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!

A trip down memory lane at Clare College Libraries

Outside of the (jam packed!) timetable of events, workshops and visits planned for the trainee librarians over the year of our traineeships, we are also encouraged to organise our own trips relating to our librarianship interests and our library training.

As an alumna of Clare College, I was very excited to hear that the Fellows’ Library at Clare was finally re-opening, after being out of operation for 5 years, with the collection being in specialist storage since 2018 as a part of building and refurbishment in Old Court. This closure spanned over my own three years as an undergraduate at Clare, so I never got to see or use the Fellow’s Library. So, I set about organising a trip for the trainees to visit Clare College and to have a tour of both the Fellows’ library and the student library across the way in Memorial Court. I also wanted to organise this trip in part because I owe the Forbes Mellon Library for my pursuit of librarianship; it was working there part-time in the summer of 2022 where I fell in love with librarianship (I was particularly a big fan of book covering and labelling – I love a cut and stick activity) and working there is also how I learnt about the Graduate Traineeships.

Forbes Mellon Library

We began our trip congregating in Memorial Court on Queens’ Road, which hit me with a wave of nostalgia as I lived here for all three years of my degree. The Forbes Mellon Library (FML) was our first stop; located in the heart of Memorial Court, the FML was constructed in 1986, to accommodate the growing number of undergraduates studying at the college. On entering the building, the librarian pointed out a series of portraits of women Fellows hanging on the balcony, which houses the closed-access shelves of the library. A particular favourite of the group was a portrait featuring a plush frog. She explained that these were part of a series of celebrations in the college commemorating the 50th anniversary of the changing of statutes to include women among the students and Fellowship, making Clare the first Cambridge college to have co-education in 1972. Another artistic feature of the college, a statue entitled HOMMAGE, which stands between the Forbes Mellon Library and the University Library, was also acquired as part of the 50th anniversary.

Inside the FML

It was also explained that this library has a rather rare feature; it shares a building with several music practice rooms! This is an interesting combination, given the unique silence of library spaces… but surprisingly one that works in nice harmony, with very few disturbances occurring. There is also a Library Common room located in the building, which is highly frequented by students, which serves as a relaxed area to study or take a break. This space is harmoniously run by the Union of Clare Students and the library team, with calming colouring books, a casual reading selection (borrowable on trust), and free hot drinks and biscuits available. One of the projects I worked on while working there was to weed this collection, to keep it updated and relevant for the students.

Entering the main library itself, we first saw the display table which is located directly in front of you as you enter the building, where a brand-new display was set up, featuring books, DVD’s and other items from the collection relating to women’s history month. On our way to a side room that contains the printer and monitors, as well as housing the welfare and academic collections, we walked past a station full of equipment free for students to use, from staplers to whiteboards. There was some interest amongst the group as to how the items were picked, and whether the Clare students seemed to find them useful. We were then led up to the first floor, where we could fully appreciate the beautiful shelving that runs along the walls of the hexagonal building, with their huge bay windows filling the library with light (many an essay of mine was written on one of these window seats, so apologise if I am a little biased about their loveliness). The librarian also explained how they had been working on a reclassification project recently on their history collection; you can read more about reclassification and its role in library decolonisation projects in Liz’s blog here.

Law Reading Rooms

One of Clare’s Law Reading Rooms

We then filed out of the Forbes Mellon, and turned into one of the staircases, where the college archives were pointed out to us. Here we visited the two Law Reading Rooms, (the Lipstein and Turpin rooms) which both law and land economy students in the college have access to, with the Turpin room also having a computer room. These rooms have their own library collection, for reference only. As with most of the windows in the library, and in Memorial Court generally, the University Library is ever-present. A particular selling-point of Clare is just how close the libraries are, with Sidgwick site also being just a couple minutes away. The librarian explained how this close proximity also helps them to facilitate access to the books their students need.

Fellows’ Library

Clare Old Court over Clare Bridge

Making our way across the road and through Clare Old Court, with spring flowers blooming beautifully along the walkway, we briefly stopped on Clare Bridge where I pointed out one of my personal favourite features of the college – The Wedge – which, like many old-Cambridge things, has several combating mythologise surrounding it, all more absurd than the last. On the way to the Old Library we passed the newly refurbished Old Hall, and also a Medieval Chest. Several colleges with Old Libraries have chests such as this, which at one point would have functioned much like a library in that they stored key documents of the college, in fact this chest specifically is referred to anecdotally as the “earliest library of the College” and is roughly dated to the fifteenth century. We were then led through the senior common room to reach the Library; this placement of the library, between the Masters’ Lodge and SCR, and accessible from either side, is indicative of the central role the library has historically had in Clare.

This photograph of the Fellows’ Library is reproduced by kind permission of the Master, Fellows and Scholars of Clare College.

On entering the Fellows’ Library, we met with the Assistant Librarian who had kindly laid out a selection of the collection for us to look at. This included highlights such as Cassius Dio of Bythynia (1592), edited by Henri Estienne, which came to the library from Master Charles Morgan (1678-1736, Master 1726-1736), and which is still in its original late-16th century binding, with fragments of a Hebrew manuscript. Both the Clare librarians and many of the graduate trainees had been to the 2023 Sandars Lectures, which were on Cambridge University bindings, so we had particular interest in three Cambridge bindings from the collection, two of which are believed to be from the workshops of early Cambridge binders John Siberch and Nicholas Spierineck, and one which showcased a pink covering!

Alongside this, we also had the opportunity to meander around the exhibition in the Fellows’ Library which was curated by the Fellows’ Librarian, Prof. Tim Chesters, which featured selections from the collection on the theme of “America”. We also heard about the (somewhat tumultuous) history of libraries in the college, including a presumed fire which sadly caused the loss of much of the earliest part of the collection, as well as learning about the process of moving the books to specialised storage, working with the collection while it was in storage, and the process of having it all returned to college. It was fascinating to hear about movement of rare books on this scale.

River Café

We finished the trip in the new extension of the college – the River Room Café – which still had views of the University Library through its windows. We were kindly treated to a hot drink while we chatted to the Clare library team about their own experiences as trainees and their careers as well as our own plans and goals. The Clare librarians were very kind, receptive and welcoming to us visiting, for which we are very grateful, and I want to personally thank them, for teaching me the foundations from which I am developing my librarianship practice in my traineeship, for nurturing my love of libraries, and for running a wonderful library for Clare students.

View across the river in the River Room Café, with the University Library in the distance

Ely Trip Part 2: a spin around Cambridgeshire Archives

After a quick lunch and short walk to see the outside of Ely’s cathedral, we headed to the Cambridgeshire Archives, a former bowling alley that has been expertly converted into an archive centre. The Archive holds records dating back to the 13th century, relating to the area now covered by Cambridgeshire (which includes Huntingdonshire and the Isle of Ely).

The archivist began our tour in the strong room, pointing out the features which made the former bowling alley an ideal space to store archives, such as the easy access areas and lack of windows. As the interior was renovated prior to the archives being moved to the new site, they were able to ensure the space could be completely functional for storing special records, with systems in place to keep the temperature at a constant 19°c and the humidity at 50%. This also included setting up a small quarantine room just as you enter the storage area, where newly received documents are initially taken to be checked for possible risks, such as mould or silverfish – pests you definitely don’t want in your archives!

Most of the records are kept in boxes on mobile shelves, with enough space to hopefully last for the next 25 years. The archivist explained that they try to place highly requested items on the front shelves, such as parish records and maps, to ease accessibility. With many of the items being official records for the county, and therefore irreplaceable, they also have to maintain good security. In total, the Archive currently holds 20 million documents in approximately 35,000 boxes – the weight of 171 elephants we were told!

After finishing our tour of the storage area, we were shown into the Archive’s conservation room, full of contraptions and equipment to clean, preserve and restore archival items. For example, stretched out on the table was an early 17th century map, which the team were flattening and cleaning prior to it being digitised.

This posed a good segue to the next space we were led into, the digitisation and scanning room. The Archive employs a professional photographer to create high quality digital images of the collection, providing a useful income stream as they prioritise digitising requested items. The photographer had just finished a digital image of the Cromwell family tree from the 16th-17th century – the original document is huge, and so the photographer had stitched multiple images together to create a seamless, high-definition digital copy.

Following the digitisation room, we also dropped in on the Cataloguing and Accessioning team, where we discussed the Archive’s policies on collection storage and their use of CALM catalogue – an archive management system. It was interesting seeing the similarities and differences between how they catalogue archival material, and our own experiences with cataloguing books using library management systems. 

Finally, we ended our tour in the reading room, and chatted with the archive assistants about their roles and the kinds of queries they deal with. Their jobs involve copious amounts of research and detective-like work, such as tracing ancestors, finding family archives, and uncovering information needed for land disputes.

Helping families and the local community is a key function of the team, and the archivist mentioned how the image of archives has changed from formerly being a space for academics, to now being open and welcoming to the public. For instance, the Archive runs numerous outreach activities with school groups, taking them on tours of the space and putting out a ‘wow’ display of items, such as letters from famous people, and (always popular) the smallest and biggest items held in the collection. The archivist had kindly prepared a ‘wow’ table for us in the reading room too, showcasing the plethora of material that Cambridgeshire Archives owns. This ranged from a collection of late 19th century mugshots featuring local people accused of crimes, to documents dating from 1855 relating to Cambridge Free Library, and also a collection of notes on nineteenth century Whittlesford and its neighbourhood by local antiquary and natural historian George Nathan Maynard. A particular favourite of all the trainees was a spectacular hand illustrated history of Little Shelford by Fanny Lucretia Wale, compiled between 1908-1919, which featured beautiful watercolour images of the local area.

Thank you to the team at Cambridgeshire Archives for giving us such a lovely tour, and for providing us with an insight into the work that local archives do!

Ely Trip Part 1: Behind-the-Scenes at Cambridge University Library Storage Facility

On a wet and windy day at the end of February, the trainees hopped on a train to Ely, with visits scheduled for both the Cambridge University Library Storage Facility (LSF), and the Cambridgeshire Archives.

After initial difficulties figuring out how to get to the LSF (Uber failed us!), we eventually squeezed into a taxi and made it to the large warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The LSF is a purpose-built warehouse, providing over 100km of shelving space with the potential for holding up to 5.5 million items. With the UL being a Legal Deposit library, and therefore entitled to claim a copy of every published item in the UK and Ireland, the LSF is a useful solution for storing low use printed material, freeing up space in the UL for higher demand items.

Following the journey of a book through the LSF system, the warehouse team began our tour in the loading bay, where crates of books are received every day from the UL. The books are all sorted by size, using a wooden measuring scale to determine their category – this will then denote which size tray the books are stored in.

We were then taken through to the processing room, and shown the large pile of acid free cardboard ready to be transformed into trays. The team explained how they initially had to construct a tray every 90 seconds when the facility first opened to keep up with the number of books arriving from the UL. One of the trainees had a go at building a tray themselves, finding out first hand how fiddly they can be!

Once sorted into trays by size and weighed to make sure they are not too heavy for the shelves, every book is given a unique barcode and scanned onto the warehouse management system. This is then linked to the unique barcode given to the tray, which is then further connected to the barcode of the shelf where the tray is placed – all in all, the three barcode system ensures every book is tracked and can be found again. Each tray goes through quality control, with all items being double checked to make sure nothing has been misplaced. Having such a well organised system is essential for the smooth running of the LSF – as items can still be requested by readers from the UL, the team need to know where every book is stored, and keep track of where they will need to reshelve it once it’s returned.

Our final stop was the store room, where rows of 11m high shelves towered above us, with over 100,000 trays currently stacked upon them and room for another 300,000 more. The lower shelves can be accessed easily by the workers from the ground, and therefore hold smaller and lighter items. Larger and heavier items are shelved higher up, requiring the use of cherry-picker type machines, where trolleys of books can be loaded onto the back. Excitingly, we were all given the opportunity to go up in the cherry-pickers, which feel far faster than they look as they speed down the aisles! Many of the trainees didn’t quite realise how scared of heights they were until 11m up in the air – it’s definitely not a job for the faint hearted! The possibility of dropping a tray of book from this height was also terrifying to consider, although the warehouse team assured us this was very unlikely to happen, as the trolley on the back of the cherry-pickers is designed so that you can slide the trays onto the shelves, avoiding any heavy lifting and reducing the risk of things falling.

As the books are all organised by size, we noticed the variety of items that were placed together in trays, such as children’s books, modern literary fiction, cookbooks, and nineteenth century novels. The LSF mostly holds books, but there is also storage for maps, with drawers holding a range of material from ministry of defence maps to ordnance survey maps. We also saw some rather creepy looking paintings tucked down one of the aisles!

We had a wonderful time looking around the LSF and seeing all the behind-the-scenes aspects of how the UL maintains and stores its vast collection, whilst keeping it available for current and future researchers. Thank you to the LSF team for giving us such an in-depth tour and introducing us to how library warehouses operate. See part two of the Ely trip for our visit to Cambridgeshire Archives!

Chu-Can do anything! Our visit to the Churchill Archives Centre and Churchill College Libraries

On 11th March, the trainees got together once again for an exciting visit to the Churchill Archives Centre, as well as Churchill College Library. We were met by the lovely group of Archive staff who led us to the conservation studio. The conservator was hard at work doing some paper repairs using a very fine Japanese paper. Despite its fineness and fragile appearance, the long kozo fibres in this kind of paper make it both strong and pliable, perfect for repairing holes and tears in all kinds of paper. He also showed us a binding repair he was working on. Instead of repairing the spine of a large book with leather to match the leather binding, he was using a much thicker version of the Japanese paper, carefully painted to resemble the blue leather used to bind the rest of the book. This was a technique none of us had seen before and we loved hearing about how these kinds of repairs take place. Most of the work the conservators deal with is preventative work – especially when it comes to storage. When items are accessioned, they are carefully stored inside acid-free folders and boxes to prevent further damage, which hopefully saves conservators from doing more intensive reparative work in the future.

Next, we were led to the strongroom where many of the Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher items are kept. The archivists had kindly taken out some collection highlights to show us, including Thatcher’s own toy cat, Stanley, and her handbag, along with pictures as ample evidence that these were in fact the Real Deal.

Stanley the cat, who lived at 10 Downing Street with Margaret Thatcher.
(Below) The actual handbag of Margaret Thatcher (and the actual thumb of the Pembroke Trainee).

I asked whether the archives centre has a formal acquisitions policy, and we were told that the collection was initially centred on Churchill and his friends/associates, as well as other UK Prime Ministers. Now, it focuses more generally on modern political and scientific papers; as the Archives Centre website outlines, ‘Our collections encompass the personal papers of individuals who made and remade British domestic politics and international relations, advanced scientific knowledge, and who observed or transformed society, economics and culture.’

One of the archive assistants also pointed out that the centre has an unusually large naval collection relating to Stephen Roskill, who was a Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College, as well as a senior career officer of the Royal Navy, and who served during the Second World War.

One of the strongrooms in Churchill Archives Centre.

We spoke briefly about how digital archiving works, as this seems to be a growing concern among archivists with the rapidly evolving world of digital media. The archivists mentioned that there are various floppy disks and other kinds of data-storing hardware at the archives centre, which are proving difficult to draw information from. The concern with digital media is that technology will change at such a rate and in such a way that material stored in a certain form might eventually become inaccessible – which also makes investing money in certain technology or data storage an inherently risky process. For now, the team at Churchill store digital archives like emails in three copies, all hosted in separate locations, to ensure they are not lost to data breaches or corruption. It’s an aspect of archive work I had not considered before as most of the archives at Trinity predate digital media, and only exist in hard copy. I don’t doubt, though, that digital archives will present some new and compelling challenges to the archivists that work with them as time goes on!

Churchill Archives Centre Reading Room.

As we wandered up to the Archives Centre Reading Room, the team noted that, upon his death, Winston Churchill’s official papers were taken to be stored in the National Archive, while only his personal papers are kept at Churchill Archives Centre. I think we all agreed that the personal papers are far more interesting anyway!

For example, we were shown a copy of Churchill’s rather concerning school report from April 1884, which stated that his general conduct was ‘very bad’, that he ‘is a constant trouble to everybody, and is always in some scrape or other’, along with the comment that ‘he cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere’. Not the most encouraging review of a future Prime Minister!

I wonder how he would have fared in comparison to the ‘Leadership Qualities’ drawn up to compare Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock, which lists ‘Ruthless’ as one of Thatcher’s principal qualities, with the caveat ‘don’t desire, but suspect necessary’.

Another highlight from the reading room was “Bomb-proof Bella”, a photograph of an adorable and quite nervous looking dachshund who survived three trips to Dunkirk aboard the HMS Sandown!

“Bomb-proof Bella”.

The trainees also enjoyed this survey of young people’s ‘perceptions of the future’, some of which were bang on (like the prediction that ‘people will go abroad much more than at present’ and that ‘most roads will be choked with cars at nearly all times of the day’). Only 59% of people thought that ‘every family will have a telephone’ and fewer still believed that ‘men and women will take equal shares in housework and looking after children’ (45%)! Looking at some of these surprising and often disquieting predictions was a harsh reminder that we have come so far in many ways, and not so far in others…

These were predictions from 1970 about the year 2000. Here are some library-related predictions from the trainees about what life will be like 30 years from now, all the way in 2054:

Harriet predicts that ‘in 30 years’ time, they will still be publishing Rainbow Magic Fairy books.’ (what a blast from the past!)

Anna predicts that ‘there will be a new system to rival Dewey.’ (Let’s hope so!)

And I (Liz) predict that faculty and department libraries will slowly evolve into “hub” spaces, and focus on health and wellbeing, as well as study!

After we had enjoyed some more archive highlights, the Churchill College Librarian kindly offered us a tour around the student libraries. We began in the Bracken Library, the entrance hall of which was home to a glorious display commemorating Neurodiversity Celebration Week, as well as a seed library! Here the students can help themselves to the range of flower and vegetable seeds which they can sow into small beds on their windowsills. (Very jealous that we don’t have this at Trinity!)

Dominating the Bracken Library was a vast and beautiful tapestry called ‘Etoile de Paris’ by Jean Lurçat, who donated it to the college in 1961. Under the watchful eye of the tapestry’s woven cockerel, the librarian explained that the Bracken is where the sciences and social sciences collections are kept, and that everything in Churchill is catalogued according to the Dewey Decimal system.

The arts and humanities collections are housed in Churchill’s other library, the Bevin Library. The entrance to this part of the building was host to yet more delightful displays, this time for Women’s History Month. The trainees were especially fond of the whiteboard asking for song recommendations by female artists for the Library playlist. (We even contributed a few tunes! If you’re curious, the final playlist can be found on Spotify here!)

In the Bevin, students were enjoying some more relaxed seating in the company of Churchill’s library mascot, Chu-Can the Toucan. And if that wasn’t enough, there was even a box of Pet Rocks leftover from a wellbeing event, which now live in the library for everyone to enjoy! Needless to say, the trainees were thoroughly obsessed, with rocks, with Toucan and with the library as a whole.

After some tea with our wonderful hosts, the archives team, we wandered on to our next trip of the afternoon at West Hub! We want to thank the incredible staff at Churchill Archives Centre and Churchill College Library for kindly hosting us.

Within the pages of history at Norwich Cathedral Library: Norwich Part 3

We took a quick ramble through the streets of Norwich as we made our way to the Cathedral, passing the bustling and bright market, an adorable shop window decorated with jelly cats, and a lovely looking bookstore called ‘The Book Hive’ (that we sadly did not have enough time to gander in, which is probably a good thing for our wallets!). The first sign that we were near the Cathedral appeared in the form of St Ethelbert’s Gate, the medieval entrance to the Cathedral precinct. Passing under the gate, we glimpsed our first sight of the Norwich Cathedral Spire, rising into a surprisingly (for February) blue sky.

Café-ing and the Cloister cat

Entering the Cathedral, we took some time to enjoy the cloisters (which we later learnt is the largest monastic Cloister in England) and the amazing view of the spire it offered, on the way to the lunch spot that was recommended to us: The Refectory Bakery and Café, which is a modern café based on the site of the original monks’ dining room. While it was a lovely space, we were all quite disappointed with the food options, especially after running around the city had made us all very hungry. It seemed that Percy Pig sweets (from the train station M&S) was going to have to keep us fuelled. This was made up for though with the presence of the Cloister Cat (in the absence of knowing their name, this is what I have dubbed them because

who doesn’t love some alliteration), who basked in small slivers of sun coming through the windows, and had many, many pats from the trainees. The café was conveniently very close to the library, so in a matter of a couple steps, we were at our next visit spot: Norwich Cathedral Library.

Little lady in the in the cloister restaurant

How you blessed me:

You helped me as you shared a table

Partaking of a simple meal so warmly,

So lovely were you to my saddened eyes.

Snack in the cathedral restaurant (1985)

Reading rooms and modern theology collection

Much like the café space, the communal reading space of the library that you see on first entrance has a beautiful blend of medieval and modern architecture, that balance charmingly, allowing the medieval flintwork to remain, and remind visitors of the Cathedral’s history as a Benediction Priory, while being a visual marker of the development of the library with the Romanesque arcading from the 17th century. Both the café and library restoration were part of a major project to enclose the refectory space. The embroidered cushions on the reading room chairs were also a delightful touch, and it is here that we began our tour of the library.

The Librarian began by explaining to us the history of the library, and how it relates to the history of the Cathedral; the original library of the Benediction Priory is believed to have held c. 1400 volumes of pre-reformation ecclesiastical and theological texts, of which only taxation valuation manuscripts remain at the library, with other manuscripts now found to be living elsewhere, including at several Cambridge colleges. This struck an interesting conversation regarding restoration, and where items ‘should’ be held.

As is often the case with Old Library collections, but particularly prevalent in a religious library, the Reformation had a large impact on the Cathedral library. It was explained to us that the Civil War also had a great impact on the Cathedral, as under the Church of England it was banned from operation. Recovery of the library began in approximately the 1680’s, and the Librarian explained that with some of the older rare books in the collection it is hard to determine whether they were here prior to this date or were acquired after this.

As we were located in the Reading Room at this point of the tour, the librarian also took the opportunity to explain the modern collection of the library; the books held here are part of the Anglican Training College ‘Modern Theology’ Collection containing c. 20,000 volumes. The library is free and open to the public but requires an annual subscription to borrow from the collection. The librarian explained that some people, such as students at the local university, just use the space for studying, while the texts are often references by the clergy who work within the Cathedral, but that there is also a level of tourism with frequent tours. They also hold events to foster engagement with the collection, such as ‘Listening Lunches’ which are an opportunity to collectively read books from the collection, with the aim of connecting back to the roots of the library’s purpose: monastic community development. The librarian further explained acquisition and material type policies for their modern collection; they have a small buying budget given by the Cathedral to fill gaps in the collection, and they do not have e-resources, nor do they collect journals. Like many libraries, they use the Dewey system for classification, but the Librarian explained how this can create challenges when the collection is specialised to one discipline, as most of the books occupy the same classification.

We were then treated to a wander along the winding bookshelves, which we were warned can feel slightly disorientating as they wrap and wind, but in reality you are just walking the length of the cloister. With many lovely dark-academia vibe corners to nestle yourself into by windows with gorgeous views of the grass maze and the cathedral tower, we could see why people would choose to study here! Though, it was rather cold, and the librarian explained this is a persistent problem with a building like this. Within the winding shelves the librarian pointed out some of the special collections which often felt like they were archival as well, pertaining to the history of the Cathedral and the surrounding communities: Crockfords for family genealogy; journals of Norfolk Archaeological Society; Norfolk Record’s Society transcriptions; Friends of Norwich Cathedral annual meetings and reports; past Orders of Service; and music for the Cathedral choir dating back to 18th century, including hand copied part booklets.

Historic collection

We then found ourselves above the South Cloister, where the Historic Collection is housed. Unlike the main collection, this space is only open to visitors upon special request, and for the purposes of consultation. We were briefly shown the current display cases, which had poetry ranging from early printed works and polemics on the Spleen and ‘The Groans of the Tankard’ to poems from the 2000’s regarding various parts of Cathedral life, including a poem entitled Books by Jenny Morris which expressed a sentiment we all could agree with:

Books are unlocked

Boxes of treasure.

The key is the library.

Books, bY Jenny Morris (2006)

All of the quotations I use throughout this blog post are taken from this display.

Walking down the length of the Historic Collection, which contains over 8000 books developed upon the private collection donated from Swaffham Parish, we were shown some highlights, including the equipment used for binding books, and boxes of typefaces. The librarian expressed the importance of these to a full understanding of early printed books, and explaining how she uses them in demonstrating to visitors to aid learning in a tactile way. In response to a question about restoration and conservation, we were also presented with a second edition of Foxes Book of Martyrs, which the librarian explained is in its present state thanks to a project to raise funds to conserve it, and for extensive work on the binding. By happenstance, the book was opened to a page with a detailed woodcut of the pyre of Anne Askew, which I found personally fascinating because I have previously researched the story of Anne Askew as part of my undergrad.

Though I am sure many of us could have spent many more hours exploring all the possible

nooks, interesting volumes, and various objects (paintings, vases) that the Norwich Cathedral library has to offer, as well as the opportunity to marvel at the beautiful cathedral, we sadly had to scurry off to get to our trains on time. Though, of course, we still managed to squeeze in a quick stop at the Cathedral gift shop for all-important postcard stock replenishment.

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

Missing so much and so much?

To a Lady seen from the train, by Frances Cornford

We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Norwich Cathedral Librarian, who was a fount of knowledge, and spoke to us with great enthusiasm.

Decolonising through Critical Librarianship with Library Graduate Trainees

On Friday 23rd February, the Cambridge Library Trainees came together for an online workshop led by the fantastic team behind the Decolonising through Critical Librarianship project. They began by introducing themselves and the work they do, all of which and more is collated on their website. The website is a rich and imperative resource for Cambridge librarians – especially those of us who are newer to librarianship and would like to know more about decolonisation and its importance as an ongoing practice in collections management. The University Library also recently established a Decolonisation Working Group, a separate group which works closely with the Decolonising through Critical Librarianship group, with an aim “to formulate guidance and policy for decolonisation work within Cambridge libraries and commission specific pieces of work to help encourage and embed best practice” (from the group’s Terms of Reference).

We began with an illuminating talk from Eve Lacey, Librarian at Newnham College, about decolonisation within cataloguing and classification. She spoke about the difference between widely used classification schemes, like Dewey Decimal, versus local schemes. The latter are much more adaptable because they are not subject to the often limiting categories of a standard system; they can change and evolve organically with collections, which makes them far more amenable to reclassification projects, such as those undertaken with the aim of decolonisation. This is why many Cambridge libraries use local schemes. Newnham library, for example, uses Dewey categories as a guideline, but classify under a local scheme which has made it possible for productive changes to be made. Eve gave a great example of this: the ‘Asian and Middle Eastern Studies’ section at Newnham was recently changed to ‘Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature’, so more interdisciplinary texts were not omitted from relevant sections like History and Anthropology.

She then usefully spoke about the distinction between bibliographic description and subject description. Bibliographic description refers to the features of an individual book within a library, such as the classmark on its spine label. In an in-house scheme, this might contain coded information and innate bias based on the location of the book, the kinds of books it is shelved with and the subject classification it is given. These features can be problematic where, even if the item itself does not contain harmful or offensive content, the association of, for example, homosexuality with criminology (as was once standard) based on the item’s classmark/location creates difficulties. It is this kind of problematic tangle that changes like Newnham’s reclassification of AMES seek to allay. Subject description refers to standardised systems of things like subject headings, for which Library of Congress uses controlled vocabulary. As a result, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) limit the ways in which we can organise by subject, and they can often be slow to change and update offensive terms. A recent change saw the term ‘slaves’ become ‘enslaved persons’ to humanise the people to whom the term refers. In 2021, a group of students at Dartmouth College lobbied the Library of Congress to change the subject heading ‘illegal aliens’, which they felt reflected an unnecessary negative bias. The LCSH was eventually changed to ‘non-citizens’ and ‘undocumented immigrants’ after the students’ journey of activism, which was recorded in full in their fantastic documentary, Change the Subject (2021).

After Eve’s talk, Frankie Marsh, Assistant Librarian in various STEMM Libraries, spoke about information literacy and decolonisation. Information literacy refers to the ability to search, manage, and use information e.g. on databases or catalogues. The ways in which we teach library users information literacy is suffused with our own personal biases and those of the institutions we are involved with. Frankie asks, for example, what the implications are of using only mainstream subscription databases, and information published in global north or written in English (as is the case for many educational institutions in the UK). Building on Eve’s points about the importance of classification, Frankie shared an example of how a reclassification project became a vital learning opportunity for students at the Scott Polar Research Institute. The Scott Polar was using categories outlined by the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), which, like Dewey, often used outdated terminology. By involving students in the decolonisation of one of the Polar collections as part of an information literacy workshop, the staff were able to be transparent about the issues surrounding outdated and offensive UDC terms like ‘eskimo’, and make changes which informed, and were informed by, the Part II, PhD and post-doctoral students involved. (You can read more about the workshop in Frankie’s excellent blog post!)

Spine labels with outdated terminology in the Scott Polar Research Institute (source: Decolonising Polar Library classification workshop – Decolonising through critical librarianship (wordpress.com))

I will reproduce a quotation by Sandra Littletree and Cheryl Metoyer, which Frankie helpfully uses in her blog post about the workshop: ‘The way we name and classify the world around us is indicative of our values and beliefs. The words we choose to identify elements in our world can illuminate, educate, and elucidate, or they can perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation’ (2015). The ways in which we manage information and the terms in which we present it are all tied up with our own individual biases and priorities. As librarians, it is important for us to understand the role we play, consciously or not, in both limiting and expanding the range of information resources that our users access – and to reflect critically on this responsibility. We discussed how this applies to library inductions and ways in which inductions could be adapted to target gaps in information literacy, which librarians may not realise are there; one idea was to have students submit questions beforehand, to take the lead on what they think they need to know. Peer-led tours, such as tours by older students, who are experienced in using the library, was another idea we discussed. We also spoke about the possibilities of signposting foreign language resources for multilingual students, of which there are many at Cambridge, and not just those studying languages.

Our discussion made me reflect on the way in which I process and display periodicals in Trinity College Library. The majority of serials we receive are in English, but many are foreign language publications which tend to get shelved directly in the basement, whereas many English publications will be displayed in the main library, a more accessible and browsable location. Since the workshop, I have tried to diversify the kinds of journals I display each week and include more foreign language publications, like Lire Magazine and Hermes : Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie. As a graduate trainee, it can be easy to feel like a small cog in a big machine, or that the responsibility falls to somebody higher up to partake in decolonising collections. But by taking my own responsibilities seriously and thinking critically about what changes I can make, however small, I feel that, alongside my colleagues, I can make a positive difference.

The next section of the workshop was led by Clara Panozzo, who spoke about the collection of cartonera books held in Cambridge University Library. She gave some important background information; in 2001, Argentina faced an economic crisis, which led many people to resort to waste picking, particularly cardboard, which could be sold for recycling. These waste-pickers are known as cartoneros (from the Spanish word ‘cartón’, meaning ‘cardboard’). Under these difficult economic conditions, publishing houses struggled to stay open. Two writers and an artist from Buenos Aires came together in 2003 to create an independent, non-lucrative publishing house, Eloisa Cartonera. They would buy cardboard from the cartoneros at a fair price and create handmade, self-bound books, often featuring work from voices outside the mainstream. Since 2003, the phenomenon of cartonera publishing has spread, and there now exist around 250 cartonera publishers across Latin America, Africa and Europe.

In 2013, Cambridge University Library began collecting cartonera books to form a special collection. This means the collection, now at around 300 books, is more diverse and representative of not only Latin American literature, but the forms which that literature takes due to specific socioeconomic conditions. Work has also been done to represent the material carefully in cataloguing and classifying it; for example, the records have been given richer bibliographical notes, subject headings, not only in English, but in Spanish, and/or other languages which relate to the item and its provenance. Care has been taken to provide information about those who decorate and bind the books, as well as the authors and editors of the text. Geographic subject headings are also made to be as specific as possible. The University Library ran cartonera workshops in 2019, allowing people to come together to learn about these incredible objects and try their hand at making their own. (Read more about the workshops here! You can also learn how to make cartonera books by watching this video.)

Clara pointed out, however, that the desire to democratise literature, which underpinned this project, was at odds with how the cartonera books are used, handled, conserved and stored. To keep them in good condition, the books have been stored in acid-free archive boxes, with their bright painted covers all but concealed from view. The tension between making the books accessible and preserving them for future use has meant that the cartoneras have moved quite a distance from how they would have been used and circulated in their countries of origin. By being closed off from people in library storage, the collection in some sense undermines the original ethos of cartonera publishers like Eloisa Cartonera, to make literature as accessible as possible. Furthermore, it was noted that very few libraries – including national libraries – actually host cartonera books in the countries where they are produced and circulate. The National Library of Mexico now has 11 cartonera books, but even this is a small collection compared to that of Cambridge University Library. As a result, the University Library has taken the decision to stop adding to the cartonera collection so that cartonera books remain available to be read and loved by people in the countries where they are made. From someone who had not heard of cartonera books, I found Clara’s presentation fascinating and have enjoyed exploring the collection further by reading blog posts on the library’s language collections blog and the DtCL website.

Finally, the workshop was concluded with a wonderful talk from Jenni Skinner, African Studies Library Manager, about a recent project to digitise the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) southern African collections held at Cambridge University Library. The project, funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, began in 2021, and involved the conservation and digitisation of a vast range of materials, from cartoons, diaries and drawings to maps, pamphlets and photographs. These items hold great research potential but, as a colonial archive, they mostly represent a singular perspective. The project aims, as outlined on the website, are: to engage with groups or individuals in or closely related to southern Africa, to enhance our understanding of the RCS collections; to develop a digital collection hosted via Cambridge University Digital Library (CUDL); to carry out a concurrent programme of conservation, with targeted treatment of fragile items. By digitising items hitherto accessible only to those visiting Cambridge University Library in person, the project team were able to participate in the digital repatriation of items in the RCS collections to the southern African countries from which many of these items originate.

The project did not come without its difficulties, however. Jenni explained that there were some contentions around, for example, how items were selected for conservation and digitisation; by selecting items of a convenient size or format to be digitised first, the process immediately becomes selective and limiting. At the heart of the project was a notion of co-curation and co-creation, but such a collaboration between those involved in the project in Cambridge and in southern Africa proved difficult to co-ordinate. Research was performed by the Engagement Coordinator Chloe Rushovich, to identify gaps in African collections which the project hoped to help fill with digital repatriation. To balance the needs created by these gaps with the abilities of the team in Cambridge to conserve and digitise parts of the collection was itself a compelling challenge. Sally Kent has written a fantastic blog post with more details about digitisation of the RCS collections. Project updates can also be found here, and the digital collection can be viewed on CUDL.

Current Cambridge Visual Culture (CVC) fellows, Kerstin Hacker and Sana Ginwalla, worked closely with the RCS collections for a workshop which they delivered in October 2023. The aim was to engage members of Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University in a creative intervention, thinking of new ways to interact with archives. The workshop involved the screening of a short film, An Exhibition That Nobody Will See (available on YouTube) and a display of original material. This was followed by a creative session, transforming copies of archive items and into art pieces by cutting, pasting, collaging etc. to create something entirely new, thereby transforming the ways in which we think about and engage with the material. A full write up of the event, including pictures of some of the incredible work by attendees, can be found here! In 2024, the CVC fellows will be working in conjunction with the University’s Collections-Connections-Communities (CCC) initiative on a new project, ‘Re-entangling the visual archive’. Jenni spoke about what CCC is and the kinds of work it aims to do: it is an interdisciplinary research initiative, aimed at developing new ways of thinking about collections which address current concerns, including environment & sustainability, health & wellbeing, and society & identity. (More can be found on their website).

We concluded the session by reflecting on everything we had heard and learned, and discussing decolonisation practices we have seen in other libraries: St John’s College Library recently concluded a decolonisation project for their collection of Audio-Visual materials; Clare College Library has been reclassifying their history collection, with decolonisation at the forefront of the project; in 2021, Pembroke College Library undertook a reclassification project in their history section (read more here!); Queens’ College War Memorial Library have been doing ongoing work to identify areas where classification schemes are markedly Eurocentric or outdated, even adapting Bliss, a universal classification like Dewey, using local modifications to improve its terminology. This list is far from exhaustive, and library and archive teams are working hard to make changes big and small to continue the efforts of decolonisation throughout Cambridge libraries and archives. The Cambridge library trainees would like to thank the DtCL team for doing such vital work and for running workshops like this, which showcase the work being done across Cambridge and which educate us on how to continue this work in our own libraries.

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 2

The Heritage Centre

We climbed the stairs to the second floor and were rewarded with a spectacular view of St Peter Mancroft’s Church and the ancient marketplace beneath. Norwich is renowned for its rich medieval history and the view was inspiring as it captured what the heritage centre might symbolize for many.

The Heritage Centre is a hub for local history; it is open to all who want to learn more about Norfolk and its inhabitants. The librarian giving us the tour explained that Norfolk heritage centre is the only designated quiet space within the Millennium library, due to the nature of the library being within the Forum, which is a multi-use space. The silence was respected as studious individuals kept their heads buried deep in research material. What curiosities were being discovered? Had someone found the missing clues to a long-forgotten family history? As we tiptoed through the centre, we stopped to peek at a few exhibits on display. One of our favourites included the telling of “Snap the Norwich Dragon,” and how it played a part in the annual feast day celebration on St George’s day. Other exhibits included subjects on witchcraft, ghosts, the supernatural and local lore.

The mission of the heritage centre is to provide free access for all by reducing and eliminating barriers to information. The centre hosts a ‘drop in at any time’ policy for people who wish to explore the microfilm newspapers and open reference books. The heritage centre has access to microfilm newspapers and digital readers, and it was explained to us that there are many items in the heritage centre’s stored collection, which are available by request. These include printed volumes, maps, newspapers, and photographs all related to the local history of Norfolk and its inhabitants. The librarian showed us where the maps and records were kept, and some maps dated back to the 1500s. Many of these maps are useful today for people who are seeking to establish property boundaries. The heritage centre also provides access to the Norfolk Record Office archives, which include certificates of births, deaths, and marriages; these are also available online through their digital archive. The digital archives ever continue to develop and grow; they now contain over 30,000 images related to Norfolk.  

Our time at the heritage centre showed us the diversity of Norfolk’s community represented within the historical collection and created an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for all.

We finished our tour of the heritage centre and said goodbye to our amazing host who had given us a fully comprehensive tour of the library and the services provided, before being handed over to the BIPC centre.

Business and Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) Norfolk.

For the remainder of the morning, we spent time in the Business and Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) within the Millennium Library. Our second host was the BIPC library coordinator who invited us to enjoy a hot cup of tea and biscuits. We were made to feel very welcome and settled into comfortable chairs, which were much appreciated.  Many materials about the BIPC were also kindly set out for us to look at.

The BIPC environment is kitted with business focused book collections which are organized into the following categories: Ideas, Planning, Finance and Promotion. There are several desks and study booths for people to use along with bookable meeting rooms and PC’s. On display there are booklets and pamphlets all relating to business, they also included government publications from the Intellectual Property Office.

Our host explained that BIPC Norfolk is part of the British Library Business & IP Centre National Network, which helps support ideas develop into successful business. Through offering access to business knowledge, publications, guidance, workshops, networking, and legal advice, the BIPC Norfolk provides a foundation for many entrepreneurs as they embark on their business adventure.  The help received by the public is held to the British Library standard. The BIPC aims to promote outreach, engagement, and access to business information for the public. There are currently four members in the UK within the nationwide network for business support in public libraries; Norwich became involved in Patent Libraries (PATLIB) since 2017. The PATLIB services offer guidance on identifying intellectual property and how to protect it. The services run across seven districts within Norfolk so there is one business library in each district. The centre provides support to people who may be considering self-employment, starting, or running a new business, career planning and job interviews.

The public users have access to trained staff to support the evaluation of business information by using their skills to identify the source of information and its credibility. The centre also provides free access to online databases and business information including market research, grants, and company reports. The workshops offered explore current business issues including international trade in a post-Brexit era, search engine optimization for promotion and making businesses more sustainable.

It is clear how invaluable the BIPC services are for the community. By helping to remove barriers to business information; this service seems significant for economic growth, not only for individuals, but also the prosperity of the community. The power and impact which the BIPC has the local community was motivational and inspirational.

After an insightful tour and talk of the BIPC centre, we concluded our morning at Norfolk and Norwich Millenium Library. But our day was not over yet, we had our visit to the Norwich Cathedral Library to look forward to in the afternoon. Watch out for our blog post on this; you won’t want to miss it!

What’s cooler than being cool? The Scott Polar Research Library

February saw the grad trainees visit the seasonally-appropriate Scott Polar Research Institute, which houses another of Cambridge’s small and distinctive library collections. The SPRL works closely with the museum not only to curate a remarkable collection, but to create a dedicated study space for postgraduate students and researchers pursuing polar studies in all its forms, from the cultural to the climatological.

Their current exhibition features the life and work of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a colleague and contemporary of Scott whose memoir The Worst Journey in the World documents the ill-fated ­Terra Nova exhibition. The library works closely with the Museum to showcase literary aspects of polar history in this fashion. The graduate trainees enjoyed this exhibition while enjoying tea and coffee with the SPRL’s librarian, and its small team of library assistants, who chatted with us about their backgrounds in librarianship and elucidated the unique challenges that arise from running such a specific collection.

Uniquely amongst Cambridge libraries, the librarian reports to the head of the institution itself. That said, the SPRL shares a collaborative relationship with the University Library, who aided in a long-standing project to add the entire physical catalogue of the SPRL – in particular, its card catalogue of journals – to iDiscover, the university’s online catalogue. The library is currently shifting to eJournals where possible, and moving dead runs of physical journals to the UL’s offsite storage facility in Ely. These actions have restored the library to an impressive 79% of its holding capacity. Until fairly recently, journals here were indexed only in card-catalogue form. Digitisation is as such a common and often monumental task here – adding the SPRL’s collection of pamphlets to iDiscover required a lot of weeding, and the suppression of some 20,000 records.

The library curates an eclectic collection of journals that serves its particular niche very well. On the new issues shelf, Poromies, a Finnish journal dedicated to the needs of professional reindeer herders, proved popular amongst the grad trainees. All this to say that the SPRL is a small and quiet library with a deeply devoted group of scholars who rely on the resources they can access nowhere else. To this end, The library uses an in-house classification system geared towards their area of study, and based on the Universal Decimal Classification scheme. Though this Polar UDC is used by other libraries, the SPRL librarian is at liberty to adapt and update its subject indexing where archaic and non-specific cultural terms have been used. To this end, the library actively engages with DALAM – that is, the Thematic Network on Decolonization of Arctic Library and Archives Metadata – a group established for this purpose.

After discussing these aspects of librarianship, the grad trainees took a guided tour of the library. New additions include microfilm and microfiche reader/scanners, which remain ever-useful for accessing collections of this type, and a DVD player, to allow users to access this aspect of the collection. Indeed, the SPRL is reference only, which, we were told, proved a problem during the pandemic when students attempted to access resources remotely – “Screenreaders have some difficulty reading Inuktitut.” As such, the library had to allow a degree of lending, the legacy of which means the polar students are welcome to take their reading upstairs to the postgraduate computer lab – “but not out of the building.” In this silent study space, a corps of students are hard at work. The SPRL hopes to soon find space for non-silent study, as polar research has a distinctly international flavour, and video-conferencing is a must. In a sunny room housing back issues of journals, each student has their own desk.

Back downstairs, the trainees admired an interesting display kindly constructed by the archivist, featuring a variety of polar ephemera, including menus, diaries, and some of the few Antarctic publications in existence. The archive is also a place of deposit for the publications of South Georgia Island, location of a British Antarctic Survey research base, and resting place of Shackleton.

In the basement storage, we considered how one might catalogue such a varied and niche collection. Books written in an array of languages line the walls here – the librarian, pointing out a dead run of Russian journals, invited the grad trainees to consider how collection upkeep should be prioritised, and at what point space-saving by moving items off-site may defeat the point of conserving a specific collection. Down here rolling stacks hold thousands of boxed pamphlets – newly catalogued – though many items, particularly those in other languages, await this attention. The basement’s Leslie Walls Room holds the library’s map collection, which is catalogued by two volunteers: some 4000 of 18,000 have been processed since the current librarian took up their role. Which maps should be tackled first? A current research project, we were told, is using these resources to cross-reference and track the effects of climate change upon polar ice across history, proving just how relevant these collections may be, and how urgent their need to be catalogued. The basement is shared with the Scott Polar Research Museum – explaining the many model ships that intersperse the stacks of books and boxes. “I plan to replace at least one with an Inuit dancing owl,” explains the librarian. “SPRI isn’t just about exploration, but about these regions, and their people, as a whole.”

Next the trainees observed the special collections, of which the library holds around 2000 items, of separate intake to the archive. The old library here was built in the 1930s, and the graduate trainees were asked to consider conservation, not only of collections themselves, but of the spaces that house them. Budgeting for furniture and resources that are in keeping with a historical library can take a significant chunk out of precious funds. Even with these concerns in mind, the SPRI, despite its niche, manages to house a very broad church of material, from indigenous recipe books, to childrens’ picturebooks, to polar-themed Mills & Boon. One of the jewels of their special collections, however, is their first edition of the Voyage of the Discovery, signed on title-page by their namesake Scott himself. Editions of both the Polar Times and Aurora Australis share the title of being the only publications belonging to Antarctica proper.

The graduate trainees would like to thank the staff at the Scott Polar Research Library, who were nothing but informative and accommodating. Simply chatting with other librarians about their respective and often storied career paths is perhaps one of the most valuable parts of the graduate traineeship, and between that and the fascinating collection, the trainees left wonderfully well-informed! We will be sure to return to the SPRL, and her sister museum, soon.