Wednesday, September 1, 2010

National Maritime Museum

Open since 1937, the National Maritime Museum has been open to the public as one of the largest maritime museums in the world. The Caird Library was donated by Sir James Caird, and comprises the original collection of the museum, which includes manuscripts, ephemera, materials on piracy, navigation, astronomy, exploration, naval architecture and genealogy. In addition, that have paper and e-resources freely available to the public. The Caird Library is a joint library/archive, with 12 staff members and roughly 3-4,000 visitors a year who must request materials in advance. Unlike many libraries, for the NMM the word "modern" means post 1850's. Of their collection, they have over 100,000 modern items, 8,000 rare books, 24,000 periodicals and 20,000 pamphlets and over four miles of shelving. As for their archive, they have 70,000 records, and Maps and Charts are in a separate collection. Their cataloging system uses MARC and AACR II. Patrons must request materials in advance, and since the advent of email and the Caird library's new online system for ordering titles, the number of requests they receive has greatly increased. Patrons mainly consist of academic researchers and genealogists, and must be 18 years old to enter, though this may change upon completion of their new building.

While I was expecting to see rare materials, I had no idea how amazing the items would be until they were displayed. For example, there was the 6th edition of Domestic Medicine, a treatise written in 1779. Typically owned by surgeons, the binding was made out of sailcloth; while this book was fascinating in and of itself, this particular volume had been on the H.M.S. Bounty, and was taken by the sailors when they mutinied. Another amazing example was the Aurora Australis, which was the first book ever made in the Antarctic in 1908 on Ross Island. There were only 100-120 copies made, on a printing press which the authors owned, included poems, illustrations and seven fiction and non-fiction articles and was marked with a penguin stamp. Perhaps that's where Sir Allen Lane got the idea. In addition, there was an 1812 journal from a minister serving in the navy during the Napoleonic wars, the signal manual from the U.S. frigate Chesapeake which was weighted with grapeshot to sink quickly and some rather unflattering letters from Admiral Nelson to his wife while he was living with another woman.

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