Norwich Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll now hand over to Zia for Part 2!

Laying down the law in Pembroke College library!

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

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

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

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

Source:  Courts & Tribunals website

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

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

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

Outside Pembroke Library as the sun sets.

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

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

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

Details from the Hans Von Stockhausen window.

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

View from the Yamada Room.

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

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

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

The Rosenthal Art Library.

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

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

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.

Visit to the University Library (Part One)

Tour & History of the University Library

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

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

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

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

The Map Room

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

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

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

Manuscripts & Archives

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

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

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

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!

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. 

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

Library Graduate Trainee Application Top Tips

It’s the start of a New Year, and with it the start of a new Library Graduate Trainee application cycle. Most of the traineeship listings for 2022 will start to appear between now and the spring. It can be a very busy and complicated time for prospective new trainees, with application deadlines looming and the struggle of putting together a winning personal statement for each one. Since we know exactly what it’s like, having been in the same position this time last year, we thought you might like to hear some advice from the current trainees on how to make your application stand out and (hopefully!) get you the job.

These top tips are brought to you by Katherine (Newnham), Emma (Queens’), Ellen (ARU), Lauren (English, Divinity, and Philosophy Faculty Libraries), and Lucy (Trinity).

Do your research

Katherine: Research the library you’re applying to and be interested in what makes it unique. If it’s in person, you’ll usually get a tour of the library beforehand. Do your research, ask questions, and most of all be interested!

Make sure you also research the type of library you’re applying to – law libraries have a very different focus to academic libraries, for example, and may use very different software. College and faculty/university libraries will be different, and some will be lending and some will not. (School libraries also have very different priorities, such as considering safeguarding of children, which are very important and which you could read up on beforehand.) Don’t be put off of applying to a library if it’s outside your experience – you’re there to learn and you could learn something really interesting! – but it’s good to have an idea of how they differ to show you’re interested in librarianship as a profession and not just as a library user.

Cast a wide net

Ellen: My best piece of advice for a successful Library Graduate Trainee application is to submit a lot of them. Each library that offers a trainee position gets a huge number of applications, so you may find yourself facing a lot of rejections. Don’t be disheartened by this. Personally, I applied to eight different graduate traineeships (as well as other library jobs) and was only invited to interview for two of them. It goes without saying that the more traineeships you apply to, the higher your chances are of securing one.

Katherine: Don’t worry if you don’t get interviews for all of your trainee positions. It’s quite common to be rejected by some and accepted for others. Traineeships are slightly different from library to library so keep applying – you might have the perfect skills for a place you didn’t even realise existed!

Tailor your application

Lucy & Emma: Try to tailor parts of your application to the specific library that you’re applying to. For example, have a look at the library’s special collections, or the responsibilities included within the job description that are unique to the library you’re applying to, and think about why they particularly appeal to you. This can be difficult and time-consuming if you’re applying to lots of different traineeships, but try and make sure that your applications are specific.

Say yes

Ellen: If you are offered an informal chat or a tour of the library, take them up on that offer. This has a double benefit of showing that you are really interested, and it will make you more memorable than other candidates. There is lots of great advice online about how to get the most out of an informal chat, so do your research and then pick up the phone.

It’s not just about books

Lauren: My manager said that this year, a lot of people fell down the trap of just talking about books. Being in an academic library environment means your readers are students and academics. As well as taking care of those books, you are likely to provide teaching, converse with lecturers about scans and reading lists, and communicate with students and senior members over library services. Make sure in your interview to really demonstrate your communication skills, providing examples of teaching, customer service, even retail! Your job really is all about the students, not the books.   

Keep an eye on the listings

Ellen: Virtually every Graduate Trainee post in the UK gets listed on Information Professional Jobs. I remember checking it almost daily last year, and ultimately that’s how I found the traineeship that I am in now. Checking it regularly will enable you to find new openings as soon as they get advertised, giving you plenty of time to put an application together before the closing date.

Reflect on your experiences in libraries

Emma: Try and think of any specific interactions that you’ve had with librarians. What was it about them that was helpful or not helpful? For example, explaining cataloguing systems, being welcoming, or helping you to locate items.

Highlight your relevant experience

Emma: Draw on any experiences of working with books that you have. This might include volunteering in second-hand bookshops or public libraries, working in bookshops, or anything else book-related.

Lucy: It’s also important to bring attention to any other relevant skills you might have. Demonstrate your cross-transferable skills! Whilst not all your experience to date may be in a library setting, you can still use previous experience to evidence good communication and interpersonal skills, as well as an ability to work as part of a team.

Katherine: Bring out any other experience you’ve had! A lot of librarianship is focused on customer service skills, for example – or any time you’ve done a lot of work with spreadsheets, or creating displays. It’s not just all about a love of books!

Think ahead

Ellen: Employers will want to know what you are planning to do once your traineeship is over. One of the main reasons Graduate Trainee positions exist is to give trainees the skills and experience they need for library school. If you want to go on to gain a postgraduate qualification in Libraries & Information, make sure you let them know that! Of course, plans can change, but having some idea of where you want your career to go is a huge advantage.


We hope these tips help you put together a truly stand-out Library Graduate Trainee application. To find out more about current vacancies, you can check out our Twitter thread of library traineeships that opened for applications this month (many of which are closing soon, so be quick!), or keep checking Information Professional Jobs throughout the next few months.

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!