CULIB - Cambridge University Libraries Information Bulletin

ISSN 0307 7284    Edited by Kathryn McKee, Mary Kattuman, Charlotte Smith and Kate Arhel

Issue 56, Lent 2005: Tales of the unexpected…



This issue of CULIB has been subtitled "Tales of the unexpected…" librarians can find themselves managing all sorts of collections, for which the standard library school training may not always have fully prepared them. We look at the diversity of library materials here in Cambridge, and the challenges that face librarians in providing access to collections which are not standard academic books: storing and conserving such items appropriately, providing finding aids and the technology to use them, assisting users and answering enquiries of an often wholly unanticipated nature.

Rachel Rowe introduces us to the extraordinary collections of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and the issues involved in managing unique and often fragile materials which are of interest to a wide range of non-academic researchers as well as the academic community.

Many of us now have increasing collections of multimedia materials. In two fascinating articles, library staff from the Language Centre dispel a few myths about their work and outline how they go about managing a whole library of multimedia resources. The first piece deals with the specialist description of materials, complex licensing arrangements, and the challenge of keeping up with ever-changing technology; the second looks in depth at copyright issues, and the uses of film and satellite TV broadcasts in language teaching.

A Cambridge College might not be the place you'd expect to find a historic collection of children's books, but Karen Davies and Catherine Reid have just such a collection to manage at Lucy Cavendish.

We asked librarians in Cambridge what they had in the backs of their cupboards. Besides the inevitable skeletons, artefacts from the mysterious to the macabre were unveiled. Continuing this quest for the unusual, Aidan Baker revisited the Muniment Room at Sidney Sussex in the company of Archivist Nicholas Rogers and discovered a number of intriguing heads.

And finally, in our regular feature on what librarians do in their spare time, Aidan Baker interviews Lesley Read from Robinson College Library about the enduring appeal of children's literature.

<< Back to CONTENTS


Deep in the bowels of the UL, stored primarily in rolling stacks, is the UL's largest and possibly most diverse special collection – the Royal Commonwealth Society Library. The collection arrived in Cambridge in 1993 following a national appeal to save it for the nation.

The "Library" has large numbers of published books, from the earliest, thought to be Viaggio da Venetia al S. Sepolcro… Bassano, c.1540, to the most recent, published around 1990, periodicals, including annual reports and directories and a few rare newspapers, and official publications both produced locally in the colonies/Commonwealth and in London. There are also microfilms, mainly reproductions of RCS archives, made for preservation reasons. There are numerous manuscripts, for example hand-written accounts of life as a district officer or rubber planter in Malaya and 19th century water-colours depicting distant corners of the British Empire as well as over 80,000 photographs, ranging from lantern slides to cine films and including hundreds of albums depicting lands as far apart as Spitsbergen and South Georgia. There are also a small number of audio and musical recordings, artefacts, ranging from a slave shackle from the West Indies to Aboriginal Australian glass spearheads made from telegraph insulators, and ephemera including medals, posters, railway timetables and swatches of the fabric used to decorate the rooms in HMS Renown occupied by Princess Mary during her tour of India in 1905 and 1906 – see

Not only are the RCS collections themselves diverse in nature, but so too are the users of the library. RCS library users, as you would expect include visiting academics and students from overseas, as well as undergraduates, graduates and academics from universities all over Britain. But they also include large numbers of picture researchers – newspaper and radio journalists, professional free-lance picture researchers, often working for TV or video production companies and large numbers of retired members of the public. This latter group are interested in tracing family members who they believe to have had a Commonwealth/British Empire connection, but are not always too sure about dates or places! A significant proportion of this group are attempting to verify that a relative, often their late husband, was a prisoner of war in the notorious Sime Road and Changi Japanese camps in Singapore. The RCS holds many manuscript records from the camps including incredibly brittle thin paper lists of camp internees, with internees arranged by sex, giving age and date interned. These records can be essential documents to prove eligibility for War Pensions and much research in the collection has been done by the Veterans Agency to assist such claimants.

Managing such a "special collection" requires a much broader skill-set than most librarians acquired at library school. The distinctions between archivists, librarians and museum curators have eroded recently, but special librarians still need to understand the different international standards to which each group aspires. Often the choice of standards is dictated by the preferences of grant-awarding bodies or the limitations of existing in-house software. But it is necessary to understand how the standards and rules differ and essential to invest in appropriate staff training. Visits to museums and archives and discussions with colleagues engaged in similar work are essential.

Readers' expectations, especially those wishing to consult archival sources, have increased exponentially during the past few years. Students increasingly see archives as virtual collections and the librarian's task is no longer solely one of providing web-access to hand lists and catalogues, but involves digitisation projects on an ever-increasing scale. Picture researchers, in particular, work to very tight deadlines and demand very fast turn-around. Meeting users' expectations, or at least attempting to meet their perceived minimum requirements, now presents librarians with an enormous challenge. Funds need to be raised on an unprecedented scale at a time of financial cutbacks across the University. Fund-raising now occupies a large amount of any archivist's/special librarian's time and is a new skill to most of them.

In the case of the RCS library, new and retrospective cataloguing of its collections is likely to take decades to complete. The collection has benefited from a generous bequest and several small donations but fund-raising and grant applications still occupy 20% of the librarian's time. Management priorities have been determined, in large part, by ease of fund-raising for particular sub-collections, manuscript and photographic archives attracting most interest. Attracting funds to conserve and retrospectively catalogue long runs of colonial official publications, directories, annual reports, monographs, or pamphlets is much harder. Other priorities have been sub-collections for which there is heaviest demand for web-access, unique or manuscript materials and material for which there is currently no catalogue at all.

Adam Matthew Publications have microfilmed substantial numbers of RCS colonial and imperial monographs, pamphlets and journal articles as part of their microfilm series: Empire and Commonwealth. Part 1, The colour question in imperial policy c1830–1939, was filmed a couple of years ago, and filming of part 2 will begin this Spring, focussing on Imperial and Commonwealth Conferences 1887–1955. RCS collections have also been incorporated in Adam Matthew Publications' online publication Empire Online, but sadly it is beyond the budget of the University Library to purchase this. They also filmed RCS African manuscript archives for their publication: Africa through official eyes: …original manuscripts from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library (2000). The University Library holds this title. The University Library has itself microfilmed several RCS archives and a small number of periodicals for preservation reasons, including much of the British Association of Malaysia archive, incorporating fragile prisoner of war papers and camp records from Singapore.

As the Librarian of the RCS Library and the Centre of South Asian Studies, it has been impossible to undertake much archival cataloguing or digitisation work myself. Project working has been the norm, with cataloguers employed on short-term contracts, extended as and when additional funds can be found and photographic work paid for on a contract basis. This is far from ideal for the staff involved and has increased costs to the Library. Yet, despite staff-turnover and a disproportionate amount of time and money spent on recruitment and training, much progress has been made and all RCS cataloguers and project staff, past and present, are to be congratulated on their huge achievements. The inclusion of the RCS Photograph Project website in SOSIG, the Social Science Information Gateway in July 2004 is an example (

Photographic enquiries have doubled during the life of the project. Where as in 2002 117 enquiries related to photograph requests (22% of distant enquiries), in 2004-5 (in just 6 months), 174 have been received, now representing nearly 33% of distant enquiries. The benefits to distant enquirers of Google indexing and retrieval are immense. Demand exists to expand the photograph project, so the need to fund-raise continues.

Whilst this is not the place to discuss any RCS project in any detail, the RCS Photograph Project website is a good place to learn more about the history and diversity of the RCS Library, to climb aboard the Royal Train and follow Princess Mary and the Prince of Wales, on two tours of India in 1905 and 1906, to view amazing images from all corners of the former British Empire and today's Commonwealth, as well as to discover more about the technical and international digitisation and archival standards followed during the course of the photograph project (

For more information on the RCS collections, please see sections D2 and D3 of the University Library's online Reader's Handbook:

Rachel M Rowe
Smuts Librarian for South Asian and Commonwealth Studies

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


The first of our two articles from the Language Centre falls into two sections. In the first part Michele Wilkinson (Library and Learner Support Assistant) clears some of the "myths" about our Centre. This is also an introduction to the multifaceted and integrated learning environment the Language Centre offers within the University.

Michele on the "myths"
The Language Centre is now settled in its new accommodation in the completely updated and refurbished Old Music School building in Downing Place. What, you didn't know we had moved in the first place – you didn't know we existed at all? Making people across the University aware of our services is one of our biggest challenges and many students and researchers leave Cambridge without ever having found the wealth of resources available.So let us take this chance to spread the word about the Language Centre and to put to bed some of the old myths that you may have heard about us.

Myth No. 1. Isn't the Language Centre just for a few language specialists?
No – quite the reverse! Although we have extensive resources for supporting the language faculties and those studying languages at Cambridge, we welcome ALL levels of language learners from complete novices upwards.

Myth No. 2. It's just a load of books and tapes in a 60s-style language lab.
Well not quite!! We now incorporate the latest technology into language learning including multimedia programs, online resources, live satellite TV and a video/DVD collection containing some of the latest film releases from around the globe.

Myth No. 3. It's OK but it's only for self-study.
Not completely… We now run beginner and intermediate level courses in French, German, Italian and Spanish – under the Cambridge University Language Programme, CULP – with Chinese available from next year. Other courses (Pressland Fund) are currently offered in Russian and Arabic. Keep an eye on the news about the intensive summer language courses for students and staff in June – go to

Myth No. 4. If you don't study a language there's no point in investigating the Language Centre.
Think again… students, staff and researchers from various faculties and departments (including Architecture, Archaeology, Divinity, English, Geography, History, Law, Music, Social Anthropology, SPS etc) have used our resources – e.g. readings, sound recordings, films and documentaries.

Myth No. 5. I'm afraid English is the language that gives me the most problems so there's no help for me.
There is lots of help for you! As well as the free self-study resources (to be used in the Centre) for improving English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, we operate a full programme of English support.

Myth No. 6. There is no point in learning a language if there is no chance to practise using it.
Let's see… An exchange scheme is available to pair you with a native English speaker who would like help with your language in exchange for your help with English and regular drop-in English conversation hours. To find out more please get in touch or look at:

Multifaceted and integrated language learning and language teaching resources within the University

What do we mean by multifaceted and integrated resources? The Language Centre manages the provision of multimedia resources – from the traditional book & cassette/book, video packs/study packs, to off-air recordings in foreign languages and digital resources both within the Centre and increasingly across the Cambridge network. The LC Online incorporates both resources for independent study and also study/support materials for the CULP courses (taught courses).

So what's different in the resource library work? First, there is a fair amount of analytical work in documenting each resource. There is a need to describe the resources in detail, e.g. how the media components correlate to the relevant parts of the accompanying text (if available). This work is by and large similar to what is now done in digital form by creating "links" between resources. Each resource with an accompanying media component has its own copyright restrictions attached to its use. [More on this topic in part two.]

It is essential to document as much of the contents and linguistic detail as possible at the acquisition stage, as the catalogue description forms a 'mapping' to the teaching staff and helps the advising team in the creation of a learner "guide to resources". At present, all the resource library staff members also work as part of the advising team. It has been rewarding to observe that some teaching staff and overseas students volunteer to help us unsolicited (through their comments, recommendations and by bringing some resources from home), especially if they want to promote their own language in Cambridge.

All the resources that have been documented in the Resource Library Catalogue ( up to August 2004 are currently being converted into the Voyager system. These upgraded records make the most of the 500, 505, 508, 511, 520, 538, 546 fields in MARC 21! All new acquisitions are in the Newton and the "guide to resources"; the old in-house catalogue will be phased out around 2006. Demands on staff time are great with multimedia resources, but progress is taking place also with the holdings and items, as we are finding our way with the numerous archive copies, shelf copies, teacher's copies, the different media and the increasing online resources.

Second, as regards learning and teaching resources off-air (television and radio), fundamental changes came along in the UK with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. In 1990 the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) negotiated a licensing scheme which allows for broadcast material to be used for educational non-commercial purposes in institutions that take up membership. Any educational institution holding an ERA licence for off-air recording can also take advantage of the BUFVC's television recording back-up service. (BUFVC – British Universities Film and Video Council, incorporating the Society for Screen Based Learning – London)

The Language Centre draws heavily on broadcast material, both when creating online language learning resources, when making off-air recordings for independent use in the John Trim Centre, and when supporting language teaching faculties (e.g. listening comprehension resources, digitised news bulletins on the network).

The Centre's Librarian represents Cambridge on the BUFVC and through this membership it is possible to get backup copies of missed recordings of terrestrial TV (since 01/06/1998). The Language Centre's Resource Librarian currently administers this backup scheme for the university. As part of the University's membership of the BUFVC, Cambridge has access to the back-up service for missed recordings (BBC TV, ITV, Channel Four and Channel 5) and also to the database of TRILT (The Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching). In comparison with the individual broadcasters' websites, the TRILT (Athens-authenticated, available via the University Library's Electronic Resources) gives listings 10 days ahead of transmission as well as data from 1995 onwards. TRILT combines UK television and radio data on the web - with Listings for more than 300 TV and radio channels data, with an option for Autoalert emails for forthcoming programmes, with other enhanced/extra information (e.g. credits and keywords) and availability of a back-up service etc. The feedback from the staff and researchers who use TRILT here is highly positive.

Third, in the management of the resources additional challenges have emerged with the rapid technological advances and the library staff need weekly meetings with the IT staff to upgrade all commercially purchased software - checking compatibility, rights, and that the different media components play/display correctly. The recent upgrading of our local network to XP has meant removing a number of software titles either to a single-user workstation (remembering to update the documentation too!), while some titles have just become obsolete. A good example of the speed of change was when a new textbook in Macedonian was purchased with an accompanying CD-ROM in mid 2004. The publication was from 2003, and it was already over the "time limit" when we tried to install it. Fortunately, an e-mail to the author and the publisher in the States produced a quick result and the resources was made available on the Internet within a few days. Many other language titles with CD-ROMs that we have reported to the publishers seem to take longer.

Moreover, many new challenges lie ahead for this year when the Centre is embarking on a digitising programme of the key resources in heavy demand for the main-stream languages.

Introductory tours for librarians and other interested parties can be arranged and both the resource library and the advising teams are there to welcome you.

Michele Wilkinson (Library and Learner Support Assistant) and Liisa Cleary (Librarian)
Language Centre

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


In the second piece on the work and activities of the Language Centre Resource Library staff we focus on the following:

  • What is involved in copyright issues – working with publishers, broadcasters, authors and teaching staff
  • Making the most of films and documentaries
  • Making the most of foreign language television via satellite

What is involved in copyright issues – working with publishers, broadcasters, authors and teaching staff

Each learning resource carries its own copyright, and its associated media components are usually subject to different restrictions. A few resources or parts of resources are free for photocopying or for duplication, some are in the public domain, but the main collection in the Centre is subject to a host of agreements with publishers. There is no 'blanket' licence, similar to the ERA licence for off-air recordings.

It became clear to me very early in my work that clearing rights with the publishers was the only way forward – however much extra work was involved. Publishers were ill-informed of how their materials were being used in education, and with each new order a letter was sent to the publisher direct, asking for permission to make copy/copies. Other university language centres followed the practice and with the help of professional associations and organisations this pressure from the field has now made it possible to have more user-friendly agreements. With the letter of request we now attach a form, making it easy for the publisher to tick the relevant boxes and sign/stamp it. Initially we used to attach a stamped addressed envelope to ensure a reply(!), as many requests were left unanswered. Fortunately there are only a few publishers today who are reluctant to give some sort of permission (or who charge far too high a price).

The Resource Library deals with some 80 publishers. Within each publisher there are different agreements relating to the different media – video may be treated differently from audio. The agreements are managed under the following broad categories:

  • Some publishers operate a site licence scheme for use on campus
  • Some publishers ask the Centre to keep track of the number of copies made and these are charged in arrears (e.g. Open University; Kodensha)
  • Some publishers give permission for self-access use, but will not ordinarily allow copying for our Educational Loan Scheme (e.g. Routledge, CUP)
  • Some publishers (especially if the Centre has kept in touch with the publishers over the years) have now granted digitisation rights for their recent series both for audio and video free from charge. [Please note that the CULP (Cambridge University Language Progamme) have separate agreements for their online study/support materials and negotiated separately from the self-access use.]

Our acquisition and lending policies have to reflect the use and copyright. As a rule we purchase two copies of a new title (unless very expensive); one is for the open access, and the second copy is the "master". During busy periods, the "master" copy will also be made available for self-access and teaching. The Language Centre operates a restricted loan scheme for teaching staff who are eligible to borrow up to a fortnight at a time.

The ERA licence (relating to off-air recordings) has restrictions too – the materials recorded off-air need to be used for educational and non-commercial purposes within the establishment. While it is possible to incorporate film viewings into the teaching programmes, the Centre cannot offer film club evenings open to all. The ERA scheme has operated now for 15 years and some new extensions (the ERA + licence) are due to be discussed in March this year. The changes should take into account the need to work in an increasingly digital environment and students and staff working online off-campus.

Work in the Language Centre takes us also into the world of broadcasters. Initially trying to trace broadcast data was a laborious task; hours spent in the West Room of the UL ploughing through back issues of the Radio Times. Then came the telephone calls to the broadcasters' Information Library On-duty Desks. Most of the colleagues were very helpful. Now the TRILT (The Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching) yields answers to most of our enquiries. For most of the recent BBC courses that are used in the John Trim Centre have site licences allowing us to make copies of the commercial audio components and the accompanying off-air recordings (under the ERA licence). Other contacts are with the BBC World Service staff, over obtaining resources for examination and exam preparation for the language faculty teaching. While there are many online resources available direct from the broadcasters' own site, the data used in an exam must be without any interference in downloads, and therefore the "hard" media copy is still preferred.

Local academics and teaching staff make recordings and these are copyright free for our use. Initially however, there are permissions to be sought, and this often involves the library staff, e.g. getting in touch with authors or their literary agents to obtain permission to make and digitise readings of their work (e.g. on the LC Online there are examples of this for Arabic, Hindi and Hebrew readings). This work involves also coordinating and facilitating the projects from the initial stage of selecting materials, making the recordings, digitisation of sound and texts/scripts, until the stage when the webmaster can launch the resource.

Making the most of films and documentaries

The impact of technology is very visible in moving images – the introduction of DVDs and the increasing amount of footage for research and teaching now available online. In the Language Centre more resources are placed on shelf in CD and DVD formats. The first film titles on VHS in the Language Centre, used for teaching in the early 1990s, were by Hindi and French departments: for the Hindi class 27 down: Bombay–Varanasi express (dir. Awtar Khrisha Kaul, 1973), and The strange fate of Arvind Desai (dir. Daeed Aktar Mirza, 1979) and for French, Le jour se lève (dir. Marcel Carné, 1939) and Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981). There are now around 1,500 film and documentary titles in our collection, in over 60 languages (both on VHS and DVD). The majority of the collection is in languages other than English. Some English language films and documentaries are also acquired, as part of the EAP programme (English for academic purposes), and also when a title complements a language section.

Films and documentaries are an integrated part of the language collections and thus documented as fully as possible (information similar to the Dublin Core data). Details are now entered into the union catalogue, including title, parallel title, English language title, other title, Director, Physical description, Publication and release details, - Credits, Main performer/s, Language/s, Main contents, summary, Certification, Genre, and Subject.

How and why is film used in teaching and in learning of a foreign language - some observations:

  • Films can help with remembering – seeing-hearing (print, oral image, visual image). Students may respond more readily to the image than to the printed word – also putting the words in context: "I don't want to just learn from the book and tape, I want to see and hear the language in use" [ a comment from a learner].
  • Helping students to make sense of the prescribed texts – verbal and visual – or for comparative approaches. For example, for Madame Bovary – two French versions (dir. Jean Renoir, 1934; & dir. Claude Chabrol, 1991), an English-language version (dir. Tim Fywell, 2000), and also a Hindi language version, Maya memsaab = Maya: the enchanting illusion (dir. Ketan Mehta, 1992).
  • The value of film as visual and historical document – how the cinema has reflected and constructed images of a country and its society will have a vital part to play; e.g. various titles on the holocaust; war films; films and documentaries about a country's history.
  • The question of film as a method of language acquisition and listening comprehension exercise e.g. watching a two-hour feature film in a foreign language can perhaps be the student's longest continuous exposure to spoken language. Subtitles can be a help or a hindrance; parallel subtitles can help with vocabulary building. Most of the films on VHS video are with parallel subtitles in English: there are also a number with no subtitles. And also a number of off-air recordings of films with parallel French subtitles. The DVDs often provide a host of language options, viewing in the target language only, and some offer help for the hearing-impaired.
  • Films as stimulating input to conversation classes and as topic for group work – expressing likes, dislikes, developing a storyline, finding an ending etc. (cf. many language coursebooks have references to films and popular culture, personalities etc, and this offers an opportunity to see for yourself). Discussion groups in the Centre make regular use of films.
  • Films introducing issues of cultural and social awareness, customs, rituals and traditions (e.g. films on religious issues, class /caste issues, rituals).
  • There are many other reasons, but current topics and other topical issues are equally important when keeping up with language and culture – e.g. titles like La Haine; Amélie, Goodbye Lenin! – among many others – have just become the "must-see" titles.

When a film director, who was recently giving a series of seminars in the university, contacted the Centre about borrowing a selection of films, it was rewarding to notice that titles from the Danish and Serbo-Croat sections were also requested along with the mainstream European cinema titles in Italian, French and Spanish.

Making the most of foreign language television via satellite

The Language Centre provides live satellite television in 11 languages (with the current channels in brackets): Arabic (Al-Jazeera), Chinese (CCTV), Dutch (BVN), French (TV5 and ARTE+), German (ARD and ARTE+), Greek (ERT Sat), Italian (RaiUno), Japanese (JSTV), Portuguese (RTP i), Russian (ORT), Spanish (TVE). These 12 channels can be accessed from the workstations within the John Trim Centre for independent learning, and from MML and some other PWFs.
+ARTE for French and German available alternate weeks

In addition, Turkish programmes (TRT Int) are also recorded on videotape on five evenings a week.

To sum up,

Liisa Cleary (Librarian)
Language Centre, University of Cambridge

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


Amongst the rare books held at Lucy Cavendish College Library is a collection of children's literature from the 19th century. These books, 45 in total, were donated to the College in 1995 by Dr. Anna Bidder (1903-2001), a founding fellow and first President of the College (1965-1970). Born in Cambridge, Anna and her elder sister, Caroline (born 1900), were the daughters of two scientists, George Parker Bidder III, a zoologist, and Marion Greenwood, a biologist. They lived at Cavendish Corner, now the EF School of English on Hills Road. Inscriptions in many of the books reveal that they were passed down through generations of Bidder children before reaching Anna and Caroline.

Children's books flourished during the 19th century: levels of literacy steadily increased aided by the gradual movement towards universal education, and technical advances made it possible to produce large numbers of books at lower prices1. There was also a growing acceptance that children had the right not only to be informed and educated but also to be entertained. This is characterised by the changing tone of the literature, from didactic and explicitly moral texts at the beginning of the 19th century to literature which was enjoyable (albeit implicitly moral) and inherently more appealing2.

Books with a highly moralistic tone are represented in the collection by the works of Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) and Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810). In Martineau's The Playfellow (1841), character and plot development are slight and the onus is placed upon instructing readers the stern lesson of willingness to suffer for what is right. Similarly, Timmer, an educationalist, promoted piety and hard work in Miscellanies, with story titles such as 'The dangers of delays' and 'The punishment of wilfulness'.

As the century progressed there emerged a more romantic style of literature for children: fairy stories, fantasy tales, and action-packed tales of adventure all proved to have great appeal. The collection contains a printed facsimile of the original manuscript of Alice's adventures underground with illustrations by Lewis Carroll which was later developed into the popular Alice's adventures in Wonderland. Advances in technology made possible the printing of colour illustrations and so contributed to an ever-growing market for lively and attractive material. Arthur Layard's Billy Mouse and Harriet Hare in the collection are such examples. Almost half of the collection was published between 1870 and 1910 in what has become known as "The Golden Age of Children's Literature".

When the new library at Lucy Cavendish College was built in 1999, it incorporated a purpose-built rare books room with temperature and humidity control. The management of the rare books collection was under the remit of the Librarian until 2003, when it was transferred to the Archivist. Care of the collection includes monitoring of storage conditions, management of access to the collection, and managing an on-going programme of conservation work.

Management of the specialist collection of children's books and indeed the rare book collection as a whole provides a challenge to the Archivist and the Librarian, neither of whom has specialist knowledge of rare books or 19th century children's literature. The Librarian faces the challenge of cataloguing specialist collections of rare books, a task which differs markedly from that of cataloguing modern texts for a predominantly undergraduate library. The particular challenge for the Archivist is managing conservation of this specialist collection. The Alumnae Association made a donation in 2001 for the repair and conservation of the Founders' Collection of Children's Books, in memory of Anna Bidder and in recognition of her contribution to the founding and development of the College. The task of selecting books for repair has not been an easy one. Do we have amongst our collection some rare gems or just many lower value editions sold by publishers keen to profit from a growing market?

Karen Davies, Archivist
Catherine Reid, Librarian
Lucy Cavendish College, January 2005

1. Morna Daniels. Aspects of the Victorian book: children's books.
2. Jacquelyn Lewis. Childrens publishing at the turn of the Century: a lasting impression?

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


I asked librarians in Cambridge to tell me about the things they really didn't expect to find in their libraries. This is what they answered…

Mark Hurn reports that the Institute of Astronomy has a copy of The hitch hiker's guide to the galaxy, signed and presented to the Observatory by Douglas Adams. Not so odd you might think, but up to a couple of years ago it was filed on the open shelves under the classmark for 'The galaxy'. They also have a copy of Dan Dare's spacebook (1953), but that's another story…

Until a few years ago, the most unusual objects in the Cambridge Theological Federation collection were two Egyptian sarcophagi, donated by the founders of Westminster College. Sadly these have been sold, so now the most unusual object is part of a tree under which John Wesley preached. It is a cutting from what was known as the 'Gospel Oak'. Alongside the block, upon which the tree cutting is mounted, is a photograph of the tree in situ. Carol Reekie hasn't attempted to catalogue or classify it – any suggestions?

The Haddon Library has a small and most unusual collection of photographs. These are contained in:

BLANDOWSKI, Wilhelm von
Australien in 142 photographischen Abbildungen nach zehnjahrigen Erfahrungen / zusammengestellt von Wilhelm
Blandowski. – Gleiwitz : [s.n.], 1862

This volume is not yet catalogued on Newton, but its presence in the Haddon is known, and has generated a growing number of enquiries. Apart from the fact that, unlike most of the Haddon's books, it consists entirely of pictures, with no accompanying text at all, it is unexpected in three ways:

  • Rareness pure and simple: no copy of this album of Australian images is known to exist in Australia itself.
  • Despite the claim of its title, the pictures in it are photographs of prints and engravings, not photos taken in the field.
  • In this copy, uniquely, a 143rd image has been pasted in. That one is a photograph, and is entirely off-subject. It shows a large church standing over a town, and is the earliest known photo of Blandowski's home town Gleiwitz (now Gliwice) in Poland. Gliwice's Blandowski Society were very glad to know of it.

It's best to behave yourself in Pembroke College Library, as they are armed. They have part of a WWII gun, which has been dismantled (it used to sit on Old Court lawn) and inscribed. It has not been catalogued, and there are no plans for doing so.

Gonville and Caius have a cast of Dr Caius's skull, made following the exhumation of his corpse in the nineteenth century. It seems to have ended up in the Library as noone else knew quite what to do with it. They also have copies of the two gargoyles that protrude from the Trinity Lane side of the College's Waterhouse Building, though are trying to pass these on to the Archive.

Manuscripts are nothing new in Cambridge libraries, but nineteenth century Pali manuscripts written on bamboo strips are a little less common. The Ward Library at Peterhouse has some which were brought back from the Rangoon at the turn of the century by an intrepid Petrean! If anyone out there can read Pali, cataloguers at Peterhouse would love to hear from you.

Jesus College's old library contains a number of odd items, including a lock of Coleridge's hair, in a small round wooden case, a wooden pillar about three-and-a-half feet tall, with no apparent purpose (possibly a sometime piece of stage scenery?) a sixteenth-century manuscript (lawyer's reference book) bound in seal or otter skin with the fur still on, and an eighteenth-century wooden cabinet containing three manuscript volumes, attached with chains left over from an earlier era – perchance a humorous gesture by someone who didn't think they were as worth preserving as the author did!

The prize for the least appropriate thing to have in a Library, has, in my opinion, to go to Christ's. They have a box of mummified rats. These were discovered when the Master's Lodge was renovated circa 1912, embedded in the late medieval plaster behind eighteenth-century panelling. No one really seems to know if they were deliberately placed in the walls or got in and died through a disastrous failure in the Rat equivalent of MI5. (Rare wallpaper was found at the same time, of which the Library has many fragments, but that's another story.) The rats' final resting place is in a cupboard in the Manuscript Room. One or two members of staff are brave enough to get them out occasionally, either on request or to show to children.

Aidan Baker
Haddon Library

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


CULIB last examined special collections a couple of years ago (issue 52, Lent 2003). One collection that deserves more than the passing mention we gave it then is the Muniment Room at Sidney Sussex College, which contains not only the expected books and manuscripts but also a number of surprising realia.

In the College's first century, it acquired realia as a matter of course. An essay by the present Archivist, Nicholas Rogers, describes it as having had "all the paraphernalia of a Renaissance library" and goes on to enumerate a small brass sphere, a couple of terrestrial globes, and a brass mathematical instrument (probably a double horizontal dial, an early form of slide rule), all of which came into the library during the 90 years that followed the College's foundation in 1598. These presumably functioned as working tools, and appear to have been lost before they could graduate to the status of museum pieces. However, a small number of curiosities made their way into the library then, and have been added to since, though it would be a mistake to describe them as a growing collection.

According to Nicholas Rogers, the overall balance of the collection displays something of a head fetish. The items that give him this idea are:

  • the lime-encrusted skull of a child
  • two death masks of Oliver Cromwell
  • a painting of the posthumously-severed head of Oliver Cromwell
  • the mounted head of a turtle

The lime-encrusted skull of a child
This was found in Crete and presented to the Library by Captain Stevens of Rotherhithe in 1627. It can be accounted a fossil, and as such is both one of the latest and one of the earliest: its likely Minoan origins make it a lot more recent than most of the fossil trail, and its seventeenth-century presentation to Sidney Sussex makes it one of the earliest fossils to appear in a public collection. It was borrowed by William Harvey, who showed it to King Charles I.

Two death masks of Oliver Cromwell
From Charles I to the man responsible for his beheading. Oliver Cromwell is the most famous alumnus of Sidney Sussex; he was a Fellow Commoner there in 1616-1617, but left without a degree. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Cromwell's association with Sidney Sussex became something of an embarrassment to the college. However, some objects associated with him have been acquired since then. The Muniment Room has two copies of his death-mask and a piece of glass scratched with what is claimed to be his signature. Elsewhere in the college is the famous 'warts and all' portrait from the workshop of Sir Peter Lely.

A painting of the posthumously-severed head of Oliver Cromwell
Cromwell died in 1658 and the monarchy was restored in 1660. On 30 January 1661, the twelfth anniversary of the death of Charles I, Cromwell's corpse was hanged at Tyburn for a day and then taken down and beheaded. The head is recorded as having been owned by a succession of people during the next two centuries and a half. In 1799, it was put on show in Mead Court, London, with an exhibition brochure written and an advertising board painted by John Cranch (1751-1821). When the exhibition flopped, Cranch took all papers relating to it in payment. The head itself was later sold to a Josiah Henry Wilkinson, and remained in the possession of the Wilkinson family.

A later Wilkinson acquired the Cranch papers in 1898. In 1960, Dr H.N.S. Wilkinson donated head, painting, and papers to Sidney Sussex. The head was buried, after a brief service, in the ante-chapel, and the papers and the painting came to the Muniment Room.

Discuss the ethics of double posthumous execution as a punishment for government leaders. It's a rather pleasing idea, and respects those many legitimate objections to the death penalty.

The mounted head of a turtle
This head, too, has a story: the claim is that the rest of the turtle was made into soup for the college's Tercentenary Dinner. According to Nicholas Rogers that is a spurious one. The head was mounted over a coffee machine in the New Parlour for a time in 2004, an experiment that proved unpopular; it is now back in the Muniment Room.

Like other colleges, Sidney Sussex boasts a human skeleton in the library, indeed a skeleton in a cupboard, with a duly barcoded key. The skeleton has lost its skull.

Aidan Baker
Haddon Library
Interview with Nicholas Rogers, 2 February 2005.

ROGERS, N. 1996. 'The early history of Sidney Sussex College Library. ' In BEALES, D.E.D. & NISBET, H.B. eds., Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge: historical essays in commemoration of the Quatercentenary. Woodbridge: Boydell.
ROGERS, N., & PARISH, P. 1999. Cromwell and Sidney Sussex. Cambridge: Sidney Sussex College.

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


Aidan Baker interviews Lesley Read, Librarian at Robinson College.

How long have you been interested in children's books?
All my life! I was considered a bit odd when I was meant to move up to the adult library! That's not such a barrier now – you're not expected to leave children's books altogether.

Are there any genres that you're particularly fond of?
Fantasy, historical novels, adventure.

Do you have favourite authors?
Diana Wynne Jones, for one – and whoever's been taking my fancy. I re-read Susan Cooper and Rosemary Sutcliff. I do miss Heffer's children's bookshop!

Has your interest changed in nature over the years? Can you point to any differences between the way you read juvenile books now, as an adult, and the way you read them when you were a kid yourself? Or any other differences over time?
Yes, I do read books differently as an adult. And as an adult you can read things into an author's work that the author didn't mean, and that a child might not see.

And children's books have developed and changed over the years. Some things that used not to be written about are written about now, and vice versa. In the 70s, the writers moved to cover topics such as divorce, and then drugs – and then Judy Blume covered everything going! Jacqueline Wilson is very popular – she writes about things that children can relate to.

But it's interesting to re-read books you read as a child. Sometimes your view of them has changed markedly. What's best is to re-read and find that the books are still as good as you remember. That happened to me with Diana Wynne Jones' Charmed life and Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth. With The lantern bearers, it was interesting to find how much I had missed when I'd read it the first time! And Tom's midnight garden by Philippa Pearce stood up well. I read it for the first time that winter when the Cam froze. That image and the book are intertwined for me, and were still there at this second reading.

Are there any clubs you belong to, or are aware of, for adults who enjoy juvenile literature?
There's no club that I know of in Cambridge, but some adults with this interest are networked with school librarians! A group of us went to the Rare Books Conference on children's literature in Edinburgh a few years ago.

Are there any current trends in children's literature that you particularly value? Or deplore?
I'm not bang up-to-date! I had a large patch where I wasn't reading juvenile literature. I started again in the mid-1980s, when I was a school librarian.

Robert Westall can be a very difficult author to read. I started reading The cats of Seroster, taking it to be a straightforward quest book. It's actually much more than that – and I wish I'd picked up the clues earlier…

Harry Potter is absolutely fantastic. Children are reading because of Harry Potter. But the books are not brilliantly written, and they remind me of Enid Blyton; I think Philip Pullman's books will outlive them. He's a classic. I had to read Northern lights twice to get what it was about. You need to know a lot of Blake and Milton to get the full effect. I was a bit startled by the end: the two children have to part, their worlds are separated, you've lost God… I only read it once and will have to go back and re-read, and that's going to be quite an effort.

I don't get on so well with realistic problem books – I haven't read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson. And Roald Dahl's fantasies don't appeal.

It's interesting to see how many of the books that children nominate for the Wordpool list are things I read as a child. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe still reads extraordinarily well. Noel Streatfield's work from the 1930s to the 1950s – Balletshoes, White boots – are standing up, but her Gemma stories from the 1960s aren't around. And I liked Willard Price's adventure books for boys too – African adventure and so on. He gave me my first description of a balloon flight!

What adult books do you read?
Crime novels and the odd fantasy.

What are you reading at the moment?
I've just finished Janet Neel's Death's bright angel.

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS


Heather Lane has been appointed Librarian of the Scott Polar Research Institute, leaving Sidney Sussex after eleven years' service. She is suitably daunted by the challenge of running the world's premier polar library, and the late William Mills has given her a hard act to follow. Heather is a leading figure in the Bliss Classification Association, the Classification Research Group, and CILIP's University, College & Research Group, besides supervising candidates for CILIP Chartership. Her old job as Librarian of the Richard Powell Library is in good hands. Christine Ratcliff has taken over after six very happy years at the Physiology Department Library, via the Philosophy Library where she has been Acting Librarian temporarily during this academic year.

At Earth Sciences, Rhoda Mbuthia is moving with her family to Durham, and the library has restructured its staffing to give more coverage in term-time. Clare Pryke is dividing her time between Earth Sciences and the African Studies Centre.

The Balfour & Newton Libraries in Zoology closed for longer than usual over Christmas, for a bout of electrical work. This was the first complete rewiring of the building since the 1930s. The Libraries were like a building site, and retrieving books was a major operation. At the time of writing, there's still some work left to do, but Clair Castle was glad of the redecoration that came as a bonus.

Anna Jones took up appointment as Wolfson's Lee Librarian from the start of January. Anna formerly worked as Project Officer for MASC25 (Mapping Access to Special Collections in the London Region), compiling collection level descriptions of a wide variety of printed special collections. Anna has previous experience of various Cambridge College libraries, having worked at St Edmund's, and as a graduate trainee at Trinity, and having studied musicology as a postgraduate at Peterhouse.

Stewart Tiley has been appointed Academic Services Librarian at St John's College, having formerly worked on the College's rare books recataloguing project.

Nicola Celentano is the new Library Assistant at Fitzwilliam College. Nicola moves from the SPS Library.

Louise Yirrell joins the team at the Engineering Department Library, having previously worked in several College libraries.

At the University Library, the Reference Department were pleased to welcome Yvonne Nobis as the new Information Services Librarian, following the departure of Isabel Holowaty, reported in the previous issue. Yvonne was joined in this department by Dr Roy Cattell, the new Saturday Assistant, and by a number of new fetching staff including Katherine Sendall, previously of the Music Department, Kevin Sporns, Hannah Buckley and Sarah Fletcher. Dan Zhu left the team for pastures new whilst Jill Alexander retired from her part-time position as Training Assistant, a post she had held since retiring from her full-time job as Deputy Head of Legal Deposit several years ago. Jill devoted her entire working life to the University Library and will no doubt be missed by countless colleagues whose lives she influenced. We wish her a very enjoyable retirement.

Meanwhile Julie Elbourne, of Reader Services, transferred to the Entrance Hall where she will provide front-of-house support.

In Periodicals, Leona McGee returned to Ireland and was replaced by Jade Notley, who gained promotion from her former position in the Reference Department. Andrew Kennedy, also promoted from the Reference Department, filled the position vacated by Peter Bowyer who retired from the UL after more than forty years of service. Saturday Assistant Elizabeth Allen, left to engage in further study, and was replaced by Alice Bellini. Former staff member Shelley Rodwell rejoined the department briefly before her transfer to Manuscripts whilst fetchers Michelle Deer and Will Harmer left to face new challenges.

Rare Books staff bade farewell to fetcher William O'Connor, who left to start a university course, and welcome Agnieszka Drabek. Holly Neville-Smith and Amy Theobold, formerly a fetcher with Periodicals, also joined the department whilst fetcher James Harmon transferred to the West Room. Manuscripts staff briefly welcomed Catherine Sutherland before her transfer to the Reference Department.

Dr Suzanne Reynolds was elected to the Munby Fellowhip.

The Music Department welcomed their new Saturday assistant Yevgeny Kuklytchev as a replacement for Katherine Sendall, following her move to the Reference Department, whilst Materials Processing welcomed Pia Tohveri and Oksana Yurchyshyn-Smith. Pia will be covering Rachel Oakes' maternity leave whilst Oksana fills the vacancy left as a result of Tanya Zhimbiev's move to the Haddon. Meanwhile Stephane De Brito has joined Inter Library Loans whilst Julie Inwood is on maternity leave. Julie and husband Robert are now the proud parents of their son, Aaron Patrick. Rebecca Jefferson of the Genizah Unit and husband Robert, formerly of the UL's conservation department, were also pleased to announce the birth of their baby daughter, Lily Beth.

Librarian's Secretary Michelle Maciejewska left the library at the end of 2004 to take up a post in the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) and was replaced by Anastasia Nezhentseva. Meanwhile Deputy Librarians' Secretary, Anna Maria Ercolani, and husband Trevor Brown of the Library's Technical Maintenance Department, were pleased to announce the birth of their daughter, Emma Anna, in November 2004. Anna Maria's post will be covered, during her absence, by Charlotte Ross, formerly of the Library Offices.

Elsewhere Graham Willis joined the Cleaning and General Maintenance team whilst Ashley Hurrell replaced Paul Cook in Technical Maintenance.

Finally congratulations to Lesley Gray who has been appointed on a half-time basis for nine months to the newly-created post of Library Services Co-ordinator.

Send us your comments on this article

<< Back to CONTENTS

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict