Pembroke College Library Visit and Law Libraries Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quiet reading room in the Pembroke College Library.

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

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

Newnham College Library visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Queens College old library: Historical Bibliography Workshop

And another tour rolls around…

Another month, and another tour, to Queen’s College old library. Its claim-to-fame being the oldest library in Cambridge. Emma, our grad trainee, and the library staff at Queens College gave us a tour with a hands-on historical workshop. We looked through texts that varied between the 1500s and 1700s. Have a hankering for library tour posts? Check out Lauren, Jess & D’s experiences of The UL Tour. Or Lucy’s Cambridge Central Library post. I promise you won’t regret.

Queens College

One thing I love about the college libraries is that each college has its own distinctive characteristics. Katie’s post on Newnham College library tour will give you a flavour. Queens College is certainly distinctive. Across the mathematical bridge (remove the screws and the bridge would remain) span beautiful buildings and lush gardens. The architecture was a mix of “old country town” and “modern build”. But the nicest thing was, every person I saw was smiling. Queens is one of the smaller colleges in Cambridge, built of just over 1000 undergraduates, graduates and academics. Nonetheless, the college is utterly charming and quirky. I felt a lovely sense of community, even just walking through!

The collection

The main library is fairly modern and bright.. and busy! It was the end of term. And we heard nothing but ferocious keyboard clicking from students getting essays in. Because Queens caters for first year undergraduates of all subjects, it has few books that cater for other years. As a grad trainee working in departmental libraries, this is a major difference between our collections. As our collections are tripos-based, we cater from undergraduate to fellow. Our collections are based soley around one tripos.

Bliss Classification scheme

Queens use the bliss classification system. Bliss builds classmarks through a combination of letters and numbers. The alternative is a numerical-based system like Dewy. We call the former a faceted scheme whilst the latter an enumerative scheme. Whilst it’s possible to have a system that is in-part enumerative and faceted. Bliss is fully faceted. Faceted schemes allow for in-depth subject analysis, aswell as freedom and flexibility for the classifier. This is because they build their classmarks rather than pick from a list. Therefore it’s easier to show links between subjects, accommodate new subjects. With enumerative schemes, subject headings are already

As libraries strive to be more inclusive and accommodating, faceting elements can prove to be desirable in schemes. This is because of the hospitable element, made possible by the classmarking system. It helps to endorse and embraces new subjects that sprout, and ones that arise from existing subjects.

The old library

“Queens College old library is the “Elmer-the-elephant” of libraries. From 12th Century Windows, to 17th Century wooden safe. It was a beautiful mesh of time periods”

The trainees were taken through to Queens College old library, which was like stepping through an architectural time capsule. It featured the most aesthetic walls, ceilings and furniture from across different time periods. Queens College old library is the “Elmer the elephant” of old libraries. From 12th century windows, to a 17th century wooden safe, it was a beautiful mesh of time periods. The top half of the shelves were from a different century to the medieval bottom half of the shelves! And there were modern spinny desk chairs dotted around too. The mismatched museum of vintage library furniture made Queens College old library more charming.

On the right, the key to Queens College old library. Even the key is aesthetic…

Towering above us were shelves of old books. They were beautiful and unique. Meanwhile Emma talked us through how she catalogues these books. Broadly speaking, this involves; subject analysis, publishing information, a physical description and classification. If you’re after an idea of cataloguing, Lucy’s blogpost on cataloguing training is a great start. 

The history of the printing press

The trainees were then given a 101 on the history of the printing press. I’ll keep this brief – I’ve left a further reading list at the end of this post. But, the compositor would have to manually select the type from his case. Then, set this onto the composing stick. And as you can see in the image below, the composition stick is composed letter-by-letter. And, the individual characters would have to slot onto a stick corresponding to a line of text. Each stick (line) would then accumulate to create a page of writing.

Pages would have to be set, letter by letter, before printing.

Once the page was complete, the ability to rewrite or edit a sentence became impossible. This is unlike modern times, where the touch of the button can easily rewrite words and sentences.

man standing at his wooden desk choosing a type from his case. In the background there is paper hanging from the ceiling.
A composer selects type from his case and places it in a composing stick. Printed sheets are hanging, drying from the ceiling.

We also learnt about imposition. Now, imposition (in terms of books) is the way the pages are laid out. When folded, the pages appear in the correct order. The below image is an example of imposition. After printing the page, people would have to fold the sheet in the correct order.

Old book workshop

We were handed books ranging from 15-17th century. For me, a French book from the 15th Century on the French revolution. The book contained three forms of handwritten notes and, suggested it had been rebound at least once in its lifetime. One of the handwritings seemed scrawny, child-like in nature. We thought that a child aged 7-10 could be behind these notes. We concluded that the book was used for school. It was fascinating to see children’s notes from centuries ago. Handwriting is personal to the individual, and these have been frozen in time.

Finally, a bit of show-and-tell. The grads got to grips with miniature books from the 18th century. Roughly 3cm by 4cm, these dinky books were usually ye old testaments. And whilst they were not practical, they were very cute!

Thank you Queens!

Overall, it was a fascinating visit and I certainly thouroughly enjoyed it. The tour of Queens I want to say a big thank you to the Library staff at Queens for making the visit possible. And, for taking time out of the day to provide us with this workshop. A special thanks to Emma for giving us an informative tour of the college grounds and library.

Further Reading:

General Book History

Robert Darnton, ‘What is the History of the book?’ Daedalus, 111 (1982), 65-83 David Pearson, Books as history. The importance of books behong their texts (Newcastle, DE: Oak Knoll; and London: British Library 2008) Sarah Werner, Studying early printed books, 1450-1800: a practical Guide (Hooken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2019)

Printing History

Phillip Gaskell, A new introduction to bibliography (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1972) Joesph Mocon, Mechanick exercises; or, THe docterine of handy-workd. Applied to the art of printing (London: Joesphy Moxon, 1683)

https://www.loc.gov/ghe/cascade/index.html?appid=580edae150234258a49a3eeb58d9121c

Cataloguing training – the basics

During the first few weeks of our traineeships, the Cambridge graduate trainees received some initial cataloguing training. The sessions were delivered by the Head of English Cataloguing at the University Library, and provided a preliminary grounding for the cataloguing work which the trainees undertake throughout the year.

In our first session, it was explained that cataloguing is the process by which the bibliographic data of a library’s collection is recorded. MARC, or ‘Machine Readable Cataloguing’, allows bibliographic data to be stored using codes and numbers, so that it can be retrieved by a library management system. Essentially, MARC is the ‘language’ that a computer uses to understand and process the bibliographic information about library material. We were signposted to the MARC standards webpage, and were told that we would be consulting it frequently as our cataloguing careers progressed!

The Head of Cataloguing also explained that we would follow the RDA (Resource Description and Access) cataloguing standard – guidelines and rules which stipulate what bibliographic information you need to provide within a cataloguing record.

Our session coordinator had put together some activity sheets which we were able to work through in break out rooms on Microsoft Teams. For those of us without cataloguing experience, seeing the MARC coding and numbers for the first time (with its various fields, subfield tags, indicators, and punctuation) felt pretty complicated! Luckily, the Head of Cataloguing reassured us that we would become increasingly familiar with the terminology and rules over time.

During the practical parts of the sessions, we began learning how to transcribe information on authors, titles, and publication, as well as how to record pagination and descriptive details. The Head of Cataloguing also spoke about the importance of authority control, which ensures consistency across records and makes library catalogues more user-friendly for researchers.

It was great to have these cataloguing training sessions scheduled so early on in our traineeships. Over the coming months, all of the trainees will work to get to grips with the ins and outs of cataloguing, and are looking forward to helping add more resources to our libraries’ collections in the process. What became clear during the sessions was that proficient cataloguing is key to guaranteeing accessibility of collections, which is one of the most important goals of any library. It makes the prospect of undertaking cataloguing work particularly exciting to all of the trainees!

The trainees’ first visit of the year – Newnham College Library

In this blog post, the trainee at Trinity College (Lucy) and the trainee at Anglia Ruskin University (Ellen) reflect on the first library visit of 2021.

L:

On Tuesday 21st September, the new Library Graduate Trainees went on their first visit of the year – a tour of Newnham College Library. We were greeted by the Newnham trainee, who took us on an initial walk-through of the Library. I was struck right away by how welcoming the Library felt; you could tell that the space is fully focused on serving the needs of Newnham’s students. It was not a surprise to hear that the Library is one of the best-stocked undergraduate college libraries in Cambridge, and is kept as relevant and up-to-date as possible to enhance user experience.

Newnham Library has two sections: the original Victorian Yates Thompson Library (designed by Basil Champneys), and the Horner Markwick extension (opened in 2004). In the latter, our Newnham trainee guide pointed out the different subject sections, and explained the in-house classification system. Spread across three floors and with large windows to let in plenty of light, the modern extension of the Library felt like a wonderful place to study.

Next we moved to the Yates Thompson Library, a Grade II* listed building. All of the trainees were impressed by the blue barrel vault and ornamented ceiling, which is decorated with 13 early European printers’ marks (chosen by Henry Yates Thompson). A highlight was seeing a collection of first edition works by Virginia Woolf, which contained early examples of Hogarth Press printing. The dust jackets on a number of the books were particularly beautiful, including those for ‘Between the Acts’ and ‘A Writer’s Diary’ (both designed by Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister).

Part of the blue barrel vault and ornamented ceiling in the Yates Thompson Library.

Over on the other side of the Library, we saw the small Glossographia exhibition, which displayed treasures from Newnham’s rare books and special collections. It was fascinating to see the first English translation of Don Quixote, as well as some unique reference aids, such as Thomas Blount’s ‘Dictionary of Hard Words’. A quick detour took us via the closed stacks in the basement, which house works from Newnham alumnae as well as materials that are not suitable for the open shelves. These included several boxes containing fake human bones, which are given to medical students at the beginning of each academic year – a somewhat unexpected and incongruous sight!

E:

One of the exciting features of our inaugural library visit was that it also included our inaugural archive visit! After the tour of the main library, we were split into two groups: one to look at the rare books collection with the Librarian, and the other to look at the archives with the College Archivist. For the Archives visit, we were led into a set of small offices, where the Archivist had selected and displayed some notable pieces for us. Laid out around the room were a number of books, posters, newspaper articles, and more.

The Archivist began by explaining that this year marked Newnham’s 150th anniversary as a women’s college, and the 100th anniversary of a rather unsavoury event in its history. In 1921, the University was voting on allowing women full membership of the University or ‘titles of degrees’ upon completion of their courses, where up until this point they would only have received a certificate acknowledging that they had taken and passed the exams. Some of Cambridge’s male students did not take kindly to this idea, and effectively stormed Newnham in protest. College property was vandalised, most notably the ornate bronze Clough Gates (commemorating Anne Jemima Clough, the first principal of Newnham) which were battered by a handcart.

The bronze Clough Gates.

As such, many of the pieces on display were about this event and the resilience of Newnham’s students that shone through because of it. One of the most memorable and amusing pieces was a letter of apology written by one of the men who took part in an earlier 1897 protest. In it, he professed his embarrassment at being there at all, and his shame at having accidentally broken a window in the process. He made an offer to pay for the damages and again apologised profusely, but at the end of the letter shattered this saintly image that he had painted of himself by asking, since he was Danish himself, if the college had any Scandinavian ladies studying there, and if so, that he be put in contact with them.

One of the more sobering pieces was a small poster from the 1897 protest, which in large letters simply said, “NO WOMEN”. It was a strikingly tangible reminder that attitudes like this were still prevalent only a hundred years ago, and that I sometimes take that for granted. I studied at Royal Holloway, which was very similar to Newnham – it was purpose-built as a women’s college in 1886 and educated suffragettes such as Emily Wilding Davison, but to my knowledge never had quite so much opposition. Seeing the dissonance between that experience and that of Newnham’s students was quite jarring!

We then moved on to the next room to view the stacks, where the archive materials are stored. The room was surprisingly small for a place with such a rich history, but I suppose that speaks to the meticulous curation and efficient organisation of the archivists more than anything. Truthfully, I could have spent the rest of the day in there quite happily, exploring all the different items on the shelves.

I was struck by the excitement in the room while looking at and talking about these materials. On a personal level, I had never given archive work a great deal of thought until this moment – I’d always thought it might be interesting to work in an archive, but I’d never really understood what that meant. Archivists are the caretakers of physical pieces of history. As well as exploring fascinating areas of the past, they get to decide what materials will be held from our time for the historians of the future. It sounds like an exciting and challenging responsibility, and I am certainly going to give it greater consideration going forward in my career.

L:

Our visit to the Rare Books room was led by Newnham’s current Librarian. Established in 1982 and built, stylistically speaking, in line with the rest of the Library’s architecture, the space was named in honour of Katharine Stephen. Stephen was appointed as the College’s first Librarian in 1888 and later became its Principal. She also happened to be the cousin of Virginia Woolf.

The College Librarian told us about Newham’s special collections, which contain approximately 6,000 rare books and manuscripts (ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries) and result from donations to the College. This includes 16th century Chaucer editions, as well as both the Rogers and the Renouf collections. Many of the books are beautifully bound, with intricate patterns and gilding adorning their spines. The room was noticeably colder than the rest of the Library – the temperature signalling the priority that is given to the historic materials housed in the room over the librarians working within it!

We were also shown a small glass case, which housed a ring with the braided hair of Charlotte Brontë coiled inside. Just as we were leaving, the Librarian pointed out a recent donation given to the College – a first edition of an Aphra Behn play. On a personal note, this was wonderful to see, having briefly studied her work during the final year of my undergraduate degree.   

E:

After we had viewed the rare books, and the other group had viewed the archives, we joined together once again and were led out to the college gardens. The Librarian was very patient as we collectively listed off the most complicated drinks order known to man, and before long we were all sitting together on the grass sipping our teas, coffees, hot chocolates, and chai lattes in the final rays of the summer sun.

Newnham College and gardens.

Our conversation topics ranged from decolonisation workshops to films and musicals inspired by Greek mythology, and everything in between. I was interested to learn from the Assistant Librarian that there is in fact a library allotment somewhere in the 17 acres of Newnham’s beautiful gardens, and that they are growing blueberries there! I had never heard of such a thing, so it was a very pleasant surprise. Initiatives like that can make for a very enjoyable workplace and can do wonders for staff wellbeing. It made me wonder what other workplace initiatives might be possible for library and university staff more generally.

After we had finished our drinks, we got up and explored the college gardens and marvelled at the gorgeous Victorian architecture of many of Newnham’s buildings. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the library allotment, but we did see lots of lovely growing things, including tomatoes, pumpkins, and more than a few sunflowers. I hadn’t done any research on the gardens before our visit, so I was surprised to learn just how large and diverse they were, with innumerable varieties of trees, flowers, and other greenery.

One of our last stops was at the sunken rose garden. Down a set of stone steps were four large beds of roses, with a pool in the centre dedicated to Henry Sidgwick, Newnham’s co-founder. The flower beds were abuzz with activity, with a wonderfully large number of bees flying around. Honeybees were reintroduced to the Newnham gardens in 2016, for the first time since WWII. These are Buckfast bees, which are bred for their productivity, gentleness, and resistance to disease. The gentleness certainly came across, as they seemed to have no issue with us joining them to admire the roses.

The beautiful sunflowers growing in the college gardens.

Lastly, before heading off, we stopped at the bronze gate that had been damaged during the protest in 1921. It had, of course, been repaired since then but even so, seeing it in person added a huge weight of tangibility to that event. As well as a fascinating insight into rare books librarianship and archival work, this visit to Newnham gave me a renewed gratitude for the academic and professional opportunities I have as a woman in 2021, and I am doubly grateful for the generations of women who came before me to make that possible.

***

All of us graduate trainees are immensely grateful to the library team at Newnham for taking the time and effort to provide us with such a wonderful visit – thank you! It was the perfect way to start off our programme of library visits, and has set the standard very high.

Ask a Trainee Event

On Wednesday 28th April 2021, the Cambridge Library Trainees from St John’s, Trinity, Queens’, Pembroke, and Newnham Colleges were excited to speak to the CLG about their experiences over the course of this year. It was a great evening to be a part of, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed sharing what we have been up to in our libraries. Below is a summary of what we discussed.

What is a Library Trainee?

The graduate library traineeship is a year-long appointment which aims to give a recent graduate student (paid!) experience of working in a library before they undertake a professional qualification in librarianship; this extended experience being a prerequisite for many Master’s courses. Although most trainees do proceed to the Master’s, there is no expectation that they will do so: the focus is on introducing the trainee to a working library environment and allowing them to decide whether the career is right for them.

Although all trainees present at the talk worked at constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, there are trainees in all varieties of libraries across the UK – including school, law, and specialist libraries.

The daily routines of trainees vary between colleges, but can include activities such as reshelving; classifying, cataloguing, processing, and withdrawing books; creating displays, and managing social media. Training and workshops form a key part of the traineeship, which are given both within and outside the college, on topics such as cataloguing, creating exhibitions, and decolonising through critical librarianship. Usually trips to other libraries would be a key part of this training; however, since this has not been possible this year, we have had other insights such as virtual tours and group discussions.

The trainees have been involved in several collaborative projects together, which can be found here:

Twitter: @LibraryTrainees
Website: catalog.group.cam.ac.uk (with information about traineeships, excellent for anyone applying)
Recent collaborative blog post on Decolonising through critical librarianship: https://decolonisingthroughcriticallibrarianship.wordpress.com/2021/03/15/decolonising-through-critical-librarianship-workshop/

Covid-19 Adaptations

A central part of this year’s traineeships has been helping to adapt library services to COVID restrictions. While COVID has obviously been a disruption to the trainees experiencing normal library services, it has meant that there are certain aspects of librarianship that they have been able to experience more of.

A large part of all the trainees’ jobs has been helping with services that enable students to use resources which COVID restrictions are preventing them from accessing. These services include: Click and Collect, Scan and Deliver and posting books to students who are not in Cambridge. Alongside these services, they have been helping point students towards the right form for book acquisitions, both e-books and physical books, and helping organise inter-college loans. As well as helping provide access to academic resources, the libraries have been acquiring resources for students’ enjoyment when they have been stuck in their rooms over lockdown. All the trainees’ libraries have been expanding their collections of light reading books/General interest books, DVDs, welfare-related books, and a couple of the libraries have been loaning puzzles (which has meant counting all the pieces to make sure that they are there on return!). These welfare adaptations have been a great chance to see that libraries contribute to more than just the academic side of users’ lives.

Not having students in the library has meant the trainees have not been able to interact with them as they usually would. This has meant getting more creative with the ways in which the library and students interact, such as posting a ‘Resource of the Day’ on Facebook, Pinterest book browsing displays, organising virtual study spaces, and virtual study skills sessions. These uses of virtual spaces to continue to provide services to students when they are unable to access the physical space of the library has shown the trainees that libraries are much more than just the physical space, and physical collections.

While this year’s traineeships have not been what the trainees originally expected there are many ways that this has been a beneficial experience. Stepping into these roles during COVID has encouraged the trainees to think about libraries beyond just the physical collections. Seeing the variety of other ways libraries are important to users’ lives will be great knowledge to take forward into a career in libraries.

Cataloguing

For his part of the presentation, Harry spoke about our cataloguing training, using his experience of rare book cataloguing in the Queens’ Old Library as a focus point. He did have some experience working in a library with a large 19th-century collection before starting his traineeship, and so was drawn to the work with even older books that he would experience at Queens’. Although the breakout of the pandemic and the following lockdown meant that he could not start work in the library at the time originally planned, he shared with the CLG how he still received great remote training and how he could still participate in the Old Library cataloguing project without even stepping foot in Cambridge. Colleagues sent him books to read about book history, and he went through a remote crash-course of rare book cataloguing with the Rare Books Curator. Using various online resources, he was still able to contribute to the project, and the lockdown actually helped to divide his training into stages, as he could wait a few months before learning about putting binding and provenance information into his records. This experience was great preparation for the cataloguing training sessions all the trainees attended, where we learned RDA cataloguing for new acquisitions.

Collection Management

For all of us starting in 2020, having so few readers about last summer really allowed us to get to know our libraries before term started in October. More than previous trainees, we had the time to get to know our collections and really think about how we could make the library serve college members best. A lot of housekeeping could be done, and a lot of thought could go into how we arrange and classify our material. A lot of our librarians seem to have had the same idea, and several of us have been involved in reclassification projects and book moves. Jimmy (Pembroke) has probably had the biggest task here, helping to change his library’s classification system from numeric to alpha-numeric, and reclassifying books into more suitable sections in the process.

Vicky (Trinity) spoke about what she has learnt from other libraries and training workshops when classifying material. For example, the library at Trinity has acquired a lot of Hebrew and Arabic novels that are on a reading list for the English tripos, either in translation or originally written in English. Our workshop on decolonising library spaces (see link to our blog post above) flagged up the importance of classification systems in establishing hierarchies of information and making value judgements about different contributions to a field. One of the examples used in this workshop was the English faculty library, where a lot of the postcolonial literature has now been integrated into the main class scheme, so that it is recognised as an important aspect of English literature rather than just a marginal offshoot. Vicky had to think through these same questions when figuring out where new Hebrew and Arabic novels fit within Trinity’s own library scheme, in a way that doesn’t marginalise them within the English section, but also doesn’t relegate them all to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies either. It’s been a challenge to balance the need to classify information in a way that’s accurate and doesn’t marginalise underrepresented voices and perspectives with the need to cater to our users when they come with their reading lists that might compartmentalise things differently.

Getting to know our college libraries’ classification schemes was made easier by the peace and quiet brought about by COVID, but the pandemic has made it a lot harder to figure out how our circulation systems work. Our libraries have had to be much more flexible with our loan rules, either because users were unable to return to college or felt uncomfortable with coming into the library regularly. The main challenge has been to do with posting books out to students during Lent Term, when most of them were studying remotely. Where Trinity hasn’t already had a copy, Vicky and her colleagues have been posting out books directly from the suppliers to the students without processing them in the library first, so that students could get hold of these books well in advance of essay deadlines. Each book was given a temporary item record and classmark. As students are slowly returning, these books are starting to trickle back in, so the librarians can check them in manually and process them properly, making sure all the right records are attached to each other or deleted where appropriate. As trainees we can hardly claim credit for masterminding these changes to our circulation systems, but we have definitely benefitted from having to think more about why our normal workflows for processing and circulating books are the way they are, and how they can be adapted to meet users’ needs.

College Heritage

Working on projects which are linked to the heritage of the College is one of the less prominent aspects of a trainee’s role, but is nonetheless one that features in all the Cambridge traineeships as it provides an important opportunity for training and development. As with almost every other aspect of our roles, each trainee’s individual approach to this theme is completely dependent on the particular college they are at. This year all five of us have had a variety of different projects to work on, which have been thoroughly enjoyable.

Katie (St John’s) has worked closely with the Biographical Librarian at St John’s, helping to deal with enquiries from the general public which has included undertaking research using the College resources. She has also helped to input data and update the files of John’s alumni following degree ceremonies, as well as doing quick information checks for the Biographical Librarian using resources which are physically in the Library. In addition to this, Katie has also been working on a more long-term cataloguing project for the Special Collections in the Old Library, following the donation of several boxes of personal papers of a prominent early 20th-century geologist. This has been a slow-moving project as a result of the pandemic, however it has been an invaluable experience in learning how to sort and catalogue collections like this from scratch.

Jimmy (Pembroke) and Katherine (Newnham) have also had the chance to work on similar projects in their respective libraries. Following the death of a Fellow, Jimmy accompanied the Pembroke Archivist to the Fellow’s house to help look through the substantial rare books collection that had been bequeathed to the College. This was a great experience in getting to see how decisions about what to keep are made by libraries, as unfortunately college libraries (as with all libraries!) only have limited space, and cannot keep absolutely everything. Katherine has also been working her way through the personal library of a prominent Newnham alum. This project has involved listing the items contained in the collection, and determining what should be kept and what should be sold on.

The final two trainees, Vicky (Trinity) and Harry (Queens’) have had a very different, but equally as interesting, type of involvement with College heritage. Vicky has overseen the signing of the Matriculation book in the Wren Library, which is an important annual tradition at Trinity. She has also written several blog posts on recent acquisitions, as well as short articles for the alumni magazine on highlights from the collections, in order to help showcase the exciting things the College holds in addition to their beautiful manuscripts. Harry has been busy creating a bibliography of books published by Queens’ members in the 18th century with an aim of helping research within the College, and has also participated in the College’s slavery investigation. He also plays a crucial role in the library by helping students to find and access resources to facilitate their research.
Our College Heritage projects this year have potentially been somewhat overshadowed by Covid-19, however we have still all managed to gain important experience in this area. It is perhaps something which is unique to the Cambridge traineeships, since it is something which is unique to the Cambridge colleges. It has been a pleasure to be involved in these projects, and all of us are looking forward to further developing the skills we have learned.

We really enjoyed participating in this event, and would like to thank the CLG for inviting us to speak and for asking us some great questions during the Q&A – who says you have to be quiet to work in a Library!