Readers' Newsletter


The Cambridge illuminations

The University Library is joint host with the Fitzwilliam Museum to a major exhibition of medieval illuminated manuscripts, "The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval west". With 215 items, this is the largest exhibition of such manuscripts since that organised at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1908 by Sydney Cockerell. The exhibits range from the sixth-century Gospels of St Augustine, over which the Archbishop of Canterbury still makes his oath, to a sixteenth-century political invective against the Hapsburg kings of Spain. By giving unprecedented public access to the treasures of the University Library, the Fitzwilliam and the Cambridge colleges and by generating major scholarly activity in the form of an extensive catalogue and a related conference, it also demonstrates the progress made since Cockerell's backhanded acknowledgment in his 1908 catalogue to "the Colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, whose manuscript treasures are scarcely known even to their owners".

The Library's Exhibition Centre displays three sections of the exhibition. The medieval encyclopaedia: science and practice illuminates (in all senses) medieval science and its inter-relationships with religion, myth and the occult. The humanistic manuscript traces the rediscovery of classical learning and literature in early-fifteenth-century Italy and the evolution of a new style of script and complementary decoration through to the emergence of the printed book and the last flowering of hand-painted illumination on its mechanically produced pages. Manuscripts and documents for Cambridge University provides, in the illuminations of charters and official documents, pictorial evidence of the scholars and students whose own working texts had little need for lavish decoration.

Manuscripts from the University Library are also prominent among those on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum in the sections Making an illuminated manuscript, The coming of Christianity, The Bible and its study, The liturgy and the offices, Private devotion and History and literature. Also of particular note is the opportunity to view the individual leaves of the Macclesfield Psalter, the masterpiece of fourteenth-century East Anglian illumination recently acquired by the Museum.

A fully illustrated catalogue of 415 pages, with contributions from leading specialists, is available at booksellers or, during the exhibition, from the staff in the Exhibition Centre for £45 (hardback) or £24.95 (paperback): The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval west, edited by Paul Binski & Stella Panayotova. London: Harvey Miller, 2005. (ISBN 1872501591, hardback, and 187250163X, paperback.)

The exhibition will close with an international conference to be held between 8 and 10 December at Corpus Christi College, in association with the Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections. This will bring together many of the world's leading medievalists and will focus on manuscripts in Cambridge as a starting point for wider discussions between such disciplines as codicology, palaeography, art history, conservation, collecting history and literary studies.

Full details of the exhibition and related events, including a virtual exhibition of 65 highlights, are available on the web site.

An illustration to Le roman de la rose

An illustration by Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston to Le roman de la rose,
one of nearly 30 images from University Library manuscript Gg.4.6 (Paris, ca. 1330).

Opening times, until 11 December 2005:

University Library.

Monday to Friday, 09.00 to 18.00; Saturday, 09.00 to 16.30

Fitzwilliam Museum.

Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 to 17.00; Sunday, 12.00 to 17.00.

Admission free.


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Guardbook catalogue now searchable on Newton

This academic year begins with a major improvement in access to the Library's collections: the complete content of the guardbook catalogue is now searchable on Newton.

While the printed guardbook volumes will continue to be available in the Catalogue Room for those who prefer to use them, for other readers the addition of records for guardbook entries to the Newton catalogue will significantly improve their experience of using the Library. Newton now covers a huge range of works published between 1501 and the present. For example, a search for editions of Dante’s Inferno now produces a list of titles with publication dates ranging from 1515 to 2004, revealing the comprehensive nature of the Library's collections.

Newton offers far more searching methods than the printed catalogue, notably keyword and Boolean searches. Subject access to the material has been greatly improved, as subject headings have been included for over 60% of the records for material previously catalogued in the guardbook. The lists of titles resulting from a search can then be sorted, for example by date of publication, then printed as bibliographies or reading lists. Further editorial work on the records will be carried out, in particular to enable as much material as possible to be ordered in advance from closed access, or to recall a book if it is on loan.

The project has involved the conversion of over 1.3 million records, and it is inevitable that some errors will have crept in. Readers noting what seems to be such an error are encouraged to report it on the forms that are available in the Catalogue Room and main Reading Room or, preferably, via the online form that can be found from the Newton web-pages.

During the past ten years, several projects have combined their efforts to create online catalogue records for guardbook entries. The necessary major funding commitment, however, was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2003, enabling the conversion to be contracted out to OCLC and thus completed more rapidly than would otherwise have been possible in-house. No less than 600,000 records were added to Newton during 2004 alone. The Library is grateful to all those who contributed to funding the conversion, including the Isaac Newton Trust and a number of Faculty Boards.

Following the successful guardbook conversion, Greensleeves Project staff are currently making plans for the conversion of the hand-written sheaf catalogue, located in the Reading Room south corridor. This covers material published in Britain during the nineteenth century and considered at that time to be of lesser academic importance. If funding can be found, the project will involve cataloguing 500,000 books, including nineteenth-century fiction, school textbooks, and handbooks on many subjects from cookery to palmistry.

For a more detailed description of the guardbook conversion project, see the Greensleeves Project website or email the Project Manager, Vanessa Lacey (

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Eighteenth-Century Collections Online

In August, the University Library acquired access to Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), one of the most important electronic resources in the humanities to be published to date. The collection, which will be complete within two years, makes available the digitised full text of over 150,000 titles published in the UK during the eighteenth century, including both English- and foreign-language texts and several thousand works published in the Americas. Its significance lies in the opportunities it offers to researchers to search across the complete collection of more than 26 million scanned facsimile pages and to explore it from a variety of approaches. In addition to literary texts ECCO covers law, medicine, science and technology, social sciences, history, and geography. Along with Early English Books Online it makes available the full text of almost every significant work catalogued in The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Both collections may be consulted within the University Library by all readers, and, by staff and students of the University, from elsewhere in the cam domain via their Athens password. ECCO is available online and via a link from the Library's web pages.

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Electronic journals news

Locating the University's rapidly growing collection of electronic journals has now been simplified by the creation of an e-journal portal, ejournals@cambridge, which aims to provide a single, comprehensive list of titles available within the University. Ejournals@cambridge, which currently holds over 10,000 unique titles and around 11,500 journal holdings, covers open-access titles as well as those acquired through subscription. Its creation has also helped the University Library to extend off-campus access for staff and students to nearly all e-journals. Catalogue records for e-journals have been added to the University Library's Newton catalogue and will be updated regularly.

The University Library bid successfully for funding under HEFCE's SRIF3 (Science Research Infrastructure Funding) round to purchase back-sets of major scientific journals in electronic form. Negotiations have started with Elsevier and the Library hopes to be able to make available ScienceDirect back-files during the course of this academic year.


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Penultimate phase of the extension completed

The latest extension to the Library buildings on the West Road site was completed this summer. It comprises five floors of bookstack, constructed above the basement floor which came into use in 1997, on the west (Grange Road) side of the Library. The extension was designed by the Howe Partnership of Newcastle upon Tyne and, like all recent additions to the Library, it blends in almost imperceptibly with Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1934 creation.

The new bookstacks have been constructed to accord with the current British Standards for the storage of special collections materials, both in terms of security and environmental conditions. Strict controls of temperature and humidity ensure the stable environment needed for the preservation of the Library’s more valuable and fragile holdings. The University Archives, dating back to 1266, and archives of the Royal Greenwich Observatory (now on permanent deposit in the Library) have already been moved onto the third floor of the extension; rare book collections, atlases, and older newspapers will occupy the remaining space. These moves will gradually free up extra space for the modern collections, allowing an eventual re-arrangement of the open library, and providing room for the 2 kilometres of new accessions which enter the Library each year.

The next phase of the Library's improvements to its storage facilities will begin later in the year. This consists of the replacement of the mobile cases in the basement and ground floors of the West Bookstack that have been in heavy use for over thirty years, and the pneumatic mechanism is now worn out. Financed largely by a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s SRIF3 programme, this operation will involve the phased decanting of some two million books and periodicals into new or temporary locations within the Library and represents a severe logistical challenge.

The biggest challenge for the Library, however, is fundraising. There is now an obvious physical gap between the latest extension and the southwest corner of the building (as illustrated in our photograph), waiting to be filled by the final phase of the current building programme - a development which would again provide five extra floors of bookstack and storage capacity until 2020-2025.

The new bookstack from Grange Road.


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Assistive Technology Area

Although the formal opening ceremony has yet to take place, the new Assistive Technology Area for readers with special needs is now available for use. Indeed it has already welcomed its first customer.

The area, located off the Catalogue Room, is furnished with a bench at the recommended height for wheelchair users, three electrically operated, height-adjustable desks and a range of ergonomic chairs. Two PCs are available, one with a 19-inch monitor and one with a 17-inch flat screen. Each has a scanner attached and both are connected to a dedicated colour printer. These PCs provide access to the full range of the Library's electronic resources, including the Newton catalogue, databases, e-journals and the Internet, as well as Microsoft Office and e-mail. Specialist software has also been installed on these machines: Dolphin Supernova and JAWS, both of which provide screen reading and magnification facilities, and the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice-recognition package. An adjustable keyboard and trackball mouse are available. The area is also equipped with a CCTV reader.

These developments have been made possible by a generous donation from the Abbey Charitable Trust, for which the Library is most grateful.

Readers wishing to use the new Assistive Technology Area, or who would like further information about the general facilities and services provided by the University Library for disabled readers, should contact Colin Clarkson, Head of the Reference Department & Disability Liaison Officer, or any other member of the staff of the Reference Department in the main Reading Room (e-mail, telephone: (3)33016).

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DSpace@Cambridge hits the 100,000-item mark

Just as the University Library has always attached great importance to its role in acquiring, curating, and providing access to paper-based resources, so it has become increasingly concerned to ensure that it can discharge a similar role for digital information. Since the beginning of 2003 the Library has therefore been developing a digital institutional repository, Dspace@Cambridge, as a centrally-managed resource for the University. The repository derives its name from its use of the DSpace software-platform first released by MIT and Hewlett Packard in November 2002. The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) has provided funding for the first three years, enabling the Library and the University Computing Service to collaborate with MIT Libraries on a project to establish the Cambridge repository, improve the software base, and promote the use of DSpace in the UK.

While the CMI-funded project still has some months to run, it has already made good progress in creating a system that will evolve over the next year from a project into a University-wide service, and in September it passed a notable milestone by acquiring its 100,000th item. From the outset the repository has sought to establish how best it could serve the needs of its potential users, and the results are reflected in the wide variety of content-types and file formats already submitted. Whereas most institutional repositories in the UK and elsewhere have concentrated on acquiring research papers, DSpace@Cambridge has taken a much broader view of what a repository might contain, and its content includes examples of material ranging from preprints and peer-reviewed papers through e-theses, digital video and image collections, to scientific data files. Although institutional repositories have been widely promoted as part of the Open Access movement (, the Cambridge repository has accommodated the needs of some content-owners by restricting access to certain collections. In July 2005 the project also hosted an international conference of DSpace users, attended by 140 delegates from 22 countries.

DSpace@Cambridge is now preparing for a series of potentially significant developments: it is working with the University’s Information Strategy Group to provide a home for the University's digital archives; it is preparing proposals to ensure the routine deposit of all e-theses; and the JISC has provided funding for a project, SPECTRa, involving DSpace and the chemistry departments at Cambridge and Imperial College London. With these and other developments in mind, the Library and the Computing Service are now preparing a programme of liaison and training with departmental contacts, and are discussing the long-term funding of the repository with the University's central authorities.

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David Hall

David Hall, one of the two Deputy Librarians retired on 30 September 2005.

David had worked in the University Library since 1976, having previously been in the Old Schools and, before that, with the Post Office. For most of that time he was responsible for buildings and financial control and for ensuring that the Library's ‘behind-the-scenes’ services ran smoothly. His most visible legacy will be the various phases of the extension that have been constructed over the last fifteen years. Beginning with the Rotherham Building (where the Tea Room is located) in the early 1990s and ending with the current phase described elsewhere in this issue, David has managed the complexities of these building projects, in conjunction with the architects and EMBS. The Library and its current (and future) users, have benefited and will benefit from David's organisational flair, administrative skills and assiduous attention to detail.

He plans to spend some of his newly-acquired leisure time working on Quaker history and indulging his passion for art and ecclesiastical architecture.

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The Friends of Cambridge University Library

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

Wednesday 9 November 2005, at 17.00

Peter Jones
‘Using the medieval encyclopaedia: preachers, teachers, healers and bibliophiles’

Friends £2.50, others £3.50, junior members of Cambridge University free.
Tea will be served at 4.30 p.m.

Saturday 19 November 2005, at 11.30

Nigel Morgan
‘The Cambridge Illuminations Exhibition’

Friends and junior members of Cambridge University free, others £3.50.

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Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033