It’s been a little while since I last wrote to wrap up last term, but it hasn’t been particularly quiet in Special Collections! Term starts next week, so we’re spending some time focusing on cataloguing and running our microfilm service before we get into the thick of requests. In the meantime, I thought you might like to know more about the launch of sixteen books by the students of The Book Project module, on the last day of the spring term.
This module gave the sixteen students the opportunity to write a piece of creative poetry or prose (edited by Simon Smith, the module convener) and to publish it through Blurb.com, a self-publishing site. This gave each author control – and responsibility – over the book’s design, the layout and its outward appearance.
After some discussions with Simon Smith, we decided how we were going to set up the reading room for the first event of this kind we’ve hosted in Special Collections. I’ve got to admit it was a relatively straightforward setup (which didn’t involve putting up boards or sorting out much in the way of archival materials)! We had about ten examples of small and private press printed items from our Modern First Editions collection on display, including works by Allen Fisher and Louis Zukofsky (some of which our Head of Special Collections, Steve Holland, had donated). Other than that, all we had to do was organise the refreshments and leave out some bookstands for the students to lay out their own work.
Having left the reading room in Simon’s capable hands, we came back at 1 to find the room packed – even the History Christmas event didn’t see quite as many people crammed into the reading room as there were at this event! It was great to see that so many people – friends, family and colleagues – had turned out for the unveiling of the students’ work. After a brief introduction, each of the sixteen students did a short talk and a reading from their books – works of prose and fiction. There was a lot of variety in the subject, tone and style of all sixteen, with the individual author’s voice clearly shining through. From talking fish to Italian murder and experimental poetry to conversations with a chicken, the two hours of exploring the weird and wonderful world of English students’ imaginations were never dull! After the readings – and refreshments – the students had the opportunity to sell the copies which they had published.
It was a great way to end the term by celebrating the students’ achievement – not only completing a piece of creative writing, but also publishing it through the online service, so that they were able to share their work as a physical book as well as a work from their imagination. Everyone involved enjoyed the afternoon and the students seemed relieved to have survived the experience!
It was great to have Special Collections as the focus for this celebration, and to remind us that this is what our collections are all about: accessing knowledge, thoughts and ideas and celebrating the achievements and works of a diverse range of individuals. We’re thrilled that, after marking, one copy of each of the student’s work will be deposited in Special Collections. This module will be running again next academic year and we hope to repeat the success, and build up a collection of works by students of the module – before they all become famous!