The Wiener Library

Although I’ve worked close to The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide for several years now, I’d never actually visited. It wasn’t until a colleague told me about the weekly library tours, which take place every Tuesday lunchtime, that I thought to visit. We ended up making it a bit of a work thing: three of us went one lunchtime, to be followed by the other two a week later.

The Library, formed in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, is Britain’s Holocaust library and the oldest collection of its kind in the world. It holds over one million items, including illustrated and rare books, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimonies.

Our tour included the main Library reading room, with considerable collections available on open access for the use of readers. Items stored elsewhere in the building, including photographs and fragile items, can be requested. Members of the public can use the Library, open on weekdays, free of charge, though first-time visitors do need to bring some ID. You need to become a member if you want to borrow books.

We were taken downstairs to view the stacks, and were able to see several fascinating items which our guide brought out to show us. One was a Nazi colouring book and another was a book of photographs of Hitler and assorted small children: both were bizarre and rather chilling. There were also some documents relating to Jewish refugees who came to the UK.

The Library runs a programme of temporary exhibitions on the ground floor. The current exhibition is Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering the Armenian Genocide which is on until 25 February. This exhibition focuses on one particular family around 1915 who recorded their experiences before, during and after the genocide in letters, diaries and photographs.

The Wiener Library is well worth a visit, even if you don’t need to use the research facilities. Tours run on Tuesdays at 1pm, and you can visit the temporary exhibitions during regular opening hours.

FACTS

Address: 29 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DP

Website: wienerlibrary.co.uk

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm (Tuesdays until 7.30pm)

Prices: Free

Shakespeare in Print – Guildhall Library

I popped out in my lunch hour on Wednesday to visit the Shakespeare in Print exhibition at the Guildhall Library. This looks at the history of printing William Shakespeare’s plays, from late sixteenth century quartos to seventeenth century folios, the reworked versions of the eighteenth century and the rediscovery and popularity of the originals in the nineteenth. I wanted to go on a Wednesday as this was the only day of the week on which the Library’s original First Folio is displayed – a facsimile is on view at all other times. This First Folio was acquired around 1760 by William Petty Fitzmaurice, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, and purchased for the London Institution in 1806; it was transferred to the Guildhall Library in 1912. It is supposed to be one of the five finest copies in existence.

The First Folio dates from 1623; it contains almost all of Shakespeare’s plays. One exception is Pericles, which was only added to the Second Folio. In addition, several early copies of the First Folio do not contain Troilus and Cressida. The First Folio was the result of Shakespeare’s followers and admirers gathering together several years after his death to combine, edit and publish his plays. This is part of the reason Shakespeare’s works are so well known today: it was uncommon for plays to be printed in the sixteenth century, as it could damage the original company’s profits if another company got hold of a written text and started performing it. Shakespeare himself probably did not authorise any such publication in his lifetime. It’s just as well the First Folio was published, as it is the earliest printed version of around half of Shakespeare’s plays, including MacbethJulius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Without the First Folio, these plays may have been lost.

The First Folio was followed by the Second, Third and Fourth Folios as Shakespeare remained popular. As plays became accepted as serious literature, other works were published during this time, and the exhibition holds some examples of these, including The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont (recently performed at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) and the works of Benjamin Johnson.

During the eighteenth century, Shakespeare was often adapted heavily to suit the tastes of the time. For instance, Macbeth was performed with songs (I would love to see this) and as a ‘travestie’ version – a spoof in two acts (I would also love to see this). During the Victorian era, Shakespeare began to take on the iconic status he still has today and theatre-makers began to go back to the original texts and study Shakespeare more seriously. ‘Variorum’ editions of the works – editions including all known variants of a text, including notes – began to be produced, and gift books, such as the ‘Library Shakespeare’ on display, were common.

The exhibition didn’t just contain books: there was also a dress worn by Juliet Rylance in the Globe’s 2005 production of  The Winter’s Tale, which was made by the Original Practices Clothing Archive. Overall, this was a small but fascinating free exhibition and I’m glad I made the effort to go, even though it meant a bit of a rush during lunch!

The Women’s Library

I am a librarian by profession and a few weeks ago I attended a talk about The Women’s Library in east London, which I wrote about on my librarianship blog. I found the talk really interesting so decided to pay a visit to the Library on Old Castle Street. The Library has been going through something of a crisis recently: it is currently supported by London Metropolitan University but in the last year or so the University stated that they were withdrawing support and the last few months have seen an urgent hunt for a new custodian. Recently it was announced that the London School of Economics would be taking on this role, so the collection will hopefully remain accessible though not in it’s current location.

With this in mind, I decided to visit the exhibition currently on display in the Library, called The Long March to Equality: Treasures of The Women’s Library. The exhibition explores the history of the development of women’s rights and displays many of the Library’s most precious artefacts. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the exhibition begins with a display of early printed books that were primarily by, about or for women, going on to examine the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the different groups which fought for increased rights, changes in the law and votes for women. One of the most intriguing items in the collection is activist Emily Davison’s return ticket to the Epsom Derby, which raises the question of whether her death under the King’s horse was suicide or a tragic accident. Why buy a return ticket unless you intend to come back?

The exhibition goes on to explore the feminist movement of the seventies and the political, social and literary aspects of this. It covers the eighties and nineties, and I was amazed to discover that some important equality laws were not put in place until after I was born in the mid eighties. The exhibition ends with the present day, exploring the role of feminism in the twenty-first century and what has been achieved, as well as how far we still have to go.

I found this free exhibition to be very interesting, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history or women’s studies. It is open Tues-Fri from 9.30 until 5.30, and until 8pm on Thursdays.

*The information below was updated in 2015, reflecting the collection’s new location*

FACTS

Address: Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE

Website: WomensLibraryLSE

Opening Hours: Exhibition Space open 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, 11am-6pm Sat-Sun. Collections accessible by appointment.

Prices: Free