There’s No Place Like Home(rton): Addenbrookes Medical Library and Homerton College Library

Near the end of April the trainees set off on yet another adventure – this time to Addenbrooke’s Medical Library and Homerton College Library. Firstly, we met up at Addenbrooke’s, with our various commutes ranging from cycling, to buses from town and, rather excitingly for me, riding the entire length of the U bus from Eddington. Having spent a bit too much time in the Addenbrooke’s A&E department myself over the past few years, it made a nice change to instead head for the Clinical School where the library is situated!

When we arrived we were met by the librarian, who introduced us to the library and gave us a tour. The Medical Library is unique compared to others we have visited before, as it caters for NHS staff as well as medical students doing clinical placements and postgraduate researchers. Therefore, although one might think that the collection in such a library would be fairly narrow in range, it actually is very broad in scope in order to provide for the varying needs of the users. The collection is classified according to the National Library of Medicine classification scheme, which is adapted from the Library of Congress classification scheme. We were given some useful advice by the librarian for when we’re classifying these books – never look at the pictures in books on skin diseases! In addition to textbooks and journals, the library also stocks an impressive wellbeing collection which, as the librarian pointed out to us, is extremely important for NHS workers!

As well as physical resources, the library is especially keen to provide other forms of support. Teaching is seen as extremely important, with the librarians offering support in general skills such as searching for resources as well as more specific tasks such as how to effectively conduct a systematic review – a concept that I was actually familiar with due to some science-based papers I took during my music degree, but was fairly alien to most of our humanities-skewed cohort! The physical space of the library is also designed to provide for its variety of users; there are desks with computers, beanbags, pods for online meetings, and a newly-painted meeting room.

Following our tour it was time for the obligatory tea/coffee and biscuits (though I have to say we were especially treated with the biscuit selection this time around)! We chatted to the librarians about how they had ended up in medical libraries and, as we seem to find everywhere we go, there was no one, obvious career path. I suppose that, as so much of library work is ‘learnt on the job’ – in my case, everything I know about libraries has been learnt over the course of this year! – it’s never too late to make the switch over to librarianship. This got us talking about the wide range of jobs available within librarianship. I think we were all tempted by the idea of becoming a librarian on a cruise ship…

After our trip to Addenbrooke’s, we set off for our next stop – Homerton College. Luckily for us, the library is situated right near the main entrance (actually in the same building as the Porters’ Lodge) and so we were able to find our meeting point much more easily than the last time we were at Homerton for our Applying to Library School session! We were met by the librarian and first taken into the library office, where we were all very pleased by the amount of cuddly toys that lived there. We were especially honoured to meet Homer the Hedgehog, the library’s mascot, whose adorable adventures are well-documented on the Homerton College Library Instagram account! Next, we were given a tour of the library. The Homerton Library can feel very big when you walk in, due to its open-plan design, and it is open 24/7 for college members. However, despite a potentially intimidating design, the librarians are keen to make the library as welcoming and accessible as possible. The librarian showed us a large poster to help students navigate the space and various beanbags and jigsaws are located on the ground floor. It was also explained to us that they stock their wellbeing books alongside books about life-skills such as cooking or bike maintenance, so students didn’t have to uncomfortable about going to a special ‘self-help’ section. We then had a quick look around the rest of the library, including Homerton’s well-stocked children’s literature collection of which I was very jealous!

By now we were all flagging a bit and so we went to get a substantial (and, even better, free!) lunch in the hall, which we followed with another obligatory round of tea and coffee. Again, we chatted with the librarian about different career progressions – one of the Homerton librarians comes from a STEM background! – as well as how Homerton is unique compared to most other college libraries due to its need to provide for the college’s vast amount of PGCE students.

Overall it was a very busy but highly interesting day seeing the two very different libraries and we would like to extend our thanks to the librarians at Addenbrooke’s and Homerton College for accommodating us!

A trip down memory lane at Clare College Libraries

Outside of the (jam packed!) timetable of events, workshops and visits planned for the trainee librarians over the year of our traineeships, we are also encouraged to organise our own trips relating to our librarianship interests and our library training.

As an alumna of Clare College, I was very excited to hear that the Fellows’ Library at Clare was finally re-opening, after being out of operation for 5 years, with the collection being in specialist storage since 2018 as a part of building and refurbishment in Old Court. This closure spanned over my own three years as an undergraduate at Clare, so I never got to see or use the Fellow’s Library. So, I set about organising a trip for the trainees to visit Clare College and to have a tour of both the Fellows’ library and the student library across the way in Memorial Court. I also wanted to organise this trip in part because I owe the Forbes Mellon Library for my pursuit of librarianship; it was working there part-time in the summer of 2022 where I fell in love with librarianship (I was particularly a big fan of book covering and labelling – I love a cut and stick activity) and working there is also how I learnt about the Graduate Traineeships.

Forbes Mellon Library

We began our trip congregating in Memorial Court on Queens’ Road, which hit me with a wave of nostalgia as I lived here for all three years of my degree. The Forbes Mellon Library (FML) was our first stop; located in the heart of Memorial Court, the FML was constructed in 1986, to accommodate the growing number of undergraduates studying at the college. On entering the building, the librarian pointed out a series of portraits of women Fellows hanging on the balcony, which houses the closed-access shelves of the library. A particular favourite of the group was a portrait featuring a plush frog. She explained that these were part of a series of celebrations in the college commemorating the 50th anniversary of the changing of statutes to include women among the students and Fellowship, making Clare the first Cambridge college to have co-education in 1972. Another artistic feature of the college, a statue entitled HOMMAGE, which stands between the Forbes Mellon Library and the University Library, was also acquired as part of the 50th anniversary.

Inside the FML

It was also explained that this library has a rather rare feature; it shares a building with several music practice rooms! This is an interesting combination, given the unique silence of library spaces… but surprisingly one that works in nice harmony, with very few disturbances occurring. There is also a Library Common room located in the building, which is highly frequented by students, which serves as a relaxed area to study or take a break. This space is harmoniously run by the Union of Clare Students and the library team, with calming colouring books, a casual reading selection (borrowable on trust), and free hot drinks and biscuits available. One of the projects I worked on while working there was to weed this collection, to keep it updated and relevant for the students.

Entering the main library itself, we first saw the display table which is located directly in front of you as you enter the building, where a brand-new display was set up, featuring books, DVD’s and other items from the collection relating to women’s history month. On our way to a side room that contains the printer and monitors, as well as housing the welfare and academic collections, we walked past a station full of equipment free for students to use, from staplers to whiteboards. There was some interest amongst the group as to how the items were picked, and whether the Clare students seemed to find them useful. We were then led up to the first floor, where we could fully appreciate the beautiful shelving that runs along the walls of the hexagonal building, with their huge bay windows filling the library with light (many an essay of mine was written on one of these window seats, so apologise if I am a little biased about their loveliness). The librarian also explained how they had been working on a reclassification project recently on their history collection; you can read more about reclassification and its role in library decolonisation projects in Liz’s blog here.

Law Reading Rooms

One of Clare’s Law Reading Rooms

We then filed out of the Forbes Mellon, and turned into one of the staircases, where the college archives were pointed out to us. Here we visited the two Law Reading Rooms, (the Lipstein and Turpin rooms) which both law and land economy students in the college have access to, with the Turpin room also having a computer room. These rooms have their own library collection, for reference only. As with most of the windows in the library, and in Memorial Court generally, the University Library is ever-present. A particular selling-point of Clare is just how close the libraries are, with Sidgwick site also being just a couple minutes away. The librarian explained how this close proximity also helps them to facilitate access to the books their students need.

Fellows’ Library

Clare Old Court over Clare Bridge

Making our way across the road and through Clare Old Court, with spring flowers blooming beautifully along the walkway, we briefly stopped on Clare Bridge where I pointed out one of my personal favourite features of the college – The Wedge – which, like many old-Cambridge things, has several combating mythologise surrounding it, all more absurd than the last. On the way to the Old Library we passed the newly refurbished Old Hall, and also a Medieval Chest. Several colleges with Old Libraries have chests such as this, which at one point would have functioned much like a library in that they stored key documents of the college, in fact this chest specifically is referred to anecdotally as the “earliest library of the College” and is roughly dated to the fifteenth century. We were then led through the senior common room to reach the Library; this placement of the library, between the Masters’ Lodge and SCR, and accessible from either side, is indicative of the central role the library has historically had in Clare.

This photograph of the Fellows’ Library is reproduced by kind permission of the Master, Fellows and Scholars of Clare College.

On entering the Fellows’ Library, we met with the Assistant Librarian who had kindly laid out a selection of the collection for us to look at. This included highlights such as Cassius Dio of Bythynia (1592), edited by Henri Estienne, which came to the library from Master Charles Morgan (1678-1736, Master 1726-1736), and which is still in its original late-16th century binding, with fragments of a Hebrew manuscript. Both the Clare librarians and many of the graduate trainees had been to the 2023 Sandars Lectures, which were on Cambridge University bindings, so we had particular interest in three Cambridge bindings from the collection, two of which are believed to be from the workshops of early Cambridge binders John Siberch and Nicholas Spierineck, and one which showcased a pink covering!

Alongside this, we also had the opportunity to meander around the exhibition in the Fellows’ Library which was curated by the Fellows’ Librarian, Prof. Tim Chesters, which featured selections from the collection on the theme of “America”. We also heard about the (somewhat tumultuous) history of libraries in the college, including a presumed fire which sadly caused the loss of much of the earliest part of the collection, as well as learning about the process of moving the books to specialised storage, working with the collection while it was in storage, and the process of having it all returned to college. It was fascinating to hear about movement of rare books on this scale.

River Café

We finished the trip in the new extension of the college – the River Room Café – which still had views of the University Library through its windows. We were kindly treated to a hot drink while we chatted to the Clare library team about their own experiences as trainees and their careers as well as our own plans and goals. The Clare librarians were very kind, receptive and welcoming to us visiting, for which we are very grateful, and I want to personally thank them, for teaching me the foundations from which I am developing my librarianship practice in my traineeship, for nurturing my love of libraries, and for running a wonderful library for Clare students.

View across the river in the River Room Café, with the University Library in the distance

Ely Trip Part 2: a spin around Cambridgeshire Archives

After a quick lunch and short walk to see the outside of Ely’s cathedral, we headed to the Cambridgeshire Archives, a former bowling alley that has been expertly converted into an archive centre. The Archive holds records dating back to the 13th century, relating to the area now covered by Cambridgeshire (which includes Huntingdonshire and the Isle of Ely).

The archivist began our tour in the strong room, pointing out the features which made the former bowling alley an ideal space to store archives, such as the easy access areas and lack of windows. As the interior was renovated prior to the archives being moved to the new site, they were able to ensure the space could be completely functional for storing special records, with systems in place to keep the temperature at a constant 19°c and the humidity at 50%. This also included setting up a small quarantine room just as you enter the storage area, where newly received documents are initially taken to be checked for possible risks, such as mould or silverfish – pests you definitely don’t want in your archives!

Most of the records are kept in boxes on mobile shelves, with enough space to hopefully last for the next 25 years. The archivist explained that they try to place highly requested items on the front shelves, such as parish records and maps, to ease accessibility. With many of the items being official records for the county, and therefore irreplaceable, they also have to maintain good security. In total, the Archive currently holds 20 million documents in approximately 35,000 boxes – the weight of 171 elephants we were told!

After finishing our tour of the storage area, we were shown into the Archive’s conservation room, full of contraptions and equipment to clean, preserve and restore archival items. For example, stretched out on the table was an early 17th century map, which the team were flattening and cleaning prior to it being digitised.

This posed a good segue to the next space we were led into, the digitisation and scanning room. The Archive employs a professional photographer to create high quality digital images of the collection, providing a useful income stream as they prioritise digitising requested items. The photographer had just finished a digital image of the Cromwell family tree from the 16th-17th century – the original document is huge, and so the photographer had stitched multiple images together to create a seamless, high-definition digital copy.

Following the digitisation room, we also dropped in on the Cataloguing and Accessioning team, where we discussed the Archive’s policies on collection storage and their use of CALM catalogue – an archive management system. It was interesting seeing the similarities and differences between how they catalogue archival material, and our own experiences with cataloguing books using library management systems. 

Finally, we ended our tour in the reading room, and chatted with the archive assistants about their roles and the kinds of queries they deal with. Their jobs involve copious amounts of research and detective-like work, such as tracing ancestors, finding family archives, and uncovering information needed for land disputes.

Helping families and the local community is a key function of the team, and the archivist mentioned how the image of archives has changed from formerly being a space for academics, to now being open and welcoming to the public. For instance, the Archive runs numerous outreach activities with school groups, taking them on tours of the space and putting out a ‘wow’ display of items, such as letters from famous people, and (always popular) the smallest and biggest items held in the collection. The archivist had kindly prepared a ‘wow’ table for us in the reading room too, showcasing the plethora of material that Cambridgeshire Archives owns. This ranged from a collection of late 19th century mugshots featuring local people accused of crimes, to documents dating from 1855 relating to Cambridge Free Library, and also a collection of notes on nineteenth century Whittlesford and its neighbourhood by local antiquary and natural historian George Nathan Maynard. A particular favourite of all the trainees was a spectacular hand illustrated history of Little Shelford by Fanny Lucretia Wale, compiled between 1908-1919, which featured beautiful watercolour images of the local area.

Thank you to the team at Cambridgeshire Archives for giving us such a lovely tour, and for providing us with an insight into the work that local archives do!

Ely Trip Part 1: Behind-the-Scenes at Cambridge University Library Storage Facility

On a wet and windy day at the end of February, the trainees hopped on a train to Ely, with visits scheduled for both the Cambridge University Library Storage Facility (LSF), and the Cambridgeshire Archives.

After initial difficulties figuring out how to get to the LSF (Uber failed us!), we eventually squeezed into a taxi and made it to the large warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The LSF is a purpose-built warehouse, providing over 100km of shelving space with the potential for holding up to 5.5 million items. With the UL being a Legal Deposit library, and therefore entitled to claim a copy of every published item in the UK and Ireland, the LSF is a useful solution for storing low use printed material, freeing up space in the UL for higher demand items.

Following the journey of a book through the LSF system, the warehouse team began our tour in the loading bay, where crates of books are received every day from the UL. The books are all sorted by size, using a wooden measuring scale to determine their category – this will then denote which size tray the books are stored in.

We were then taken through to the processing room, and shown the large pile of acid free cardboard ready to be transformed into trays. The team explained how they initially had to construct a tray every 90 seconds when the facility first opened to keep up with the number of books arriving from the UL. One of the trainees had a go at building a tray themselves, finding out first hand how fiddly they can be!

Once sorted into trays by size and weighed to make sure they are not too heavy for the shelves, every book is given a unique barcode and scanned onto the warehouse management system. This is then linked to the unique barcode given to the tray, which is then further connected to the barcode of the shelf where the tray is placed – all in all, the three barcode system ensures every book is tracked and can be found again. Each tray goes through quality control, with all items being double checked to make sure nothing has been misplaced. Having such a well organised system is essential for the smooth running of the LSF – as items can still be requested by readers from the UL, the team need to know where every book is stored, and keep track of where they will need to reshelve it once it’s returned.

Our final stop was the store room, where rows of 11m high shelves towered above us, with over 100,000 trays currently stacked upon them and room for another 300,000 more. The lower shelves can be accessed easily by the workers from the ground, and therefore hold smaller and lighter items. Larger and heavier items are shelved higher up, requiring the use of cherry-picker type machines, where trolleys of books can be loaded onto the back. Excitingly, we were all given the opportunity to go up in the cherry-pickers, which feel far faster than they look as they speed down the aisles! Many of the trainees didn’t quite realise how scared of heights they were until 11m up in the air – it’s definitely not a job for the faint hearted! The possibility of dropping a tray of book from this height was also terrifying to consider, although the warehouse team assured us this was very unlikely to happen, as the trolley on the back of the cherry-pickers is designed so that you can slide the trays onto the shelves, avoiding any heavy lifting and reducing the risk of things falling.

As the books are all organised by size, we noticed the variety of items that were placed together in trays, such as children’s books, modern literary fiction, cookbooks, and nineteenth century novels. The LSF mostly holds books, but there is also storage for maps, with drawers holding a range of material from ministry of defence maps to ordnance survey maps. We also saw some rather creepy looking paintings tucked down one of the aisles!

We had a wonderful time looking around the LSF and seeing all the behind-the-scenes aspects of how the UL maintains and stores its vast collection, whilst keeping it available for current and future researchers. Thank you to the LSF team for giving us such an in-depth tour and introducing us to how library warehouses operate. See part two of the Ely trip for our visit to Cambridgeshire Archives!

Chu-Can do anything! Our visit to the Churchill Archives Centre and Churchill College Libraries

On 11th March, the trainees got together once again for an exciting visit to the Churchill Archives Centre, as well as Churchill College Library. We were met by the lovely group of Archive staff who led us to the conservation studio. The conservator was hard at work doing some paper repairs using a very fine Japanese paper. Despite its fineness and fragile appearance, the long kozo fibres in this kind of paper make it both strong and pliable, perfect for repairing holes and tears in all kinds of paper. He also showed us a binding repair he was working on. Instead of repairing the spine of a large book with leather to match the leather binding, he was using a much thicker version of the Japanese paper, carefully painted to resemble the blue leather used to bind the rest of the book. This was a technique none of us had seen before and we loved hearing about how these kinds of repairs take place. Most of the work the conservators deal with is preventative work – especially when it comes to storage. When items are accessioned, they are carefully stored inside acid-free folders and boxes to prevent further damage, which hopefully saves conservators from doing more intensive reparative work in the future.

Next, we were led to the strongroom where many of the Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher items are kept. The archivists had kindly taken out some collection highlights to show us, including Thatcher’s own toy cat, Stanley, and her handbag, along with pictures as ample evidence that these were in fact the Real Deal.

Stanley the cat, who lived at 10 Downing Street with Margaret Thatcher.
(Below) The actual handbag of Margaret Thatcher (and the actual thumb of the Pembroke Trainee).

I asked whether the archives centre has a formal acquisitions policy, and we were told that the collection was initially centred on Churchill and his friends/associates, as well as other UK Prime Ministers. Now, it focuses more generally on modern political and scientific papers; as the Archives Centre website outlines, ‘Our collections encompass the personal papers of individuals who made and remade British domestic politics and international relations, advanced scientific knowledge, and who observed or transformed society, economics and culture.’

One of the archive assistants also pointed out that the centre has an unusually large naval collection relating to Stephen Roskill, who was a Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College, as well as a senior career officer of the Royal Navy, and who served during the Second World War.

One of the strongrooms in Churchill Archives Centre.

We spoke briefly about how digital archiving works, as this seems to be a growing concern among archivists with the rapidly evolving world of digital media. The archivists mentioned that there are various floppy disks and other kinds of data-storing hardware at the archives centre, which are proving difficult to draw information from. The concern with digital media is that technology will change at such a rate and in such a way that material stored in a certain form might eventually become inaccessible – which also makes investing money in certain technology or data storage an inherently risky process. For now, the team at Churchill store digital archives like emails in three copies, all hosted in separate locations, to ensure they are not lost to data breaches or corruption. It’s an aspect of archive work I had not considered before as most of the archives at Trinity predate digital media, and only exist in hard copy. I don’t doubt, though, that digital archives will present some new and compelling challenges to the archivists that work with them as time goes on!

Churchill Archives Centre Reading Room.

As we wandered up to the Archives Centre Reading Room, the team noted that, upon his death, Winston Churchill’s official papers were taken to be stored in the National Archive, while only his personal papers are kept at Churchill Archives Centre. I think we all agreed that the personal papers are far more interesting anyway!

For example, we were shown a copy of Churchill’s rather concerning school report from April 1884, which stated that his general conduct was ‘very bad’, that he ‘is a constant trouble to everybody, and is always in some scrape or other’, along with the comment that ‘he cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere’. Not the most encouraging review of a future Prime Minister!

I wonder how he would have fared in comparison to the ‘Leadership Qualities’ drawn up to compare Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock, which lists ‘Ruthless’ as one of Thatcher’s principal qualities, with the caveat ‘don’t desire, but suspect necessary’.

Another highlight from the reading room was “Bomb-proof Bella”, a photograph of an adorable and quite nervous looking dachshund who survived three trips to Dunkirk aboard the HMS Sandown!

“Bomb-proof Bella”.

The trainees also enjoyed this survey of young people’s ‘perceptions of the future’, some of which were bang on (like the prediction that ‘people will go abroad much more than at present’ and that ‘most roads will be choked with cars at nearly all times of the day’). Only 59% of people thought that ‘every family will have a telephone’ and fewer still believed that ‘men and women will take equal shares in housework and looking after children’ (45%)! Looking at some of these surprising and often disquieting predictions was a harsh reminder that we have come so far in many ways, and not so far in others…

These were predictions from 1970 about the year 2000. Here are some library-related predictions from the trainees about what life will be like 30 years from now, all the way in 2054:

Harriet predicts that ‘in 30 years’ time, they will still be publishing Rainbow Magic Fairy books.’ (what a blast from the past!)

Anna predicts that ‘there will be a new system to rival Dewey.’ (Let’s hope so!)

And I (Liz) predict that faculty and department libraries will slowly evolve into “hub” spaces, and focus on health and wellbeing, as well as study!

After we had enjoyed some more archive highlights, the Churchill College Librarian kindly offered us a tour around the student libraries. We began in the Bracken Library, the entrance hall of which was home to a glorious display commemorating Neurodiversity Celebration Week, as well as a seed library! Here the students can help themselves to the range of flower and vegetable seeds which they can sow into small beds on their windowsills. (Very jealous that we don’t have this at Trinity!)

Dominating the Bracken Library was a vast and beautiful tapestry called ‘Etoile de Paris’ by Jean Lurçat, who donated it to the college in 1961. Under the watchful eye of the tapestry’s woven cockerel, the librarian explained that the Bracken is where the sciences and social sciences collections are kept, and that everything in Churchill is catalogued according to the Dewey Decimal system.

The arts and humanities collections are housed in Churchill’s other library, the Bevin Library. The entrance to this part of the building was host to yet more delightful displays, this time for Women’s History Month. The trainees were especially fond of the whiteboard asking for song recommendations by female artists for the Library playlist. (We even contributed a few tunes! If you’re curious, the final playlist can be found on Spotify here!)

In the Bevin, students were enjoying some more relaxed seating in the company of Churchill’s library mascot, Chu-Can the Toucan. And if that wasn’t enough, there was even a box of Pet Rocks leftover from a wellbeing event, which now live in the library for everyone to enjoy! Needless to say, the trainees were thoroughly obsessed, with rocks, with Toucan and with the library as a whole.

After some tea with our wonderful hosts, the archives team, we wandered on to our next trip of the afternoon at West Hub! We want to thank the incredible staff at Churchill Archives Centre and Churchill College Library for kindly hosting us.

Knitting, Wood Engravers and Sylvia Plath – Our Visit to Newnham College Library

At the beginning of March, the trainees made our way to Newnham College for a tour around their college library. Newnham was founded in 1871 as a residence for women attending lectures at the university (long before they could become full members in 1948) and to this day, remains a women-only college.

After arriving at the library we were met by last year’s trainee, who has stayed on at Newnham in the role of Special Collections Project Library Assistant. It’s always nice to hear about which jobs ex-trainees have gone on to do! First we were taken into the library lobby, where the library assistant explained to us that the library is open from 6.30am-1.45am in order to encourage students to get some sleep. This seems to be a common reoccurrence in many college libraries – whilst some are open 24/7, others believe that this can promote an unhealthy work-sleep balance and that students would regularly pull all-nighters unless they are physically locked out of the library! The library assistant also showed us the hand-bound library guides and her new book display which we were all very impressed to hear is updated every day! It certainly beats my mass-printed guides and once-a-month display changes at my own college library…

We were next shown a board which was covered in bookmarks that are given to each student in their first year, which they can then write book recommendations on and stick up. This contributed to the sense of community which was felt throughout the library, possibly due to the college’s history of being a safe space for those excluded from the university and its current status as a women-only college. The library has a book exchange, a women’s and LGBT+ collection curated by the JCR, and features displays put together by current students. Our favourite example of the Newnham community spirit, however, had to be the Library Knitting Box – I think we’re all tempted to return to Newnham at some point to take part in their regular knitting nights!

As well as the academic books kept for students, the library has a ‘shelf-help’ section which works on the basis of anonymous borrowing and contains books on welfare and study guides. There is also a section with graphic novels, modern fiction, modern poetry and periodicals. As is becoming a common concern in libraries, the library assistant explained to us that they had been unsure whether the periodicals were actually being used. She showed us her ingenious yet simple solution – a quick survey put up in the periodicals area where patrons put a tick next to the name of the periodicals they used. Surprisingly this demonstrated that they were far more popular than she had thought! Less surprising though was the fact that she mentioned they had lots of old journals to get rid of. I know in my own library we’re having discussions about whether years’ worth of journals are a practical use of space, given feedback suggests that the vast majority of students only access these online. A slightly random addition to the library is Blaise Pascal’s death mask (which apparently has its own BeReal account?) – the library assistant revealed that some students prefer to work with it watching over them. I suppose whatever encourages you to finish that essay!

We were next taken into the old half of the library – a Grade II* listed building which we were all very pleased to hear houses the humanities books as well as various collections. These include the Bloomsbury collection, which contains first edition works and related items by Virginia Woolf, and the Rogers collection, which contains children’s literature. Originally donated to Newnham as a joke in the early 20th century – the implication being that, as women, this was all the students were capable of reading – this collection includes folktales and fairy tales from around the world. The main collection is classified with an in-house scheme that is loosely based on the Library of Congress classification scheme. The advantage of this is that the classmarks can be adapted as the collection evolves, such as by adding a 21st century section. The ceiling of the old library is especially impressive, with panels displaying different printers’ marks. We were equally delighted to see a replica of a banner that was taken by Newnham and Girton students to suffragette marches – one of many reminders found in the library of Newnham’s history of supporting women’s rights and education.

The library assistant then showed us something very special – an exhibition which had just been installed, making us the first people to see it! She explained that during her trainee year, she had spent a lot of time with the Jaffé collection (Patricia Jaffé being a Research Fellow from 1962 who was also an accomplished wood engraver). This collection was donated by Jaffé’s family in 2022 and has around 450 books, featuring illustrations by 20th and 21st century women wood engravers. The exhibition features a selection from this collection and the library assistant gave us an extremely informative talk about her choices, as well as the art of wood engraving itself. I can now safely say I know the difference between a woodcut and a wood engraving! My personal favourite item in the exhibition was a small toy horse belonging to a current fellow at Newnham. Nora Unwin, a wood engraver, had lived with her family during the war and, during this time, had written and illustrated a book about the horse, which is also featured in the exhibition.

Following our visit to the exhibition, it was time for some hard-earned tea and biscuits in the library kitchen. Discussions ranged from tips from the library assistant on planning exhibitions (I will definitely be taking her advice on making a to-scale diagram!), to the history of Braille, to some interesting items found by one of the trainees in some manuscripts they had been going through (as well as speculation on how said items may have got there). To finish the afternoon we went for a walk through Newnham’s beautiful gardens in order to find the house where Sylvia Plath had lived in as a student – we are mainly ex-English students after all!

We would like to thank the Special Collections Project Library Assistant for such an engaging and informative tour, as well as the whole library team at Newnham for allowing us to spend our afternoon in their gorgeous library.

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!

St Catharine’s College Library Visit

Although not one of the libraries we were scheduled to visit for our traineeships, the librarian at St Catharine’s kindly extended an invitation to visit their library, which we eagerly accepted. We’re all very grateful for any opportunity to see different libraries, and with every Cambridge college library being unique, this was a great chance to see how another library works and how they support their students.

St Catharine’s has two student library spaces – the eighteenth-century Sherlock library holds the collections for Modern and Medieval Languages and Literature, English, and Art, whilst the newer 1980s Shakeshaft library contains the material for all other subjects.

We began our tour at the Shakeshaft library, marvelling at how much light the big windows at the front let in to create a bright study space at the front of the library. The librarian confirmed that both the long line of desks in front of the window and the comfy seating area beside it were popular spaces in the library. Our attention was immediately grabbed though by the large duck sat on the sofas, which had been given the perfectly accurate name ‘Big Duck’. Big Duck is a great initiative run by St Catharine’s library – the small tag around its neck states that Big Duck is ‘available for gentle hugs’ and that students can take it to sit with them whilst they’re in the library, having it serve as a giant study-buddy to support them through times of stress.

The maze-like layout of the shelves in Shakeshaft produces lots of little nooks you can get lost in exploring books, with most of the study spaces tucked around the edges. The tall shelves actually support the ceiling of the library, and are therefore a permanent design feature.

Another interesting initiative the library has introduced is how they loan their wellbeing and light reading collections – students don’t take the books out on their card but instead borrow them anonymously on a basis of trust for as long as they need. This is a great way for students to feel comfortable borrowing any books within these collections, and helps improve their accessibility and inclusivity. The wellbeing and fiction books themselves were all nicely organised on the shelves, further making it an approachable and welcoming space to borrow from.

As we circled back to the front of the library, we were shown the display on Thomas Sherlock, a former Master of St Catharine’s, who left both money and his personal book collection to the college library. Alongside an image of Sherlock’s portrait, painted by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, the library team had done some detective work and managed to find a finely decorated book in their collection which looked very similar to the one he is holding in the painting – the first of four volumes of ‘Several discourses preached at the Temple Church’ by Tho. Sherlock, printed 1754-58.

The display was a good introduction to the name behind the Sherlock library – St Catharine’s older library space and our next destination. With its high white ceilings and original dark wooden shelves, the Sherlock library is a beautiful space which perfectly evokes those aesthetic academia type vibes.  The librarian emphasised the importance of keeping this as a working library rather than as a place for the rare book collection, providing the students with a usable study space and a different library environment to work in.

Some of the lovely features of the Sherlock library include: window seats, where students can sit and study whilst looking out over Main Court; both old-fashioned green banker’s lamps and modern museum desk lights – adding to the ambience; and original bookshelves with rests for reading. The librarian pointed out that the shelves still retained the eighteenth-century labelling at the top, highlighting again the history of this space and its longevity as a library. We were also shown the two different methods for accessing the higher to reach books: the first a small stand with a pole to hold on to (which turned out to be more secure than it looked!), and then some sturdier looking steps, which of course we tried as well!

Leaving the warm and cosy Sherlock library behind, our final stop was the new reading room. This is a wonderful space, providing plenty of room to study requested books and manuscripts from St Catharine’s special collections. The librarian had laid out several books for us to peruse, all notable for either their unique subject matter or for their condition. For example, a copy of the German book ‘Denkmäler Provenzalischer Literatur und Sprache’ by Hermann Suchier, previously owned by the London Library, had somehow been run over by a train – it is still in one piece, albeit slightly squashed! Another book which we all enjoyed looking through was ‘The Pityfull Historie of two loving Italians, Gaulfrido and Barnardo le vayne…’ by John Drout, a sixteenth century LGBT text written in rather questionable verse.

Overall, we had a wonderful time looking around St Catharine’s and managed to squeeze a lot in to our brief visit! We were all impressed by the student focused approach of the library team, and the different wellbeing initiatives they have put in place. Thank you to the library team for inviting us!

Newton, miniature books, and a rubber chicken: our trip to the Whipple Library

The Whipple library occupies part of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and is the specialist library for this faculty. It is located on Free School Lane in the centre of Cambridge (a landmark I always use to find it is Jack’s Gelato!). The street is highly Cambridge-dark-academia-esc, and we were treated to lovely views of the rooves of the city and cobble stone paths through various windows as we wandered round the library.

Passing under the ornate ‘Laboratory of Physical Chemistry’ sign, with a light beginning to cast a faint glow in the dusk, we began our visit to the Whipple Library. As the Librarian explained to us as we entered, this sign is actually a residual architectural element from their predecessors. The building now contains the library, their partner museum (The Whipple Museum), and the History of Philosophy of Science department. Both the library and museum share a benefactor – a Mr Robert Stewart Whipple. As well as being the Managing Director of the Cambridge Scientific Instruments Company from 1905, Whipple was a collector of instruments, models and books, and his donation of c. 1000 instruments and c. 1200 early printed books to the university was made with the intention to further research and teaching in the subject in the University. It is his bequeathment which the museum and library are founded upon, and which was expanded in the 1970’s with the establishment of a modern collection to compliment the historic bequest and to serve the students and researchers in the department. All of this was explained to us by the Librarian as he gave us a tour of the library. We saw how close this relationship is between the museum and library during the tour, as several museum items are housed between the books, raising questions about curation, both in terms of library space and the interaction between books and objects in exhibitions more specifically.

This was the first departmental library we have visited as a trainee group, but the Librarian was keen to stress the ways that the Whipple is a-typical as a departmental library. This a-typicality largely arises out of the quirks of the department, particularly in that you cannot apply to Cambridge to do an undergraduate course in History and Philosophy of Science, rather you take a route into the discipline while already a student here in later years of your degree, or at the point of postgraduate study. The librarian explained how this creates unique demands on particular resources from the library, and he explained how they respond to these challenges, for example they acknowledge and aim to help with the difficulties of transferring from a STEM subject to an essay/ critical-analysis based course and so have created an extensive collection of past dissertations and essays which students consult to develop an understanding of how to write essays effectively. The Librarian also showed us how classification has to adapt to the contents of the collection by highlighting some particularly odd and unique classifications, such as ‘Witchcraft & demonology’, which claims its space between ‘History of Chemistry’ and ‘History of Life Sciences’. There is also a Ladybird edition of Charles Darwin, which the Librarian explained is half a joke, but which he has seen students consult before! This playful energy is held throughout the library, and created a warm and friendly environment, including their “good old-fashioned” science fiction collection, which showed that Departmental libraries can stay true to their purpose and department, while also offering things that seem more unexpected. There is space for creativity when running such libraries. Oh, and, how could I forget the rubber chicken in the ‘party essentials’ box?!

The uniqueness of the departmental make-up also influences the way that rare collections are utilised in the library. We were shown an exhibition designed by a current postgraduate student in the department, entitled ‘Discovering Past Readers’, which looks at annotations and markings of various kinds in the Whipple Rare Books collection, which also has a partnering podcast.

The exhibition ranges from markings we would typically expect, such as provenance inscriptions and notes left by readers as they work their way through the texts, but also more playful and surprising instances, like the edition of blood and a phallis in red ink to woodcuts in an astrological work [Clarissimi viri lginij Poetican astronomicon opus vtilissimu[m] foeliciter incipt], and the pressing of botanical specimens, preserved between the pages of Outlines of botony  nestled alongside drawings ranging from boats to napping dogs. While looking at this exhibition we also learnt about the phenomenal Grace Young (1868-1944), who studied mathematics at Girton College, as well as unofficially sitting the Oxford mathematics exams in 1892 for which she gained the highest mark in the entire cohort. In 1895 she completed her doctoral thesis in Germany and in doing so became the first woman to ever earn a doctorate from a German University. We learnt about this incredible intellectual powerhouse of a woman while looking at her work The Theory of Sets of Points, the first textbook in English on the subject of set theory, and which contains many annotations and revisions in her hand, alongside pasted-in photos from her life – a work which was acquired through the Whipple Fund.

This lead to us being shown (with a fantastic amount of energy and excitement) a selection of the rare books held by the Whipple, as well as an explanation of how their rare-book collection is also unique in that they continue to acquire works relevant to the discipline, to the developments of science, or books that it is considered Whipple would have bought himself – it is a continuously growing collection. This involved the unveiling of items whih similarly had importance provenance associated with women, such as Gerard’s Herbal, with the Whipple edition previously owned and annotated by Anna Price: ‘Anna Price Her yerbal Book’. This book was a particular favourite of one of the trainees who has a particulalr interest in Renaissance gardens. We began, however, with some gems of the collection: a first edition of Galileo’s Dialogue on the two world systems, which is particularly interesting given its nature as being unbound, held in its original paper wrappers bearing a bookseller’s warehouse stock number, with its leaves uncut; works by and associated with Newton, including a direct edition of his Principa and a presentation copy of Boyle’s Tracts signed by Newton, and which also contains a secondary letter of ownership by Gilbert Regraves which shows anxiety over inscribing his name “on the page hallowed by the immortal name of Newton”. The absolute highlight was an absolutely miniscule edition of Galileo’s letter to Cristina Di Lorena, which is no bigger than a thumbnail, and which features an impressively tiny frontispiece portrait. At this point, the Librarian was getting slightly more used to being a hand model.

We finished off the trip with the Librarian explaining his own journey into librarianship, and his own time as a graduate trainee, which helpfully gave us suggestions as to how our own journey’s in librarianship might play out. He also explained how the library and museum participate in outreach, both through the Cambridge Festivals but also in school visits. This story was particularly moving to me as it directly echoed my own first visit to Cambridge, which instilled me with the confidence to apply here; it was a pertinent reminder of the power that libraries have in people’s lives.

We are very grateful to the Whipple Librarian for taking the time to show us around the library, to indulge our interest in the treasures of their collections, and for his kindness in offering help in our paths into librarianship.