Friday, 9 December 2011

CLG Festive Gathering at Heffers, 8th December

Those CLG members who braved the wind and rain to meet up in Heffers on Thursday night entered the book shop to the music of a string quartet, and were welcomed with drinks and a splendid array of dips, cheese and stollen (I wish I had not had dinner first).

Richard Osborne read some of George Orwell’s comments on bookselling in the 1930’s and the characters involved would be familiar to anyone who has worked in public libraries in later decades and then he and Richard Reynolds reminisced about staff and customers over the years. It was good to see the Children’s Department with an extensive stock and space to browse, the former Children’s bookshop on Trinity Street was sorely missed.

We were all presented with a sturdy Heffers carrier bag in Cambridge blue and a chance to stock up on books for ourselves and presents for others at 20% discount. Was it my imagination or did the musicians increase the tempo as closing time approached? Anyway I have made inroads on my Christmas gift list and caught up with old friends.

Thanks to the committee for a super evening.

By Suzan Griffiths

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Scott Polar Research Institute Visit

Cambridge Library Group’s own expedition to the Scott Polar Research Institute was a fascinating one. Led by Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections, we were treated to a hugely insightful tour of, and talk on, both the museum and library.

We were firstly shown a tantalising glimpse of the museum in its recently refurbished state; the decoration and white lighting creating a fittingly icy, but also fresh and lively atmosphere. It was lovely to see the original domes of the entrance building, along with its numerous quirky architectural touches such as the polar bear and penguin ceiling decorations (notably along side the North and South domes respectively, proving a handy reminder for anyone unsure of their polar geographical knowledge!) A Roald Amundsen exhibition is currently featuring to celebrate the centenary of his South Pole expedition, whilst preparations are under way for the upcoming centenary of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. Heather mentioned her dealings already with countless media enquiries surrounding this event, so it looks to be a huge and popular affair.

By libatcam on Flickr
It was particularly encouraging to hear of the museum’s success as a public attraction, especially with children and youth groups, encouraged to use the space in various ways, from theatre performance to artwork. The new and developing interactive services play a role in this too, as do the opportunities for school groups to dress up in clothes and handle example ‘expedition-style’ food (although we didn’t get the chance to do this sadly…) The museum’s smooth running clearly stems from its enthusiastic staff, with volunteers manning the public desk to share their expertise with interested visitors.

En route to the library, I think most of us couldn’t help notice the presence of a bell on the stairs. We soon discovered this to be the very bell from Scott’s Terra Nova, and today it is used (rather wonderfully I think) to ring out twice daily for teatime. Everyone in the institute, we discovered, goes to tea together, allowing a great opportunity for the wealth of information, expertise, and research in the making to unite on a daily basis!

Heather is very keen, and in the midst of securing funding for, the refurbishment of the library and to continue on a large backdating cataloguing programme to replace the current system. Having a modern, fresh library that matches the high level nature of its workings and content is essential. The library is filled with treasures, with many unique Arctic and Antarctic collection and a large picture library. It was interesting to see the unusual classification system, the Universal Decimal Classification for Use in Polar Libraries.

We were finally shown in to the archives - a recently organised space which has undergone quite a remarkable and highly successful transformation from its previous state. Heather revealed it still provides hidden gems, only recently the archivist having discovered another original letter from one of Scott’s expedition group.

This was an invaluably insightful evening, filled with so much information I cannot even begin to do justice to its content. Many, many thanks to Heather. Despite her thoroughness in answering all of our questions, we were all left with one still unanswered, however: how on earth does she find the time for it all?!

By Polly Harper, Library Graduate Trainee at Newnham College Library

By libatcam on Flickr

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Anglesey Abbey Library Visit

Who wouldn't want to have a chance of having a unique view of the library at Anglesey Abbey, one of the local National Trust properties?

By Mark Pettitt on Flickr

With one of the libraries custodians but also the head National Trust curator Mark Purcell we were shown into the wonderfully packed library where a whole range of books had been laid out for us to see. The books in the library are exceptional both for the high quality of leather bound volumes (such as finest surviving work of the so-called Geometrical Compartment Binder in a copy of the Old Testament) but also because the Library is not made up of the usual medieval manuscripts you would expect the rich to have bought, but contained books bought because Lord Fairhaven liked them. Everything from books on Stalin and Hitler to Alice in Wonderland and especially in subject areas such as horse racing and hunting that he had a particular interest in.

 Not to say that there are not unique and special books as they are very prevalent. A hand painted vellum edition of exotic birds, landscape garden planning with paper overlays, and a catalogue of native American Indians with highly detailed colour plates were on the tables laid out for us to look through. The collection is held in a beautiful room with mirrors at both ends giving an impression of space. And really space is what this collection needs. Although the original configuration of the books when Lord Fairhaven gave it to the NT is not known, both from a NT reorganisation in the 70's and a lack of original records (purchasing details were destroyed by the people in charge at handover - most likely to hide any shady dealings within the accounts) the room is absolutely packed (as is a nearby study) most likely requiring a servant to come in with a ladder when a book was required from a high shelf. There are the usual nice cases that you see in many manor house type libraries where the more unique books are kept, such as the Saxton Atlas, the first English County Atlas book from 1590 that the library holds.

Mark also told us about the breadth of the Windsor collection in the library. Lord Fairhaven grew up on the edge of Windsor Great Park and amassed such a collection of related books that is only surpassed by one other private collection in Windsor itself.

Being able to see the library in such detail was a unique opportunity but the Library itself is part of the public area of the main house and following the new NT's policy of being more open and 'real' there are no ropes holding you back or ruining the impression of how the library used to be and I will certainly visit Anglesey Abbey again to get a view of everything it has to offer.

Mark is in charge of the National Trusts 167 libraries but his knowledge of the Fairhaven collection in Anglesey was shown in his ability to answer all of our questions in his stride and with many interesting stories to fill out the history of the house and of Lord Fairhaven's interests and collecting habits. It will be interesting to see the book about the library that he is currently writing.

By Kevin Symonds, CLG's Secretary, and Library and Information Services Manager at MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fireworks, Confetti, and the Daily Mail

The Rose-Tinted UL by Esaj on Flickr

On 19 October John Wells, Joint Exhibitions Officer at the University Library, gave a very entertaining and informative talk about mounting exhibitions at the UL.

At the Library there is a distinction between curators, who write the exhibitions themselves and change with each exhibition, and the Exhibition Officers, who are the members of Library staff who administer the exhibition programme and manage the curators. John has been Joint Exhibition officer for 6 years, and has also curated several exhibitions. John has managed to find records of exhibitions in the Library as far back as the 1920s, but the modern era starts in 1998 with the opening of the current exhibition centre.

John noted that the Exhibition Officers at the UL are very fortunate to have the support of other departments in the Library--photography and conservation chief amongst them--who handly a lot of the practical work.

The design of each exhibition is also undertaken by outside companies. John commented that it's very important to make the design of posters and flyers as bright and showy as possible (difficult when many of the things displayed are "mostly brown and beige") as they'll have to compete against the circus and the pantomime for the public's attention!  

Choosing Themes and Exhibits
The UL assumes that the audience for its exhibitions is "the educated general audience". The themes of exhibitions will generally show off on the strengths the UL collections, the collections' breadth, little-known items from within, or they might tie in with important anniversaries or just be borne of someone's enthusiasm for a particular topic.

Individual exhibits are chosen because of both attractiveness and interest. Sometimes a small tatty book will have a much more interesting story behind it than a large, beautifully illuminated one, but you need a balance of both in the exhibition. Exhbits should, after all, generally reflect well on the Library and its stewardship.

Most of the items shown are, of course, printed books, manuscript codices, or papers, but exhibitions have included some stranger items including confetti, (used) fireworks, contraceptives and a stuffed duck (borrowed from elsewhere).  

Writing Captions
Writing an exhibition caption is "a literary genre in its own right". It's been said that curators always want their own captions to be long, but the captions in exhibitions they visit to be small: there is always a balancing act between telling the visitor all the interesting things that your research has discovered and having a caption that's a length they'll actually stop and read.

John was once given advice that exhibition captions should "use short words,short sentences and be suitable for a reading age of 12-14, rather like the Daily Mail." Given the intended audience for its exhibitions, the UL ignores this advice!

When writing exhibition text and captions you have to allow for the different ways in which people approach the exhibition. Some will start at the beginning and work all the way through in order, but some will dip in and out, stopping to read the captions of the items that particularly catch their eye. You have to make sure that the text is useful to both.

A good practical tip is to write captions with the item to be displayed in front of you. Think about the questions that the visitor will ask about it, and then answer them.  

Putting it all together
Before the exhibit list can be finalised, all the exhibits have to be checked by the Conservation Department, who will decide whether they can be displayed, will undertake any necessary work, and will make bespoke display cradles. They also supervise the installation of the exhibition, using appropriate means to hold pages open.

A common mistake when planning an exhibition layout is to leave insufficient room for the captions. The captions are printed last at the UL, so that their size and shape can be adjsted to allow for any changes in case layout. The final layout of the cases is determined by the shadows cast by the lighting rigs in the cases: objects and captions will be titled, raised, lowered, or shuffled sideways so that they aren't obscured.

Exhibitions last about 5 months at a time. The exhibition centre and cases are temperature and humidty controlled according to British Standard 5454, and the lighting levels are kept low to protect the exhibits. At the end of the run there are about 4 weeks before the start of the next exhibition. The case contents are dismantled (it's much quicker to take things out than to put them in), and the display boards for the instroductory text are taken down (the foam backing is reused by the photography department). A permanent record does remain on the UL exhibitions webpages.

The current exhibition, "Books and Babies: Communicating Reproduction", runs until 23 December.

By Katie Birkwood, CLG's Membership Secretary, and Rare Books Specialist at Cambridge University Library