Norwich Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll now hand over to Zia for Part 2!

Laying down the law in Pembroke College library!

Earlier this month, the trainees gathered once again for a visit to Pembroke College. We assembled in the law library, a lovely space which was beautifully ordered and organised (very apt for a law library!). There, the Deputy Librarian gave us an illuminating talk on law librarianship and how it differs to other kinds of library work, like public and academic. Being a law librarian is a much more specialised role than any of us realised; it requires intimate knowledge of the field in order to help barristers find case reports and any other material they may need, often at very short notice.

Source: The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn (lincolnsinn.org.uk)

It is this rich and fast-paced environment which makes law librarianship so unique. We were told that the Inns of Court in London each have libraries which are based on Oxbridge colleges! The Inns of Court offer library traineeships too (like Lincoln’s Inn, where the Deputy Librarian of Pembroke did their traineeship) which are well worth looking into. When they are advertised, they will be listed here, along with any other UK traineeships!

The Deputy Librarian explained how the courts are structured in the UK using this handy flowchart (see below); it was a stark reminder of how little I actually know about court structure, and just seeing this chart has helped me better understand the law books and serials I receive for the law library here at Trinity!

Source:  Courts & Tribunals website

Other kinds of law libraries can include commercial law firm libraries, which can be high-pressure and fast-paced, as well as academic law libraries, like the Squire Library here in Cambridge, or smaller college law libraries, which usually form one branch of the main library. Lots of law reports and other material can be found online through databases or sites like Westlaw, but many law libraries prioritise retaining physical copies where possible, because this makes referencing and browsing cases easier, though there are benefits to both! Online case reports can be edited and updated and sometimes provide more information or links for cross-referencing. I am trying to give both the physical and online resources a good presence for our law students at Trinity by advertising the latter more visibly in the library.

The Deputy Librarian told us about an association called BIALL, the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. It’s like CILIP, specifically for law librarians! Here, you can find a host of information about law librarianship, how to get into it, job vacancies, and various conferences and events being held. It was eye-opening to see how far-reaching and how absolutely vital librarianship is in a variety of fields, and the role it plays in upholding justice in our legal system. It really is about more than just books!

After a thoroughly enjoyable cross-examination about law libraries, we accompanied the Pembroke trainee on a tour around the rest of Pembroke’s glorious library. It is a modernised Victorian library, originally designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1877-78. We were stunned to see that the centrepiece of the library foyer is Waterhouse’s original desk, which used to belong to the librarian when their office was located in the upper reading room. It now houses the librarians’ book of the week display and the pen-recycling box!

Outside Pembroke Library as the sun sets.

You can really pick out the layers of history in the building; the Waterhouse desk is only the beginning. The stationery cupboard next to the foyer has transparent flooring so you can see through to the original tiles; we all thought this was very cool (if a little vertiginous)! And when the building was extended, developers left the outer wall of the building in its original state, now forming the inner wall of the modern extension. The gorgeous floral stained-glass windows made me feel like I’d stepped straight into a classic Disney movie, and the iconic modern stained-glass window, designed by Hans von Stockhausen, continues the botanical theme beautifully!

The Hans Von Stockhausen botanical window (Pembroke trainee for scale…)

The window was originally commissioned because, when Pembroke purchased the land on which the library now stands from Peterhouse, it was on the agreement that nothing was built that would overlook the Peterhouse Master’s Lodge and garden. The window itself admits light but does not allow you to see through to Peterhouse—and who would want to when the window alone is so gorgeous? Van Stockhausen based the design on the works of two eminent Pembroke botanists, Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) and William Turner (1508-1568). You can find some of the woodcuts and text from their early print books layered with mellow splashes of colour to create a bibliographic spectacle! Not your average staircase window…

Details from the Hans Von Stockhausen window.

At the top of the stairs, we came to the Yamada Room, another gorgeous space with panoramic views of Pembroke—bliss! Yamada was the founder of the Nihon University in Tokyo, and is commemorated here due to his generous contribution to the building of the library extension. This room is a veritable shrine to Ted Hughes and features another window designed by Hans van Stockhausen, this one featuring Ted Hughes’ poems and imagery, and an unsettling bloody handprint—but alas, I cannot show it due to copyright (scroll up and look at the other one again instead!) Hughes’s desk, chair and many of his books are housed here. I loved hearing about how experts have tried to determine whether Hughes was left- or right-handed based on the ink stains on his desk.

View from the Yamada Room.

The Upper Reading Room is part of the original Victorian building and is a stunning panoply of dark wood beams and stacks upon stacks of lovely books. The bay window is where the Waterhouse desk would have originally sat, in what was the librarian’s office, but the entire room is now a dedicated space for books and students. There are plenty of nods to Ted Hughes up here too, including a bust with an exacting stare, and a display case full of Hughesian treasures!

Victorian window and Ted Hughes themed display case in the upper reading room.

After a wander down some spiral stairs, we found ourselves at the Rosenthal Art Library. Also housed in the Victorian part of the building, half of the books kept here comprise a single donation from Tom Rosenthal. Readers come from far and wide to consult the art books here and, as such, the staff treat them as a special collection. It forms the largest art history collection in all of Cambridge (besides the Art History faculty library, of course)!

The Rosenthal Art Library.

It’s clear that Pembroke Library really is one-of-a-kind, from the tip of the beautiful clock tower to the Victorian tiles beneath the floor!

We want to thank Grace and her wonderful colleagues at Pembroke for having us to visit!

St Catharine’s College Library Visit

Although not one of the libraries we were scheduled to visit for our traineeships, the librarian at St Catharine’s kindly extended an invitation to visit their library, which we eagerly accepted. We’re all very grateful for any opportunity to see different libraries, and with every Cambridge college library being unique, this was a great chance to see how another library works and how they support their students.

St Catharine’s has two student library spaces – the eighteenth-century Sherlock library holds the collections for Modern and Medieval Languages and Literature, English, and Art, whilst the newer 1980s Shakeshaft library contains the material for all other subjects.

We began our tour at the Shakeshaft library, marvelling at how much light the big windows at the front let in to create a bright study space at the front of the library. The librarian confirmed that both the long line of desks in front of the window and the comfy seating area beside it were popular spaces in the library. Our attention was immediately grabbed though by the large duck sat on the sofas, which had been given the perfectly accurate name ‘Big Duck’. Big Duck is a great initiative run by St Catharine’s library – the small tag around its neck states that Big Duck is ‘available for gentle hugs’ and that students can take it to sit with them whilst they’re in the library, having it serve as a giant study-buddy to support them through times of stress.

The maze-like layout of the shelves in Shakeshaft produces lots of little nooks you can get lost in exploring books, with most of the study spaces tucked around the edges. The tall shelves actually support the ceiling of the library, and are therefore a permanent design feature.

Another interesting initiative the library has introduced is how they loan their wellbeing and light reading collections – students don’t take the books out on their card but instead borrow them anonymously on a basis of trust for as long as they need. This is a great way for students to feel comfortable borrowing any books within these collections, and helps improve their accessibility and inclusivity. The wellbeing and fiction books themselves were all nicely organised on the shelves, further making it an approachable and welcoming space to borrow from.

As we circled back to the front of the library, we were shown the display on Thomas Sherlock, a former Master of St Catharine’s, who left both money and his personal book collection to the college library. Alongside an image of Sherlock’s portrait, painted by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, the library team had done some detective work and managed to find a finely decorated book in their collection which looked very similar to the one he is holding in the painting – the first of four volumes of ‘Several discourses preached at the Temple Church’ by Tho. Sherlock, printed 1754-58.

The display was a good introduction to the name behind the Sherlock library – St Catharine’s older library space and our next destination. With its high white ceilings and original dark wooden shelves, the Sherlock library is a beautiful space which perfectly evokes those aesthetic academia type vibes.  The librarian emphasised the importance of keeping this as a working library rather than as a place for the rare book collection, providing the students with a usable study space and a different library environment to work in.

Some of the lovely features of the Sherlock library include: window seats, where students can sit and study whilst looking out over Main Court; both old-fashioned green banker’s lamps and modern museum desk lights – adding to the ambience; and original bookshelves with rests for reading. The librarian pointed out that the shelves still retained the eighteenth-century labelling at the top, highlighting again the history of this space and its longevity as a library. We were also shown the two different methods for accessing the higher to reach books: the first a small stand with a pole to hold on to (which turned out to be more secure than it looked!), and then some sturdier looking steps, which of course we tried as well!

Leaving the warm and cosy Sherlock library behind, our final stop was the new reading room. This is a wonderful space, providing plenty of room to study requested books and manuscripts from St Catharine’s special collections. The librarian had laid out several books for us to peruse, all notable for either their unique subject matter or for their condition. For example, a copy of the German book ‘Denkmäler Provenzalischer Literatur und Sprache’ by Hermann Suchier, previously owned by the London Library, had somehow been run over by a train – it is still in one piece, albeit slightly squashed! Another book which we all enjoyed looking through was ‘The Pityfull Historie of two loving Italians, Gaulfrido and Barnardo le vayne…’ by John Drout, a sixteenth century LGBT text written in rather questionable verse.

Overall, we had a wonderful time looking around St Catharine’s and managed to squeeze a lot in to our brief visit! We were all impressed by the student focused approach of the library team, and the different wellbeing initiatives they have put in place. Thank you to the library team for inviting us!

Newton, miniature books, and a rubber chicken: our trip to the Whipple Library

The Whipple library occupies part of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and is the specialist library for this faculty. It is located on Free School Lane in the centre of Cambridge (a landmark I always use to find it is Jack’s Gelato!). The street is highly Cambridge-dark-academia-esc, and we were treated to lovely views of the rooves of the city and cobble stone paths through various windows as we wandered round the library.

Passing under the ornate ‘Laboratory of Physical Chemistry’ sign, with a light beginning to cast a faint glow in the dusk, we began our visit to the Whipple Library. As the Librarian explained to us as we entered, this sign is actually a residual architectural element from their predecessors. The building now contains the library, their partner museum (The Whipple Museum), and the History of Philosophy of Science department. Both the library and museum share a benefactor – a Mr Robert Stewart Whipple. As well as being the Managing Director of the Cambridge Scientific Instruments Company from 1905, Whipple was a collector of instruments, models and books, and his donation of c. 1000 instruments and c. 1200 early printed books to the university was made with the intention to further research and teaching in the subject in the University. It is his bequeathment which the museum and library are founded upon, and which was expanded in the 1970’s with the establishment of a modern collection to compliment the historic bequest and to serve the students and researchers in the department. All of this was explained to us by the Librarian as he gave us a tour of the library. We saw how close this relationship is between the museum and library during the tour, as several museum items are housed between the books, raising questions about curation, both in terms of library space and the interaction between books and objects in exhibitions more specifically.

This was the first departmental library we have visited as a trainee group, but the Librarian was keen to stress the ways that the Whipple is a-typical as a departmental library. This a-typicality largely arises out of the quirks of the department, particularly in that you cannot apply to Cambridge to do an undergraduate course in History and Philosophy of Science, rather you take a route into the discipline while already a student here in later years of your degree, or at the point of postgraduate study. The librarian explained how this creates unique demands on particular resources from the library, and he explained how they respond to these challenges, for example they acknowledge and aim to help with the difficulties of transferring from a STEM subject to an essay/ critical-analysis based course and so have created an extensive collection of past dissertations and essays which students consult to develop an understanding of how to write essays effectively. The Librarian also showed us how classification has to adapt to the contents of the collection by highlighting some particularly odd and unique classifications, such as ‘Witchcraft & demonology’, which claims its space between ‘History of Chemistry’ and ‘History of Life Sciences’. There is also a Ladybird edition of Charles Darwin, which the Librarian explained is half a joke, but which he has seen students consult before! This playful energy is held throughout the library, and created a warm and friendly environment, including their “good old-fashioned” science fiction collection, which showed that Departmental libraries can stay true to their purpose and department, while also offering things that seem more unexpected. There is space for creativity when running such libraries. Oh, and, how could I forget the rubber chicken in the ‘party essentials’ box?!

The uniqueness of the departmental make-up also influences the way that rare collections are utilised in the library. We were shown an exhibition designed by a current postgraduate student in the department, entitled ‘Discovering Past Readers’, which looks at annotations and markings of various kinds in the Whipple Rare Books collection, which also has a partnering podcast.

The exhibition ranges from markings we would typically expect, such as provenance inscriptions and notes left by readers as they work their way through the texts, but also more playful and surprising instances, like the edition of blood and a phallis in red ink to woodcuts in an astrological work [Clarissimi viri lginij Poetican astronomicon opus vtilissimu[m] foeliciter incipt], and the pressing of botanical specimens, preserved between the pages of Outlines of botony  nestled alongside drawings ranging from boats to napping dogs. While looking at this exhibition we also learnt about the phenomenal Grace Young (1868-1944), who studied mathematics at Girton College, as well as unofficially sitting the Oxford mathematics exams in 1892 for which she gained the highest mark in the entire cohort. In 1895 she completed her doctoral thesis in Germany and in doing so became the first woman to ever earn a doctorate from a German University. We learnt about this incredible intellectual powerhouse of a woman while looking at her work The Theory of Sets of Points, the first textbook in English on the subject of set theory, and which contains many annotations and revisions in her hand, alongside pasted-in photos from her life – a work which was acquired through the Whipple Fund.

This lead to us being shown (with a fantastic amount of energy and excitement) a selection of the rare books held by the Whipple, as well as an explanation of how their rare-book collection is also unique in that they continue to acquire works relevant to the discipline, to the developments of science, or books that it is considered Whipple would have bought himself – it is a continuously growing collection. This involved the unveiling of items whih similarly had importance provenance associated with women, such as Gerard’s Herbal, with the Whipple edition previously owned and annotated by Anna Price: ‘Anna Price Her yerbal Book’. This book was a particular favourite of one of the trainees who has a particulalr interest in Renaissance gardens. We began, however, with some gems of the collection: a first edition of Galileo’s Dialogue on the two world systems, which is particularly interesting given its nature as being unbound, held in its original paper wrappers bearing a bookseller’s warehouse stock number, with its leaves uncut; works by and associated with Newton, including a direct edition of his Principa and a presentation copy of Boyle’s Tracts signed by Newton, and which also contains a secondary letter of ownership by Gilbert Regraves which shows anxiety over inscribing his name “on the page hallowed by the immortal name of Newton”. The absolute highlight was an absolutely miniscule edition of Galileo’s letter to Cristina Di Lorena, which is no bigger than a thumbnail, and which features an impressively tiny frontispiece portrait. At this point, the Librarian was getting slightly more used to being a hand model.

We finished off the trip with the Librarian explaining his own journey into librarianship, and his own time as a graduate trainee, which helpfully gave us suggestions as to how our own journey’s in librarianship might play out. He also explained how the library and museum participate in outreach, both through the Cambridge Festivals but also in school visits. This story was particularly moving to me as it directly echoed my own first visit to Cambridge, which instilled me with the confidence to apply here; it was a pertinent reminder of the power that libraries have in people’s lives.

We are very grateful to the Whipple Librarian for taking the time to show us around the library, to indulge our interest in the treasures of their collections, and for his kindness in offering help in our paths into librarianship.

CILIP East of England ‘Applying to Library School’ Event

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to the University Library (Part Two)

Legal Deposit

After finishing our lunch at Queens College, we scurried back into the University Library. Our tour now descended into the lower levels of the building, where we convened with the Head of Legal Deposit. Over the next hour, we were given an insightful overview of the history, legal and ethical considerations of the Legal Deposit, and a sneak-peek into how the day-to-day operations are ran.

As previously highlighted by Anna in part one, it was interesting to learn more about Cambridge University Library being one of six libraries sanctioned under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act. The purpose of the Legal Deposit is to preserve the UK and Ireland’s published literature, both physical and digital, and protect it for future researchers and students. As trainee librarians, we recognise the necessity in protecting published literature as part of our national heritage and were interested to learn more.

The University Library Legal Deposit receives one copy of every published item in the UK and Ireland, and they are all processed here in the Legal Deposit. As a result, the collection of published materials at the University Library are enormous! The materials include magazines, journals, books, pamphlets, pretty much anything which has been made available to the public by publishing is collected here at the Legal Deposit. In addition to physical materials, the deposit legislation has covered digital and online material for future records of websites, e-journals, e-books, and blogs.

The Legal Deposit team were busy at work. With several children’s magazines lying across the desk (including the beloved Bluey) awaiting to be received by the Legal Deposit Team, it was amazing to think that in the future; this could form a part of significant research for future generations. Amongst children’s books, the Legal Deposit also receives cooking books, train timetables, flyers from football matches…the list goes on. In the morning, during the tour, we had also had a quick opportunity to explore the racks of magazines and periodicals and going to the legal deposit team highlighted the work that goes behind such collections.

We were provided an example of how the published health promotional materials of the 1980’s AIDS epidemic were collected via the Legal Deposit. It is now significant material for researchers and provides a unique insight into culture and health politics during that specific period; this had several of us thinking about how documentation of the COVID-19 pandemic might function similarly in the future.  Further discussions were had about censorship and how the library manages certain literature items which may have a potential to cause harm. It was explained that some items are only accessible under strictest conditions due to the nature of what the document might contain. For example, if there were to be a medical book with prescribing errors in it, such as incorrect dosage sizes; this sort of material would only be accessible for specific research purposes only and there are several procedures in place to ensure it is only accessed for this reason.

The influx of published material at the Legal Deposit is constant and takes a team of highly dedicated and efficient staff to ensure things run smoothly. Further explanation was given that they receive anywhere from 40-60 boxes of published material per week. The Legal Deposit can be seen as a triaging area, identifying academic, and non-academic material and where the material will be retained. All items are catalogued to provide quick access to relevant materials for students and researchers. There is a long-term storage facility based in Ely to help manage space across the University Library of Cambridge and is primarily used for non-academic literature storage. Once an item has been selected to be externally stored; it is processed at the Legal Deposit and then transferred to the Ely storage centre.

The Digital Content Unit

Our next stop was the Digital Content Unit (DCU). We were greeted by one of the DCU photography team members, who explained the purpose, protocols, and procedures of the DCU. We were ecstatic when we were informed that we were also going to see the DCU team in action as they work on the special collections.

The DCU is where we can see the past, present and future of special collections being carefully curated by experts providing imaging and licensing services for the library’s collections. We spent the next hour with the photography team who specialize in providing high-quality imaging services. Digital images produced have included 16th century maps of Cambridge, Isaac Newton’s notebook and Charles Darwin’s letters amongst many of the other items which we saw earlier in the Manuscript room.

We were given a tour of the DCU and introduced to the rest of the photography team, and we witnessed their digital imaging techniques live in action. We were astounded by the photographic technology and skill it takes to reproduce such high-quality digital images of the University Library’s special collections. Due to the delicate nature of the collections, the technology provides an innovative way for research and education to continue without over manipulation of fragile objects and protects the materials integrity. The DCU follows strict protocols to ensure that their images produce the most accurate representation of the material. In one of the work rooms, colour film slides of Africa in the 90’s were being digitized after they were donated.

The team ensures that cameras and light are calibrated to specific settings to ensure highest quality reproduction of an item. This becomes quite challenging with the larger fragile items such as large maps, hefty scrolls, and big paintings.  The DCU has specialist equipment in place to facilitate accurate image taking, photographs can be taken in sections and then sewn together digitally for the most continuous and accurate reproduction of a large object. This echoed the stitching technique we had heard of earlier in the day being employed in the map room and showed how all the teams in the library rely on each other and function together. The XY Table (as photographed) is an automated machine which provides precision controlled horizontal movement.  This helps to ensure flat surfacing of the larger objects when taking digital images.

For fragile books and manuscripts, we witnessed gentle air suctioning machines being used in conjunction with the conservation cradle to ensure that the pages lie flat for precise image taking. This helps to prevent damage to the bindings.

The DCU also had 3D photogrammetry for physical objects.  Using photographic and AI technology, in one pass of the camera hundreds of digital photographs of an object are taken at rapid speed and then collated together for a seamless view of an object. The images can be used for 3D reproduction of an item so the replica of a rare artefact can be held, manipulated, and examined for further research and educational purposes. Several replicas which were made using this technique were shown to us. This included a 2,200 B.C Sumerian tablet as well as an 18th-century pocket globe which travelled with Captain Cook! We were given the unique opportunity to hold these objects and closely examine the details. Next, it was time to see the 3D photogrammetry technology live in action, so one of our fellow trainee’s bravely volunteered to be turned into a 3D image, alongside a PG Tips monkey. The results were most impressive, and we were all a stunned by how startlingly realistic the results were!  The team were working on 3D photogrammetry imaging of the Spitting Image: A Controversial History exhibition at the University Library, so we also got to see how this is utilised in the curatorial activities of the library.

We learned about how the DCU also specializes in multispectral imaging. Multispectral imaging can examine documents under different light wavelengths such as UV and infrared to see hidden objects. This allows information unseen to the human eye to be discovered. It’s particularly useful for investigating an object to discover under layers of writing, faded or erased text or other anomalies in various media. We also learned during our tour that Cambridge University Library have been part of the Polonsky Foundation Greek Manuscripts Project which focuses on digitising, cataloguing, and conserving Modern Greek and Medieval Manuscripts. We were informed about a research project entitled ‘Curious Cures’ which explored medieval manuscripts, books, and notes recovering details which may have been erased. With this technology, researchers are now able to identify what was once present. This digital imaging technique allows deeper investigation into a book’s history using non-invasive measures, whilst minimising the risk of damage to the book itself.   

The Tower

This took us to our final stop of the day, where we were kindly escorted up into the tower. As we emerged from the dark photography rooms of the DCU, we could see that our day at the University Library was coming to an end, and it would soon be dusk.

To reach the 157ft Tower; we were given an option of taking the lift or fourteen flights of stairs! One of our daring trainees loves taking stairs so they opted for the latter as the rest of us preferred to take the lift at a more relaxed pace.

The tower seems to be clouded in mystery as it has limited access to most users. Liam explained that it was originally seen as a secondary storage area for items with limited significance, but it is now a treasure trove of colourful first editions and wonderfully kept children’s books and Edwardian fiction, including cultural fictional classics. This shows how difficult it is to determine what is of value and worth keeping and preserving when working in libraries. We took the time to wander and explore the books stored in the tower which were full of vibrant illustrations, and superbly preserved books in their original dust jackets, with many 20th century novels.

We made our way over to the windows; with stunning views over Cambridge at sunset, the tower offered us a moment of tranquillity from what was a full and illuminating experience for us. This was a perfect way to end our day with a tour of the University Library Tower.

With almost 15,000 steps counted for the day, we all left feeling inspired (and perhaps just a bit tired).  We all had a fantastic day exploring and touring the University Library and getting to meet their passionate team working diligently behind the scenes. A huge thank you to the University Library Team for hosting and introducing us to their departments. Through sharing their passion and vast knowledge, our visit to the University Library was everything we hoped for.

Visit to the University Library (Part One)

Tour & History of the University Library

In mid-November we attended a jam-packed day-visit to the University Library. For many of us, this was our first voyage into the soaring entity that is the University Library. For myself, I was a student at Clare College, and spent the last three years in Memorial Court of Clare, literally stationed across the road; the University tower was a permanent fixture of my skyline and my life. Yet, for us all, this trip was eye-opening, not just about the University Library themselves and their unique collections, the intricacies of the space and the work taking place within it, but also to the plethora of careers and people that go into running a library on this scale, and which are pathways available to us in our future careers. This peak behind the scenes was enriching and exciting, especially as so many departments kindly opened their doors to us.

We later learnt, in our tour with one of the Library Assistants that kicked off the day, that the sky-scraper effect of the design is an intentional part of the architecture at the request of the donor (The Rockefeller association), and that the UL shares an architect (Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) with the Tate Modern in London; we got to appreciate the souring effect of the tower at the conclusion of the day (but I will leave that to Zia to explain in part two!). A fun fact we learnt while in the basement, exploring the underground storage system and the processes of book collection and return in the request element of library use, was that this architect also designed the phone box, and motifs of this design can be spotted all around the university library, most notably in the use of one as a drop-box, but also in the structure of glass in the doors, in the shape of plant pots, and more. Keeping your eye out for these motifs is a fun way to explore the library that I highly recommend. Liam kindly, and very helpfully, also organised our movement throughout the day between the many departments we got to visit.

While leading us around the building, our guide intertwined the history of the library with the actualities of their current use, such as in the catalogue room, where he explained how the physical catalogue was central to library use, as well as explaining the cut-and-stick approach to their creation, which he placed on a timeline with modern digital cataloguing practices, while still stressing the importance of a physical catalogue to library users and staff alike today. This highlighted to us how our role in libraries, and the way these institutions are run, will echo throughout the future of these collections and the way they are used; take Henry Bradshaw, the librarian from 1867-1886, who established many procedures and structures that remain in today’s practice.

Two major moments in the history of the University Library were explained to us as we walked along a staff corridor in the basement, with photographs of the construction and development of the library running alongside us: the introduction of the Copyright Act in 1710, which saw the University Library anointed as one of the nine privileged libraries of copyright deposit which makes them entitled to a copy of every book published in the UK; and the completion of the creation and move to the new Library in 1934, with the aim of transforming the library into a space that facilitated and cultivated scholarship. Our guide highlighted an image of a cart containing books, being drawn by a horse, and embellished how over 600 trips were required using the horse and cart method to move the library collection to the new building in the 1930’s (thankfully there were only two book fatalities in this process! Sadly, these books were claimed by the river – oops!).

The Map Room

Our first departmental stop was the Map Room, where the Maps Librarian had laid out a selection of maps held in the collection, ranging from a medieval map of Constantinople, marked with red crosses to show the location of templars, to the continuous scale map projects of the 1850’s/60’s, to ground intelligence soviet maps. Being able to see these objects and see first-hand the wide range of material that comes under maps, as well as the way maps morph to fit purpose was fascinating. The Librarian explained how map curation techniques develop in relation to printing techniques by showing us examples of lithography, tooling, hand-painting, and more. He also explained that maps develop in response to intention/requirement; this raised our awareness of a critical understanding of maps, as holding a tension between the perceived empirical truth of them and the purpose of them. To highlight this, we looked at two maps in comparison; a medieval map of the sea, awash with mythical beasts that pose threat to seamen, next to a modern nautical map, which focused on empirically mapping the depth of the sea.

A particular highlight was the fantasy maps which the Librarian got out at my request. He kindly took the time to explain how he pursued online fantasy map designers who created these maps as a hobby in order to curate a collection of them to be held by the library for prosperity. These maps indicate a great amount of modern interest, knowledge, artistry and work that continues to thrive in map making. He also asked us (and in turn I now ask you) to donate any fantasy maps we have from video/board games and such to further enrich this area of the collection.

Here we also considered, and saw, how library practices respond to different types of collections and the items they contain. The first challenge is that of form and format; when the object is not a typical book it requires flexibility of storage, such as tubes and large drawers to preserve them. Another element is how cataloguing is modified to cover the data that users need to know about these objects; in this case, there are specific unique fields in Alma for cataloguing, but Ian highlighted how much of a key role card cataloguing retains in this type of collection by showing us their catalogue drawers. We also heard how special collections like these are responding to, and utilising, modern developing technologies, as with the open-source project with the British Library which aims to create a digitally stitched map of the world. In this way, we saw how librarianship practices are responsive, how they must, and can, be flexible to special collections, and how they continue to be malleable with the introduction of new technologies.

Manuscripts & Archives

After a tea break in the library café, we arrived at potentially our most highly anticipated stop of the trip; the manuscript reading room. As an undergraduate student at Cambridge, I had personally been given access to this room in my final year to use a manuscript from the collection for my dissertation, but even that couldn’t have prepared me for the wealth of treasures the Archivist had prepared to show us. In his selected array, the Archivist took us simultaneously through the history of the development of the manuscript and archives collection in the library, as well as the very history of books themselves. He began by unveiling from an unsuspecting box a glass case, containing the earliest item from the collection: fragments from the Oxyrhyncus  papyrus collection, dated to 300 AD. We were then shown a Buddhist illuminated manuscript, which had a format which none of us had seen before, and which we were fascinated by as he carefully removed each strip of palm to reveal the next in the Poti format sequence; it demonstrated the wide array of forms that books have taken over centuries, and geographies. Dated to c.1000, this manuscript of the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight-Thousand Stanzas is a jewel of the library, as it is one of the oldest illuminated manuscripts from India in Sanskrit.

Next was a beautifully sumptuous medieval Book of Hours, dated to the 14th-century, gilded with gold, and rich in colour, with many playful marginalia scampering around its pages, and a provenance of Alice de Raydor. He explained how the manuscript reveals the history of its creation, as with the tools depicted in the marginalia placing its creation in East-Anglia, and its story of preservation, highlighting the marks left from Victorian attempts at conservation on one of the pages, where a cleaning fluid has permanently stained the text beneath an illumination. In this way, we learnt how conservation practices, special collections, and the thought that runs them, have morphed across time, and how we might play a roll in their future. These books may only be in our care for a short while of their lifetime, but it is a Rare Books Curator’s role to care of them, and to facilitate scholar’s access to them both now and for posterity.

In this display we were also shown a remarkedly broad selection of the type of records archived in the University Library: from Isaac Newton’s student notebooks, marking his experiments on his own eyes with a bodkin that were not for the squeamish; to ship logs; to Charles Darwin’s prose and cons list of marrying, which included as a pro “better than a dog anyhow” and concluded with the decision to “marry, marry, marry Q.E.D”. We began with the Ely diocese records, which were highlighted as a key resource to social historians, as the records go back to c.1200 and track the complex changes of the concept of justice through the court records. Specifically, we were shown a selection of records from the 1640’s that related to witchcraft, including the Archivist transcribing a section of a spell to us which involved a man taking eucharist bread “in his hand”, feeding it to a frog or toad, and “pissing[ing] against a church wall” in order to perform magic. Weaving a path through the vast collections, we were introduced to a collection held by the library relating to The Goligher Circle, and their paranormal investigations in the 1920’s. This featured photographs that claim to evidence ‘exuding ectoplasm’, which the library also has a sample of, floating in a bottle.