Our libraries: transforming

Cambridge University Libraries
Annual Review 2020-21

Foreword by Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian

It’s been another challenging year, to say the least. But I’m proud to reflect how our libraries in Cambridge – and across the world – have been a beacon of light and hope for so many of us throughout the period covered in this annual review. 

Although we are still living with uncertainty, there are so many reasons that Cambridge University Libraries staff can take heart from their incredible efforts and endeavours made to keep students learning, lecturers lecturing and researchers researching. And for doing so while keeping the rest of us inspired with their ingenuity, problem-solving and tireless attitudes to the many complex and shifting challenges we have all had to deal with... sometimes on a daily or hourly basis. 

As you'll see in the various clickable chapters (above) of this fully digital Annual Report, there are many reasons to be optimistic, even while we grapple with the continued need for care, caution and communication, and the desire to reforge our sense of inclusion and belonging as a library community.  

But looking back and looking ahead, this period has also given us an opportunity to reflect more profoundly about what it means to be a 21st century library - and how our libraries have and will transform beyond the pandemic. 

Without question we need to keep accelerating the shift to digital. We must redouble our efforts to share our incredible collections, knowledge and expertise with students, researchers and the public, not just on our doorstep but worldwide to help create more equitable access to information and research materials. It is only right that we attempt to face these global challenges around access and discovery of information with the same spirit and conviction with which we responded so brilliantly to the pandemic.  
It's clear to me that the new 'normal' for library services has to be more digital than before, with more hybrid working for library users and library staff. We must expand and enhance our digital tools and services so that they and we are fit-for-purpose for our local and global community of readers, researchers and other users. 
We must also do this without losing sight of the way our physical libraries, especially in research-intensive universities like ours, build communities in a very real sense. Libraries are places where conversations happen, ideas are exchanged and can be the epicentre of change that is often felt around the world. Libraries are an essential space for learning communities, local and global. The modern library has to be a place of both trust and innovation in equal measure. 
In our Annual Report, I hope you'll get a real sense of the immense contributions our libraries make. As these stories show, our libraries have many different guises: as venues for cutting-edge research and equipment, as learning community spaces for our students, and as places for engagement and knowledge sharing with a wider public - from local history societies to the many individuals who generously shared their photos, films and artworks to capture life in this city during a pandemic.  
You'll also read about the touching public support for our quest to find the missing Darwin Notebooks and the profound honour we felt around our acquisition of the archive of Professor Stephen Hawking. You'll read how our Friends of the Library and our donors have enabled us to bolster our collections of not only rare books, manuscripts and archives, but also with the wonderful Caroline Walker painting of female researchers in the lab - first featured in our most popular exhibition to date - The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge

I'm also so pleased to see our vital and growing work around accessibility captured in this report. More than ever, we need to take tangible action to improve not just accessibility, but race equality, mental health and inclusion. Our goal is to create a sense of belonging for all. 

As I said last year, so I'll say again ... a simple but enormous thank you to everyone whose hard work and dedication through testing circumstances have kept our libraries open and accessible - physically or electronically. And thank you to our wonderful community of readers, researchers and those who simply delight in roaming our collections online or in-person. 

Like you all, I love libraries, and love being part of an inspiring community of scholarship and learning that frames all we do.  
Happy reading! 

The Hawking Archive

A portrait of Professor Stephen Hawking in front of a large chalk board, photo by Andre Pattenden.

Photo: Andre Pattenden

Photo: Andre Pattenden

A treasure trove of archive papers and personal objects – from Stephen Hawking's seminal works on theoretical physics to scripts from episodes of The Simpsons has been divided between two of the UK’s leading cultural institutions following a landmark Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) agreement on behalf of the nation.

The announcement in March 2021 made headlines across the world with more than 1,000 pieces of coverage from all corners of the globe.

The AIL agreement between HMRC, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Cambridge University Library, Science Museum Group, and the Hawking Estate, saw around 10,000 pages of Hawking’s scientific and other papers remain in Cambridge, while objects including his wheelchairs, speech synthesisers, and personal memorabilia from his former Cambridge office are now housed at the Science Museum.

The acquisition means University Library is now home to three of the most important scientific archives of all time – those of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. In 2018, Professor Hawking's ashes were buried between the graves of Newton and Darwin at Westminster Abbey.

Under the terms of the historic agreement, Professor Hawking’s extensive Cambridge archive will be cared for and made available to current and future generations of scientists hoping to continue his ground-breaking work in theoretical physics, and will provide future biographers and science historians with an extraordinary gateway and insight into Hawking’s life and work.  

Cambridge University Library is already home to manuscripts, books and theses from some of the most famous scientists, mathematicians and astronomers in history, including James Clerk Maxwell, JJ Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Dorothy Hodgkin (nee Crowfoot). 

The UL also safeguards the archives of John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, and his 19th century successor George Airy.

The University of Cambridge has launched a major fundraising drive to complete the painstaking work of conserving and cataloguing the archive, and to ensure that members of the public are given an opportunity to engage with the archive through a programme of exhibitions, events and digitisation in the Cambridge Digital Library. 

“The archive allows us to step inside Stephen’s mind and to travel with him around the cosmos to, as he said, ‘better understand our place in the universe’.

“It gives extraordinary insight into the evolution of Stephen’s scientific life, from childhood to research student, from disability activist to ground-breaking, world-renowned scientist.

“I am so grateful that the Hawking family and the AIL scheme have entrusted us with this precious archive.”     

Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian

To find out how you can help, visit The Stephen Hawking Programme.
For updates on the archive, including events and opportunities to get involved, please sign up to our newsletter.

With thanks to the Hawking family and Hawking Estate.

Darwin Notebooks: worldwide appeal launched

In November 2020, we announced a public appeal for help in locating two missing notebooks, one of which contains Charles Darwin’s iconic 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch.

Following an exhaustive search, the largest in the library’s history, curators have concluded that the notebooks, first listed as missing in January 2001, have likely been stolen.

Cambridgeshire Police were informed and their disappearance has been recorded on the national Art Loss Register for missing cultural artefacts.  The library's missing notebooks have also been added to Interpol’s database of stolen artworks – Psyche.

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian and Director of Library Services since 2017, said: “I am heartbroken that the location of these Darwin notebooks, including Darwin’s iconic ‘Tree of Life’ drawing, is currently unknown, but we’re determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process.

“This public appeal could be critical in seeing the notebooks safely return, for the benefit of all, and I would ask anyone who thinks they may be able to help to get in touch.

“Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge or insight that can help us return these notebooks to their proper place at the heart of the UK’s cultural and scientific heritage.”

For many years, previous University Librarians believed that the notebooks had been misplaced in the vast storerooms and collections of Cambridge University Library - which is home to around ten million books, maps, manuscripts and other objects. 

Despite a number of searches over the intervening years, they remained undiscovered.  

At the start of 2020, a new search was arranged by Dr Gardner involving specialist staff assigned to search specific zones of the library’s storage facilities. It was led by an expert team conducting fingertip examinations where necessary and included a complete check of the entire Darwin Archive, which contains 189 archive boxes.

However, this failed to locate the notebooks, leading to the conclusion, with the help of national experts in cultural heritage theft and recovery, that they have likely been stolen.

There may still be hope of the notebooks being found, and the Library will not stop searching. Given the vast size of the building and its collections - the Special Collections Strong Rooms alone contain more than 45km of shelving and millions of documents, many held in boxes – a complete search will take up to an estimated five more years to complete. 

Overall, the University Library is home to more than 210km (130 miles) of shelving, roughly the distance by road from Cambridge to Southampton.

“All cultural and collecting institutions have to deal with a legacy of missing items and the possibility of loss and theft, as it is part of our duty to make these precious items as accessible to the public as possible,” said Dr Gardner.

“It is essential that we approach such issues, however difficult, in an open and transparent fashion and that is our ongoing commitment."

Anyone who may have information about the missing notebooks is asked to contact Cambridge University Library via email at ManuscriptAppeal@lib.cam.ac.uk, anonymously if they wish.

Alternatively, you can contact Cambridgeshire Police via web-chat, on 101 quoting crime reference number 35/71468/20 or by visiting www.cambs.police.uk/report.

You can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111 or via www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

Recovering our Library services

Moving out of the first national lockdown in summer 2020, our libraries laid out the first of a series of roadmaps for recovering services in preparation for Michaelmas Term 2020. We worked to keep our community of users studying, teaching and researching - wherever they were located.

Although the academic year 2020-21 would see two further lockdowns, our constant priority was to maintain the best possible access to collections and support for library users, whilst keeping our users and our staff safe.

A robust core of remote services and online resources underpinned a blend of zero-contact and in-person services which enabled controlled access to physical libraries and physical collections, as far as was safe and possible.

We adapted and continually reviewed our services in response to the changing circumstances and restrictions of the pandemic, pausing in-person services when required, and accommodating the requirements of particular library sites where physical access was challenging. Our decisions were informed by Public Health advice and by guidance from the UK Government and the University.

For much of the year, we prioritised our services for current staff and students at the University; our libraries were working at a reduced capacity and also operating within strict building controls which limited occupancy to manage social distancing and ventilation controls. By July 2021, we were able to extend in-person services to all library members.

Communicating with our users throughout the year has been a key priority. We reshaped our website so that our evolving blend of available services was easier to explore, and shared our recovery plans throughout the year:

A student is reading from a laptop screen. Her hair has fallen over her face. A mug, book and charging cable sit on the desk.
Two Rare Book volumes on a trolley
A student smiling whilst reading from a laptop screen in the Seeley Library

During August 2020-July 21...

26346 Click & Collect appointments were booked (in libraries offering the service using the LibCal system)

Ask a curator received 4246 enquiries

Scan & Deliver fulfilled 15,928 requests, scanning 433,979 pages

555 orders were received for Special Collections Scan & Deliver

...and in Michaelmas Term alone - 28 September-6 December 2020 - 57734 study spaces were booked in Cambridge libraries

A corridor lined on both sides with shelves of different coloured books..

Despite lockdown, Cambridge University Libraries hosted in-person and digital events and exhibitions throughout 2020-21.

The rainbow Pride flag flying atop the University Library

The rainbow Pride flag flying atop the University Library

The rainbow Pride flag flying atop the University Library

Ghost Words: Reading the past

Our major in-person exhibition (courtesy of limited occupancy timed tickets) brought to life the hidden words buried in some of our oldest manuscripts - known as palimpsests.

Ghost Words examined the quest to retrieve the hidden world of words, as well as the cutting-edge technology now used to recover lost works from four standout palimpsests as well as other notable examples.

There were more than two dozen other manuscripts - ranging in age from the 5th century CE to as recent as the 18th century - for visitors to explore and discover.

Palimpsests are manuscripts from which the text has been scraped or washed off so they can be reused. They are the literary equivalent of buried treasure, and scholars over the last two centuries have patiently sought to decipher the lost or forgotten words hidden under layers of newer ink.

The need for and shortage of new writing material led societies to erase existing texts and write over them. Monastic libraries in Byzantium and the Holy Land, and the Jewish communities of Egypt and Palestine cleaned old parchment manuscripts to produce new books.

But whereas Christians used items from their own shelves, Jewish scribes, conscious of the sanctity of the written Hebrew word, found it safer to reuse parchment obtained from outside their community.

Cambridge holds one of the most varied ranges of palimpsests held by any institution in the world, with a range of different types, showing the extent of the practice of recycling manuscripts within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim scribal traditions.”
Dr Ben Outhwaite, curator of Ghost Words, and Head of the Genizah Research Unit

The centrepiece of the exhibition was the University Library's famous Codex Zacynthius. The manuscript was originally made in the 8th century CE, and contains a copy of the Gospel of Luke, surrounded by an early commentary made up of extracts from writings of the early church, including many now otherwise lost.

Its leaves were erased, cut and rearranged into a new book in the 1170s or 1180s on the island of Rhodes. A monk named Neilos reused them to copy a Greek Gospel lectionary, containing passages to be read during Christian worship on each day of the year according to the Byzantine rite. 

The original manuscript is the only commentary where both the Gospel text and its commentary, called a ‘catena’, are in the older uncial Greek letters. Indeed, it is thought to be the oldest manuscript with this type of marginal commentary. It provides important evidence about the development of Greek scripts, since it dates to a period from which few manuscripts survive.

Presented to a British dignitary on the island of Zakynthos (now a popular tourist destination), it was for two hundred years in the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 2014 it was put up for sale and purchased by the library for £1.1million, following a successful public appeal.

Public Engagement Events Calendar

Summer with the Museums
July-August 2020

A series of five videos were released on Youtube, encouraging families to get involved with book-themed activities over the summer holidays.

Challenging Chapters: The University Library in interesting times
Wednesday 12 August 2021

Online lecture for members of the Friends and special guests. Dr Mark Purcell reflected on the overwhelming challenges – political, intellectual, institutional and technological – Cambridge University Library has responded to over its six hundred year history.

Open Cambridge
Behind-the-scenes of the University of Cambridge Library Storage Facility
Friday 11-Sunday 13 September 2021

A pre-recorded tour of the facility which was made available on Youtube for all to enjoy.

Heritage Open Days
Heritage tour of Cambridge University Library with the Librarian
Friday 11 – 20 September 2021

A special guided tour of the University Library hosted by Dr Jessica Gardner was recorded especially for Heritage Open Days, introducing viewers to our incredible collections.

The Really Popular Book Club
December 2020 - Present

In December 2020, we launched our monthly virtual book club. Hosted via Zoom and featuring a special guest. Between December 2020 and July 2021, the books featured included The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, Girls Meets Boy by Ali Smith, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, amongt others.

Introduction to Ghost Words with Dr Ben Outhwaite
Thursday 25 February 2021

As a preview of our exhibition, Ghost Words: Reading the past, Dr Ben Outhwaite delivered an introductory online lecture for members of the Friends and special guests.

 Launch of Ghost Words exhibition
Tuesday 2 March 2021

To officially launch the exhibition, we hosted a live online event which included a special talk by Professor David Parker on the Three Lives of the Codex Zacynthius.

Ask the scribe: Everything you wanted to know about scribes but never met one to ask
Tuesday 8 March 2021

As part of our exhibition on palimpsests, Hebrew scribe, Marc Michaels, spoke about the Jewish tradition of hand-copying sacred texts. The event was hosted by the Genizah Research Unit and supported by Littman Genizah Educational Programme.

Cambridge Festival
More than meets the eye: Spectral imaging and its applications to historical research
Friday 26 March 2021

For this online talk for the Festival, Professor Haida Liang from Nottingham Trent University discussed spectral imaging; a scientific technique that Cambridge University Library used in a multidisciplinary project to reveal the erased writing in an ancient palimpsest of the New Testament.

The Journey of a Greek Manuscript: Live Q&A
Wednesday 31 March 2021

Prior to this live Q&A, Festivalgoers were invited to watch a video of the team behind the Polonsky Greek Manuscript Project. The team was then available to take questions from the audience during this live Q&A session.

Cambridge Festival Book Club: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Thursday 1 April 2021

The Really Popular Book Club partnered with the Cambridge Festival Book Club and the Gurdon Institute for this special event, and we were joined by Dr Andrea Brand and Professor Nick Hopwood who helped our virtual book club members explore the themes of Rebecca Skloot’s book.

 Liberation Literature Lecture
Why history changes: New understandings of art in occupied France
Tuesday 27 April 2021

In this talk, Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, Professor at Sciences Po Paris, reflected on how the subject of French art in World War Two was first studied, and how new sources emerged to change our understanding of that period in history.

Bait and switch: The case of the Archimedes Palimpsest
Thursday 6 May 2021

Dr Will Noel, J.T. Maltsberger III of Princeton University Library, delivered this special lecture on the Archimedes Palimpsest and the man behind it; a philosopher and orator as well as mathematician.

Cambridge University Library joins Google Arts and Culture

Audiences across the globe can now explore some of the treasures of Cambridge University Library on the Google Arts and Culture platform.

The UL became the first institution of the University of Cambridge to partner with Google on the platform in August 2020, and joins organisations such as the British Museum, Rijksmuseum and the White House, among many others, who share their collections freely, and openly, with the world.

The UL is one of the oldest university libraries in the English-speaking world, and is home to nearly ten million books, maps, manuscripts and curious objects spanning more than 4,000 years of human history, in more than 2,000 languages.

Allowing users to zoom in on objects in great detail, the images and ‘stories’ reveal the fascinating narratives behind unique objects such as the earliest Chinese book printed using the technique of douban, a printing method using different colours of ink applied to woodcut blocks, or Sir Isaac Newton’s undergraduate notebooks from his time at Trinity College, Cambridge.

The partnership with Google Arts and Culture complements the availability of more than 50,000 objects already digitised and made freely available on the Cambridge Digital Library, which has recorded more than 20 million object views since its launch in 2011.

Cambridge University Librarian Dr Jessica Gardner said: “Cambridge University Library is home to thousands of years of human history and is one of the world’s great research collections, drawing visitors, writers, academics and researchers from all over the world to engage with our unique collections.

“From ancient historical records carved into clay, to beautifully illuminated and illustrated medieval manuscripts, to works illuminating the human body or the night sky above us, we are so pleased to begin sharing our collections on Google Arts and Culture.

“One of our driving principles is to freely and openly share our world-class collections with the world. With fewer people able to travel at the moment, our partnership with Google is a perfect example of bringing the Library to enquiring minds across the globe, joining some of the world’s biggest and best-loved cultural institutions already on the platform."

Google Arts and Culture is a free online platform launched in 2011 through the Google Cultural Institute initiative. With six million objects to explore, the digital platform utilises high-resolution image technology and enables users to virtually tour partner institutions’ galleries, explore physical and contextual information about artworks, and compile their own virtual collection.

‘You’re making my experience at Cambridge such a positive one’

The Libraries Accessibility Service 

Blue sky above the Roof of the University Library

There are 4,000 disabled students at the University of Cambridge.  

Our libraries are committed to providing equal access to our services and resources for all students, working closely with partners including the University’s Disability Resource Centre, publishers, and the RNIB’s Bookshare service

This year we have enriched the resources we have to support disabled students.

In November 2020, we established the Libraries Accessibility Service. We welcomed two roles dedicated to developing our existing accessibility services and extending our provision of alternative ways to access library resources. 

Printed books are inaccessible to many disabled students, for reasons that include visual impairment, neurodiversity and physical disability. Some students rely on electronic formats together with assistive technology which recognises and reads out text, magnifies it or converts it to refreshable braille. 

The Libraries Accessibility Service facilitates access to compatible non-print material by creating or obtaining electronic versions of books in our libraries, under the copyright exception for disabled students.  

"Your pdfs and other files and reading services account are really helpful, and allowed me to read plenty of material I just wouldn’t have been able to otherwise."
Student user of RNIB Bookshare, January 2021

For some students, we also carry out detailed work on digital texts, to make sure aspects such as the data in tables can be accessed and interpreted meaningfully by their assistive technology.

With older publications, the Libraries Accessibility Service works with the in-house Scan & Deliver team to digitize physical books, improve the accuracy of the text recognition and overcome problems such as illegible fonts and marginalia which decrease the accessibility of the text. 

The facility to scan material quickly is especially helpful for students and researchers using older publications for which ‘born digital’ versions do not exist.

Between August 2021 and July 2021, the Scan & Deliver services scanned 54,966 pages at the request of disabled users.

“These are immensely helpful, thank you. I can read them and I’m very grateful indeed for all the work done on scanning those.” 
Student requester of Scan & Deliver files through the Libraries Accessibility Service
"We do our best to deliver accessible materials on time. You made that happen"
The University of Cambridge Disability Resource Centre

Crucially, the Libraries Accessibility Service is raising the visibility of the support available to disabled students. By building strong connections with the Disability Resource Centre and the Disabled Students Campaign, and publishing a guide to library accessibility services for students, we are reaching out to the 4,000 students who could benefit from our service.

The service also supports Cambridge library staff in developing and delivering services that are as accessible and inclusive as possible through resources such as the accessibility and inclusivity toolkit.

Following a busy and successful first full year, the service now has a great opportunity to focus on pushing forward inclusive policy and practice, while continuing to sustainably build on day-to-day work supporting students.

"I’ve been overwhelmed with how helpful, efficient and friendly all the librarians I have contacted have been, and so just wanted to let you all know that I think you’re doing a wonderful job, and I’m so grateful that you’re making my experience at Cambridge such a positive one."
Student user of the Library Accessibility Services, November 2020

Four students, one using a wheelchair, in front of St John’s College Chapel
Person using a refreshable braille reader connected to a computer
Piles of books waiting to be scanned. The pages are marked by post-it notes.
Two students conversing in sign language in a library


Our sincere thanks to the family of the late Jeanne-Marie Dolmetsch, for the donation of a substantial collection of music books and manuscripts, and the archive of the musician and instrument-maker Arnold Dolmetsch and family.

We are hugely grateful to Michael Massey-Beresford for his donation of the papers of Anne, Marchioness Townshend, formerly Anne Montgomery, which greatly enhances the Library’s holdings on the Regency period.

We were delighted to acquire an important text by Isaac Newton as part of a notebook kept by his friend, roommate and amanuensis at Trinity College (John Wickins). Previously believed to be lost, it was purchased with the help of the Friends of Cambridge University Library, the Friends of National Libraries, Cliff Webb, and other donors.

Through the generous support of The Art Fund and the Friends of Cambridge University Library, we were able to purchase the above painting by Caroline Walker titled Researching Lung Development: Gurdon Institute, which was created for the Library’s The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge programme.

The Arcadia Fund support our Open Access work every year, and we thank them again this year for being our partners in this important work.

We are grateful to all of our supporters, including The Polonsky Foundation, the Friends of Cambridge University Library, the Friends of the National Libraries, the late Dowager Countess of Enniskillen, the Second Joseph Aaron Littman Foundation, Mrs Wendy Schwartz, the Hauser-Raspe Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ann D Foundation, Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey, the late Michael Holmes, other generous donors who wish to remain anonymous and those who have pledged a legacy to the Library.

We are pleased to thank Cambridge University Library's Patrons, whose contributions enable the Libraries to grow, share, and care for our collections. We extend our sincere thanks to Lady Dusha Bateson, Sir Charles Chadwyck-Healey, Nigel Grimshaw, Stephen Irish, Chris Jones, Professor Edmund King and Jenny King, Professor Jean-Michel Massing and Ann Massing, Professor Nigel Morgan, Professor Eric Nye and Professor Carol D. Frost, Cliff Webb, and those who wish to remain anonymous. We are incredibly grateful for the loyalty, kindness and support provided by all our Patrons this year.

We also hugely appreciate the ongoing support of the Friends of Cambridge University Library. Our Friends fund some of the most crucial activities in the library, securing new acquisitions, conserving and digitising our collections, and supporting our public programmes. Our Friends enjoy a programme of special events, exhibition previews, copies of our annual Bulletin with news and stories from the library and more.

Community spirit

A man on the street walking a dog and having a conversation with neighbours leaning out of the two upstairs window in their house.

A socially distanced conversation between neighbours, Faruk Kara

A socially distanced conversation between neighbours, Faruk Kara

Getting by with a little help from our friends

As well as being one of the world's most important networks of research libraries, we are determined to foster closer links and open our buildings to our local audiences in Cambridge, across the county and the wider Eastern region.

During Covid-19, we asked our local communities to document their life under lockdown and the shadow of a global - yet also very local - pandemic.

The response to our 'Collecting Covid' archive appeal was inspiring and often touching, allowing us to collect, preserve and share our individual and collective memories of life during the historic times we find ourselves living through.

Hundreds of digital items were transferred to the team at the University Library tasked with archiving this new collection of photographs and audio material as well as video, song lyrics, art work and other creative projects.

Photographs sent to the UL captured the deserted streets of a once bustling city centre, family and community life under lockdown, as well as a look at how Cambridge Colleges and departments adapted to COVID-19 regulations.

Life under lockdown gave people of all ages the chance to be creative. Four-year-old Guy de la Verpillière spontaneously imagined his family being infected by COVID-19. The virus is depicted growing in the bodies in each of the figures who seem to be enclosed in a "monster-like" house.

Annaliese Emmans Dean from York, decided to record an audio diary of the first 100 days of lockdown, contemplating those first weeks of a ‘new normal’.

The Kettle’s Yard Community Team set up a Lockdown Letters project which encouraged members of the public to write letters to the gallery reflecting on their experience lockdown. The letters will become part of the library’s COVID-19 Collection.

Poet Hannah Jane Walker arranged extracts from some of the 41 of letters sent in as a collage poem, ‘How we got through’.

The aim for such a collection is for the material to be made available to researchers and academics in years to come. As the UL, and faculty and departmental libraries, carry on our processes of reopening fully after lockdown, our commitment to digital collections has never been greater.

More information about how to get involved and donate items to the collections can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions page.

It's not too late to donate to the archive. You can help the Library by sharing your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact digitalpreservation@lib.cam.ac.uk to get involved!

Taken in Canterbury St during Lockdown easing: a Ph.D student neighbour reaching out to say hello. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Taken in Canterbury St during Lockdown easing: a Ph.D student neighbour reaching out to say hello. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Empty streets and the ubiquitous Deliveroo cyclist. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Empty streets and the ubiquitous Deliveroo cyclist. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Empty streets and the ubiquitous Deliveroo cyclist. Image credit: Faruk Kara

Cambridge University Library's joint project with a local history society continues to reveal the secrets of crime and punishment in the Isle of Ely

From swan thieves to arson and poisonings, the Isle of Ely Assizes project continues to reveal the dark and criminal past of the Diocese of Ely.

Over 12 months in to the project, funded by the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Family History Society, 110 Assize rolls (almost 80%) have been examined revealing over 4,200 individual cases with over 10,000 named individuals.

Dating from 1557-1775, the Isle of Ely Assizes records offer a rare insight in to crime and punishment in Cambridgeshire, with Ely being one of the only diocese in England and Wales – apart from Durham - to hold fiscal and judicial privileges over such a large area.

The collection contains one of only two significant sequences of Assize records held outside The National Archives.

Referred to as ‘gaol delivery’, most of the criminal cases of the assizes of Ely, generally held twice a year alternately at Ely and Wisbech, relate to theft of common household items such as clothing, pots and pans, foodstuffs such as sacks of grain and barley, and sums of money.

Thieves also targeted livestock, with cases of stolen horses, cows, ducks and even three swans worth 20 shillings in 1573.

In July 1585, John Hamond of Ely, a baker, stole a book of common prayer, a psalter and a common tablecloth from the churchwardens at Doddington, while in 1603, William Paynter, a plumber (a person who deals or works in lead) of Ely, stole 20 pounds of lead from a storehouse at Ely Cathedral.

Although it was common not to record the punishment handed down in the Assize records, we do know that John Hammond was found not guilty of theft, while William Paynter confessed to stealing the lead from Ely Cathedral and his verdict was recorded as ‘to be hanged’.

Ely Cathedral © The Trustees of the British Museum

Transcribing together

A crowd-sourced project launched by the Cambridge Digital Library (CDL) has helped to begin the task of transcribing the notebooks of leading historian and ecologist of British woodlands, Oliver Rackham, thanks to the generosity of an army of volunteers.

First launched in April 2020 with the aim of transcribing digitised material that does not have any existing research project to do so, the Transcribing Together project was kick-started with a collection of nearly 400 small notebooks used by ecologist Oliver Rackham.

Born in Bungay, Suffolk, in 1939, Rackham was educated at Norwich School, matriculated at Corpus Christi College in 1957, and was elected Fellow of the college in 1964. He would later serve as Master from 2007-2008. Although he began by studying physics, as a graduate student he turned his attention to botany, particularly the physiology of plant growth and transpiration.

Rackham was a prolific historical ecologist whose prime interest was the function, history, and management of British woodlands. He kept a series of notebooks, which he began during his youth and continued until his death, in which he recorded observations on plants seen in his home surroundings and on his travels, in addition to information about the weather and his college duties.

One of the distinctive features of Rackham’s work was its interdisciplinary nature, and particularly the way it related scientific observation to historic and cultural context, revealing the nature of man’s interaction with his surroundings.

“Oliver was a wonderful teacher and an accomplished sleuth,” said biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake. “He would test us: 'Why are the primroses and bluebells on the woodland floor growing in lines?' We’d um and ah, usually in vain. After a while he’d provide the answer with a quiet flourish: 'The primroses and bluebells reveal the ridges and furrows left behind by medieval ploughs which worked this land before it became woodland in the thirteenth century.' Under Oliver's influence, the clean line I had imagined dividing ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ started to blur.”

In total, there are over 1000 notebooks in the Rackham archive which is housed in Corpus Christi College, 400 of which are already publicly accessible, with transcribers already working on them.

Currently the notebooks can be viewed on the CUDL alongside a sample of photos taken by Rackham.

This project has been a perfect occupation for me during the pandemic. I have felt useful and productively occupied while staying at home. But I can’t see myself abandoning it even when restrictions on movement are lifted, though my progress might be slower."
Volunteer Fay Bendall
Oliver Rackham working in the White Mountains of Crete 19 July 2008. Credit: Jennifer Moody

Oliver Rackham working in the White Mountains of Crete 19 July 2008. Credit: Jennifer Moody

Oliver Rackham working in the White Mountains of Crete 19 July 2008. Credit: Jennifer Moody

Partners in research

Heritage science investment to unveil secrets of Cambridge University collections

We announced at the start of 2021 that the University had been awarded £3m from the AHRC's Capability for Collections Fund to invest in equipment and refurbishment. enabling researchers from across the UK and worldwide to undertake new research into its heritage collections.

The University is home to the highest concentration of internationally important collections outside London, which span the full spectrum of natural and cultural diversity over time and across the world. 

This includes paintings by Titian, Monet and Picasso; early hominid tools discovered in East Africa by Louis Leakey; international archaeological and natural history collections; as well as books, maps and manuscripts spanning over 4,000 years of human history and in more than 2,000 languages.

A consortium of five institutions - the Fitzwilliam Museum, Hamilton Kerr Institute, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Cambridge University Library - have benefitted from this investment. This cross-departmental collaboration was developed within the context of the Cambridge Heritage Science Hub (CHERISH) initiative, recently launched within the Materiality Research Growth Network of the University’s Research and Collections Programme

The project was led by Dr Paola Ricciardi, Senior Research Scientist at the Fitzwilliam Museum, with Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres, Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at the Department of Archaeology.

They worked with a cross-departmental, interdisciplinary team, including Dr Suzanne Paul, Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library; Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director and Curator at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; and Dr Lucy Wrapson, Senior Conservator at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.

'In the vanguard'

Coordinating the University of Cambridge's response to negotiations with academic publisher Elsevier

Library user reading from a laptop screen whilst sitting by a window desk in the University Library
A library user reads from an open laptop screen. They are sitting at a curved desk in the Moore Library
Seven library users in conversation, sitting in a circle. They are holding cups of tea and smiling.
A librarian helps a library user at the Help Desk at the University Library. They are both pointing at a paper leaflet.

The contract between academic publisher Elsevier and UK Universities is due for renewal by January 2022.

The University pays £1.3 million for the current subscription deal with Elsevier, enabling University members and users of our libraries to access Elsevier journals online. Authors at the University also publish extensively in Elsevier journals, with each open access article incurring an additional processing charge.

In March 2021, the sector entered negotiations with Elsevier with two core objectives: to reduce costs to levels UK universities can sustain, and to provide full and immediate open access to UK research. The collective ambition of UK Universities is to negotiate a Read-and-Publish deal that meets these requirements.

To co-ordinate the University of Cambridge's contribution to the negotiation process, Cambridge University Libraries have worked with representatives across all disciplines within the University's academic community via the Journals Coordination Scheme (JCS) Steering Committee and the Open Research Steering Committee. We have gathered information and data to inform institutional responses to proposals and influence negotiations. 

Senior leaders, including the JCS Chair and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, are closely engaged with these groups and with the University's response. 

During the negotiations, institutions have positioned themselves to ensure that there are realistic ‘Plan B’ solutions both for publishing open access and for alternative access to content if an agreement is not reached. The rapid developments we have made at Cambridge University Libraries to facilitate finding and accessing material in a Plan B scenario have benefits for all our library users. The Lean Library browser extension and 'Rapid' inter-library loans are available to users to make discovery and delivery of non-subscription items as seamless as possible, and we are strengthening and promoting networks for sharing within copyright.

We have been strongly committed to engaging libraries staff and the Cambridge academic community with the negotiations and the implications of any proposed deals.

We have created resources for libraries staff and a digital information hub for the academic community. This hub links to current information on the negotiations and Plan B, to blog posts representing different perspectives, and to analysis of data about past usage of, and publishing in, Elsevier journals in Cambridge.

We've gauged priorities across the disciplines by talking to members of the University - from discussions with Heads of Schools and briefings to School Councils and Research Committees, through to Town Hall meetings open to all members of the academic community at Cambridge - to ensure that the University’s response is rooted in the interests of researchers and students in every discipline and at all levels.

Individual feedback has been welcomed throughout the negotiations until a final decision is made. A structured consultation period in November 2021 provided a formal opportunity for members of the University to comment on the impact of a potential loss of seamless access to Elsevier titles from January 2022 and on the impact on publishing within individual disciplines. 

Our approach to the negotiations and our engagement activities have been widely praised for their clarity and honesty. Russell Group peers have requested to reuse our web resources, and our essential introduction to the negotiations, presented in Shorthand, has been read over 10,000 times. Colleagues across the UK Universities sector have thanked the libraries teams coordinating the University of Cambridge’s participation for being in the vanguard of the sector response. 



Chest refers to the central University funding allocated annually to departments.

Chest income in 2020/21 included £1.1m emergency funding to support digital resources, also £0.3m for the Digital Preservation Programme.

Journals Co-Ordination Scheme

The Journals Co-Ordination Scheme (JCS) is a fund that is managed by Cambridge University Libraries for purchasing resources on behalf of the University.

The reduced income in 2020/21 reflects the use of JCS reserves to contribute towards the year's expenditure.

Research & Other Grants

Includes block grants for Open Access (approx. £1.5m) from UKRI and charity research funders.

Donations and Investment Income

Donations income includes transfer to CUL of £0.5m invested capital to support emergency expenditure on digital resources

Information Resources

This includes £1.6m extraordinary expenditure on digital resources, supported by emergency COVID funding from the University, colleges and CUL

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