Friday, 24 July 2009

V&A Museum of Childhood

Young or old, this is a museum not to miss!

This was one of the most fun museums I had the opportunity to visit. If the goal of a children's museum is to teach and entertain both the child and the adult, this was a sure success. It was very interesting to see toys from so long ago, toys that I grew up with, and finally toys from today. There were so many different areas for children to explore and learn-I even had a blast doing so! According to the website, "The V&A Museum of Childhood houses the UK's national collection of childhood-related objects, one of the finest in the world. Spanning the 1600s to the present day, the collection features toys, dolls, dolls' houses, games, puppets, nursery, children's clothing and furniture" (

Most displays start with text explaining the relevance of toys as learning devices. It was amazing to see the progression of toys through the last few hundred years. What was most interesting to me, is that toys have not changed much! Children still play with the same type of things, and in a very similar way! The only things that have changed are the materials, sometimes shape and design, and basic manufacturing.

This is an example of how some items and concepts are displayed. The display case explains the importance of toys not only for amusement but for their inherent learning qualities. This is a great learning museum for children as it encourages them to actively think about the displays, not just passively view them. Inside most displays were plaques with analytical questions to get people thinking more in depth about the exhibit. Engaging children in active learning sets them up to appreciate the museum because they are truly considering the items on display. Some displays ask them to examine items, imagine concepts, or simply encourage creative learning.

Part of the exhibit displayed common items like old highchairs, baby bottles; the basics needed for caring for a child. Some of them, like the bottle, were barely recognizable. It was interesting to see the change, and I think children would really find this funny. The picture above is asking visitors to actively think about how items familiar to them have changed through time. It is different when you read about history-you have to paint your own pictures or look at one in a book. By being able to compare a very old bottle to what a child would recognize as a bottle today, it's easier to see the progress that was made and it becomes more memorable. That's the beauty of a museum.

Children can also participate in daily events and seasonal activities. According to their website, they have an "excellent education programme with popular teaching sessions and resources linked directly to the National Curriculum".

This display was successful in showing the timeline of fashion for children from the 1750s until today. My only issue with it was that I don't think it accurately portrayed the current fashion for children today-however it is 2009 and the trends are constantly changing. Then again, if they pick one outfit to represent the 2000s and it seems misrepresented-who is to say the other outfits do justice for their time? That, I will have to leave in the trained hands of these professionals.

This is the 'Make Believe' corner-one of the many little areas that children can take a break from looking around and just play. Ah-ha, fooled you too! When I say 'just play', sure I mean 'play' but I also mean learning disguised as play! All of the play areas attract children because they are so fun and colorful, but they are also fine tuning certain skills and developing new ones. This corner stimulates the imagination and helps children distinguish identity.

History of the museum:
In 1855 Prince Albert proposed the construction of a building in South Kensington to house items from the Great Exhibition of 1851. This exhibit is what made libraries and museums gain popularity with the general public. The iron structure of the Museum of Childhood building was once part of the original V&A Museum. It was transported to Bethnal Green, its current home, and reconstructed in the late 1860s. I found it interesting that the marble floor was made by women prisoners from Working gaol. The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) opened the museum in 1872. 1.5 million visitors had passed through the doors in it's first year of operation! The original collection consisted of food, animal products, and French art from the 1700s. It was not until Arthur Knowles Sabin was the Officer-in-charge from 1922-1940 that the collection was directed towards children. Activities, children's visits, educational programs and displays were all developed to cater to children. Donors generously helped to fund this project, one of them being Queen Mary.

Their site is very fun, take a virtual tour!! Go to

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bodleian Library

The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Most fitting, the coat of arms proudly displayed is an open book. Today the library is part of the Copyright Act, so their collection grows constantly. The first library here was built in 1320. Sir Thomas Bodley gave his own time, money and books to expand the library, which was opened to students in 1602. He devoted his life to expanding the library space and collection. He asked his friends to will their library collections to this library, which furthered it's size and importance.

There was a wonderful exhibit, An Artful Craft, which gave an overview of historic collections of unique book bindings. Historic Bookbindings from the Broxbourne Library and other Collections featured rare books of various textures, materials, and structures. They were beautiful and still so carefully preserved. The collection displayed important bindings from the 12th century up through modern day.The bindings are made from different materials, techniques, and to serve different purposes.

Visit them online at

V & A National Art Library and Museum

National Art Library

The National Art Library is closed access because it is a reference library. They use Dewey, but also use their own in house system that is classified by size. It was interesting to learn how the Great Exhibit of 1851 lead to an increased interest in libraries and museums for the general public.
Funding for this library comes from the main museum and the DCMS. The collection grows daily and is currently numbered at around 2 million items and 75,000 being books. Items come from all over the globe and in every language, as long as they are related to art. The majority of the budget is spent on journals, which I found to be interesting. They receive and send out many exchange books and gifts with other libraries around the world. The special collections focus on the 'art' of the book, and design through history. Only a small percentage of the collection is digitized because of costs and time constraints.

We had the opportunity to view some incredible items, like medieval manuscripts from the 15th century. One of Shakespeare's first folios was on display as well as a hand written John Keats piece. Another treasure was a 1st edition copy from 1853of Bleak House by Dickens that he proof read and marked this original copy! It was incredible to have the chance to see these items, and not behind glass!

Beautiful, isn't it? What a treasure! It was an honor to be given such free access to these items. Sure I've seen a few behind glass, but nothing beats being this close to one of the first folios! History at my fingertips...

This is one of the mid-evil manuscripts, notice how bright and beautiful the colors are still.

The National Art Museum

I could have spent days here! This is one museum that I spent the most time in and still felt like I might have missed something (and I bet I did). I was there until closing and still, there was not enough time. When I think of an art museum, this is NOT what comes to mind. I'm glad the V&A was able to change my perception. There was fashion, jewelry, costumes, theater, furniture, ceramics, photography, and much, much more! Of course there was what I expected of an art museum, a portrait gallery, paintings, drawings and sculptures.

We had too much fun playing dress up in the exhibits for costumes! Behind me and Cassie, you will see a dressing room with authentic items from Kylie Minogue. Not all that interesting in terms of musical selection, but very fun collection all the same!

*Photo courtesy of Lauren Dodd :)

I implore you, visit them online!
You will not be disappointed.

Monday, 20 July 2009

British Museum

*photo courtesy of

The British Museum was founded in 1753 and contains collections from across the globe. There are roughly six million visitors per year and admission is free! It was very crowded and pretty warm but well worth it. There was not enough time in one day to enjoy all this museum had to offer.

The British Museum holds the Parthenon Sculptures, which were extremely impressive. The entire collection of remaining sculptures is divided between six different countries with the most being in Athens and London, and some in the Louvre and the Vatican. The pieces in London are sometimes known as the 'Elgin Marbles' and have been in this museum since 1817. There is much of a debate about these items being here and not in Athens. You can read more about the debates on their website, or at

Other interesting objects were the Egyptian mummies and artifacts. This was what I wanted to see first, and where I spent a lot of my time wandering and pondering. There were even mummified cats!

There is also the children's section which offers free art materials, free access to the online collection, and children's books. There are free family activities every day, and 'Hamlyn family trails' that guide children's exploration and understanding of the library. It is fantastic that children are encouraged to love museums at such an early age. This can set them up for greater understanding and appreciation of culture and learning. It is important that children see the museum and library as a place that is fun and affords diverse activities that they enjoy. This is certainly the place for children to realize this concept!

The Hamlyn library contains over 18,000 items and is reference only-not a lending library. Unfortunetly I did not have a chance to see inside the library but according to their website, their collection has over 18,000 items. The collection contains information about the exhibits and various cultures displayed in the museum. I found it interesting that the library is a serious reseach library, and at the same time they hold regular storytelling sessions for children. Great balance!

*Photo by Lauren Dodd :)

Visit the museum's website at

National Maritime Museum

July 20

For a museum that I did not expect to have much interest in, I was very intrigued by the Maritime Museum and Library. The original library opened in 1937. Sir James Caird is credited with forming the basis of the library, therefore it is named in his honor. The Caird Library is rich with its original oak bookcases and treasures behind glass doors.

This is one of the largest maritime libraries in the world. The collection covers emigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, naval architecture, and the Navy. There are rare books, journals, charts, maps and manuscripts. Currently they have about 3 to 4,000 library users per year, and 15-18,000 electronic library users. Due to construction, the library is only open three days per week instead of the usual six. The library is funded by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and major private donations. The staff, including head librarian, consists of about thirteen members.

In order to open the collection further, the goal is the digitize more of the items but as always, funding is an issue. The first priorities for electronic access is family history accounts and then crew lists-because these are so extensive and used to trace family heritage.

Rene explained the rare books in the Caird Library, and Mike went over the manuscripts. I held in my hand a very tiny, old relic book. According to library legend, it is made out of the wood of the wreck it tells the history of. The Royal George at Spithead went down in August of 1782-and each book varies a bit in its account. The in-house conservation team of four has done a flawless job at keeping these books in top form. Another interesting item was the first book published in the Antarctic in 1908.

There is an electronic library that can be accessed only from inside the museum, but you can visit the library and see some of it's collection at their website,

Sunday, 19 July 2009



Shakespeare Library

Stratford-upon-Avon, The Shakespeare Library

There is something to say about a library whose main focus and collection revolves around one of the greatest writers in history. The opportunity to visit this library and receive a behind the scenes tour was amazing. Shakespeare has never come alive to me in the way it did during this visit. Although I have read and studied his work extensively, I have never had the chance to see and touch first hand resources from his time. The picture above shows the first poster, printed in 16--, to advertise for his first show.
This particular library contains a reading room open to the public, and a basement full of stacks with some very spectacular books. It is a reference only library but the reading room and library services are free. To access the rare books, you need an actual academic reason since the items are delicate. The collection contains local items from the 12th century, documents, maps, books, pamphlets videos, photos and more. It contains the only surviving letter written to Shakespeare. This collection grows almost every day, as they receive donations and items.


Not only did I get to visit this library, but was able to see the play As You Like It, which was a first for me. I laughed, I literally cried-mostly from joy and wonder, and did not want it to end.

Before the play, I had the opportunity to walk around this beautiful town. The beauty of the River Avon truly struck me, as well as the incredible church where Shakespeare is buried.

The Museum of London

This exhibit displays the notion of "London before London" in a very effective manner. It is the largest urban history museum in the world, and has over 400,000 visitors each year. The goal of the display is to convey the message of people through evidence, the river-and it's spectacular finds, climate change and atmosphere, and the legacy this has left behind. It focuses on people as individuals, place and landscape. People generally don't recognize these elements when they think of pre-history. Also, schools in this area do not cover pre-history!! Their lessons begin with the Roman invasion, which I thought was very interesting. London before London encompasses the time periods of 450,000 BC- AD 50.

The museum is laid out so you walk along the River Wall and view the items that have been found in the river through time and see how life progressed since 450,000 BC. The other side of the wall is the Landscape Wall. It was interesting to see the development of London through time in displays such as Carving out A Home 4000-1500BC, to Moving Beyond the Valley 700BC-AD 50.

Some of the things that really impacted me and brought out the intended message were the skulls and weapons dated from 1300-1000 BC. It is incredible to think that these skulls were people like us once and that we look like that underneath. Another item was a piece of wood from the first London Bridge dating from 1700-1200 BC. It is humbling to know we are not the first, and will not be the last. It makes me wonder if people from the past thought they would have this much of an impact on the future, or be held in such high regard.

This tablet is from the Old London Bridge and says 'Annodni/1509'. The bridge was supported by the income it received from renting 139 houses and shops, tolls, and private donations.

This little piece of history is part of the remains of a fort built by the Romans when London was called Londinium. It was used not only as a fort, but mainly as a home for the soldiers since they did not live with civilians. It was only discovered in the 1950s.
There are some really great resources on the museum's website.
Get a close up of this incredible wall by visiting:

Check the rest of the museum out too!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

British Library

The British Library holds over 150 million items and is part of the copy right act. All books printed must have one copy deposited here. All of the services offered are free and the majority of their income is generated from donations. This serves as a reference library only, books or items can not be checked out. It is mainly used for academic research, although with the gift shop, cafe and wonderful reading rooms and garden, it is increasingly becoming a cultural center for people to gather. It is so massive, that half of the building is underground, and they are hoping to expand in the future.

Their collection of over 14 million books was a sight to behold. King George 3rd left behind his gorgeous collection, pictured above with his statue, with the requirement that all the books be stored in one place, and they would be accessible to all. These books are so carefully preserved and cared for, that this is still possible today. In order to retreive a book you must place an order and a librarian will deliver it.

It was incredible to use the interactive 'Turning the Pages' software that made it possible to leaf through the virtual pages of some incredible selections-like Mozart's musical diary, and da Vinci's sketches! Check out to do the same!

The wonder of this library so far does not even include their collection of "treasures" and treasures they were! Behind the glass, I spied an original Alice in Wonderland book, the first major book printed in England from 1530, and a book of Gospels in Greek from 995, just to name a few. The Magna Carta was incredible, of course, and had a room of it's own. This is not a pun on Virginia Woolf-although I did see a copy of Mrs. Dalloway from 1925! Walking through the gallery made me feel like my undergraduate studies were coming alive right in front of me! Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Marlowe's 1616 edition of Dr. Faustus, Jane Austen's Persuasion from 1815, and some Shakespeare items from 1595 were all in front of my face. This has been a major highlight of my trip so far.

There is also an online gallery, and you can see it at

The picture above with the rows of stacks was probably the most fun. As you walk towards it, the stacks dance out and seem to come at you. It was a 3-dimensional piece, but you can barely tell until you are right up close to it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

St Paul's Cathedral Library

St. Paul's Cathedral has existed in one form or another at this site for about 1,400 years. Walk up the beautiful spiral staircase (picture the Harry Potter staircase!) and behind closed doors is a fantastic old library-closed to the public. Unlock with a great, old fashioned key and enter a world of incredibly preserved books and the classic smell of an old library. The library at St. Paul's Cathedral was seriously impressive and left me in awe. The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the original collection, however it was built up again starting in 1712. The image here, obtained from, shows a small corner of the library that I was able to feast my eyes upon.

Joe Wisdom, Librarian, imparted some very interesting knowledge of this gorgeous, old cathedral and library. We were able to access a few areas that are usually closed to the general public. How lucky I felt to be standing among books that dated from the early 1600s and covered topics from theology, philosophy, church history and more. It was overwhelming to take in a room full of history so carefully preserved, from rare manuscripts, books, and artifacts behind glass windows. To witness these artifacts and to imagine the time and hands they have passed through is an incredible opportunity. The masonry and design of the room emitted an aura of learning-from the sculpted wheat, grapes and books on the walls, to the tall stacks full of historic wonder. The librarians strive for minimal intervention-so while we could not walk around the room I was still able to appreciate the conservation of over 20,000 historic items.

See for yourself at

Barbican Library

Children's Library
Today we took a stroll to the Barbican Library where I visited the children's section. The librarian was very kind and full of useful information. Being there and speaking with her reminded me of why I want to be a children's librarian. The atmosphere is very inviting and colorful. It is apparent that the staff is very involved in the library and truly take their jobs to heart.

Schools come to visit as a group, and the library does outreach to certain schools that can't make it to them. If there is a specific project a class is working on, the librarians organize a project loan-which contains books and resources for the classroom to work on regarding a certain academic area.

Their summer reading program is called Quest Seekers and is all about fantasy. The children are encouraged to read six books in six weeks, and will get a sticker and prize after every two books they finish. Painted on the glass window is a large green dragon with a big open body and tail. There are a few colorful circles inside that contain a child's name and the title of the book they read. Upon completion of program, the goal is to have the dragon's body filled with these colorful 'scales' - evidence of the great work and fun the children participated in.

The storytelling area is just charming, and reminds me of the elementary school I attended. I always loved having a unique area to read in, and that is what kept me so interested in reading. At the Barbican, they have book shelves with steps built in so the kids can sit and listen, and at the same time it doubles as a book shelf! There is one main chair for the story teller and directly next to it is a cave display with a stuffed dragon inside. I heard one frightened child tell his father, "No-don't touch it!". His father assured him it was a nice baby dragon, and proceeded to creep up to the dragon, pet him and jump! There are bean bag chairs and books arranged in colorful boxes on the floor-which I think is great for kids to be able to access. It looks more fun than the typical book shelves-although there were plenty of those as well.

There is one main librarian, one full time assistant and 8 clerks. The city of London pays for them to get their degree as long as they promise to work in exchange. What a great opportunity! Also, the city pays for Book Start-a program where children get a pack of free books and activities from birth - age 5. Starbucks funds three programs a year, all of which seem very in depth and fun. Participation is very high at this branch, and the librarian owes it to getting to know your patrons, and advertising events. These were the two key pieces of advice she gave us. She also said to not worry about making a fool of yourself in front of the kids-just have fun and get into your role. Because of the wonderful job they do at the Barbican, the program is growing rapidly. One story time, there was attendance of over 70 kids! After that, they decided to break it down by age even more. Currently, there are events for infants up through the teens.

For those of you interested in music, there is a special Music Library with a very unique collection. Regretfully, I did not have time to visit it- but you can see for yourself online at