Readers' Newsletter

Donations to support historic scientific manuscripts and American studies

The University Library has one of the most important collections of scientific manuscripts and books in the world. It contains most of the surviving scientific papers of two of the most celebrated scientists of all time, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, as well as the papers of other Cambridge scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, J.J. Thomson, Lord Rutherford and George Gabriel Stokes.

On page 2 you can read of the successful outcome of negotiations over the future of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) archival collections. The financial settlement transferring permanent responsibility for this collection to the University Library, together with a most generous donation of almost $800,000 from an anonymous benefactor, have allowed us to create a new post of Curator of Historic Scientific Manuscripts with effect from 1 April. The post has been filled by Adam Perkins, who up to now has been Archivist of the RGO.

Mr Perkins’ priorities will be to continue to supervise the cataloguing and digitisation of the Macclesfield Collection of Newton papers, acquired in 2000, to accelerate the work of cataloguing the RGO archive, and to support readers in their use of these materials.


In 1999 the Library received a donation from Dr Mark Kaplanoff, Fellow of Pembroke, to create a temporary post to build up the American studies collections, principally in the history of the United States (see Newsletter 13). The following year Dr Kaplanoff died suddenly, leaving a bequest of over a million dollars to the University Library to buy materials for the support of American studies. This bequest has been used to create the Kaplanoff Fund, the income from which will be available for the purchase of American studies materials on a permanent basis. Dr Kaplanoff’s original donation runs out in April and the Library has been able to create a new post which will enable us to make the most effective use of the bequest, by having an American studies specialist available to select and purchase materials from the Kaplanoff Fund.

Particular areas of strength within the American studies collection include the discovery of the Americas, the War of Independence, the colonial period, the Civil War, slavery and ethnic relations, foreign relations, and the civil rights movement. Though the Library receives by legal deposit many publications from major publishers based in the USA, because they are distributed widely in the UK or are published jointly with a British publisher, the majority of the books published in the United States that are needed for the collection have to be purchased.

The new post will be filled from 1 May by Jayne Hoare, a graduate of Birmingham University in American Studies and English. Her role is to improve coverage by selecting more books for purchase, especially in those areas of research interest to members of the University working in a number of different faculties and departments. She will seek to maintain the existing strengths, whilst focusing on building the collection in all areas of US business history, contemporary politics and economics, gender politics, Canadian history, and twentieth century US foreign policies. She will also be involved in cataloguing English-language materials and in fostering stronger links with users, especially in the Faculty of History. Jayne Hoare will welcome recommendations from readers for the purchase of books in American studies ( or telephone (3)33102).

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A permanent home for the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives

Fourteen years after the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) archival collection came on deposit to the University Library, an agreement has now been reached between the Library and the body previously responsible for the records, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, for the deposit to become permanent. This is a most significant development because the move ensures the safe future of the collection in a modern purpose-constructed strongroom with all the Library’s attendant facilities to support the collection and its readers.

The Royal Greenwich Observatory in fact came into being under this name only in 1948, after the former Royal Observatory had moved away from Greenwich to Herstmonceux in East Sussex. In 1987 it was decided to close the Herstmonceux site and move the RGO to Cambridge, with the University Library becoming the formal ‘place of deposit’ for the archives under the Public Records Act. The RGO opened in Cambridge in 1990, but after only seven years it was decided that the role it played was itself superfluous and the further decision was made to close the national observatory in late 1998, with the archives remaining in the University Library pending a final decision on their future. The happy outcome has been a settlement of benefit to the collection and its users.

There are close connections between the RGO Archives and other collections in the University Library, such as the scientific papers of George Gabriel Stokes, Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell in the Department of Manuscripts. Most important are the links with material in the Portsmouth Collection of Isaac Newton’s papers. The most frequently noted association between the early years of the Royal Observatory and the University is that of Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and Isaac Newton. Flamsteed provided Newton with observational data and there was the celebrated and interminably fractious dispute between Edmond Halley, Newton and Flamsteed about the publication of the Greenwich observations. Additionally, in the Portsmouth Collection, there is a significant body of papers relating to the finding of the longitude, of importance in the development of ideas about solutions to the problem, this solution being the very raison d’être of the Observatory. Halley is represented in the Flamsteed papers because of the rift over publication but after Flamsteed’s death Halley was appointed the second Astronomer Royal and thus has his own individual class of papers in the archive.

About a third of the papers in the archive date back to the Greenwich era, 1675-1948. Such was the expansion of the work at Herstmonceux, however, with many more staff working in new departments that the bulk of the papers date from the second half of the 20th century, after the Greenwich centuries. Even during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the purely ‘Greenwich papers’ were diluted when records of other bodies, such as the Board of Longitude (1714-1828) and the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, founded in 1820, were taken into the Greenwich record. Providing a secure home for records that might otherwise have vanished for want of proper care has been a characteristic of the management of the collection over the centuries, the archives acting as a benevolent ‘black hole’ to accrete more and more related, but not directly associated, material into the whole.
With the RGO archives having provided proper care for other collections over the centuries, it is appropriate that the University Library is now ensuring that the RGO collection itself is preserved and made available to users in a fitting location.

The royal warrant for the observatory building at Greenwich, 1675

The royal warrant for the observatory building at Greenwich, 1675


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The journals crisis - scholarly communication and reclaiming control of the information chain

We are in the middle of a crisis in scholarly communication and rapid changes in the information landscape – how information is provided, in what form, how much it costs and how it is paid for.

The libraries of the University, in common with academic libraries worldwide, are facing the challenge of continuing to provide the information necessary to support the University’s research and teaching activities, in the face of grossly inflationary costs for serials.

In response to this situation locally, the departments in the School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Chemistry have joined with the University Library to pool resources for the purchase of scientific journals in relevant subjects (including the biological/biomedical and chemical holdings of the SPL and those of the Medical Library), to rationalize print subscriptions as far as possible and jointly manage the available resources.

Action on the underlying issues, however, is the only real cure. It is vital that librarians, researchers, editors, reviewers, referees, creators and consumers of scholarly communication all engage with the crisis and actively work to change the system.

The University Library organised two half day workshops in March to address what can be done. One session, held in the Faculty of Law building, sought to investigate how the consequences of the ‘journals crisis’, far more familiar in the sciences, were being felt in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The other, hosted by the Department of Engineering, focussed on the development of new models of disseminating research, especially the open access movement.

Preservation of research and teaching materials was a common concern to those attending both sessions. Speakers outlined the national initiatives to promote institutional electronic ‘open repositories’ and the Cambridge repository – DSpace@Cambridge. Full reports of the workshops are available on the Library website.

Once localized in science-technology-medical journals, double-digit inflation has spread to the more journal-dependent areas of the social sciences. As libraries are forced to reallocate funds to journal subscriptions, they often reduce acquisitions in other areas, particularly scholarly monographs and foreign language publications. Though it is impossible to predict future developments in scholarly communication, straight-line projections suggest that reductions in journal collections in libraries could range from 20 to 50% by the year 2012.

Many different alternatives to conventional publishing patterns are already being implemented. These include institutional open access archiving, peer-reviewed open access journals, society self-publishing, and promoting peer-reviewed alternatives to expensive established journals.

For further information, see

or contact Michael Wilson at

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Squire Law Library Centenary Lecture

On 1 March 2004 the Squire Law Library became one hundred years old. To celebrate this special occasion the Rt Hon. The Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, delivered the Squire Centenary Lecture on the evening of 3 March to a packed auditorium at the Cambridge Faculty of Law. The title of his speech was ‘The Rule of Law and a Change in the Constitution’ and, in it, he addressed the Constitutional Reform Bill that had been introduced in Parliament the previous week. The Bill proposes to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, set up a new mechanism for the appointment of judges in England and Wales and establish a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom. Lord Woolf’s comments on these contentious proposals generated significant debate in the broadcast media later that evening and in the press the following day. A copy of Lord Woolf’s speech together with links to media reaction can be seen on the Squire’s web-pages at:

Lord Woolf’s lecture marked the centenary of the Squire. In 1904 the library was officially opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in the building on Downing Street, Cambridge that was designed by T.G. Jackson, R.A. The library was funded by a bequest from Miss Rebecca Flower Squire, who died in 1898. The original library occupied just one room and was stocked with some 8,000 volumes deposited from the University Library, together with other works purchased from the Squire Fund. Many students recall with affection the Squire’s second home from 1935 to 1995: the rather quaint accommodation of the Cockerell Building .

Today the Squire is a modern resource maintaining a vast collection, both printed and electronic, and occupies the top 3 floors of the Law Faculty building that was designed by Lord Foster and Partners and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 8 March 1996. The Squire Law Library, a dependent library of Cambridge University Library since 1982, remains at the intellectual heart of the Cambridge Faculty of Law and provides a major resource for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, academic research and legal practice.

The launch of the Squire Law Library Centenary Appeal, chaired by Professor Sir David Williams, aims to ensure that the University can provide the finest resources today and in the future for all who study and research law at Cambridge. As Lord Woolf noted in his Centenary Lecture,

“A healthy legal system requires great law libraries. This is particularly true of common law legal systems. It is as true today as it has been in the past. Great law libraries are the treasuries of a legal system. They are the warehouse where we find the law. They are also where we collate, catalogue, index and digest the sources of our and other systems of law”.

The creation of the Squire Centenary Endowment Fund will allow the Squire to strengthen further its position as a world-class law library and to continue to support students, academics and practitioners.

For further information about the Squire Appeal please contact:

University of Cambridge Development Office
10 Trumpington Street
Cambridge CB2 1QA

Tel: 01223 332288; Fax: 01223 460817 Website:

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Writing poetry

The Library’s new exhibition, ‘Writing Poetry: Manuscript Verse, 250 BC to 2000 AD’, will open to the public on Tuesday 11 May. It draws together some of the Library’s greatest cultural treasures to celebrate the writing of poetry, examine the inspirations for poems, explore the role of verse in the University, and highlight the ways in which poetical manuscripts are studied. On display will be manuscript poems from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The earliest exhibit is a fragment of a Euripides play retrieved from an Egyptian mummy (it formed part of a classical library that was broken up and reused as ‘cartonnage’, the strips of papyrus layered around an embalmed body), while the most recent is a calligraphic couplet executed by the Chinese ambassador Ma Zhen’gang on a visit to the Library, displayed together with the brush and inkstone used to write it.

Other exhibits include Cædmon’s Hymn from the Moore Bede manuscript of around 737 AD, which has long been regarded as the earliest extant copy of the first English poem by a poet whose name is known; the only two surviving medieval texts of Chaucer’s poem The former age; the beautiful Leconfield manuscript of the poems of John Donne, written between 1620 and 1632 in a superb Italianate book hand; and three satirical poems seized from the printing shop of a seditious periodical in 1730 and docketed ‘Scrutore’ (‘scrutinised’) by the government agents who examined them. Striking illustrated poems will be on show, from medieval Europe and from eighteenth-century India, Tibet and Japan. Poetry written for examinations and prizes in the University will be displayed, including an ‘original composition’ for the English tripos by the future poet laureate Ted Hughes, and an autograph copy of a Greek ode on the slave trade by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Other autograph material includes drafts, fair copies or corrected type of poems by Milton, Crabbe, Shelley, Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Seamus Heaney and Anne Stevenson.

The exhibition will run until 18 December, and is open between 09.00 and 18.00 Mondays to Fridays and from 09.00 to16.30 on Saturdays (closed on Sundays, the August Bank Holiday, and from 16-23 September). For further details contact John Wells in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, (3)33055 or


The poet Ono no Komachi, with one of her poems, from an eighteenth-century Japanese manuscript scroll. (FJ.1000.10)

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The Friends of Cambridge University Library

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

Wednesday 19 May at 17.00
Sally Brown

‘From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf: the British Library’s literary manuscript collections’

Wednesday 2 June at 17.00
Brian Harrison

‘What’s new about the Oxford dictionary of national biography?’

Members 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 from 16.30.

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Harley-Mason bequest

The Library’s holdings of books with hand-coloured aquatint plates have recently been supplemented by the bequest of thirty-three items from the estate of Dr John Harley-Mason, a distinguished chemist and Fellow of Corpus Christi College. The books will be added to our existing Harley-Mason collection, purchased in 1986, which contains around 325 colour-plate books from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The original Harley-Mason collection enhanced our existing holdings, because many of the books had never been purchased by or deposited with the Library at the time of publication, or were held with plates present only in an uncoloured state. This is also true of the bequest: of the 33 books, all printed in the British Isles, only 4 are straightforward duplicates of items already held here. Other apparent duplicates add material: for example, our existing copy of Empson’s Narratives of South America (1836) is small format with no illustrations; the Harley-Mason copy is a large paper copy with 14 coloured plates.

As with the original collection, the bequest contains important topographical and travel books showing scenes from Britain and abroad; drawing books and art reproductions; humorous books; and hunting stories by Apperley and Surtees. It also adds another panorama to the half-dozen already in the collection: My first day in a quiet street by Watts Phillips (pupil of George Cruikshank), a comic tale of a lodger’s disturbed concentration.

Drawing-books of note include the rare 1811 edition of Gilpin’s day by John Heaviside Clark. The bequest adds titles by artists represented in the original Harley-Mason collection, such as twelve seascapes by Samuel Prout (1814) - marked as ‘very scarce’.

Several of the topographical books depict scenes on the south coast of England. Dennis Sullivan’s Picturesque tour through Ireland (1824) and George Petrie’s Picturesque sketches of the … scenery of Ireland (1835) are important additions to our significant holdings of Irish books; a note by Dr Harley-Mason in the latter records ‘in my opinion, the best colour plate book on Ireland’.

The bequest is currently uncatalogued, but a full list of the items is available at the staff desk in the Munby Rare Books Room. Records for the original Harley-Mason collection can be found in the Pre-1978 General Catalogue or Newton and a short description can be found at

Wellington leading a charge at Waterloo, from Edward Orme’s Historic, military, and naval anecdotes (London, 1819)

Wellington leading a charge at Waterloo, from Edward Orme’s Historic, military, and naval anecdotes (London, 1819)

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Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033