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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)

 

As Making East London Comes to a Close, New Projects Beckon…

Vicky APrice28 June 2019

28th June 2019 marks the end of a Heritage Lottery Funded project between UCL Special Collections and Newham libraries, Archives and Local Studies Library.

We have been working for a year and a half on developing new collaborative exhibitions, creating a collection of oral history interviews and developing a programme to enable local people in Newham to be a part of the project.

It’s been a busy, bustling, fun filled project and we’re so proud of the result; two exhibitions, 30 hours’ plus of workshops and interviews with 103 participants and 11 oral history interviews.

You can hear the interviews here, but if you would just like to get a feel for the project, why not watch our animated video, which uses clips from the interviews and images from the collaborative exhibition Making East London (which uses UCL Special Collections and Newham Archives and Local Studies Library items):

‘Making East London’ in Stratford Library

The Saturday morning group in full swing

Our second collaborative exhibition ‘Visible Women’ was shown at London Borough of Newham’s International Women’s Day Celebrations.

We have ambitions for further collaborative projects with Newham Libraries and with other community organisations in the four neighbouring boroughs of the Olympic Park as we continue to lay the foundations for a full and far-reaching engagement programme.  Watch this space!

‘Special Collections Presents…’ Returns!

Vicky APrice14 May 2019

Have you ever wondered whether our Rare Books team have favourite items, or with what kind of mysteries our archivists are grappling? Or perhaps you’ve hoped to catch a glimpse of one of our unique and beautiful manuscripts? Then Special Collections Presents… is the event for you!

We are pleased to announce that UCL Special Collections will be running our annual ‘open day’, Special Collections Presents…, as part of UCL’s Festival of Culture on June 5th 2019. This popular event is free and open to all.

We will be presenting a wide selection of items from the collections in half hour slots.  Visitors can choose an area of interest and book a free slot.

Visitors will be able to choose between a varied programme of displays that showcase many areas of interest and research:

  • Geography textbooks from the 18th and 19th century from the UCL Institute of Education Library
  • Works from the fascinating Ogden collection, whose recent cataloguing has revealed a wealth of hidden detail lurking behind their respectable titles (these item were part of Charles Kay Ogden’s private library, described in his own words as presenting “semantics, meaning, word magic…sign systems, symbol systems and non-verbal notations…universal language, translation and simplification”)
  • Items displaying UCL’s own students’ voices from the past; student magazines, debating society minutes, petitions and more from the College Archive
  • Treasures of print, including some famous publications; a rare and very early King James I Bible (1612), Hooke’s Micrographia (1667) and Chertsey’s The crafte to lyve well and to dye well (published in 1505 by Wynkyn de Worde who was known for his work with William Caxton)
  • Marking the launch of a new online catalogue, items from the recently catalogued Alex Comfort Papers will be on display (Comfort was a writer, Director of research in Gerontology in the Zoology department at UCL in the 1960s and ‘70s, an activist in many areas including nuclear disarmament – perhaps best known as the author of the cult publication The Joy of Sex).
  • Items exploring alternative youth movements from the Forest School Camp and the Woodcraft Folk archives, held at UCL Institute of Education
  • A collection of archival items from the Huguenot Library that provide unique insight into the lives of Huguenot immigrants and refugees in the 17th and 18th
  • Autograph letters from 19th and 20th century writers; tales of success, failure and domestic life.  Among others, this will include Dickens, Orwell, T S Eliot, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Radclyffe Hall.

 

This event is open to all – but especially the curious…

Book your free ticket.