Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 9

  1. A fabulous archivist that overcomes library challenges on a daily basis
  2. Camel Leopards
  3. Powerful images of London during World War II
  4. A farmer's market
  5. Richard Madden and Lily James in Romeo & Juliet

All the Details:
British Museum Archives

The British Museum Archives tour was extremely interesting because of the way that the material relating to the museum collections has been organized in the past. No catalog of the archive has been kept, which is in direct contrast to the detailed catalog that was maintained for The British Library, which split from the museum. The single archivist on staff, Ms. Francesca Hillier, must answer all inquiries with only her knowledge of where to look in the collection and help from three volunteers. She spoke of a recent inquiry about giraffes that she had difficulty answering. After looking through many volumes and documents, she discovered that the older materials referred to giraffes as “camel leopards”. Changes like this also make it difficult for the archive to collect and organize materials well. She is currently working on a catalog, but the lack of organization and randomly bound archive materials has made this task extremely difficult. She must constantly make decisions about valuable materials and documents without any precedent leading her choices.

The Reading Room
The collection consists of documents with no relation to one another that are bound into large leather books. Some are labeled Original Papers, others are Committee Papers, and the later are Board Papers. These seem to all be similar collections and the changes in name vary throughout the years with no explanation. There are also financial records and staff records that are kept. There are books labeled Departments in Particular, Departments Generally, and even one for the Committee of Cats which kept track of the many cats living on the premises. Within these groups many are bound in leather, while others are kept separately in boxes. There were also six volumes that were transferred into two volumes and two boxes focusing on Lawrence of Arabia. Some of the more organized and useful materials are original guidebooks that describe in detail how the collections at the museum were set up over many years. Due to the lack of organization, the archivist stated that for much of the information in the collection no one knows the facts and “anyone that does know is lying”. She has now put in place policies that will allow her to aid the archive and museum in moving forward with their collection.

It was sad to hear that the beautiful reading room, built by Sir Anthony Panizzi, is no longer in use. It essentially sits empty and underutilized. It is unfortunate that such a beautiful space and historic collection are not seen by the public, which was the original intent. Ms. Hillier is currently working to have the reading room opened to support public access to the archival records.

One of the most powerful things we saw in the archive was a fragment of an incendiary device and photos of the destruction caused by the bombing of London during World War II. This hit me particularly hard because I have heard the stories of the bombings that my grandmother lived through. To see those pieces of history and to know that they had affected my grandmother was a very emotionally charged experience.

This archive, although it poses many challenges, holds many important and valuable materials that would be rewarding to work with. The archivist has plans to create a catalog and organize the materials in way that would make it more accessible to the public, which is especially important for a public archive. 

Lunch with Jessica Green

After the British Museum, we walked down to a small library that focuses on the Holocaust and genocide. One of the British Studies alumni, Jessica Green, works at this library and we had the opportunity to speak to her about her library work. We walked past the library to a farmer’s market and sat with Jessica while we all ate lunch. There was a great brick oven pizza truck where we got freshly made pizza! It was great to hear about her experiences moving to the UK and working in a library environment. She gave us great information about how her library has been digitizing materials and the struggles that come with this task. This was particularly important because most of us will encounter similar problems since so many libraries are now expected to have a digital presence.

Romeo and Juliet

My signed ticket
That evening we got ready and set out from our dorm to the Garrick Theatre for Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo & Juliet. We were extremely excited to see this new version of Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy. The play was set, still in Verona, but it the 1950s. This was reflected in the costumes and music used to enhance the performance. Richard Madden looked amazing, as always, in his suit, and was the perfect brooding Romeo. Lily James played up Juliet’s immaturity and innocence in Act I with her bouncy and girly body language, but was equally as believable in Act II in her grief over Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. Her changing maturity throughout the play was wonderfully done. Derek Jacobi, playing Mercutio, was excellently comedic and added great fun to the ultimately sad story. The story was beautiful and frustrating, because the audience so desperately wants the two to avoid the disastrous end they know is coming. This performance was absolutely amazing, a definite must-see! We were even able to briefly say hello to both Richard Madden and Lily James at the stage door, where they were gracious enough to sign autographs. They were both so kind and took the time to make everyone feel special.
Meeting Lily James

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