Thursday, 26 May 2011

Obama came to London to see me...

Well, not quite but I was in the US Embassy during his state visit to London, which was brought forward a day much to my Dad's amusement.  Obama left the States the day my brother landed there since he knew Derek could look after it and visited London especially when I was there.  I think my Dad has a tad of a false sense of his children's importance in the world.

US Embassy

Anyway, for those who don't know, I have been fortunate enough to have been awarded one of the two St Andrew's Society of the State of New York Scholarships for 2011-2012 and so will be taking up my place at Syracuse University on the MS in Library and Information Science program from Fall.  As you can imagine, I only have a few months to get everything in place before my big move and my visa was the main priority.  After much stress and document gathering I attended my interview at the US Embassy yesterday morning.  It took me two attempts to get in since, heaven forbid, I was carrying a bike light.  But, the whole process was very smooth and I was in and out in less than 2 hours.  I just need to await the return of my passport (and have paid £14.80 for the privilege) and then I will be set to go.

Exhibition poster
I am not in London that often and so took the opportunity to visit some interesting institutions, which had until now been rather neglected in my tourist visits.  First up was the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, which houses not only a library devoted to the history and progress of medicine but also exhibitions dedicated to Sir Henry Wellcome himself, medicine now and special exhibitions, currently 'Dirt.' 

'Dirt' runs with the subtitle 'The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life' and whisks you round six different urban locations in various time periods in order to present changing concepts and uses of dirt.  This has a zooming effect and allows the audience to learn in great detail about six particular cases, one of which was the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and was of particular interest to me.  The museum made use of books, paintings, models, clothing and audio-visual material seamlessly.  The manner in which the topic of 'dirt' has been treated is ingenious since such a vast subject could easily have resulted in copious amounts of material or sweeping generalisations. 

A modern art representation of 'obesity'
In other areas of the museum I particularly liked the contrast of modern artwork with medicines and skeletons. The displays of Wellcome's own collections was fascinating with detailed reasoning given for what was displayed and why.  He appears to have enjoyed collecting prosthetic limbs and, for those of you who know me well, will know that I have a mortal fear of these...I passed by rather sharpish.  A small detail, which I loved was that the walls were wood panelled and the descriptions of what was in the cases commonly located inside cupboards which would be opened and read by the viewers.  This results in a very uncluttered feel to the exhibition and each person can come to their own conclusions regarding the items without immediate influence from the captions.  Another highlight for me, as a hoarder, was that each exhibition came with leaflets, which gave a short introduction to the whole thing as well as provide a memento for the visit (and something from which to write blog posts!!).

Postcards available online
I moved on to the British Library, which I am ashamed to say I had not visited until Tuesday!  Their new exhibition is 'Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it'. I am not a sci-fi boffin but I thoroughly enjoyed this installation.  I knew I was in the right place when I spotted a whole wall decorated with white books with half of a crashed flying saucer hanging from it with books and rubble strewn all around.  If only we could do such a thing in St John's!
Postcards available online

The exhibition features the recognisable Sci-Fi writers and novels but also brings in the more unusual science fiction that can be found in Niffenegger and Orwell.  There is a focus on humanity and its definition alongside the consideration of a perfect world or virtual worlds.  The exhibition was being enjoyed by people of all ages and there is something there for everyone.  From the interactive computers to robots to Gulliver's Travels, there really is something for everyone. 
Postcards available online

This is not all that the British Library has to offer by far.  There is too much to describe but I particularly liked the displays on the census and its importance over the years.  I was also surprised to see the original draft of the words for 'Yesterday' by Paul McCartney in the same room as the Magna Carta.

The 'Adopt a Book' scheme looked very interesting and would make a more unusual gift for someone - I myself have an adopted panda, which sends me pictures of itself.  At the BL you can adopt anything from 'The Tragical History of Hamlet' to 'Illustrations to the legend of Sleepy Hollow'.  And surely no post involving the British Library could be complete without a picture of the immense book bench in the foyer!

Book bench
All in all a rather successful and cultural day in the Big City!