Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Barbican Library

We visited the Barbican Library which near the St. Paul's Cathedral and is actually considered to be in the city of London. It was a very interesting example of urban renewal in that the area was apparently more run down before World War II. The area was bombed and then rebuilt in a very interesting and innovative way. The Barbican is a complex that includes an art gallery, apartments, restaurants and pubs, gardens and pools of water which make for pleasant strolling, movie theaters, and the library. I really liked this approach, in that the library is integrated into the residential space in a very communal sort of way.

The library had very strong music and children's sections. Many people seemed to be enjoying the space, and it had a very comfortable neighborhood vibe. In some ways it seemed similar to American public libraries, and the organization and layout seemed very intuitive. The library also included a very interesting art exhibit. Overall, the library seemed very successful at furthering its goals of educating and entertaining its patrons.

Monday, 13 July 2009

St. Paul's Cathedral

Today we visited the St. Paul's Cathedral and library. The cathedral was a real architectural gem. The library preserves many volumes relating to the history of the cathedral, the church, individuals related to the church, people buried under the foundation, theology, history, and other subjects related to the mission of the church. The library is staffed by one professional librarian with the help of church volunteers. It has books in such languages at French, Russian, and one book in Icelandic. It has approximately 20,000 volumes in total. Actually it seemed a large task for a single person. It seems like it could be good for the scholarly community to have many of these volumes digitized, but in the real world issues such as time, staffing, and funding come into play. Instead, the librarian seems to respond to information requests on a per case basis as they come in. It seemed with more money he could do more conservation, cataloging, and digitization projects. It seemed like a very difficult job which included the need for knowledge about history, theology, architecture, and most likely the understanding of multiple languages. The librarian is not attempting to reinvent the wheel, however. He uses cataloging records that have previously been done by other librarians and tweaks them a little for his uses. He does not manually enter the text of the documents he has scanned. Instead, he uses optical recognition software.

Overall it was a very interesting tour. It reminded me of places I have worked where projects could be done, but without the funding to do them they do not get completed. It was still a beautiful library, however, and it seemed he was keeping up very effectively with supporting researchers and the church community.

First weekend in London

Welcome to my blog! Here I will record my experience in my British Studies summer program which focuses on British libraries and information centers, and my general observations about my summer abroad.

This weekend I was very jetlagged and tired. It was also a little disorientating being in a new country, and instead of it being time to go to sleep it was time to eat breakfast. The first couple nights I would wake up at 2 am wide awake, and be hungry in the middle of the night but not during the day. I am mostly adjusted now.

I went for a walk on the first day we were here at 5 in the morning because I could not sleep. I walked over the Hungerford Foot bridge, down the Victoria Embankment, around Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Apparently the government has been here longer than these buildings. They were built in the 1850s to replace similar buildings on the same site, and give the impression of being older than they are. Then I walked across the Lambeth bridge and walked past the Florence Nightengale Museum, the History of Gardening Museum (a national obsession), and County Hall. County Hall used to be a government building but is now an art space. It includes an exhibit called Dali Universe and also the aquarium. I walked past the London Eye which takes visitors to the top of a ferris wheel to give them a great view of the city. I will be doing that on Wednesday night. At 7 am there was still people drinking in the streets, and being from NY where bars close at 2am and it is illegal to drink in the streets, I was very shocked. This wasn't a couple of people either, this was multiple large groups. Maybe people in NY just work all the time, and culturally and legally this just isn't something we'd do. It made me think that this idea of them being so much more "proper" than Americans may not be totally true. (Inspiration for Da Ali G Show had to come from somewhere.) I will say that the men might be better dressed than American men. I guess that is hard to say because New York men seem better dressed than Michigan men (suits instead of hoodies and jeans falling off), but they actually seem to make an effort and they look nice.

Then we learned about our schedule and I decided to go to Ireland on the mini-break we will have at the end of July. Then we went to orientation and I went on a walking tour of classic pubs in London. It was super interesting, and the cultural and historical significance of pubs in this country cannot be understated. It was also good to get more of a feel of how things are laid out here geographically, and I feel I am getting a handle on the stereotypes of neighborhoods (which is good in orientating yourself even if stereotypes may not hold up). Then I was so tired because I got up at 2am that I went to sleep at 5:30 in the evening and woke up at 2am again. I was very mad at myself for this. I got up had breakfast, called my boyfriend (who was having dinner in NY), took a shower then forced myself to go back to sleep. I slept until noon and woke up feeling normal.

I walked down to Potter's Field Park. Many London landmarks are in this area, such as the Tower of London (where the crown jewels are guarded by "Beefeaters"), Tower Bridge (which apparently has an exhibit on the history of the bridge inside), city hall (a controversial modern building), and St. Paul's cathedral. I laid in the sun and read my book about Albany for about three hours. There were kids playing speaking in Hindi, German tourists laughing hysterically, and English people with accents so thick I had no idea what they were saying. There were also people playing Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" from like the 1990s really loudly on their radio, and that was unexpected. It seems just as diverse and tolerant as New York and I enjoy that vibe a lot. I walked back and found a very pretty garden down the street from where I live, and that will be nice to go sit in and read.

Another thing is the food. People warned me it was terrible, but actually I think its really good (expensive sure, but fine). I love Indian food, and even Starbucks has curry flavored things here. They have prawn cocktail flavored potato chips! And naan you can put in the toaster! I will say that I ordered a chicken pie and it was ok, but expensive, and pretty bland. My mom with everything fat free makes more flavorful chicken, haha. It was alright though. They gave me some kind of weird green veggies and pureed sweet potato, which I didn't eat they were so flavorless, but I was kind of full anyway. It seems nothing is wrong with the food in London if you don't order English food.

Anyways, today we are going on a tour of the St. Paul's cathedral library and it has the stone stiarcase from Harry Potter which I am psyched about seeing (not to mention the cathedral which is apprently 3 domes - the outside one, a brick one that weighs 64,000 tons, and an inside one, and is supposed to be very beautiful). The librarians are giving us a tour.

We are also planning to go to the Fashion and Textile Museum. Apparently their shop is supposed to be great with all kinds of accessories by up and coming designers. People are going to be like "That's great! Where did you get it?", and I'll say "oh.. just over the pond.."