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.

Medical Library Visit

The trainees recently visited the Cambridge University Medical Library, situated just outside the city centre in the School of Clinical Medicine, which also forms part of the wider Cambridge Biomedical Campus. The Medical Library’s resources (including study space, borrowable collection, and reference materials) are available not only to Cambridge University’s medical students, but also to use by NHS staff working next door at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Throughout our visit, we found impressive the ways academic and healthcare librarianship combine to balance the needs of both user groups at the Medical Library.

The visit began with a tour of the library, and the Library Manager described how the library space has developed over the years. The first reading room in the Medical Library is an all-purpose study space, with a range of seating designed to accommodate both individual study and students’ collaborative work. A ‘Quick Picks’ section of frequently borrowed material sits close to the self-issue machines, and is one of the library’s most popular resources. This reading room also houses the Medical Library’s wellbeing and general interest collection of books and DVDs. The Library Manager explained how some of the reading room computers operate on the University system, and the rest connect to the NHS user network.

General interest and wellbeing collection at the Medical Library.

From here, we passed the library’s dedicated silent study space (aptly named the ‘Shhhh’ area), and a classroom equipped for library-run training sessions. The adjoining reading room contains most of the library’s working collection of books, alongside more study space.

Study spaces throughout the Medical Library’s working collection.

After the tour, we were introduced to the Head of Medical Library Services, and one of the Assistant Librarians. Chatting to the team, we were able to ask questions and learn more about the role of the Medical Library; whilst also observing the time-honoured library tradition of morning tea and biscuits! We found the exciting aspects unique to healthcare librarianship particularly interesting to hear more about, such as assisting medical researchers and doctors with their literature reviews. It was also inspiring to learn that routes into healthcare librarianship are many and various – for instance, a background in medicine is not a prerequisite to becoming a healthcare librarian.

We would like to thank the library team for their warm welcome and fascinating insight into the work of the Medical Library.

West Hub Visit

In April, we were treated to two library visits in one day: Cambridge Judge Business School in the morning and the West Hub in the afternoon. Located on the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge Site, the West Hub is a 10-minute cycle or a short bus journey from the city centre. It was a really lovely route, with the cycle path running parallel to the fields and heading towards the nearby village, Coton.

The view as you leave the West Hub

Home to the University Sports Centre, Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Veterinary Medicine, Whittle Laboratory and various commercial research institutes, the West Cambridge Site’s main focus is on physical sciences and technology. One of the Site’s newest buildings, the West Hub, opened on 26 April 2022 and represents the first step in the creation of the West Cambridge Innovation District.

Lovely, bright staircase with floor-to-ceiling windows

The West Hub is the University of Cambridge’s first publicly open co-working hub. With no restrictions on who can access the building, the space feels like a futuristic public library. On the ground floor, you can find a canteen, bar, newsagent, and even showers. Moving up the bright orange staircase, there is a rich variety of working areas (40 to be exact!) to suit different needs and moods. Interestingly, there are no zones for studying: the architect designed the building so that it naturally gets quieter as you move up the building. The Library Manager did note that students tend to be quiet in the North Room (where the books are located) though. Perhaps the visual cue of books is all it takes to inspire silence! It was an important and intentional decision to name the room with the books the North Room rather than the Library, so that the West Hub as a whole is understood to be a library.

One of many different seating styles in the West Hub

What struck me, was how accessible the space was. Unlike many buildings in Cambridge, the West Hub has step-free access, two lifts, wide corridors, accessible and gender-neutral toilets, baby change stations, spacious seating areas, and a mixture of high and low-tables. The West Hub’s relationship with nature is also inspiring. There are beautiful big windows overlooking green space, trees in the atrium growing toward the upper floors, and indoor plants dotted everywhere. Incorporating nature into the building is a clear indication of their desire to prioritise wellbeing and sustainability. The calming atmosphere is complimented by the availability of contemplation rooms, which are comfy, technology-free spaces to contemplate or have a conversation. Other bookable spaces include large meeting rooms, meeting pods, and a pop-up media lab.

A growing tree in the atrium

While in many ways the West Hub reimagines what a library is, it still maintains traditional services. The library desk is located on the first floor and as part of the Technology Libraries and Biological Sciences Libraries Team, it supports the Departments of Engineering, Computer Science, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, and Veterinary Medicine. The library staff offer standard study skills sessions (how to use the library, literature searches, referencing) alongside more personal sessions (designing a great poster, perfecting presentation skills, revision tips). In addition to the North Room, there is also a small ‘Inspire, Learn and Inform’ collection, which displays books from outside of the main subject areas. Although borrowing is restricted to University of Cambridge students and staff, non-members are welcome to reference the material inside the West Hub.

A massive thank you to Danielle, the Library Manager, for providing such an engaging tour and to the rest of the West Hub team for sharing their expertise with us.

Queens’ College War Memorial Library and Old Library visit

Recently, we had the pleasure of a visit to Queens’ College, where we got to visit both the War Memorial Library (the student library) and the Old Library. The Rare Books Curator met us at the Porter’s Lodge and after a walk over the Mathematical Bridge, we were shown some of the historic and notable parts of the College including the Old Court, the Old Hall, and Cloister Court. She told us some history of the College and Library, including important benefactors of the early Library such as Thomas Smith, whose portrait hung in the Old Hall.

The Long Gallery in Cloister Court

The Reader Services Librarian then showed us around the War Memorial Library, which holds their teaching collections and student study space. The stacked walkways and twisty spiral staircases help maximise the amount of room available for books and students, and it felt like a cosy place to study. The main room was complimented by a huge glass window with beautiful stained glass details at the top, helping the space feel more open and provide a great amount of natural light. We also got to view a display on the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’, put together by the Queens’ trainee, and based on a sizeable collection of mid-twentieth century novels donated by an alumnus of the College.

A bay of shelves in the Old Library. The lower portions of the shelves are original, with the higher shelves built on top at a later date.

We were then taken into the Old Library, a beautiful room built specially for its purpose as a library in the mid-fifteenth century! It has been in continuous use since then, and remains very close to its original state. The lower sections of the current bookshelves were part of the original medieval lectern shelves, and many books remain in their original bindings. As well as the home of many of their rare books and manuscripts, the Old Library is also an exhibition space, and we were given some time to explore the current exhibition, ‘Legacies of Enslavement at Queens’ College.’ This exhibition follows an investigation by the College into their students’ and fellows’ connections to empire and enslavement from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The exhibition featured documents and books from this period in the Library collections that revealed some of Queens’ connections to the slave trade as well as the abolition movement.

Finally, the Rare Books Curator gave us a ‘hands-on’ workshop introduction to early printed books. After a brief history of paper production and the printing process, we got to try our hand at folding a printed sheet into a gathering, making sure the folds were all in the right place so the text was the correct orientation and in the right order. We were then shown various types of early printed books, using examples from the Queens’ collections. In pairs, we were given a book to look at, and challenged to examine it and talk about any interesting features we could spot. It is surprising how much you can learn about a book and its history by understanding its materiality!

Our thanks to the library team at Queens’ College for a wonderful look into this historic library and a fun and educational introduction to rare books!

Cambridge Judge Business School Library Visit

A few weeks ago, we had our first joint visit with the Oxford trainees to Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS). Located in the former Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the School has an impressive façade and despite various reconstructions, still maintains some original features. The interior of the building has changed significantly though, with an open plan design, floating staircases, balconies, giant columns, and lovely bright windows. The art deco feeling, with bright colours and patterns, represents a marked difference from traditional University of Cambridge buildings and speaks to the School’s desire to be innovative.

After introductions and a lot of staring in awe at the atrium, we were met by CJBS’ Deputy Librarian, Andrew, who led us straight to tea and biscuits (which is quickly becoming one of my favourite traditions of library life!).

It’s a fairly small library, but immediately feels like one which is welcoming and comfortable. There is a map on the wall for students to place a pin on their home country, googly eyes on staplers, beanbags within the stacks, “dinky doors” on shelves, and a work-in-progress communal jigsaw. It was really nice to see a playful side of librarianship, especially when business is a stereotypically serious subject. I’m sure that CJBS’ efforts to create an open space, with student wellbeing a key consideration, contributes significantly to combatting library anxiety and positioning the library staff as friendly and approachable.

I was really impressed with how committed CJBS are to understanding and then improving user experience. With a dedicated User Experience Librarian, they run numerous UX projects throughout the year. One of their previous projects asked students to empty their bags (this was optional!) to understand what kind of things students brought with them to the library. It led to the discovery that more users than they thought owned Microsoft devices and as a consequence, they purchased more compatible chargers. Another project observed the creative solutions students implemented to change the height of their laptop i.e., by placing their laptop on a pile of books. To combat this, CJBS now have lots of laptop stands available and a couple of height-adjustable desks.

Alongside UX projects, they also have a ‘graffiti wall’ so students can leave anonymous feedback and suggestions. This has proven to be quite successful, with the team acknowledging that, for many students, writing on a board is less daunting than approaching staff directly. The library team then write the actions they’ve taken underneath. The ‘graffiti wall’ initiative has brought to light many issues that wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise, including a squeaky door in the far corner of the library.

The collection is very reading list focused, which results in the stock being regularly weeded and replenished with new acquisitions. There is also a big emphasis on electronic resources, because many students aren’t located in Cambridge, or even in the UK. A clear example of this is CJBS’ new Global Executive MBA programme, which includes teaching from various locations: Cambridge, other countries, and online.

The library also has access to specialised business databases such as Bloomberg. Alongside traditional services such as live market analysis, Andrew showed us some of the more fun features such as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which updates daily to show the world’s richest people. Bizarrely, there’s also a feature called ‘Posh’ which allows users to list items to sell – think Ebay for rich people – such as cars and apartments (everything we saw was in the millions…).

In addition to essential texts and reading list materials, students can also borrow wellbeing books from the ‘Boost’ section and access ‘Weird Ideas and Disruptive Thinking’ books covering a variety of subject areas. There’s also a small fiction and DVD section.

Cambridge Judge Business School’s user-centric approach was really refreshing and gave us all lots to think about for our own libraries. A big thank you to Andrew and everyone at CJBS for such an interesting visit.

A Day in the Life at Pembroke College Library

At Pembroke, I work as part of a small team: just three full time Library staff, plus our Rare Books Cataloguer, and Archivist. Because of this, my days are hugely varied, and I end up getting to do a little bit of everything. Outside of the daily jobs, I have the freedom to choose what I work on and when, so most days I do not do everything I’ve mentioned, but I usually get to it all throughout a week.

9:00-9:30 – Morning routine & daily jobs

The morning routine is the most regular part of my day. The building is opened at 8:00 before Library staff arrive, but there are sometimes lights to turn on, doors to open, and we do a check to make sure the catalogue PC and the borrowing machine are running. After checking if we have any recalls to collect and separate for the hold shelf, I organise the returns. We divide up the shelving by floor, and use the walk around to tidy the reading rooms, take a headcount during term time, and open the windows when it’s not winter. There are often already a few people working away diligently by the time we arrive in the morning. We also take note of any furniture or building repairs that need reporting to maintenance.

Our noticeboard, borrowing machine, and the returns area looking tidy after a round of shelving!

I follow up the shelving with a few other maintenance tasks – emptying the water cooler drip bucket, checking there is enough printer paper, and taking out the office recycling. Either before or after this morning routine, we’ll usually have a team catch-up in the main office to check in on the day’s schedule and any meetings, events, or external visitors that will occupy part of our day.

From my desk in the Library office near the entrance, I am the first point of contact for student enquiries, so throughout the day I have to be ready to pause whatever I’m doing and aid any students or Members asking for help. Often these questions are about finding books, borrowing, or printing, but we also receive a variety of other enquiries about donations, use of library spaces for non-library activities, and much more. I also answer phone enquiries, help monitor the shared email inbox, and keep an eye on general activity to ensure people are following Library rules, such as not bringing in food or hot drinks. Sometimes the Librarian will ask me for help with other, miscellaneous tasks, like moving rare books off high shelves or delivering a donation to another library.

9:30-10:30 – Processing & cataloguing acquisitions

I like to continue my morning with processing new books (which involves putting labels, barcodes, tags, and covers on books; all the cutting and sticking is like an arts and crafts session and can be very therapeutic!), repairing any damaged books that we’ve picked up, or creating and updating signs. Before adding shelf labels, I classify the books according to our in-house system, which can sometimes require a team discussion for books that cover various or interdisciplinary topics. After processing, the books are ready for cataloguing, which I can now work on independently after an introductory course from Cambridge University Libraries (CUL) and one-to-one training and supervision from my own team.

While working I make sure to keep an eye on my emails for any newsletters, announcements, or notices from the CUL network. As a college library we are independently governed, but still share some systems and resources with the University libraries, such as our library database, so our cataloguing process follows a Cambridge-specific workflow to ensure consistency in the records. Remaining aware of joint ventures or new developments elsewhere in the University also helps us to provide the most up-to-date information for our students.

Shelves in the Library office where books wait for classifying, processing, cataloguing, and repairs. This is a light day’s workload that would be shared between me and the Assistant Librarian, though it can fill up quickly when we get big deliveries.

10:30-11:00 – Tea break

We pop out of the office (to a reachable place for emergencies/enquiries) twice a day for a cup of tea, as we don’t keep anything other than water at our desks – staff also have to follow the Library rules!

11:00-12:30 – Collection management & Library communications

After tea, I’ll pick up any of my on-going library projects, such as checking reading lists. I am responsible for only a few lists out of all the taught subjects at Pembroke, but many of them can be quite long and we spread out checking reading lists through the year, so it’s a constantly on-going process. As I have a background in Medieval Norse Studies, my manager was excited to take advantage of my subject knowledge, so I’m also helping to reorganise the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic section of the Library, to ensure that it is as up-to-date and useful as it can be to ASNC students or any of our Members who are interested in the field. Larger reclassification projects and updates to big sections of the Library are often on-going but are not a routine part of our work; we make small steps towards them when we can during term, and then dedicate more time to them in the vacation period.

At noon one day a week I have a meeting with Communications reps from other departments – this keeps the Library and Archive connected and up-to-date with the wider goings-on of the College, so we can promote them and keep up Pembroke’s community spirit. I ensure the rest of our colleagues know what we’re up to and what we’re sharing on social media or in our various display cases around College. I’m also partly responsible for creating said social media posts, helping design and put together the displays, and creating posters – this is a great chance to flex my creative muscles, and I spend a couple of hours on these sorts of jobs every few weeks.

12:30-13:00/30 Lunch

Because lunch is often a busy period in the Library, we stagger our breaks to ensure one of us is always in the office during term. My usual time is half 12, when one of the wonderful perks of College life is getting a free hot meal to enjoy in Hall. I also have the choice of using my free meal at the Pembroke Café during term time, which I frequently visit as it’s a great spot to cosy up with a book and a hot drink.

13:00/30-15:30 – Special collections project

Between lunch and afternoon tea is a good time to get stuck into my independent project. One of my favourite things about working here has been the opportunity to research an early printed book from Pembroke’s special collections. I chose a 17th century book about the design of heraldic arms, with a wealth of hand-coloured illustrations that still look incredibly bright and vibrant today. It also contains many annotations. I’m learning to catalogue it while also researching its provenance, which involves using online bibliographic databases as well as close physical examination of the book itself. It has been a fantastic way to learn about rare book special collections, which I had no experience with before. Towards the end of the year, I will get to create a display about the book to showcase my research.

Hand-coloured illustrations from my early printed book, with a marginal note: ‘In Lincoln’s Inn Chappel Window East’

15:30-16:00 Tea break

If we have researchers looking at special collections material, we require an invigilator to always be present. We thus stagger our tea breaks in these situations so that the readers remain supervised. Invigilating in the Archive reading room means I’m away from my desk and my usual work, but gives me half an hour or so to help out with smaller, more unusual tasks, such as transcribing some 19th century palaeography from a letter in the Archive collections, or just to keep up my professional knowledge by reading through the latest CILIP publications for the newest developments in the field.

A small collection of reference books I keep on my desk. These are useful for my rare book project and my Archive biographies. I also keep the latest issue of Information Professional handy in my organiser.

16:00-17:00 – Archive biographies project

To finish the day, I often like to work on my project for the Archive. At Pembroke, the Library and Archive are a joint department, and work in the same building. This means I get to learn a lot about the archival side of the information profession and even engage with some Archive work myself. My main contribution has been researching old Pembroke Members for whom we have collections of ephemeral material. This ‘Pembrochiana’ collection has already been catalogued on our online Archive database, but I have been expanding the records by adding biographical information for each person. This has been a fantastic chance to learn about the almost 700-year history of Pembroke, as well as such a variety of people: from early modern religious leaders, to 19th century science pioneers, to the achievements of those still living today and many more in between.

Working at a college library is a wonderfully unique experience, full of lots of Cambridge quirks but also providing a thorough introduction to academic libraries for a trainee. There is never a dull moment and plenty of surprise jobs and opportunities to attend to along the way.

A Day in the Life at Anglia Ruskin University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding an orange motorola radio

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

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

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

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

Graduate Trainees for 2021-22 Signing Off!

The 2021-22 Graduate Traineeships are drawing to a close here in Cambridge, and what a year it’s been! From visits and talks to workshops and conferences, the Graduate Trainees have certainly been very busy. We have all learned so much about library work, both in our own academic libraries and countless other kinds of libraries – some of which we never knew existed before.

We feel very lucky to be the first cohort of Cambridge trainees to get the full Graduate Trainee experience since the COVID-19 pandemic began – although the virus did keep some of us from attending visits at various points throughout the year! But overall, we’ve managed to pack a lot in and have a more traditional Graduate Trainee experience with lots of in-person visits and training sessions. Have a look at our thread on Twitter for a round-up of the year’s activities!

Although we’ve done a lot as a group, we’ve also each had a very unique experience of being a Graduate Trainee. As such, we’ve decided to put together some personal highlights from the year, along with some information about what we’re doing next! As well as being a nice way to reflect on the year we’ve had, we hope this will give future Graduate Trainees an idea of what they can expect during their year, and the opportunities available to them after it finishes.


Ellen

“All of the visits and training opportunities have been amazing, but my personal highlight of the Graduate Traineeship has to be the connections I have made. As well as building up a really strong professional network, I have also made some friends for life here. I have a part-time job in an academic library lined up for when the traineeship ends, which offers the perfect opportunity to gain more practical experience while I study for my library Masters starting in September. I am also on the committee of a soon-to-launch network for early-career library and information professionals, which I am really excited about. I’ll be studying part-time over two years, so I should hopefully be able to maintain some level of work-life balance!”


Jess

“One of my (many) highlights has been the time I have spent with special collections, whether that be my chats with experts in the library or while curating my small exhibition on early modern astronomy. There’s nothing like reading about an old book for ages and then getting to actually hold an original copy in your hands!

The biggest highlight of all, though, has been the people. I could not have asked for more of anything – be it support, expertise, or general brilliance – from the people I’ve met this year. They’re absolute stars and are a enormous part of what made my traineeship so wonderful.

Now that my traineeship has finished, I’m going on to work as a library assistant at another college. Alongside, I will also be doing some volunteer book cleaning of some sadly mouldy special collections. So I still get to touch old books – even if it’s through some lovely latex gloves!”


Katherine

“I have had an excellent time on my traineeship! I’ve really enjoyed involving the library in Outreach efforts, and my best achievement was putting together an archive exhibition for my college’s 150th anniversary on its Working Women’s Summer Schools. Weirdest moment was definitely finding lots of tiny plastic babies on the shelves (apparently it’s some kind of TikTok trend?). I’m pleased to say I’ll be continuing in college librarianship (though hopping across to a different library!) – lots of time still to explore interdisciplinary books and chat to students!”


Lucy

“A personal highlight has been working in the historic Wren Library every day, having close contact with the incredible and diverse special collections housed within its walls. Halfway through the year, I was given the opportunity to write an article for Trinity’s Alumni magazine about a ‘Trinity Treasure’. I chose a colourful costume book (‘Trachtenbuch’) from 16th century Nuremburg. It was a wonderful way to explore in more detail a book within the collection, learning about the context and history of its production. You can read the article here on pages 22-23.

‘Trinity Treasures’ article by one of the Graduate Trainees published in ‘The Fountain’ alumni magazine
‘Trinity Treasures’ article published in ‘The Fountain’ alumni magazine

I also feel I should give a shout-out to one particularly weird and wonderful task I undertook – checking back in the skeleton models that are given to medical students at the start of the year. Sitting at my desk surrounded by fibulas, ulnas, clavicles, and sternums was a particularly bizarre experience. I am now far more well acquainted with the medical terms for human body parts – something that I wasn’t necessarily anticipating pre-starting at Trinity! The fact that each skeleton also has a name was a source of amusement – Cressida, Samson, Eve, and Gaspar are now safely back in their boxes waiting for October 2022 to come around.

In terms of next steps, the plan now is to move back to London – I am starting a new job at the Natural History Museum (as a Library and Archives Assistant) and will begin a two-year part-time Masters course in Library and Information Studies at University College London. I am incredibly sad to be leaving Trinity, and will really miss my work here, but am also excited to see what the future holds in store.”


William

“I have really enjoyed my time as a Graduate Trainee Librarian. The opportunity to visit a wide variety of libraries and library-adjacent enterprises has broadened my understanding of what a librarian can do. I particularly enjoyed visiting the British Library and their enormous basements and amazing conveyor belt system for moving books around. (It felt like I was behind the scenes at Monsters, Inc!) However, my favourite aspect has been the camaraderie between the trainees, and I enjoyed meeting up with them both in and out of work.”


We would like to say thank you to all the amazing library staff who have supported us this year, and welcome to the new cohort of Graduate Trainees for 2022-23. We hope you get as much out of it as we did!

Visit to Judge Business School Library

In April we were able to visit the library at the Judge Business School, which is housed in the old Addenbrooke’s Hospital building on Trumpington Street. It is a striking building, remodelled in the 1990s in a colourful, post-modernist style. We were met in the lobby by the Deputy Information and Library Services Manager, who gave us our first sneak peek of the library as we went to collect the User Experience Librarian, before leading us up one of the building’s “floating” staircases to the Business School’s café. They very kindly treated us to our choice of hot drinks, and we all sat down in the café to get an overview of how they run their library and how it fits into life and work at the Judge Business School. 

They have a relatively small physical collection of approximately 10,000 volumes, but have a huge digital offering of resources like e-books and databases. This means that their students can access library resources from anywhere in the building – and anywhere in the world, which is very important as they have a large number of international students who are studying remotely. These students are very rarely – if ever – in Cambridge to visit the physical library space, so it is crucial that they are able to access the relevant materials online. They always aim to get a digital copy alongside every print copy of a book they order. 

The Judge library offers an incredibly user-focused service (where many older libraries with lots of rare books might be more collections-focused), and this comes across in their customer service and user experience initiatives as well as their collections management. For example, due to the high number of remote international students, they manage an incredibly active chat service. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced many academic libraries to start offering services like academic sessions and inductions over Zoom, the Judge library was already offering such services via Skype well before this. 

It was quite interesting to note that none of the library staff came from a business background, despite working in a specialist business library. As we’ve seen from speaking to other specialist librarians, this appears to be quite common – in many cases, having the skills to run a library is the most important thing, and specialist knowledge can be picked up along the way. This is really reassuring and good to know, as new professionals like us might otherwise be put off applying to roles in specialist libraries because they don’t have specialist knowledge of that field. 

Once we got into the library, it quickly became evident that they really do understand and cater to the needs of their users (both academically and generally) and it comes across in every facet of how they run their library. Their “Boost” collection offers a number of non-academic titles to supplement readers alongside their study needs – from graphic novels and pleasure reads to wellbeing titles and recipe books.

Just across from this is the “Weird Ideas” collection, which highlights books that introduce new, innovative, and disruptive ideas to the world of business and economics. Interestingly, as some of these ideas inevitably make it into the mainstream (cryptocurrency being one such example), the book is no longer a ‘weird’ idea and gets moved to the main collection. This is therefore a very interesting and dynamic part of the library, and a concept that works uniquely well for a subject like business. 

They also showed us Bloomberg, a database that provides live stock market information, the same as anyone on Wall Street would have in their office (the “Buy” button is understandably deactivated on the library version). There’s a lot of interesting information that can be found on Bloomberg but one of the highlights that they showed us was Posh, an internal marketplace for the ultra-rich. Think eBay or Craigslist but for yachts, small islands, city centre apartments, and Fabergé eggs. For us librarians it was a lot of fun to poke around and explore Bloomberg, but for the students and staff at Judge Business School, I imagine it must be an invaluable resource of live information. 

The space offers blankets and bean bags so students can have a comfortable experience in the library and even squeeze in a power nap if they need to. Past these and up the stairs, alongside some student desks, is a paper “graffiti wall” where students can provide feedback about different features of the library – and the library staff write back! This allows students to report things that they might not bother to write an email about or find a member of staff for – for example if a door hinge squeaks. 

As well as all the interesting and varied practical library services and UX initiatives, there were also a lot of fun extras. As Star Wars Day was approaching (May 4th), they had a lot of Star Wars paraphernalia in the office ready to set up for it, including a full-sized Baby Yoda/Grogu. There was also a “dinky door” in the back of the library, board games that students can play, and a secret false book hidden on one of the shelves, with chocolate inside for anyone who finds it. All of these extra touches ensure that students (and library staff, I have no doubt) can have a lot of fun when visiting the library, as well as finding the resources they need. 

We are very grateful to the team at JBS for hosting us and making us feel so welcome.