Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oxford Final Day

Our last full day in Oxford started with a session and ended with a party.
In between we watched more rowing races, drank lots of cider, champagne and Guinness and said goodbye to new friends.
I will write more soon, I'm back in London and trying to see everything I love before I go home.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oxford Day 12

Today was all about Christ Church College and watching The Eights races.
Christ Church College is one of the largest and oldest Colleges at Oxford and one of the most beautiful. Supposedly Christ Church was an inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for J.K. Rowling as she was writing the Harry Potter novels. They filmed scenes for the first 2 films at Christ Church and many of the locations are open to guests. I had my picture taken on the stairs leading into the Dining Hall which was the location used in the first film as the students arrive and congregate on the stairs before they go into the hall to be sorted into their houses by the sorting hat (see pic above). The Dining Hall was also used in the films and is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the movies (see pic).
Other areas we visited included Christ Church Cathedral (only college with their own cathedral), the quad and the Cloisters. When Lewis Carroll was writing his famous story Alice in Wonderland for Alice Liddell many of the characters and locations are based on Christ Church (where Alice's father was Dean of the College). In fact there are signs of Alice everywhere, many are hidden and fun to search for.
After Christ Church we walked through the meadows to the Thames and Cherwell Rivers to watch The Eights. The Eights take place over 4 days every spring and are rowing competitions between the Colleges. Many of the rowers were in costume and the entire event is a party and tons of fun. We are going back tomorrow to watch more races before our closing reception and dinner. For more pictures and video of the races see my Facebook page.

Oxford Day 11

Busy day today. First session was with John Tuck the Director of Library Services at the Royal Holloway, University of London who talked about libraries as social learning spaces. Really interesting slide show of Royal Holloway and one of their new library spaces which incorporates movable walls and furniture, white boards, interactive technology and a Japanese tea house with tea and sushi as snacks.
The second session was Future Directions for Academic Libraries presented by Anne Bell, University Librarian for University of Warwick. She also spoke on libraries as social learning spaces and the changing face of the needs of academic libraries.
Following lunch we were back at the New Bodleian Library for a tour of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera and a glimpse into the digitization of the collection. Ephemera is everything that would normally be thrown away, such as playbills, political pamphlets, menus, invitations, handouts and the collection covers hundreds of years and subject headings. My favorite were the handouts that were passed out before murder trials and executions. Fascinating collection.
After dinner a few of us went to the Eagle and Child Pub (everyone here calls it the Bird and the Baby, pic above is me in the pub) which is right around the corner from our flat. The pub was famous as the meeting place of The Inklings which included writers Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) and C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia). A tiny pub where you can enjoy a pint (served lukewarm) in the room they met in for more than 20 years. You can see pics of the pub at the Wikipedia entry here:
After the pub we watched Manchester United lose to Barcelona in the Champions League Final, bummer...would have been a party in England if they'd won.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oxford Day 10

(Photo of the sign posted outside my flat, "No fouling", such a polite way to say no flaming piles of sh*t)

Another day in the classrooms, first with Caroline Taylor who works in Social and Community Services in Oxfordshire County Library who talked about the public library systems in the UK. Since 1964 the local government must provide "comprehensive and efficient" library services to the people. With 149 authorities in England, that is a lot of local government involvement. 58% of the population have a library card and 48.5% of the population have visited a library at least once in the last 12 months. The UK has an amazing program for families called Book Start where new babies are given a selection of books at 9 months, 18 months and 3 years to encourage a lifelong love of reading and learning. This program is open to EVERY baby in the UK. Check out the highly entertaining website at:
After tea we went to the New Bodleian Library to a conservation workshop and saw how a 14th century illuminated French manuscript was restored. We were also given a tour of some of the stacks and the book boxes that are made to preserve rare manuscripts. Later in the afternoon we met with Peter Burnett from INASP(International Network for the availability of Scientific Publications) about how they are helping researchers and academics in developing countries with access to information delivery, publishing, library development and internet management.
Towards the end of the day we were back in the New Bodleian Library to see a selection of rare books and manuscripts including one of only 8 surviving copies of the Red Manifesto and a 14th century copy of Dante's Inferno. Before dinner I had a chance to visit the upper reading room in the Bodleian Library to view the books I had requested last week. Since the library is not a lending library books must be requested and are delivered to a reading room for handling. I requested Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland volumes 1, 2 and 3 from 1825 and 1828 and a copy of The Feminist Controversy in England by Mary Wollstonecraft. Just handling the books was a treat, the Fairy book was crumbling around the binding and was flaking into my hands but was still in good condition considering its age.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oxford Day 6, 7, 8 and 9

My 6th day in Oxford was a busy one and particularly interesting to me. In the first session after breakfast Eric Meyer of the Oxford Internet Institute spoke about e-research at Oxford. After a tea break, Michael Popham, the Head of The Oxford Digital Library spoke about the partnership between Google and Oxford and the digitization of more than 300,000 items in the collection which are now available online. I love browsing through digital collections and it was fascinating to hear the behind the scenes story of how things make it from the archives to the Internet.
We then walked to the Bodleian Library and met with Clive Hurst who is the Head of Rare Books and Printed Ephemera at the library, absolutely one of my dream jobs. He had about a dozen rare items that represented the evolution of books in England that we were allowed to view, but not handle. Some of the items were the only surviving copies in the world. Amazing.

After lunch we had a private tour of the Oxford Botanic Gardens which are the oldest in the UK and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Lisa Campbell was our tour guide and she is the curator of the Glasshouse Collections, a series of conservatories that house plant specimens from all over the planet. The Botanic Gardens are home to the "Tolkien Tree" a massive tree that was a favorite of writers such as Tolkien who based the Ents on this tree in his book Lord of the Rings. (See pic) After the gardens we were hosted for a private tea at the home of a former Oxford University librarian. Beautiful house and gardens and we were treated to a real English tea party.
Over the weekend we went to Windsor to visit Windsor Castle and to tour Eton College. It was nice to stay in a posh hotel (cable and down pillows!) but by Sunday I was ready to go "home" to Oxford. Windsor Castle was huge and very beautiful but touring Eton College was even better. Our tour guide was the Master of the buildings at Eton (over 400) and gave us a lively and historic tour plus details on the daily lives of the boys. Getting to Eton from Windsor visitors must cross a pedestrian bridge over the Thames which is picturesque and lovely and on the Eton side is a restaurant called the House on the Bridge where we had delicious "cream tea" which is tea with scones, clotted cream, jam and strawberries. Best we have had yet in England.

Monday was a bank holiday in England (no classes) so we went to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and one of the largest homes in England. The grounds were enormous and seemed to go on for miles with gardens designed by Capability Brown in 1764. The "Long Library" is one of the longest rooms in a private home in the UK and was full of books and priceless portraits. The 11th Duke of Marlborough lives most of the year at the Palace but was out of town for the long weekend so were were able to pay for a private tour and see the family apartments. Shabby chic is how I would describe the rooms they live in. Lots of books, magazines, newspapers and remote controls for the televisions laying around like any normal house. There was a wonderful art and music festival on the grounds of the Palace and we walked around and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. When I closed my eyes I could picture the grounds full of horses and hounds and ladies in period dress enjoying garden parties and gentleman on the hunt. It was such a mix of the old and new, totally fascinating glimpse into the aristocracy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oxford Day 6

Contemplating how to write everything I am experiencing...

Busy day...taking a break for the weekend and going to Windsor and Eton tomorrow. I will blog again on Sunday about the 6th, 7th and 8th days here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oxford Day 5

Today was a field trip, we took the bus from Oxford to London at 7 am this morning to tour the British Library. The BL is one of the top libraries in the world (along with the Library of Congress and the Library in Moscow)and is a legal deposit library for the UK. A legal deposit library must collect every item printed in that country and the British Library's collection is the 2nd largest in the world (only behind the Library of Congress). The new library was opened about 11 years ago and moved from the previous location at the British Museum, the new library is absolutely HUGE. There is a model of the library in the lobby which shows the design as well as the 3 story basement that houses a major portion of the collection (the library has more than 200 million items within multiple sites). Pictures on Facebook.

After a tour of the lobby area, a book processing room, the reader registration area and a glimpse into a reading room we met with the Curator of the Modern Britain collection of the library. The librarian (who arrived at BL from New Orleans and Chicago) has one of the largest collections at the BL because everything that is published or self published comes to him, items such as every newspaper (every day), magazines, blogs, zines, pamphlets etc. He was fascinating and has one of the coolest library jobs I have ever seen.

After the tours we had the remainder of the day free and before we left the library we visited the Special Collections room which was unbelievable. The room was heavily guarded and dark to protect the books on display, here are a few of the books I saw (only separated by glass!):

The written lyrics to the Beatles Yesterday and Help (on scrap paper!)
Jane Austen's writing desk, glasses and her handwritten manuscript for Persuasion(1815), I swear I almost cried when I saw this
An 11th century copy of The Laws of King Edgar
Illuminated manuscripts, including The Sherborne Missal from 1400
A 1304 copy of the Qur'an
1 of only 4 copies of the 1215 Magna Carta
The Balliol Roll, a 1340 roll of the arms of Scotland, the oldest surviving
The illustrated La Divina Commedia by Dante from 1444
The handwritten copy of Jane Eyre open to the conclusion page from 1847, "Reader-I married him"
The ORIGINAL Alice in Wonderland with Dodgson's illustrations from 1864, probably the most valuable children's book ever

After the British Library we went to Knightsbridge for lunch and then to Kensington Palace for a tour of the state apartments and exhibits of Princess Diana's dresses and an exhibit on the last season of debutantes in London, 1958.
We also hit Harrods, I will have to blog about that tomorrow, I am exhausted and going to bed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oxford Day 4

Pictures of the gardens at Merton College

Today's lessons were 2 tours, the first to The Oxford University Press and the 2nd to the Merton College Library and Gardens. Most people are familair with the OUP from their printings of The Bible and the Oxford Dictionary but the publisher (no longer a printer) is also known for educational materials and children's books. We toured the historic building and museum and enjoyed tea in the staff cafeteria. The tour was very interesting and informative on the origins of printing and publishing in the UK.

After lunch we had a tour of Merton College, the libraries and the gardens which are absolutely breathtaking. The College which I think must be the most beautiful in Oxford has a library which is one of the oldest and dates back to the 14th century. Located up steep stairs to a gabled room the library is now more of a museum than a library although they sometimes allow books to be brought down to reading rooms to be studied. The L shaped room was incredible, dark dark wood floors, bookshelves and ceiling make for a very medieval setting. The books were just indescribable, totally priceless and truly an honor to be seen. While I am not a religious person, stepping into a library like the one at Merton was like stepping into a place of worship for me. We were not allowed to touch anything but were able to get as close as possible, close enough to smell the books which is almost as good as touching them.

The gardens at Merton are beautiful and wrap around the quadrangles to a large area of cricket fields (see Facebook for all my photos). As we walked through the College there were students playing croquet and cricket and some just laying in the grass studying. Today really was everything I thought Oxford would be. Tomorrow it's off to London and the British Library.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oxford Day 3

My feet hurt. This is a walking town. Started off the day with 2 classes and then had the afternoon off so we took a walking tour of Oxford for 2 hours. BTW if you are reading my blog and also on Facebook, I upload new pictures every evening on to my FB profile so either add me as a friend to view them or if you are already a friend on FB check them out.

Today was another rainy and sunny day. Really some of the most unusual weather I have ever seen. It rains EVERY day, brief showers, very light rain. Then 5 minutes later it's sunny and hot. Then it rains again and so on and so on. This is an island after all.

Anyway we decided to take a walking tour organized by the City and not the college which turned out to be many of the buildings I had already seen but our guide Lora, an older woman who has been giving the tour for over 20 years was like a walking encyclopedia. She showed us haunted alleyways,the area where Bill Clinton lived when he was a Rhodes Scholar,the former "Red Light District",and the tombs and places of worship of so many historical figures. Absolutely fascinating.

Let me tell you what I've learned about Oxford. Oxford the village was here first, before the colleges which is amazing considering the university goes back over 900 years. There are 38 colleges at Oxford and every single one of them is separate from the University. A good analogy would be the University is the USA and the colleges are the states. Students must apply to the college they want to attend and sit for an interview. If they are accepted they are a student of the college and a member of the University. Some of the colleges are very very rich, some are very poor. The University itself is poor as most alumni donate to their college not the University. Each college has it's own campus. The older colleges like Jesus and New College are build around a quadrangle. The colleges are completely contained within the quad. Many have the living areas, a dining hall, a chapel and a library. The students live, study, eat and socialize for their 3 years within the college. When alumni or students meet they ask, "What college" and then "What stairs?" because the oldest buildings are built with each room off stairs, there were no buildings built with corridors until recently. (This was done for safety, no access to multiple rooms, see the picture above).

So that is the lesson for the day, I am off to stroll and then a pint.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oxford Day 2

This morning was the first day of classes and tours and was full from beginning to end. Skipping breakfast, (8:00 am! no thank you) the first program was at 9:30 which was an overview of the program followed by a break for tea. Afterward a lecture on the history of the program as well as an excellent introduction to Oxford as seen through its history and buildings by Chris Day (Director of Academic and International Programmes at Oxford University's Department of Continuing Education).
Following lunch we we were given a private tour of The Bodleian Library and received our library cards for access. Seriously, that was cool, it's a privilege to have access to such an incredible place. There are over 100 libraries at Oxford including college, departmental, faculty and central (The Bodleian). We toured The Bodleian, the Radcliffe Camera (the world's first completely round library) and the incredible Duke Humfrey's Library which was built above The Divinity School and houses books from before 1430. This was the first library in England with wall shelves(from floor to ceiling) and it was incredible, old beautiful leather and vellum bound books as far as the eye could see. The books could not be removed from the shelves by students or visitors but can be accessed by staff.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was walking into The Divinity School (see picture above)which is familiar to many Harry Potter fans as a location used in the movies. The Divinity School is the oldest building built for the study of theology still standing in Oxford. For a great 360 degree view click here.

After dinner Mom and I decided to stroll through the streets and found the most charming area. Two of the main roads in Oxford, Woodstock Road and Banbury Road eventually meet to form St. Giles Street but where they split there is a small lane called Church Lane which connects the 2 streets. Walking down Church Lane, the very large church for St. Antony's is on your left and after you walk through the churchyard you enter a tiny lane, very narrow and only a few hundred yards long. The buildings are so close together that they have strung fairy lights across the lane and there are only a few buildings including pubs and restaurants, a hairdresser, garden shop and grocery. It's so charming it looks like a tiny village out of a fairy or folk tale. People were riding down the lane on their bikes, sitting in the window of the pubs and restaurants and just enjoying twilight and a respite from the rain. I'm planning on visiting again and drinking a pint in the famous Rose and Crown Public House pub. Tomorrow when there is more light I will try and take some pictures that capture the charm of this tiny haven.

Tomorrow are classes in the morning and then a free afternoon. Mom and I are going on a walking tour and then taking high tea.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

London and Oxford Day 2 and 3

Our first 2 days in London were spent strolling through the National Galleries, hopping on and off the bus to wander through Kensington, Westminster, Belgravia and other neighborhoods and shopping on Oxford and Regent Streets. Saturday evening we attended an amazing Baroque concert, performed in candlelight at St. Martin in the Fields Church. The music was so moving and the setting so perfect it was truly like being thrown back in time. If I closed my eyes I could picture the music being played in much the same manner to men and women assembled in drawing rooms and ballrooms, dancing and enjoying it as much as I did.
This morning, in rain no less, we took the bus from London to Oxford which is about a 90 minute ride and arrived to a lunch reception and a walking tour of some of the colleges at Oxford (there are 38!). Our room is large with a beautiful view over the rooftops to the English countryside. It's wet here, Oxford is built upon streams and surrounded on 3 sides by rivers so it's damp, bone reaching damp but so lovely with buildings over 700 years old.
We enjoyed a dinner reception this evening and were informed we were students in the 900th year at Oxford. What an honor it is to be here.
Tomorrow the classes begin and in between there are tours, behind the scenes at the oldest English library in the world and lots of things to see. I can't wait.
P.S. Hey Kathy, I'm wearing new Burberry in the picture above! I LOVE shopping in London!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

London Day 1

We arrived via Virgin ontime and to a rainy morning in London. 3 hours later we arrived at our temporary flat in Westminster, only 86 steps to the door!
We went to Trafalgar and spent hours wandering through the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. The Tutors Gallery is breathtaking, the portraits of Queen Victoria and Anne Boleyn that I have seen so many times in books, but to see them in person almost brought me to tears.
Tonight we are going to St. Martins in the Fields Church to listen to classical music in a crypt!
Once we get to Oxford tomorrow I will upload pics.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going Green at the Airport

So in preparation of my flight to London I am trying (I really 'm!) to pack light and to avoid some of the obvious traps travelers fall into at the airport. Have you ever wondered how many water bottles are bought and disposed of in airports? The number has to be mind boggling. In trying to reduce my footprint I am bringing my small Klean Kanteen bottle, the perfect travel size at 5 inches as well as my own snacks in reusable Ziploc bags. (Airplane food is nasty universally acknowledged, so imagine the waste of hundreds of people on an international flight). I am also going to try to avoid purchasing my favorite magazine rags which are so brilliant to read on a long flight but then always end up in the trash. Instead I am packing a few back issues of magazines from the library and of course borrowed books.
I will be arriving in London on Friday morning and will be bringing my laptop to update my blog including pictures and probably some video on to my Facebook page.
Stay in touch, I will be checking email as often as I can.
On to Oxford! I hope I see Harry Potter, you know they based Hogwarts on Oxford and film scenes there for the films.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mystery Solved...

My friend Kenn sent me the link to a fascinating story of a young artist who went into the woods over 75 years ago and disappeared. Maybe the first "Into the Wild".
Read the sad tale here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do You Know What's Going Digital?

The cover story of the Friday May 8 issue of The Wall Street Journal (titled The Next Age of Discovery) is about the race to digitize precious items from the past. Scholars, scientists, librarians and others are using digital technology to preserve rare manuscripts and artifacts from collections around the world. As I prepare to leave for London in a few days I have been searching the digitized collection of the British Library and have found wonderful images of works by Leonardo da Vinci and Jane Austen. The Library of Congress has an amazing collection called "American Memory" that includes slave narratives, maps, recordings and thousands of images. One of my favorites are the images of the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the evening he was assassinated. For a glimpse, click here.
How much more fascinating is the study of the past when you can see it? Here is a list of websites to browse compiled by The Wall Street Journal:
The British Library
The Library of Congress
The World Digital Library
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri at Oxford
Codex Sinaiticus
The Archimedes Palimpsest

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Flash Back #25

During my freshman year of high school I was on the gymnastics team and had practice during the season every day before school. While I was trying to wake up before leaving for practice I would watch The Muppet Show while eating breakfast. Reruns were on every morning in Chicago from 6:30 to 7 am and I loved almost every episode they made. The Muppets are great characters (loved the rats!) and the guest stars were the cream of the crop.
Since I've been missing me some Miss Piggy, here's a classic clip.
That Christopher Reeve was a talented guy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lost in Austen-What would happen if your favorite book came to life?

Friday at the Races was wonderful even if I lost all my bets. I worked Saturday and Sunday and spend Monday in my garden, (if you are a friend on Facebook check out my garden pics), and today was my presentation on consumer websites that I co-presented to the RLA CE group. For information on the RLA CE check out their site here.
Now that my presentation is over I'm starting to get excited about leaving for London in 9 days. I will spend a few days in London before leaving for Oxford, the seminar begins on Monday May 18. Last evening after my busy weekend I relaxed with a cup of tea and watched a charming British television series Lost in Austen. This 4 part series is about the thoroughly modern Amanda Price, a devoted Pride and Prejudice addict who finds a portal back in time to a real life P&P in her London bathroom. Amanda switches places with Elizabeth Bennet and finds herself in the middle of Austen's novel. The entire series is only 3 hours long and is worth a watch for the hysterical antics of Amanda as she tries to fit her modern day sensibilities into Regency England. As she interacts with Austen's characters (yes Mr. Darcy included) the beloved story of P&P goes awry and Amanda tries desperately to conform the characters to the book.
What I particularly enjoyed about the series was watching some of Austen's most beloved characters get turned upside down. A villainous woman is a lesbian? A prim young woman a promiscuous liar? A rake is instead a hero? Loved it! What I didn't like was the writing in the 4th episode/final hour of the series which was completely ridiculous and not nearly as much fun as the beginning of the series. While the ending was satisfying it just wasn't as good as it could have been. This would have been a wonderful long term series but unfortunately it was wrapped up too quickly with unanswered questions. The young British actress who played Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) in the series was brilliant as the "modern heroine" and the actor playing Darcy (Elliot Cowan) was physically spot on to how I picture his character in my head (no it's not always Colin Firth!)
Lost in Austen is a charming glimpse at the fantasy so many of us female Pride and Prejudice's lovers have dreamt about, what would happen if we were the heroine in Austen's book and Mr. Darcy was OUR Mr. Darcy? A must see for any Austen fan. I'm hopeful the movie based on the series will be even better, it will be produced by Sam Mendes the Academy Award winning director and husband to my favorite English actress and the perfect Marianne from Austen's Sense and Sensibility Kate Winslet.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Flash Back #24

Today is opening day at Arlington Park, the International race course in my hometown. Arlington Park is one of the most important landmarks in Arlington Heights and has been an integral part of the community for decades. "The Track" as the locals call it is a popular social destination not only for the excellent horse racing but for the concerts and special events which are planned throughout the year. Arlington burned to the ground in 1985 in a spectacular fire that the entire village could see for miles around and opened the next year in tents before it could be rebuilt. That summer was my first job, selling hot dogs trackside in a sweltering hot tent. I've enjoyed the track almost ever summer since and it's also a favorite destination of my kid who likes to choose the horses I bet on. I'm planning on heading over this afternoon to bet on a few ponies and enjoy a cold beer.
Here is a video of the first Arlington Million (the 1st million dollar purse in racing history) ran at Arlington in 1981. Jockey Bill Shoemaker won on John Henry in a come from behind victory. Enjoy!

For more information on The Track, check out their website