Sunday, 26 May 2013

Short Story Sunday - The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime - Edited by Michael Sims

If you enjoy the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but would like to see some ladies involved in the crime-solving action, then this book is for you.

This Penguin Classics title, edited and with an introduction by Michael Sims, features ten short stories and one excerpt from a longer work:

  • The Mysterious Countess - W. S. Hayward (1864). This story shows Mrs Paschal - a professional detective who works for the police - in action solving the mystery of a wealthy countess' wealth and a bank robbery.
  • The Unknown Weapon - Andrew Forrester (1864). We meet Mrs G, another professional detective, who solves the mysterious death of Graham Petleigh, the son of the local squire of a Midland's town, who is found dead outside of the family home.
  • Drawn Daggers - C.L. Perkins (1893). Loveday Brooke is perhaps the first female detective created by a female author (four of the eleven stories in this collection are written by female authors). In this adventure she is hired to solve the case of a missing piece of valuable jewellery.
  • The Long Arm - Mary E. Wilkins (1895). The protagonist of this story, Sarah Fairbanks, is not a professional detective. After being accused, questioned and subsequently released for the murder of her father, Miss Fairbanks determines to investigate the crime herself as the police seem incapable of making further discoveries that would aid them in catching the murderer. Mary E. Wilkins was an American author and this story takes place in New England.
  • That Affair Next Door - Anna Katharine Green (1897). This is the one entry in the collection which is an excerpt from a novel rather than a short story. That Affair Next Door is available to read in its entirety on Project Gutenberg and the first chapter which appears in The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime serves only to whet the appetite for Anna Katharine Green's entertaining female busybody detective, Amelia Butterworth. Anna Katharine Green is another American author; she grew up in Brooklyn and Buffalo and most of her stories are set in New York.
  • The Man With The Wild Eyes - George R. Sims (1897). Dorcas Dene is a former actress now married to an artist. She becomes a detective when she is compelled to seek work again after the illness and resulting blindness of her husband. Her neighbour, a retired policeman, gives her a start in the investigations business and when he retires she takes on his clients. Dorcas uses her skills learnt from the theatre to disguise herself on her various cases. In this story we see her impersonating a nurse in order to solve the riddle of a gentleman's daughter who has been attacked but pretends that a tramp carried out the assault. Dorcas is tasked with uncovering the real identity of the assailant.
  • The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady - Grant Allen (1899). Lois Cayley has just graduated from Girton College and without any family ties she sets off to achieve her dream of travelling the world. As she doesn't have any money she funds the first stage of her journey by becoming a ladies' companion and accompanying a wealthy aristocrat on her trip to Germany. Lois keeps her companion's diamonds safe when a fellow traveller tries to steal them and helps the police to locate the would-be thief.
  • How He Cut His Stick - M. McDonnell Bodkin (1900). This story features professional detective, Dora Myrl. She is a plucky, new woman who is happy to get around on a bicycle and carries a revolver. In this story she is tasked with discovering how a large amount of gold was stolen by a thief who managed to disembark from a train travelling at more than 50 miles per hour.
  • The Man Who Cut Off My Hair - Richard Marsh (1912) - tells the story of Judith Lee who is a teacher of lip-reading, she relates an adventure from when she was twelve years old. She helps the police to catch a gang of thieves who have been carrying out thefts of valuable jewels and other belongings over a number of years. The twelve year old Judith succeeds where the professionals have failed due to her skills in lip-reading, so more a case of being in the right place at the right time rather than active detective work.
  • The Man with Nine Lives - Hugh C. Weir (1914). We are introduced to Madelyn Mack in this story. Hugh C. Weir's female sleuth is based on a real female detective, Mary Holland, who ran an investigations agency with her husband. Like Sherlock Holmes, Madelyn Mack is considered a genius by those around her, especially her sidekick Nora Noracker, and like Sherlock (famous for his cocaine habit), when she is bored she consumes cola berries as a stimulant
  • The Second Bullet - Anna Katharine Green (1915). This is the second story of the collection written by Anna Katharine Green. This story features her other female detective, the young, wealthy socialite Violet Strange.
Although the quality of the stories was rather up and down, the collection forms an excellent starting point from which to explore the adventures of fictional, female detectives. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Diary of a Provincial Lady - E. M. Delafield

"Do I know, she asks, how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September, really, or even October,  is the time. Do I know that the only really reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem? Cannot catch the name of the firm, which is Dutch, but reply Yes I do know, but think it is my duty to buy Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately Vicky comes into the drawing-room later and says: "Oh, Mummie, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworth's?"
From reading this first scene of Lady Boxe's instructions regarding forced bulb planting, I knew I was going to enjoy Diary of a Provincial Lady. I found all the scenes which involved Provincial Lady's children, Robin and Vicky, very funny, particularly when visitors drop-in unannounced and seem to be slightly horrified by the behaviour of the children and their mother's inability to prevent it.

One particular scene which really made me laugh was when the superior Miss P. and her effete friend Jahsper visit the Provincial Lady one rainy afternoon. Miss P. takes off her wet cape (hitting her friend Jahsper in the eye with a weighted corner of the garment) and proceeds to lecture on Proust and the absurdity of names derived from flowers, like Rose, Daisy, etc. Just when Provincial Lady has had enough,
"Entire situation is, however, revolutionised by totally unexpected entrance of Robin - staggering beneath my fur coat and last summer's crinoline straw hat - Henry [Robin's friend from school], draped in blue kimono, several scarfs belonging to Mademoiselle, old pair of fur gloves, with scarlet school-cap inappropriately crowning all - and Vicky, wearing nothing whatever but small pair of green silk knickerbockers and large and unfamiliar black felt hat put on at rakish angle.
Completely stunned silence overtakes us all, until Vicky, advancing with perfect aplomb, graciously says, "How do you do?" and shakes hands with Jahsper and Miss P. in turn, and I succeed in surpassing already well-established record for utter futility, by remarking that They Have Been Dressing Up.
Atmosphere becomes very, very strained indeed, only Vicky embarking on sprightly reminiscences of recent picnic, which meet with no response. Final depths of unsuccess are plumbed, when it transpires that Vicky's black sombrero, picked up in the hall, is in reality the property of Jahsper. I apologise profusely, the children giggle, Miss P. raises her eyebrows to quite unnatural heights, and gets up and looks at the book-shelves in a remote and superior way, and Jahsper says, Oh, never mind, it really is of no consequence, at the same time receiving hat with profound solicitude, and dusting it with two fingers." 
 E. M. Delafield is witty and satirical about the lives and personalities of the adults in the Diary, but her treatment, although also very funny, of the children is sympathetic and touching.

In addition to having a good laugh, I also found the book quite educational when it came to popular literary trends of the late 1920s. I was inspired to find out more about the magazine Time and Tide which Provincial Lady reads and to which she submits work. If you are interested in the history of this magazine there is a short feature available on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, which focuses on the magazine's founder,  the Welsh sufragette, and good friend of E. M. Delafield, Lady Rhondda. The segment is from an edition of the programme first broadcast in 2010.

The Diary was also quite useful for building a reading list of popular late twenties fiction. I found the following titles mentioned:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque 1929
  • Harriet Hume - Rebecca West 1929
  • Orlando - Virginia Woolf 1928
  • The Good Companions - J. B. Priestly 1929
  • High Wind in Jamaica - Richard Hughes 1929
  • An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser 1925
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Anita Loos 1925
  • The Exciting Family - M. D. Hillyard 1927
  • The Edwardians - Vita Sackville-West 1930
I am not very well-read when it comes to 1920s and 1930s literature and have only read one of these titles. Which titles have you read and were they enjoyable?

At one of Lady Boxe's dinner parties, the Provincial Lady meets the author of Symphony in Three Sexes. I couldn't find this title when I searched. Does anyone know what it is? I thought it could allude to Freud's Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex 1905, or if it is meant to be fiction, maybe Lady Chatterley's Lover or The Well of Loneliness. Any help will be most appreciated.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Short Story Sunday - Elizabeth Taylor

The Blush and Other Stories - Elizabeth Taylor

This collection of stories has been my first experience of Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975). I know she is quite popular with book bloggers (I first heard about her through Jane at Fleur Fisher who is a big fan) so I had high expectations for this week's Short Story Sunday.

I haven't been overly enamoured by most of the short story collections I've read, which focus on the lives of women (Truman Capote, Julie Orringer, William Trevor, A.S. Byatt), but Elizabeth Taylor's stories have been my favourite so far. In common with the other collections, The Blush and Other Stories contains tales of women: trapped, suffering growing pains, grieving, disappointed with how life has turned out and other slightly depressing themes. However, the stories often feature a lightness and sense of hope which, combined with the author's sympathetic development of her characters, renders the tales less lugubrious than they might otherwise be. Perhaps the age of this collection (the stories were first published in 1951) makes them rather genteel and less gritty than modern writing.

The collection contains twelve tales:

  • The Ambush
  • The Blush
  • The Letter-Writers
  • A Troubled State of Mind
  • The True Primitive
  • The Rose, The Mauve, The White
  • Summer Schools
  • Perhaps a Family Failing
  • Good-Bye, Good-Bye
  • Poor Girl
  • Hare Park
  • You'll Enjoy it When You Get There

The Letter-Writers, which tells the tale of two friends - whose decade-long friendship has developed through correspondence only - meeting for the first time, was one of the most pathetic stories in the collection (as in arousing pathos, not contemptible or worthless). It seems that this story was inspired by the epistolary friendship Elizabeth Taylor shared with the novelist, critic and biographer, Robert Liddell. In addition to his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Liddell also became friends with Barbara Pym whilst at Oxford. I have not heard of this writer before and I am rather intrigued by his choice of friends - I have read that both of these ladies are considered the best and most underrated female authors of the twentieth century. Please comment if you have read anything by Robert Liddell.

It's quite difficult to choose my favourite story from this collection, as I enjoyed so many of the stories. However, the final story, You'll Enjoy it When You Get There, keeps making me smile to myself days after I finished reading it. This story tells the tale of eighteen year old Rhoda who has to attend a business party with her father as her mother is in bed suffering from jaundice. Rhoda is painfully shy, which her mother finds a terrible failing,
"Self-consciousness it was always called when I was young, and that is what it is. To imagine that it shows a sense of modesty is absurd. Modesty. Why, I have never known a truly modest person to be the least bit shy."
Rhoda responds that it is alright for her, "You can drink. Then anyone can talk."

Rhoda's determined attempts at small-talk (about how her cat is from the same area as the location of the party) during the business dinner are amusing and result in the final hilarious scene on the dance floor.

This is not the only story with comic or light-hearted touches in the collection. I also found parts of: The Blush, The True Primitive and The Rose, The Mauve, The White amusing or outright funny.

I intend to try more of Elizabeth Taylor's writing in the future.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Behind the Scenes at Plymouth Central Library

I haven't provided a general profile of Plymouth Central Library yet, but, yesterday, I was very fortunate to be able to attend a "behind the scenes" tour at the library. As the day of the tour approached I became increasingly excited, and I wasn't disappointed! The tour was fascinating, and I hope I can attend more of these events at other libraries in the future as they are incredibly thrilling for a library lover.

Plymouth got its first public library in 1876 which, until 1910, was housed in the Old Guildhall. The foundation stone for the new library (the current building) was laid in 1907 and officially opened in 1910.

Original bookplate from the Free Library.
It features the coat of arms of the Corporation of Plymouth.
William Wright, the first librarian of Plymouth's public library, wrote to the Carnegie Trust on a number occasions requesting financial help for the establishment of a dedicated library building for Plymouth. In 1906 Andrew Carnegie offered £15,000 pounds which, despite a measure of anti-capitalist discussion among the members of the Town Council, was subsequently accepted. This gift did not quite cover the costs of construction as per the architect's original plans which feature first floor windows in the facade of the building. The building was constructed without these windows which means that the first floor reference section gets rather hot on sunny days as it does not feature dual aspect windows. Almost from its inception the new, purpose built library was too small for the population of the city. When the library was planned, built and opened the population of Plymouth was 100,000, but in 1914, this figure doubled overnight when the towns of Devonport and Stonehouse merged with the city.

The tour started on the first floor and after a short talk on the history of the library we filed downstairs to the ground floor which took us past the impressive stained glass window. I will provide more pictures of this window when I return to the library for a profile of the public parts of the building.

Plymouth Central Library suffered badly in WWII. This stained glass window is the only window to survive the war thanks to the prescient actions of some public servant, who had the window removed and taken to Buckland Abbey for safety. In April 1941 the Library was hit by incendiary bombs causing the destruction of the library stock, some 85,000 volumes. All that remained after this raid was the facade and some internal walls.

The library service picked themselves up after this devastating blow and opened a temporary library service next door in the Museum. They started with several thousand volumes (all the books that had been out on loan at the time of the fire), but this number quickly increased thanks to generous donations. Reconstruction work started on the damaged Library in 1954 and by 1956 the Library was open for business again.

Our first look at the non-public areas of the Library took us down some narrow stairs, past a large store of toilet rolls, to the basement which houses moving stacks full of local and naval history volumes. We also got the chance to have a look at the vault, where valuable items are held including some of the more financially valuable volumes of the Moxon Collection.

"Let me out of here! I want to be read."

Charles Chapel

After looking around the basement we ascended the stairs and exited the Library from the back in order to cross the road to the Library Annexe. The Annexe houses library offices, the orchestral collection and the bulk of the fiction and non-fiction lending stock. 

Library Annexe on the left and the back of the main Library building on the right.
The day of the tour was lovely and sunny, but I can't imagine it is much fun for the library assistants to have to cross the road in the rain in order to look for books for library patrons.

As you can see from the picture, the Library Annexe is a disused church. Charles Chapel, later called St Luke's Church was opened for worship in 1829 and eventually closed for regular services in 1962. After that time, it was used occasionally for weddings and baptisms, but eventually it was deconsecrated and sold to the Town Council. The building became the library bindery in 1970 and after that took on its current role.

We entered the Annexe by a door at the far left of the building which brought us into the packing and storage area of the Library's large collection of orchestral sets. Plymouth holds the largest collection of orchestral sets in the South West and these can be borrowed by other libraries across the country, hence the packing area.

We walked through this area and then entered the main room of the building which is filled with stacks of fiction and non-fiction (now I know where some of the books I borrow are stored).

Despite the age of the building and lack of modern climate control systems, our tour guide said that there are no problems with damp and that temperature control doesn't prove that much of an issue. This section of the building does not give you the feeling of being in a church; however, the lucky "behind-the-sceners" were given the chance to explore the gallery, which apart from the false ceiling that separates the working section of the building, is pretty much untouched.

It was very dusty in the gallery, but all the furniture was in quite a good state of repair. The lead in the stained glass windows on the right hand side of the picture is weak, so they have been bricked up to help preserve them.

The iron ceiling rosettes would have contained gas lamps. The ceiling looks clean and shiny in the pictures as it was restored twenty years ago.

When we left the Annexe I noticed a wonderful carving on the outside of the building. The carving is of a book; I am sure it was originally carved to represent the Bible, but I liked the fact that it continues to reflect the purpose of the

There are books in here.

The Moxon Collection

We crossed back to the main library building and gathered in a meeting room on the first floor. This room holds the bulk of the Moxon Collection. 

Alfred Moxon was a naturalist and travel writer who bequeathed his book collection to the Library in 1932. This precious collection survived the war as it was also stored for safe keeping at Buckland Abbey. The books include the collection of his sister, Louise, who predeceased her brother and from whom he inherited. Alfred Moxon does not seem to have had any connection to Plymouth; I am sure the librarians were extremely grateful, but, perhaps a little bemused on being contacted by his solicitor. Recent research has shown that the Moxon family may well have been related to the Drake family which could explain his gift. The books are beautifully bound and many of the natural history tomes are quite valuable.

This was the final part of an intriguing and fascinating tour.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Short Story Sunday - A.S. Byatt

Sugar and Other Stories - A.S. Byatt

I am beginning to wonder if maybe some of the short story collections I have been reading are better read over an extended period. Sugar and Other Stories left me with the same feeling as I had after reading the collections by William Trevor and Julie Orringer. Each story in these collections taken on its own is fascinating and wonderfully crafted, but read as a collection over the space of a week, or so, the themes (mainly dealing with women's lives: inter-generational conflict, parental death, betrayal, missed opportunities, etc) seem depressing and bleak.

My favourite stories from A.S, Byatt's collection are: Racine and the Tablecloth, Loss of Face and the title story. Sugar is an autobiographical story about the death of a female writer's father, the mythology that memory creates around the history of a family and a mother who lies. It is possible that Racine and the Tablecloth is also partly autobiographical as the story begins with a thirteen year old girl going off to boarding school; A.S. Byatt went to a Quaker boarding school at the age of thirteen. In any case, the study of the relationships between the pupils and the didactic methods of the teacher certainly had the ring of truth. If you have attended a girls' grammar, private or boarding school I am sure that this story will instantly transport you back to a time of (best) forgotten feelings and fears.

Loss of Face, along with The Dried Witch, forms the mid-section of the collection which moves the action to different cultures. The story follows Celia Quest, a female literary scholar, and her colleagues from a British university on their visit to South Korea where they lecture at a literary conference. Celia Quest is open to new experiences and wants to embrace this strange and alien culture. The title, Loss of Face, is a pun which describes Celia Quest's failure and the reason for her failure (she commits a grave faux pas because she does not recognise someone's face).

The only story which I didn't enjoy reading due to the structure rather than the subject matter was Precipice-Encurled. In this tale, Byatt combines real events that occurred at the end of Robert Browning's life with a fictionalised story about a young painter and a tragic event at a villa in the Apennines. I found it difficult to keep the different threads of the story straight in my mind and I really only "got" the fourth and main part of the story set in Villa Colomba.

As I bought a second-hand copy of this book, I was free to write on the text. My pencil was busy scribbling away as there were so many interesting literary features that jumped out at me as I was reading. Byatt uses a lot of inkhorn terms in her writing, but they are used judiciously, and not frivolously. I like learning something when I read and if I am reading fiction then I hope to be wowed and moved by language rather than facts. Two new words for me which I particularly enjoyed in this collection are "rebarbative" and "eructation".

I found Byatt's prose sonorous and rhythmic; she makes good use of alliteration, but it is subtle and sophisticated (not that I care about subtlety; I am quite content with the overuse of alliteration). For example, 
"She didn't see so far or focus so fast. She noticed her hips, on the Common, and had to make a real moral effort to see the hooded crow, or the hovering kestrel."
Repetition is also used quite frequently in many of the stories. e.g. "It is amusing. It is amusing that the same girls should already have been exposed to the betrayed and betraying cries of Ophelia's madness." Also, in The Next Room the word "precipitate" or "precipitately" (not really an everyday word) is used four times in a twenty-seven page story. The father of the main character, Joanna, is described as retiring precipitately. He did not live long after his retirement which suggests that sudden decisions and events have disagreeable outcomes, and Joanna says that she will not take any precipitate decisions about her parent's house or her future after her mother's death. Later she says that she will sell the house as soon as possible which leads one of her colleagues to remark, "Isn't that a bit precipitate?"

I really enjoyed A.S. Byatt's writing and although I found the collection rather sad (more action, less agonising.  That's my motto.) I intend to read more of her short stories, in particular The Matisse Stories which sounds very good.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Language Freak Summer Challenge

I came across this challenge run by Ekaterina at In My Book a few weeks ago and thought that participating might motivate me to pick up books in foreign languages again - yes, I do need the shove!

You can participate at various levels:

  • Beginner - read one book in a foreign language
  • Intermediate - read two books in a foreign language
  • Advanced - read three or more books in  foreign language

I am going to start small at the beginner level, but as the event runs until August I might try to increase my commitment of reading in foreign languages depending on how long my first book takes me.

Ekaterina suggested answering the following questions in our introductory post, so here goes:

What languages do you know? Note: even if you are a beginner, it totally counts! And don't forget to mention what your mother-tongue is!
English is my native language. In the past I have studied: Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Classical Arabic. I can get by with written French if I have a dictionary at my side.

What is your history with these languages?
I studied Spanish, Portuguese and Russian at university. Spanish was my main subject, but I am ashamed to say that I haven't used it for about a decade. I have studied Arabic, on and off, at part-time classes for several years but it is not at the level of the Romance languages I know, in fact it is not very good at all.

Do you use them or are you out of practice?
As mentioned above, I am very out of practice (I am so rusty regarding Russian that it is like I never learnt it at all). I use Arabic most (reading and speaking), and I watch films and YouTube clips in Spanish and French (I need subtitles for French films, but can understand short YouTube clips on subjects with which I am familiar).

Have you read some books in these languages? Did you like it?
I have read quite a large number of books in Spanish and a few in Portuguese. My favourite Spanish author is Pio Baroja and I can't say that I have a favourite Portuguese language author as I have only read books by the Brazilian, Paulo Coelho (not much of a fan of his books in English, but they are excellent in Portuguese).

What are your plans for the challenge?
As mentioned in my recent post about book buying in Glasgow, I have already bought a book of short stories by Almudena Grandes. If I end up reading more for the challenge I will probably go for further Spanish titles or maybe an easy to read French book (although I haven't studied French formally I LOVE it and hope to improve my understanding of the language.)

The Library File Goes to Glasgow - Part Four

Second-hand Bookshops

Book haul from second-hand bookshops in the West End of Glasgow.
As previously mentioned on here, I don't buy that many books - storage concerns and removal costs with frequent home moves being the main reasons. Even though I don't buy that many books I am more than happy to spend hours browsing in bookshops. I prefer second-hand books because like Helene Hanff, "I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to."

Sadly, so many second-hand bookshops have closed down over the last few years that in some cities it is almost impossible to find a good second-hand bookshop and most of the second-hand trade seems to have been taken over by Oxfam Books and Music. 

Thankfully, the West End of Glasgow still has three marvellous second-hand bookshops:
  • Voltaire and Rousseau 12-14 Otago Lane, Glasgow, G12 8PB
  • Thistle Books 55 Otago Street, Glasgow, G12 8PQ
  • Caledonia Books 483 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 8HL 
Voltaire and Rousseau is one of those cluttered, aladdin's cave style bookshops where taking a book from the middle of a pile might result in concussion by book avalanche. If you have plenty of time to browse then it's great fun, but if you are looking for something specific, and you do not have a whole afternoon to while away between the shelves, then maybe the more orderly Thistle or Caledonia Books would be more suitable.

I had travelled very light on my journey to Glasgow in the knowledge that I hoped to buy some books and that I was restricted by a minute luggage allowance on the return flight. I came home with four books (three from Thistle Books and one from Caledonia Books), three were purchased with my blog in mind and one, Sea Room, is a book that I have wanted to read for a while and couldn't resist when I saw it.

I purchased A.S. Byatt's first collection of short stories as I had travelled to Glasgow without a short story collection and I needed to read something for Short Story Sunday (as it turned out, I was out gallivanting last weekend, enjoying the sunny Bank holiday so Short Story Sunday wasn't done last week). The grey and white book (second from the right) is a Spanish collection of short stories, Modelos de Mujer, by Almudena Grandes which I bought in order to take part in Ekaterina's Language Freak Summer Challenge, at In My Book and the book on the right, Down to Earth Women, by Dawn MacLeod  was purchased because I intend to focus my reading on garden related themes during June.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Library File Goes to Glasgow - Part Three

Hillhead Library

Built in 1972, Hillhead Library is a bold, concrete building with an unusual decorative balcony over the entrance (in my opinion the decoration jars with the vertical lines of concrete and glass). It is situated in Byres Road in the bustling West End of Glasgow, just a stone's throw from the university. As befits its busy location, the library seemed well-used when I visited.

The ground floor of the library contains the lending library (I noticed that the library holds a particularly good collection of history books and classic literature), issue and enquiries desk and a separate children's section.

The ground floor feels quite large and airy thanks, in part, to the first floor gallery which allows plenty of natural light to filter down to the ground floor. The gallery is used as a study area with plenty of study desks and tables.

I felt rather grand descending from the gallery via the sweeping staircases
found on each side of the issue desk.

This was the third and final library that I visited in Glasgow and one thing which I noticed in all three libraries was the absence of self-issue and return machines. I have become accustomed to using these automated machines as most libraries in England, apart from very small branch libraries, seem to have them now. I asked about this at Hillhead Library and it seems that the machines are not used by Glasgow libraries - they carried out a trial of the machines about four years ago but apparently they are not compatible with their library system.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Library File Goes to Glasgow - Part Two

The Library at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)

My second library trip during my stay in Glasgow was to the community library which can be found in the basement of GoMA. 

Although the library is just a small branch library with the usual stock (popular fiction, crime, romance, biographies, CDs, DVDs and PCs for internet use) a trip there necessitates a visit to the art gallery, or, at the very least, the foyer and gallery shop.

Entrance to the gallery is free, so I took the chance to have a look at what is on display whilst I was there. The large neo-classical hall on the ground floor is currently showing an exhibition called Every Day which features sculptures by Glasgow-based artists. As the title of the show suggests, many of the objects on display seemed rather mundane: a chair, an umbrella, blocks of concrete, for example.
The ground floor exhibition hall.
I can't say that I was particularly interested in the artwork on display, but the hall is extremely beautiful and I was pleased that I was permitted to take photographs.

The half-dome glass ceiling at the entrance of the hall.
I don't usually get that excited about conceptual art, but on the second floor of the gallery I came across Der Lauf Der Dinge or The Way Things Go, a 1987 film showing an installation set up by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. This art film is a compelling thirty minute "performance" of every day, inanimate objects moving solely through gravity and chemical reactions. You can see the whole film on YouTube.

When I had finished looking around the gallery I went down to the library which shares the basement with the cafe. The library takes up the right hand side of the room and although the two services share the same space there is a definite physical separation which is created by the book shelves. The library is split into several areas with small sections being formed by the shelves with a central corridor that runs the length of the library and passage ways that divide each section. This arrangement makes each section feel cosy and private, a feeling that is enhance by the low ceilings.

The shelving, furniture and lighting are modern but the original features of the building can be seen in the marble pillars which dictate the size of each of the sections of the library.

There has been a library in the building (Royal Exchange) since 1954 when Stirling's Library first arrived there. Stirling's Library was Glasgow's oldest free library, opened 1791. The library was established from a bequest of Walter Stirling, a Glasgow merchant. It was originally located in Miller Street, only moving to the Royal Exchange (today's GoMA) in 1954. In the 1990s the library left the building while it was refitted as an art gallery. The library returned in 2002 as the Library at GoMA. Items of worth from the original Stirling's Library are now held at the Mitchell Library. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Library File Goes to Glasgow

The Mitchell Library

The Mitchell Library is one of Europe's largest public reference libraries and holds over a million items including the largest Robert Burns collection in the world. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Glasgow last week and this library was my first port of call.

The Mitchell Library was established thanks to Stephen Mitchell, a wealthy tobacco merchant. On his death, in 1874, he bequeathed his estate to the town council for the establishment of a free public library. The library opened its doors, with an initial stock of 14,000 volumes, in November 1877. The Mitchell Library began its life in temporary premises on the second floor of a building in Ingram Street. In its early years, the Library received many valuable donations and it quickly outgrew these premises. The Library's first move was to Miller Street, to premises which had been furnished at great cost, including electric lighting (with a gas backup system); however, from the beginning these premises were too small for the ever increasing library stock.

A purpose built library was planned and the foundation stone for the new building was laid, by Andrew Carnegie, in 1907. This new building, the Mitchell Library of today situated on North Street, was finally open for business in October 1911.

I entered the Library from the North Street entrance. This entrance brings you onto level 1 of the library which houses the Main Reading Hall - it was closed when I visited as it is now used as an exhibition space, this was a real shame as it sounds like a beautiful room with a glass ceiling and decorative plasterwork. You can also find Business at The Mitchell which is the information point for all things business related: access to market research, company accounts and reports and funding opportunities for small businesses. 

I felt a little bit lost when I entered the building as you have to walk down a long corridor before you come across Business at The Mitchell and then after this section you find the lifts with a building directory.
Corridor leading from the entrance on North Street through to the lifts and access to the other levels of the Library.
Once I found the lifts, I travelled up to the top level (level 5) and worked my way down from there. Level 5 houses books from classmark 700 to the end of the classification. There is a separate glass-panelled room for all subject matter relating to literature that also has plenty of study desks. In addition to the main areas with the stacks, there is a separate, large reading room for silent study. 

The large number of strip lights should give an indication of the size of  this room
 - classmark 700 - the end, minus 800 (literature) which is housed in a separate area.
I was really impressed by the large stock that was visible on the shelves and I felt like I was in a university library, not a public library. I'm not sure if I could read and study effectively in this environment though, as the psychedelic carpets gave me a bit of a headache. As if one carpet wasn't enough, on this level there are three different brightly patterned carpets! 

Carpet number 1.
Carpet number 2.
Carpet number 3 which is used in the hallways of levels  2 - 5.
Level 4 contains more books (classmark 000 - 699) and a Scots Law reference section. The most interesting area I found on this level, and something that I have not seen in any other public library, was the music practice carrels where musicians can practice their own instruments or borrow the library's piano. This level also showcased three garish carpets: the red, floral pattern in the hallway (as above) and two further woolen marvels.

On level 3 you can access family history documents and the Genealogy Centre run by Glasgow Registration Services. There are two funky carpets on this level: the floral catastrophe in the hallway and my favourite floor covering of the building: a brown, gold and orange affair with pictures of an oak tree and an open book. 

The oak tree forms part of the city of Glasgow's coat of arms
(it is one of the emblem's of Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow).
Level 2 houses the city archives with both an open access section and a closed access section with valuable documents which requires bags to be left in lockers before entering.

The Celtic knot design seemed quite suitable for the archives.
I missed out level 1 on my way down and went straight to the ground floor. This floor of the library looked very modern (notice the plain, subdued carpet) and contains material that you would expect to find in any public library: popular fiction, the children's library, audio CDs and DVDs. There is also a cafe, the issue and enquiries desk and a large information area with 50 PCs.

I exited the library through this level on Granville Street. In fact, for first time visitors and library users requiring direction and assistance, the entrance on Granville Street is more suitable than the North Street entrance; the layout seems to make more sense if you start with this section on the ground floor (I didn't realise this when I visited).

The entrance on Granville Street.
The Granville Street side of the Library.
The residents of Glasgow are truly blessed to have such a wonderful library to use. I could quite happily have spent all my time in the city in this library, but I decided to see what else the city had to offer in terms of library provision. I visited two other libraries: profiles and pictures to follow soon.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

An Afternoon in Looe, Cornwall

Tourism, not Reading...

I haven't had time to prepare and write Short Story Sunday this week. Earlier this week, I was away in Glasgow (library related posts to follow shortly) and today I have been enjoying the beautiful weather on a day trip to the coastal town of Looe in Cornwall.

I sat on the beach and ate a pasty (yummy!), strolled around the town, went for a walk along the coast path and enjoyed a tasty cream tea with an unseemly amount of clotted cream.

Red Campion on the coastal path
I have started to read a collection of stories by A. S. Byatt which I will review next week in the return of Short Story Sunday.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

William Ewart - Public Libraries Parliamentarian

Statue at The Oratory, Liverpool from Wikipedia
Today is the anniversary of the birth of William Ewart M.P.* (1st May 1798 - 23rd June 1869). It is partly thanks to him that the Public Libraries Act of 1850 was passed allowing city councils to levy a tax to pay for the provision of a public library service. He brought the issue of free libraries to the fore in Parliament by tabling a motion for a select committee to investigate the idea of levying local rates to support a free library.

His interest in public libraries stemmed from his ideas regarding national educational reform. He supported the concept of a board of education where education would be the job of the state, not the Church, and he thought that the state should throw open the doors of public institutions in order to promote the spread of knowledge.

In 1864, looking back at his efforts to establish free libraries, he said,
"So far as my intention went these libraries were meant for all classes. Naturally the most numerous of them, the working class, would derive most benefit from them. But I always thought that one of the good results of such institutions would be the bringing of all classes together, and uniting them by the common bond of literary pursuits."

* Sometimes confused with the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone (1809 - 1898). If their names are strikingly similar, it is because William Ewart's father, also called William, was close friends with John Gladstone and became his son's godfather.