I took the train, one last time, headed to Kew Gardens though I wasn’t on my way to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens again, but maybe, someday. No, this visit was of an academic nature. I was on my way to the National Archives. Alighting the train my walk toke me past neat little single-family dwellings until finally I came to the front gates. I had arrived.
The day before break a small group of us took the bus to Dunfermline, Scotland, to visit the very first Carnegie Library. For those of you not familiar with Carnegie Libraries they were libraries funded in part by wealthy business Andrew Carnegie. Essentially, he provided the start-up capital to get the library up and running but it was up to the library to maintain it for future use. There were other stipulations that went along with money, such as certain architectural details, but that is the basic premise behind a Carnegie Library. What was so special about Dunfermline is not only is it the home of the first Carnegie Library but it was the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. At age 13 he and his family immigrated to America with nothing but went on to amass a fortune that today would be worth billions.
Our last official trip as a group was to the Royal Geographical Society Library and Archives located in the exclusive Hyde Park-Kensington Neighborhood. The Royal Geographical Society is a non-for-profit organization and was founded in 1830 to advance the field of geography. Today the library and archive collection consists of over 200 million documents that include maps, books, artifacts, and photographs that span over 500 years of exploration.
For our second law library tour we visited the Middle Temple Law Library, one of four Inns of Courts that train lawyers for the bar (i.e. to become barristers); it is situated in the Temple area along with the Inner Temple in central London and just steps from the Royal Courts of Justice. The other two Inns of Courts are Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn lie on the opposite side of the Royal Courts of Justice. The Temple area, which includes the Temple Church, was originally the home to the Knights Templars, a band of fighting monks who protected pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land before rising to distinction as fiscal advisers to the King. They fell out of favor around the 1300s, were excommunicated, disbanded, and their lands were handed over to the lawyers, who have held it ever since.
If there is one place in this world I could be right now the Central Library in Edinburgh is it! If the Barbican had not already sold me on public libraries than the Central Library would have. This was our second visit to a public library and like the Barbican from the first time I stepped through those doors it felt like the place I’m going to be working at in a year. No, it felt the perfect marriage of the old and the new. Built in 1890 in the French Renaissance style, the outside has remained mainly unchanged but once you walk through the stone and wooden doorway, signs of the 21st century are everywhere. Just inside the doors are four touch screens tables, two of which contain a map and information about the library, while the other two are equipped with an interactive game for students. Further in and you find the self-checkout stations and the unmanned “staff desk” with four computer terminals.
On our first official day in Edinburgh, Scotland we were fortunate enough to visit the National Library of Scotland (NLS). Similar to the British Library in London, NLS is the largest library in Scotland and also like its English counterpart, NLS is a non-lending library, which simply means you are not allowed to check books out but must request them before coming and they can only be used in the library. This also means that NLS is not a browsing library; you can’t walk into this library hoping to browse the stacks for a good book to read. So what good is it? It is good for research! As one of the best research libraries in Europe, NLS is an important reference library, with millions of items ranging from books to photos, films, sound recordings, and more at your request. NLS is also a legal deposit library, and if you remember from my post regarding the Bodleian a legal deposit library is able to request and receive a copy of every item published in the UK.
The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide was another rare treat amidst a hectic schedule and was the second library we visited that had not one but two Americans on staff, including an alumna of the British Studies Library Program. The Wiener Library is one of the leading Holocaust and Nazi era archives in the world, comparable to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and the Yad Vashem in Israel; yet for all its importance it has a very unassuming and comforting feel that welcomes you in after the noise and street traffic of London. Located down the street from the British Museum and just steps from the University of London campus, the Wiener Library is located in a five-story townhouse, its home since 2011. Originally the collection had been located in the home of its founder Dr. Weiner before space and functionality became an issue.