THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

13 November 2018

Sound Seating: Colin St John Wilson’s Library Furniture

In 1995, the British Library began documenting oral histories of British architects through the National Life Stories series Architects’ Lives. The following year the project looked close to home and published an interview with the architect of the library’s St. Pancras location. In twenty-seven parts available on the BL’s Sounds website, the librarian and curator Jill Lever (1935-2017) speaks with Colin St John (Sandy) Wilson (1922-2007), covering a wide range of subjects including his career, past projects and approach to creating public spaces.

Initially this series had been recommended to me by Oral History curator Mary Stewart after I asked colleagues if anyone knew anything about some wooden benches I had seen at the library. Simple and sturdy, reminiscent of mid-century modern Scandinavian design, initially I had just wanted to know who made them – was there a small British furniture company still making them? Had a well-known designer made a little-known range of furniture for the library? While still largely a mystery despite the enthusiasm of colleagues, I found something more interesting through this research. The original furniture to the building, much of it still here twenty years after its official opening, was a crucial part of fulfilling Wilson’s overall vision for the building and his idea of how a library should work and make its readers feel.

Bench1

Largely designed by Wilson himself, the original furnishings, built-in nooks, and other seating were important parts of his approach to scale. In one section of the interview, he describes the point of preserving a balance between a grand, large, space coming in at two hundred thousand square metres and one scaled for individuals:

“Eventually you have to accept that a lot of other Readers and the architecture makes the sort of spaces in which you can read, you can spend the whole day, you don’t feel claustrophobic, you have the chance of looking up from the close range of a book to the long distance of a big space.”

Readingroom

Wilson designed tactile, personal elements throughout the building in order to balance the large scale demanded of a building with innumerable collection items, which now greet over 1.5 million people annually through the compact front entrance into the spacious multi-storey lobby. Portholes throughout the building provide small windows onto the grand area of the main lobby on its main and upper ground floors.

One of the ways Wilson attempted to create this balance, and thus serve what he saw as the larger purpose of a public building, was through his use of tactile, natural materials. Inspired by architects of the English Free School, among them Sir George Gilbert Scott who designed St Pancras Chambers next door, William Morris, and John Ruskin, he chose wood panelling, leather-covered wooden benches and booths on nearly every floor of public space outside the reading rooms, and leather-wrapped brass railings a la Aalto, and carved person-sized seating into marble wall detailing on multiple floors.1

Other designers were commissioned to help create this balance. The reading room chairs still in use today are original to the library, designed by Ronald Carter. This was one of his largest commissions, although he also designed furniture for other cultural institutions in London like the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Shelflife st p_003 Oct 1996 cropped

Wilson thought that if this balance was struck correctly, he could create the kind of public building in which an initial feeling of getting lost would soon be replaced with an ability to “help yourself and get on with it,” much as many do every day at the library, arriving at the front door with their clear plastic reading room bags, ready to use for second, third, and forth times in the workspaces readers often come to think of as their own.

1The British Library by Colin St John Wilson, YK.2009.a.21930

Mary Caple is a postgraduate student in History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford, formerly Digitisation Workflow Administrator for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. Special thanks to Dave Stevens for scanning the copies of Shelf Life, the British Library staff newsletter, from which images of St Pancras came from. 

 

12 November 2018

Acrostic Challenge

UOSH Volunteer and poet Amy Evans Bauer invites you to write your own creative response to the WordBank:

Calling all listers, logophiles, poets, crossworders and puzzleers!

The sheer variety of spoken English in the UK and beyond befits a celebration in kaleidoscopic form, so we’ve decided to host our first #acrostic challenge. Joining in won’t take long…

Picture

 

 

Simply brew, damp, draw, mash, scald, steep, stew or wet yourself a cuppa, browse the WordBank and compile a list, sentence or poem in acrostic form. Tweet us your entry to @VoicesofEnglish @amyevansbauer #acrosticchallenge or email us at Amy.Evans@bl.uk by 22nd November for the chance to feature in a selection chosen for a celebratory blog post this December. 

 

 

You may feel inspired independently or want to write in a pair or group.

We can’t wait to see your creations! Read on for guidelines and an example.  

Guidelines

  1. An acrostic form is one in which the first letters of each line spell out a word or phrase. For this challenge, you can choose to spell WORDBANK, VOICEBANK or UOSH. (See below).
  2. Your additional curatorial task is to include at the start of your line/s a word or phrase archived in the WordBank. (Minimum: please ensure at least one line opens with a word from the collection.)

Additional options

  1. Beginner/tea-break option: see how you go with a shorter list that spells WORD, BANK or VOICE.
  2. Advanced option: try your hand at an acrostic sonnet by spelling WORDBANK UOSH.

Submission

Tweet your composition to @VoicesofEnglish @amyevansbauer #acrosticchallenge by 22/11/18.

If your creation is longer than a Tweetable 35 characters, or you would rather send your submission as a short email or Word document attachment, then please send to Amy.Evans@bl.uk with the subject heading #ACROSTIC.

Maximum 3 entries per person. Hyperlinks are not required. If you would like your acrostic to remain anonymous, please indicate this in your email.

Example

To set pens in motion, here is my own here is my own WORDBANK acrostic. Presumptuously, I create enough slippage for the speaker’s voice to be either that of a caulkhead [= ‘someone born on the Isle of Wight’] or someone who, like me, grew up on the island belonging to the opposite part of my favourite pair of nouns:

Wumpert

Overner

ROFL

Deffo too

Brassic for

Argy-bargy and

Nithered

Kerfuffle

You may want to collate some of your own word memories from the collection, or to build with alien terms as your acrostic bricks.

In my version, each line begins with an item in the WordBank, including one contribution available online (Overner), and I have selected the rest from the hundreds more recordings that are accessible in the Library’s London and Boston Spa Reading Rooms via the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. Why not register as a British Library Reader and plan a visit? Feel free to include a similar combination of archived and/or online parts of the collection

Challenge!

We do not demand any poetic or puzzled complexity. Rather, we are looking for an acrostic form that achieves one of the following: conveys the variety of the collection, plays with sound, celebrates place, explores a linguistic point of interest, or delves into accent, dialect and slang in any other way that may appeal. Rest assured, the form ensures that yours will!

Spoken English Cataloguer Holly Gilbert @Collecting Sound has courageously accepted the mission to Tweet first with an attempt at VOICEBANK and Lead Curator Jonnie Robinson will throw his hat in the ring with UOSH. How about you? We hope you will join in.

Please share with friends and colleagues. All ages and dialects welcome!

Amy’s poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT.

UOSH

Recording of the week: a duet for Ugandan lyres

This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds.

This song, recorded in Kamuli, Uganda in 1954 by the pioneering ethnomusicologist Klaus Wachsmann, is of two ntongoli players, Kaija and Isake Ibande, from the Soga culture.

Abe Waife (BL reference C4/39)

The ntongoli is a type of lyre, a stringed instrument. The Hornbostel Sachs musical instrument classification system defines the lyre as a “yoke lute” – that is, the strings are borne by a beam connecting two prongs that emerge from the resonator. Thus, the shape of the lyre generally resembles the head of a horned animal. But a search for “lyre” on Europeana shows that lyres come in many different shapes and sizes, some very simply made, some with ornate and colourful decorations.

The lyre is most closely associated with the mythological character of Ancient Greece, Orpheus, who played so beautifully that he charmed the animals who heard him.

Lyre (ntongoli) UofEdin CC-BY-NC-SAA late 20th century ntongoli (University of Edinburgh via Europeana, CC-BY-NC-SA)

Although the image of this beautiful ntongoli, held at the University of Edinburgh, is taken from an upright position, the instrument is actually played tilted over so that the strings are more or less horizontal, rather like a guitar. You can hear from this recording that the singing and playing is very intense and powerful, with rhythmic patterns from one instrument following the other in rapid succession.

Visit British Library Sounds to hear more recordings from the Klaus Wachsmann Uganda collection.

Follow @EuropeanaMusic and @soundarchive for all the latest news.