Pembroke College Library Visit and Law Libraries Talk

On the 9th of January 2023, the Graduate Trainees visited Pembroke College Library to attend a talk on Law Libraries, as part of our professional development. Founded in 1347, Pembroke is one of the oldest Colleges in Cambridge, with architecture and library collections that reflect its development from a medieval house of study to a modern and dynamic academic institution.  

The Waterhouse Library. Alfred Waterhouse designed many buildings in Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the Natural History Museum.

The Library has inhabited several locations within the College over the years. It originally existed in a corner of the medieval Old Court, before migrating to the original chapel building after Christopher Wren’s construction of another chapel in 1665. In 1875, the notable architect Alfred Waterhouse built a new Library as part of his refashioning of the College, and Pembroke’s collections now occupy the gloriously eclectic building, with its distinctive red brick façade, stained glass windows, and ornate Clock tower.

Stained glass windows inspired by Ted Hughes’ poetry refract light onto the writer’s desk.

The Waterhouse Library is home to 42,000 books, with strong specialisms in Art History and Law. This year’s Pembroke trainee showed us around the peaceful reading rooms, with views over Pembroke grounds, and took us to see Ted Hughes’ impressively ink-stained desk and chair, positioned underneath windows inspired by his poetic fascination with nature. More stained glass windows, designed by German artist Hans von Stockhausen in 2001, shade the vestibule stairwell, featuring woodcut illustrations of animals and botanical specimens taken from the work of Nehemiah Grew and William Turner, early botanists at the College, contributing to the chapel-like ambience of the Library.

We then attended a talk on the world of Law Libraries by the Assistant Librarian at Pembroke, who began her own career at one of the Inns of Courts in London. Law librarians can work with many different aspects of the law, and are employed in law firms, academic institutions with law libraries, some government libraries, and the Advocate’s Library in Edinburgh, all with different remits.

As England exists in a ‘common law’ jurisdiction, our legal system is based in the ‘doctrine of precedence’, through which sitting judges can respond to, uphold, or reject the previous judgements of older courts. Librarians, therefore, serve a vital purpose within the legal profession, ensuring barristers, solicitors, and clerks have the relevant information on these precedents required to win a case in court. Our speaker described the enjoyably fast-paced nature of this environment, as well as the warm and often collegiate atmosphere of the Inns of Court.

A quiet reading room in the Pembroke College Library.

Physical collections remain an integral part of legal information services, due to the mass of written material on historic cases. When referencing cases from many hundreds of years ago, librarians might even consult some of the early printed books still held in collections at the Inns of Court, adding a special collections element to the role. Databases, and database management, form a similarly vital part of the job. The Librarian showed us the highly specific referencing style within the different law books and online databases, which can aid finders in their search for individual cases. We examined the online judgement of the recent (and infamous) Rooney v Vardy case, to observe how these cases are disseminated as precedents after their conclusion.

It was fascinating to hear about the demands and rewards of this strand of librarianship, and revealed another possible path for our careers after the trainee year. It was also wonderful to observe the inner workings of Pembroke Library, with its peaceful demeanour and busy and vital Library service, hidden in the very heart of Cambridge.

A Day in the Life at Anglia Ruskin University

When I first started at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the team rota felt pretty overwhelming to look at: with 6 full-time and 6 part-time Library Services Advisers, there is definitely a lot going on! I have removed the names of my colleagues from the screenshot below, but each row corresponds to a different Library Services Advisor. The bottom half of the rota lists our priority tasks, and we simply type our name next to the task we are doing in the appropriate time column. With a big team, this ensures that two people aren’t accidentally doing the same task at the same time.

The timetable does change daily though, meaning that no two days are the same. With it being the start of term, the timetable is currently quite full but at different times of the year, we have more blank slots (unallocated hours) so we can focus on individual or group projects.

Team rota for Tuesday 17 January 2023
Team rota for Tuesday 17 Janaury 2023
An asile with stacks of books either side on the second floor of the library

8:30 – 9:00: Building Walk
After a very chilly cycle to work (the feels like temperate was -5!), I start my day with a building walk which – as the name suggests – is a walk around the library to make sure everything is in order. The usual things to look out for are health and safety hazards, faulty equipment, and broken lights. Apart from a few travelling chairs, the library was all in order. Time for a cup of tea!

09:00 – 10:00: Emails and Reading Lists
Next, I’m on a blank slot which gives me a chance to go through the library email account. As term only started yesterday, it is still fairly quiet with only a handful of enquiries overnight. Today, they are pretty straight-forward: a book recommendation, query about loan length, and an alumni membership application. With some time left over, I start to order a few books from ARU’s reading lists. We have recently moved to a new reading list management system, Keylinks, which has made the whole process a lot smoother.

10:00 – 11:00: Phone & Chat Support
I always find phone and chat support a strange hour because it’s so unpredictable – sometimes I don’t receive a single message/call, while other days can be significantly busier. Today is one of the quieter days, with only one 5-minute chat regarding literature reviews. With one eye on the phone/chat, I decide to continue ordering from the reading lists because it’s a good task to dip in and out of. In the end, I order 1 book to our Chelmsford campus and 17 books to our Cambridge campus.

11:00 – 12:00: Scanning
I notice that there is a pending PDF scan request on Alma (our library database), so I do the usual checks before approving (are the number of pages compliant with copyright, is the item available electronically, have they requested from this book before). After completing the scan, I tackle accessibility. The chapter I am scanning from is an ocular anatomy book, and I must admit, I sometimes struggle with how best to add alt text to scientific figures. With one or more figures on each page, I take my time to ensure that the descriptive text is as useful as possible, should the patron use it.

12:00 – 13:00: Lunch
With it being such a cold day, I decide to eat inside – on sunnier/warmer days, I love to get some fresh air with a stroll around nearby Mill Road Cemetery. After staring at a screen for a lot of the morning, it’s nice to take some time away and squeeze in some pages from my current read, So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell.

13:00 – 14:00: Help Desk
Shifts at the desk have been really busy so far this week because there are lots of new students on campus as some courses have a January start date. To manage queues and help students more efficiently, there are 2 people on the desk between 11 and 4. The enquiries we receive are varied but the most common ones today were directional, password resets, WiFi issues, printing trouble, and how to use the self-service machines. I also had a few students who were struggling to find a book upstairs and as we can’t leave the desk, I radioed a colleague (who was on the ‘back up’ role) to help.

Holding an orange motorola radio

14:00 – 15:00: Back Up & Pick List
After a busy hour on the desk, I make myself a cappuccino before tackling the pick list. There were 46 items on the pick list when I started and by the time I’d found the books on the shelves, processed them, and placed them on the requests shelf, the pick list already had 15 new items! There are currently 150 books on the requests shelf, waiting for collection. Luckily, the desk didn’t radio me for any support this hour, so I was able to focus on the pick list uninterrupted.

15:00 – 16:00: Pick List & Processing an External Membership
I’m on a blank slot so I help the next person on the ‘back up’ role by finding the new items from the pick list. There is nothing to receive as there were no books or journals in the post today, so I process a new alumni membership application form. In need of a boost of energy, I then take a short chocolate break!

Trolley with books in front of a shelving unit with books on

16:00 – 17:00: Roving & Shelving
For the last hour of the day, I am tasked with roving. The main responsibility is to circulate all four floors to ensure that noise levels are appropriate and be visible in case any students need help. Roving is a nice opportunity to be away from a screen and walk around the library. It’s also a great time to get amongst the books and do some shelving. After a busy day, I cycle home for a relaxing evening.

Newnham College Library visit

Last week, we had the first of our visits to one of our own trainees’ libraries – Newnham College. Newnham is a women’s College founded in 1871, with the Library being first constructed in 1897. The Library was a gift from Henry and Elizabeth Yates Thompson who had close connections to the College and its founders, including the architect Basil Champneys. The 2004 modern extension is named the Horner Markwick Library after two previous Librarians of the College, who both generously donated funds towards expanding the Library.

Our tour started in the Archive, where the Archivist had laid out a selection of photographs and other items of note from the College’s history for us to view. Of particular note was a letter written by Rosalind Franklin, whose later work would contribute hugely to our understanding of DNA structure. At the time of the letter, Franklin was a first-year undergraduate student, and wrote to her parents of the exciting news of the first female professor elected in either Oxford or Cambridge (this was Dorothy Garrod), who had been elected from Newnham. Franklin also noted that there was still a question over whether, as a woman, she would be given full membership of the University.

Our visit to the Archive also elicited a fascinating discussion about archiving personal histories of people who have been marginalised throughout history. Collection of personal letters and photographs allows us to now reveal and understand some aspects of women’s lives that would have been ignored, deliberately hidden, or suppressed in previous centuries and decades, for example LGBTQ+ identities and relationships.

The Horner Markwick Library. Its open, multi-storey layout shows off the Library’s large collection.

Our Newnham trainee then took us on a tour of the Library reading rooms, explaining the layout and their classification scheme. The size of the collection was particularly impressive, and is one of the best-stocked undergraduate college libraries in Cambridge. For a College with around 400 undergraduates, a collection of over 100,000 volumes gave a much larger ratio of book-to-student numbers compared to other College libraries such as my own, Pembroke. I was then reminded that for a long time, women were not permitted to enter the University or faculty libraries, and thus the College needed to stock anything its women could potentially need for their studies, explaining the large collection.

The Library building itself was beautiful to see. We first explored the modern extension of the library, where the majority of reader spaces and the main Library office now lie. It is bright and spacious, and though very modern in appearance, its layout and vaulted ceiling bring with it a continuity of style into the old library. The similarly vaulted ceiling in the old Yates Thompson library features beautiful panels displaying printers’ marks from European printers that Henry Yates Thompson, himself a collector of manuscripts and early printed books, highly regarded.

The Victorian Yates Thompson Library with its beautiful vaulted ceiling and wood panelling.

Throughout the library were several displays. Some of these were created by students themselves, while others had been put together by Library staff. Highlights were the ‘Roger’s Collection’ of late 19th century children’s literature and folk stories from around the world, on display in the old library, and the display about women obtaining the right to education in Cambridge, on display in the lift corridor. The latter of these featured shocking photos of riots that ensued when the question of women obtaining degrees was put to the (all-male) University members, and in particular of the vandalism Newnham College was subjected to by opponents of women seeking the right to receive a degree.

Next, we were shown the Katharine Stephens Rare Books Library, named for the Librarian who presided over the creation of the Yates Thompson Library. The Assistant Librarian gave us a tour of one of their current rare book exhibitions they’ve put together for students, about the history of Sociology and Anthropology. She explained that the Library begun to put together collections of rare books related to each Tripos subject studied at Newnham, which they would then invite students to look at during their subject formal halls. This not only enabled the students to become aware of and engage with relevant texts and resources in the Library, but also allowed the Library staff to continue to get to know their large collection of rare books by challenging them to find books relating to particular subjects.

The overall impression of Newnham College Library was one of a welcoming and friendly study space, with a large and diverse collection of books and materials for its students. It is a great example of a library whose space and collections have been truly shaped by its history and users. Having been one of the only spaces for women studying in Cambridge for so many years, it appears to have fostered an incredibly supportive and close-knit environment, leading to its alumnae and members giving generously to maintain and expand the Library and its collections.

Cambridge Central Library Visit

For our second visit, we were given a tour of Cambridge Central Library. It is one of the 33 council run libraries in Cambridgeshire, tucked away in Cambridge’s busy shopping centre, the Lion’s Yard. The bright and modern library spans three floors and caters to all with community at its heart. In addition to its broad catalogue (children’s, teenage, and adult books; CDs and DVDs; music scores; and newspapers), it offers important services to the public such as book clubs, rhymetime, arts activities, basic digital skills sessions, mental health support, and help applying for a bus pass. Membership is free and open to all living, working, visiting, or studying in Cambridgeshire. I have always found public libraries to be warm and welcoming spaces, and Cambridge Central Library was no exception.

Library entrance and main sign
Outside the library entrance

In the first half of our visit, one of the library staff, Jess, gave us a general tour of the library. On the ground floor, the fiction, teenage and teenage plus, and children’s books can be found.

Books on shelf with blue or orange stickers on their spine
Their sticker system differentiates between teenage and teenage plus material

I was really impressed about how accessible the children’s collection is with separate sections for braille, large print, dual language, and dyslexia friendly books. The entrance and train shelving units were also great fun!

Mid-height wall with a person-shaped cut out
The entrance to the children’s section

We were then shown the book return sorting room which had some great technology. Once customers have returned their items via the self-service machines, the books are taken on a conveyor belt to the sorting room where they can be distributed into various boxes depending on which floor they’re shelved, or which library they need to be sent to.

4 storting trolleys on each side of the conveyor belt
Behind-the-scenes in the book returns room

The rest of the books can be found on the second floor, classified according to the Dewey Decimal system. There are also plenty of desks and computers available, and some great nooks for reading and relaxing (or people watching!).

Framed colourful quilt of Market Square
A wonderful quilt of Market Hill is displayed on the third floor. It was made by members of the Gadabouts Quilting Group between 2006 and 2008

In the second half of our visit, Mary introduced us to the Cambridgeshire Collections. Starting in the reading room, we were shown their microfilm newspaper collection which dates from 1762. Mary was really proud to show us their microfilm reader, too, which is the only one in Cambridge. The digital machine allows users to easily find and crop articles, then save them as PDFs/JPEGs – a really useful tool for research. We were then taken down into the temperate-controlled basement, which stores the majority of the collection. The range of material is extensive – as long as it relates to Cambridgeshire, then you name it, they probably have it! Mary shared her personal favourite with us: a set of miniature jam jars created by a local company in Histon for the Queen’s dolls’ house. We loved these too!

We are all very grateful to Jess, Mary, and the rest of the Cambridge Central Library team for welcoming us to their library.