Wednesday, 27 May 2015

June event: The Sun, the Scorpion and the Eagle: Alchemy and Magic from the Cairo Genizah

On 3rd June the CLG will visit the University Library for a talk about the origins and content of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection. The 350,000 manuscript fragments recovered from the storage room (genizah) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo have revolutionised our knowledge of the life and culture of the Jewish communities in medieval Islamic lands.

View the project's Facebook page here:

In this talk and display, Dr Gabriele Ferrario (Research Associate on the project) will unveil one of the most secretive aspects of this impressive heritage: alchemy and magic. Recipes for making gold and silver out of base metals, charms, spell, amulets and talismans will lead the audience to the discovery of one of the least known features of medieval Jewish life.

Join us for what promises to be a fascinating talk: 6pm in the Milstein Room at Cambridge University Library. All very welcome! Free to CLG members, £3 for non-members.


Friday, 17 April 2015

Coming Soon! Cycling for libraries: a talk by Phil Segall

We're very excited to be joined on 6th May by Phil Segall (@LibraryBod), who will give a talk about the Cycling for libraries project - library unconferences on the move, which visit academic, public and special libraries,  discussing library issues and advocating libraries. 

This year the theme is New Nordic and the tour will go from the fjords of Oslo in Norway, along the west coast of Sweden before arriving in Aarhus, Denmark.  Intrigued? Join us to find out more.  The talk will take place at the  MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 
15 Chaucer Road - a stone's throw from the Botantic Gardens. Stay tuned for more information!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Our March visit: Pepys, poets and red wine

On the 19th of March, the CLG visited Magdalene College – with three different libraries to look round this was a packed evening and after a glass of wine in the College Parlour we split off into groups to begin the tour.

The lovely Magdalene College wine...
Deputy College Librarian Annie Gleeson took us round Magdalene’s modern, working collection, established as a library in its own right in the 1960s and now housing around 26,000 books aimed at the college’s 340 undergraduates. The working library has grown by extensions over time, and this layout lends the space a cosy feel – rooms follow one after the other, providing students with popular, hidden-away study spaces surrounded by books, some with views out onto the Fellows’ Gardens. 

From the working collection, we moved on to the Old Library, where Deputy Librarian (Pepys Libray and Special Collections) Catherine Sutherland was on hand to tell us about some of the College’s ancient treasures. Magdalene was first founded in 1428, and the collection of the Old Library reflects this long history.

In the Old Library 
The Old Library is particularly strong on 18th century sermons, and also boasts a collection of early printed books, some hand-painted, and a number of medieval manuscripts. Many famous names are associated with books, prints and papers held in the Old Library – T.S. Eliot, Nicholas Ferrar, and George Mallory to name a few. And the collection is not just academic – shelves of buttery books, dating from the mid-17th century, provide an insight into the workings of college life.

College Buttery books in the Old Library
Delightfully retro... collections from the Old Library

The most treasured collection at Magdalene is, of course, the Pepys Library, which came to the Library through the will of the famous diarist. Samuel Pepys died in 1703 and his diary records such iconic events as the outbreak of the plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys Librarian Dr Jane Hughes talked about just why Pepys’ diary is so important as a resource for social historians; Pepys wrote about all aspects of day to day life – from attending plays to drinking tea. The Pepys Library contains not only his diaries – handwritten in Shelton’s shorthand, and undeciphered until 1819 – but also Pepys’ personal Library, books held in their original bookshelves, and bound in Pepys’ personal binding, bearing his own bookplate with motto – ‘The mind maketh the person.’

The outside of the Pepys Library
As well as a volume of the famous diary, we saw out on display many other treasures testifying to the richness of Pepys’ personal library. A discriminating as well as enthusiastic collector, Pepys ensured his library numbered exactly 3000 books (and Magdalene must maintain this number, neither adding nor taking away, or risk forfeiting the collection to Trinity College...) Among the many beautiful items we saw – which included maritime books, collections of ballads and fragments of medieval manuscripts - a scribe’s model book from c.1410, filled with coloured studies of birds, animals and drapery, was particularly eye-catching, as was the Anthony Roll, open to the only contemporary picture of the doomed ship, the Mary Rose.

Thanks to Annie, Catherine, and Jane for showing us round, and answering our many questions with such enthusiasm!

Contributed by Emily Downes, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Library.

For more information visit the fantastic Magdalene College Libraries Blog  or follow @magdlibs 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Storytelling and selkies with Gillian McClure

Korean Sketch Book. Image reproduced by kind permission of Gillian McClure.

On Wednesday 11th February, the Cambridge Library Group hosted a presentation by children’s author and illustrator Gillian McClure.  Gillian’s presentation entertainingly explored the many different facets of creating a picture book – from the initial inspiration, to the evolution of the idea, and then the capturing of the characters, energy and emotion of the tale through illustration, text, and typography.  This journey through Gillian’s creative process was accompanied throughout with illustrations from her works, conveying her creative range and celebrating the evocative nature of visual storytelling.

It was fascinating to hear about the creative process involved in formulating a character and a story.  Sometimes a story could begin with a simple image – like a hen nesting in the tail of a fox (Flood, 2014) or a line of sticks in the sand (Selkie, 2010).  Sometimes a story could begin with a friend recounting the antics of a kleptomaniac cat (Tom Finger, 2002), or from sketches of a South Korean village seemingly untouched by time (The Land of the Dragon King, 2008).  In each instance Gillian stressed the value of an organic approach to writing, and the importance of finding a personal connection with the story’s setting. Trying to pin down a story onto paper too soon can stunt its growth.  A story cannot be forced, but rather formed by countless experiences, images and encounters.  An unexpected remark from a stranger whilst waiting in a queue at the fish van, for example, took the story of Selkie in an entirely unexpected direction, ending up in a setting deeply rooted in memories of holidays in Colonsay and Orinsay. 

 Tommy Finger 'dummy', pages 6-7.  Image reproduced by kind permission of Gillian McClure.

Picture book story telling is a complex and diverse art form and part of Gillian McClure’s appeal is the stylistic variety of her work.  Gillian’s most recent book, Flood, is highly suitable for early years with large earthy images, sparing language and a simple story.  This contrasts sharply with Tog the Ribber (1985) a collaboration with her father, Paul Coltman.  Coltman’s frightening story, Jabberwocky-like word play, and fast-paced rhythm are complemented by darkly detailed illustrations that gradually break through the borders on the page as we reach the climax, undermining any former illusion of safety and containment.  This book is certainly more appropriate for older readers and it is no wonder it was highly commended in the Kate Greenaway awards, 1985.  Different again are works like Zoe’s Boat (2012) and We’re Going to Build a Dam (2013).  The former provides a great example of the use of graphic novel frames to capture a fast paced, action-packed story; the latter demonstrates the interdependence of illustration and typography, showing how playful use of type can enhance the narrative. Gillian works very closely with typographical designer Lisa Kirkham from an early stage to achieve this. It is also important to read the words aloud as you’re writing to hear how they sound. Words lie flat on the page until the tune or tone of the story is captured and the words spring to life.

This was a fun and fascinating event that also included a display of Gillian McClure’s art and an opportunity to buy some of her books.  We are both now in possession of signed copies of Flood (Jodie for her three year old niece, Annie for herself) and Jodie fully intends to hunt out a copy of Tog the Ripper. Picture books aren’t just for kids, you know.

Colonsay sketch. Image reproduced by kind permission of Gillian McClure.
Contributed by Jodie Walker, Librarian at Peterhouse College, and Annie Gleeson, Deputy Librarian at Magdalene College.

For more information about Gillian's work see her website and blog: 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

CLG & CILIP East joint event - Clare McKenzie (International Librarians Network)

We have an exciting event coming up in October! Cambridge Library Group and CILIP East of England are hosting a talk by Clare McKenzie, one of the founders of the International Librarians Network.

This free event will be on Tuesday 21st October 2014 at the Law Faculty (room B16), Cambridge. There will be drinks and nibbles available from 5.30pm, and the talk will begin at 6pm.

The International Librarians Network is a global peer mentoring programme which helps librarians to develop their networks beyond the borders of their home countries. Join us on 21st October to learn more about this programme and how you can get involved!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Gwen Raverat talk by Frances Spalding - 3rd April 2014

A few weeks ago CLG met for a lively talk by art historian and Newnham College alumna Frances Spalding on the subject of the artist Gwen Raverat.

We were fortunate enough to be able to use the Old Library at Darwin College as our venue, highly appropriate as it was once the front room of Gwen Raverat's family home, then called Newnham Grange. Primarily known for her wood engravings, Gwen was also an illustrator, painter, author and journalist. Frances illustrated her talk with quotes from Raverat's autobiography Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood. These charming, and often very funny snippets took us back to the late nineteenth century, when as Gwen wrote, "nearly all the life of Cambridge poured back and forth over the bridge outside our house". One of my favourite anecdotes was of Gwen's eccentric aunt Etty, who was a bit of a hypochondriac and fashioned her own anti-germ mask out of a tea-strainer stuffed with antiseptic-soaked cotton wool, which she wore over her mouth and nose!

As a member of the very tight-knit Darwin clan, the presence of her grandfather Charles Darwin was there throughout Gwen's life, despite Charles having died three years before she was born. The Darwin family were often viewed by others with some scepticism, which perhaps led to the tighter-than-normal family bond.

Gwen taught herself the art of wood-engraving while at the Slade School in London, where she also met her husband Jacques Raverat, who had been a mathematician until doctors advised him to give up mathematics for his health, and take up art instead! Sadly, Jacques' health continued to deteriorate, and he was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The Raverats decided to move to France in the hopes that the warmer climate would help. While in France, they continued to keep in touch with friends at home, in particular with Virginia Woolf, who wrote to Jacques often and kept him up-to-date with news and gossip.

After Jacques died in 1925, Gwen decided to return to Cambridgeshire, and in her final years was often seen sitting by the Backs in her wheelchair, painting.

I knew very little about Gwen Raverat before hearing Frances' talk, and I found the evening thoroughly enjoyable. As always it was great to catch up with other librarians, and Period Piece is now next on my 'to-read' list!

By Annie Gleeson, Senior Library Assistant at Homerton College

Monday, 10 March 2014

Talk by James Campbell, 12th February 2014

Our February CLG event was a talk about the history of library architecture, by the author of The Library: A World History, James Campbell. He gave us a quick overview of everything, a whistle-stop tour of significant libraries from around the world, accompanied by some stunning slides.

Apparently libraries were originally used merely to house scrolls or books, and instead of studying within the library you would come and take away the item to needed to peruse elsewhere. This impacted on the architecture as there was no need to plan for people to actually use it. James also said that there’s a possibility Greek and Latin libraries might have purposefully been built together, to complement each other when those languages were both vitally important for education. He took us everywhere from a monastery in South Korea, where a huge library houses just one book and its corresponding printing blocks, to Michelangelo’s Medici Library (which is beautiful but apparently not practical at all!), to the Biblioteque Nationale and the National Library of Beijing, shining examples of modern library architecture. We saw libraries change from repositories to interactive study-spaces, and the rise of the public library from the 19th century onwards. From 16th-century stalls to (apparently James’ favourite) 18th-century Rococo designs and 19th-century barrel-vaults, the library has always adapted to the architecture of the time in new and surprising ways, including hidden doors and libraries completely made from iron!

It was a really interesting lecture and made me want to go travelling just to see libraries around the world. Talk about your busman’s holiday…! There really are some amazing library buildings out there. I’m also definitely going to be buying his book, if only to give me something to aim at for future holidays!

By Lucy Woolhouse, Graduate Trainee Librarian at Christ's College.