Living Knowledge blog

4 posts from June 2021

28 June 2021

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Eugenio Falcioni

In our monthly blog series, we go behind the scenes at the Library to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to bring our collection to everyone. This month we meet Senior Imaging Technician, Eugenio Falcioni.

Eugenio Falcioni at the British Library
Eugenio Falcioni at the British Library

Tell me about your role?

Eugenio is a cultural heritage photographer in our Digitisation Services team. His work is broadly split into three parts:

  1. Photographing British Library collection items, from manuscripts and drawings to 3D objects such as globes, for internal digitisation projects such as Heritage Made Digital and the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project and external for private research or for commercial clients such as publishers.
  2. Photographing cultural items belonging to other culture and heritage clients, both in our imaging studio and on location.
  3. Specialist imaging services, using technologies like ultraviolet and infrared to recover information not visible to the naked eye, for example this 16th-century Hatha Yoga manuscript digitised for the British Museum’s Tantra exhibition, where substantial changes had been made to the original illustrations.
Manuscript with Iron gall ink corrosion
A manuscript with Iron gall ink corrosion, before and after being photographed using Infrared Reflectography (IRR)

How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?

Before the pandemic hit, Eugenio’s time was split across working in the studio and travelling around the country spending days and weeks engrossed in on-location shoots. These included a lengthy project for Malmesbury Abbey digitising their 600-year old century bible and photographing an original Elgar score for Birmingham Oratory.

‘It was one of the best things about my job. Working in beautiful places like churches and museums around the UK. I hope to be back on the road soon.’

Malmesbury_bible_projectbMalmesbury_bible_project_1_small
Eugenio at work at Malmesbury Abbey

With a ban on travel and no access to collection items or his British Library equipment, Eugenio has been doing post-production work and online training courses. He’s also, along with other photographers in the team, spent the year sorting out the department's enormous photography archive.

‘It was definitely something I’d been putting off, but it was an opportunity to get organised!’

How did you get into this field?

Eugenio’s father is a photographer, and he grew up surrounded by camera equipment, but his passion was the humanities. Whilst studying for an MA in Manuscript Studies at the Sapienza University of Rome, he worked for a local digitisation company. After graduation he landed a job at the Vatican library that would change his life. In Rome he was lucky enough to work on incredible pieces from the Vatican collection, such as Vergilius Vaticanus (Vat. Lat. 3225), the palimpsest of Cicero's De re publica (Vat. Lat. 5757) and the Divine comedy illustrated by Sandro Botticelli (Reg.lat. 1896.pt.A). During his years of work in the Vatican, Eugenio also had the opportunity to meet two popes: Benedict and Francis.

‘I discovered I LOVED working for cultural organisations, but after six years at the Vatican I felt was time for a change and I sent my CV to museums and libraries around the world and in 2018 I was invited to an interview at the British Library.’

What do you love about the Library?

Eugenio was initially a bit daunted by the prospect of moving to London and thought it would be stressful living in such a big city, but he actually finds it more relaxed than working in central Rome where he was often stuck in horrendous traffic jams. He enjoys the Library’s flexible working policy and walks to work along the Regent’s Canal.

What he loves most about the Library is that it truly is ‘for everyone’.

‘It was such a surprise to me that a library could be a tourist attraction. There’s so much going on you could spend a day here without even touching a book. You don’t even have to spend £1 and you always come out so much richer!’

What’s your favourite object in our collection?

Linked to his Masters degree, Eugenio’s favourite collection item is The Lindisfarne Gospels.

Lindisfarne-gospels-Cotton_MS_Nero_D_IV_f029
The Lindisfarne Gospels, Cotton MS Nero D IV

‘I haven’t photographed the manuscript, but when I saw it I was so excited to see the carpet pages full of detailed illuminations.’

But what Eugenio loves most is to work on damaged documents. He calls it ‘true photography’.

‘I can do something useful by preserving the content even if the object itself can’t be salvaged. I feel like I’m saving something from oblivion.’

Any book recommendations for our readers?

Eugenio’s book recommendation is The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer.

‘It’s a true story of librarians in Timbuktu (Mali) who felt their precious collection of manuscripts was in danger from destruction by Al-Qaeda so they organised an evacuation of the collection to the capital city Bamako. They saved culture!’

Find out more about our Digitisation Services

Follow Eugenio on Instagram

16 June 2021

The designers behind the British Library gates

Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley MBE is a renowned letter-cutter and typeface designer. We spoke to Lida about her work and how she and her late husband David came to design our iconic gates.

Lida Kindersley, architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson and David Kindersley in front of the British Library gatesLida Kindersley, architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson and David Kindersley in front of the British Library gates

When Lida met David

David Kindersley spent much of his childhood drawing and carving. A conscientious objector during the war, David, who had been apprenticed to Eric Gill (creator of Gill Sans), opened his own workshop near Cambridge in 1946. He was joined 30 years later by Lida Lopes Cardozo, beginning a working partnership (and subsequent marriage) which lasted until David’s death in 1995.

‘As a child of the '60s David’s ‘way-out alphabets’ attracted me [...] I managed to elbow my way into the old boys' network of English letter-cutting. I kept being told it wasn’t a job for a girl.’

How did the British Library gates project come about?

The architect, Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson, originally commissioned David and Lida to carve the letters into the New Red Sandstone above the Euston Road entrance of the new St Pancras HQ.

The entrance signThe entrance sign

Lida Kindersley cutting the British Library entrance signLida Kindersley cutting the sign

 The Kindersley team cutting the British Library entrance sign
The Kindersley team 

When David and Lida enquired about what was happening below the sandstone panel, Sandy informed them that the trustees at the time had decided to run a competition for metalworkers to design the gates, but none of the proposals had been selected. David and Lida went home that night and sat at their dining room table and sketched. Their outline idea would become the iconic British Library gates. 

‘Creating the gates was such a smooth process. Sandy was flabbergasted! Most of the discussion was around the hinges, which had to bear the weight without damaging the wall.’

Lida Kindersley with architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson in front of the British Library gatesLida Kindersley with architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson

Made up of seven pieces, with two opening leaves, the striking gates incorporate a repetition of the words ‘British Library’ that are heavy and bold at the bottom and get lighter towards the top. Not only were the letters carefully measured to prevent children from getting their heads stuck in the gaps, but the clever design means that sunlight shines through and projects a wonderful shadow of the words onto the surrounding wall. Cast in bronze, the gates weigh an incredible three tonnes – a vast crane was needed for the installation.

Lida Kindersley with architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson in front of the British Library gates 2Lida Kindersley with architect Sir Colin Alexander St John (Sandy) Wilson in front of the British Library gates

‘I am always filled with pride when I pass the gates. They’re a good talking point at dinner parties – people notice them and connect with them.’

Beyond the gates

Since the gates project, the British Library further commissioned Lida and David to carve the panel for the grand opening event with the Queen in 1998.

‘It’s in Italian travertine marble which has a wonderful texture, with holes filled with resin making it both interesting and difficult to carve. I wanted to paint the letters same red as the British Library bricks but I compromised with pink.’

Lida painting the carved panel to commemorate the grand opening of the St Pancras buildingLida painting the carved panel to commemorate the grand opening of the St Pancras building

With 40-50 commissions at any time, the Kindersley Workshop’s current projects include a frieze for King’s College, Cambridge using roofing slates, a gravestone featuring seagulls, a ledger stone for Westminster Abbey and several sun dials.

Lida received an MBE for ‘services to letter-cutting’ in 2015. Her workshop employs eight people, six of whom cut letters. Although she still cuts letters herself, about a third of Lida’s time is now spent writing books. Her latest book, The Ins and Outs of Public Lettering, proudly features the British Library gates on the front cover.

Click here to find out more about the Kindersley Workshop.

Click here to explore more of the British Library building at St Pancras.

Can't get enough of the British Library gates? They're available in notebook, pencil and card holder form (amongst others) in the Love Libraries range of our shop. Click here to browse.

11 June 2021

Food Means Home

Tikel Gomen 1 - smaller
As part of our new learning programme in Leeds, we’re delivering an exciting project exploring food culture with children and young people who have been separated from their families. Working with Child Friendly Leeds and Leeds Children and Families Social Work Service, the project will create a new recipe collection celebrating the young people’s cultural identity, knowledge and skills.

Over the course of 2021, four cohorts of young people from across the world will take part in the project. Each cohort will plan, cook and present their chosen recipes. They will also take part in food photography workshops to style their dishes, gaining a range of skills along the way.

The first cohort took place in May 2021 with six young women from Eritrea and Ethiopia. As well as learning some new skills and practising their English, the young women found the project a welcome opportunity to spend time with others and make friends after life in lockdown. Millen said: “The best part was eating together, it was nice to all sit around and eat together because in our culture that shows love”, while her friend Winta said she most enjoyed “talking about home, memories, and laughing with the girls”.

Louise Sidibe, Senior Social Worker, talks passionately about how being able to cook, eat and share food from their countries of origin opens up a window into a young person’s life before they arrived into the UK. Louise said: “Food is non-verbal and non-judgemental. Even if your English isn’t fluent, food speaks volumes. Young people feel reassured with the familiarity of fond memories and when they cook it gives them a sense of ‘being at home’ in the City of Leeds. By sharing food, you share part of yourself and it’s often a way young people want to show gratitude to others. Our recipe collection will not only be a useful tool for foster carers when young people are new to Leeds, but will also represent the young people’s presence and value in our city.”  

Elvie Thompson, our Lead Learning Producer for Leeds, said: “Our learning programmes aim to give people the skills initially to access, but ultimately to contribute to, the Library’s collections – so awareness of the Library, reading, writing, critical thinking and the presentation of ideas to others are all really important. I hope the participants in this project will not only learn new skills and enjoy taking part, but also imagine themselves creating other things in their futures that could become part of the nation’s living knowledge.”

We’re working with lead creative facilitator and writer Thahmina Begum, photographer and creative facilitator Nicola Fox, and social worker Olivia Rochelle to deliver the sessions, and the recipes are now freely available, ahead of the publication of the full collection in spring 2022.

In their recipe collection, Millen, Winta and the other young women from Eritrea and Ethiopia share a complementary set of six of their favourite dishes to be eaten with injera, the iconic East African flatbread.   

Winta G and Millen cooking - smallerWinta and Millen prepare Tikel Gomen.

Our curators are also providing insights into our food collections to inform how the young people present their creations. For example, Eyob Derillo, Curator for Ethiopic and Ethiopian Collections, joined our first cohort to share stunning manuscript material that explores Lent in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian tradition.   

This project is in partnership with Child Friendly Leeds and Leeds Children and Families Social Work Service who are providing support for the young people and a fantastic venue – Herd Farm, just outside the city of Leeds – for the sessions.

Winta’s Tikel Gomen (white cabbage and potato dish, pictured above)

Ingredients

1 white cabbage (approximately 2kg)
4 carrots
3 white onions
1 green pepper
6 large potatoes
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3 teaspoons of salt
3 green chillies

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes and onions.
  2. Wash and roughly chop the cabbage, carrots, onions, green pepper and potatoes into chunks.
  3. Peel and finely chop the garlic and chillies.
  4. Place cabbage into a large pan with a lid on top, over a medium heat.
  5. After 5 minutes add a dash of water to help prevent the cabbage sticking to the pan.
  6. After 10 minutes when the cabbage is softened a little add the carrots.
  7. Stir in the oil.
  8. After 10 minutes add the onions.
  9. After 5 minutes add the garlic.
  10. Leave on low heat on the hob for 10 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked and soft. Add the chillies and pepper. Mix thoroughly and cook for 5 minutes.
  11. Stir in the salt.
  12. Eat hot with injera or rice.

This project is in partnership with Child Friendly Leeds and Leeds Children and Families Social Work Service who are providing support for the young people and a fantastic venue – Herd Farm, just outside the city of Leeds – for the sessions.