Central Library/New College Library-Edinburgh, Scotland

Interesting Facts:

  • First public library in Edinburgh
  • Opened in 1890
  • Funded by Andrew Carnegie
  • One of the largest collections of works on Scotland and Edinburgh

Our tour started in the reference library which featured a pretty magical secret stairwell, hidden behind a secret door! This stairwell allows the librarians to access books on the first level. We were also shown a small door located a bit off to the side. This, apparently, was where the men would enter. The women would come through the larger main entrance in order to have immediate access to the fireplace just ahead. I found this to be rather progressive!

Space is, of course, an issue. What I appreciated was that rather than thinking of a solution that will last forever, there was a very set time limit on how long the storage holds they build will. This would seem almost as a cop out, “leave the issue to future generations,” but it is actually quite clever! By setting a time limit, you are allowing for future technologies to advance in a way that might be beneficial, and also accepting that as time goes on we could revolutionize the entire system of book storage.

The children’s room was full of bright colors, creative seating, and children! We came just as story time was beginning and if the mass of buggies parked just outside of the room is any indication, this library is doing something incredibly well with their children’s department. The atmosphere is immediately very welcoming, and despite the space issue it is clearly well maintained!

The music library, and even more so the Scottish heritage library were central points of pride. While given the opportunity to browse, we also had time to hear very candidly about the struggles of working in a public space. This I appreciated most of all.


New College Library

Interesting Facts:

  • Repurposed from what was previously the Free High Church
  • One of the largest theological libraries in the UK

Our final library on this trip! How bittersweet, but what a lovely end! This gorgeous library was a treat to explore. We were given an initial history of the building–most of which you can read in the link below–and then also treated to a bit of information about working in an academic library. This particular library is very quiet and so the students that frequent it tend to be very hard workers something we’d heard echoed in Durham. Thanks to a very generous donation from Dr. Robert Funk, there is a small exhibition space in the main reading room of the library. This space currently featured a very interesting collection of books including a small collection of religious texts that dealt with Shakespeare. The real treat came when we were separated into groups and taken downstairs to view the treasures in the stores! The pictures above do not do justice to the beauty down there. The smell of old books permeated through us, and I was happy to hear that despite their age, these books are still accessible to students.

For more information on the Central Library of Edinburgh, visit their website here.
For more information on New College Library, visit their website here.



Durham Libraries-Durham, England

Interesting Facts:

  • Durham University founded in 1832 making it the 3rd oldest in England
  • Has 16 colleges: 14 in Durham, 2 in Stockton
  • Henry VIII wanted to start a college sooner, but he was a bit distracted.

While in Durham we visited three of the University’s libraries: The Bill Bryson Library, The Palace Green Library, and the Durham Cathedral Library.

Led to each of them by incredibly kind and knowledgeable librarian, Jon Purcell, we were treated to a whirlwind tour of Durham in the midst of graduation! I cannot wait to return one day and take a bit of time with each, but in the meantime this is what I learned!

The Bill Bryson Library:

  • Previously the Science Library, now holds the modern collections and serves as the main library centre
  • Has two large computer labs as well as laptops for in-library use
  • Center of library is a social hub, but the rest of the library is strangely quiet–Jon attributes this to the students high work standards
  • Continually researching ways to improve via student input
  • Award-winning design.

Palace Green /Bishop Cosin’s Library and University Conservation Centre:

  • Predates the University
  • Originally founded by Bishop Cosin in 1669
  • Served as the main University library until 1983
  • Now holds the Law and Music collections as well as special collection
  • Team of 3 conservators–working on books as well as pottery, bones, even silver
  • Conservation space converted from old reading room
  • Bishop Cosin’s library-largely theological and was purchased in France
  • French books destroyed in the French Revolution still housed in BC library
  • There are gorgeous paintings around the tops of the shelves in BC library. These were an early form of cataloging. The paintings pair with the books shelved below

Diviners’ Library in Ushaw College

  • Diviners’ Library was absolutely gorgeous, and while we could not take any pictures inside I was allowed to take a picture of the view from within. This college library, though not actively in use, still contains a wealth of rare manuscripts that are in the process of being digitized.


For more information on the above libraries visit the Durham University libraries website.

Middle Temple Law Library

Interesting Facts:

  • Initially part of the headquarters for the Knights Templar
  • Founded in 1641
  • Majority of the collection was left as a gift by Robert Ashley.

How fitting that the morning we awake to learn that Great Britain will no longer a part of the European Union, we start the day at one of the most prominent law libraries in London–in particular one that specializes in European Union law. The tone of the entire morning was quite somber. In true English fashion, we were hard-pressed to hear anyone discuss the change, but you could feel it in the air.

Renae Satterley, seemingly aware of the general ignorance of law librarianship, did an excellent job of giving a general overview of the field–encouraging us to consider it. She explained to us that, in London, the Inns of Court are responsible for ensuring that prospective lawyers are qualified to take the Bar. There is a library for each Inn, and in addition to EU law, Middle Temple also specializes in British and American law. For this reason, it has a direct relationship with the founding of the American legal system. As seen in the top middle picture, a copy of our Declaration of Independence is on display with red stars denoting signers that were members of Middle Temple.

Our tour took us into the gorgeous reading rooms as well as to the Great Hall (bottom left photo). Here, dear readers, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed for the first time in 1602. As I walked through the room I found myself quoting Duke Orsino’s opening lines just to feel them come alive again in the room where they were first given life, “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite might sicken and so die.”

An additional relationship to Shakespeare comes with the gardens. While no one can say with absolute certainty, both Dr. Welsh and Renae Satterley (as well as a slew of Shakespearian scholars) seem quite convinced that the garden is the one mentioned in Henry VI, Part 1. The roses signifying the houses soon to be at war.

“PLANTAGENET. Since you are tongue-tied and so loath to speak, In dumb significants proclaim your thoughts:
Let him that is a true-born gentleman
And stands upon the honour of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this brier pluck a white rose with me.

 SOMERSET. Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.”

(II. iv. 25-33).

For more information on Middle Temple Law Library, please visit their website.




If I had to pick a favorite journey, this might be it. I adore roaming the streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon. The water is beautiful, the houses are charming. I feel certain that even if I did not love Shakespeare, I would still love this quaint town.

I hoped a train on my own to do a bit of research in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. My reaseach paper is on the influence of Shakespeare’s world on his works, and so this is the place I most needed to visit! The first day was spent chatting with the lovely librarian at the Birthplace Trust and getting set up with my Reader’s card. She was so excited to have someone in the Reading Rooms actively studying Shakespeare that she filled me with a wealth of information on that very first day! Unfortunately, the time spent their mixed with the long train ride meant that by the time I’d left all of the other sites were closed. I roamed anyway. Stopping to meditate in the graveyard of Holy Trinity church, reading beside the Avon river, and having a lovely dinner on the outdoor patio of The Dirty Duck–a pub I’d visited 6 years before, and had fallen in love with then! After dinner, I walked to the Shakespeare statue and roamed through the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre before retiring at my charming bed and breakfast.

In the morning, I was joined for breakfast by the other women staying in the house: one from Germany, one from Australia, and one from Canada–the latter two were cousins on vacation together. As the vote for whether or not Britain would be staying in the EU was happening that day, our conversation quickly turned to politics. We were all in agreeance that it seemed impossible that Britain would leave, but it did not bode well for the future of America that they were allowed to get so close!

The Reading Room of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust wouldn’t be open until 10 so Madeline, the librarian, recommended that I take some time to go through Shakespeare’s birthplace and to look through the new exhibit that happened to be on his local friends! I bought my ticket and slowly made my way through the house. Attempting to slip through time and truly live in those moments. How far we’ve come, and yet how similar are the matters of our hearts.

As I stepped into the gardens, I noticed that the exhibition doors were still closed. I walked over to an actor waiting to perform monologues for the guests and asked if he knew when it would be opened. 10am he said. Apparently they were opening late today because they were a bit short staffed. The look of panic must of have registered on my face because he gave me a look of genuine concern and asked if I could come back in an hour? When I explained to him my time predicament, he said he would speak with his manager. 20 minutes later a charming older gentleman was opening the exhibit for me, saying he would never leave a Shakespeare scholar out. We chatted briefly about our favorite plays and performances and then I was left alone in the room. What a feeling! Within the exhbit I found maps of Shakespeare’s neighborhoods denoting the houses of his friends, letters and deeds to property, and his original funeral bust from Holy Trinity Church. I spent as long as I was able before heading up to the Reading Room.

There was such a short time window in the day, but I think I made the most of it. I gathered as much information as I was able from the Reading Room, and then made my way to the only destination that I could not miss: Holy Trinity Church.

Interestingly enough, this time I did learn something new. The gentleman manning the line into the grave pointed out that though she was married, Anne Hathaway was always referred to by her maiden last name. This has apparently led to a bit of speculation about their marital status, but he said that was ridiculous. Shakespeare was such a prominent member of the church that there was no way he would have lived and had children with Anne without actually being married to her. As a woman who greatly values her own name, I found this to be a rather interesting mystery! One that I intend to investigate in the future, but right now I need to focus on the tasks at hand.

Our last order of business was to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the RSC. I brought my Shakesbeare, Oberon Puck, with me and placed him between myself and my friend Melody. In the middle of the show, Puck crawled over us and grabbed him! She tucked him into her hat and later placed him on the opposite side of the stage! That’s what we get for having such fantastic seats! It was solidyly one of the most incredible performances I have seen. Expect a full report later!

For more information on Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, click here!


Maughan Library and Special Collections at King’s College London


Interesting Facts:

  • Holds over 180,000 items ranging in date from 1500s to present
  • Very broad focus with an emphasis on the humanities
  • Was instrumental in the 1916 celebration of William Shakespeare

The collections held at King’s College surprised me with how interesting they were! We started our tour with a room filled with treasures ranging from this fascinating medical text that mixed the fantastic with the scientific


A collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry humorously inscribed to a professor at the college


And most interesting, and chosen particularly for the group of American students visiting their collection, an original copy of Common Sense by Thomas Paine where the printer has left perfectly spaced blank portions of the text that were later filled in by hand. A clever way to avoid being considered treasonous!

“I’ve been reading ‘Common Sense’ by Thomas Paine so men say that I’m intense or I’m insane. You want a revolution? I want a revelation! So listen to my declaration…” excerpt from “The Schuyler Sisters” by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his gorgeous musical “Hamilton”.


We were treated to tea and biscuits and given a bit of time to peruse an exhibit on…you guessed it the great Bard himself! It was fascinating to listen to the curator of the exhibit, John Wilby, talk about the process he went through to create the exhibit. I spent so much time talking to him about the things he left out, and looking carefully through each item that I practically swallowed my tea in one gulp–shameful, I know–and ate my biscuit quickly as we toured the rest of the library. We were able to see the original shelves which served as a support for the building, and then treated to an incredible view of the city. I am fairly certain all of our jaws dropped when we walked into the gorgeous reading room. We made a quick and silent turn around the room, and all too soon we were leaving.
For more information on this charming collection, click here!


Blythe House

IMG_1348Interesting Facts:

  • Home of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archival stores
  • World’s largest collection of Beatrix Potter’s drawings, manuscripts, and correspondences
  • Collection was given by Leslie Linder who was an avid collector of Potter’s works

At the start of our time at Blythe House, archivist Emma Laws explained to us what it was like to work with the collection. Her job was part academic–focusing on her areas of expertise, writing, teaching, etc–and part practical–creating exhibitions, cataloging, and maintaining the collection.  The collection was in a very interesting position at present as it came out of copyright in 2014, and the copyrights on original drawings cannot be renewed.

Though Beatrix Potter is often portrayed as having had a rather sad childhood, Laws brought up a rather interesting point, “You can’t believe everything people say in a journal because when people write in journals it can be a load of nonsense.”  As a young girl who kept journals of her own, I have to say I believe her! Emotions do not translate well to paper and the things we right in their midst are often absurdly one-sided. Laws went on to explain a bit about Potter’s life. She had a very fortunate and rather typical middle-class upbringing, holidaying in Scotland every summer. Potter did not move away from London until she was 47 years old. As a child, she was not overly sentimental and often drew dead things. She was very fascinated by the natural world around her. As her artistic talents grew, so did her imagination it seems. Her stories of Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin, et al. started as letters to her governess’ children. As you can see from the pictures below, they grew very organically. She had a natural ability to just know where to insert pictures. There were very little changes between the letters and the actual stories themselves.


I gushed over this collection. While Potter is best known for her Peter Rabbit stories, I have always been far more drawn to the antics of Squirrel Nutkin! A darker tale left out of many children’s collections, it will always hold a special place in my heart. This was quite the treat!

One of the most fascinating stories that Emma shared was that of Potter’s views on marriage. She fell in love and became secretly engaged to her publisher Norman Warne. Her parents did not approve of the engagement, but their disapproval was not long lived. A month after becoming engaged, Warne died of leukemia. Emma pointed out to us that due to her parent’s disapproval, Beatrix would have suffered her grief in silence after his death. As an unmarried woman, you were essentially considered a non-entity in society as a woman. And so she remained until you were married–which didn’t happen for her until she was 47. This explains why she described marriage as, “the crown of a woman’s life.” With marriage came a new found freedom, and Potter’s motivation for writing and illustrating had essentially come to an end.

For more information on the collections at Blythe House, click here
Photos published with kind permission from The Victoria and Albert Museum

National Maritime Museum Caird Library and Archive

Interesting Facts:

  • Largest maritime historical reference library
  • Opened in 2011 and immediately closed again for the Olympics
  • Houses approx. 80,000 maps and charts
  • Popular destination for genealogical research

The librarians at the Caird were filled with fascinating stories. They’d kindly set up a display for us showing various treasures in their library.

The first of which was a newspaper article celebrating Captain Matthew Webbe becoming the first to swim the English Channel unaided. Stawell Heard, the acquisitions librarian for the Caird, explained a bit of Webb’s history for us through a series of other objects. Webb joined the merchant marines at the age of 12! In the 1850s you were required to display your competency, and the library holds Webb’s certification declaring exactly that. He also served on the HMS Russia where he rather heroically jumped overboard and stayed in the freezing water for 37 minutes attempting to save a fellow shipmate from drowning. Years on, when he swam the English Channel he was in the water for 22 hours. The library had further news articles depicting his triumph. Sadly, they also have the article depicting his last stunt–he was crushed by the force of Niagra Falls as he attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids.

Other items of interest in their collection included a diary from the battle of Trafalgar, tickets to Captain Nelsen’s funeral, and a book once owned by Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling has a very strong connection to the museum.  Having been very interested in the subject, Kipling wrote to the museum suggesting that they cover a wider spectrum than merely the Royal Navy. After his death, his widow donated around 80 of his books to the library stating that she was only doing , “what Rud would have wanted.”


For more information on the National Maritime Museum, click here!
All photos courtesy of Dr. Teresa Welsh.

Royal Geographical Society

Interesting Facts:

  • Founded in 1830
  • Initially served as communication link between geographical societies in support of scientific geographical research
  • Collection contains over two million documents including maps, charts, photographs, etc.

Will I ever become less amazed by the things we are able to see on this trip? I am begining to doubt it. Though I have never been overly knowledgable about the expeditions in question, I found myself wholly riveted as the principal librarian, Eugene Rae, regaled us with fascinating tales of exploration using the objects on the table before him. He started with a bit of information on the library, the most interesting to me being that they have over 4000 atlases with the oldest dating from 1480. They began collecting information in 1830 and are still collecting today. Eugene then took us on a voyage from the Arctic where we learned stories like that of James Clark Ross who went on a expedition to search for John Franklin who never returned from his own expedition into the arctic. Ross caught arctic foxes, tagged them with collars and used them to help find Franklin!  In 1873 he discovered signs of a camp containing a biscuit and a block of chocolate that had been left undisturbed for 20 years and were still intact! The RGS still has them today! Leopold McClintock eventually found a progress report that confirmed the death of Franklin on his expedition.

In Central Africa, we learned the story of Richard Burden’s quest to find the source of the Nile River. After failed expeditions by both Burden and Speke,  Dr. David Livingstone set out on his own expedition. He followed a fruitless trail and disappeared! Henry Stanley, a journalist, set out to find Livingstone and in 1871 he succeeded! “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

From Africa we journedy to Antarctica and sailed with Shackleton on his expedtion from 1901-1904. During the winter months it was too cold to venture outside so the crew made magazines called The South Pole Times that were type written and hand drawn!

Finally we ventured up Everest with George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on their final trek. In May of 1924, both Mallory and Irvine disappeared. Never to be heard from again until 1999 when an expedition uncovered Mallory’s body at the base of Everest.The boot pictured below was taken from his body. Eugene allowed us to smell it, and we were amazed by the musky scent of leather that solidly remained. As I leaned towards it, Rae said, “You’re smelling history.” and my heart leapt. What a fantastic thought!


For more information on the Royal Geographical Society, visit their website! 

Barbican Library

Interesting Facts:

  • Opened in 1982, largest lending library in the city of London
  • Oldest book able to be loaned was published in 1739
  • First music library in the city
  • After the BBC and the government, it is the largest contributor to the arts in Britain.

The Barbican Centre: A self-sustaining city birthed out of the wreckage of war. Devoted to the arts and knowledge, it is a beautiful testament to human survival–in my opinon at least. This was our first look at a public library in Boston, and I’m not sure that the 3 hours we spent there was enough to do it justice! Our tour guide, Jonathan, was the IT librarian, and the image he presented to us made me think that working in the Barbican was an absolute joy! There are a million features to discuss here. First, the library serves not only the City of London, but all of London. It is easy to get a library card, and many of the patrons are commuters who would not be able to access their home libraries easily due to their work schedules.

For those incapable of making it to the library, there is a van delivery service. There is a delightful program called “City Read” where the entirety of London is encouraged to read a book together. While most of the collection is accessible to the public, only libraries are able to access the stacks downstairs. Their book clubs are highly successful, and while funding is an issue for them as it is for all libraries, they do receive a small stipend from the city.

The Barbican also serves as a school depository library sending out approximately 40 books per term. They have a fixed sechdule for nursery and school visits, and a plethora of programs for children. The Children’s librarian, Amanda, informed us of a few:

  • One public rhyme time for babies and one for toddlers
  • story time at 4pm for 3-5 year olds
  • A “Monster Club” for 5+ where they play board games
  • A knitting club run by volunteers
  • A film club that cannot be advertised for legal reasons, but they use clever marketing within the children’s room to suggest the film–at the time of our visit it had an underwater theme for Finding Nemo

They also have an impressive summer reading challenge. For every book they read–after being given a short quiz by the librarian to ensure that they’ve read it–they receive a prize. If they read all six books they are invited to a ceremony at Guild Hall!

The music library is one of the largest in England with over 16,000 cds, a streaming service, and a comparable amount of scores ranging in a variety of styles and levels. They also have a program called unsigned London that promotes local artists. The music library also collaborates with the Guild Music School. The students offer free lessons to the patrons.

There really aren’t proper words to describe the impressive nature of this library. The only downside is that being inside of arts centre means that it can become quite noisy, and the layout is a bit chaotic. If, however, those are the only complaints I think the library succeeds at being an example to public libraries everywhere!

For more information on the Barbican Centre Library, visit their website

British Museum Archives


Interesting facts:

  • Primarily holds administrative documents for the history of the British Museum
  • Has only had a full-time archivist since 1973!
  • Contains records dating  back to 1753 when the Museum was first conceived.
  • Set up using lottery money

Francesca Hillier, the lone archivist at the British Museum, was a treasure trove of information! So much so that after a certain point I stopped taking notes just to listen to her. Her job consists not only of maintaining the archives, but of discovering what is there. Portions of the collection have been digitized, but as they do not have a book camera and only one microfilm camera it is a slow process. Archival work is no joke! It is very rewarding, however! While explaining her daily tasks and long term projects, Francesca also shared with us quite a few gems. During its infancy, the records of the archives were rather haphazardly maintained. This is not uncommon for the time period. Francesca showed us binders of documents with rather interesting labels like “Department of Particulars” and “Department Actually”–and she has the fun task of figuring out what exactly that means! As the archives are primarily filled with administrative documents like staff records, financial records, trustee documents, but also reading room applications and reader cards like these belonging to Bram Stoker:

Francesca also shared with us the story of opening a box labeled “Incendiary Bomb” only to discover the shell of one of the bombs that hit the British Museum during the Blitz. It was tucked away on a shelf, and it a testament to the sort of rather fascinating things one can find as an archivist–no matter where you’re working!


For more information on the British Museum Archives, click here.