Friday, 23 November 2018

Date for your Festive Diary!

Date for your Festive Diary! 

Wednesday 5th December
Cambridge Central Library

One of our members, Mary Burgess would like to invite you to a East Road History Talk on Wednesday 5th December

Need a stocking filler? Mary's book will be available to buy after the talk for just £7.50

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Cataloguing and indexing traditional folk songs - A talk by Steve Roud

To start off November we were thrilled to welcome Steve Roud who gave us a fascinating introduction to the challenges of indexing traditional folk songs.

The write up of the evening is kindly contributed by Natalie Kent (@natalielkent)

At the beginning of his talk, Steve posed us with a question: How many ways can you spell the world ‘old’? It turns out in the world of folk song cataloguing the answer is an incredible 9 (so far), giving a small sense of the challenges involved in creating and finding records for these songs.
Steve has been working for many years to create the Roud Folk Song Index, with an aim of indexing all the English-language folk songs in the world. He was formerly a local studies librarian for the London Borough of Croydon, and brought this specialist knowledge and experience to his work on folk song cataloguing. He describes his interest in folk song and folk lore as a ‘passion’ and an ‘obsession’. He has published numerous books on these subjects.

The folk songs Steve works with are not necessarily what modern audiences would associate with the term ‘folk song’; apparently defining folk song is a controversial area, but for Steve this typically means songs that predate recorded sound, by singers who are untrained amateurs, delivered face-to-face with no accompaniment. These attributes make folk songs a rich resource for social historians. Steve is not interested in modern folk arrangements, and he has a cut-off date of around 1950 when he is indexing.

Folk songs are very ‘slippery’, which makes them extremely difficult to catalogue! Each time someone sings a song it will be different, so collectors often keep multiple different recordings. However, each recording might have a different name. Conversely, the same name might refer to 25 different songs. There are also issues of spelling to contend with; transcribers might imitate accents or follow spelling conventions of different dialects. In order to cope with these ‘slippery’ songs, Steve devised the system of Roud numbers, where the same number is given to every different version of a song. This system has proved extremely useful in the wider world of folk song, and recordings and song books are now typically published with Roud numbers.

When Steve is indexing he tries to prioritise what the user will find useful over following international standards to the letter (a principle he started following in his work as a local studies librarian). His records include a title, but also a first line, which is often what users will remember. There is a difficulty when specifying the place a song is from, because people moved around and often travelled to London when recordings were made. Therefore, place collected really means the place the performer originated, as that is where the song probably came from. Steve also includes audio files where possible, which is especially helpful for any users who do not read sheet music.
The songs he indexes might exist in any format, including manuscripts, books, journals, newspapers, photographs and sound recordings. The index he has created now has a staggering 250,000 records for songs (with a further 250,000 records for broadsides), all input by Steve.

While folk song is seen as an oral tradition, Steve pointed out that it hasn’t been a purely oral tradition since the invention of print. Broadsides containing words of popular songs could be bought very cheaply and were widely circulated, providing a much more tangible way to research folk song. Steve brought along some wonderful examples of broadsides for us to look at.

Another wonderful treasure Steve showed us was a small scrapbook dating from the American Civil War. Entitled ‘The campfire songster’, it contains an individual’s collection of songs (some printed, some handwritten, and some with musical notation), which they presumably carried with them during the Civil War and sang with round the campfire.

Steve’s index is a huge achievement which is of significant value to folk song enthusiasts and social historians alike. All were impressed by the obvious skill and dedication he has put into this project. Steve’s enthusiasm for this fascinating area made this a very enjoyable evening all round.

The main indexes to Steve’s work are available on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website -

Sunday, 18 November 2018

The Open Book - A bookshop holiday

Post contributed by - Katherine Burchell (@katherinehelen)

Have you ever dreamed of running your own bookshop? Have you ever dreamed of running your own bookshop on holiday? That’s exactly what Liam and Rosie Austin did in 2015, and on Wednesday 31st October they came to tell us all about their time running The Open Book in Wigtown as part of a bookshop holiday. This opportunity is available due to the Wigtown Festival Company and this is where all the profits from the bookshop go to.

Wigtown is known as a book town, which is “a town or village with a large number of used book or antiquarian book stores,” which are usually in scenic places. The town is a long way from anywhere and as Liam pointed out “you can’t just pop in”, which means trips to Wigtown for people are usually planned.

Rosie described how when they arrived they met George, one of the volunteers, who showed them the cash tin, the ledger to record all sales and off they went. The first book that they sold was History of Islam for £2.50. The first thing Rosie highlighted that it was important to do was to get to know their stock, much like you would in a library. She described how there was an incredible level of trust, in terms of displays, choosing the opening hours of the book shop and prices of the books on sale.

Liam and Rosie decided it would be a good idea, as a way to get to know their customers, to set up an atlas in the shop for visitors to pin point where they had come from to visit the shop. They described how this was a great conversation point for them. Many of the locals regularly visit the shop to see who the new owners are for that week, and you could often see the marks of previous booksellers, who often would bring their own items with them to sell.

Whilst running the shop, Liam and Rosie were allowed to update and use the shops social media accounts and they used this an opportunity to engage with the locals and planned events. Liam planned a mini escape game, where he hid clues round the shop and the winner got the code for a briefcase with chocolate in, whilst Rosie organised a literary speed dating event, for people to tell others about their favourite books. Both of these events were very successful. 

Liam and Rosie visited a different bookshop every morning, to speak to other booksellers and to learn more about the community. They told us how lots of the booksellers would contact other shops if they knew that that shop might have a book that someone was interested in. Everyone supported each other and there was no rivalry. Liam and Rosie described how there was a real sense of community and everyone wanted to help each other. 

I think it is fair to say that everyone who attended Liam and Rosie’s talk now really wants to go and run Wigtown’s bookshop, but unfortunately it looks like we will all be waiting until 2025 for our chance! 

More information and booking can be found:

Thursday, 18 October 2018

"Context of Display: Suffragette posters and thinking beyond a 'museum model' for library exhibitions."

Post contributed by - Kevin Symonds CLG Secretary

The first CLG event of 2018/2019 was a very interesting talk by Dr Chris Burgess, Head of Exhibitions and Public Programmes with the title of "Context of Display: Suffragette posters and thinking beyond a 'museum model' for library exhibitions."

This brought out ideas that many of us had not contemplated or realised were issues which is exactly why we have these events.

In CLG talks and tours we find out about peoples past careers and how they can sometimes be very different from the position they are in now and Chris was no exeception when we found out that shockingly he is not a Librarian but a museum professional having previously been Head of Collections and Engagement at the People's History Museum in Manchester.

We would like to thank Chris for starting off our 2018-19 programme of events with such a fascinating and enjoyable talk and invite you to find out more below.

Virtually all of the UL's collection of 8 million items (excluding a few delicate masterpieces such as Newtons Principia or the Gutenberg Bible) can be requested by anyone with a readers ticket who will then get access to it within 15 minutes. This is not something you can do in a Museum, the collections in the physical building are normally a tiny percentage of the overall collection and so to gain access to materials you have to wait, and that is even if they are available to people at all. But in an exhibtion you don't get to choose from the whole collection. Someone has already decided what the general subject matter is, and has decided what is going to be available to the people who visit. It is a matter of making the best use of what does exist in the collection and to allow people to gain the most from what has been chosen; to allow those people the bredth of what is available but also show them in a form that gives them the biggest benefits from their short time in the Library.

It is these differing elements of exhibitions in museums and libraries that Chris explained to us in terms of the reasoning behind what they both do.

To educate and inspire. 

What intent is there behind the project as a whole but also in the ways in which it is curated. 

What are the social and interpretive concepts you want to put into an exhibition. 

Who is it aimed at?

Do you say where the material came from and how it entered the collection? Something that is of great importance in many museums where post-colonial feelings have led to demands for restitution of materials.  But also in terms of it filling out the history of an item beyond it's physical look and a little description card. That was something which was very doable in terms of the Suffragette Posters as the UL has the original letter from the then University Librarian Francis Jenkinson asking the National Union of Women's Sufferage Societies for copies after the first election of 1910.

It was Francis's desire to keep ephemera for the future that means we can now see these posters, whereas in many places these posters have just melted away into history. Or, in the case of the Imperial War Museum being used to wrap up objects THEY considered important for the future instead of keeping things for future generations to make that decision themselves.

Even the way that the actual physical dimensions of the Suffragette posters had to be represented had an impact. The posters are too big to be on the walls of the normal exhibtion space so they were in the entrance hall. This added an unusual and different element to the exhibition,  that of natural light. Not something that is normally available in an exhibition but one that is important, as seeing them in this context is how people would have originally seen them, and not in an artificially lighted space. 

Although the last picture he showed proved that this is only part of the story. These posters would not have been a poster on it's own, in a dowdy staid manner, it would have been one poster amongst many others, maybe whole walls of posters, taking in the latest show at the local theatre alongside opposing political views and bordered by adverts for Bisto or various sauces. 

Fortunately we do have an idea of the context they lived in back in 1910, avoiding their impact being a plain piece of what is often seen as just artwork. However without more information having been saved at the time, in the form of photos of these walls to give this context, would we really understand the poster's place  back in 1910?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

“Librarians - we need to talk”

A talk on Open Access by Dr Danny Kingsley

Post contributed by - Katherine Burchell (@katherinehelen)

I always love learning about other areas of libraries that I know nothing about and June’s Cambridge Library Group’s event was a great opportunity to do just that. In this month’s talk we were honoured to hear from Dr Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge University Library.

In her presentation titled “Librarians – we need to talk” Danny took us on a journey through journals and Open Access, which was accompanied by Danny reading from Tadpoles Promise by Jeanne Willis to accompany us on this journey. This was an absolutely great touch which made learning about what is a very broad topic, a lot of fun.

It is hard to imagine that paper journals have been around since 1665, and to hear that publishers needed libraries, was something that I was not aware of before. She talked us through the history of journals and publishing, highlighting that in 1995 this was the last period of print publishing. It was interesting to find out that researchers had started to freely publish their work online in 1993 on sites such as which is still going today. This led to Danny’s own PhD research into online journals in 1995.

Danny said that “research has the opportunity to be openly available” and described libraries as a rainbow and publishers as the black pearl and in 2002 the term Open Access was coined. She then went on to explain how the role of the librarian, with the rise of Open Access and publishing is being questioned, and at RLUK2017 it was considered “are librarians support staff / research partners” and do we need to start collaborating with each other. Danny certainly left us with a lot of things to think about afterwards.

Danny finished the talk by posing the question “what can you do?” and she gave the following recommendations of what librarians can do to support open access.

* Be global and local in services
* Skill the generation in how to assess information
* Provide comprehensive digital access to collections
* Preservation and stewardship

It was absolutely great to gain all this knowledge in a fun way and I am sure I speak for everyone when I say we loved being read to and it was a great way to engage everyone. Danny would be more than happy to answer any questions following the talk and can be contact via Twitter @dannykay68

Katherine Burchell  - Collection Logistics Assistant in Cambridge

Saturday, 31 March 2018

March Talk: 'A librarian abroad' - A talk by Michael Young

"Turn on, tune in, drop out": reinvention through a Life Less Ordinary.

- Post contributed by Clare Aitken (@LibClare)

I love to learn about the career pathways of my fellow librarians, as we seem to come to our profession in different ways and for different reasons. This was borne out by the story of Michael Young, now an information manager for a legal firm, who started his working life in public and academic libraries and “dropped out” in 1986 to run a smallholding in Wales for 7 years. His talk focused however, on a particularly unusual fork in the road - his work for the libraries of the British Council in the 1970s and early 80s.

Michael started by giving some background on what the British Council is and does. It was founded in 1934 by the British Government to foster understanding of British culture and language in other countries. Although it conducts many activities (many early representatives were thought by the locals to be spies!), the main focus has always been teaching English either directly, or by teaching the teachers. The Council also offered bursaries to overseas students to study in the UK (and vice-versa).

There is more information on the British Council website] and its Wikipedia entry

A number of authors have written about the Council – among them Graham Greene, Lawrence Durrell, Olivia Manning and John Le CarrĂ©. Michael's appointment by the British Council does indeed sound like the plot of a spy novel. While a student at the College of Librarianship in Wales, one of Michael’s lecturers suggested that he meet a friend who was recruiting for the Council. They had a curious meeting in an Aberystwyth coffee shop followed by an interview in London, where Michael was warned that the two downfalls of people working for the organisation were alcoholism and adultery. (He claims not guilty on both counts).

He worked in London, facilitating book purchase requests from overseas Council libraries. He had to assess the ‘Britishness’ of each request. He was also tasked with making sure the collection was balanced, as some of their more eccentric librarians would try to stack the collection with their own obsessions, for example the steam engine enthusiast in Thailand.

Then in 1978 came the first opportunity to go overseas, to prepare a report on the library in Douala, Cameroon. At 23 years old he’d never travelled abroad, or been on an aeroplane. He vividly described the culture shock on arriving in a West African airport, and the colonial attitude still rife among the expat community. He stayed in the Representative’s house complete with a well-stocked drinks cabinet, servants and a security guard armed with a spear. His subsequent report and recommendations for the library were airily dismissed by senior staff there. An early introduction to the politics of the workplace.

He then described moving on to a bibliographic role, invoking memories in the some members of the audience of Blaise, Prestel, and other gems of the early days of automated library services. A lot of travel ensued, as he got involved in advising foreign governments on how to design and set up library services, and getting online access out to the libraries in overseas offices. Different roles within the Council followed, eventually moving away from libraries but still requiring his information organisation and retrieval skills. In one job he worked on database design, creating a UK University prospectus database for the use of prospective bursary recipients which was highly praised in an article in the (at the time) Library Association’s magazine LA Record. All of this was before the age of the Internet, of course.

Finally he enjoyed a foray into book promotion and editorial work for the Council before eventually quitting to move to a smallholding in Wales, a diversion from the pathway which could form the theme for a whole new talk in itself!

Michael’s talk was illuminated by entertaining stories of these experiences – meeting a number of famous, influential, and eccentric people along the way.

He concluded with some thoughts on the changes in the role of librarians through his career. Now that users conduct most of their own research, he regrets losing the intermediary role, particularly the opportunity to help users to be more effective searchers. He was met with a lot of nods of agreement in the audience when he said that in his view library work has to be a task of reinvention. He felt he has always made use of his fundamental training, even if it has not always been in traditional library tasks. A positive note on which to end and thanks to Michael for a fascinating look back on an unusual and varied career.

(Thanks to Jo Milton for the inspiration for the title of this review).