My London Journal

My London Journal
View from Westminster Abbey

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Lasting Impressions

I've been home for two weeks and it is still hard to believe I spent a whole month in London, England! I went back to work at my school the morning after I got back, so my jetlag lasted almost a whole week. I kept waking up at 2 a.m. ready for the day!

I'm still boring people with stories of what I saw and learned. Mostly, they've been good-naturedly jealous. When classes visit the library, I've been sharing some of the things I've brought back, especially the new Harry Potter book and the story of being at Waterstones at Charing Cross the night it came out.

Besides all the wonderful things we saw and experienced, my greatest memories will be of the people that shared this adventure with me. Though all librarians, we each brought something unique to this trip, whether it was a passion for a certain author (or a scientist named Linnaeus!), a love of British history, a search for family roots, a tribute to someone precious to us, a spirit of adventure---we all had a dream, just as we were told by our instructors, that brought us to London. Mine was wrapped in images from books and movies and inspired by the knowledge of a British heritage. London did not disappoint.

It was also wonderful to finally get to meet some of my teachers after three years in the USM program. I feel much more connected to Hattiesburg now that I have met some of students and professors from there.

I took this trip because, with the wisdom gained with age, I was determined to not pass up a great opportunity. I did not want it to be one of my life-long regrets. I learned not only to trust that instinct, but to be ready for the next great opportunity and to turn a deaf ear to all the "but what if's" that will rear their ugly heads when I decide to follow another dream. So, I guess I will end this journal with---Where to next??


Aug. 4: Our last full day in London

I started my last day in London by meeting my nephew who lives in the Earl's Court area. After showing me his beautiful flat, we had a delicious lunch and walked around the Earl's Court area. We then went to Kensington Palace and walked through the gardens.

In the afternoon: washed and packed (trying to put off shoving everything in my suitcases!)

Later that afternoon, I went to the IMAX version of the new Harry Potter movie, which was wonderful--so fun! I enjoyed ordering popcorn there--I was offered a choice of salty or sweet!(Ms. Wright, I hope you got the chance to see the movie at another showing because it was worth the price of the ticket!)

In the evening, I met my wonderful London friends for dinner at the Mad Hatter restaurant, where we dubbed our group--you guessed it---the Mad Hatters! It was bittersweet, since we knew we were going our separate ways, but are hoping to meet up again ---possibly at the Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg?? These women are amazing and have added immeasurably to my experience here in London. We were all ready to spend a lot of time alone when we came on this trip, thinking we would be the only "oldie" in the group, so what a blessing to share a whole flat with other "mature ladies." We also really appreciated what Mr. Mike, Old as Dirt, brought to our group and were very sorry we didn't get a chance to say goodbye to him.

All the people in our class have given me so much in sharing their library experience and their love of literature. I keep thinking of how lucky the library profession is to have such gifted people serving the public (and gifted instructors---Dr. Welsh and Ms. Wright--- serving us!). I was also inspired by the people I met---they have so much more knowledge of certain authors and some of our students are much better read than I am. I have a lot of catching up to do when I get home!

Aug.1: Greenwich trip

National Maritime Museum

Our class took a nice boat ride on the Thames to get to Greenwich. We got there early so the "mature" group headed out for some breakfast.---Had an excellent one in a French cafe in Greenwich and it was so nice to have a meal with these folks since we knew our time was getting short in England. Then it was back to the museum for our tour of the Caird Library of Maritime History.

Our guides were lovely and very hospitable. We were told that the collection holds 35,000 books about maritime history, with 8000 being rare books dating from 1322. They use the UDC (Universal Dewey Classification System).

They then took us to a conference room where they had laid out some remarkable items for us to see (and even handle!). They had ledgers kept by pirates, letters written by Admiral Lord Nelson to his mistress and his wife, a 1796 account by Fletcher about the events on the Bounty, and a large collection of Titanic artifacts.

After visiting the Caird Library, we were then free to visit the Royal Observatory perched high on a hill above Greenwich. We hiked (with a few rests) up the hill and found the site of the Prime Meridian. We had our pictures taken with our feet in two hemispheres.

We watched the ball drop at 1:00, which was not all that exciting. We were expecting more of a "bang." Kathy W. and I then went through the museum and climbed up to the top of the observatory. I found out that Halley's tomb is at the observatory, too. We stopped long enough to really experience the incredible view of London from the top of the hill before walking back down. We headed for the Painted Hall and enjoyed sitting there for several minutes just taking in the gorgeous art work.

July 31: Victoria and Albert Museum Library

It was back to the dorm early in the morning where I had time to do a little laundry (after a long wait for a machine since several other people had the same idea) before our afternoon class outing.

The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The class enjoyed a tour of the library within the V & A museum. Most fun was seeing the examples of paper engineering (pop-up books) that the librarians had to show us. They were so creative and fun. They were hand-made books that had been created as art and were not mass-produced.

The librarian/guides also listed some of the special collections housed in this library. One example is the collection of Dickens' manuscripts, which includes all but one manuscript. The library also collects what some would find as odd, such as James Bond paperbacks, though the purpose of this collection is to show how cover illustrations in trade literature change over the years.

The library has a staff of about 50. It has its own publication company. They house international copies, while the British Library only collects British publications. The library tries to hold 3 copies of everything. Many of their collections were once privately owned and then willed or donated to the library. They do not use a classification system, but always store materials by size.

We finished our visit by having a snack at the cafe. We ended our visit after someone spotted a mouse in the cafe!

July 23: National Library & National Archives of Scotland

National Library of Scotland

The National Library houses the John Murray archive. John Murray established the John Murray Publishing House in 1768 and it continued for several generations. The archive includes correspondence with authors such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin and David Livingstone. The Library also has a wonderful, interactive exhibit that takes the visitor back in time, but also includes touch-screen technology. It is a fascinating look into the literary world.

National Archives of Scotland

We were blown away by the items that we were shown at this facility. First, we were given some basic information: The purpose of the archive is house the records of Scotland. It was established in 1174 and the building stone was laid in the 1780's. It is famous for the Adam Dome, named after its architect. The archive is open to the public. The collection dates from the 12th century to the present. New developments include an online catalog, and electronic ordering system, access to Scottish wills, "virtual volumes," digitization of Church of Scotland records, and an image projector (digital) for commercial purposes.

Most memorable items we were allowed to see:

  • the first recorded record of whiskey (1490's)
  • a letter Marie Antoinette wrote to her family

Wow! Besides wonderful hospitality, we saw amazing things: Marie Antoinette's letter home, first recorded reference to whiskey in 1494.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

July 25: Writer's Museum and the Elephant House

We took a class trip to the Writer's Museum at Lady Stair's. It was a small museum dedicated to the leading Scottish literary figures Robert Lewis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Particularly impressive is a collection of photos of Robert Lewis Stevenson. The building itself was worth seeing and kept grabbing my attention throughout the tour.It was once a private residence with parts of the building going back to 1622.

The courtyard outside the museum contains stones with inscriptions commemorating great Scottish writers.

After our tour we headed over to Elephant House, the fabled birthplace of Harry Potter. J.K Rowling is said to have spent her days there writing the first Harry Potter book. A great coffeehouse with beautiful views of Edinburgh.

Friday, 10 August 2007

July 26-30 Mini-break: Mary and Tom tour London

My husband, Tom, flew over to spend my mini-break with me and we took in all the traditional London sites.

Thursday: pretty much shot due to that insane bus ride, though we did eat at an outdoor cafe that night, where we embarrassed our waiter by noticing his American accent. It turned out he was from Bozeman, MT, where our son lives!

Friday: Westminster Abbey(that's Tom in front of the Abbey), #10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

Saturday: We toured the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels.

Sunday: I finally made it to the British Museum!

Monday: We went to British Library (Tom really enjoyed their exhibits) and to Billy Elliot that night.

July 24: (Research Day) Edinburgh Castle and shopping, shopping, shopping!

Kathy and I headed out to see Edinburgh Castle. We were distracted by many shops along the way, but finally made it up the hill.

The Castle provided spectacular views of the city and beyond. It was clear why it was built in such a strategic location. The castle was the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the birthplace of King James VI. It houses the Honours of Scotland (the nation's crown jewels). It has a long a varied history. I particulary liked touring the part of the castle used to keep captured sailors, including American sailors. The castle houses three military museums. It is also used today for special state dinners.

July 22: Leave for Edinburgh, Scotland

We were all very ready for our next adventure---Scotland! We were thrilled to find that we would be riding in a first class bus---cushy comfort with movies! Our tour guide pointed out several landscapes as we rode through the gorgeous English countryside. We clamoured out of the bus at the sign announcing our entrance into Scotland and several of us took advantage of the photo op.

The view that opened up soon after was one of those wonderful surprises. To our right, we were suddenly next to the sea!

When we got to Edinburgh, we were given our room assignments and were delighted to find very nice dorm rooms. They were large, clean and very convenient. We had to share bathrooms, but there were two available on each wing, so it wasn't a problem. Unfortunately, the rooms were not very sound-proof, so every time someone came through the doors to the floor, the boom echoed through to our rooms. Most of the noise, however, was due to some young American kids who thought their main function on their trip was to party. They were very annoying ---- and embarrassing because they were American.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The London Theater

Plays and/or musicals taken in while in London: (not enough!)

1. Macbeth at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon. A very unique performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Seeing Shakespeare at Stratford---can it get any better than that?

2. The Mousetrap: Agatha Christie, longest running play in the world. Very good and very British!

3. Billy Elliot: wonderful musical with very, very talented young actors, singers, dancers.

4. The Drowsy Chaperone: A wonderful surprise, not at all what I expected. Very well done and entertaining (hilarious!).

5. Mamma Mia! Really, really fun---especially for those of us who lived the 70's. The songs are still running through my head!

Musical I tried to see but couldn't find: Wicked. Kathy W. and I walked all over Leicester Square and just couldn't find it! We found out later that was because it was near Victoria Station. We did have an adventure when taking the bus, though, trying to get back to the dorm.--We got on the one going in the wrong direction, so took the long way home----but got to see more of London!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Aug. 5:I can't believe it is time to go home again!!!

We had to catch the bus to airport at 6 a.m., so that meant getting up before 5:00. I didn't actually sleep much anyway and prepared for a very long day.

Edie was the only one from our group that was taking the same flight. We got to the the airport in plenty of time and I was relieved to find that they allowed my bags through. I was certain I was over the weight limit! We had a good hour before boarding our plane, which left time for breakfast with Edie. Needless to say, we were both too sleepy for much conversation!

The flight back was a lonnnggg flight! I hoped I would sleep, but didn't. There were long lines at Houston International through customs and at Hobby to catch my Southwest flight.

I am home at last after almost 24 hours of being up. It's good to be home---but it's hot here. I wish I could have brought back the English climate!

Back to work tomorrow (groan). The party's over....

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Aug. 3: Guildhall Library

We met for breakfast to celebrate Mandy's birthday (same exact age as my son, Tim!) and Kathy's new job! Yummy breakfast treats thanks to Dr. Welsh and Ms. Wright!

We then travelled to the Guildhall Library, known for its collection on London history. According to our guide (and/or the library's brochure), the Guildhall Library is one of the two specialist reference libraries in the City of London Libraries system, but has no membership requirements. Because of it's vast collection of records, it is often used by genealogists. It also offers a print service that takes orders for specific printed materials. The library is also the location of the Clockmakers' Museum. Once again, we ended our tour at the gift shop!

In the evening, Kathy W. and I took in Mamma Mia!

Aug. 2: Barbican Library

Barbican Center and Library

The Barbican Center was planned in the 1960's and built in the 1970's. It was intended to be a complete cultural center. The library averages 1200 visitors a day and issues approximately 500,000 materials a year. We toured the Information Desk, the Art Library, the Music Library and the Children's Library. We were also shown great hospitality and were given tea and snacks during a break.

From our tour:
The Art Library houses exhibits all year round and there is a long waiting list for showings.

The Music Library has its own song index and the largest CD collection in one area (17,000 CD's). It also provides an electronic piano for patrons to play the musical scores filed in the library, but our guide told us that it is most often used for piano practice.

The Children's Library provides library service to nearby schools who have no libraries. They send out suitcases of books for classroom use. They also offer the Book Start program, funded by Book Trust and sponsored by Sainsburys, which provides books for parents to share with babies.

I stayed and used their children's library to read the books available by Michael Rosen, the author about whom I will be writing my short paper. I also visited with the very knowledgeable and outgoing library assistant who had given us our tour. I asked her specifically about the popularity of Michael Rosen's books (it varied) and about the award winning books. She explained the award committee's method of choosing a shortlist from the all the books being considered. The public can then "shadow" the titles, which means to write in their preferences and opinions. This year's Carnegie winner, Just in Case by Meg Rosoff, was a controversial choice. I plan to read it on the way home to see if I agree with this librarian's opinion that it isn't geared toward kids.

July 25: Research trip to Edinburgh Public Library and National Gallery of Art

After lunch, Nancy L and I visited the nearby Edinburgh Public Library, starting with the Children's Library building. Though we interrupted the librarians who were working on finishing something for a deadline, they were so gracious. The clerks talked with us about library services and gave us a packet of the summer reading promotions.

Public Library--while Nancy looked over the collection, I sat by a cart of children's books near the front door and read through several. There were several written in two languages, not the English/Spanish books I am used to, but several different languages, revealing the diversity of the Edinburgh population and the library's attempt to meet its needs.

Nancy and I then decided to go to the National Galleries. This was a wonderful art gallery, which I especially enjoyed because its collection was not so huge that it created "art overload." We were thrilled to see paintings by Raphael, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Botticelli. We knew we had enough when we got the giggles over what was a shocking portrait to our Puritanical American tastes. But being the patrons of the arts that we are, we supported the gallery by having lunch at their rather expensive and very busy cafe and purchasing several things from the gift shop.

We had just enough energy left to walk back to the dorm.

Monday, 30 July 2007

July 20: Research Day at the British Library

After doing my laundry and checking my email, I met up with Kathy W. and we set off for the
British Library. We were both planning to get reader's cards and do research on our authors.

The process for getting our card including providing identification and proof of residence, then waiting your turn for an "interview" with librarians about what you research plan would be at the library. The lovely young lady who called me over for my interview, however, had such a thick British accent that I barely understood a word she said! It was like something out of a comedy sketch, with me nodding dumbly to everything she said. Anyway, I was able to piece together the reading room I would need to use for my research about my author (Michael Rosen) and the procedure to follow when I got there. I wonder if she had a hard time understanding my South Dakota accent?

When Kathy and I were finished there, Kathy and I used their online system to order the books we wanted to see (I was very disappointed to find that most of Rosen's books were housed elsewhere and would have to be order days in advance for viewing.) Since it would take at least 70 minutes to get our materials, we decided to have lunch (they have a great cafe there) and to stop at the gift shop for pencils since pens are not allowed in the reading rooms. We saw that London was having a real downpour again today, so we also purchased umbrellas since we both left ours back at the dorm (when will I learn how changeable the weather is here???)

Before going into the Reading Rooms, patrons are required to put their belongings in a locker. The only things allowed to be carried into the reading rooms are notebooks and pencils, which are carried in plastic bags and are checked by security when you enter the reading room.

Once there, you choose a location to sit and pick up your ordered materials. It is necessary to choose your table beforehand, because you have to give your location to the circulation desk attendants when you pick up your items. I was amazed at how noisy the reading room was, though almost all of the noise came from the library workers at the circ. desk. It was more than a little annoying.

We stayed to read about our subjects for about an hour, but then it was getting close to their closing time. We turned our materials in, went back to the locker room for our things and started out the door, ready with our new British Library umbrellas! Of course, by then the rain had stopped and we didn't need the umbrellas at all.

Since I didn't find many of Rosen's books, I will plan on visiting other public libraries, and possibly book stores, to read his books in preparation for my paper.