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!

A Day in the Life at Pembroke College Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10:30-11:00 – Tea break

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

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

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

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

12:30-13:00/30 Lunch

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

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

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

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

15:30-16:00 Tea break

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

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

16:00-17:00 – Archive biographies project

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

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