Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Lindy and Library exodus to 'The Other Place'

As some of you will know, I have been Lindy Hopping since I came to Cambridge last August.  For the Oxbridge Boat Race this weekend, Oxford Lindy Hoppers, in tandem with the Cambridge Lindy Hoppers, organised the Boat Race Boogie weekend in Oxford.  We had a great weekend of dancing - we intrigued shoppers on Cornmarket (main shopping street), danced the night away to a live band as well as had some nice relaxed afternoon dancing with plenty of tea and cake.  We also had time to fit in a viewing of the boat race and have a go at our very own Oxbridge punt race.  (I was supporting Oxford, in case you were wondering).
Lindy Hopping on Cornmarket
Taking advantage of the fact that I and another of the trainees would be in Oxford Lindying, I organised to have tours of several libraries on the Monday and the other trainees came over in the morning.  The Cambridge trainees would not otherwise have had an opportunity to visit 'the Other Place' and I felt that some tours would give us an insight into how an equivalent institution functions.

Old Bodleian Entrance
We started off with a tour of the Old Bodleian, Duke Humfrey's Reading Room and Radcliffe Camera.  These were all familar to me from my university days but it was very interesting to hear from our guide about the current projects going on in the Bod, staffing and the new Swindon depository.  One of the main differences between the Bod and UL (apart from the slight difference in architecture!) was the approach to what is openly available to students on the shelves.  The Bod endeavours to have the most frequently used books on the shelves and the staff liaise with tutors and faculties in order that books are available for certain essay topics throughout term.  The majority of books, however, are in the stacks or off site and must be requested online.  The Bod operates a a couple of hours or next hour delivery service depending on the location of the items.  As a student, I never found this an issue and was more concerned with the closure of the library on Sundays.  Currently there is a pilot scheme in place for Sunday opening (to provide quiet study space during the building works) and hopefully this will continue after the intrusive building works are completed.  This system of splitting up the stock explains why I always feel like the UL has so many more books than the Bod - it is just that I haven't seen the stacks!

St John's College Old Library
Next up was a look round St John's College library, which was set in grassy surrounds and was very peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of St Giles.  The library was very grand and open with the students being able to walk past the Old Library in order to get to study spaces.  Indeed students could even request to work in the Old Library if they so wished.  There was a lot of art work dotted about the library as well as the odd relic such as a cannon ball that had been lodged in the wall of St John's during the civil war. 

We then moved on to my old college, Corpus, and I gave the trainees a tour of the library, which dates back to the founding of the college in 1517.  The main part of the library comprises original shelving with suchioned  pews that aren't quite wide enough to ensure that you don't fall off - a good way of keeping you awake when revising I can assure you!

The Corpus and Merton archivist then showed us the archives of both colleges along with some of the colleges' treasures such as a letter from Isaac Newton with a sketch of King's College Chapel with Halley's Comet passing over the top.  There was also a letter signed from King Henry VIII to Rome asking about the progress with the Pope concerning his divorce.  The archivist could dispel some rumours I had been told concerning land disputes between Merton, Corpus and Christ Church, which are propaogated by tour guides.  He was a real fount of knowledge and it was great to see some archives since this is an aspect of the informtaion services that our traineeships tend not to touch on.  

Memorial to Thomas Bodley in Merton Chapel - note the pillars made of stacks of books!
All in all it was a very successful day, made even more pleasant by the warm sunshine and welcoming atmosphere of the librarians, archivists and college porters alike.  I must say that I was, for probably the first time, sad to leave Oxford.

Happy Cambridge trainees at the pelican sundial in Corpus

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