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  • Futurelib Analysis Bootcamp!

    Some of you will have been keeping up with the progress of our current Student Learning Journey project, by reading this blog and through other channels, but to provide a brief recap in terms of how the project has progressed so far:

    Late-October to December 2017: Initial ‘canvassing’ phase of research, working with students to explore broad themes, through the use of mechanisms such as feedback walls, ad-hoc interviews, workshops, printed and online questionnaires, comment cards… the list goes on!

    December 2017: Interim analysis with project team, working together to theme data  gathered during the first phase of research and looking for insights which might inform (a) tentative thoughts around service design and delivery and (b) the developing and refining of research methods and approach for the second stage of the project.

    Late-January through April 2018: In-depth research with students, including a 3-week, 36-participant digital diary study and 22 in-depth interviews (some conducted with a number of the diary study participants). Also, targeted research using different methods, exploring specific questions around the routes students take for advice and support with academic skills, their interpretations of terminology, their views on communication, and so on.

    Which brings us up to… Early-May 2018, aka Just Now…

    [Above: A card sorting exercise designed to investigate student approaches to seeking advice and guidance in different areas]

    We have spent the last few weeks working closely together as a project team, putting steps in place to make sure that we use the project data in the most appropriate and valuable way/s possible. A large focus has been on the data produced by our digital diary study with students, which, alongside uncovering as much as possible about day-to-day Cambridge student activity, placed an emphasis on their activities and experiences related to study/research/academic skills.

    As well as the usual Futurelib focus of looking for ways in which to improve and enhance the student experience, the analysis of this data will feed into the work being done by the Cambridge Information Literacy Network (CILN), which is investigating and developing the ways in which teaching and training is conducted by Cambridge libraries. An initial output of the work is taking shape as this post is being written: CamGuides, an Open Educational Resource aimed at taught-postgraduate students, providing key information which can be accessed by students prior to their arriving at Cambridge.

    The first step in our approach to the analysis was to split the exported diary study data between six members of the Student Learning Journey project team, each person arriving at a coding schema for the data set they had been given ‘blind’. These were then shared in a ‘grand reveal’-type moment, which was fascinating in and of itself, and truly validated the ‘hive mind’ approach. Although there were strong areas of overlap, each individual had focused on different things. Examples included an approach strongly centred on emotional responses on the behalf of the diary study participants, and another which applied a very granular (and useful!) coding of the academic skills mentioned.

    Next, we compiled, de-duplicated and discussed the schemas/(schemata??), which left us with a set of codes that could be usefully applied to the dataset as a whole. After this was essentially a period of [“Crunching… crunching… crunching… crunching….”] as the codes were reapplied. At this stage the schema grew again, in size and nuance, so it was necessary to revisit as a team, combing certain codes and questioning others, in order to arrive at something which could be used in a meaningful way to query and interrogate the data.

    [Above: ‘Round 2’ of code refining with members of the project team]

    A quick disclaimer here around the use of ‘bootcamp’ in the title for this post: this was truly a learning experience, but one in which it can definitely be said that we all learnt from each other as a team!

    Next steps involve less crunching and more thought – we’re currently working with various stakeholders/interested parties to talk about specific queries which can be run at the data, to answer various nuances of the fundamental question, which is, as always, how we can better support the (in this case student) experience of Cambridge libraries and their services.

    Watch this and other spaces for the outputs from the project, which will be many and varied but will almost certainly include:

    – A public facing report

    – Other ways of communicating the insights and recommendations online (we understand the reports are lengthy!)

    – Presentation sessions for Cambridge library staff and other members of the University who are interested in the findings of the work, for example, representatives from the Students’ Union and others involved in current conversations and work around the Cambridge student experience

    Lastly, enormous thank yous go to our fantastic project team, without which we would not have been able to do the data the justice it deserves in the same way.

    If any has any questions at all about the project, please feel free to contact David Marshall:



  • Clinical Students – E-Books and Library Drop – in Session – Tuesday 22nd May 2018

    Do you have library related questions that need answering?   Want to find out more about E-Books.

    Come and speak with library staff between 12:00 – 1:00 – Sherwood Room – Tuesday 22nd May.

    Look forward to seeing you.


    The post Clinical Students – E-Books and Library Drop – in Session – Tuesday 22nd May 2018 appeared first on Medical Library.

  • Englishing the Papacy: The Liber Pontificalis and MS Kk.4.6

    A guest post from Thomas Langley, who completed his MPhil on wealth and authority in early medieval Italy in 2017, and has continued studying at Cambridge for a PhD on the idea of the city in fourth-century Greek culture.

    Tensions between national and supranational identities may occupy headlines at present, but they are not uniquely modern.  For example, Cambridge University Library MS Kk.4.6 – a twelfth-century copy of the Liber Pontificalis from Worcester Cathedral Priory – bears witness to the re-shaping of an important compilation of papal history to suit the interests of an English readership.

    Opening page of the ‘Liber Pontificalis’ – Kk.4.6, f. 224r

    The Liber Pontificalis (literally ‘Book of Pontiffs’) was a very popular text in medieval Europe.  It comprises a collection of lives of popes, covering the incumbents of the papacy from St Peter until the last years of the 9th century.  In its original form, it was thoroughly centred on Rome, only commenting on outside events when relevant to local, papal affairs.  However, MS Kk.4.6 contains a version of the Liber Pontificalis that deviates significantly from the standard version.  The papal lives are often abbreviated and are heavily influenced by English, and specifically Saxon, concerns (the foundation of Worcester Cathedral Priory during the time of the kingdom of Mercia, might account for this Saxon twist to this manuscript’s contents).

    Abbreviated biography of Pope Hadrian – Kk.4.6, f. 276v (inset)

    Letter from Charlemagne to Offa – Kk.4.6, f. 277r (inset)

    For instance, many of the later biographies owe their principal or only content to copies of letters that the popes in question sent to various individuals in England, often from the Saxon period.  Pope Hadrian (reg. 772-795) in the Liber Pontificalis proper has the second-longest biography, but in MS Kk.4.6 his life is mostly replaced by a copy of a letter of Charlemagne to King Offa of Mercia.  Pope Formosus (reg. 891-96) is the only entry of any length in a sequence of some twenty popes who receive no acknowledgement besides their names and dates, and the entirety of his biography covers his dealings with King Edward the Elder of England.[1]

    Summary list of popes followed by entry for Pope Formosus – Kk.4.6, f. 277r (inset)

    Some of these additions appear to be of generic Christian interest.  The compilers added in the law of the Roman emperor Theodosius against heresy, and added more detail to the life of Pope Gregory the Great (reg. 590-604) in the margins.  Yet the majority have a clear ethnic or national purpose and reflect a wider trend in medieval Europe to adapt the contents of papal biographies to reflect local interests and biases.[2]  The original handwriting in the manuscript has been attributed to John of Worcester, a monk at the cathedral priory, who also composed several other works on both English and general history.[3]  The combination of English and universal history exhibited by the Liber Pontificalis exemplifies, then, the linked desires to situate the English past within a universal history, and to make that universal history relevant to local concerns.

    Marginal additions to the life of Gregory the Great – Kk.4.6, f. 244v (inset)

    This Anglocentrism is revealing of a particular attitude to the Saxon past.  Despite being compiled in the Norman period, the additions to the manuscript concerned themselves substantially with a past stretching back far beyond 1066.  As a Saxon foundation, the cathedral priory likely had access to many of the texts which the manuscript’s compilers added to the papal narrative.  The text therefore not only suggested the significance of local concerns by relating them to a master narrative of Christian, papal history.  It also suggested the sanctity and significance of the Saxon past in relation to this history – and therefore elevated by association a foundation that which could claim Saxon ancestry.

    Opening of the ‘Elucidarius’ – Kk.4.6, f. 45r (inset)

    There are other ways to interpret this manuscript, however.  Many of the contents are discernibly late antique (c. 300-600) and Italian in origin, including the Liber Pontificalis itself.  The text also fits into a wider interest in late antique history.  However, the inclusion of other texts problematizes the notion that the purpose of this manuscript was primarily historical.  MS Kk.4.6 also contains the Elucidarius of Honorius Augustodunensis, a collection of questions and answers on theological matters that was popular in the twelfth century.  Other texts include  allegorical interpretations of Scripture and commentaries thereon by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hugo of St Victor, and a short collection of extracts from St Augustine, Isidore of Seville and other patristic writers.

    List of interpretations of Hebrew names – Kk.4.6, f. 22r

    This diversity makes it difficult to see any rationale or plan for deciding what went into the manuscript, with historical, educational, and more serious theological functions all conceivably possible.  Physical evidence of its production suggests a functional rather than particularly aesthetic purpose: frequent marginalia in the Liber Pontificum, vellum of inconsistent quality, and a paucity of decoration (except for simple coloured initials to mark out textual divisions).  The manuscript’s size (it measures 340 x 270 mm and contains 280 leaves) reflects its textual capaciousness, and perhaps its suitability and convenience as a home for a medley of interests.


    This blog post arose from work done for a workshop hosted by Cambridge University Library on 30 June 2017 as part of a Deutscher Akademische Austauschdienst collaboration between the Universities of Berlin, Tübingen and Cambridge.



    My thanks to James Freeman for his very helpful suggestions concerning the content and structure of this piece.

    [1] Other examples in the manuscript include: the letters of Pope Sergius (reg. 687-91) to the English abbots Adelmus (f. 269v) and Ceolfrid (f. 270r), Pope Constantine (reg. 708-15) to Archbishop Brictaldus (f. 272r), and Gelasius II (reg. 1118-19) to Henry I (f. 279v).

    [2] See for instance R. McKitterick, ‘Rome and the Popes in the construction of institutional history and identity in the early middle ages: The case of Leiden Universiteitsbibliotheeck Scaliger MS 49’, in V. L. Garver and O. M. Phelan (eds), Rome and Religion in the Medieval World: Studies in Honour of Thomas F. X. Noble (Farnham, 2014), pp. 207-234.  Or C. Gantner, ‘The Lombard Rescension of the Liber Pontificalis’, in F. Mores (ed.), Da Vescovi di Roma a papi. L’invenzione del Liber Pontificalis, Rivista di Storia del Cristianesimo (Brescia, 2013), pp. 65-114.



  • Schenker Documents Online

    Schenker, Dr. Heinrich, born Wisniowczyk [Galicia], 19 Jun 1868; died Vienna, 14 Jan 1935. Writer on music, composer, chief representative of the abstract music theory of Jewish philosophy that disavows the existence of any spiritual content in music, and limits … Continue reading →
  • Dirt, Dust and Dodgy Joists, or, Memoirs of a Determined Archivist

    Miscellaneous records scooped off the floor of a derelict house

    In the last few days I’ve seen quite a bit of discussion on Twitter about the alleged erasure of the role of the archivist and librarian in the ‘discovery’ of documents. This follows on from a similar discussion I spotted last October. At that point I tweeted a couple of photos of archives in their pre-archivist state that proved very popular. I think it’s a good time to expand on that tweet a little and talk – personally and subjectively – about how some archives are found before being transferred to a repository. As an archivist I know that most collections don’t arrive neatly organised, clean and catalogued! This is something that perhaps some researchers don’t realise – or at least don’t know the full extent of it. I’ve enjoyed digging out a few more photos from previous jobs to illustrate the reality. These photographs show conditions that are not in any way uncommon….

    Family papers from a derelict house

    Over the years I have scrambled and crawled around a number of attics, cellars, basements and disused buildings to extract records that may become archives. In some cases I’ve scooped letters, photos and diaries off filthy floors into binbags in order to get them out before building work starts. Hard hats and torches have occasionally been involved. Believe me, the beige cardigans we’re characterised as wearing make a lot of sense in these circumstances!


    This is what happens if you use metal paperclips…

    Records in this condition are a very sad sight. I’ve seen what are clearly footprints on nineteenth-century hospital registers. I’ve come across desiccated biscuits and mummified mice. Something I’ll definitely never forget is the maggoty dead bird in a church in rural Herefordshire. More disturbingly, there can be other substances that remain forever unidentified. (Disconcertingly, sometimes movement can be spotted in binbags after you’ve filled them.) Of course there are always the ubiquitous rusted metal staples, paperclips and pins, dried rubber bands and tatty old pink tape.  We remove all these #archivenasties so that users don’t have to!


    Retrieved from a derelict house

    To me, this is all part of the joy of the profession. I get much more satisfaction from dealing with a binbag of filthy, mixed up documents than simply transferring information from already well described and sorted records. Rummaging through one of these binbags, or a box or a trunk, really is like looking for treasure. The records are in no condition at this stage to be seen by researchers and maybe this is why our users don’t always know about the huge amount of work, professional skill and effort put into making these records available. We pride ourselves on producing beautifully clean and tidy archives (mostly!) but perhaps we should be more communicative about their previous state.

    Beginning to sort rescued records

    It’s not all about dealing with dirt, of course. Archivists have an extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge that allows us to identify records of any age and to use the appropriate description so that they can be detected by researchers. Another vital skill is the ability to appraise and select appropriately – and there are all sorts of interesting discussions around this topic that are far too wide-ranging to fit into this post.

    As for how things come to us in this state – well, it can be any number of reasons. People die and their relatives contact an archive service, a business closes down, a hospital moves to a new building, solicitors want to make some space. I’ve been contacted by administrative staff who simply don’t like the idea of throwing away ‘the old stuff’. We might go out to survey the records and find the accumulation of centuries, or mere decades. The most heartwarming rescue for me was some sixteenth-century town records discovered (in the truest sense) by some workmen clearing out a basement of a council building. They chose not to throw them away with the rest of the detritus and took them back to the depot. I was asked to go and look at them and realised that it was a hugely significant find. According to a printed history of the town those records had been missing since the early 1700s. There is no doubt that the people who should take the credit for that ‘discovery’ is those two men, who had no idea what they had saved but made the crucial decision to keep them.

    Records removed from a basement

    I think that’s a good note on which to end. Don’t just recognise the archivists and librarians (although thank you for doing so!) – please acknowledge the role of the clerks, secretaries, cleaners, managers, workmen, relatives, interested people, and many others, who over the years made decisions not to throw records away, to put them in a secure, safe place, or to alert an archive service. Or thank the accident of fate that allowed some archives to lie forgotten and ignored until someone spotted their potential. I appreciate all the researchers – whether they be family historians, local and community historians or academics – who discover significance in the documents I help to care for and shine a (metaphorical) spotlight on them. And lastly – but absolutely not least – we should acknowledge our fabulous conservators, who so often bring documents back from the brink of disintegration or stabilise them enough to allow access. It truly takes a village to preserve, make available and exploit for research each and every archival document. Let’s all continue doing our bit with mutual respect to showcase these amazing survivors of so many tribulations!

    Medieval title deeds waiting to be sorted, catalogued and assessed for conservation requirements

    A tin trunk of mixed up manorial records in the process of being sorted