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Books, buildings, and people: an exhibition on the making of UCL Library Services

Helen FBiggs28 November 2019

How do you make a library? In our current exhibition in UCL’s Main Library, we suggest that all it takes is three basic ingredients: books; somewhere to keep the books; and people to read and look after the books. Nice and easy… right?

Of course, From Small Library Beginnings: A brief history of UCL Library Services very quickly shows us that it’s not that simple. Tracing UCL’s libraries back to the start of UCL itself, we find that a lack of funding meant that the planned Great Library was never built, and the very first library was named instead the Small Library – a diminutive start for a university library service that today supports over 40,000 students.

Buildings need to be built: it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re occasionally difficult to come by. But even at a university, people can be in short supply, too. Certainly, the library doesn’t seem to have ever lacked for users, and one never has to look far to see traces of past borrowers in the form of notes scribbled in the margins of textbooks*. However, staffing a library can be a different matter, and for some 40 years, until 1871, UCL dispensed with the role of Librarian entirely, employing only an assistant – sometimes. A lack of funding was once more to blame.

Page from 'De Situ Orbis', showing handwritten student notes along with the book's own text.

Evidence of library users. (Side note: please don’t write in your library books.) [GRAVES 4.i.26]

That only leaves books. Here, it seems, UCL has been more fortunate. From the beginning a large number of books were donated, bequeathed, gifted and even bought, so while they may not have had a home or been well looked after, they were at least available to be read…

…Until the London Blitz, anyway. The Second World War saw the most precious books and manuscripts in the library’s collections sent to the National Library of Wales for safekeeping. Of those left behind, an estimated 100,000 were lost or damaged when the university was hit during a 1940 air raid.

We’ve been careful to label the exhibition as a ‘brief’ history, and it would certainly be difficult to present a full narrative of the service’s 17 sites and almost 200 years of existence in just one display. But you’ll still find plenty of fascinating stories here: a library bell made from 17th Century parts; the student life of famed librarian S. R. Ranganathan; the rise and fall of school libraries, and the impact of this on information literacy at universities.

For more on these stories and the items that tell them, download the exhibition catalogue, which includes an introduction by Anne Welsh from UCL’s own Department of Information Studies.

From Small Library Beginnings runs until Friday, 13 December in UCL Main Library, and is open to the public on weekdays, 9.30am-5pm.

*Marginalia can be fascinating and tell us a great deal about a book’s use and its previous owners. That being said, please don’t write in your library books.

Insanity Times: R. D. Laing, A Stone Circle, A UFO and The Rolling Stones

TabithaTuckett22 November 2019

Our first UCL Special Collections Visiting Fellow, Adrian Chapman (Florida State University London Centre), writes below about the research that arose from his fellowship with us during the summer of 2019, working on our Small Press Collections.

Consider the following elements. R. D. Laing, a radical Scottish psychiatrist who lived from 1927 to 1989. A Neolithic stone circle. A flying saucer. And The Rolling Stones.

What could they possibly have in common? There doesn’t seem much, or indeed anything at all, that links them.

But they’re all brought together on a front cover of International Times, a London-based underground press publication. The 59th issue of IT (as the paper was known), is from July 4th, 1969.

Let’s try to make sense of these apparently unrelated elements. Here they are on the cover:

Cover, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Cover, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

The photo of hippies and gowned pagans at Stonehenge referred readers back to the Summer Solstice, a couple of weeks before the issue’s publication. The image reveals an abiding underground interest in the ancient and esoteric. In IT this preoccupation is represented by the writing of John Michel (someone who in his later years wrote a column for The Oldie in which he raged against decimalized currency and other supposed horrors of the contemporary world).

R. D. Laing’s name is on the lower level of the UFO but is difficult to read. A close-up of the saucer will be easier on your eyes:

Cover detail, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Cover detail, International Times no 59, 4-17 July 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

You can also read the following words, looping out of the saucer to the right of the craft: ‘Coming to the park? Saturday 5th July. See page 23. See you there.’ No further details are given (or required). IT could safely assume its readership needed nothing more. The reference is to a free concert (in Hyde Park) headlined by The Rolling Stones. At the gig, Mick Jagger read an extract of Shelley’s poem ‘Adonais’ (his elegy for Keats) in remembrance of the recently deceased Stones’ founding member Brian Jones. Inside IT 59 is an interview with Jagger. Music, of course, was central to the underground scene.

I came across this issue of IT when poring over UCL’s excellent collection of underground publications from the 1960s and 1970s. As the college’s 2019 Special Collections Research Fellow, I began work in the Special Collections room by searching for evidence of R. D. Laing’s place in the underground or ‘counter-culture.’ That meant carefully sorting through box after box of old newspapers and magazines: painstaking work. When I delicately removed a yellowing and flaky newspaper and saw a flying saucer with Laing’s name on it, I was intrigued.

You may not be familiar with Laing. In the 1960s and 70s, he was a public intellectual and celebrity, the most well-known therapist in the world: the Mick Jagger of psychiatry. His books were on the shelves of students, hippies and radicals on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Glasgow, where he studied Medicine, he moved to London in 1956 to train in psychoanalysis. He went on to become a widely selling Penguin author. His The Divided Self (1960) impressed Jean-Paul Sartre so much that the French philosopher remarked that existentialism had found its Freud. Laing’s later books, The Politics of Experience (1967) and Knots (1970), sold particularly well.

His work critiqued psychiatry for treating patients, especially schizophrenics, as objects or bundles of symptoms rather than people in need of companionship. He called for greater acceptance of one’s own and others’ eccentricities. Society had become dull and unadventurous, he believed, requiring increasing conformity. He promoted experimental lifestyles, alternative education and consciousness expansion.

These views placed him at the heart of the counter-culture, which rejected much of what passed for convention and sought (in the words of Jim Morrison) to ‘Break on through to the other side.’  Laing’s celebrity extended across Europe and over to the United States. In Autumn 1972, he toured the US college lecture circuit and addressed packed-out auditoriums on a gruelling coast-to-coast tour.

As I delved deeper into UCL’s underground press holdings, I found more about Laing in the 1960s and 70s papers and magazines. There were features, interviews and advertisements for books and events. Laing and his colleagues can be found quite frequently in the main UK underground publications: IT, Oz, Friends (later Frendz) and Ink.

These publications reflected, and helped form, a youth culture opposed to mainstream values. I found a remarkably wide range of topics—drugs, police corruption, housing, sex and sexuality, racism, ecology, food and music. Politics and international affairs, too. Plus material on flying saucers, the occult, ancient archaeology and mental health. It’s difficult to conceive of a periodical today having such a surprisingly broad range. Laing was part of the curious mish-mash of ideas, groups and interests that constituted the UK underground in the 1960s and at the start of the 70s.

Long before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, underground publications brought people together and spread news beyond the mainstream. International Times was the UK underground’s first, and longest lasting, regular publication, beginning in 1966 and running up until 1974 (and on and off since then all the way up to the present). To people working on the paper, it was known as IT, and the IT logo was enough on issue 59 to identify the publication for readers. Along with the logo on the cover, there’s the IT girl (as she was known). She was intended as a playful reference to the paper’s title. Who better to use as an emblem than Clara Bow, the silent movie actress and original ‘It Girl’ who starred in a 1927 movie entitled It? Either through accident or design, though, the woman who ended up on the cover was not Bow but Theda Bara, another silent movie queen, renowned for her vampish roles.

In 1966, on the paper’s very first front cover, three questions appeared beneath the IT logo and the IT girl: ‘Who us? What us? Why us?’ The questions opened a mood of self-examination, not only about the nature of the paper but also about the nature of the UK underground, that would preoccupy the paper throughout its often-fractious history.

But the magazine’s 59th issue gave an answer to quite what IT was. If you look again at the image of the flying saucer, you’ll see a cigar-shaped form out of which come zig-zags looking like radio signals. What, we might ask, is the saucer broadcasting? Two words emerge: ‘INSANITY TIMES.’ We can also find ‘Midsummer Madness Issue’ written on the side of the saucer’s upper level. The issue is principally concerned with mental illness.

What could that possibly have to do with a UFO? And why would underground magazines be interested at all in flying saucers? In the age of Apollo and the USA-USSR space race, underground publications cared little for the superpowers’ rocket missions. But there was a sustained preoccupation—albeit one not shared by everyone identifying with the underground—with flying saucers.

At Oz magazine, alongside IT the leading organ of the London underground, interest in UFOs came from the Australian psychedelic artist, Martin Sharp. He edited Oz 9 (February 1968) and put a saucer on the cover:

Cover, International Times no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

Cover, Oz no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

In the magazine, Sharp also included a six-page UFO supplement. One page before it comes a full-page, very psychedelic Sharp illustration. And there is a Laing connection here. The illustration is based on a sentence of Laing’s (from his prose poem The Bird of Paradise): ‘If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know.’

International Times no 9, February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

Oz no 9, p.13 February 1968 (©Martin Sharp Trust)

 

 

This artwork takes the reader deep into inner space. Writing in his 1967 text, The Politics of Experience, a book that became a campus bestseller, Laing maintained that voyaging into inner space, even to the extent of psychosis (which, he believed, could be a natural healing process) could for some people be a route out of mental ill-being and into lives of greater freedom and authenticity.

For sure, there were people in the underground who believed in aliens (and government cover ups). But we can also read ‘underground UFOs’ as metaphors for the exploration of inner space. Hallucinogenic drugs provided a way of voyaging through this terrain. But so too did Laing’s idea of a ‘mad voyage’, an exploration of one’s self to the point of madness, ending (hopefully) in a ‘re-birth.’ It makes sense, then, that Laing’s name is on the IT 59 saucer.

But although the issue gives us Laing ‘on the same page’ or the same ‘wavelength’ as flying saucers, Stonehenge and The Rolling Stones, we should not assume that Laing himself shared such fascinations. While he was a source of inspiration to rock musicians (as I’ve explored in an article for the Wellcome Collection), as a classically trained pianist, he probably preferred Bach to The Stones. I have no idea what he thought of stone circles, but to my knowledge he had no interest whatsoever in UFOs.

Inside IT 59 there is an interview with him, and seven photographs of the doctor along with one of him and his interviewer, Felix Scorpio. Deemed worthy of eight photos, we can assume that Laing was someone IT readers very much wanted to see. I found myself most curious about the photo introducing the interview.

Elegant in a white shirt and black tie, and with his hair carefully combed, Laing looks back over his left shoulder at Scorpio, long-haired and wearing a casual jacket. Laing has two fingers of one hand on a sheet of paper while he writes with his other hand. You can see that he is very much the ‘straight’ doctor in his consulting room with a patient.

Photo of RD Laing, International Times no 59, July 4-19 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

Photo of RD Laing, International Times no 59, July 4-19 1969 (image courtesy of UCL Special Collections)

We can assume that the photo was ‘staged.’ But it’s interesting to think of what the image ‘says.’ Let’s imagine what Laing might be writing, then. While he avoided diagnostic categories and tended not to write prescriptions, the picture makes me think that here the doctor is scribbling diagnostic notes or perhaps scratching out a prescription. In the context of IT and its preoccupation with its own nature, plus its reflexive concern with the underground’s character, perhaps the good doctor is making notes to help him diagnose the underground. Or perhaps he’s writing a prescription to improve its health.

The interview itself is one that could never have appeared in a mainstream publication. It contains too much swearing, for one thing. And Scorpio moves between the stance of a conventional interviewer and the position of a former patient reflecting upon his breakdown and hospitalisation. He smoked pot in the hospital toilets and this greatly improved his condition, he tells Laing, who avers that cannabis and that psychedelics have their place in mental illness treatment.

‘Insanity Times’ contains more about mental illness. The longest article is about Georg Groddeck (1896-1934), a Swiss-German doctor who wrote The Book of the It and strongly influenced Sigmund Freud. Groddeck argued that a mysterious force, ‘It’, forges our mental and physical condition. Given IT’s self-reflexive stance, it was very much in the paper’s character to devote significant space to an examination of someone who wrote a text entitled The Book of the It. The long article makes use of quotations from Laing (and others including Nietzsche, Kahlil Gibran  and Jimi Hendrix) to help IT readers make sense of Groddeck’s work.

Two more pieces in the issue show the influence of Laing. An article about a new mutual support group, People Not Psychiatry, presents mentally disturbed people in a very Laingian fashion as members of the resistance against conformity. There’s also a first-person account of breakdown by someone writing under the name of ‘Alan.’ An introduction to the article tells us that although he’s now able to ‘cope’, Alan had not been able to fully carry out his ‘trip.’ Madness as a trip: very countercultural and very Laingian.

That Laing was the counterculture’s favourite psychiatrist is not news. But my close examination of the underground press has allowed me to investigate key historical sources and start addressing Laing’s place in the underground in detail. Sorting through dusty and fragile copies of IT in the UCL Special Collections room, how fortunate I was to come across number 59 from June 1969. The issue provides strong graphic and verbal evidence of how Laing was taken up by the UK underground.

This article comes out of a research fellowship at UCL Special Collections. Thanks to the staff at UCL Special Collections for their aid in finding materials in the Small Press collection.

Thanks also to the Martin Sharp Trust for permission to use images from Oz magazine.

If you would like to discuss the article, do get in touch. E-mail: anchapman@fsu.edu; Twitter: @dradrianchapman

 

Erasmus+ intern in UCL Special Collections

IbolyaJurinka21 November 2019

My name is Ibolya Jurinka. I am spending 3 months in UCL Special Collections as an Erasmus+ intern. Erasmus+ is not only a student exchange programme; it also provides overseas opportunities for all employees wishing to gain practical learning experiences from partner organisations in higher education.

I come from Hungary. I have been working as a librarian at the University Library and Archives of the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE).

The main reading room of University Library of ELTE

I catalogue journals, especially retrospective cataloguing. I mostly work with materials from 19-20th century, but I have also catalogued periodicals from 17-18th century and also from the 21st century. This summer I catalogued the oldest journals of our library with one of my specialist rare-book colleagues. These are from the 16th century:

Mercurii Gallobelgici, tom 1 (1598)

Cover of Mercurii Gallobelgici

I like this work and find it interesting, so wanted to gain more experience in this area abroad. This autumn I am cataloguing Little Magazines here at UCL Special Collections, and I have organized an exhibition about the most interesting magazines.

Little Magazines Collection

Basic information about Little Magazines

(source: SOAR, Geoffrey: Little Magazines at University College London)

‘Little Magazines are those that publish creative, often innovative work, with little or no regard for commercial gain. They sometimes have very small print runs and may last for relatively few issues. Most of them are from 1960s-1970s. The library of University College London started to collect Little Magazines from 1964’. It is a subsection of Small Press Collection.

Most of the Little Magazines are literary journals; they focus especially on modern, 20th century poetry and prose.

We can find colourful art magazines too in the Little Magazines Collection:

Cataloguing of Little Magazines

Cataloguing of little magazines is hard, because:

  • volume numbers and dates are often absent;
  • it is often hard to tell if a magazine is current or not;
  • many are published irregularly and often at widely spaced intervals;
  • many do not appear in official current bibliographies;
  • they are often visual and it is hard to identify the title.

Cover of Amaranth, no. 2 (1966?)

Visual Poetry in the Little Magazines exhibition, Main Library Donaldson stairs

Some of the Little Magazines contain visual and concrete poetry. This type of poetry appeared in the 20th century and became very popular. The exhibition focuses on little magazines containing visual poetry, whose title begins with the letter ‘A’. If you are interested in this exhibition, you can visit it from 24th October 2019 to 11th of December 2019 in the Main Library, either side of the stairs to the Donaldson Library. For more information, see the leaflets next to the exhibition cases.

Case 4 in the Main Library with 3 displayed items

One of the displayed items: Houedard, Dom Sylvester (D.S.H.): 12 dancepoems from the cosmic typewriter, no.11. In: Aplomb Zero, no. 1 (1969)

 

The Westminster School Archives

NicolBarengo28 August 2019

The Huguenot Library holds the archives of the French Protestant School of Westminster.

The school was founded in 1747 by a group of wealthy Huguenots who became increasingly concerned about the fate of the Huguenot orphans sent to workhouses or growing up illiterate and without any form of education. The institution they planned to create would feed and clothe the children, teach them basic numerical skills, how to read and write in French and English, sing the Psalms, and provide them with a sound religious instruction. Furthermore, the girls would be taught to sew and knit their own clothes as well as the boys’. In order to attend the school one had to provide proof of either being a French Protestant or being a descendant of one. As a result, baptism certificates, parents’ marriage certificates and information on Huguenot descent are often available in the students’ files.

Baptism certificate of Jacques Bellanger, 6 June 1778.

The institution occupied two houses in Windmill Street, near Tottenham Court Road, until 1846, when it moved to a newly built house in Plumtree Street, next to the French Savoy Church. The number of pupils in the school varied throughout the years, mainly depending on the sums that could be raised from the institution’s benefactors. Generally, about thirty students divided in equal numbers between boys and girls were admitted up to 1813. At this date, the financial difficulties that recurrently plagued the school from its creation, intensified. Therefore, the Directors decided to close the boys’ section, sublet one of the houses occupied by the former students and dismiss the Master, whose services were no longer required. The change is illustrated in the surviving receipts, which went from depicting a boy and a girl wearing uniforms to two girls.

Receipt to Lady Ravensworth, on engraved form showing a boy and girl, 1791.

Unused receipt form showing two girls, post 1813.

This drastic measure was just the last in a series of decisions aimed at reducing expenses, such as buying poorer quality bread and changing the girls uniform from blue to the cheaper grey fabric. This was more hard-felt than it would initially appear, as the institution was known in the Huguenot community as the ‘Blue Coat School’.

The minutes shed light on some of the students’ misbehaviour, such as hitting one of the teachers, in 1783; burying letters in the fields instead of delivering them, in 1793, and climbing on the church’s roof next to the school, in 1868. In 1783, a number of boys managed to throw stones and break one of the neighbouring property’s windows, whilst the Directors were meeting and witnessed the entire event. One wonders if the students were rather unlucky or very brazen! The entry in the minutes pictured below recalls the event, as well as the punishment imposed.

Minutes of the Directors’ meetings, 25 October 1783

Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the institution had a good reputation and was well liked. It is indeed common to see several generations of the same family attending it.

The main aim of the school was to enable the children to become apprentices when they left at 14. This was achieved successfully and many of the boys were given apprenticeships in trades typical of the Huguenot community, such as tailors, cobblers, weavers, jewellers and watch makers. Many of the girls would, on the other hand, be placed in domestic service, or as lace-makers, menders and dressmakers.

The school finally closed in 1924.

More information about it can be found in three articles published in the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society: William Morris Beaufort, ‘Records of the French Protestant School, founded by Huguenot refugees, 1747’, vol. IV, and Susan Minet, ‘Ecole de Charité Française de Westminster’, vols XII and XIII.

The school’s archives are fully catalogued online here. Researchers can arrange to access the collection by contacting the Huguenot Library here.

 

Social Media Rants from the Past

ErikaDelbecque5 July 2019

This blog post was written by Patricia Jager, an MA student at the Institute of Archaeology who is currently volunteering with UCL Special Collections. She is compiling a list of our 1914-18 collection, with the aim of making this uncatalogued material available for teaching, events and research.

Today we have become used to annoyed social media posts popping up on our feeds from friends, family and random people we once met on holiday. They cover a wide range of political issues and pet peeves that can be funny, inspiring or infuriating depending on which side of the issue you are on. From the perspective of future archaeologists and cultural heritage managers, the internet offers an unprecedented window into current issues on a global level.

However, venting one’s frustration on media platforms does not seem to be an entirely contemporary concept. While listing ‘The British campaign in France and Flanders 1914’ by Arthur Conan Doyle from the 1914-18 collection at UCL Special Collections, I stumbled across a newspaper cut-out from January 5th, 1931 that one of the previous owners must have left behind. While this excerpt was doubtlessly chosen for the main article, it accidentally helped some letters to the editor survive.

They caught my eye because one of them regarded Central London traffic, which apparently was already horrible more than 80 years ago. When comparing the original letter to most of the digital commentary I encounter on social media every day, I was struck by its polite tone that is definitely a thing of the past. If one would use such a comparison to infer the difference between past and current populations, one would believe that our manners had progressively deteriorated over time.

The actual difference between past and modern, however, might be the result of biases. The internet allows us all to act simultaneously as authors and publishers of our written work. Letters to the editor, on the other hand, are selected by the newspaper agency and must abide by certain standards. Anyone, no matter their background, social status or level of education can leave commentary on social media platforms meaning a true variety of opinions are represented and available to future historians. However, how all this data could be archived, catalogued and studied is a question that cannot yet be fully answered, and I doubt that most of us consider what researchers might think about the opinions we share online in a hundred years’ time.

Probably, Charles J. Adams, the author of the letter I found by sheer accident would never have imagined his work published in a completely new medium nearly a hundred years later, especially because it seems like no politician ever read or implemented his sensible proposal. Consequently, letters to the editor and social media rants have at least one thing in common: they are being perpetually ignored by those in charge.