Friday, 12 November 2021

October Event - Emma Coonan - What to expect when you're indexing

 Our AGM speaker was former Cambridge librarian and academic Dr Emma Coonan, speaking about her career move into an area which most of us haven’t given much thought to, while being closely related to what cataloguers do every day. We take the presence of an index in a non-fiction book for granted, without giving a great deal of thought, unless it is non-existent or badly done and doesn’t help us to find what we are looking for. While indexing and cataloguing have many similarities, Emma was surprised by the differences as well.

There is a great deal more to an index that simply a list of the page references where a particular term appears, which could be done by a computer, but which would not actually give us all the leads to what we actually need. A good indexer has to provide conceptual analysis, bringing together topics in a way which will help the user. Unlike a cataloguer, who has a set of predefined subject headings, a controlled vocabulary, which they can apply to the work in hand, whether or not the term appears in the title or even the work, the indexer does not, they have to use their own judgment. They have to assess the content and choose the headings which they feel the user is most likely to find helpful, so in both cases a knowledge of who the reader is can help. An indexer has an additional matter to consider, the publisher, since they are generally employed on a freelance basis by the publisher or author, who may have their own agenda and ideas, distinct from the end user of the book. 

Emma stressed that the most important thing in indexing is to try and think yourself into the mind of the potential reader, what are they likely to be looking for, and how? The example she gave was St Thomas Aquinas. Will the reader look under S for Saint, Thomas, or Aquinas? A cataloguer would choose the controlled term, and there would be a cross reference from other possibilities, but an indexer could put the page references in the index under all options to save the reader time. Do you have references to him as a theologian, a philosopher, a Dominican friar? That might depend on how detailed the book and its intended readership is. 

As a practical exercise, Emma gave us some paragraphs and asked the audience to suggest how they would index them. Everybody made different choices as to what was the key topic. (This reminded me of library school, where 12 people came up with 20 possible Dewey numbers!)  A general work might have very simple headings, while a highly technical book will need multiple subheadings under a primary term. Ideally there should not be too many page references for each topic, preferably not more than 6 according to the Society of Indexers. If there are more, consider further subdividing the heading into facets. 

Emma recommended the Society of Indexer’s basic online course for those wanting to know more about indexing work, before considering the full 4 module course. She also drew our attention to a new book on the history of indexing by Dennis Duncan – Index, a history of the. 

Post contributed by Dr Sarah Preston - Assistant College Librarian - Sidney Sussex College

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Where's the orange juice - reflections from Kay Naylor

Where's the Orange Juice?

After the Chair’s & committee’s lovely words at the AGM a few musings on the “fun and games” of doing refreshments.

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay 

The refreshments for any event are only as good as the unseen backup team, and during my tenure of CLG Committee member with oversight of refreshments I have been exceeding fortunately to have marvellous team. From the CLG committee who have rolled up their sleeves and mucked in with whatever needed doing on the day, the whole gang at the Squire who have covered whiled I disappear on an errand, loading my car when it is an off-site event, helping set up in house, and have been wonderful testers of the nibbles, to say nothing of spotters of bargains. The Squire team does include Shaun & John Corr who with a small bribe was happy to deal with time over-runs. Added to them have been various friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with CLG but have added their thoughts on various drinks and food items, normally on the lines of don’t buy X product its disgusting. Especially one friends eldest son, he doesn’t hold back anything tastes revolting!!!

There have been challenges along the way, working out what wine is vegan/vegetarian, and food items getting tweaked so were no longer vegetarian/vegan or gluten free or the other way around. Nuts were also a stumbling block until we were gently nudged that it might be a problem, if it doesn’t affect you, the brain tends to disregard it. If you ever wondered where the orange juice was, I can’t drink it so don’t buy and never thought to get it for the refreshments until it was mentioned. 

Image by JINHONG KIM from Pixabay 

Will offer my good wishes for the next person who takes on refreshments they will be having a harder task now, with the prices edging up gently and, in some case, not so gently upwards, to say nothing of a bad year for potatoes which is going to hit crisp prices, think the cheese straws will be OK, at least until after Christmas, get your supplies in now. M&S still have them on offer price of a double pack for £2.

Post contributed by Kay Naylor - former (and much missed) member of the CLG Committee, providing wonder refreshments to our members!

Monday, 30 August 2021

July event: Law Librarianship and AI


Law Librarianship and Artificial Intelligence by Jake Hearn

For the last talk of this academic year the Cambridge Library Group welcomed Jake Hearn for a presentation about law librarianship and artificial intelligence. His interest in the topic has developed from his library masters research at UCL.

Jake began by talking about his career path and identified the tasks and roles in his current job at an international London law firm:

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

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The term artificial intelligence was coined by John McCarthy in 1955 for a conference. Jake set about demystifying how artificial intelligence is being used within the legal information environment. He belives that it is necessary to ensure that the term does “not alienate the general public” through a “better understanding of the technology which it encompasses”. AI is now generally used to “refer to (sophisticated) computer software which has been programmed to automate routine tasks” and can be divided into three types:

Machine learning

Natural language processing

Knowledge Reasoning

Jake gave examples of the technologies being used such as:

  • Thomson Reuters use of natural language processing in Westlaw and the Practical Law Dynamic Tool Set.

  • software such as Kira where firms can upload contracts in batch and conduct contract analysis.

  • And the research project between Oxford University’s Law Faculty and BAILLI which provides the open access data of UK and Commonwealth judgments.

The USA seem to be more ahead of the UK with the use of AI and there are more published case studies, one example being the Case Access Project. It was a Harvard University Project which is open access, now holding over 6 million cases. The law librarians at Harvard were key players on the project which demonstrates that there is a place for us in the field. This data was also used in the Historical Trends tool. Jake showed us an example of how it works.

There are discussions about what skills do modern workers need, such as digital literacy. This chimes with many information professionals existing skills. A UK Government strategy is due to be published later this year.

During the talk and the question and answer session ethics were touched on. Privacy and data protection (if storing and recalling previous contracts and cases) has to be considered, the bias of results – AI reproduces what it knows and doesn’t aid diversity (even just in the ranking of results) - is relevant. When we employ lawyers are we not paying for the human empathy aspect as well as their expertise – is it fair to charge a large sum if decisions made by an algorithm?

Most importantly law librarians, and librarians in general, need not be apprehensive about AI as we already have the relevant skills. Law librarians know the issues with searching, natural language processing, bias - the gaps, the problems and different results that can be obtained. 

He highlighted this excellent quote from SR Ranganathan to remind us that a library is a growing organism that works alongside the organisation it serves. We are always evolving and developing and have encompassed many new technological developments in the past.

Post contributed by Kate Faulkner, Squire Law Library, Cambridge

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

June event - Gytha Lodge discussing her career as a writer and writing for computer games and currently writing her fourth novel.

 Despite being on holiday Gytha was kind enough to give us a talk on her wide ranging career and experiences. From theatre work, to writing her own books and a range of writing for video games both large and small.

As with many people we've met through the CLG you can really tell that Gytha is someone that has been really embedded into what they wanted to go. She quit her job to go and work in the theatre full time, working in various fringes and London's Leicester Square and gaining lots of experience. But bubbling underneath was always the desire to write books.

Feeling the need to focus on writing she did the UEA Creative Writing MA and that really seems to be the place that really allowed her skills to explode with the supportive teaching and continued feedback from other writers.

Especially one of the scriptwriting tutors teaching her how to pitch an idea to agents, something that had not been working up to that point.

It turns out her synopses made no sense whatsoever. As a writer she broke down the story as plot points instead of how a "normal" person would describe a story. Which sounds very sensible but we all know how what we think can seem strange to others. And it obviously worked as after that was changed she managed to get a lot of interest from agents who wanted to want work with her.

But she knew who she wanted to work with who was an agent that she had previously met in the ladies loos at Ely Cathedral! 

Your agent needs to be your mentor, friend but also the person that can say harsh things when they need to when it comes to feedback on your book. They need to be tough as they are going to be the ones going out and trying to sell it in a really intensive market.

But in Gytha's case even with the great agent no publishers were interesting  in taking her on from the first pitch.

So her agents suggested writing the second book and pitching that one instead and the first one will be easier to sell later.

Having a child and needing to actually have  money coming in she took a step back from theatre and moved into copywriting and marketing for a translation form and then slid into writing for video games.

This was working on games that had been moved over from Japan and China and they needed someone that could write good scenes in English and that did lead into actually pitching games.

This ranged from big MMO games to smaller mobile games including one of her favourite games from when she was younger, Heroes of Might and Magic where she got to make up new stories for the characters she loved. Which must be very filling both personally and financially!

But she still needed to finish her book so took a holiday and finished it off.

And 5 years after being signed with her agent she got a contract offer on her book.

But unfortunately the amount offered would not allow her to leave her job and allow her to fulfill the dream of being a full-time writer. But the value of a good agent came out again and as Gytha was now in demand she could prod other publishers to see if anyone else would be interested.

Penguin came with an offer. That was 10 times the size of the first offer. And even then her agent thought they should be paying more for the world rights. And they did.

After 21 years of wanting a publishing contract it didn't feel real but Gytha could now write full time.

Such an amazing journey and story that was amazing to hear.

Unsurprisingly there were a lot of questions from members. People wanting to know more about how to get into writing for video games, how to get an agent (some answers being to summarise your novel in one line, get other people you trust to be honest to read your first three chapters as it's amazing what you might miss). There does seem to be a lot of people in the CLG who have something just waiting to burst out and our talks bring out the opportunity to quiz those who have made it to help them on their way.

We also found out how her main character, their background and the whole detective team came about (clue: it was a suggestion from her agent) and how she has not written the titles of any book. Yet that is!

The online events we have been having have been packed full of great information and wonderful stories. We are very lucky to have people like Gytha happy to talk to us :)

Kevin Symonds

Research Governance and Information Manager - MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences

Friday, 20 August 2021

May Event: Sara Rawlinson: Illuminating Cambridge Libraries: a 3 year photographic project on Cambridge Libraries


We all know certain Libraries around Cambridge. Maybe from working there, visiting colleagues or indeed attending CLG meetings in various locations. But when we can see into them in such amazing detail through Sara's work it really does open them up to us in so many ways.

I must say that personally I had presumed that the whole project was actually a commission from the University because of course these great photographs are both wonderful art pieces but also great adverts for various elements of Cambridge's college libraries and the University as a whole. But no. Totally based on Sara's desires to explore her skills and to really get to know Cambridge better it is a wonderful representation of the college libraries. And the views and angles of aspects of the libraries that Sara chose to give us an insight into. And that it took 3 years which shows the great dedication she has put into this.

Following the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of the project Sara took us through her route through a variety of issues. From choices made for old or new libraries, which people she worked with or indeed around and what permissions needed to be gained. And how she could actually get the work done in all the different locations and varied equipment she had at her disposal over time.

College Libraries are a wonderful mixture of old and new (sometimes  library buildings of both types in the same college) that represent the changing times and requirements in the colleges and by extension the University itself. It also shows the real diversity of what Cambridge has to offer it's students. Some people might only see their own college Library whilst a student and they are missing out. Sara's book gives us all a great view of some of what we are missing.


I was hoping that someone would have bought me a copy of the book for my birthday but guess I will have to do it myself!

Oh I just have from Sara's Amazon page :)

When things are back to normal I will look forward to Sara's next exhibition she puts on as her work is certainly well worth seeing. More details will be on her website:

Kevin Symonds - Committee Secretary/Research Governance and Information Manager MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit


Sunday, 23 May 2021

April event: Ask a Trainee

 Ask a Trainee Event

On Wednesday 28th April 2021, the Cambridge Library Trainees from St John’s, Trinity, Queens’, Pembroke, and Newnham Colleges were excited to speak to the CLG about their experiences over the course of this year. It was a great evening to be a part of, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed sharing what we have been up to in our libraries. Below is a summary of what we discussed.

What is a Library Trainee?

The graduate library traineeship is a year-long appointment which aims to give a recent graduate student (paid!) experience of working in a library before they undertake a professional qualification in librarianship; this extended experience being a prerequisite for many Master’s courses. Although most trainees do proceed to the Master’s, there is no expectation that they will do so: the focus is on introducing the trainee to a working library environment and allowing them to decide whether the career is right for them. 

Although all trainees present at the talk worked at constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, there are trainees in all varieties of libraries across the UK – including school, law, and specialist libraries. 

The daily routines of trainees vary between colleges, but can include activities such as reshelving; classifying, cataloguing, processing, and withdrawing books; creating displays, and managing social media. Training and workshops form a key part of the traineeship, which are given both within and outside the college, on topics such as cataloguing, creating exhibitions, and decolonising through critical librarianship. Usually trips to other libraries would be a key part of this training; however, since this has not been possible this year, we have had other insights such as virtual tours and group discussions. 

The trainees have been involved in several collaborative projects together, which can be found here: 

Twitter: @LibraryTrainees 

Website: (with information about traineeships, excellent for anyone applying) 

Recent collaborative blog post on Decolonising through critical librarianship: 

Covid-19 Adaptations

A central part of this year's traineeships has been helping to adapt library services to COVID restrictions. While COVID has obviously been a disruption to the trainees experiencing normal library services, it has meant that there are certain aspects of librarianship that they have been able to experience more of.

A large part of all the trainees' jobs has been helping with services that enable students to use resources which COVID restrictions are preventing them from accessing. These services include: Click and Collect, Scan and Deliver and posting books to students who are not in Cambridge. Alongside these services, they have been helping point students towards the right form for book acquisitions, both e-books and physical books, and helping organise inter-college loans. As well as helping provide access to academic resources, the libraries have been acquiring resources for students’ enjoyment when they have been stuck in their rooms over lockdown. All the trainees’ libraries have been expanding their collections of light reading books/General interest books, DVDs, welfare-related books, and a couple of the libraries have been loaning puzzles (which has meant counting all the pieces to make sure that they are there on return!). These welfare adaptations have been a great chance to see that libraries contribute to more than just the academic side of users’ lives. 

Not having students in the library has meant the trainees have not been able to interact with them as they usually would. This has meant getting more creative with the ways in which the library and students interact, such as posting a ‘Resource of the Day’ on Facebook, Pinterest book browsing displays, organising virtual study spaces, and virtual study skills sessions. These uses of virtual spaces to continue to provide services to students when they are unable to access the physical space of the library has shown the trainees that libraries are much more than just the physical space, and physical collections.

While this year's traineeships have not been what the trainees originally expected there are many ways that this has been a beneficial experience. Stepping into these roles during COVID has encouraged the trainees to think about libraries beyond just the physical collections. Seeing the variety of other ways libraries are important to users' lives will be great knowledge to take forward into a career in libraries.


For his part of the presentation, Harry spoke about our cataloguing training, using his experience of rare book cataloguing in the Queens’ Old Library as a focus point. He did have some experience working in a library with a large 19th-century collection before starting his traineeship, and so was drawn to the work with even older books that he would experience at Queens'. Although the breakout of the pandemic and the following lockdown meant that he could not start work in the library at the time originally planned, he shared with the CLG how he still received great remote training and how he could still participate in the Old Library cataloguing project without even stepping foot in Cambridge. Colleagues sent him books to read about book history, and he went through a remote crash-course of rare book cataloguing with the Rare Books Curator. Using various online resources, he was still able to contribute to the project, and the lockdown actually helped to divide his training into stages, as he could wait a few months before learning about putting binding and provenance information into his records. This experience was great preparation for the cataloguing training sessions all the trainees attended, where we learned RDA cataloguing for new acquisitions.

Collection Management

For all of us starting in 2020, having so few readers about last summer really allowed us to get to know our libraries before term started in October. More than previous trainees, we had the time to get to know our collections and really think about how we could make the library serve college members best. A lot of housekeeping could be done, and a lot of thought could go into how we arrange and classify our material. A lot of our librarians seem to have had the same idea, and several of us have been involved in reclassification projects and book moves. Jimmy (Pembroke) has probably had the biggest task here, helping to change his library’s classification system from numeric to alpha-numeric, and reclassifying books into more suitable sections in the process.

Vicky (Trinity) spoke about what she has learnt from other libraries and training workshops when classifying material. For example, the library at Trinity has acquired a lot of Hebrew and Arabic novels that are on a reading list for the English tripos, either in translation or originally written in English. Our workshop on decolonising library spaces (see link to our blog post above) flagged up the importance of classification systems in establishing hierarchies of information and making value judgements about different contributions to a field. One of the examples used in this workshop was the English faculty library, where a lot of the postcolonial literature has now been integrated into the main class scheme, so that it is recognised as an important aspect of English literature rather than just a marginal offshoot. Vicky had to think through these same questions when figuring out where new Hebrew and Arabic novels fit within Trinity’s own library scheme, in a way that doesn’t marginalise them within the English section, but also doesn’t relegate them all to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies either. It’s been a challenge to balance the need to classify information in a way that’s accurate and doesn’t marginalise underrepresented voices and perspectives with the need to cater to our users when they come with their reading lists that might compartmentalise things differently.

Getting to know our college libraries’ classification schemes was made easier by the peace and quiet brought about by COVID, but the pandemic has made it a lot harder to figure out how our circulation systems work. Our libraries have had to be much more flexible with our loan rules, either because users were unable to return to college or felt uncomfortable with coming into the library regularly. The main challenge has been to do with posting books out to students during Lent Term, when most of them were studying remotely. Where Trinity hasn’t already had a copy, Vicky and her colleagues have been posting out books directly from the suppliers to the students without processing them in the library first, so that students could get hold of these books well in advance of essay deadlines. Each book was given a temporary item record and classmark. As students are slowly returning, these books are starting to trickle back in, so the librarians can check them in manually and process them properly, making sure all the right records are attached to each other or deleted where appropriate. As trainees we can hardly claim credit for masterminding these changes to our circulation systems, but we have definitely benefitted from having to think more about why our normal workflows for processing and circulating books are the way they are, and how they can be adapted to meet users’ needs. 

College Heritage

Working on projects which are linked to the heritage of the College is one of the less prominent aspects of a trainee’s role, but is nonetheless one that features in all the Cambridge traineeships as it provides an important opportunity for training and development. As with almost every other aspect of our roles, each trainee’s individual approach to this theme is completely dependent on the particular college they are at. This year all five of us have had a variety of different projects to work on, which have been thoroughly enjoyable.  

Katie (St John’s) has worked closely with the Biographical Librarian at St John’s, helping to deal with enquiries from the general public which has included undertaking research using the College resources. She has also helped to input data and update the files of John’s alumni following degree ceremonies, as well as doing quick information checks for the Biographical Librarian using resources which are physically in the Library. In addition to this, Katie has also been working on a more long-term cataloguing project for the Special Collections in the Old Library, following the donation of several boxes of personal papers of a prominent early 20th-century geologist. This has been a slow-moving project as a result of the pandemic, however it has been an invaluable experience in learning how to sort and catalogue collections like this from scratch.  

Jimmy (Pembroke) and Katherine (Newnham) have also had the chance to work on similar projects in their respective libraries. Following the death of a Fellow, Jimmy accompanied the Pembroke Archivist to the Fellow’s house to help look through the substantial rare books collection that had been bequeathed to the College. This was a great experience in getting to see how decisions about what to keep are made by libraries, as unfortunately college libraries (as with all libraries!) only have limited space, and cannot keep absolutely everything. Katherine has also been working her way through the personal library of a prominent Newnham alum. This project has involved listing the items contained in the collection, and determining what should be kept and what should be sold on.

The final two trainees, Vicky (Trinity) and Harry (Queens’) have had a very different, but equally as interesting, type of involvement with College heritage. Vicky has overseen the signing of the Matriculation book in the Wren Library, which is an important annual tradition at Trinity. She has also written several blog posts on recent acquisitions, as well as short articles for the alumni magazine on highlights from the collections, in order to help showcase the exciting things the College holds in addition to their beautiful manuscripts. Harry has been busy creating a bibliography of books published by Queens’ members in the 18th century with an aim of helping research within the College, and has also participated in the College’s slavery investigation. He also plays a crucial role in the library by helping students to find and access resources to facilitate their research.  

Our College Heritage projects this year have potentially been somewhat overshadowed by Covid-19, however we have still all managed to gain important experience in this area. It is perhaps something which is unique to the Cambridge traineeships, since it is something which is unique to the Cambridge colleges. It has been a pleasure to be involved in these projects, and all of us are looking forward to further developing the skills we have learned.

We really enjoyed participating in this event, and would like to thank the CLG for inviting us to speak and for asking us some great questions during the Q&A – who says you have to be quiet to work in a Library!

Contributed by the 2020-21 Graduate Trainees 

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

CLG March Talk: Copyright, Plagiarism and all that Jazz – Margaret Jones

Our March online talk for the Cambridge Library Group was given by Margaret Jones, Music Collections Supervisor, Cambridge University Library, who impressed all of us with her amazing grasp of the intricacies of music copyright. All the examples were based on real life enquiries received by the Music Department of the UL, and if you thought copyright for books was complicated enough…read on!

She explained a Performing Rights Return (PRR) – showing an example of a scruffy piece of paper which was the Return for The Swiss Family Robinson – a Walt Disney film made in the 1950s. This shows the film cues during which the music was played, details of the composer or arranger (or both), the company responsible for production, how many seconds of music was used for each section of the film, and the percentage of rights money that the composer will accrue. Although now this is all done electronically, the PRR remains the way the film company work out who they owe the money to, and the way that Rights organisations distribute payments for the composer’s work.

In the UK, the PRS (Performing Rights Society) and the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) collect money on behalf of the composer and performers for everything from adverts and variety shows to major blockbuster films or BBC costume dramas. This is one of the vital links between copyright and composers earnings.

In the UK, Fair Use (an exception to use copyright material for education purposes) being generally accepted that users can copy up to 5% of a volume, is not applied to music in the same way. Every musical work is copyrighted separately, so an anthology of Beatles songs for example or a hymnal, each song has its own copyright and so cannot be copied.

Margaret’s talk then expanded to give examples from West Side Story, Purcell’s Rondeau and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and investigated the links between a Clementi sonata, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and A Groovy Kind of Love, which was fascinating in its detail.

The talk concluded with a look at the Higher Education Music Licence which is being trialled this year by the University of Cambridge, and allows enhanced copying for students registered on performance-based music courses.

Post contributed by Helen Snelling, CLG Membership Secretary and Pendlebury Librarian.