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 https://arxiv.org/ 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).