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. 

Queens’ College War Memorial Library and Old Library visit

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

The Long Gallery in Cloister Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UL Tour

A collaboration between Lauren Pratt, D Saxelby & Jess Hollerton.

Introduction

Something you might have noted from our other posts, like our post on a visit to Cambridge Central Library, is that we get many opportunities to tour different libraries around Cambridge. Today, we were lucky enough to receive an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour from the Cambridge University Library (UL), featuring talks from senior members of staff from a wealth of different teams. These included rare books, digital collections, cataloguing, legal deposit and acquisitions teams. I spent a lot of time as an undergrad at the UL, but never did I quite understand (or even think about) the scope and depth of effort and upkeep fronted by the teams here.

Outside view of the UL
The UL from the outside

The exact date on which the University Library was established is somewhat up in the air, it’s generally agreed to be around the fifteenth century. No computers meant no iDiscover, no iDiscover meant no online records of books, no online records of books meant, well, they had to use paper records. So, if you were looking for a certain book, you had to (potentially) spend hours scanning through stacks of files until you found the written record and location of the book you wanted. I don’t think anyone could envision doing that in the 21st Century. Can you imagine trying to get by on paper records that are in one location? Hundreds of students fumbling over that one crucial text on the recommended reading list – sometimes technology is a good thing! It was interesting though, to grasp an idea of how technology has shaped the lives of these books.

On our tour, we saw incredible things, from a piece of manuscript from the 8th century written in ancient Sanskrit, to the personal diary of Charles Darwin, to a step-by-step guide on how Sir Issaac Newton undertook an experiment on the colour spectrum by sticking objects into his own eyes – ouch. It was incredible to discover just exactly how these teams fit together in one huge library jigsaw. Their day-to-day work is so diverse, yet the teams are united in sharing one common goal: creating the library.

General tour – Jess

It’s a well-known fact that that University Library is a bit of a labyrinth. The students tell horror stories about people who went inside and never made it out again, cursed to wander the halls of a modern-day Daedalus for eternity, another soul claimed by the hungry depths of the UL. (Or something to that effect, I may have over-dramatised.) Since my undergraduate degree, I have loved the UL immensely and I thought that after three years of using it while a student, there weren’t many more secrets it could reveal. I was, quite clearly, wrong.

One of our first stops on our tour is the Catalogue Hall, a room which I had walked through hundreds of times before, but never paid any attention. The current catalogue for most libraries in Cambridge, including the UL, is hosted online but prior to this, as Lauren mentioned earlier, the catalogues were kept as books or written and filed on individual cards. The books which make up the former are still kept in the UL on open access, and together they take up all the shelving of an entire room. The card catalogue is also still accessible, the hundreds of thousands of records kept in tiny, perfectly sized drawers. Whilst it is not normally necessary to use these, there are apparently certain collections where the physical catalogues are still the fastest way to search them.

One of the things which distinguishes the UL from other legal deposit libraries is the amount of material which is kept on open shelving, available for any member of the UL to browse – and, for those with borrowing privileges, to borrow. The North and South Fronts and Wings, and West Four are all open access, as well as several other more specific collections. A significant proportion of the collection, however, is housed in either closed stacks or off-site storage. If you want to use these, they need to be requested and picked up from our next stop, the main Reading Room. As well as requesting non-borrowable material here, there are also desks for working at, and terminals for viewing Electronic Legal Deposit material. As we enter, the room is silent apart from the shuffling of paper and the clicking of laptop keys. It feels like how I would imagine a medieval scriptorium.

One of the stops on our tour

All this is accessible to all the UL’s members, but our next stop takes us behind doors marked ‘Private’, deeper into the library’s depths. As we entered the staff-only corridors, I lost my sense of direction alarmingly quickly, and was forced to follow close behind our guide for fear of never seeing the sunlight again. It was fantastic, and I could quite happily have done it all day. In one of the corridors we came across a huge set of grey-silver metal and glass doors that looked uncannily like the iconic red telephone box – which it turns out that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of the UL, also designed. This warren of corridors led us into the sections of the library that are usually off-limits to all but staff, including the closed stacks, where on-site books that are not borrowable are stored, and the offices of various departments – for example, the Legal Deposit team and the Digital Content Unit, both of which we would visit later. One of the closed stacks we saw was the storage for modern journals and magazines. We were challenged to find the strangest or most niche magazine in the collection; I found a modern magazine for the Clangers and someone else found Scottish Beekeeping!

After this, our final stop was through another maze of corridors, to the Rare Books Reading Room, and I’ll let D, the Pembroke trainee, take over from here.

Rare books – D

While most of the college libraries in Cambridge have a special collection containing rare books, I wasn’t quite prepared for the treasure trove which was shown to us in the UL. Pembroke’s special collections are relatively extensive and very fascinating, but the UL has more rare books than I could have dreamed of – though we didn’t get to see just how many there were until the end of our tour of the rare books reading room.

When we arrived, a member of the rare books team had laid out several interesting rare books for us to look at. Among these was a first edition of Shakespeare’s first folio (published in 1623), which was in pristine condition – it was almost impossible to tell that these pages were nearly 500 years old, other than for the discolouration on the fore-edge of the book. Unfortunately, this book was not in its original binding, but had been beautifully rebound in the Victorian period, an era in which ornate bindings were considered a sign of wealth. We can only despair that they did not see the importance of an original text – however it does mean that this book is steeped in the history of more than one period.

Similarly, we were shown a book which had been rebound with a red velvet binding, on the front of which was the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth I. One theory is that this book was owned by Queen Elizabeth I, which would explain its luxurious binding. Another book which felt particularly historical was a medical textbook, in which a local apothecary had annotated descriptions of surgeries he performed. One of the annotations is suspected to be the first written account of what I think was a full body dissection, though my memory is not perfect, and unfortunately my palaeography skills are lacking when it comes to medical terminology! The passage begins: ‘1565. the 27th of marche I did make anatomie…’ and is written on reddish brown paper – stained by the blood of the corpse! It

seems that he had the book open whilst he performed the dissection, reading the relevant information, which has made for an interesting historical object!

Particularly fascinating to me was a late 15th century text titled The Nuremberg Chronicle (the Liber Chronicarum in the original Latin), by Hartmann Schedel. Having done an MA in European Renaissance studies, I was thrilled to find scattered throughout this text many beautiful images, printed with illustrations suspected to have been made by none other than Albrecht Dürer himself! Although it cannot be confirmed which of the illustrations are Dürer’s, the suspicion seems highly probable in light of the fact that the publisher and printer was Anton Koberger, Dürer’s godfather. Like the first edition of Shakespeare’s first folio, this text was incredibly well preserved; the hand-painted illustrations still pop with colour 528 years after the book’s publication. To physically turn the pages of such historic texts made this part of the tour, alongside the manuscripts (which I will discuss later), the most exciting for me.

Finally, we were taken into an enormous room where the rare books are shelved – and then into another of the same size! It is impossible to describe how extensive this collection is without seeing it for yourself. These books are shelved using a variety of classification schemes, but one section that we all enjoyed learning about was ‘Arcana’, marked with the label ‘DO NOT FETCH’. The Arcana section contains a variety of books which were banned for different reasons (it is best to use your imagination here), spanning a large time period which leads up to texts that faced lawsuits in the modern world. These books are not available for viewing by anyone, and must remain on the closed shelves under lock and key – though they demonstrate just how exciting the position of Rare Books Librarian at the UL is – who wouldn’t want access to texts which can be viewed by no one else?

Digital content unit – Lauren

My highlight of the tour was the digital collections team as they fused creativity with technology to preserve the past.

Fresh eyes laid upon texts that are centuries old can produce new, exciting perspectives for exploration and research. However, due to everyone’s favourite friend – aging – this is not always possible. Pages crafted from finite resources like crate paper or palm leaves after a while become too delicate for our oily fingers, the ink fades and becomes illegible. The wonderful words and beautiful artwork from thousands of years ago become forgotten, and the roads for research and new ideas close. Thankfully, the digital collections team at the UL have this in hand.

Armed with lights, cameras, and a plethora of new-fangled tech equipment, the team demonstrated just how they use modern technologies to their advantage, extrapolating methods from photography and lighting to preserve the delicate detail displayed in the library’s special collection. For instance, they can manipulate lighting to uncover text that had been written over. On that note, check out the UL’s exhibition ghost words which is based all around this! It runs until December 4th 2021.

It appears that, to become a digital archivist, a person can come from a diverse background. Not many of the team members had master’s degrees in library-related subjects, which is great news for accessibility. They also came from diverse academic backgrounds too. Supposedly, anywhere from computational linguistics to modern Greek, digital archives, media studies to physics.

Whether it’s historical significance or individuality of the item, or even scribbled notes of a mad scientist, it will tell a fascinating tale about the history of mankind, and thanks to this team, can now be looked upon by humans for generations to come.

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.

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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.