Readers' Newsletter


Living at this hour: John Milton at 400

The poet and political writer John Milton has divided opinion for almost four hundred years. In 1802, when national life seemed at a low ebb, William Wordsworth invoked him in a sonnet:

‘England hath need of thee...
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.’

In 1943 Robert Graves, in the foreword to his novel Wife to Mr. Milton, retorted that those who quote Wordsworth’s poem with approval ‘should read, or re-read, Milton’s life and works’: his support of Cromwell’s government rankled with Graves even three centuries after the event.

‘Living at This Hour: John Milton 1608–2008’, on display in the Library’s Exhibition Centre until 12 July, marks the quatercentenary of Milton’s birth, and juxtaposes his own writings with material from later ages to chart his life and illustrate his continuing influence.

Milton studied in Cambridge between 1625 and 1632, and the exhibition opens with documents from the University Archives tracing his academic progress. Just as today, students in seventeenth-century Cambridge left traces in the University records when matriculating and graduating, and Milton’s autograph supplication to be awarded his Bachelor’s degree in 1629 is on show, alongside his 1632 subscription to the articles of religion, a commitment his later actions and writings substantially repudiated.

Adam and Eve observed by Satan: Paradise lost, Book IV, an engraving after Jean-Frédéric Schall (Paris 1792).

Other exhibits include a first edition of Milton’s plea for the liberty of the press, the Areopagitica, together with later issues demonstrating its enduring political importance and the high regard in which it is held by printers; a first edition of Paradise lost, with numerous other illustrated and annotated editions of the epic; and drafts of ‘Lycidas’ from a manuscript (generously loaned by Trinity College) which has been called ‘the single most important poetical autograph of the seventeenth century’. St John’s College has kindly lent a manuscript commonplace-book containing a poem by Milton on the death of Thomas Hobson, the university carrier, and from Christ’s College we have borrowed, along with a number of printed books, two seventeenth-century receipts for sums paid for publication rights in Paradise lost. Christ’s was Milton’s own college and has organised a programme of lectures and performances to run throughout 2008, as well as sponsoring the exhibition catalogue.

Milton’s quatercentenary is being celebrated in Cambridge and beyond, and the University Library is hosting a website with information on the year’s events:

Exhibition open 15 January-12 July 2008, Monday to Friday 09.00-18.00, Saturday, 09.00-16.30. Closed 21-24 March inclusive. Admission free. For further details contact

Top of document

News of electronic resources

Enhanced access to Cambridge University Press and Wiley journals

The University Library and the Journals Coordination Scheme have jointly negotiated University-wide electronic access to all Cambridge University Press journals, a move which has been made possible by a cooperative pilot agreement with the college libraries to work together with the University-wide journals coordination initiative. 261 titles in all are available online via the Cambridge Journals Online platform. Access to issues for earlier years varies by title, with some journals extending as far back as 1997. 

The Library and the Journals Coordination Scheme are also pleased to announce a new subscription providing University-wide access to the Journal of Fluid Mechanics Archive. The archive contains all articles published in the journal between 1956 and 1996 (volumes 1-329). This complements the availability of material from 1997 onwards through Cambridge Journals Online.

The library has taken out an Enhanced Access Licence to Wiley Interscience journals to the end of 2008. This provides full text access to the contents of 402 journals in all areas of science, technology and medicine.

 Nineteenth century news as it happened

Created through a partnership between the British Library and Gale and made available to UK universities through a national agreement with JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee), the British Library 19 th century newspapers resource provides access to national, regional, and local British newspapers of the nineteenth century. It includes 48 titles, totalling approximately 2.2 million pages, which reflect the social and political developments of the time. The collection focuses on national newspapers published in London, English regional papers, home country newspapers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and titles in specialist areas such as Victorian radicalism and Chartism. Basic, advanced, and fuzzy search options are available. Searches can be made by keyword, title, and full-text, and can be limited by date, title, place, frequency, language, and illustration, making it an incomparable inter-disciplinary resource. Access is available at

Other recently-acquired electronic resource titles include:

  • Prisma: Publicaciones y Revistas Sociales y Humanísticas: a collection of full-text e-journals in the humanities and social sciences for the interdisciplinary academic study of Hispanic and Latin America, and the Caribbean Basin
  • National e-books Observatory project: 36 new e-books in engineering, medicine, business, and media studies
  • Encyclopaedia of the Qu’ran (Brill)
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica (Gale)
  • Database of Latin Dictionaries and Aristoteles Latinus (Brepols)
  • A collection of three dictionaries published by Éditions Champion Électronique: Edmond Huguet, Dictionnaire de la langue française du 16 e siècle, Dictionnaires des 16 e et 17 e siècles, Corpus des dictionnaires de l'Académie française.

New ejournals@cambridge service

The University Library has been developing an enhanced ejournals@cambridge service based on the SFX Link Resolver software. A new A-Z list of journal titles with expanded search options is available at Features include the ability to view all the e-journals to which the University Library subscribes from a particular publisher. Citation searches are also available, enabling searches to be run by article title, author, date, volume and issue numbers, page numbers and DOI. In addition, when searching abstracting and indexing databases such as Google Scholar, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Web of Science, links to Cambridge-specific e-journals holdings can be found alongside article citations.

Browser tools, gadgets and plug-ins

The Library has assembled a collection of gadgets, toolbars and other plug-ins that can operate alongside the Newton catalogue and electronic resources available to members of the University and Library readers. These include search plug-ins for iGoogle and Opensearch compatible browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer. A fully featured toolbar for Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox is also available, allowing complex searches to be conducted away from the catalogue interface. More details on these tools can be found at

Top of document

University Library ‘visited’

As part of the ‘Cambridge 800’ Development Campaign the Vice-Chancellor has established a Visiting Committee composed of distinguished external members to serve as powerful advocates and supporters for the University Library, and to offer a perspective from outside Cambridge on the fulfilment of the Library’s mission ‘to deliver world-class library and information services to meet the needs of the local, national and international scholarly community and to support the University’s mission to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.’

The Committee held its first annual meeting on 3-4 October. This addressed a wide range of issues including support for learning and teaching in the ‘Amazoogle’ environment, and the Library’s role and vision for the future. During the two days the Committee talked to a number of Library staff and readers, and heard views on the Library and its services.

Members of the Visiting Committee (l to r): Dr Lisbet Rausing, Mr Peter Fox (Librarian), Mr Lorcan Dempsey, Dr Emily Rose, Mr David Verey, Mr Dudley Fishburn (Chairman), Mr Tim Waterstone, Dr Martin Read, Ms Anne Murray (Deputy Librarian)


Top of document

The Mosseri Genizah Collection: first milestone reached

The Jacques Mosseri Genizah Collection is the most significant Genizah collection still in private ownership, and it is on loan to the University Library for at least the next twenty years. Like the Library’s own Taylor-Schechter Collection, it consists of medieval Jewish manuscripts from Egypt, mostly dating from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, and consisting of all manner of written material, including Bible fragments, rabbinica, liturgy, medicine, documents and belles-lettres. The collection was assembled by Jacques Mosseri, a leading member of Cairo’s Jewish community, who, following Solomon Schechter’s famous removal of the Cairo Genizah manuscripts to Cambridge at the end of the nineteenth century, scoured synagogues and cemeteries in his own attempt to recover and preserve the written heritage of Egypt’s Jews.

Jacques Mosseri’s premature death in 1934 led to the collection travelling to France with his widow, and until recently it had been stored away in a bank vault, safe but inaccessible. Now, thanks to his family’s wish to preserve this great treasure properly, and to make it available to the scholarly world, the collection has been loaned to the University Library, where all 7,000 items will be professionally conserved, catalogued and digitised, with descriptions and images, and will be made available online.

The conservation of the collection, generously funded by the Mosseri family, poses major challenges, with extremely fragile material offering every kind of challenge to the Library’s Conservation Department. The paper and vellum fragments are creased, folded, cockled and distorted; the ink can be flaking off or obscured by a variety of stains. The mud of Egypt still clings tenaciously to many. Nevertheless, after eighteen months of painstaking work by the Library’s conservators, the first 1,000 fragments have now been cleaned, repaired and safely stowed within high-visibility polyester sleeves. The first 50 fragments have been bound into two sturdy volumes, with more to follow, and, for the first time in the history of the collection, they are available for users of the Library to consult in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

The opening pages of a copy of On the laws of ritual slaughter by Saadiah Gaon (died 942 CE) from the Mosseri Collection.

Thanks to the support of Arcadia (formerly the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund), administered under the auspices of the British Library’s ‘ Endangered Archives Programme’, the first 1,000 fragments have now also been digitised, catalogued and described. Images and descriptions will shortly be going online, through the Genizah Unit’s webpages (

A range of expertise from across the Library is ensuring that the Jacques Mosseri Collection is preserved for future generations and its fascinating contents are made available to the world of scholarship.

Top of document

Having difficulty with Chinese?The 2008 Sandars Lectures will help

This year’s Sandars Lectures will be given at 17.00 on 10, 11 and 13 March in the Morison Room at the University Library by Professor Peter Kornicki, Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Keeper of Japanese Books at the University Library.

The overall title of his lectures is Having difficulty with Chinese? – the rise of the vernacular book in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The first lecture, The Latin of East Asia?, concerns the circulation of Chinese printed books and manuscripts in East Asia and their roles in societies linguistically unconnected with Chinese. The second, Bluffing your way in Chinese, discusses the strategies developed for Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese to gain access to highly esteemed Chinese texts without actually having to learn the language. The last lecture, Little Chinese, less Manchu, considers the rise of the vernacular book and vernacular systems of knowledge outside China, leading to the death of Chinese as the international language of learning in East Asia by the early twentieth century.

The lectures, which will be illustrated, assume no knowledge of Chinese. Some of the books referred to will be available for examination after each lecture.

Top of document

Refurbishment of the Medical Library

Users of the Medical Library will see some big changes in the summer of 2008 when the Library embarks on an extensive £1 million refurbishment project. It marks a major step towards achieving a core objective in the Library's strategic plan, namely its migration from a print-based collection to a service built principally around e-resources.

The challenges arising from the growing popularity of e-journals were described in Readers' Newsletter 37 (October 2007), which outlined how the University Library group was addressing them. At the Medical Library, annual increases in the number of registered readers have for some years contrasted with a steady decline in the total number of physical visits as users find more of their needs met through remote access to networked resources. With additional e-journals, including backsets, becoming available, it has become increasingly difficult to justify the retention of little-used space-consuming printed material in what is essentially a current working library. Over the next five to ten years the Medical Library is therefore planning the phased removal of all the printed journals housed on its upper floor, concentrating its services and collections (possibly still including a small number of printed journals) on its lower floor. Meanwhile the upper floor will be released for use by the Clinical School to support its educational activities. The first phase of this conversion programme is now under way. The Library's printed journal holdings have been analysed to establish which titles are unique in Cambridge and which are duplicated elsewhere. This information, linked with the findings of a survey of usage carried out in 2007, forms the basis for a consultative process now in progress with library users to help identify the titles most suitable for removal. Those that are unique will be removed for storage, while duplicate material will be disposed of; and a document delivery service from the British Library will be provided free of charge for those occasions when readers require an article from one of the journals placed in store.

This will be the most substantial refurbishment of the Medical Library since it opened in 1980. The work, funded by the Clinical School and a grant from the Wolfson Foundation, through its CURL Library Programme, will involve structural alterations on both floors. On the upper floor a substantial amount of shelving will be cleared and replaced by an IT-based study area. On the lower floor small seminar rooms and an IT training suite will be created, while the reception area and staff workrooms will be remodelled. The removal of journal back-runs will begin after Easter 2008, and construction work, starting in mid-June, will finish by mid-September 2008. Progress reports will be available on the Medical Library website,


Top of document

Visit of the Chinese Ambassador

HE Madame Fu Ying, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, visited the Library in November. She is seen here with (left) Charles Aylmer, Head of the Library's Chinese Department and (right) a colleague from the Embassy


Peter Lipton R.I.P.

 It is with great sadness that we record the sudden death on 25 November of Professor Peter Lipton, who had been appointed Chairman of the Library Syndicate in October. Professor Lipton was an enthusiastic supporter of the University Library and had been looking forward to working with the newly-formed Visiting Committee to increase the level of external support for the Library. He was also a member of the Management Board for the Darwin Correspondence Project, which is based in the Library. We wish to express our sincere condolences to his family, and colleagues from King’s College and the Department of History and Philosophy and Science.

Top of document

The Friends of Cambridge University Library

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

Saturday 2 February 2008, at 11.30  

Sheila Markham
‘Booksellers: the other side of the counter’
Bookselling has been described as ‘the most humane, sociable, ill-organised, yet absorbing form of commerce to be found anywhere’. Sheila Markham draws on her interviews with fifty dealers in this illustrated talk on the trade.  

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

Wednesday 27 February 2008, at 17.00  

Paul Binski
‘Discovering Gothic illuminations in the University Library, 1200-1500’
Preparation of the new catalogue of the University Library’s western illuminated manuscripts has uncovered little-known English Gothic illuminations which further our understanding of the art of the period.

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

Wednesday 5 March 2008, at 17.00  

Rowan Watson
‘The cult of the illuminated manuscript in the nineteenth century’
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, interest in illuminated manuscripts was largely confined to a circle of connoisseurs and collectors. This talk suggests some of the factors that made them more broadly appreciated.  

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

Saturday 5 April 2008, at 11.30  

Marlene B. Davis
‘From Shropshire to Shanghai: the journey of Stella Benson, diarist, travel writer and experimental novelist’
Marlene B. Davis, lecturer in English at the College of William and Mary, Virginia, will speak on a significant writer whose diaries are held in the University Library’s Department of Manuscripts.  

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

Top of document

Back to Newsletters

Editor: Stephen Hills ISSN:1360-9033