Readers' Newsletter


Scientific publications: free for all?

In the last issue of the Newsletter we reported on the growing journals crisis and ways in which we are trying to tackle the problem in Cambridge. It is increasingly recognised that this is a national, indeed international, problem, which has to be tackled on a global basis. The announcement of an enquiry by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology into the problems facing academic libraries with respect to purchasing scientific journals was, therefore, a very welcome development. The Committee received extensive written evidence and also held four oral hearings, at one of which evidence was given by the University Librarian, Peter Fox, along with the Chief Executive of the British Library and representatives of JISC and the University of Hertfordshire. The report was published in July with the title Scientific publications: free for all? (London: Stationery Office; HC399-1) and it is available in full on the web:

The Report stresses that changes are needed in the way scientific research is published and accessed. The MPs rejected the publishers’ view that the present publishing model is working well and that the market should be left to change itself. Despite noting some unanswered questions with proposed new models such as open-access publishing, the Report strongly concluded that ‘the current model for scientific publishing is unsatisfactory’ and recommended the dual open-access approach of repositories and open-access journals. In particular, it recommended that funding bodies should require authors to retain copyright in their articles, that they should require authors to deposit a copy of their final papers in suitable repositories (such as DSpace, being developed in Cambridge by the University Library and the Computing Service) and that they should make funds available to pay publication charges in open access journals. The academic community now has an opportunity to take control of the reporting of research and introduce change along the lines recommended in the Report without leaving it to Government or to publishers either to take change forward or to slow it down.

The European Commission has also taken up the cudgels by announcing a study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe, the results of which will be available in 2005. The objective is to determine the conditions required for optimum operation of the sector and to assess the extent to which the Commission can help to meet those conditions. The study will deal with the main topics of the current public debate, such as the future of printed scientific journals, the risks associated with increases in the price of publications in terms of access to information for researchers, open access to research findings for all and the need to reconcile authors’ rights and the economic interests of publishers.

Quotations from the Report

‘It is unacceptable that HEFCE has shown so little interest in library budgets. We recommend that it commission a study from HEPI to ascertain both current library funding levels and library funding needs.’ Paragraph 97

‘Pressure on library journal acquisitions budgets has resulted in cancelled subscriptions and has contributed to a decline in book purchasing. This compromises the library’s ability to provide the full range of services required by its user community.’ Paragraph 99

‘It is disappointing that many academics are content to ignore the significant difficulties faced by libraries. Until they start to see the provision of journals as, in part, their problem, the situation will not improve.’ Paragraph 107

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The Central Science Library

From August 1st, the Scientific Periodicals Library became officially known as the Central Science Library, a change of name which reflects changes in the composition of its stock. Part of the periodicals collection previously housed here is now in the Betty and Gordon Moore Library and the remaining journals are now to be joined by monographs received by legal deposit.

The Central Science Library, in Bene’t Street, has been a dependent library of the University Library since 1976. Its present holdings are in the biological, chemical, earth and environmental sciences. It was founded as the library of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in the early nineteenth century and has occupied its current location in the Arts School Building since 1935. As part of the long term strategy for library and information services in science and technology, it now shares responsibility for these subjects with the Moore Library, which houses collections in physical and mathematical sciences and technology.

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George Szirtes papers

In September the Library accessioned a collection of correspondence and related papers of the distinguished contemporary poet, translator and illustrator George Szirtes. Resident in England since the age of eight, after arriving from Budapest following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Szirtes trained as an artist in Leeds before embarking on a teaching career in Hertfordshire. His poetry has been published by Faber and Faber, Secker and Warburg, Oxford University Press and, most recently, Bloodaxe Books. Since the mid-1990s George Szirtes has lived in Norfolk as a freelance writer and a college and university teacher.

The correspondence dates from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, and gives insights into the development and diversification of Szirtes’s literary work over a quarter of a century. Among the earlier items are letters from the then poet laureate John Betjeman and the Hungarian poet and translator Thomas Kabdebo, giving encouragement and advice to the young Szirtes; in turn, the later files contain letters from young and unestablished writers seeking guidance and criticism from Szirtes. There are sets of letters from Szirtes’ major publishers, and from the editors of journals to which he has contributed, some of them well-known poets in their own right such as Anthony Thwaite and Craig Raine. The long process of consolidating a reputation as a poet is reflected in the numerous letters from festival organisers, judging committees, arts associations and poetry groups. Szirtes’ interest in printing (he was the proprietor of the Starwheel Press) is demonstrated by correspondence from other small-press printers, including Roy Lewis of the Keepsake Press and John Mole of the Mandeville Press. There are many interesting letters from fellow-poets with whom Szirtes exchanged criticism and ideas, including Peter Porter and Peter Redgrove, while Szirtes’ work as a translator from Hungarian features increasingly in the files following his first of many revisits to the country in 1984.

Accessioned as MS Add. 9703, the Szirtes correspondence complements other sets of modern literary archives added to the Library’s collections in recent years, including the papers of the poet Anne Stevenson and of the Royal Society of Literature. Once a catalogue has been prepared, the archive will be open to researchers in accordance with the usual procedures for access to the Library’s manuscript holdings. For further information contact John Wells in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, e-mail or telephone (3)33055.

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Newton in New York

Between October and February, some thirteen of the Library’s most important Newton manuscripts, together with the scientist’s own copy of the first edition of his Principia Mathematica, will be on display at a major exhibition at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.

The exhibition, entitled ‘The Newtonian Moment: Science and the Making of Modern Culture’, will explore the many facets of Newton's colossal accomplishments, as well as the debates over the kind of knowledge that these accomplishments engendered. As well as the Cambridge manuscripts, never before exhibited outside the United Kingdom, there will be items drawn from the collections of the New York Public Library and the Burndy Library at MIT, including a first edition of Newton's Opticks; numerous works popularizing his theories, by Voltaire, Francesco Algarotti, and Mme du Châtelet; illustrations celebrating (or damning) Newton, by William Hogarth, William Blake, and Giovanni Battista Pittoni; scientific instruments; and Newton’s death mask, once owned by Thomas Jefferson. A companion volume, written by the curator, Professor Mordechai Feingold, will expand upon the themes explored in the exhibition.

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Poet Laureate opens exhibition

Poet Laureate opens exhibition

The Library’s current exhibition, ‘Writing Poetry: Manuscript Verse, 250 BC to 2000 AD’, was opened on 10 May by Professor Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate. In an introductory talk, Professor Motion emphasised the importance of preserving the poetical manuscripts of our own times for the benefit of generations to come. Professor Motion is shown here with the exhibition’s curator, Mr John Wells of the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

The exhibition will run until 18 December and is open between 09.00 and 18.00 Mondays to Fridays and from 09.00 to 16.30 on Saturdays.

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An illustration to the ‘Sihr ul-bayan’ (‘Enchanting Story’) of Mir Hasan

An illustration to the ‘Sihr ul-bayan’ (‘Enchanting Story’) of Mir Hasan. Najm un-Nisa, seated at centre-right and disguised in the grey ashes of an ascetic, entertains the court of the jinns. Lucknow, India, c. 1785; CUL MS Or. 2255, f.64. Further illustrations from this manuscript are on display in the ‘Writing Poetry’ exhibition.

Ensemble Project successfully completed

The retrospective conversion of catalogues continues at various speeds. That of the music catalogue has come to a temporary halt with the completion of Cambridge’s four year participation in the Ensemble Project, a co-operative project centred on a group of University and Conservatory music libraries (see Readers’ newsletter no. 19 for full details). Nationally this has produced over 200,000 records for printed music, adding significantly to the range of music available through COPAC and other online catalogues. Locally we have done what we set out to achieve, namely to catalogue all our miniature scores (ca. 10,000 records), to catalogue a section of our Victorian popular songs (12,500 records for songs published between ca. 1860 and 1886 – see illustration), and a section of music published between 1800 and 1850 (ca. 3000 records). Fortunately we have been able to extend the project by a year in order to catalogue most of our collected editions and monumental sets. This has been an especially valuable and revealing task, in that much of the work has been in providing new or significantly upgraded records for material that is frequently inadequately described in most online catalogues. For instance, the complete edition of Robert Schumann’s works are published as 156 numbers in 13 series. The only records available from other libraries describe this entire collection on one entry, with the consequence that readers can find it only on a very narrow selection of search options. Our approach is that every work by Schumann in his collected edition should be findable at least on a keyword search. To do this each series or volume within a series has been described separately, with a full list of title in a contents note. These contents notes are, however, searched only on a keyword search, so musicians should take note that to find a full range of editions prefer keyword to title searches.
Monumental editions often also suffer from inadequate descriptions. However, for volumes that contain selections of works by different composers we have ensured that they have full lists of contents with titles and composers, often with carefully constructed composer/title added entries. If you wish to see an example, look up on a title search “Musica antiqua Bohemica” and pick almost any record to see what we have done.
This level of cataloguing reveals the music of many composers which would otherwise remain hidden, to our readers’ great benefit.

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The Friends of Cambridge University Library

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

Saturday 20 November, at 11.30
John Kerrigan
‘Changing the geopolitics: Shakespeare to Defoe’
(This event is open to non-members, but will be preceded at 11.00 a.m. by the Annual General Meeting, open to members only)

Wednesday 24 November, at 17.00
Nicholas Pickwoad
‘A little known library in Ulster: a look at the Derry Diocesan Library’

Saturday 4 December, at 11.30
James Diggle, Peter J. Lucas, David Money and John Wells
‘Reading Poetry’: a reading of poems from the Library’s ‘Writing Poetry’ exhibition (open until 18 December), with introductions and translations.

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 will be served at 16.30 before the meeting on 24 November, and coffee at 11.00 before the meeting on 4 December.

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Patience rewarded

The University Library’s copy of volume 32 of The proceedings of the Classical Association was recently found in the Amnesty International Book Shop and returned to the Library. It had been officially missing since the Inspection of 1960, 44 years ago. This, and the recent occurrence of this year’s Inspection, prompted an informal survey of returning bibliographic vagrants. The result gave some cause for optimism about the long term fate of missing books, however irritating their absence in the intervening period. While most books found to have returned to the shelf at the annual Inspections have been declared missing in the recent past, a study of twenty Inspection reports showed that, for the found item which had been missing the longest in each year, the average time lapse was just under 43 years. The Rip Van Winkle of the survey was an item lost in 1886 and returned 110 years later in 1996, while 1993’s Inspection revealed returned books missing since 1887 and 1892. Distance in space as well as time can be noteworthy. One book was returned after 37 years from the shelves of the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, provoking speculation on the exact route of its illegal transportation and happy return; of the few UL books to circumnavigate the globe this must have taken the longest to achieve it.

In more leisurely days, fully annotated longhand records were kept of missing and found books and these show patterns of loss and recovery in the early twentieth century that are still familiar. Apart from simple reappearance on the shelf, conscience-stricken anonymity and posthumous unmasking of biblioklepts were common then as now: ‘Returned by post from an unknown source, Sept. 1926’, ‘Found with books of W. M****** and ret’d by Heffer, 9/11/12’. (More mysterious, and suggestive of rescue from an unspeakable fate, is ‘Returned from Luton, Sept. 28, 1917’.) Other notes open windows onto Proustian vistas of the lost past, lent charm by distance and capitalization: ‘Found in cupboard at Door, July 1916’ ‘Found on windowsill in Two-mile Room, 1/10/12’ or, momentarily breath-catching, ‘Found in Stars, Sept. 9 1918’.

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Review of the University Library

The General Board of the Faculties conducts a regular programme reviewing academic and other departments in the University. This year it was the turn of the University Library. The Review Committee was chaired by Professor Roger Parker (Music) and consisted of Dr Christopher Howe (Biochemistry), Professor John Morrill (History), Professor Jeremy Sanders (Chemistry) and Dr Reg Carr (Director of University Library Services and Bodleys’ Librarian, University of Oxford).

The Committee expressed itself very impressed with the way the Library was run and with the high quality of service provided by Library staff ‘under very difficult financial circumstances’. It noted that there had been a ‘relentless and unavoidable’ growth in the volume and costs of key parts of the Library’s acquisitions and services, set against a growing shortfall in funding. The Committee also noted that there was an increasing demand for electronic resources (electronic journals, reference sources, databases, etc.) at a time when there was no diminution in the publication of, and need for, traditional books and journals in paper form. While the extension currently being built would provide for up to ten years in the Library’s need for more space to store its growing collections, the Committee recognised that funding for the final phase of the approved development needed to be put in place in the near future.

The Committee acknowledged that, in the present financial climate, the increase in funding that the Library needs to maintain its position as one of the great libraries of the world was likely to come from sources external to the University, and it noted the success of the development campaign to date. It also suggested that greater co-ordination between all the libraries of the University could lead to some savings, without a significant reduction in the quality of service provided to the University community.

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Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033