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Curator for a Day

In November a group of thirteen students from Long Road and Hills Road Sixth Form Colleges in Cambridge spent a day being curators in the University Library, as part of a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. They met staff in a number of specialist departments, learning about issues including conservation and digitisation, before putting together a display of books and objects (chosen in a public vote) which features in the Entrance Hall cases until 10th December (and online). It complements the Library’s main Curious Objects exhibition, which tells the story of the Library’s six centuries through some of the more unorthodox artefacts which have found their way into its collections. During their day as curators half of the students grappled enthusiastically with the logistics of how things might best be displayed, while the others created the captions. The idea was to break free from the shackles of the traditional museum caption—so focussed on provenance, creators and content—in order to be personally inspired by the objects they handled. The physical exhibition is also represented by an online display, but here we share some of the students’ reflections on their day as curators at the University Library.

Students meet the objects

Sophie Wilkinson: I really enjoyed being a part of ‘curator for a day’. It was great to learn about all of the different jobs in a library, such as conservation and the rare books department. In particular, I found creating our exhibition very interesting as I didn’t know about the process of writing the labels or designing the layout before the day, so that has taught me to appreciate exhibits a lot more. I was amazed at how the library’s 8 million books fitted in the building; there were even bookshelves in the corridors! Overall, it was a lovely day and all of the staff were very friendly and welcoming, so I am very grateful for this experience.

Sarah Garrod: A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the University library and be a ‘curator for the day’. I’d only signed up for this the day before and had no idea what to expect, but it ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We started off by writing three things that were important to us in a job and sharing that with the group of other students (for example stability or good pay). Being the awkward anarchist I am and not fully understanding the task, announced that I wanted to otherthrow the bourgeoisie and establish anarchism. The rest of the day was spent touring the University Library and its various departments, discovering that I’m rather useless at mapping, and seeing artefacts being restored and photographed. The highlight of my experience was writing labels for our own collection of artefacts, as I wrote a (not too shabby) poem about imperialism as a label for an old globe biscuit tin. Overall, everyone involved had a great experience and learned a lot, talking about it for days after. Special thanks to everyone involved and Rosie for making this a memorable day (sorry for stealing all the M&S bourbons!).

Meeting Conservation staff

Jasmine Cartwright: I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Cambridge University Library! I had never been to any library on such a scale and I was purely amazed at how much was there. I enjoyed learning about all of the different jobs (that I didn’t even know existed before I went!) and I found the whole day fascinating. Every member of staff was completely welcoming, the Jaffa cakes were amazing and it’s really opened my eyes to some different types of jobs! Thank you!

Matthias Hargrave: Have you ever wondered what it takes to prepare a museum or library exhibit? Or maybe what on earth you might be able to do at a library for a living? Well, on the 11th of November a group of Sixth Form students were given the opportunity to see behind the scenes in the University Library. This didn’t just involve touring the separate departments, but also actually putting together a mini exhibition!

Personally my favourite part of the day was the Manuscripts and Archives department. I love books, and old, historic books (or letters) are the best, so this department was exactly my type. In the tour we were given a brief introductory to the department (who wants a long introduction when the books are waiting?) then there was a large selection of books and archived files, letters and more that we could browse at will! These included a logbook from one of Captain James Cook’s ships from his Pacific voyages. It was filled with navigational information recorded almost hourly at times as well as maps and sketches of the islands they visited. As a sailor and avid history fan, the navigational information was of great interest to me as were the detailed descriptions of Easter Island.

Overall it was an amazing time that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in books, history, anything remotely related to a library, or anything else! I am not a humanities or arts student in any way, considering that my A-levels are sciences and maths, but I still had a wonderful time. So, even if you don’t think that books are really your thing, you may discover that there is much more to a library than you might think!

Manuscripts and Archives

Holly Bootman: Cambridge University Library is the centre of gravity for books. Walking through the corridors you find yourself immersed in a culture of language, literature and history. Delve deeper, and you can see the thousands of precious manuscripts, maps and artefacts stored and presented carefully for visitors and researchers to examine. With so many departments working to preserve and collect these valuable items, my day at the UL showed me that there is no limit to the ambition of the staff to grow and share the incredible information that their collections reveal about the world.

Mounting a display

Our day began looking around the ‘Curious Objects’ exhibition, where we saw some intriguing artefacts that had come from a range of cultures and periods of history. We were then introduced to some items that hadn’t made the exhibition, but were equally fascinating and curious. Later we were to help curate these artefacts to be presented in a smaller exhibition – a daunting but exciting task. The departmental tour revealed a lot about life at the UL, and it seemed that in every department you would find dedicated and engaging people who were extremely knowledgeable about their area of expertise. Our group started in the Rare Books department, which specialises in the collection of unique and important books, manuscripts and pamphlets. I was intrigued to learn that books are continuously being collected, even books with topics as recent as Brexit, to ensure that future generations can develop a good understanding of the world as we know it today, which is something that I feel is of extreme importance. We then went on to visit the Conservation department, which is partly a hospital for injured books, and a place where artefacts are examined, restored and displayed so that they can be fully appreciated by the public. There we had the opportunity to look at a book containing some of Charles Darwin’s experimental work, and we were also able to see some documents which recorded the distressing events that took place in Singapore during WWII. I felt that I was beginning to understand the importance of conservation and the relevance of libraries in the modern day. Events in the past mustn’t be forgotten, and we must continue to learn from history. How else can this be done without evidence and contemporary resources?

I also found it interesting that the library is continuously expanding its collections and modernising the way that items are presented and shared. For example, the Digital Content Unit is working to build an online database of artefacts and books to enable a wider audience to access important and exciting resources. This is something that I thought had great significance, as I could see how unique materials are becoming increasingly inclusive and accessible.

Each department we visited had a different focus, but it became easier throughout the day to see the links between branches, and by the end I felt that I had a far better understanding of the process of curating objects. Following the departmental tour, we completed the labels for the objects in the exhibition, and it struck me how the artefacts represented the work of every department we had visited, and every part of the curation process we had experienced that day. My day at Cambridge University Library has enabled me to acknowledge the importance of conserving materials that provide us with invaluable information, and has taught me to appreciate the variety and range of resources that have been made available through years of research and dedication.


Intelex Past Masters – The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy

The English Faculty Library and the ebooks@cambridge Service are pleased to announce that a new collection is now accessible on the Intelex Past Masters platform. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy was published by Oxford University Press and consists of seven volumes. Edited by Richard Little Purdey and Michael Millgate, and published between 1978-1988, this is considered the definitive work on Thomas Hardy’s letters, covering the period 1862 – 1927.

The collection can be accessed both on and off campus (with a Raven login) and is available for unlimited concurrent users. A record for this collection will be searchable in iDiscover very soon and can be accessed from this link.

If you have any comments on this collection please contact the ebooks@cambridge team on

Fidel Castro, 1926-2016

On Friday November 25th, exactly 60 years since he set forth from Mexico on the yacht Granma, one of the most influential, divisive and long-standing public figures of the last century passed away. This year also marked 10 years since … Continue reading →

Advent calendars with a difference from @bmj_latest, @cuh & @addenbricks, #12appsDIT and more

With at the time of writing only 22 shopping days left till Christmas (groan!!!), there are advent calendars springing up all over the place.

How about having an advent calendar with a difference – it’s not too late, you know.

You could have the BMJ Christmas Advent Calendar  “The BMJ‘s Christmas team has selected some of our favourite Christmas papers from the past. There are some well known classics and a few hidden gems. Check back every day in December to see the advent calendar open and rediscover a BMJ paper from our Christmas past.” Treats include the answer to “Why Rudolph’s nose is red: observational study” and “Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?”

 Great science can be great fun.

Or for the researchers out there, What better way to tick off the days until the festive season than with a celebration of the wonderful services on offer from the Office of Scholarly Communication
Count down throughout December with our ADVENT CALENDAR and learn more about what we do and how we can help researchers, librarians, administrators and everyone interested in open research.

24 days in the lead up to the busiest time of year for many of us might be just too much, so how about something a bit smaller? 12 Apps of Christmas, anyone? 

This short free course is for anyone who is interested in mobile learning, specifically the potential mobile apps hold for learning and teaching.  Over 12 consecutive weekdays, starting Dec 1st, take the time to read 12 short case studies written by educators from Ireland, the UK and America, and be inspired by the work that they are doing. Let us know what you think of what you’ve read and watched by leaving a comment on that day’s case study page, or tweet your thoughts using #12appsDIT.

The Cochrane UK (@CochraneUK) have got a slightly different approach, with their Evidently Advent focusing  on priorities:

  1. 24 priority Cochrane reviews. We’ll be sharing these in blogshots and also our new vlogshots!
  2. 7 presents. Well, I use the term ‘presents’ a bit loosely, but we’re going to share some resources that are on our favourites list.
  3. Cochrane UK staff science-y book choices.
  4. Martin Burton’s unicorn (if we can find her). If you’re mystified, read his blog here!
  5. Some favourites from the #EvidentlyAdvent archive.

And even CUHT are getting in on the act with their Add-vent calendar: Join them every day in December for the return of their unique take on an Advent calendar.This year the cast of Addenbricks will be bringing you helpful hints and topical tips for a happy and healthy Christmas! Follow them on Twitter or via Facebook 

The post Advent calendars with a difference from @bmj_latest, @cuh & @addenbricks, #12appsDIT and more appeared first on Medical Library.

The spitting image

Why do people use music collections? The reasons may be a lot more varied than you might imagine. Most want to use them for the standard reasons – musical research or performance; but increasingly they’re also used across other subject … Continue reading →

Asante Goldweights


RCS ORCS 4_5 box

This post is inspired by the set of Asante goldweights, boxes and scale currently on display in the Curious Objects exhibition, which celebrates the Library’s 600th anniversary.  Although the main function of the weights was to foster trade, they often served other purposes, endowing them with a much wider cultural significance.  At times, figurative weights were worn by ill children to assist with their cure, or as charms or amulets to bring the wearer good luck or protect from harm. They were also employed in the observance of customs. When a dowry, debt or fine were due, the requisite gold dust would be measured out and delivered in a box along with an appropriate figurative weight.



RCS ORCS 4_5 cutlass

At one time, figurative weights were sent as messages, often with an associated proverb conveying meaning to the recipient, which might be the reminder of an obligation, an offer of friendship, timely advice, or a warning or insult. A king wishing to mobilise support from a subordinate chief, for example, might send a horn, shield, sword or gun; while stools, chairs and knots signified a wish to be on good terms. The Akan were expressive orators and storytellers.  Allusions to proverbs and folktales, which passed down traditional wisdom and morality from one generation to another, were appreciated as evidence of a speaker’s eloquence, knowledge and insight, especially in courtly, political and judicial contexts.  Weights representing human figures, animals and important objects became widely associated with popular sayings or proverbs, although it is not clear exactly when the development occurred.

RCS ORCS 4_5 belt

When young children were taught the names and values of goldweights, they were also instructed in their subjects’ symbolic significance. Some weights referred to individual, universally understood proverbs, while others invited the application of a handful of pithy sayings.  The following is a list of proverbs associated with goldweights from the Royal Commonwealth Society set, several of which do not appear in the Curious Objects exhibition.  The literal translation is followed by an explanation of its meaning in brackets:

RCS ORCS 4_5 drummer and drum


If the drum has a head you do not beat its sides (only a coward spreads gossip; a better man will tell you openly what is said).


The cutlass of death does not weed in one place alone.

Cartridge belt:

The cartridge belt of Akowua [a famous warrior] has never been known to lack bullets (a resourceful man is never found wanting).

RCS ORCS 4_5 crocodile


The old crocodile swallows a pebble when the year ends (misfortunes must be expected as part of life).

Ram’s head:

If the ram is fond of butting, its courage comes from the heart and not from the horns (strength is nothing without courage).

And finally the Scales themselves:

When a fool is squandering his gold dust, he says his scales are out of order.

Gold-weighers, Ivory Coast, 1892, Monnier

Quotations of the proverbs and related information were taken from Timothy Garrard’s ‘Akan weights and the gold trade’ (London, 1980). To appreciate fully the beauty and diversity of the goldweights see Tom Phillips’ profusely illustrated, ‘African goldweights: miniature sculptures from Ghana, 1400-1990’ (London, 2010).

New ebooks – November 2016

Here is a selection of the titles added to the ebooks@cambridge collection during November. These titles were purchased by, or on behalf of, department and faculty libraries within the University of Cambridge and by the University Library.

Click on the cover image to access the title via our authenticated links.


Bulgarian collections : the November 2016 Slavonic item(s) of the month

Earlier in November, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Library of Congress for the first time.  Angela Cannon, the library’s South Slavic specialist, had invited delegates at the huge Slavonic Studies conference taking place in DC to come … Continue reading →

Resource of the Month: Endnote Web

Our resource of the month for November was EndNote Web an online reference manager.

Our resource of the month for November is the EndnoteWeb. It will help manage references, present them in the style required and save time

— Cam Medical Library (@cam_med_lib) November 10, 2016

To get started with EndNote Web or for more help using its features see our help guide

If you need some help using our Resource of the month EndnoteWeb see our online guide

— Cam Medical Library (@cam_med_lib) November 10, 2016

If you would like more help using EndNote Web but find it difficult to attend training sessions there is a lot of help available on the internet. Some of the most helpful are training videos on YouTube.

Need help using EndNote? There are some great videos on YouTube. Here's a link to the EndNote training channel

— Cam Medical Library (@cam_med_lib) November 16, 2016

We offer regular training on “Managing your references” when we look at four different reference managers which are EndNote Web, EndNote desktop, Mendeley and Zotero. Click here to book a place on one of these training sessions.

Need training or support for your research/studies? We've got you covered with new sessions scheduled up to April:

— Cam Medical Library (@cam_med_lib) November 17, 2016

Do be sure to follow us on Twitter for new resources each month.

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Creating a research data community

Are research institutions engaging their researchers with Research Data Management (RDM)? And if so, how are they doing it? In this post, Rosie Higman (@RosieHLib), Research Data Advisor, University of Cambridge, and Hardy Schwamm (@hardyschwamm),  Research Data Manager, Lancaster University explore the work they are doing in their respective institutions.

Whilst funder policies were the initial catalyst for many RDM services at UK universities there are many reasons to engage with RDM, from increased impact to moving towards Open Research as the new normal. And a growing number of researchers are keen to get involved! These reasons also highlight the need for a democratic, researcher-led approach if the behavioural change necessary for RDM is to be achieved. Following initial discussions online and at the Research Data Network event in Cambridge on 6 September, we wanted to find out whether and how others are engaging researchers beyond iterating funder policies.

At both Cambridge and Lancaster we are starting initiatives focused on this, respectively Data Champions and Data Conversations. The Data Champions at Cambridge will act as local experts in RDM, advocating at a departmental level and helping the RDM team to communicate across a fragmented institution. We also hope they will form a community of practice, sharing their expertise in areas such as big data and software preservation. The Lancaster University Data Conversations will provide a forum to researchers from all disciplines to share their data experiences and knowledge. The first event will be on 30 January 2017.

Having presented our respective plans to the RDM Forum (RDMF16) in Edinburgh on 22nd November we ran breakout sessions where small groups discussed the approaches our and other universities were taking, the results summarised below highlighting different forms that engagement with researchers will take.

Targeting our training

RDM workshops seem to be the most common way research data teams are engaging with researchers, typically targeting postgraduate research students and postdoctoral researchers. A recurrent theme was the need to target workshops for specific disciplinary groups, including several workshops run jointly between institutions where this meant it was possible to get sufficient participants for smaller disciplines. Alongside targeting disciplines some have found inviting academics who have experience of sharing their data to speak at workshops greatly increases engagement.

As well as focusing workshops so they are directly applicable to particular disciplines, several institutions have had success in linking their workshop to a particular tangible output, recognising that researchers are busy and are not interested in a general introduction. Examples of this include workshops around Data Management Plans, and embedding RDM into teaching students how to use databases.

An issue many institutions are having is getting the timing right for their workshops: too early and research students won’t have any data to manage or even be thinking about it; too late and students may have got into bad data management habits. Finding the goldilocks time which is ‘just right’ can be tricky. Two solutions to this problem were proposed: having short online training available before a more in-depth training later on, and having a 1 hour session as part of an induction followed by a 2 hour session 9-18 months into the PhD.

Tailored support

Alongside workshops, the most popular way to get researchers interested in RDM was through individual appointments, so that the conversation can be tailored to their needs, although this obviously presents a problem of scalability when most institutions only have one individual staff member dedicated to RDM.

There are two solutions to this problem which were mentioned during the breakout session. Firstly, some people are using a ‘train the trainer’ approach to involve other research support staff who are based in departments and already have regular contact with researchers. These people can act as intermediaries and are likely to have a good awareness of the discipline-specific issues which the researchers they support will be interested in.

The other option discussed was holding drop-in sessions within departments, where researchers know the RDM team will be on a regular basis. These have had mixed success at many institutions but seem to work better when paired with a more established service such as the Open Access or Impact team.

What RDM services should we offer?

We started the discussion at the RDM Forum thinking about extending our services beyond sheer compliance in order to create an “RDM community” where data management is part of good research practice and contributes to the Open Research agenda. This is the thinking behind the new initiatives at Cambridge and Lancaster.

However, there were also some critical or sceptical voices at our RDMF16 discussions. How can we promote an RDM community when we struggle to persuade researchers being compliant with institutional and funder policies? All RDM support teams are small and have many other tasks aside from advocacy and training. Some expressed concern that they lack the skills to market our services beyond the traditional methods used by libraries. We need to address and consider these concerns about capacity and skill sets as we attempt to engage researchers beyond compliance.


It is clear from our discussions that there is a wide variety of RDM-related activities at UK universities which stretch beyond enforcing compliance, but engaging large numbers of researchers is an ongoing concern. We also realised that many RDM professionals are not very good at practising what we preach and sharing our materials, so it’s worth highlighting that training materials can be shared on the RDM training community on Zenodo as long as they have an open license.

Many thanks to the participants at our breakout session at the RDMForum 16, and Angus Whyte for taking notes which allowed us to write this piece. You can follow previous discussions on this topic on Gitter.

Published on 30 November
Written by Rosie Higman and Hardy Schwamm