Saturday, 16 April 2011

St John's vs Trinity

The time came for the St John's and Trinity library tours for the trainees.  The proximity and rivalry between the two colleges meant that it was apt that we should be visited on the same day.  Only on Monday had I been faced with a peeved group of book binders, who had been turned away from the Wren library and were asking for a tour of John's Old Library.  It is at our discretion as to whether we show round those not related to the college and who do not have an appointment but, I must admit, I was keen to get one over on Trinity and gave them a thorough tour of the Old Library, for which they were most grateful.

Petty one-upmanship aside, I was looking forward to seeing Trinity and being able to compare it to John's.  The trainees started with me and I filled them in on the history of the libraries as well as the procedures and jobs fulfilled by each member of staff.  (I had gone round interviewing many of my colleagues in a bid to understand more fully in which ways they contributed to the overall running of the library - this was a very beneficial project and one I wish I had carried out earlier in my traineeship).  Fiona, the college's biographical librarian, came to talk to the group about the work that is undertaken in the library's biographical office since this is something unique to John's and on which I spend a lot of my time.  The trainees enjoyed finding out about this aspect of librarianship and were relieved to hear that you don't have to have a library qualification to get anywhere in the career.

We then moved on to Trinity and were placed into Tom's capable hands.  Trinity is a beautiful college with vast sweeping courts and fountains.  I was somewhat surprised to see the Working Library, which was full to brimming with books on oppressive shelves with very little desk space and few computers (around 10, compared to over 100 at John's).   I did, however, like the sign for the Greek literature section (which Tom, a Classics student, had never noticed).  There is a separate law library at the other side of college, which is in keeping with the exceptional treatment always afforded the lawyers.

The Wren library was very impressive with its wide chequered central corridor and the busts of Classical and English authors on top of the shelves (although there is an incongruous Englishman on the Classics side).  The statue of Byron, which has been removed from Westminster Abbey in order to prevent the ladies swooning, dominates the central section of the library.  (I must say, we all managed to contain ourselves.)  The library is open to researchers and also to the public at specific times each day.  There are exhibition cases and the pieces displayed seldom change in contrast to the exhibition areas in John's where there are continually rotating exhibitions.  (I and a colleague are currently working on an exhibition of the King James Bible for the Upper Library, I am also helping to augment the current Johnian Prime Ministers exhibition to include Johnian world leaders for the upcoming VIP visit and working on my own Working Library display for the Orange Prize for Fiction).

Trinity do not undertake outreach programs as John's do and John's seems to be leading the field in that respect when it comes to college libraries.  What Trinity do allow, however, is the use of the Wren library for tutorials (or supervisions, I can't get used to the Cambridge lingo).  This gives students a chance for hands on experience of the manuscripts and rare books.  John's does not tend to do this though I have seen the librarian, also a history fellow, disappearing up to the library with his tute groups to show them particularly relevant documents.

What was very interesting was a discussion with Bernadette about the Wren cataloguing project.  She pointed out with enthusiasm the importance of cataloguing and classification to the library world and that, no matter how techy the sector gets, these will still form the foundation of information services.  That's just as well bearing in mind how much cataloguing I have been doing this year!!  This visit demonstrated that the essence of all libraries is the same but there can be many differences in their treatment and delivery of it!

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