This was my first visit to this particular University of the Arts London campus. I almost ended up having a very different morning from that which I was expecting, as I was mistaken for someone auditioning for a drama course. Happily, I was then able to find my own tribe; treading the boards will just have to wait. In the meantime, my reading of Rebecca Jenkins’ Fanny Kemble : the reluctant celebrity (London: Pocket Books, 2005) needs must suffice. The case of mistaken identity has since made me wonder about what services and resources libraries and librarians provide for drama students and actors. Do theatres have libraries? Yet another library research project to add to the list!We were divided into two groups – my group went to the Library first, with Joan Ingram, Library Assistant Manager, as our guide. As we walked through the campus, she gave us a very interesting introduction thereto. The main space, known as the Crossing, is a public space, with both formal and informal uses, from exhibitions to a place in which to eat lunch. The university’s own space begins on the Street as one goes through the security gates. Built in the 1850s, the original granary buildings (which had underground canal access; I can’t help but think of London Below in Neil Gaiman’s wonderful Neverwhere).
The Library was originally intended to be on the ground floor, but as this space was reassigned for research and development work, there have been access problems; the Library is now up a flight of stairs. There are lifts that go from the Street, but these are not – yet – fireproof. In the interim, the larger goods lifts are fireproof, so the Library is an accessible and exitable space for all at the best of times and the worst of times.
Sotheby’s Institute of Art having undergone various rebranding exercises in the past few years, as we add campuses and online teaching to our repertoire, I have a particular interest in the aesthetics thereof, especially as it is used in library websites and general library signage. To make our website and noticeboard displays more enticing, I am currently learning how to use Adobe Photoshop and then have plans to teach myself to use the open source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Programme). At Central Saint Martins, all the signage has been designed by one of their professors of typography, in a quite delightful example of keeping the work in-house and using your own staff’s expertise.
The Library exists on two large floors, with the Learning Support and IT departments on the third floor. It is a great use of space to have these three facilities so close to one another, and obviously makes it much easier for students to understand that such services compliment one another.
The first floor of the Library is the designated group study space. The very nature of art and design study demands group work, and in many libraries it is difficult to be able to a) provide and b) hold on to such space. I would argue that every public library and academic library needs to provide such a space; it would also be very useful in national libraries, in addition to individual desks. The group study floor at CSM is entirely open plan, and as you walk in you face a staffed information desk, coloured bright red and marked with a large information icon, to make sure that you don’t miss it. Joan rather wonderfully described it as a “triage point”There is also a larger enquiry desk staffed by a librarian at the far end of the lower floor, in front of a secure goldfish bowl where the librarians live.
The libraries at the two previous campuses were heavily oversubscribed, and had run out of space for both people and books. Looking at the size of the new library, staff and students must be pinching themselves. The move has also been an opportunity to try new services and new technologies – most notably a system of RFID self-service, at individual pods. Given my own experience of library reorganisation projects, I was not surprised, as a librarian and as a library user, to hear that the RFID tagging company were working just one week ahead of the collections being packed up for the move to their new home. A significant part of all librarians’ roles to balance access to the collections with the need to implement technologies and establish spaces designed to improve said access. The presumed patience of students and university staff has had its own rewards. The Library is now open longer and has more staff available, 7 days a week, Monday to Friday until 10pm, with qualified and experienced librarians on site until 8pm, with a separate weekend team working until 6pm on Saturdays and 5pm on Sundays.
While one side of the floor is dedicated to group work desks, the other side houses collections of social sciences, culture and fashion. This side of the central stairwell also houses part of the periodicals collection, organised alphabetically, including all the bound fashion journals. Because these latter volumes are heavily in demand, they have been given a home adjacent to the printers, which, to continue the “self-service” ethos of the Library, are operated by students and staff via their ID cards.
There were two areas on this first floor that particularly appealed to me. The first was the glass display case labelled “The Book Graveyard” – it contains books no longer used as well as books which have been abused. The purpose of putting the latter books on display was to show – and discourage – the damage done to them, whether through highlighting, marginal jottings, or several other acts. In an interesting use of online “exhibitions” alongside the physical on-site exhibition in the glass case, there are photos of books damaged in the ways mentioned above (and others) on the Library’s Pinterest page, on the board The Pathology of Books. I was reminded of Glasgow University Library Special Collection’s physical and virtual exhibitions The World of Chaucer, one of my case studies for my MSc Information and Library Studies dissertation. The use of Pinterest to support and develop exhibitions and campaigns in the Library is of great interest to me. I have taken photos of our previous noticeboard displays in my own library at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, as part of a larger library archive, but thus far have not decided where to house them. Perhaps we could set up our Pinterest account to support our collections and services? I’ll be looking for more examples of libraries using Pinterest before deciding whether or not to make a case therefore.
The second area that caught my eye took up one whole corner of the lower floor – Materials and Products. It is a fantastically varied “working” Special Collection, of the students’ work in metals, paper, plastics, textiles, and all manner of materials. The presence of a bewildering array of paint colour sample sheets that it felt like being in a space which was a cross between V.V. Rouleaux and B&Q. This being a tangible and very specific collection, it has its own dedicated librarian two days a week. Manufacturers also use the space to give presentations to the students, and through such sessions a sample collection has been built up, with the emphasis on innovative, sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials and objects. While at Sotheby’s Institute of Art we do have a collection of objects and materials which are used to teach the students about object handling, these aren’t held in the Library, so this was my first opportunity to see such a very different collection at work.
While the next floor of the CSM Library is intended to be a quiet space, the open plan design does make it difficult to maintain the quiet atmosphere. As a result, the Library has invested in extra study carrells and cubicles to create much-needed privacy for individual study. The single desks looking out of the large windows and the banks of desks separated by dividers also provide an extra level of privacy. This floor was also home to the rest of the bound journals collections; interestingly, the Library stats suggest that use of all journals is declining, except in the case of fashion journals. Does anybody have any theories as to why this is so? The open-plan library has also meant that there is little storage; the service level agreement commits the Library to ensuring that the maximum possible items from all the collections are on open access. We work in a similar way in my own library; the cupboards in the library space are generally used for stationery and similar supplies, while we have an onsite store for dissertations, journals and sales catalogues more than 5 years old, rare books, and lesser-used collections of books. In the past two years, we’ve started using offsite storage for some journals if we also have electronic access to them and if we don’t get many requests for them.
The third floor of the library is a fantastic space – it is called the Learning Zone, and is intended to be a flexible space. With that in mind, there is a dazzling array of seating types, from beanbags to low sofas, and some high-backed sofas that looked to me very much like medieval choir stalls. I really should have thought to check under the seats for some cuddly toy versions of misericords.That future quest aside, the Learning Zone, into which students are allowed to take library stock, is very much the epitome of a customisable space, where you can work in the way that best suits you.Having climbed to the top floor of the Library, we made our way back down to ground level to meet Judy Lindsay, the Head of the Museum and Study Collections at Central Saint Martins. In a time when students may be getting more used to working with electronic facsimiles of works, Judy’s focus is on encouraging interaction with an impressive variety of physical objects. Some of the collections are over 100 years old, and the museum houses both archives and teaching collections, as an accredited museum. The teaching collections are diverse indeed, including medieval wood engravings, embroideries of various time periods and film posters. The work of staff, students, and alumni are also kept – not all, but a selection – and there is a handling collection too.
I was particularly interested to hear there was a school book production, but less happy to hear that it had closed in the 1950s. This school taught apprentices on day release, including Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe and organised less work-focused course, such as typography, in the evenings. Through the courses, there were plans to resurrect forgotten arts such as medieval woodcrafting. We looked at several examples of work done in book production by past and present students, including the blocks used for printing. I could not help but be impressed by the work involved – the blocks are carved in relief and back to front, and a different block is needed for each colour. Interestingly, current students on the MA Conservation course at the UAL Camberwell Campus carry out bookbinding at the Museum, thus helping to look after the collection in the longer term while developing their own skills. If ever there was a means of distracting me from my long-term plans to do a PhD in favour of another Master’s Degree, this would be it. If the promise of time spent with the Museum’s book art collections were not enough, the students also spend time on bibliographic research, in the history of the book, again using the Museum collections as the basis for their coursework.Temptation again.
Who has heard of Joyce Clissold? She was another wonderful discovery on this day. A student in the 1920s, she went on to be a textile designer and printer, using handblock printing. She worked at the textile workshop Footprints as a student, and took it over in 1929, running it for the rest of her life, as well as spending her later years teaching at the Central School. We looked at one of her dye books, wonderfully spattered with a variety of dyes, like a well-loved recipe book. I was particularly delighted to find a dye recipe called “Cathleen”. Because there were too many other items to see to properly decipher the ingredients, I am yet to find out what I’m made of, but I’m looking forward to finding out. Although we looked at some of the silk scarves printed with Clissold’s designs and sold at her Knightsbridge shop, I couldn’t say which colour used therein, if any, was mine.
As a leap forward from Clissold’s work, we looked at examples of the work of Mary Kotransu and Alexander McQueen, both former students, who were the first to use digital printing in their clothing. However, my favourite item of clothing shown to us – it was too fragile to take out of its box, never mind letting us touch it – was Hussein Chalayan’s white paper suit, printed with red flowers (not embroidered, as I first wondered), part of a series of paper clothes, which also included a large letter in an airmail envelope; the letter unfolded into a dress. Before we went into the Museum stores, we looked at a gorgeously clever use of 3-D printing by a Japanese student on the Jewellery course, inspired by the Queen’s Diamond Anniversary celebrations ongoing during her own studies. She had produced a 3-D replica of the Queen’s crown, from the front view. Looking at the sculpture from the side, it cast the silhouette of a bird.The Museum store took us back to earlier methods of printing, which in their own time were just as innovative as 3-D printing. The early 20th century film posters, from Germany and France in particular. The use of lithography in their production meant that massive print runs were possible. The text-image relationship and the use of logos were key parts of the designs used. Consider the posters designed using similar lithographic technologies, commissioned by Frank Pick of London Underground from designers including A. S. Hartrick and F. E. Jackson. We also looked at the work of textile designer Enid Marx, at some of Eric Gill’s blueprints mounted on linen, and some of William Morris’s textile designs, including ‘Daisy’, my own phone’s desktop background. It turns out that his daughter May Morris later taught embroidery at the Central School.
Our visit ended with a move from the sublime to the librarianship geeky – the new automated shelves in the other Museum store. In my own Library, we are very much old school, with hand-operated stacks, but these used sensor plates. I’m starting to wonder if we’re looking at a future where stacks access will be granted through a retinal scan. That said, I was relieved that there was an option to open and control the shelves manually. It will be a handy defense when the machines rise up against us (I jest).
Thus ends my overlong account of a fascinating afternoon on the campus of Central Saint Martins. I’ve got a lot to think about in terms of improving my own Library’s space, something that we have been discussing of late. Following the Museum portion of our visit, I’ve spoken to the Director of our Contemporary Design department to recommend that her students have a similar introduction to the collections. If you’ve never been on one of the ARLIS-organised visits to libraries around the country, I cannot recommend them highly enough. In fact, my very next blog post – already in the writing – will be about the ARLIS visit to the Wellcome Library. Stay tuned!