There’s No Place Like Home(rton): Addenbrookes Medical Library and Homerton College Library

Near the end of April the trainees set off on yet another adventure – this time to Addenbrooke’s Medical Library and Homerton College Library. Firstly, we met up at Addenbrooke’s, with our various commutes ranging from cycling, to buses from town and, rather excitingly for me, riding the entire length of the U bus from Eddington. Having spent a bit too much time in the Addenbrooke’s A&E department myself over the past few years, it made a nice change to instead head for the Clinical School where the library is situated!

When we arrived we were met by the librarian, who introduced us to the library and gave us a tour. The Medical Library is unique compared to others we have visited before, as it caters for NHS staff as well as medical students doing clinical placements and postgraduate researchers. Therefore, although one might think that the collection in such a library would be fairly narrow in range, it actually is very broad in scope in order to provide for the varying needs of the users. The collection is classified according to the National Library of Medicine classification scheme, which is adapted from the Library of Congress classification scheme. We were given some useful advice by the librarian for when we’re classifying these books – never look at the pictures in books on skin diseases! In addition to textbooks and journals, the library also stocks an impressive wellbeing collection which, as the librarian pointed out to us, is extremely important for NHS workers!

As well as physical resources, the library is especially keen to provide other forms of support. Teaching is seen as extremely important, with the librarians offering support in general skills such as searching for resources as well as more specific tasks such as how to effectively conduct a systematic review – a concept that I was actually familiar with due to some science-based papers I took during my music degree, but was fairly alien to most of our humanities-skewed cohort! The physical space of the library is also designed to provide for its variety of users; there are desks with computers, beanbags, pods for online meetings, and a newly-painted meeting room.

Following our tour it was time for the obligatory tea/coffee and biscuits (though I have to say we were especially treated with the biscuit selection this time around)! We chatted to the librarians about how they had ended up in medical libraries and, as we seem to find everywhere we go, there was no one, obvious career path. I suppose that, as so much of library work is ‘learnt on the job’ – in my case, everything I know about libraries has been learnt over the course of this year! – it’s never too late to make the switch over to librarianship. This got us talking about the wide range of jobs available within librarianship. I think we were all tempted by the idea of becoming a librarian on a cruise ship…

After our trip to Addenbrooke’s, we set off for our next stop – Homerton College. Luckily for us, the library is situated right near the main entrance (actually in the same building as the Porters’ Lodge) and so we were able to find our meeting point much more easily than the last time we were at Homerton for our Applying to Library School session! We were met by the librarian and first taken into the library office, where we were all very pleased by the amount of cuddly toys that lived there. We were especially honoured to meet Homer the Hedgehog, the library’s mascot, whose adorable adventures are well-documented on the Homerton College Library Instagram account! Next, we were given a tour of the library. The Homerton Library can feel very big when you walk in, due to its open-plan design, and it is open 24/7 for college members. However, despite a potentially intimidating design, the librarians are keen to make the library as welcoming and accessible as possible. The librarian showed us a large poster to help students navigate the space and various beanbags and jigsaws are located on the ground floor. It was also explained to us that they stock their wellbeing books alongside books about life-skills such as cooking or bike maintenance, so students didn’t have to uncomfortable about going to a special ‘self-help’ section. We then had a quick look around the rest of the library, including Homerton’s well-stocked children’s literature collection of which I was very jealous!

By now we were all flagging a bit and so we went to get a substantial (and, even better, free!) lunch in the hall, which we followed with another obligatory round of tea and coffee. Again, we chatted with the librarian about different career progressions – one of the Homerton librarians comes from a STEM background! – as well as how Homerton is unique compared to most other college libraries due to its need to provide for the college’s vast amount of PGCE students.

Overall it was a very busy but highly interesting day seeing the two very different libraries and we would like to extend our thanks to the librarians at Addenbrooke’s and Homerton College for accommodating us!

Knitting, Wood Engravers and Sylvia Plath – Our Visit to Newnham College Library

At the beginning of March, the trainees made our way to Newnham College for a tour around their college library. Newnham was founded in 1871 as a residence for women attending lectures at the university (long before they could become full members in 1948) and to this day, remains a women-only college.

After arriving at the library we were met by last year’s trainee, who has stayed on at Newnham in the role of Special Collections Project Library Assistant. It’s always nice to hear about which jobs ex-trainees have gone on to do! First we were taken into the library lobby, where the library assistant explained to us that the library is open from 6.30am-1.45am in order to encourage students to get some sleep. This seems to be a common reoccurrence in many college libraries – whilst some are open 24/7, others believe that this can promote an unhealthy work-sleep balance and that students would regularly pull all-nighters unless they are physically locked out of the library! The library assistant also showed us the hand-bound library guides and her new book display which we were all very impressed to hear is updated every day! It certainly beats my mass-printed guides and once-a-month display changes at my own college library…

We were next shown a board which was covered in bookmarks that are given to each student in their first year, which they can then write book recommendations on and stick up. This contributed to the sense of community which was felt throughout the library, possibly due to the college’s history of being a safe space for those excluded from the university and its current status as a women-only college. The library has a book exchange, a women’s and LGBT+ collection curated by the JCR, and features displays put together by current students. Our favourite example of the Newnham community spirit, however, had to be the Library Knitting Box – I think we’re all tempted to return to Newnham at some point to take part in their regular knitting nights!

As well as the academic books kept for students, the library has a ‘shelf-help’ section which works on the basis of anonymous borrowing and contains books on welfare and study guides. There is also a section with graphic novels, modern fiction, modern poetry and periodicals. As is becoming a common concern in libraries, the library assistant explained to us that they had been unsure whether the periodicals were actually being used. She showed us her ingenious yet simple solution – a quick survey put up in the periodicals area where patrons put a tick next to the name of the periodicals they used. Surprisingly this demonstrated that they were far more popular than she had thought! Less surprising though was the fact that she mentioned they had lots of old journals to get rid of. I know in my own library we’re having discussions about whether years’ worth of journals are a practical use of space, given feedback suggests that the vast majority of students only access these online. A slightly random addition to the library is Blaise Pascal’s death mask (which apparently has its own BeReal account?) – the library assistant revealed that some students prefer to work with it watching over them. I suppose whatever encourages you to finish that essay!

We were next taken into the old half of the library – a Grade II* listed building which we were all very pleased to hear houses the humanities books as well as various collections. These include the Bloomsbury collection, which contains first edition works and related items by Virginia Woolf, and the Rogers collection, which contains children’s literature. Originally donated to Newnham as a joke in the early 20th century – the implication being that, as women, this was all the students were capable of reading – this collection includes folktales and fairy tales from around the world. The main collection is classified with an in-house scheme that is loosely based on the Library of Congress classification scheme. The advantage of this is that the classmarks can be adapted as the collection evolves, such as by adding a 21st century section. The ceiling of the old library is especially impressive, with panels displaying different printers’ marks. We were equally delighted to see a replica of a banner that was taken by Newnham and Girton students to suffragette marches – one of many reminders found in the library of Newnham’s history of supporting women’s rights and education.

The library assistant then showed us something very special – an exhibition which had just been installed, making us the first people to see it! She explained that during her trainee year, she had spent a lot of time with the Jaffé collection (Patricia Jaffé being a Research Fellow from 1962 who was also an accomplished wood engraver). This collection was donated by Jaffé’s family in 2022 and has around 450 books, featuring illustrations by 20th and 21st century women wood engravers. The exhibition features a selection from this collection and the library assistant gave us an extremely informative talk about her choices, as well as the art of wood engraving itself. I can now safely say I know the difference between a woodcut and a wood engraving! My personal favourite item in the exhibition was a small toy horse belonging to a current fellow at Newnham. Nora Unwin, a wood engraver, had lived with her family during the war and, during this time, had written and illustrated a book about the horse, which is also featured in the exhibition.

Following our visit to the exhibition, it was time for some hard-earned tea and biscuits in the library kitchen. Discussions ranged from tips from the library assistant on planning exhibitions (I will definitely be taking her advice on making a to-scale diagram!), to the history of Braille, to some interesting items found by one of the trainees in some manuscripts they had been going through (as well as speculation on how said items may have got there). To finish the afternoon we went for a walk through Newnham’s beautiful gardens in order to find the house where Sylvia Plath had lived in as a student – we are mainly ex-English students after all!

We would like to thank the Special Collections Project Library Assistant for such an engaging and informative tour, as well as the whole library team at Newnham for allowing us to spend our afternoon in their gorgeous library.

Norwich Part 1

February 19th saw the trainees’ first big trip outside of Cambridge. After a few last-minute stresses of buses not turning up, and failing to remember that the trip was actually happening, we successfully made it onto the train to Norwich. The excitement caused by spotting some pigs out of the window set the tone for what was going to be a packed but extremely enjoyable day.

Once we disembarked our (obviously delayed) train, the next challenge was locating our first stop: the American Library found within the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. What we had neglected to realise was that a) the library itself is actually in a multi-purpose building called The Forum, and b) it was half-term. Once we discovered that we actually were in the right place, despite a multitude of children running around for a science festival, we made our way to the American Library where we were met by the Librarian.

The Librarian explained that the American Library is the only public war memorial library in the UK, and is dedicated to the Second Air Division of the United States army who were based in East Anglia during WW2. It is intended to act as a ‘living memorial’, and so features several images and information panels to teach people about the history, as well as acting as a functioning library. The collection includes general American literature and books specifically about the history of the Second Air Division. There are also several self-published items which means that there are more ‘reference only’ copies than you may expect to find in a traditional library, as these books are often unavailable to purchase elsewhere. There is additionally a small collection of DVDs and VHS tapes, and other non-printed material such as memoirs and photographs is kept in a separate archives in the Norfolk Records Office. Impressively, thanks to funds from a legacy donation, 96% of these archives have been digitised!

The American Library is classified according to the Dewey Decimal system, though, as the Librarian pointed out, using a system which classifies by topic can cause some confusion in a collection when the majority of the books are about the same thing! Therefore, they also arrange books by extra criteria such as the unit history or number of fighter group. To make everything simpler to find, the signage around the library refers to what the books are about, rather than classification numbers as you may expect to see on the shelves of a library. This user-friendly approach is also seen elsewhere: the shelves are all on wheels so the library can be reconfigured for events and the Librarian revealed that they have given out quizzes to people on aspects of the library in order to try and make it seem less intimidating. Finally, we were informed about an exciting pilot project that the library is a part of which uses AI to transcribe archival material. One difficulty with digitally searching archives is that if you were to search for a name, for example, a photograph containing that person may not come up in the results. Therefore, using AI to transcribe handwritten notes or documents means that the material is easier to navigate for users. Whilst the data still needs to be checked by humans – AI can often generate ‘hallucinations’ – this process is still much quicker than if it was all done by people.

After the American Library, the Librarian took us around the rest of the Millennium Library, which is one of the largest public libraries in the UK. Additionally, it is one of 47 branches across Norfolk which are on 5 mobile routes, so books can be sent between libraries. We were first taken through the Early Years Library which, given the aforementioned half-term, was a little louder and more chaotic than most of us are used to in our own libraries (though, the décor and cuddly toys were definite positives)! As well as acting as a library, they also offer events for children such as Bounce and Rhyme, and Lego Club, keeping the overall sense of the Millennium Library being a community space. This is also seen through the fact that the library opens out to the rest of The Forum, meaning that it does not feel like a separate, closed space, though this does apparently lend itself to several noise complaints! We were then brought up to the first floor which houses around 250,000 books. Again, there are efforts to increase the community aspect of the library such as through a Zine Library with a monthly club. The Millennium Library is also an Open Library, meaning that the public are able to access it when it is unstaffed. 43 of the 47 Norfolk libraries are Open Libraries, showing how important it seems to be to have these spaces accessible for when people need them.

I’ll now hand over to Zia for Part 2!

CILIP East of England ‘Applying to Library School’ Event

On a cold, November afternoon, the Graduate Trainees left the comfort of our libraries and navigated various bus routes in order to make our way to Homerton College for the CILIP East of England ‘Applying to Library School’ event. After an orienteering challenge which involved disappearing arrows and a TARDIS as a landmark, we found the designated room and settled in for an afternoon of talks to help us decide if Library School is for us and, if so, whereabouts we may want to go.

We started with a general overview about Library and Information Studies courses from Dr Leo Appleton from the University of Sheffield. He explained the differences between the various postgraduate courses on offer, such as if they are ‘general’ programmes, like Librarianship, or more specialist, like those which focus on archives or book history. Additionally, some courses are accredited by CILIP whilst others aren’t and they may vary in terms of modes of assessment or whether they offer placements or internships. He also introduced us to the different modes of study. It was reassuring to know that there are options for full-time, part-time, and distance learning! This overview was rounded off with some useful advice on applying for funding and what kinds of things we should put in our personal statements when applying for courses.

We were next given brief talks from Course Directors at four different universities: Aberystwyth, Manchester, UCL, and Sheffield. All offered similar core modules in their general courses but there were some features unique to each university. Aberystwyth offers an MA/PGDip in Archives and Records Management as well as their Library and Information Studies course. There was also an emphasis on the wide range of topics available for dissertations, and the pictures of the Welsh seaside were an additional selling point! Manchester’s Library and Archive Studies course is only in its first year but already establishing itself with particular focuses on Artificial Intelligence and decolonisation. Additionally, current students have been able to take up placements in a wide variety of roles such as a Digital Content Developer, Music Archives Assistant, or Engagement Assistant. Conversely, UCL has been practising Library and Information education for over 100 years! The presentation highlighted the programme’s (extremely reassuring) 100% employability record and revealed that in the future, it may be eligible for ALA accreditation. We were also given some useful advice on the UCL application process. Finally, Sheffield offers MSc courses in Data Science, Information Management, and Information Systems alongside their MA/PGDip/PGCert courses in Librarianship and Library and Information Services Management. There was a strong focus on employability and the fact that their distance-learning option is adapted in order to gear it more towards people in work.

After some much-needed tea and biscuits and a chance to chat with the Course Directors and other attendees, we reconvened for a talk from two current Library School students about their experiences. Luckily, both were full of praise for their respective courses and highlighted the breadth of opportunities available to them, both within their degrees and in the jobs market as a result of their experience. It was also remarkable to hear how their interests have changed during their courses!

Overall, this was an extremely useful and thought-provoking event which helped us gain a better understanding of what our next steps may look like. We are incredibly grateful to Dr Leo Appleton, Dr Anoush Simon, Dr Benjamin Wiggins, and Dr Charlie Inskip for their talks on their various universities, to Alberto Garcia Jr and Ellen Woolf for sharing their student experience, and to Katherine Burchell and CILIP East of England for organising the event.