Access to the MERL and Special Collections Library: May 2017


Due to essential maintenance work, we regret to inform you that access to the MERL and Special Collections open access library corridor will be restricted or unavailable on the following dates:

  • Tuesday 16 May – Thursday 18 May
  • Tuesday 23 May – Friday 26 May

This will affect access to Special Collections and MERL open access library material, including books, periodicals and pamphlets.

Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience.

If you are planning to visit the Reading Room on these days, please inform of us of any requests you have for library material in advance by contacting

Please feel free to contact us for further information.


Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Sainsbury Singers are performing The Wizard of Oz from 17th – 20th May 2017 at the Hexagon, Reading.  They visited us here at Special Collections a few weeks ago to get inspiration from our Wizard of Oz Collection.

Lucky Bucky in Oz, WIZARD OF OZ COLLECTION–318

If you hear the name “The Wizard of Oz”, what springs to mind? Visions of the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, with its iconic imagery? Soaring Over the Rainbow, the ruby slippers, evading swarms of flying monkeys…Or do you think of the series of Oz books by American author L Frank Baum, on which the film was based, with its striking illustrations?

Either way, you’re virtually guaranteed to think of something.

But why is The Wizard of Oz such a beloved name in literary and movie history? Why does it inspire such a depth of warm feeling and imagination? The University of Reading Special Collection Service may well hold the answer.

The Sainsbury Singers were lucky enough to be invited to view The Wizard of Oz collection – what is believed to be the largest Oz collection in existence in the UK. It provides a glimpse into the mind of a passionate Baum and Oz collector, with pieces ranging from stage play programmes to Russian book translations.

We spoke to Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Librarian at the University of Reading Special Collection Service, who told us all about their Oz collection, the other exciting special collections and how to view them. Read our Q&A with Claire below and subscribe to “The Wizard of Vlogs” on YouTube to see a special glimpse of our visit behind the scenes at the Special Collection Service.

The Sainsbury Singers: How did the collection come into the library’s possession?

Claire Wooldridge: Our Wizard of Oz Collection was bequeathed to the University of Reading’s Special Collections service in 2004, by Oz enthusiast Brian Baker.

TSS: What do you know about the original collector and why The Wizard of Oz was so special to them?

CW: We don’t know much about Mr Baker, aside from his obvious passion for all things Oz! The collection contains around 800 volumes, including many editions and translations of The Wizard of Oz, and other associated items. There are a number of sequels by authors such as Ruth Plumly Thompson, John R. Neill, Jack Snow, and other books by Baum, including those written under the pseudonyms Edith van Dyne and Floyd Akers.

The collection also includes some secondary critical material on Baum, several pop-up books, comics, tapes, theatre programmes, sheet music, paper doll books and fan magazines, such as The Baum Bugle.


TSS: Are there any other comparable collections?

CW: This is the largest collection of Oz material that we know of.

TSS: How does the collection evolve? For example, are donations still made, pieces loaned to museums, exhibitions etc?

CW: Our current work on the Oz collection involves adding information on each of the items to our catalogue. This will allow people to search for the items online, then request to view them in our Reading Room. You can see that several hundred items have already been catalogued and are now visible on our Enterprise library catalogue.

TSS: How many countries and languages does the collection cover?

CW: Quite a few! There are translations in Chinese and French for example. There are a significant number of Russian translations too.

TSS: What is the most interesting piece?

CW: It’s hard to pick just one! The first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, is very special and you can find out more about it in this special article. One of my favourite things about this collection is discovering new Oz characters that I had not heard of before, by browsing the shelves…Lucky Bucky and Invisible Inzi of Oz are the ones which spring to mind!


TSS: What is the most popular special collection?

CW: We are fortunate to hold hundreds of different collections, on all manner of subjects. The University of Reading Special Collections services holds over 5,000 collections of historical and literary manuscripts in our archives and over 50,000 rare books. And that’s to say nothing of the object, archive and library collections held by the Museum of English Rural Life (we are based on the same site).

Our holdings of material relating to the history of books, printing and publishing, children’s books and our Samuel Beckett collection receive most attention.

Two of our collections have been recognised as being pre-eminent collections of national and international significance: the Samuel Beckett collection and the Archive of British Publishing and Printing.

TSS: Who can view the special collections and how do they arrange a viewing?

CW: Anyone can visit us during our opening hours (Mon-Fri 9-5, open to 9pm last Thursday of every month). You will need to fill our a short registration form. The University of Reading Special Collections Service is based at the Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, Reading.

Most of our collections need to be kept in purpose built stores (where we can control light, temperature and humidity). So it’s often worth searching our catalogue before you visit our Reading Room, then emailing what you would like to see to

If you would like to arrange a visit to see the Wizard of Oz collection, or any of our other collection, please email

CW: You can find more information on the collection of our Wizard of Oz collection page and this article on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Everything you need to know about using our collections, searching the catalogue and visiting us can be found on our Using the collections page.

The Sainsbury Singers are performing The Wizard of Oz from 17th – 20th May 2017 at the Hexagon, Reading. Tickets from £10 available through the Society Ticket Officer (0118 988 2510) or from £12 through the Hexagon website.

(c) The Sainsbury Singers / The University of Reading Special Collections Service (2017)

Launch of the Woolworths Archive

Woolworths Archive material

A fixture of our high streets for many years, most of us will have fond memories of  browsing Woolworths for books, music, toys and sweets.

The University of Reading has recently acquired the corporate archive of Woolworths UK.


The Centre of International Business History (CIBH), at the University of Reading’s Henley Business School, is delighted to announce that has been donated to the University of Reading Archives at the University’s Museum of English Rural Life (MERL).

To celebrate the launch of this archive, CIBH is holding a reception on Friday 10th March, from 18.00-19.30, at the Henley Business School (main Reading University campus). This will also include an exhibition of materials from the Woolworths archive collection.


Henley Business School, Whiteknights Campus

University of Reading


Friday 10th March, from 18.00-19.30, at the Henley Business School (main Reading University campus).


Contact Valerie Woodley on to register.

Click here for more information.


Event: Why read Mills & Book romances?

On the 8th day of Christmas, my library gave to me...8 Mills and Boons (from our Mills and Boon library)

Val Derbyshire, PhD student at the University of Sheffield, is giving two public lectures at Sheffield University’s Festival of the Mind in which she will explore the literary value of Mills & Boons romances. On Saturday 17 September there will be a panel discussion between 1 and 2pm, followed by the lecture at 2pm, and on Thursday 22 September the lecture will run from 4:45pm.

The University of Reading holds the Mills & Boon publishers’ archives. The collection consists of the editorial correspondence of both John Boon and Alan Boon, script registers, publicity material and some administrative records, and a large proportion of the back catalogue of Mills & Boon books.


Discover our collection strengths – new Special Collections web pages

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

A new set of web pages for the Special Collections website is in production to help researchers discover more about our collection strengths. The new pages will provide more thematic entry points into our collections, and hopefully encourage a more integrated, cross-collection exploration of the University’s resources which will help researchers make the most of our collections.

To browse the index of pages, go to our home page and either click on ‘Explore our collection strengths’ on the main page or click on ‘Collection strengths’ under the ‘Collections’ tab on the left-hand menu as indicated below:

SC homepage


Collections strengths page


In addition to an existing page on authors’ and writers’ papers, two further pages have been published, one on book history and another on children’s books [see below], with more to follow on themes such as business history, literature and art of the 1890s, the First and Second World Wars, and science, medicine and mathematics, so watch this space!

If you have any comments or suggestions to make about these pages, please let us know.


Childrens books web page


New exhibition: Ex libris – marks of ownership in rare books from the University of Reading Special Collections

Rare books often contain a variety of features which make them important and interesting historical artifacts beyond their texts. Marks of ownership and provenance can reveal not only who once owned a book, their profession and an indication of their interests and character, but also where they acquired the volume, what they paid for it and their opinions about the text. Ownership marks also serve to document the unique history and journey of a book as it passes through the hands of different owners over time.

Our new exhibition, ‘Ex libris – marks of ownership in rare books from the University of Reading Special Collections’, invites the viewer to explore the private relationship between readers and their books, and the variety of different ways in which book owners (both famous and long forgotten) from the seventeenth to the twentieth century have indicated ownership of their books through the use of bookplates, decorated bindings, inscriptions and annotations.

view of exhibition


One of the items that is on display is this extraordinary binding on a 1664 edition of Justin’s History, in which a wax portrait was inserted. Before the 1830s, when automated bookbinding was introduced, bookbinding was carried out by trained artisans working individually or in small workshops. Customers often had their bindings personalised, usually by having their initials or coats of arms stamped onto the leather. This previous owner, however, appears to have come up with this original way of conveying his ownership of the book.



Iustini historiarum ex Trogo Pompeio lib. XLIV. Amsterdam: Elzevier, 1664. RESERVE–878.9-JUS


This book, a set of six metaphysical exercises, was designed for university use. A previous owner has had several additional blank pages added to the book, and filled them with copious notes in shorthand on metaphysical problems.


Thomas Barlow. Exercitationes aliquot metaphysicæ de Deo. London : Richard Bishop, 1640. RESERVE 110 BAR


The exhibition also includes a large selection of bookplates. A bookplate, or ex libris (meaning ‘from the books of’), is a small print or decorative label, usually produced as an engraving, for pasting inside the cover of a book to express ownership. The use of bookplates as marks of ownership dates back to the last quarter of the fifteenth century.


The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 1 July 2016.

Cliveden House Exhibition

At the end of February, staff from Special Collections were joined by students of the history department at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire to showcase material from the Nancy and Waldorf Astor Archives. The material for the exhibition was chosen by the students as part of their discovering archives and collections module during the autumn term when they spent several weeks in the reading room at Special Collections. During that time they helped to catalogue the myriad of names in the Cliveden visitor books, got the chance to shadow archive staff and organise the material that formed the basis of February’s exhibition.

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

This is the second year in a row that students have had the chance to co-curate an exhibition at Cliveden and it proved just as popular with visitors as last year, if not more so. The exhibition offered a rare opportunity for visitors (including hotel guests and staff, as well as the National Trust staff that work on the Cliveden estate) to see original documents in their original setting.

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

You can see more of the display and find out more about the project in this short video:

The exhibition was separated into different themes including women’s suffrage, the Cliveden estate and the Cliveden stud. Hear more about the aspects of the exhibition in this conversation between Dr Jacqui Turner and two of the students who co-curated the exhibition:

The Nancy and Waldorf Astor archives can be accessed in our reading room. For more information about accessing our collections, click here.

‘My Favourite Ladybird’ exhibition on display at University Library

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

If you are visiting the University Library, take a look at our new colourful exhibition on display in the entrance area!

The exhibition, entitled My Favourite Ladybird, features a selection of favourite titles from the University of Reading collection of Ladybird books, chosen by staff, volunteers and community group members associated with the University Library and the University Museums and Special Collections Service. The titles that have been chosen include well-loved stories such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Elves and the Shoemaker and non-fiction titles such as Richard the Lionheart and What to look for in Winter.

Ladybird_Upright Case_Jan 2016

Part of the ‘My Favourite Ladybird’ exhibition at the University Library


Ladybird books were first produced during the First World War by Wills & Hepworth, a jobbing printer. Initially they were simply children’s story books, but after the Second World War the firm started to produce educational books which increased sales enormously. Remarkably, the price stayed the same at 2s 6d from 1945 to 1971, a feat achieved by strict production rules and increasingly large print runs.

The University of Reading Special Collections holds about 700 boxes of original Ladybird artwork, proofs and some documentation from the 1940s to the 1990s, including examples of the work of notable artists such as C.F. Tunnicliffe, Rowland Hilder and Allen Seaby. The collection covers the wide range of subjects Ladybird published, ranging from What to Look for in Spring to Transformers: Laserbeak’s Fury.

Ladybird_Autumn_Jan 2016

The collection also contains an incomplete set of over 1,000 Ladybird books. Pat Hanby, one of our Special Collections volunteers, has spent the last couple of years sorting out this collection and dealing with several recent gifts of Ladybird books that we have received. Thanks to Pat’s hard work, the collection is now almost fully catalogued on the University Library’s Enterprise library catalogue, making it easier for both researchers and staff to locate and access these wonderful titles.

If you would like to know more about accessing the Ladybird artwork and book collection, please contact us.

Can you spot your favourite in the exhibition? Let us know about your favourite Ladybird book(s) via Twitter @UniRdg_SpecColl

Abbey Junior School explore our rare book collections

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

A fortnight ago, we were delighted to welcome three groups of UII (Year 5) girls from the Abbey Junior School with their teachers and the School Librarian, to view items from our Children’s Collection, the Great Exhibition Collection and the Ladybird Books archive.


Pupils from Abbey Junior School examining the pop-up Victorian farm house

We started off each session by exploring what a ‘rare book’ is, and the groups were introduced to some of the special features of rare books, including marks of ownership such as bookplates and special bindings, which make them fascinating historical objects beyond their textual content.

As the girls had been learning about the Victorians at school, the Victorian era formed the main theme of the sessions, and the groups had the chance to see some of the highlights from the Great Exhibition Collection including a luxury edition of the exhibition catalogue with a lavish decorative binding, and a souvenir diorama or ‘peepshow’ from the Exhibition, which opened out to reveal a view down through the Crystal Palace.


Pupils from Abbey Junior School looking through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama


Inside diorama2

The view down through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama!

The groups also had the opportunity to see some examples of Victorian children’s periodicals such as The Girl’s Own Paper, illustrated children’s books by Kate Greenaway and a miniature children’s library from 1803. Also on display for the groups were some examples of original artwork for the Ladybird book of Charles Dickens, and other highlights from the Children’s Collection and related collections, including some of the ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat’ books, a first edition of the Wizard of Oz story and a twentieth-century pop-up Victorian farmhouse book.


A copy of ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat : a seaside holiday’ by Kathleen Hale, from the Children’s Collection

After some handling guidance and with supervision, the girls were able to handle the items on display. The girls really enjoyed being able to handle the books for themselves, to peep through the hole of the diorama and to look at the tiny books which made up the Victorian child’s small wooden box library.

Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian, showing one of the groups the Victorian miniature children’s library from the Children’s Collection



The miniature children’s library – ‘Book-case of knowledge, or library for youth’ [1803] CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–BOX 001

The girls wrote up their impressions of the visit at school – here are some of their comments:

‘The trip was fascinating and really gave us a better feeling of what children read in the Victorian times’: Erin

“I really enjoyed it … My favourite book … was the one that you stretched out and looked through the hole and it felt like you were walking through the Great Exhibition”: Ava

“It was really interesting … My favourite object was a mini bookcase that was the size of a child’s hand. It was full of tiny books on arithmetic, history, geography and prayers …“: Isabella

We are hoping to run these sessions with the Abbey Junior School again next year, and welcome enquiries from other teachers who would be interested in organising similar sessions for their school groups to explore some of the treasures of Special Collections!

Another chance to see the ‘Voice of the Stars’ almanacs exhibition

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

If you missed the exhibition of almanacs at the Special Collections Service earlier this year, you have another chance to see it as it is now on display at the University Library (on the ground floor, either side of the lifts) until 24 January 2016.

The exhibition, entitled Voice of the stars : almanacs from the collections of the University of Reading, was curated in partnership with the Department of History at the University of Reading, and brings together examples of almanacs from various University collections, and examines the use and production of these fascinating publications.

The display forms part of Almanacs, Astrology and the Origins of Weather Forecasting, an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) project, undertaken by Aoife Lintin and Dr Anne Lawrence. The research focused on the nature of the weather forecasts found, and the role of astrology in producing them.

The 'zodiac man' from the Cambridge almanack for 1773.

The ‘zodiac man’ from the Cambridge almanack for 1773.

Almanacs, which were produced annually, were amongst other things the forerunners of the modern pocket diary. They contained all sorts of useful information, including an accurate calendar for the coming year and lists of important dates and individuals like the Kings and Queens of England. They also made ‘prognostications’ for the weather and events of both political and national importance. They were as important to the ordinary individual in the past as the calendar is to us today.

The almanacs held in the University Special Collections cover a particularly broad range dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century. Many of the almanacs had not been catalogued or studied before, and one of the highlights of the exhibition for me is the fragment of a sixteenth century almanac printed by John Herford [see image below] which Aoife found in the John Lewis Printing Collection. With a printing date of around 1540, this tiny fragment is the earliest almanac fragment in the University’s collections. The extensive John Lewis collection is not yet catalogued so we were not aware it was there until Aoife started researching our almanac holdings and made this exciting discovery (an example of how our readers often help us to get to know and document our collections!) There is also a nice local link as the fragment that we hold states the distances between towns in Berkshire, perhaps for fairs. We are now planning to individually catalogue some of the examples of almanacs in the John Lewis collection, as well as some of the other important early printed items which it contains.

A fragment of an almanac printed by John Herford, [1540?]. JOHN LEWIS PRINTING COLLECTION UNIVERSITY OF READING MS 5317 Box 7:2 - the oldest almanac fragment in the University of Reading collections.

A fragment of an almanac printed by John Herford, [1540?]. JOHN LEWIS PRINTING COLLECTION UNIVERSITY OF READING MS 5317 Box 7:2 – the oldest almanac fragment in the University of Reading collections.

A copy of the handlist that was produced as part of the research project is available to consult in the Special Collections reference book collection. Please note that for security and practical reasons, a number of the exhibits have had to be displayed in reproduction (including the Herford fragment). If you wish to view the original items, please ask a member of staff in the Special Collections Service reading room.