Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society

Royal Geographical Society

It’s hard to believe that today was our last official class visit… it’s also hard to believe that I woke up this morning having my fourth heart episode in nine days. (I’m sure you’re all bored with the heart information, but really I’m keeping track of these episodes for my own benefit).

However, I am ecstatic to say that our class toured the Royal Geographical Society (RGS)! This was not on our initial itinerary for the trip, but Dr. Welsh and Dr. Griffis did promise us a few surprise visits…

You may remember that the girls and I visited the RGS back on the 3rd to see their photography exhibit, and I am very interested in the society after reading about it in The Lost City of Z. The RGS was founded in 1830, and is a highly specialized body that focuses on advancing the geographical sciences; it is a membership organization, with over 15,000 members and Fellows in 100 countries. Dr. Welsh is actually a Fellow of the Society, and so we were able to have an in-depth tour of some of their collections in the Foyle Reading Room.

RGS’s collections encompass nearly 2 million items, which include artifacts, books, maps, manuscripts, and personal effects from famous explorers whose expeditions were partially or fully funded by the Society. Eugene Rae, the Principal Librarian, created what he called a “Hot and Cold” exhibit, meaning it covered exploration from the deserts of Africa to the Arctic and Antarctica. We were shown the sketches, compass, sextants, and hats of famous African explorers David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, items left behind from Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated final Antarctic expedition in 1912, and the boot and goggles from Mount Everest explorer George Mallory, who died on the mountain in 1924. We were not allowed to take pictures of these amazing items, but I encourage you to explore their catalogue – type in any of the explorers I mentioned above, limit to Artefacts, and you’ll get a detailed description of the boxes of materials and items RGS has in relation to that person.

Although the Society is essentially a members-only organization, use of the collections and archives is encouraged, though researchers must undergo a registration process. In addition, the Society still issues travel grants for expeditions, fieldwork, student research, and teaching. Lastly, various exhibitions are opened to the public throughout the year at the Society’s facilities, and I have now had the chance to see two: the Environmental Photographer of the Year, and the Travel Photographer of the Year. (Click on the links for pictures) Both exhibits beautifully showcased breathtaking images and films from around the world. Fun Fact: Did you know that actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes have a cousin named Ranulph, who is arguably the world’s most famous modern-day adventurer and explorer? Check him out – his various record-breaking feats are fascinating, and he is speaking at the RGS in September.

The RGS is probably one of my favorite places we’ve visited on this trip, as it’s really unlike any other library, archive, or museum we’ve seen. I am highly interested in exploration, and love reading about historical non-fiction adventures; they’re often so exciting and seemingly unrealistic that they read like a fiction book. But seeing the actual artifacts of explorers solidified the realness of their lives for me, and I appreciate that these men literally sacrificed their lives for their country, their honor, and their often fanatical desire to explore and further the realm of knowledge for mankind. To experience a glimpse of the driving force behind these men, I encourage you all again to read The Lost City of Z, which details the life and mysterious death of explorer Percy Fawcett.

After our final visit, I grabbed a quick lunch from Pret (sadly quite possibly my last ham and egg sandwich here in London), and trekked back to the Wesley Museum to do more research. In true explorer fashion, I had mapped out my route on the Tube, which was quite simple in theory – from the South Kensington Station, which was right down the street from the RGS, I would hop on either the Circle or District line, take that to Monument Station, where I’d then take the Northern line up to Old Street. Easy, right? WRONG. The Circle and District lines are now the bane of existence, and I was incredibly unhappy with London after my tube fiasco today. I did finally make it to the museum, though I could only spent an hour there since they closed at 4. To make myself feel better, I decided to do some shopping, but that too, ended disastrously, so I promptly gave up and treated myself to some Ben’s cookies for dinner. Because, why not? Sometimes a girl just needs a giant cookie and then the world is ok again…

Here’s hoping for a better tomorrow, which I know will happen, because the girls and I are headed to Warner Bros Studios for THE MAKING OF HARRY POTTER! I’ll try to contain my excitement, but can make no promises.

Sleep tight,



British Library

Part 1: The British Library

Welcome to the British Library…. a bibliophile’s dream!

British Library Sign


Today we toured the British Library, which is the National Library of the UK, similar to the Library of Congress in the US. As such, the British Library (BL as I may refer to it from now on), has 3 goals:

1. *Collect all published output of the United Kingdom – Around 8,000 books are published per day in the UK, and the BL has to get them all! Yes, even the trashy romance novels…

*The reasoning behind this is that the BL is a legal deposit library; there are 6 in the UK and Ireland: the BL, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, the Bodleian, and the Trinity College Library in Dublin.

2. Keep and maintain this collection

3. Make the collection available to the public

In addition, the BL provides leadership for the UK library community (again, similar to the Library of Congress, which has established a cataloguing system, subject headings, etc.). Before the library opened, the British Museum (which we’ll visit next Thursday), performed library duties for the nation. The library building opened in 1997 and took 36(!) years to build; previously, books had been deteriorating at a rapid rate, which tends to happen when they are composed of paper materials like wood pulp. As such, it is a priority of the library to ensure that all materials are properly preserved, which guarantees longevity of the life of the item. Books are stored beneath the main BL building, in the largest underground depository in Europe (approximately 35 million books!). Underground stacks are kept at a temperature of around 62 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% humidity, to further delay the inevitable decomposition process of books/papers/manuscripts. The remainder of the collection (200 million books!!) is stored out of the city in Wilkshire. Because of this, it takes about 48 hours to retrieve a book from the off-campus site. The in-house retrieval system is awesome, by the way! We had a demonstration, and it’s both so simple and complex… my mind was blown.


British Library Book Bench

(L to R)
Laura Douglass, Jessica, me, and Jade on the British Library Book Bench

Now on to the favorite part of our tour… the Treasure Room! Believe it or not, that’s actually what this room is called. You’ll shortly see why. Sadly, no photographs are allowed to be taken in this room, but I can’t be too upset – it’s for preservation reasons after all. Here’s a run-down of my favorites:

– Beatles memorabilia, aka lyrics written by them on scrap paper, etc.

– a book that belonged to Elizabeth I (my favorite monarch!)

– ***A GUTENBERG BIBLE*** (Sorry for the excitement everyone, but I actually teared up when I saw this)

– The Magna Carta – enough said

– countless religious texts spanning many centuries, religions, countries, etc. (The Lotus Sutra, Codex Sinaiticus, a 9th century Qur’an)

– works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci

– Shakespeare’s First Folio

– many classic authors/works of literature – a Beowulf manuscript,  Jane Austen’s writing desk, and works by Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, Thomas Hardy

I could write about this room for days, but I’ll stop. Here, I also must pause to thank my Special Collections professor last semester, who taught us the importance of museum/gallery exhibit best practices. These include looking at lighting, space between cases, font size of item labels, etc. etc. I have found myself looking at all of these components in the libraries we’ve visited, and was not at all surprised to find that the BL was excellent at following these guidelines, which simply allow all patrons access to materials. A good example: in the Treasure Room, each section of cases/displays had a book with Large Print Display Labels. It has been stressed countless times to us in library school that one of our primary goals is to allow everyone equal access to information. That mantra has really struck me, and so it makes me proud to see places, like the BL, following through with this goal.

The British Library was everything I hoped for and more – our tour guide was fantastic, we had the opportunity to see some “behind the scenes” portions of the library, and I feel as though I have a solid grasp of how the library is structured and how it operates. I am certain I will return to the BL before my time is up in the UK…

 Part 2: Afternoon and Evening Adventures

Next, the girls and I made the trek to South Kensington to visit the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). For one of our classes this summer, we were required to write two book reviews before our trip overseas. One of the books I read was The Lost City of Z, written by David Grann, which I highly recommend! It’s about Percy Fawcett, a British explorer (and member of the RGS), who was infamous for his treks into the uncharted Amazon jungle in search for El Dorado, or “Z.” Sadly, Percy and his son Jack disappeared in 1921, in what would be their final expedition. At any rate, I decided that I must visit the RGS after reading this book! Unfortunately, the facilities are basically off-limits unless you’re a member of the Society, which I am decidedly not. However, luckily for me, they had an on-going exhibit that was open to public and featured award-winning Environmentalist Photographer photos of the year. The photos were moving, haunting, and inspiring, and highlighted many on-going problems in the world today – pollution, deforestation, global warming, etc. Though I left feeling a bit dejected, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to view this wonderful exhibit.

Me in front of the Royal Geographical Society

Outside the RGS!

After these two stops, you might think my day was over, but we were just getting started! Jade graciously traveled to Russell Square with me (my old stomping grounds!) and listened to me babble on about this store and that pub and that park over there…. thanks friend! We even stopped by my old “home,” which is in fact the Royal National Hotel. Everything was the pretty much the same, which was great for me, and made my trip down memory lane a pleasant experience!

Royal National Hotel

My home circa January 2007

Unfortunately, as the day went on, I started feeling sicker… and sicker… and sicker. You know, the very sore throat, some coughing, some congestion… but that in no way deterred me from attending the BEST.PARTY.EVER. with Laura Douglass that night! We bought tickets to Hot Dub Time Machine with DJ Tom Loud and I have to say, it was indeed the best dance party I have ever attended! Basically, he starts back in 1954 and plays at least 1 song from every year until now… so essentially this event is a 2+ hour long dance party. The best part is the DJ talked to us beforehand, thought it was the coolest thing that we were from South Carolina, and gave us multiple shoutouts during his show! So that was our way to start the weekend and our 4th of July celebration early, and it was a great success. Thanks, DJ Tom Loud!

Hot Dub Time Machine

Laura Douglass and I with DJ Tom Loud!

I hope that everyone has a SAFE and FUN 4th of July weekend! We have some good things planned, so I’ll do a weekend post in a few days.

– Taylor