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  • Two books for learning Spanish in 19th century England

    The Spanish language started attracting widespread attention in Britain in the 19th century, when “Great Britain’s attitude to Spain was softening, and former prejudices were giving way to a new understanding” (The emergence and growth of Hispanic studies in British … Continue reading →
    Timestamp: 12 December 2018 - 10:42am
  • Turn on, tune in, tweet out – experiments in engagement

    This time of year is often one of reflection – what went well, what could be improved and so on. In this spirit we are putting up here an assessment of the livestreaming aspect of our outreach programme over the past couple of years.

    This blog asks what was successful? What flopped? Where did we get bang for buck? Read on and find out…

    Lofty goals

    The OSC works towards collaborative engagement with the research community and relevant stakeholders – amongst other things, this helps us to communicate policies, promote our services and identify needs and knowledge gaps within the communities we work with.  

    It will come as no surprise, therefore, that the words ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ crop up frequently when we are planning our communications. In the context of events and outreach, we usually start from the position of wanting to invite as many guests to the table as possible – not just those within the University but across the whole scholarly communication community. Given the international span of this group of people, one obvious solution is to take the party on the road – virtually speaking, at least.  

    Starting in October 2016 with the ambition to make the most of technological solutions to achieve this (whilst taking into account the limits of our A/V expertise and resources), we experimented over 18 months with various platforms and approaches in order to live-stream, record and share footage from the events we hosted. Evaluating the returns on these efforts has led to some useful lessons: whilst we’d like to share our events as widely as possible, we have had to make some strategic choices to make the venture worthwhile.  

    In terms of evaluating the impact of online sharing, we acknowledge that social media marketing is one small part of our Communications remit – whilst the scope for digging down into statistics on YouTube and Twitter engagement is almost unlimited, the time available to devote to this activity is not.

    Stepping into the stream: live broadcasting and video recording 

    Livestreaming allows viewers to remotely attend events, and we hoped to find a method of broadcasting that would adequately capture all sound and visuals (including slide presentations) whilst allowing viewers to simultaneously contribute their questions and comments. We found these goals something of a challenge!  

    1. Adobe Connect

    When organising one-day workshops, we initially managed the streaming, recording and processing ourselves using the Adobe Connect package (which came with the advantage that we could use the University’s subscription without any additional costs for us).

    However, this method required a stable connection to the wired Local Area Network (LAN), plus high-intensity input from our team members, neither of which were factors that could always be guaranteed – many of the University’s lecture rooms are in old buildings with minimal A/V infrastructure at best, and it was not always possible to plug into sound systems or connect to the ethernet.

    After the events, we made recordings of the live-stream available via our YouTube channel, despite some of them falling short of our expectations in terms of sound quality and uninterrupted broadcasting. We concluded that whilst Adobe Connect was excellent for hosting webinars in a controlled environment (where the room was quiet and we were familiar with the available technological capacity) it was not suitable for livestreaming large events. 

    2. Calling in the professionals

    We took a different approach when organising higher profile events such as the Engaging Researchers in Good Data Management event in November 2017, hiring an external company to take care of both the livestream and video recordings. The difference in quality was remarkable – of course, you get what you pay for!

    We also trialled the approach of making video recordings of one-day workshops, without live-streaming. Hiring professional recording equipment from the University Information Service to do this and having a quick in-house tutorial on how to use it again required high-intensity input from our team, although it produced higher quality results than filming through Adobe Connect.   

    Was it worth it? 

    After 18 months of trying out these different methods, we needed to establish if the investment of time and money was reaping rewards, particularly given that the hire of professional equipment and services accounted for the largest single expense for an event. We needed to decide how much priority to give recording and streaming events for sharing in our Communications Strategy.  

    A summary of the statistics showed: 

    • maximum livestream engagement reached 50 participants (for the Engaging Researchers event)  
    • engagement with our content on YouTube at the time of dissemination (through advertising in our newsletters, emails and Twitter accounts) varied from ten clicks to 600 clicks. 

    The engagement statistics at the time of the event were moderate, and the audience for the livestream did not exceed the audience in the room. We therefore concluded that we would reserve the option of livestreaming for events where sharing on-the-spot footage was of significant benefit to the wider scholarly communication and research data community – for instance for high-profile conferences or politically urgent discussions.

    We would continue to hire professional AV services to video ‘headline’ events that were of interest to the community, but would not make recording standard practice for every event.  

    A last experiment… 

    We realised there was another aspect to this question: after the initial promotion of the recordings, they sat dormant in the YouTube playlist and embedded on our websites, relying on users discovering them by serendipity. We needed to think about continuing to maximise returns on the investment.   

    In order to address this additional concern, between March and June 2018, we used our twitter accounts @CamOpenData and @CamOpenAccess to re-promote 33 and 54 videos respectively. We monitored the viewings on YouTube and looked at various metrics in the Twitter analytics. 

    During that period we saw an average 16% increase in the YouTube video clicks, with some videos attracting far more attention than others. These viewing figures were less than we had anticipated, and there were various hypotheses as to why: 

    • We were re-promoting the videos to an audience that may well have seen the videos the first time around, so were not offering anything new. 
    • Some videos were specialised in subject and therefore appealed to a limited audience. 
    • Some videos were lengthy and likely to hold the attention only of the most dedicated viewers. 

    It was notable that the professional videos we’d commissioned performed better in YouTube as well as in Twitter in terms of engagement rates and impressions. Perhaps due to our confidence in the quality of these videos, we invested extra time in promoting them (for instance by adding images to our tweets), and engagement was indeed higher. However, the fact that many of these videos were short recordings of single presentations may also have added to their relative appeal. 

    What we learnt 

    There were lots of positive outcomes of this final experiment. The re-promotion campaign helped to maintain the presence of our brand on Twitter and YouTube, resulting in almost 600 clicks on existing YouTube content over three months. It added diversity to the content of our tweets and increased tweet impressions as a whole. It contributed to our strategic aim to disseminate professional knowledge, maintained contact with our community, and influenced the acquisition of new followers. 

    In addition, we observed the most popular themes amongst our Twitter followers:  

    • Open access monograph publishing  
    • How to spot a predatory publisher 
    • Peer review and the benefits of openness 
    • Copyright 
    • Text & Data Mining 
    • Data management needs for different disciplines and different institutions 
    • Standard practices for managing and sharing code 
    • How to make data publications first class research outputs 

    These are insights that will inform our planning for future engagement activity. 

    Looking ahead 

    Our re-promotion experiment has given us a handy list of priorities that will allow us to keep using our film resources even when staff time is scarce, and will inform our event planning from the outset if we know we want to record the occasion.  Our top take-away tips: 

    1. Less but better – Resources are limited: livestream important events only but don’t compromise on quality.  Short videos are better received: take into account the length of talks, panel discussions and workshops. Can longer talks be naturally broken into shorter segments? 

    2. Specific, practical, catchy – Take time to create engaging and specific titles for videos, and emphasise their practical focus, for example by starting with “How to”. These items are instantly more appealing to the browsing viewer, and also appear higher on search rankings when the subject is Googled.    

     3. Re-use and repurpose – Use short clips from older videos on social media when their content complements news or trends. Routinely reference videos when writing content, for example blogs or training slides. 

    Want to know more? 

    You can explore these recordings of past events on the OSC’s website, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel.  

    For an alternative perspective on using video to engage with the research and scholarly communications communities, join our Research Skills Support Coordinator, Claire Sewell, with an expert panel for the MmIT webinar, Using Video in your library and information service2pm Wednesday 12 December, and look out for her upcoming blog on preparing online training.   

     Published 10 December 2018
    Written by Hannah Haines and Maria Angelaki

    Timestamp: 10 December 2018 - 5:27pm
  • Library closure over Christmas

    The Clinical School, and so the Medical Library, will be closed over the Christmas period.
    The Library will close at 17:30 Friday 21st December 2018, and will reopen 08:00 Wednesday 2nd January 2019.

    We wish all our members of the library a very merry Christmas, and all best wishes for 2019.

    Things are getting festive in the Medical Library.

    — Cambridge Medical Library (@cam_med_lib) November 29, 2018

    The post Library closure over Christmas appeared first on Medical Library.

    Timestamp: 10 December 2018 - 11:30am
  • “I have just set a Hungarian rabbi at work…

    …upon our Hebrew manuscripts” said Henry Bradshaw in June 1865. Bradshaw was Head of the manuscript collections in the University Library and was keen to complete a catalogue of the Hebrew holdings. It has been said that there was a centuries-old curse placed on anyone cataloguing this collection and, whether or not this is true, this initiative does have a history of attempts which were left unfinished. Who was the Rabbi referred to here?

    Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, 1820-1890

    He was Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, a Hungarian émigré, a man who had already led an eventful life before his arrival in Cambridge. He had been born at Altofen, on the outskirts of Budapest in 1820, the son of a rabbi. As a child he attended a Jewish school but later studied at the Evangelic Lutheran College of Eperjes in Slovakia. He gained a PhD from the University of Jena, and was ordained as a rabbi by the famous reforming rabbi Aron of Arad (Aaron Chorin, 1766-1884). Subsequently he was appointed assistant professor at Eperjes, where he met Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian nationalist leader of a Magyar uprising against the Austrians. Solomon, with many Jews, became an ardent supporter of the Magyar cause against Austrian oppression, and it was he who executed the order of General Torök to blow up the bridge at Szegedin to halt the enemy’s approach. He was wounded and taken prisoner, but managed to make a miraculous escape the night before his intended execution. He fled overland to Trieste, then escaped by boat to Ireland and subsequently to Manchester in England. Chiefly owing to Professor Theodores, leader of the reform movement in Manchester, Schiller-Szinessy was offered and accepted the office of minister to the newly formed congregation there.

    This position he resigned in 1860, deciding to move to Cambridge where he had heard of the possibility of private teaching in Hebrew. Perhaps also he had heard of the manuscript collection in the Library. Here he came to be noticed by Bradshaw who, at his own expense, engaged him to catalogue the Hebrew manuscripts. Recent changes in the University Statutes had also made it possible to admit Jews to official positions, and in 1866-79 he was formally appointed as Teacher of Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature, the first time such a position was officially recognised, although Biblical Hebrew had been taught to Christian clerics in the University since 1540. He was promoted to Reader from 1879-90. In 1877 he received an M.A. (perhaps the first person of the Jewish faith to be awarded the degree) and was admitted as a member of Christ’s College.

    The most significant fruit of his labours and his most lasting legacy was his work on the Hebrew manuscripts in Cambridge, both in terms of new acquisitions and in their cataloguing. His original handwritten catalogue, six stout volumes with black leather spines, is still shelved alongside the Library’s Oriental manuscript collections (MS Or.1116-21). The published version, his Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts Preserved in the University Library, Cambridge, appeared in 1876. It described 72 manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible and its commentaries. A second slimmer volume on Talmudic literature was never formally published. He was a slow and meticulous worker, and a large part of his catalogue remains, ironically, still in manuscript, in Or.1116-21.

    Schiller-Szinessy’s own copy of his Catalogue of the Hebrew manuscripts published in 1876. A233.18

    But Schiller-Szinessy was also renowned for the Hebrew manuscripts he acquired to add to the Library’s collection. Some of the original Hebrew collection had been present in the Library since its earliest years, the first ones possibly dating back to the original Cambridge Jewish population resident in the city prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290.

    Further manuscripts came to the Library in 1632 with the Erpenius collection, primarily an Islamic collection but which contained a dozen Hebrew manuscripts. In 1643, ten more Hebrew manuscripts were acquired from the collection of an Italian Jew, Isaac Faragi, and in 1665 a further 19 manuscripts came from Edmund Castell the lexicographer and Professor of Arabic. In 1715, a small number of Hebrew manuscripts arrived with the Royal Library of George I and in the years 1800–1807, a further 21 arrived with the collection of Rev. Claudius Buchanan (1766– 1815), a Scottish theologian and evangelical missionary for the Church Missionary Society who also served as Vice Provost of the College of Calcutta in India.

    All of these had been acquired in a fairly random fashion and in small numbers, but it was Schiller-Szinessy who was to change all this. Encouraged by Bradshaw, and using his own skill, vision and European contacts, he acquired large numbers of manuscripts — over 600 texts — from bookdealers in Central Europe. These included Samuel Schönblum of Lemberg and Hirsch Lipschütz of Cracow. In 1868 he purchased from Lipschütz Ha-Maʾor ha-Gadol, a super-commentary on Abraham ibn Ezra’s own commentary on the Pentateuch by Shem Ṭov b. Judah ibn Mayor, a work rich in grammatical notes, and previously unknown biography and bibliography (MS Add.433).

    Schiller-Szinessy’s catalogue entry for the Cambridge Mishnah in his original manuscript version. (Ms Or.1120, f. 45r

    Among his acquisitions were some specially treasured items in which Solomon took a close interest, such as the ‘Cambridge Mishnah’ (MS Add.470.1) which had previously belonged to a Bet Midrash in Constantinople. This is one of only three complete manuscripts of the Mishnah, and he considered it to be ‘an outstanding witness of the western type of Mishnaic Hebrew’. Of the manuscript, Schiller-Szinessy writes: ‘Although this copy can lay claim neither to a very great age, nor to absolute correctness, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it to be a MS. beyond all price.’ From Schönblum he purchased an Illuminated Hebrew Bible (containing the Pentateuch and Hagiographa; Add.652), which he described as ‘a model of beauty and correctness’ Also from the same source he purchased a commentary on the Pentateuch by Rashi which he regarded very highly (MS Add.626).

    Solomon made some good friends in Cambridge, including Charles Taylor, the Master of St Johns College, an ardent Christian with a strong interest in Rabbinics, also with W. Aldis Wright, Secretary of the Old Testament Revision Committee, and most of all with Henry Bradshaw who became the University Librarian (1867–1886), and who provided him with encouragement, funds and cataloguing expertise. He had religious differences with Solomon Schechter and their relationship was less than cordial. Schiller-Szinessy and his family lived quietly in one of the terraced housed on Hills Road between the end of Station Road and the Hills Road railway bridge. He died at Cambridge March 11 1890 and is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Ipswich. But his work lives on. His complete catalogue, including the formerly unpublished third volume, was republished in 2012. References to his comments were included in the more recent catalogue of the Library’s Hebrew manuscript collection by Professor Stefan Reif, published in 1997. Original descriptions and comments by Schiller-Szinessy appear in many of the descriptions of Hebrew manuscripts in the Cambridge Digital Library.

    He was known locally and with affection as ‘The Rabbi’ and one contemporary story recounts that one Friday afternoon he was accidently locked within the precincts of the Senate House and the old Library, but by some unknown means suddenly found himself miraculously transported outside the railings. So here we have a man not only of strong religious convictions and of profound scholarship, but also a magician!



    De Lange, N.R.M. Books and bookmen: the Cambridge teachers of Rabbinics, 1886-1971. Jewish Historical Studies, 44, 2012, pp. 139-163.

    Raphael J. Loewe, Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy 1820-1890: First Reader in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature at Cambridge, The Jewish Historical Society of England, Transactions, Vol. XXI, 1962-1967, pp.148-189.

    McKitterick, D. Cambridge University Library: a history. Vol. 2, The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge, 1986, pp. 719-722.

    Reif, Stefan C. Hebrew manuscripts at Cambridge University Library: a description and introduction. Cambridge, 1997.

    Schiller-Szinessy, S.M. Catalogue of the Hebrew manuscripts preserved in the University Library, Vol. 1. Cambridge, 1876.

    Schiller-Szinessy, S.M. Ha-perush ha-shalem ʻal tehilim le-rabenu Daṿid ben Yosef ben Yitsḥaḳ ʼaben Ḳimḥy ha-sefardy. Ḳanṭabrigiya, 1878.

    Timestamp: 8 December 2018 - 12:00pm
  • Christmas Carols at MusiCB3

    MusiCB3 is looking very festive lately. The much-admired Pendlebury Christmas decorations are up, and the exhibition cases in the Anderson Room are showing off some of the Music Department’s Christmas-related items. One of the Anderson Room cases is devoted to … Continue reading →
    Timestamp: 7 December 2018 - 4:06pm