Friday, 11 July 2014

Herbarium Library and Archives- Kew Gardens

The Herbarium Library and Archives is located just outside the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew.  Prior to the formal creation of the library in 1852, researchers used the private collections of the first director William Hooker.  The library today consists of approximately 300000 books and pamphlets, 5000 periodicals, 200000, all of which add to the total of some 7 millions sheets of paper.  The historical books pertaining to botany are still used today by researchers and are essential in producing revisions.  The original house used to house the archives dates from the 1600s, with the oldest wing dating from the 1870s.  The newest wing of the building was completed in 2010 and is modern and open.  It truly amazes and gladdens me of the abundance of examples in this country of continuing to utilize historic buildings and adapting them for modern use, instead of tearing them down and building something new.
     The library and archives is fortunate enough to have a conservator on staff.  However, due to stagnant and decreasing funding, conservation efforts are limited.  Our guide and presenter estimated that it cost between five hundred and one thousand pounds to properly conserve one book.
     Included in the collection is a small number of items relating to Beatrix Potter.  Potter came to Kew in order to pursue research into a theory that fungi reproduce via spores.  Although her theory would turn out to be correct, the dismissive treatment she received during her scientific pursuits but her off to furthering her scientific career.
      We were also able to view, briefly, the herbarium, were specimens are stored.  The herbarium is currently in the process of being re-classified, but was still open for research.  The space is large and open, with specimens stored in large cabinets.  New storage facilities for herbarium specimens are kept at a low 15 degrees Celsius to help prevent pests.  Materials are inspected for pest upon arrival, and regularly thereafter.  While the issue of pests is serious to any archive, it was interesting to be among a collection were even the smallest infestation could be catastrophic.  Providing and maintaining the right environmental storage conditions for organic materials are truly a daunting task.
     Following our tour of the library and herbarium, we were treated to a presentation on Leslie Linder.  Linder is known for breaking the code Beatrix Potter used in writing her journals.  The speaker was knowledgeable and thorough on discussing the life and achievements of Mr. Linder.  The discovery of Potter's secret code allowed researchers a greater insight into the personal life and thoughts of a beloved writer.

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