Friday 31 May 2024

May 2024: Graduate Trainee Talk

Our May event was on the experience of Cambridge Library Graduate Trainees. The speakers were two current trainees, Elizabeth White (Trinity College) and Grace Hogan (Pembroke), and Lily Swain, last year’s trainee at Anglia Ruskin, currently doing her M.A. in Librarianship at University College London.

While I am far closer to the end of my career than the beginning, I was really impressed by their enthusiasm for their chosen profession. Elizabeth spoke on all the different aspects of the job which the college was allowing her to experience.  Grace concentrated on the project which she has been undertaking, on a special collection of Alfred Wainwright’s works, which will culminate in an exhibition curated by her. The cohort of seven trainees in different libraries also have visits arranged for them to give them a wide-ranging picture of the jobs which being a librarian can encompass. 

Lily talked about how her traineeship year prepared her for her current role, working as a Library Services Adviser while studying part-time in London for her M.A. She recently was a speaker at a major conference about an area in which she worked during her traineeship.

Although other institutions offer traineeships, the Cambridge Libraries take the training aspect of the job seriously and work hard to give the trainees as much experience and encouragement as possible.

Both Elizabeth and Grace have already been accepted by library schools for the next stage of their careers. I’m sure that all three will be credits to their training, and with young people of such ability and enthusiasm joining it, the future of a constantly changing profession looks bright.

Post contributed by Sarah Preston, Treasurer and Assistant Librarian at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Thursday 15 June 2023

May 2023 – Helen Else discusses the new Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role at Royal Papworth Hospital

This month, Helen Else joined us at the Medical School Library to discuss the creation of a new and unique role, the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian. Helen started her career in schools before making a career change 6 years ago to enter the library sector. Impressively, Helen then achieved her MA and MCLIP simultaneously. Now working as the Library and Knowledge Services Manager at Papworth, Helen is passionate about providing a comprehensive patient outreach service.

So where did this new role come from? In 2021, Papworth Charity launched the Read a Little Aloud project, whereby members of Cambridge Library virtually read live to critical care patients. Acknowledging that being an inpatient can be extremely isolating and lonely, the Read a Little Aloud project aimed to improve patient wellbeing and aid recovery. The project prompted the Deputy Chief Nurse to ask the former Library Manager, “what more can be done to improve patient experience?”. While the benefits of reading on health and wellbeing are widely recognised, the impact of involving people in their own health and care is not emphasised enough. It was here that the idea of the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian was born, and with the support of Papworth Charity, funding was secured for one year.

The first challenge was to design a completely new job profile. As it is the first of its kind, there was no template to use. Helen showed us the job profile she created and while it was quite long and had a lot of essential criteria, the most important quality was being a people person: the ability to communicate well, build trust, and create relationships with patients and ward staff is a huge part of this role.

Sarah Mathieson was appointed to the role in August 2022 and has already accomplished so much. Sarah has visited 121 wards so far, created patient handbooks and leaflets, ran training sessions in specialised areas e.g., health literacy, improved patient access to reliable sources of information, conducted evidence searches, and created an online form for clinical staff to contact her directly. Sarah has also established key networks, good relations with other trusts, and has continued to work closely with Cambridgeshire public libraries. All patients, even if their postcode is outside of the Cambridgeshire area, are able to access the electronic services available through Cambridgeshire Libraries. This includes newspapers and journals in many different languages. Helen explained that reading in English as a second language can cause additional stress to patients, so the availability of texts in other (non-translated) languages is really important. Sarah also achieved funding to buy 12 loanable iPads for patients to use if they don’t have an appropriate device to access these materials from.

While most Librarians don't usually have direct contact with patients, all aspects of the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role benefit patient care, either directly or indirectly. However, with funding only guaranteed for one-year, the future of this role is uncertain. Helen discussed the challenges of evidencing the impact of this position, especially because it has only existed for under a year. To help the trust decide, quantitative evidence is desired which is difficult because in the short-term, the measurable successes are mostly qualitative.


Helen’s talk was fantastic and I’m sure I speak for all CLG members when I say that our fingers are crossed that funding is granted to extend the Specialist Patient Outreach Librarian role.


Post contributed by Lily Swain - Graduate Trainee, Anglia Ruskin University.

Tuesday 6 June 2023

April 2023 - Graduate Trainee Talk

On 27th April, the Cambridge Library Trainees from Anglia Ruskin University, Pembroke College, Christ’s College, and Trinity College joined CLG to speak about their traineeships, share their individual projects, and reflect on their experiences so far.

Graduate Traineeships are one-year fixed term training posts intended to provide valuable work experience prior to pursuing a postgraduate qualification in library and information studies. Part of a cohort of 7, the Cambridge trainees are all based at different libraries but have a shared programme of visits throughout the year to explore different areas of librarianship and help inform their future careers. Some of their visits include Cambridgeshire Archives, Cambridge Judge Business School, various College Libraries, the Medical School Library, Hills Road Sixth Form, Norwich Public Library, and the British Library. The trainees are also responsible for a blog website and Twitter account.

We were all very grateful for the opportunity to speak at the CLG event and have summarised our presentations below.

Lily Swain, Anglia Ruskin University
I started my talk by briefly explaining the structure of the library team at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). Consisting of almost 50 colleagues across 3 different campuses (Cambridge, Chelmsford, and Peterborough), the library team is split into 4 areas: Customer Services, Content Delivery & Discovery, Academic Services, and Research Services. I sit within Customer Services, offering frontline support to students alongside 11 other Library Services Advisers.

In addition to my core responsibilities, I am a member of the Student & Library Services (SLS) Learning & Development working group. SLS includes staff from the Library, Student Advice, Employability, Counselling & Wellbeing, and Disability Support, so being part of this working group is a really great opportunity to work closely with colleagues from across the wider university. In this group, we primarily host and facilitate ‘Learning Hours’, which are typically hour-long learning sessions. I have also organised the Job Shadowing programme for this academic year which is being offered to the whole of SLS (around 200 staff). I have spent a lot of time considering the wording and tone of the communication, thinking about logistics, setting out clear expectations (whilst making sure it sounds fun!), creating accompanying documents, and teaching myself Photoshop along the way.

Learning and development, reflection, and knowledge exchange are incredibly important aspects of working at ARU. To that end, I spoke about the incredible opportunities I have been presented with this year. I have been lucky enough to work at ARU Chelmsford Library, attend various webinars and workshops, and organise additional visits outside of the shared programme. In July, I am going on secondment to the Research Services Team, who primarily assist academic staff in making their publications and research open access; I’m really looking forward to this because it’s a completely different side of librarianship. Finally, I was given the opportunity to become a committee member of Cambridge Library Group, which has complemented my traineeship in so many ways and I have enjoyed immensely.

Nick Nuttall (Pembroke College)
For the CLG Graduate Trainee talk, I spoke about both my everyday duties as a trainee as well as some of the projects I’ve been able to work on throughout my year. Firstly, I’ve been working closely with an early printed book from our Special Collections, cataloguing it and researching its provenance. The book is from 1638 and contains hundreds of hand-coloured illustrations, and a great variety of manuscript annotations. This has been an invaluable introduction to early printed books for me, as I’d like to work with special collections in the future.

I’ve also been reclassifying and organising the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic section of our library; a wonderful opportunity to make use of my subject knowledge from my master’s degree to help current and future students more easily find the books they need. This has involved creating new classification headings for our in-house scheme, according to what I feel are the most appropriate divisions for the materials, while also considering the range and depth of our particular collection and what will be prioritised by the students taking the relevant papers. On top of this I have also been checking the reading lists in detail to ensure our collection is up to date and have highlighted certain texts I feel it would be most beneficial for us to have.

Finally, I’m working on a project for the College Archivist, who works closely with the Library team at Pembroke. I’m researching biographical information of people for whom we have ephemera records in the Archive. These biographies help fill out our Archive records and provide useful information for researchers looking at our collections. It has been great to learn about the differences between archival and library work such as in record creation, research, and record content.

Madeline Birnbaum (Trinity College)
I was very glad to be able to speak at the CLG talk and to share a bit about my daily duties as the Graduate Trainee at Trinity. I spoke about the benefits of being able to work across both the academic library and the Wren, Trinity’s special collections library, and about some of my responsibilities in each setting. In the academic library, I’ve been able to gain a great deal of experience in modern cataloguing, as we’ve had a particularly significant influx of books recently; I am also responsible for managing all incoming serials, helping to check readings lists and create displays, and pitching in with all the other odds and ends that emerge when working in such a busy, dynamic library and College. In the Wren, my main task is supervising and assisting readers when I have shifts on Wren Desk, as well as fetching materials. Checking back materials and creating checking back slips by systematically inventorying the contents and condition of items is an enjoyable way of getting to know aspects of the collection, and I’ve loved seeing the breadth of materials that Trinity holds, from twelfth century illuminated manuscripts to nineteenth century love letters. I’ve also been fortunate to be involved in curating two exhibitions in the Wren, one on the history of the Wren Library itself, and the other, which is still in the works, on sixteenth century widows in the book trade. It’s been a joy to work at Trinity, and I’m so grateful to have been able to take my first step into librarianship here.

Rebekah Cohen (Christ's College)
For my graduate trainee talk, I spoke to CLG about my involvement in the Old Library book move project happening at Christ's this year. Alongside my daily duties in the working library (such as shelving, processing, and cataloguing new books) I have helped to prepare the Old Library special collections to be moved off-site, due to building works planned for the area of College where the Old Library is situated. Many of the items in the Lower Old Library (home to mainly nineteenth- and twentieth-century material) had not yet been catalogued, and I was able to help the rest of the library team create new records for this part of our special collections. My other tasks for this project have included measuring shelf space, and photographing items to be catalogued at a later date. Working with special collections was something I was most excited to experience as part of a Cambridge college-based traineeship, and I have found the book move to be an immensely rewarding way of gaining a wide-ranging knowledge of special collections at Christ's. I have enjoyed investigating interesting parts of the collection, and helping solve questions that have arisen as a result. For example, trying to decode which non-book items in the Old Library belong to the archive collection, and which are classed as library objects. I am really grateful to have had this varied experience during my trainee year!

Thursday 23 March 2023

March 2023 - Selwyn Library visit

Selwyn College, Cambridge, has recently completed the building of a new library for their members. It was a real privilege to be able to come to see this space in person. We were shown around by College Librarian Sonya Adams. 

The Bartlam Library replaces the College’s War Memorial Library. This predecessor was built in the 1930s but had actually been planned since the 1920s as it took a number of years to raise the necessary funds. Its name reflected the timing of its completion. The Bartlam Library has similarly benefitted from donations. Standing outside the entrance, you can see the names of donors carved into the bricks and paving stones, tangibly connecting the donors with the fabric of the building. 


Exterior of Selwyn College Library

The Bartlam Library building is situated in a court designed by Demetri Porphyrios. It reflects the College’s age and architectural style, and there was always a plan for a building to go on this spot.  

The building was completed in March 2021 and it opened straightaway as a study space. As any librarian will tell you, though, you can’t conduct a major book move when your library users are about to sit exams! It therefore took a little longer, until July 2021, for the 35,000 books to be moved into the new building. However, work didn’t stop there for the team behind the project. The material in the Old Library (rare books, archives, and special collections) was then put into storage so that building could be refurbished. 

A project on this scale requires a huge amount of planning, and the Librarian was involved in a lot of the process. It is to the credit of all involved that they were able to complete the project despite the COVID-19 pandemic happening at a crucial stage. We heard that some aspects of the planning ended up having to take place over Microsoft Teams! 

The Bartlam Library occupies the first and second floors of the building above a new auditorium. The first floor is also home to a computer room. They planned for the lower floor to have some noise while the upper floor would be used for silent study, but in practice people tend to be quiet throughout! 

When you walk in, the space is bright, modern and welcoming, combining shelving and study desks with more relaxed areas of sofas, coffee tables, and plants. Eye-catching displays are also very welcoming, and they allow for different parts of the collection to be highlighted. The bookcases are all of an easily-accessible height, making it comfortable to reach books without steps or ladders. The books are classified according to Dewey. 


Sofas in Selwyn Library

Book display in Selwyn College Library

The Bartlam Library has increased seating capacity, as well as providing a comfortable amount of space at each desk. The Library also includes two group study rooms. The stylish furniture was designed by Luke Hughes. 


Desk in Selwyn College Library

 The lower floor is home to most of the books, while the upper floor is where most of the reader spaces can be found. This arrangement was actually swapped around during the planning process – a great idea as people enjoy the light from skylights much more than books do!  



The lower floor is also where the staff office can be found, as well as a very attractive common room. Rather pleasingly, the common room is filled with books too, including a light reading collection, to accompany the squashy sofas and kitchenette area. We heard that during exam time the area would be home to jigsaws and welfare boxes from the nurse. We were also able to peek out of the window to see the lovely terrace that was due to be opened soon.  


Common room

It was wonderful to see a library that so beautifully brings something new into the traditional college environment and to hear how it went from plans to reality. It is clear in all the details that the students using the Library were kept at the heart of the design. It would be a wonderful place to read and study and it’s easy to imagine that all the Selwyn students for generations to come will love working in there. 


Exterior of Selwyn College Library

Post contributed by Natalie Kent, Assistant Librarian Pembroke College

Sunday 26 February 2023

February 2023 - "Now that's what I call Theology Librarianship" with Clemens Gresser

Wednesday 8th March - 6pm

This month we hosted an online event which was a comprehensive, interesting and at some points hilarious talk by a former colleague, Clemens Gresser.  Clemens left his most recent post as Librarian at the Divinity Faculty, University of Cambridge to become Heythorp Librarian at the London Jesuit Centre, based in Mayfair.

Now That's What I Call Theology Librarianship - Clemens Gresser

Throughout his talk Clemens interspersed 7 Pathways to Theology Librarianship – having asked colleagues how they ended up working in Theology Libraries.  This was a great idea – we are all nosy about how people got their jobs, whether they had (or needed) a subject background, and we heard through anonymised questions about those whose career in libraries was definitely heading in that direction and those who just “fell into it!”  This was a great idea to include in a talk, especially pertinent to graduate trainees and early career professionals.

The talk covered areas unfamiliar to most of the audience –the difference between Theology and Religious Studies;  the importance and proliferation of biblical commentaries, and that apocryphal texts (the Gospel of Peter is actually a thing – Gospels are not limited to the “Fab Four” Matthew, Mark, Luke & John!).  He suggested that as a subject librarian, you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know an academic with expertise in the field.

We were told about the huge volume of publications in the Biblical Studies field and the need to exercise caution and not spend all of the library budget on Biblical Studies texts – for example a whole book can be devoted to just a couple of verses of scripture.  We looked at classification schemes, some of which were conceived when religion meant Christian Theology with “Other Religions” appearing as add-ons or afterthoughts.  He illustrated this with an example from the Cambridge University Divinity Library where Islam was in a category called “None of the Above” –there was no meaningful way to browse the shelves for books on Islam.  The Classification scheme for that library was amended after 2015 to include separate classmarks for Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.

We moved on to thinking about Black theology, and post-colonial theology – a timely discussion as the “user-base” of practicing Christians is increasing in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the same time as seeing a decline in Europe and North America.

There were a good few anecdotes as well. We heard that St Jerome is recognised by the Catholic Church as the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopaedists, and that he translated many biblical texts into Latin from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  We also found out there is a colouring book for librarians as well (have since Googled “Librarian Colouring book” – who knew there was such a selection on a well-known online retailer’s site!)

Clemens rounded off his talk with some photos of the Heythorp Library (which covers 4 sites, including a storage site and a site at an Oxford College) and there followed a few questions from the audience.  Many thanks to Clemens for an entertaining and informative evening.

Post contributed by Helen Snelling - Membership Secretary

December 2022 / January 2023 - Christmas Board Games Night and Twelfth Night Party at CUP

December - Christmas Board Games Night


Four things are important at this time of year, 1. food, 2. drink, 3. good company, and 4. board games!

Yes, you read that right, board games; Decembers meeting had all of these.

A buffet was provided and there was a choice of wine and soft drinks.

A few of the committee members are keen board game players and two of them have quite a collection. Diane and Kevin kindly brought a selection of board games for us to try ranging from classic games like cards and Cluedo, games that not many had heard of.

Banagrams, which is a cross between scrabble and a cross word made combined words with speed. This proved challenging after a day at work, but was very much enjoyed.

Another popular games was The Table Is Lava. This consisted of cards and meeples (wooden tokens that have the general human shape). The idea is have as many meeples standing, whilst knocking your appointments meeples off their cards and into the "Lava".

There was a lot of laughter and a great night was had by all.

Post contributed by Di Symonds

January - Twelfth Night at CUP 

The group were really pleased to be back at CUP this year for Twelfth Night. This was the first time post-Covid that we'd been able to have this event, and be back in person for it. 

CUP Bookshop kindly provided us with drinks and nibbles (YUM) plus a generous discount. 

Members were able to catch up over a mince pie or two and buy some gifts/presents for themselves. 

We're looking forward to going back next year!

Post contributed by Katherine Burchell - Social Media Editor

November 2022 - Jo Browning Wroe, author of A Terrible Kindness

Jo Browning Wroe, author of A Terrible Kindness, in conversation with Helen Snelling for the Cambridge Library Group, November 30th 2022, at Lucy Cavendish College.

When I first heard about this book, my initial response was to say it didn’t sound like my sort of book, a story about a young embalmer and the Aberfan disaster in 1966 which killed 144 people, mostly children. But I thought I should try and read it before the meeting, and my expectations were totally overturned. I literally couldn’t put it down, and read it in one sitting, it is the best book by a debut novelist I’ve ever read, and I loved her spare prose style. So the opportunity to hear the author speak about how she wrote it was very welcome. The book covers a 17 year period, beginning in 1966, then going back to William’s childhood as a chorister in a Cambridge chapel choir, and then moving on to the early 1970s to show how his experience at Aberfan had left him with PTSD, and how returning to Cambridge and facing up to issues from the past helped heal him.

Jo Browning Wroe (author of A Terrible Kindness, left) with Helen Snelling (Membership Secretary, right)

Jo’s unusual childhood, growing up in a crematorium, was the springboard for the story, as she was looking up some conference papers at the UL that her father had given, when she found references to volunteers from the undertaking profession coming from all over the country to help after the disaster. Although only part of the book actually takes place in Aberfan, obviously the storyline would have to be handled very sensitively as there are many still alive who were affected by it. She interviewed some of the embalmers who volunteered at the time, and also showed what she wrote to survivors and Aberfan natives to gauge their reaction.

She began writing the book in the UL tea room, until lockdown forced her to work at home, and later in cafes. Asked about her working methods, she said she generally tried to write about 1,000 words a day, with half her time editing the previous day’s writing. She wrote the book in sections, taking time in between to mull over them before starting the next. Editing was a lengthy process, and she and her agent spent six months working on it before sending it out to publishers. It was immediately accepted by Faber, who she couldn’t praise highly enough for how they have promoted the book, and it has been one of their best-selling books this year. She was given training in all the marketing and publicity events which are now part of an author’s life, although her teaching career was a help for that. She attended 9 literary festivals in 2022, involving lots of traveling, as well as appearing on Front Row, and doing social media. She also was involved in cover design, had a say in the choice of reader for the audio version, and will have editorial control and a degree of input over casting in the forthcoming tv adaptation. The book has already been translated into a number of languages, and she had some amusing anecdotes of issues the translators struggled with. Asked about her next book, she only revealed that it is set in a 6 week period in 1973, so won’t need a timeline to keep track of things with the flashback format of A Terrible Kindness.

Post contributed by Sarah Preston, Treasurer, Cambridge Library Group