Sunday, 18 October 2015

Librarians in Norwich: a visit to Norwich Cathedral Library

Arriving at the Cathedral, a striking mixture of old and new.

On a fine sunny Friday 25th September 2015  a group of CLG members set off for Norwich, and met Emily Downes from the Cambridge Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Norwich resident, at the visitors' entrance to Norwich Cathedral. We followed her through the Cloisters, up the stairs and into the library, to be met by the librarian Dr Gudrun Warren. We sat in the reading room to have an outline of the long history of book collection at the Cathedral, from its pre-Reformation years as a Priory, subsequent re-location, rising and falling of buildings, to the present day when the recent extension to the Cathedral made spaces for the growing collections. The library houses not only the Cathedral collections, but also the stock of the defunct Lincoln Theological College on long term loan, and the various collections from Parish Churches in the Diocese. To say nothing of individual bequests from musicians and clergy and bell-ringers over the years.  Gudrun is rather attached to the portion of medieval wall which interrupts the library office, as seen in the group photo of CLG members. We noted odd pieces of wall, arch and door in various places around the rabbit-warren of rooms, all cleverly incorporated into the new structure. There is a small staff, and many volunteers who make the collections available to people living in the Diocese as well as researchers from further afield.

The Norwich group gathered by sections of the original medieval wall.
CLG members examining a rather large book...
Gudrun described the small book shelves which used to be set into the walls of the cloisters, with lockable doors - although the door is missing, as are the books.  After our tour we enjoyed lunch in the refectory, a beautiful new extension to the ancient building, and some were able to go on a guided tour of the Cathedral itself.  There is inevitably a Cambridge connection: the current exhibition at the UL, 'His Royal Favour' describes and shows some of the enormous collection of John Moore, Bishop of Norwich 1691-1707, which was later given to King George I and given by him to Cambridge University. A great loss to Norwich Cathedral.

It was a most interesting day out, reminding us that there are treasures and ancient cities within easy reach of Cambridge, and well worth visiting. Thank you to Emily for organising the visit and to Dr Warren for her generous welcome.

Contributed by Jillian Wilkinson, Divinity Faculty Library.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Welcome to all our new and returning members!

A very big 'hello' to those of you who have joined as members this year.  We are delighted to announce a truly jam-packed programme of visits, talks and events for the coming year.  Our first event of the season, a guided tour of Norwich Cathedral Library in September, was resounding success - more details to follow on the blog shortly! Other highlights this year include a tour of St John's College Archive Centre (opened recently by Prince William no less!), our traditional Twelfth Night Party in the CUP bookshop and a special visit to London in June for a guided tour of the Royal College of Physicians' Library and John Dee exhibition. 

We look forward to seeing you all soon for a glass of wine and chat about all things library-related. Please do join us for our AGM on Thursday 22nd October, when we will be joined by Anna Martin to talk about her new book, 'Villain of Steam: a life of Dionysius Lardner'. There will also be plenty refreshments and a chance for enthusiasts to witness the workings of the committee (and join us if interested!). 6pm, School of Clinical Medicine

Monday, 13 July 2015

Cycling for Libraries: a fascinating talk about library advocacy on wheels

The Cycling for Libraries project is a library unconference on the move, which visits academic, public and special libraries,  discussing library issues and advocating libraries. 

Our last event in May saw a select group of CLG enthusiasts gather at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (thanks to our secretary Kevin for the very comfortable venue!) to hear Phil Segall of Kingston University, London, talk about his own experience of the Cycling for Libraries unconference. A two-time veteran of the tour, Phil was drawn to the project by his interest in international librarianship, and his talk gave us a great taste of what it was like to take part.

Team spirit – participants on tour. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

In Phil’s first tour in 2013, participants pedalled from Holland to Belgium, braving North Sea cross winds and cycling up to 100 km in a day. We enjoy a snippet of video from day 1 (visit the Cycling for Libraries website to see more videos- they’re great) – there’s something very inspiring about seeing a flood of over 100 librarians and/or library enthusiasts sailing through the streets of Amsterdam. Passion for libraries doesn’t get much more high-vis than this! Stop offs included major university libraries , like the Technische Universiteit Delft and the Ghent Book Tower (Universiteitsbibliotheek Boekentoren Gent), as well as more unusual libraries, such as Affligen Monastery Library, and the Haarlem Stationbibliotheek, one of a developing network of libraries based in railway stations around Holland. Participants were able to make a real push for support for public libraries when they met with Dutch MEPs at the Hague, and members of the European parliament in Brussels, with 214 signing their written declaration calling for recognition of the essential services provided by public libraries. 

Library advocacy – participants at the European Parliament. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

 Phil’s second tour in 2014, organised by Cyclo-Biblio, again put the importance of public library advocacy at the head of its agenda. From Montpellier the participants followed the Rhone to Lyon, ending up at the bilingual World Library and Information Conference in August. In a tour that embraced both rural and urban visits, visits included the Mediatheque Centrale Emile Zola, the University Library at Lyon and (in a side-step from libraries, but one very relevant to the participants) a vineyard and bicycle museum.

One of Phil’s many great tour photos shows a participant collapsed in (triumphant) exhaustion, but it’s clear the physical challenge is offset by the fun of seeing so many and so varied a collection of libraries, from mobile libraries to museum libraries, and by the brilliant learning opportunities provided along the way. It’s fascinating to see how in Holland (where many public libraries are not free of charge for adults) libraries are pushing their services through bold advertising – if only UK libraries had such a great billboard presence – and trying to bring books to the public by setting up libraries where there’s a ready audience – not only in train stations but even at Amsterdam airport. Seeing how different libraries use their data and manage their services is a great source of inspiration.

 Where can a chicken find out about her eggs…? Eye-catching library advertising from Holland. Photo by kind permission of Phil Segall.

 As Phil has shown us, an unconference on wheels - simultaneously an advocacy drive, a learning experience and a leisure trip – might have its fair share of challenges (the video of the intrepid cyclists crossing a main junction in France is, frankly, a little daunting – luckily road captains are on hand to halt the traffic!), but from what we saw in this great presentation, the rewards are more than worth the effort.

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

Visit the project's website here:

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: