Readers' Newsletter


New digital library resources for the eye and ear

Recent digital acquisitions by the University Library reflect the broad subject range of full-text resources available to students and researchers. Access to two major titles has been made possible through JISC agreements. The long-awaited and immensely impressive 18th-century British Official Parliamentary Publications online ( brings together in one corpus digital versions of the collections of printed parliamentary record series held at Southampton University Library and Cambridge University Library, together with rare printed material from the British Library. In all, 1,400 volumes of parliamentary publications from 1688 to 1834 have been digitised, resulting in one million digital pages. The resource includes the full text of the Journals of the House of Commons and Lords, Private Bills and Acts, Parliamentary Register and the House of Commons and Lords Sessional Papers. Diagrams and tables are available as greyscale images; colour maps and images appear in full colour. The entire contents of the collections can be searched by word or phrase. For more information, contact Bill Noblett (

Archival Sound Recordings provides free access for members of UK higher education to over 12,000 recordings (3,900 hours) in the British Library Sound Archive. These include 750 performances of Beethoven string quartets from the last 100 years, art and design interviews with Denys Lasdun, Eduardo Paolozzi, Paula Rego and others, and the oral history of jazz in Britain. The University Library’s extensive Commonwealth holdings are supplemented by several archives of African interest: 250 hours on art, literature, music and politics from the African Writers’ Club, David Rycroft’s African recordings of music and poetry and Klaus Wachsmann’s recordings from 26 Ugandan culture groups. Every short-listed play from the Sony Radio Awards between 1986 and 1997 is also available. The recordings can be listened to by anyone with a PC and an Athens password, and headphones are available on request in the Digital Resources Area for those who would like to listen to this service there.

New titles for which the Library has taken out subscriptions include BMJ Clinical Evidence, an international source of the best available evidence on the effects of common clinical interventions, International Law in Domestic Courts, a regularly updated repository of domestic cases in international law from over 60 jurisdictions, and the Oxford African American Studies Centre, a collection of over 7,500 articles, primary sources, biographies, and maps in this subject area. Finally, two important resources for Japanese studies have been acquired: the CiNii database from the National Institute for Informatics, Japan, and Japan Knowledge.

Links to all titles can be found on the database list at along with access information.

Top of document

Jardine Matheson archive receives funding

Samples of embroidered crape shawls shipped from Canton in 1873, now in the Jardine Matheson Archive.

Work will shortly begin on a web-based catalogue of the archive of the trading firm Jardine, Matheson & Co. held in the University Library.

Founded in Canton in 1832, Jardines played a major role in the early development of Hong Kong, and had a presence in every substantial port in China trading with the West in the nineteenth century. Set up to function chiefly as an ‘agency house’, receiving and selling goods consigned by other merchants, the firm prospered in the trades in Chinese tea and silk, British textile manufactures, and, controversially, Indian opium, although it abandoned this last activity in the 1870s. Over the course of the nineteenth century the firm spread geographically, most notably to Japan, and diversified into shipping, railways, property and manufacturing. Jardines remain one of the leading commercial organisations in the Far East and Pacific region today.

The firm’s archive forms one of the largest accumulations in the world of papers relating to Western commerce in the Far East during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The bulk of the material was transferred from Hong Kong in 1935, and there have been several subsequent smaller transfers. The archive includes documents ranging in date between the eighteenth century and December 1941. Both William Jardine and James Matheson were active in trade in India and China prior to the foundation of the firm which bears their names, and there is a quantity of material relating to their earlier commercial concerns. From the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries there are numerous record series of related companies such as the Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. and Hongkong Land. The archive is a major source not only for business history but for students of politics, diplomacy, technology, and the lives of the firm’s partners and employees.

Substantial cataloguing work has been done on the archive over the years, but the new project will extend the coverage to every part of the collection, and draw together existing hard-copy and automated catalogue descriptions into a single web-accessible resource. Generously funded by Jardines themselves, the four-year project will enable the archive’s researchers, many of whom are based overseas, to identify relevant documents before they arrive in the Library. It is hoped that the new catalogue will stimulate further research on the archive, and increase its profile in academic and corporate circles. For more information, contact John Wells in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, or 01223 333055.

Top of document

UL steps in to help public library users

While Cambridge Central Library is closed for refurbishment, the University Library is offering access to its research collections to users who normally depend on the facilities in Lion Yard. Any reader who is referred by a member of Cambridge Central Library’s Information Team will be granted temporary access to the UL for reference purposes. Use will be free for seven consecutive days, while the normal administrative fee of £10 per six months will be charged for longer periods. The Central Library is expected to reopen in Spring 2008.

This arrangement supplements existing provision of access to the University Library’s collections for anyone with a bona fide research interest, which thousands of people benefit from every year. This normally requires a formal academic or professional letter of introduction, but a recommendation by Cambridge Central Library will serve this purpose for local readers during the refurbishment.

Top of document

Being led by the nose

For sweet is the smell of my old, old books
In their places against the wall

(Eugene Field, ‘My garden’)

The smell of books, old and new, fragrant and fetid, has prompted much rumination in print and on the Internet, usually of a nostalgic hue. Now it is to be put to serious scientific use to help prevent future damage to stored library books. Research is being conducted in the University Library and elsewhere into the gases that give old books their comforting smell to determine which volumes are most at risk of decay.

The work is part of a wider research project, involving all six legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland. It has been funded with a grant worth more than £340,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, one of the largest grants ever made for library and archive conservation research. The aim is to improve the way books are stored and, if possible, develop an early warning system about decay. When books start to decompose, they emit a complex mixture of organic compounds, including volatile acids, which further contribute to their degradation. The same emissions cause the familiar musty odour. By sampling the air in different parts of the Library, researchers hope to identify the areas with a high acid content so that books can be treated before handling and damage cause further decay. It is thought that even new books will degrade more quickly if stored with books emitting smells.

The first stage of the project has begun and involves comparing copies of the same texts in different libraries to see how the different storage conditions might have affected their condition. This will provide University Library staff with some information about the effect of the policy of storing about a quarter of the collection, some two million books, on open shelves. During the second part of the investigation, members of the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde will sample the air in different parts of Cambridge University Library for acid content.

The results of the study should be published in 2009. They will not, however, provoke any change in the Library’s general open-shelves policy. The ability to browse probably the largest open-access collection in Europe is a highly prized characteristic of the institution. Staff nonetheless need to be able to develop an effective way of monitoring the condition of the stock. Ways of reducing acid in storage are already being suggested, including specific filters in air conditioning. The ‘sweet smell’ might be diminished, but so might the state described in Eugene Field’s next couplet:

Here is a folio that’s grim with age
And yellow and green with mould…

Top of document


‘My Dear Darwin, you have such a way of putting things, and write in such a captivating way. Almost thou persuadest me to have been “hairy quadruped, of arboreal habits, furnished with a tail and pointed ears”…’

Asa Gray to Charles Darwin, 14 April 1871

A new play, commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project based at the University Library, was premiered in Cambridge at The Junction on 25 March as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

The drama is based entirely on Darwin’s own words and those of his correspondents, taken from their letters and reminiscences. It features the long-running and intimate exchange between Darwin and the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, one of Darwin’s leading supporters, and a devout Presbyterian. Gray helped to arrange for Origin of Species to be published in North America, and he wrote a series of reviews in leading journals, arguing that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was not inconsistent with natural theology.

The play chronicles their relationship as they debate the consequences for religious belief of Darwin’s new theory. Debate about science and religion is interwoven with discussions of slavery and the American Civil War, the geographical distribution of plants, stamp collecting and backgammon. The vigorous and yet civil manner in which Darwin and Gray debated matters of intense personal belief and social consequence is a model of constructive engagement.

Re:Design was written by Craig Baxter, whose credits include several productions for BBC Radio 4. It was directed by Paul Bourne and performed by the Menagerie theatre company. A podcast of highlights, including an interview with the playwright, is available for download at the Cambridge Science Festival site (,com_mediadb/task,play/idstr,CU-CSF-PC07-05_DarwinCorrespondence/Itemid,57). Further UK and US performances are planned.

The play is part of a wider project on Darwin and Religion funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Visitors to the Darwin Project website ( will be able to download the entire script of Re:Design, compare it with the original letters and listen to or watch interviews with scientists, theologians and scholars talking about the question of ‘design’ in nature. There are also plans to create an online discussion forum for people to talk about Darwin and the implications of his theories for religion, and an entire section dedicated to Darwin’s own religious beliefs.

Top of document

Extracting chemistry data from e-theses

The successful development of DSpace@Cambridge as the University's digital institutional repository (see Readers' Newsletter 31, October 2005), has led to further projects exploring specific aspects of the way in which a repository can handle scientific research data in the field of chemistry. The first project, SPECTRa, which ended in March 2007, facilitated the high-volume deposit and subsequent reuse of experimental data, using the DSpace platform, by developing Open Source software tools which could easily be incorporated within chemists' workflows. It concentrated on three distinct areas of chemistry research - synthetic organic chemistry, crystallography and computational chemistry.

JISC has now funded a second project, SPECTRa-T (Submission, Preservation and Exposure of Chemistry Teaching and Research Data from Theses) which will run from April 2007 to March 2008. Like its predecessor, it involves a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London. Within Cambridge, the active participants are the University Library (lead institution) and the Department of Chemistry.

The focus of the new project is the experimental data recorded in chemistry theses: typically the bare essentials of the chemical synthesis are published in scientific papers while the detailed experimental recipe often remains locked inside the thesis. If such data cannot routinely be captured and exposed to search tools, the information is effectively lost. The project will therefore concentrate on making this information accessible for reuse by researchers, by developing text-mining tools to extract and index the data from e-theses deposited in a repository. SPECTRa-T thus hopes not only to make more experimental research data available, but also to demonstrate how the use of repositories makes it possible to add value to the original e-thesis in ways that were not possible with the printed equivalent.

Further information on SPECTRa and SPECTRa-T may be found on the respective project websites, and

Top of document

The Friends of Cambridge University Library

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

Saturday 12 May 2007, at 11.30

Michael O’Donoghue
‘‘Gemstones in two dimensions: gemmological publishing in the last 150 years’’

Mr O’Donoghue, who was for many years Curator of Earth Sciences at the British Library, will talk on this specialised and spectacular field of book production. A selection from his recent donation of illustrated publications on gemstones will be on display.

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

Wednesday 30 May 2007, at 17.00

Paul Woudhuysen
‘‘The Schocken Verlag and other publishers in Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939: Jewish publishers under the National Socialist regime’’

Mr Woudhuysen’s talk will be followed by a guided tour of an exhibition of Schocken Verlag publications in the Library’s North Front 1 Gallery.

Friends £2.50, junior members of Cambridge University free, others £3.50.

Top of document

Lapwing on the Tea Room menu

Use of the University Library’s Lapwing wireless network is growing rapidly in popularity and so, for those readers who want to continue working or to catch up on their e-mail over coffee or lunch, we have installed an access point in the Tea Room. This brings the number of wireless hot-spots to five, with the West Room, Commonwealth Room, Munby Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Rooms already enabled. Later in the year there are plans by the University Computing Service, who are responsible for the Lapwing service, to broaden access to Library users who are not members of the University.

Top of document

Exhibitions current and forthcoming

A page from Boethius’ treatise on music De musica, written in the early sixth century. This handsomely illustrated twelfth-century copy (MS Ii.3.12, ff. 73v-74) appears in the current exhibition Keeping the score: music in the Library of which further details can be found on page 4.

Keeping the score: music in the Library continues in the University Library’s Exhibition Centre until 30 June. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 09.00 to 18.00; Saturday, 09.00 to 16.30 and admission is free. It will be followed by Through the whole island: excursions in Great Britain from 17 July to 22 December (closed 27 August and 17-22 September). Full details will appear in the next Readers’ Newsletter.

Exhibits planned for the showcases along the North Front 1 Gallery of the University Library (leading from the Catalogue Room towards the Tea Room) include publications of Schocken Verlag from the private collection of Paul Woudhuysen (24 April-15 June), a commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade (22 June-31 July), books published in 1907 (6 August to mid-September), and the archives of the Cambridge Greek play (mid-September to late October).

A printed poster for the Provost Marshal’s slave sales in British Honduras, 1827. An item from the Royal Commonwealth Society collection (RCMS 240/31) which will feature in the North Front 1 Gallery exhibition in June and July..

Top of document

Back to Newsletters

Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033