Murder most foul at Cambridge University Library

2024 brings the UL crime novels, fascinating new research projects, and a major exhibition on our Islamic manuscripts

The cover of a crime novel, Scapegoats for Murder, from the University Library's Tower collections.

A crime novel, Scapegoats for Murder, from the University Library's Tower collections.

A crime novel, Scapegoats for Murder, from the University Library's Tower collections.

2024 is going to be another BUMPER year of exhibitions, events and cutting-edge research projects at Cambridge University Library - one of the world's great libraries and research collections.

All our exhibitions are FREE to the public.

Booking tickets in advance ensures you can explore our exhibition centre, the gallery corridors in our iconic 1934 Giles Gilbert Scott building, and stop for some refreshments in our tearoom.

A century of crime, grime and grizzly deeds

Crime Club books and their covers from the University Library Tower collections

Crime Club books and their covers from the University Library Tower collections.

Crime Club books and their covers from the University Library Tower collections

Crime fiction is the UK's most read, bought and borrowed genre.

In 2024, Cambridge University Library (the UL) will be drawing on its world-leading collections of British crime fiction to stage a murderously good exhibition!

Bringing together literature, culture and heritage, Murder by the Book: A Celebration of 20th Century British Crime Fiction will illuminate and celebrate the stories of the UK’s most popular fiction writing.

Curated by award-winning crime novelist Nicola Upson, the Library's exhibition will challenge traditional distinctions between literary fiction and genre fiction. Murder by the Book will examine crime’s place in our literary history and the UL's own Special Collections.

The exhibition will showcase rare books and audio-visual recordings looking at the genre from its origins in the works of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens to contemporary best-sellers Val McDermid and Ian Rankin.

With first editions of The Moonstone and Bleak House, as well as Sherlock Holmes' debut appearance, the exhibition also looks at the Library's remarkable collections and stylish dust jackets that represent more than a century of British book design.

A season of public in-person and digital events, including book clubs, in-conversations, and a Library Late on World Book Night, will showcase the diversity of the genre and explore what, how, and why we read crime.

Murder by the Book runs from Saturday, March 23 to Saturday, August 24, 2024. Entry is FREE. We are closed Sundays and the Easter Bank Holidays of March 29-April 1 inclusive.

Last chance
to see
Spitting Image

The Spitting Image puppets of the Queen Mother and Princess Diana seen facing one another.

The Spitting Image puppets of the Queen Mother and Princess Diana seen facing one another.

The Spitting Image puppet of Princess Diana (turn screen to see both Princess Diana and the Queen Mother).

With more than 27,000 visitors already since our Spitting Image exhibition opened on September 30, 2023, our look at the controversial history of the hit TV show has proved extremely popular with the public.

On display are puppets including Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher and the Queen Mother, as well as dozens of never-before-seen sketches, caricatures and other memorabilia drawn from the Spitting Image archive, the first sections of which arrived at the UL in 2018 via series creators Roger Law and Peter Fluck.

The exhibition has also borrowed one of Margaret Thatcher’s famous handbags from the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge University, while other puppets on display include Tory Party grandees Michael Heseltine and Norman Tebbit (on loan from the Hyman Collection), as well as former England footballer Gary Lineker (on loan from the National Football Museum).

Visitors to the exhibition are also able to read for the first time manuscript letters written by the political and celebrity ‘victims’ of the show who were encouraged to share feedback on their representation in the first two series.

If you haven't seen our accompanying films for the exhibition, including the one below, they can all be found on the University Library's YouTube channel.

Spitting Image: A Controversial History, runs until Saturday, February 17, 2024

Dr Chris Burgess, curator of the Spitting Image exhibition at Cambridge University Library, explains the mass popular appeal of the hit 1980s satirical puppet show.

Endless Stories exhibition examines Eastern languages and cultures

Tracing the stories of an ancient collection housed in Cambridge University Library since 1632, Endless Stories will explore the luminary scholar Erpenius' profound impact on the study of Eastern languages and cultures.

Born in 1584, Thomas van Erpe (also known as Erpenius) became one of the most important linguists of his time and a prolific editor of Eastern texts, publishing the first accurate book of Arabic grammar: Grammatica Arabica.

Following his remarkable journey from early studies  to his pioneering works, the exhibition will examine how Erpenius transformed the Western world's understanding of Arabic and the Middle East.

The free exhibition will also showcase some of the library's previously unseen collections of original manuscripts, rare books and papers, including some of the oldest known materials from the Muslim world.

Curated by Cambridge University Library's Munby Fellow Majid Daneshgar and featuring texts in Arabic, Chinese, Coptic Hebrew, Javanese, Ottoman Turkish, Malay, Persian, Turkic and Syriac, the collection spans across disciplines, touching on everything from scientific knowledge and religious literature to philosophy, poetry and mysticism.

Endless Stories runs from Saturday, September 28, 2024 to Saturday, February 22, 2025. Closed Sundays.

Entry to all University Library exhibitions is FREE.

UL Research Institute packing a punch with Baskerville project

Following its successful launch in May 2023, the Cambridge University Library Research Institute (ULRI) will continue to set the agenda for collections-led research in 2024.

Collaboration lies at the heart of all ULRI activity. Among its portfolio of 35 current projects, three starting in 2024 particularly embody this by connecting people and collections and drawing together the expertise of library staff and national networks of excellence in heritage science, artistic practice and innovation.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), "Small performances": investigating the typographic punches of John Baskerville (1707-75) through heritage science and practice-based research will shed new light on one of the world’s most popular and enduring typefaces: the Baskerville font.

Baskerville punches from the University Library's historic printing collections.

Baskerville punches from the University Library's historic printing collections. Photo by Maciej Pawlikowski.

Baskerville punches from the University Library's historic printing collections. Photo by Maciej Pawlikowski.

Led by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Birmingham City University, the project is centred on the exceptional collection of typographic punches designed, cut, and used at John Baskerville's workshop in Birmingham, which are owned by Cambridge University Press & Assessment and held at Cambridge University Library.

The project will bring new understanding to the history of world technology, and a novel form of research engagement among academics, practitioners, and laypeople, made visible through 3D models, digital editions, new typeface designs, and practical and creative workshops.

Photo by Maciej Pawlikowski.

Photo by Maciej Pawlikowski.

Material traces of human interaction with premodern sacred books have often gone unnoticed by scholars and wider audiences alike.

Funded by the AHRC, Hidden in Plain Sight: Historical and Scientific Analysis of Premodern Sacred Books will address this by deploying a range of innovative technologies, rarely combined within historical studies. Complex technical imaging, 3D microscopy, Micro-CT scanning, DNA analysis and a range of spectroscopic methods will reveal unnoticed traces of the way sacred books and talismans were used, modified, and venerated.

Led by Queen Mary University of London with Cambridge University Library as Co-Project Lead, the project will collaborate with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (University of Cambridge), the National Library of Wales and other leading libraries to re-evaluate both familiar and little-known books and objects.

Funded by the University of Cambridge’s Collections-Connections-Communities (CCC) Strategic Research Initiative, Re-entangling the Visual Archive is a collaboration between Cambridge University Libraries, Anglia Ruskin University and Zambia Belonging.

The project will address inequalities of access to archives and encourage confident, innovative and creative engagements with challenging collections. Zambian-based multidisciplinary artist David Daut Makala and photographer Edith Chiliboy will creatively engage with the problematic histories of archival material relating to Zambian identities and communities held in Cambridge University Libraries’ Royal Commonwealth Society and Centre of African Studies (CAS) collections.

Artistic outcomes and project documentation will be shared in seminars and artist presentations, culminating in a roundtable involving Zambian artists, archivists, academics and students. 

Our grants announcement provides more information on these projects and you can find out about the breadth of research the ULRI is involved with on our project pages.

You can also keep up-to-date with the ULRI’s activities and events by signing up to our mailing list.

Friends of the University Library

Friends being shown a selection of medieval manuscripts from the Curious Cures project as part of the Friends' Summer Party.

Friends being shown a selection of medieval manuscripts from the Curious Cures project as part of the Friends' Summer Party.

Friends being shown a selection of medieval manuscripts from the Curious Cures project as part of the Friends' Summer Party.

Go behind-the-scenes with our Library staff and learn more about our collections with other likeminded Friends through our exclusive programme of talks, tours and events.

Our events include virtual as well as in-person events, so our Friends outside of Cambridge can access the programme.

The Friends of Cambridge University Libraries support the Library and its extraordinary collection of over 8 million items, including an array of Special Collections and over 2 million items accessible on open shelves. 

Friends fund some of the most crucial activities in the library, securing new acquisitions, conserving and digitising our collections, and supporting our public programme of exhibitions and events for all.

In the last few years alone, donations and subscriptions from the Friends have helped us purchase manuscripts, rare books, journals, newspapers, photographs, and letters and more: all items of historical significance to add to the Library’s world-class collections.

Acquisitions range from the Codex Zacynthius to the diaries of writer Florence Image (sister of the painters Stanley and Gilbert Spencer) to a collection of Thom Gunn poems. Digitisation projects supported by the Friends include Coptic papyri, Sanskrit manuscripts, and a large collection of manuscript maps.

Friends also contribute towards the conservation of our collections including, most recently, work to preserve a rare and fragile Napoleonic concertina booklet.

Friends are also warmly invited to all Library events, talks and exhibitions. Details of new events will be published on the What's On page.

Sandars Readership 2024

Timothy Young, 2024's Sandar's Readership Fellow

Timothy Young, who is undertaking 2024's Sandars Readership.

Timothy Young, who is undertaking 2024's Sandars Readership.

Continuing on the theme of collections-led research, the 2024 Sandars Readership will be undertaken by Timothy Young, who will deliver two lectures and a masterclass on the subject of “Resistance to Bibliography” (19-21 November 2024).

Looking closely at examples of books that resist inquiry from readers, scholars, cataloguers, and historians, the lectures will use “resistance” as a method to question the status of bibliography in current practice.

From undated children’s books to Tarnschriften (clandestine anti-Nazi literature), the lectures will discuss books that deflect, deceive, and deny, arguing that there is much to learn from categories of books that do not readily reveal their identities.

Timothy Young has been the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts for the Yale Centre for British Art since July 2023.

He previously worked as the Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Yale University from 2002 to 2023. He holds a MLIS degree from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Texas at Austin, Texas.