Readers' Newsletter


Voyager embarks

Picture of the first book being issued
The Chairman of the Library Syndicate, Professor Malcolm Schofield, borrows the first book to be issued using the new system.

During July and August, the various modules of the Voyager integrated library system, developed by Endeavor Information Systems of Des Plaines, Illinois, were implemented for the University Library, its dependent libraries and libraries of most faculties, departments and colleges. While the online catalogue system (called Newton in its local manifestation) and the circulation system, which controls the borrowing and recall of books, are the most visible aspects for the library user, the system also provides facilities for many other library activities, including book purchase, registration of periodicals and submitting requests for closed access items.
Newton, in its initial stage, is organised into separate catalogues covering the University Library and its dependent libraries; manuscripts and Cambridge theses in the UL; departmental, faculty and college libraries, and those of affiliated institutions. All the catalogue information present in the various databases of the previous system was transferred to Newton and in many cases amalgamated into single files. By mid-September some 6000 new catalogue entries had already been added to the UL database, following the first new entry on 2 July (this, not entirely fortuitously, was for The Cambridge companion to Newton, C.U.P., 2002). The Newton system provides enhanced search facilities, the ability to refine searches by setting limits such as language or date, and choice of presentation of search results by a variety of sorting criteria. There are links to electronic journals and other databases and opportunities to save and e-mail search results and to consult one’s own library records of loans, requests, fines, etc.
The next stage of development, planned for Michaelmas Term, is the amalgamation of the separate catalogues just mentioned. This will provide one point of access to those library holdings of the University as a whole for which automated records exist. This will coincide with an accelerated rate of conversion to machine-readable form of the UL’s old catalogues, as reported in the Readers’ Newsletter of January 2002.
Newton’s public debut was accompanied by twice-weekly presentations throughout the summer designed to help users get the best out of the new system. These proved very popular and much of their content will be incorporated in the more general introductory sessions to the Library’s catalogues, which start in October. Full details of the user education programme can be found at

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British Library Public Catalogue added to COPAC

The British Library Public Catalogue (BLPC) is now available online through COPAC, which itself is accessible from catalogue terminals in the University Library system. COPAC is the online union catalogue of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) which gives free access to the merged catalogues of 22 of the largest university research libraries in the UK and Ireland. With the addition of the British Library data, COPAC now offers access by author, title or subject to more than 20 million records via a single search interface.
BLPC gives access to the holdings of both the London reading rooms of the British Library and its Document Supply Centre at Boston Spa. There is one significant limitation relating to British Library records in non-Roman scripts, which COPAC cannot yet display correctly. It is anticipated that catalogue records from the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales will also become available through COPAC within a year. They are already included in an experimental version (COPAC V3) which can be tested from the COPAC home page (http//

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How well are we doing? a response from the lawyers

A couple of issues ago (Newsletter 20) we reported that the University Library Syndicate had established a task force with the following terms of reference: to consider how the Library might best establish mechanisms for consulting the varied constituencies of readers on a regular basis; and to consider ways in which the Library can ensure that it is serving users’ needs whilst balancing the needs of today’s users with responsibilities to future generations.
The task force recommended that the University Library should consider using the Libra Survey software developed by Priority Research Limited, which specialises in library consultancy, and that an initial pilot survey should be carried out at the Squire Law Library.
The Squire’s survey was conducted throughout March 2002. The main aim of the pilot was fully to test the methodology to see whether it could be employed for a more extensive survey at the University Library. Apart from being a test-bed for the UL, however, the advantage to the Squire was obvious. For the first time the Squire would benefit from having a full scale, professionally run, reader survey of its law population with the opportunity to ascertain how the library and its services were matching up to the needs of its users.
It was decided at an early stage to conduct the entire survey electronically by e-mail as it was perceived that most law students were heavy IT users and therefore would be more likely to respond enthusiastically to an on-screen survey, rather than having to complete forms. Essentially the methodology was in two stages. Stage one involved the collecting of data from users about their concerns. They were asked to answer a single question: ‘How can the service provided by the Squire Law Library be improved to meet your current and future needs?’, and they were permitted to give up to three answers. Having established the issues that readers were concerned about from their answers to the initial question, Priority Research Ltd created a carefully crafted web-questionnaire that sought to tease out further information and users’ priorities. This was offered to the whole ‘law’ population including the academic staff and other faculty members, postgraduates and undergraduates (about 1,000 people in total).
The results offered at the end of the survey included charts detailing readers’ priorities and concerns, a series of rating scales to determine the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with elements of the service, and a series analysis showing possible priorities for future development. Strategic planning for any customer (user)-led service depends on accurate information being available about perceptions of the organisation in the present and the future. This is the essence of the Libra Survey software. It helps to identify priorities by pairing the issues identified by users against each other so that respondents have to make decisions indicating their personal preferences. Given certain financial constraints, for example, should the library concentrate more on printed books, journals and reports or should it instead devote more resources to electronic access to journals and databases? Another example of a critical question, and one which the Squire had been considering recently, was related to whether the library (which is a reference only service) should become a lending library or whether it would be more important and preferable to extend the length of its opening hours.
From the perspective of the Squire, the survey largely confirmed that the service needs that had already been identified by the library staff were also those that concerned readers. The priorities that were identified were as follows (in order of preference): cheaper photocopying, more online journals, more re-shelving of books by staff during the day, allow people to drink water in the library, more copies of core text books. The bottom three priorities for users (from the list resulting from the first phase of the survey) were: more facilities for laptops (power and network points), impose fines on people who use mobile phones in the library, replace the readers’ chairs.
The methodology proved to be a success where the Squire was concerned. However, the response rate was only 38%, which was relatively low. With hindsight perhaps the survey would have benefited from being more paper-based with less of an emphasis on e-mail. The final report by Priority Research ran to 157 pages of useful feedback. The data will be examined and considered and planning for future development of the Squire will proceed, appropriately based on the opinions of its users.
The recommendation from the Squire Law Librarian to the Library Syndicate was that the Libra Survey software could be usefully employed at the University Library as a sound methodology for surveying its own users. In addition the Squire might also benefit from having a second survey conducted three years hence in order to establish a pattern of opinion about users’ perceptions over a sustained period of time.
Anyone wanting further details of the survey should contact David Wills, in the Squire (

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Picture of the Library before it was fully built.Building the modern Library, September 1933; an image from the new exhibition Speaking Volumes: 600 years of Cambridge University Library. See The Library's history exhibited for details.

Royal Commonwealth Society archives cataloguing project

Picture from the Royal Commonwealth Society archives
An itinerant musician in the Semiem Mountains, Ethiopa; photograph by H. E. Hebbert, 1943.

Thanks to a generous grant of $40,000 made possible by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation of New York, 2003 will see the launch of an exciting new project to make the archive and manuscript catalogues of the Royal Commonwealth Society Library searchable across the internet. The grant was from Cambridge in America.
A published catalogue of collections in the RCS in 1975 can be consulted in libraries, but scholars wishing to discover those collections acquired since that date need to make the journey to Cambridge to scan the folders containing handwritten and typed descriptions, mostly at collection-level.
Nearly 200 collections have been acquired since 1975. These include records of interest to a wide range of academic researchers: anthropologists, medical historians, social historians, lawyers, art historians and natural scientists, as well as to family historians, the media and commercial picture researchers.
Recently, considerable use has been made of the British Association of Malaysia (BAM) archive by the Veterans Agency and the families of pensioners living as far afield as Australia and the Far East who need proof of internment as a condition of their pension claims. The BAM archive contains unique lists of the internees at the infamous Second-World-War Changi and Sime Road prisons in Singapore.
The following examples give a taste of the geographical richness and variety of the collections to be catalogued:

  • Ocean Island litigation records 1975-1976 - a large collection including evidence, judgements, pleadings and documents of evidence resulting from a writ, issued in 1971, by leaders of the Banabans against the Attorney General and the British Phosphate Commissioners claiming compensation for the use of Ocean Island, home of the Banabans, for the mining of phosphates
  • The Gifford collection of prints and watercolours of St Helena
  • The Thomas collection relating to Uganda and East Africa, including photographs and preparatory work for the Dictionary of East African biography
  • The Newton collection of autobiographical and biographical material of importance to scholars working on the social history of Singapore and Malaya, including some very fine panoramic photographs
  • The Mary Alexandria Ward collection, relating to her nursing career, which paints a vivid picture of health
  • conditions and medical practice in West Africa
  • The Sir Philip Crampton Smyly collection relating to the community and wildlife of Sierra Leone.

The grant is sufficient for a twelve-month project to sort and catalogue these collections at collection or sub-collection level to international standards and to make this catalogue available over the Internet via the Library’s ‘Newton’ portal. The catalogue will be produced using the same database as that designed by the Cambridge Archivists Group and currently being used in the RCS Photographs Project. This will enable researchers of the future to search simultaneously for photographs, manuscripts or other archives in the Royal Commonwealth Society collections.
Not surprisingly, use of these unique and valuable archives is expected to rise, and the Library is now seeking funds to allow it to conserve the records and produce microfilm or digital copies of some of the delicate documents. Yet more funding is required to sort, list, catalogue and conserve several very recent acquisitions, including the Dean family and Falkland Islands Company archive, and several fine photographic archives, including those of the late Professor Fergus Wilson and Colonel H. E. Hebbert.

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The Friends of Cambridge University Library

Forthcoming meetings, to be held in the Morison Room, University Library:

Wednesday 20 November at 17.00
Desmond King-Hele
‘Erasmus Darwin and Charles’

Saturday 23 November at 11.30
Mirjam Foot
‘An Englishman in Paris: John Evelyn and his bookbindings’

Wednesday 4 December at 17.00
Paul Woudhuysen
‘Rebel, mijn hart…: Dutch clandestine and illegal printing 1940-45’

Saturday events are free of charge to Friends. Members wishing to attend weekday evening meetings pay at a special rate of £2.50 a head. Non-members are welcome at all talks; the admission charge is £3.50. All talks are free to junior members of the University of Cambridge. Tea is served at Wednesday evening meetings from 16.30.

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The Library's history exhibited

Painting of the construction of Cockrell's building
Constructing Cockrell's building, ca. 1837. The watercolourist had the opportunity denied to photography of including books on the shelves of the incomplete structure to indicate its eventual function.

How well do you know your UL? How many locations house parts of the University Library in Cambridge? When was the first specific reference to a University Library in Cambridge? Do you know what is the oldest item in the Library? By how many miles do the Library’s contents grow every year? The answers to all these questions, and many more, can be found in a new exhibition in the Library exhibition centre.
Cambridge University Library started as a small collection of books stored in the tower of Great St Mary’s Church in the mid fourteenth century. Now it occupies more than 100 miles of shelving and its collections vary hugely in age and content. The story of the Library is one of continuous expansion. Having spent more than 500 years in the centre of the city in what is now known as the Old Schools, it moved out to ‘the suburbs’ and its current location in 1934, to a building designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. Within thirty years of moving, planning began for the first of many extensions. The current building work will provide improved accommodation for Official Publications, microforms and electronic resources.
As well as telling the story of the expansion of the Library’s contents and buildings, the exhibition explores the work of previous custodians in acquiring, maintaining and making collections available to scholars; it also looks at those who used them down the centuries. It examines the extraordinary moments in the Library’s history, such as the right under the Copyright Act (1709) to claim a free copy of every book published in Great Britain and Ireland and the ordinary, everyday consequences of this – the regular arrival ever since of millions of items on ‘legal deposit’.
In the Library, the most beautiful sits comfortably beside the most mundane, old alongside new. Its holdings include more than 7,000,000 books, 135,000 manuscripts and 1,000,000 maps, together with a substantial collection of microfilms, electronic and online databases providing access to material not held in the Library. Containing works on every known subject, in literally thousands of languages, including children’s books, popular works and academic material, every corner of the University Library offers something to surprise and instruct.

Speaking Volumes: 600 years of Cambridge University Library.
Cambridge University Library Exhibition Centre
8 October 2002 to 15 March 2003
(closed 24 December 2002 to 1 January 2003 inclusive)
Mon.-Fri. 0900-1800
Sat. 0900-1630


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New volume in the Genizah series

The latest volume in the Library’s ‘Genizah series’ has just been published by Cambridge University Press. Entitled The Cambridge Genizah collections: their contents and significance, it is edited by Stefan Reif, Director of the Library’s Genizah Research Unit, with the assistance of his wife, Shulie. Its ten essays summarize recent research developments concerning the Library’s 140,000 medieval manuscript fragments of Semitic texts from the Cairo Genizah.
Stefan Reif’s overview of the exploitation of the Taylor-Schechter Collection at Cambridge University Library is followed by Menahem Kister’s textual interpretations of the Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) fragments. In his study of targumim, the late Michael Klein uncovers synagogue settings and fanciful renderings, while Menahem Kahana demonstrates how Genizah texts permit the reconstruction of early midrashim.
Neil Danzig’s analysis sheds light on ninth-century prayers for communal leaders and on the formal conclusion of homilies. An examination of Judah Halevi’s last years in Egypt and the Holy Land is offered by Joseph Yahalom. Haggai Ben-Shammai makes an assessment of S. D. Goitein’s contribution to Jewish historiography and discusses Jewish religious ideas in the medieval Islamic world, while Paul Fenton reveals that Muslims and Jews often co-operated professionally and sometimes enjoyed close social contact.
Child brides, family violence and Jewish marriage documents are Mordechai Friedman’s topics, with Joel Kraemer describing numerous and varied letters between women and their relatives. There are also full indexes, as well as twenty-two plates that will provide readers with the opportunity of reading some of the manuscript texts for themselves The volume is dedicated to the memory of Michael Klein, who was Dean of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and often spent time at Cambridge University Library researching its Hebrew and Aramaic material. It has 229 pages and its retail price is £45 (ISBN 0 521 81361 1) .

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Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033