Paul's ... like the little old bird woman.

"How to readers take books out of the library?" This seems like an innocuous question but after an hour with Joseph Wisdom, I have a feeling that a teachable moment is upon us. Joseph Wisdom is the librarian for St. Paul's Cathedral and responsible for a collection of ecclesiastical tracts, pamphlets, manuscripts and books that date back to the early 1700s and are consulted by scholars from around the world. During our one-hour tour, I realize that he is trying to share not just information about the history of the library but also something of his philosophy of librarianship ("we should do what we do with love").
During our tour, Mr. Wisdom took us to see Christopher Wren's model of the cathedral the architect envisioned In the 17th century. The current cathedral was built after the great fire of London gutted the old one in 1666.
Prof. Teresa Welsh and Mr. Wisdom in the cathedral library. The light in the library is misty and musty, as is the smell of decaying leather which permeates the room. Old books!
Instead of simply answering my shelf question by describing the borrowing policies, Mr. Wisdom takes the opportunity to demonstrate how to handle rare books. Even though we are at the end of the session, he is still willing to take the extra few minutes to teach us this skill, which is critical to primary source literacy.

"Press in on the volumes on either side of the book you want, grasp your book gently, support it underneath and at 110 degrees from [the shelf] and pull it out. Read it flat so that there is no damage]."

Although the rest of the information about the library and the collection is interesting, it is this moment I will remember--for the skill itself and because Mr. Wisdom took the time to teach, even though he only had "one shot" and thus not a lot of time to do so.
The library holds books and other artefacts, like this "globe" win which there is a miniature of Wellington's funeral carriage.
The lighting in the library is not meant for iPads but Mr. Wisdom was happy to pose in a photo with our group.
Likewise, the librarians at the National Art Gallery take the time to give us some of the history of the library and its collections but also something about handling and using such sources. In showing us the treasured books, photographs and ecclesiastical texts that she has carefully chosen for our visit, Sally Wilson also spends time pointing out the features of the tools (such as book snakes, cushions and special boxes) that are necessary to ensure that these primary sources are handled properly.
The reading room at the National Art Library (left) is the stuff of readers' dreams--elegant, quiet and well lit. Just the place for librarian Sally Wilson to display rare books and demonstrate how they are cared for. 
All of these "logistics" are critical to using such sources for research and important for beginners like me to understand if we are to develop a literacy related to such materials. As Daines and Nimer (2015) point out, traditionally the use of such sources has been seen as the limited territory of areas of historical research--art history, political history, social history--and information literacy skills for using such primary sources has been limited to specialized fields. For example, a recent case study at McGill University was a collaboration between a rare books librarian and an art history professor (Garland, 2014).

However, Daine and Nimer (2015) seem suggest that students in other areas could benefit from being introduced to the use of such sources and I am rethinking their use for my subjects. Certainly students in Indigenous Studies, grappling with current issues such as that of the residential schools, might benefit from some preliminary instruction--not just in how to access and handle rare books but also perhaps some of the information seeking behaviour of historians, as described by Duff and Johnson (2002), might be transferable to other disciplines. Even highlighting one source (or using my experiences from this summer) might be worth developing into a session for students.

This would be a challenge--given the tendency of some professors to only allot one-hour "one shots" for information literacy instruction. But it's worth a shot.

Danier, G. D.  and Nimes, C. L. (2015). In search of primary source literacy: Opportunities
      and challenges. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage
      16(1), 19-34.

Duff, W. M., & Johnson, C. A. (2002). Accidentally found on purpose: Information-seeking
      behavior of historians in archives. Library Quarterly, 72(4), 472.

Garland, J. (2014). Locating Traces of Hidden Visual Culture in Rare Books and Special 
      Collections: A Case Study in Visual Literacy. Art Documentation: Bulletin Of The Art
      Libraries Society Of North America, 33(2), 313-326. 

Bonus video!