Meeting our public

I hope I don’t seem too self-satisfied at reporting on another very successful Special Collections event – lots of people put in lots of really hard work, so I’d like to thank them all by making the success public!

Earlier in the term, we ran our first ‘Meet Special Collections’ event, for members of the History staff. This was the brainchild of Steve Holland, and the whole team worked brilliantly to pull together various items in our collections which we hoped would engage the interest of some of our academic staff. The event went down well (as did the canapes and wine, I think) and we agreed that we should go ahead with a second session aimed at History postgraduates, and those members of staff who weren’t able to come to the first event.

Well, following the exhibition, first Special Collections lecture and a very busy term, we pulled out all of the stops to put on a (quiet and very careful) Meet Special Collections event for History postgraduates in the reading room last Wednesday. A lot of hard work and planning went into this; from discussing areas of interest with Katie Edwards, Liaison Librarian for History, investigating our collections to pull together relevant material and clearing, cleaning and decorating the reading room to give it a really festive feel. Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, kindly loaned us some flat, table-top cases, to avoid any accidents with wine and rare books/archival material: once we’d found the relevant keys, we were away!

We focused on three main areas: war (since UoK’s History department has undergraduate and postgraduate courses specialising in the history of war), rare books and manuscripts (for historians of Medieval and Early Modern periods) and, of course, a Christmas themed table.

We were aided in our efforts by the re-discovery of part of a collection in the library stores: photographs of soldiers (presumably at the front) from the second world war (more to come on these in the New Year). We also used elements of the Hewlett Johnson and Bernard Weatherill Collections to illustrate twentieth century warfare, with some books and copies of the Illustrated London News for the Crimean War. Our manuscript documents from the 15th-17th centuries took pride of place on the second table, along with some of the beautifully written manuscript books on science (mostly astronomy and physics), from the Maddison Collection, which are written in anglicana and secretary hands. This table also hosted sample of the materials in Jack Johns’ Darwin Collection and our pre-1700 books section. The third table, focusing on all things seasonal, displayed some of the Melville theatre materials – pantomime scripts, flyers, books of words and images. A selection of books about Christmas carols, traditions and some of the seasonal material in our Charles Dickens Collection completed the festive theme.

We were delighted to welcome so many members of the History department to Special Collections, and to be able to introduce ourselves and our materials. It was a great opportunity to discuss materials which would be useful for teaching and in research – some of the materials were being seen for the first time by the department. It was also helpful for us to be talk to the historians to get an idea of the types of materials which might interest them, which should be prioritised and acquired by Special Collections. Steve was also able to give the Special Collections Review document – which he has spent months preparing – its first outing to the School.

Following the event (other than the tidying up), we’ve been encouraged by such enthusiasm and interest from the department. We really hope that researchers will be encouraged to look at the wealth of resources which we have in Special Collections and use them to their best advantage. So that’s something to look forward to – with great anticipation – in the New Year. Many thanks to the History department for coming in such numbers and showing such enthusiasm. If your department would like to arrange to ‘Meet Special Collections’, please do get in touch.

2011 has been a very busy year for us all and overall it’s been amazingly successful. There have been some changes and we know there are lots more changes to come. We hope that these will help us to provide  better and more efficient service to every researcher. I’m sure there will be lots of challenges (brief timescales for a Dickens exhibition in February have already been noted) but if next year is anything like this one, I’m sure we’ll look back on it with satisfaction and some bewilderment as to how we managed to cram quite so much in!

We look forward to seeing you when we reopen on 4th January.

From all of us in Special Collections, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.


Completely Googled

While doing some research for a query which seems to be getting increasingly hopeless, I tried using Google to give me some inspiration.

The query in question is about a cutting depicting Hewlett Johnson carrying a suitcase marked with ‘Havana’, ‘Peking’ and ‘Moscow’, with a tag line something like ‘Some Deans stay at home, while there are others who roam’. After some talks with Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, we suspected that if this cartoon was published in Punch, then it would be part of ‘The Big Cut’ series in the journal. So, in an attempt to find out more, I typed ‘The big cut hewlett johnson’ into the search engine and didn’t even have to wait for the results, now that Google updates as you type.

Unsurprisingly, considering how much I’ve been banging on about Hewlett Johnson lately, the first result to come up was the blog post I wrote about John’s talk a few weeks ago. The second result, however, looked much more interesting:

Canterbury at War…starring Hewlett Johnson…. These were big productions, with full scale orchestras, evil villains, courageous heroes ….. At midnight, still cutting their way through the jungle, they had a narrow escape

Perhaps it is just me, and just because it’s Monday morning, but that seemed worth sharing with everyone!

Sad to say, it’s actually a conglomeration of several different posts from this very blog. No, Johnson didn’t have a play or film produced about his life (I’m not sure whether he would have been the evil villain or the courageous hero), nor did he go on any midnight excursions into the jungle, as far as current research has shown. But I suppose it just goes to show how many exciting stories we have here in these archives, just waiting to be uncovered.

And, let’s face it, the moral of the story is don’t take results from Google literally!

By the way, if anyone has any thoughts on the Hewlett Johnson cartoon I mentioned above, please do let us know!

Closures up to Christmas

Once again, we have a few closure dates coming up to Christmas.

Tuesday 6th December closed till 2pm

Monday 12th December closed from 12pm

Tuesday 13th December 12.30-2pm

Wednesday 14th December 12-5pm

Special Collections will also be closed for the Christmas break from 22nd December to 4th January, but the exhibition Canterbury at War: The Red Dean’s Life and Times 1939-1945 will be on throughout the festive season during library opening hours.

As ever, if you’d like any more information, please feel free to contact us.