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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.

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)

 

Ten Lords A-leaping

Vicky APrice19 December 2018

We can go one better than the traditional ‘ten Lords’ and offer you ‘one royal’…

We’re not going to lie to you, this one is a bit tenuous. But we couldn’t resist the opportunity to share one of our most successful outreach projects to date.

Thousands of children have been involved in an immersive First World War education programme that UCL Special Collections have played a key role in delivering. This was part of the Shrouds of the Somme project, one of the major centrepieces of Armistice commemorations that took place at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from Thursday 8 to Sunday 18th November this year.

The Shrouds of Somme project is the brainchild of Artist Rob Heard, who has spent the past five years making more than 72,000 small shrouded figures, each one representing one of the men killed and never recovered from the battled field at the Battle of the Somme. On Thursday 8 November, each of the shrouds were laid out as a graphic reminder of the scale of sacrifice they made in the Great War. The installation welcomed just under 3000 school pupils as well as around 85,000 members of the public.

Photographs of the Shrouds of the Somme installation and artist Rob Heard, courtesy of the Shrouds of the Somme.

UCL Special Collections teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and UCL Institute of Education’s First World War Centenary Battlefields Tour Programme to create free online teacher resources, worksheets for visiting schools and a programme of workshops for schools in the neighbouring Olympic Park boroughs (Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Newham). Special Collection’s Education Coordinator, Vicky Price, delivered 33 workshops, visiting 12 schools and reaching almost 1000 pupils.

Pupils at Randal Cremer Primary School in a workshop delivered by UCL Special Collections.

Resource packs for Shrouds of the Somme workshops.

The workshops combined historical enquiry with creative writing and used primary resources from UCL‘s College archive. Through exploring archival items like Rosenberg’s student record and a publication of perhaps his most famous poem, Break of Day in the Trenches (in Poetry: a magazine of verse. Vol. IX (3), December 1916 [reprint edition, 1966], STORE Little Magazines), pupils learnt of the poet Isaac Rosenberg, who had been a student at the Slade School of Fine Art. He grew up in a Jewish working class family in Mile End and went to art school to become a painter. When war broke out, he volunteered to fight, sending poetry back to the UK from the trenches. He was killed in France in 1918.

But where does the royalty come in? (I hear you say). Well, we were honoured to be invited to attend a visit by The Princess Royal at the installation site. Vicky Price (UCL Special Collections Education Coordinator) shook the Princess’ hand and explained the work we had done alongside pupils and the Head Teacher from the Bobby Moore Academy.

The Princess Royal meets Vicky Price from UCL Special Collections, alonside pupils and Head Teacher Dr Foley from Bobby Moore Academy at the Shrouds of the Somme installation.

Summer School a Success!

Vicky APrice15 August 2018

Last week saw UCL Special Collections hold its first Widening Participation Summer School. For four days, a group of twelve 17 year olds from in and around London explored archives, rare books and manuscripts here at UCL, guided by colleagues within Special Collections.

We had brilliant time, and were impressed with the students’ ability to link collection items to areas of their own knowledge and contextual understanding. We also spent a day at The National Archives, visiting their current exhibition, Suffragettes vs. The State, and discussing the notion of authenticity in relation to exhibition interpretation.  The participants then got to work researching collection items from UCL Special Collections, developing interpretation for a public exhibition on the final day.

You can see examples of their work in this video:

We would like to thank everyone at Library Services for accommodating the group, whether that be in the Science Library or the Institute of Education Library, and for Special Collections colleagues who offered their time and expertise.

Special Collections welcome first Summer School at UCL

Vicky APrice27 July 2018

We are excited to announce UCL Special Collections’ newest addition to the outreach and education programme – our first Summer School programme, in August 2018!

We will be offering 14 Year 12 students a chance to learn about all things special collections – from what we keep, why we keep it, how we keep it and how our collections can be significant to an array of audiences.

Funded by Widening Participation, the four day programme will make good use of our wonderful host city; we will explore how special collections items are interpreted and displayed at The National Archives (at their exciting current exhibition Suffragettes vs.The City) and The British Library.

Our team of specialists will offer guidance and advice as participants explore the notion of authenticity in interpretation, and participants will experiment with applying what they have learnt to some chosen manuscripts, rare books and archival items at UCL.

The final result will be an exhibition that presents students’ own responses, in a variety of formats and genres, alongside the items themselves. The exhibition will take place in UCL’s South Junction Reading Room on August 9th from 2pm to 4pm – it will be free and open to the public, so please come along!*

*Visitors are invited to pop in at any time between 2pm and 4pm.  Should the room become full we might ask you to wait a short while before entry, due to space restrictions.