Middle Temple

For someone whose entire knowledge of the British legal system is derived from the television adaptation of Rumpole of the Bailey, a visit to the Middle Temple library was quite a revelation. I knew that tradition was valued to a certain extent, as seen in the wigs and robes, but this visit proved that there was much more to it.

Anyone wishing to attempt to become a barrister must first join one of the four Inns of Court: Lincoln’s, Gray’s, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple. Each of the Inns of court has its own coat of arms. Lincoln’s Inn has a lion, Grey’s has a griffin, Middle Temple a lamb, and Inner Temple a winged horse.

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In order to join an Inn of Court, candidates must attend twelve sessions, called “dinners” at the Inn of their choice. Though the Inns of Court are intended for barristers, this is a difficult feat that few accomplish. In fact, there have been a lot of people who have joined the Inns of Court for the benefits and connections to be had there, rather than through any real intent to become barristers; Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker, for example, did this very thing.

All of the Inns of Court have long histories. The Inner and Middle Temple get their name from the headquarters of the Knights Templar, known as the Temple. When the Templars fell out of favor, this paved the way for the barristers to move in, and they are there still.

Each of the Inns of Court has its own library. The Middle Temple Law Library proved very resilient, surviving both the Great Fire and both of the World Wars, but sadly, the structure was so weakened by the bombing that it had to be pulled down and rebuilt. Today it is actively used as a functional law library for the Middle Temple barristers. It keeps copies of every edition of every law textbook, among other law books. The books are not classified, but rather are divided into large sections, in which they are arranged alphabetically by author. This organization system prevents shelf browsing from being an effective method of use, but every item held by the library is catalogued and can be located on an online database. There is no remote access to databases available, but computer access within the library is completely free and open, with no logins needed.

No mention of the Middle Temple would be complete without some mention of the Middle Temple Hall. Built in 1570, this hall is used for official functions and dinners. The double hammerbeam roof in the hall is very unusual; it would have been much more expensive than a single hammerbeam, but the added strength allowed the room to be built on a larger scale. During the time of Elizabeth I, this would have been quite a lively building. The long oak table donated by Elizabeth herself was ideal for feasting, where entertainment would be provided by the minstrels and musicians who were on the payroll of the Inn. On at least one occasion there was even more notable entertainment provided: the first production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was held in this very room. This tradition of hospitality continued on into the modern day. One of the Inn’s royal benchers, the Queen Mother, enjoyed visits to the Middle Temple Inn quite often, and was a great favorite there.

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National Library of Scotland: Research Trip

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I prepared for my research expedition to the National Library of Scotland by entering my information into the online reader’s card application. When I arrived at the National Library the next day, I headed straight to the registration desk. The staff were very helpful and efficient. I showed my student ID card and my passport to confirm my identity, address, and student status, then my picture was snapped. My card was ready in no time. I was given brief instructions on using the archives and the reading rooms and directed to the locker room, where I could check my bag and any other non-approved items (such as ink pens). Fortunately, since we had been acquainted with this information during our class visit to the National Library, I came equipped with my pencil and was prepared to divide my items and check the non-acceptable ones. I headed up the stairs to the reading rooms; this is when things got more complicated.

I have to confess that I had never used an archive before this, so, although I had heard some instructions and tips from class visits and other students and academics, I was a little uncertain about how the process worked. This was complicated even more by the fact that the majority of the items pertaining to Robert Louis Stevenson were not catalogued. So what did this mean to me that day? It meant I didn’t really even know what I was looking for! A bit of a problem when you have to fill out a form stating exactly what you want to see.

My first attempt at making sense of things was to ask at the first floor enquiries desk for suggestions. Wrong choice. I was directed to look through some resources in the reading room, and after that to check upstairs in the Special Collections. After some research in the reading room, I did learn a bit about the contents of Yale’s RLS collection, but not much more. Upstairs in the Special Collections, after some trial and error, I had a bit more luck.

I finally found some tiny books that had one citation printed on each page, with a typewriter, it appeared. Using these books I was able to locate the items in a set of inventories. One of these collections was missing its inventory, but the librarian at the inquiries desk was able to print the inventory out for me so that I was able to request items from it.

Some of the items I looked at were a lot more helpful than others. There were wills of RLS and his mother, Margaret, financial records, and a good bit of correspondence relating to extra funds not included in Margaret’s will. The most thrilling, without a doubt, were the items written by RLS himself – it’s not every day that you get to touch items that came from the hands of famous authors!

Edinburgh Central Library

The Edinburgh Central Library is a lively, active establishment right in the heart of Edinburgh. It got its start as a Carnegie library, meaning that, like all Carnegie libraries (with the notable exception of the one in Stratford-upon-Avon) it was a new construction building at the time of its founding. For this particular library, that meant 1890 – a good time to have a new library built, anyway, as the Victorians were good at designing large, public buildings that were still elegant and beautiful. It is also fitting in that the public library itself is a Victorian institution; though features have changed over the years and the architecture and layout of the buildings may be different, it was at this time that the nature and role of libraries really became the one that we still hold to today.

The Central Library has changed and modernized since its foundation, of course, expanding to create a new children’s library. This area is thoroughly modernized with child-sized furniture and murals of trees and fantastical animals by children’s book illustrator Catherine Rayner.

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Besides providing the children of Edinburgh with free access to books and other resources, the library encourages them to utilize these resources through the “Book Bug” initiative, which encourages children under five to engage with books and literature from a young age. Not only are books fun for kids, but more interaction with books and literature helps them to be better prepared for school.

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The Central Library’s mission is to provide the best service possible while still preserving the organization’s rich history. With 400,000 visits per year, it is a busy place that must make use of modern advances to keep up. Self check stations speed the check out process for patrons, and give the library staff more time to design and implement programming for their diverse patron groups.

Central Library is not the only one in the city; there are thirty additional branches, many of which are gradually become parts of “Next Generation Hubs,” in which the library is part of a larger complex, including things like neighborhood centers, cafes, and meeting spaces. Central Library integrates with the Music Library, used by local musicians, and the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, which is used by people all over the world, for things ranging from genealogy to Edinburgh history. It is heavily used also by Edinburgh authors doing research for both fiction and nonfiction projects. People everywhere can utilize digital resources tied to these collections, such as Our Town Stories, which provides interactive guides to places and events in Edinburgh history.

“Let there be light” is written on the outside of the building, and this ideal carries through both figuratively in the effort to bring knowledge to all, and also physically in the natural light emphasized within this bright and beautiful library.

The British Library

I’m not entirely sure what I expected from the British Library. Large, of course, and obviously full of books, but what else? I think I had visions of something with at least a facade of age; you think of very old books being in very old buildings (at least I do), and when I think of the British Library, my mind goes straight to very old books.

There are definitely very old books there, as is clearly broadcast by the huge glass tower right in the middle, which houses the collection of George III. The six-story glass tower is a concession to the king’s requirement that his library be on display and available for public use at all times. This founding collection is interesting not only because of its size (85,000 items) and beautiful bindings; it includes books in sixteen languages. This started a precedent in the British Library, which now holds the largest collection of foreign language materials in the world.

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“BritishLibraryInterior02”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BritishLibraryInterior02.jpg#mediaviewer/File:BritishLibraryInterior02.jpg

Aside from these books, however, everything in sight upon entering the British Library is modern. The newness is a bit shocking in contrast to all of the age and history of those books and the treasures that are famously housed here. Everything about this building is thoroughly modern. Thirty-five million items in this vast collection are housed in the largest underground complex in Europe, that goes down seventy-five feet beneath the library. A system of machines and conveyor belts brings requested items swiftly up to the surface, where they can be distributed to researchers in subject-specific reading rooms. This efficiency is necessary, as the library gets about 4,000 book requests a day. For those items too delicate or valuable for reader use, the library has cameras that can make photographs of up to sixty million pixels of the items – high res enough for anything you might need. Some of these are available online already. If not, the library can take them for you.

It was incredible to see how such a huge library works, but to me, the really exciting thing was the Treasure Room. Exactly what it sounds like, the Treasure Room is a dimly lit area where some of the most valuable and popular items owned by the library are held. One of the most exciting items for me was the Beowulf manuscript. Gazing at one of the founding works of English literature was incredible. To make it even better, they connected it to the present by placing beside it a page from the manuscript of Seamus Heaney’s translation. Seeing the handwriting of the recently deceased poet right beside that of an anonymous scribe from centuries earlier was a very moving tribute to the life of the written word. The Anglo-Saxons saw power in words – in fact, the Old English word “wyrd,” from which the modern “word” derived, has undertones of power and magic, hence the “wyrd sisters” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons were onto something. After all, there is no surer way to be sure that your name will be remembered than through words.

Stowe House

The beautiful Stowe House began its life as a private home for the Temple-Grenvilles, a powerful family who spend much of their time involved in the center of British politics. They were also famous for their patronage of authors; Alexander Pope in particular was a frequent visitor. As one might expect in a house built to impress, Stowe is a very striking and imposing structure indeed. Everything about Stowe makes a big impression: the massive house itself, the expansive gardens, even the fresh, clean air – even though I knew that, as Europe’s largest city, London must have a fairly hefty amount of pollution in the air, I never noticed it until I noticed its marked absence! Even today, the Temple-Grenvilles, long gone from Stowe, are awing us with their power.

IMG_3053In 1923, the house, no longer in the hands of the family, became a school. Because of the high costs involved in keeping up the school and grounds, the school gifted the gardens to the National Trust in the 1960s. In 1997 the school began opening the house for tours every day, in order to make more money to help maintain its A rating. Actually, offering tours of this grand house was nothing new; Stowe was first opened to the public in 1717, making it one of the oldest British tourist attractions. This has actually proved to be a great boon when it comes to restoration work on Stowe, because the guidebooks produced for visiting tourists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries give detailed descriptions of what the house looked like at regular intervals during its history. This is a great help in making Stowe’s restorations as faithful to its original appearance as possible.

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As a library class, an area with a great deal of importance to us was the school library. Though this room began as a ballroom in the 1730s and was divided into two rooms, a dining and drawing room, in the 1760s, in the 1790s it was opened up into one room again, and became the library.

The library has recently been renovated, including the renovation of this stunning plaster ceiling. The gold part is indeed the real thing; it is gilded with 23.5 karat gold. The gold on ceilings was not only beautiful, but was meant to reflect light into the room and to make it look brighter.

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Library ceiling, restored plaster and gilding.

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The views out of the library windows are enough to make any librarian swoon – these gardens beat the heck out of the asphalt parking lots and streets we usually get!

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The mahogany bookshelves that line the walls are original to the 1790s library – as are the hidden doors built to look like bookshelves! Sadly, the original library and manuscript collection – one of the finest and most well-known in Europe – was sold in 1849. Since 1923, books have gradually been donated to give the current library the look of an old one, as it might have appeared in its heyday.

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Though the fireplaces have been moved around some over the years, they are original. They were actually sold in 1929 as well, but luckily were too large to remove from the room.

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It is amazing to think of Stowe being a part of everyday life for the lucky students, faculty, and staff who call this estate home. I think I’d be happy to move on in at any time!