Samuel Beckett Week at the University of Reading


We will be holding an exhibition and series of public events to celebrate the University’s internationally renowned collection of manuscripts from the Nobel Prize-winning writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

  • Wednesday 1 – Saturday 4 October

    Public Exhibition: Samuel Beckett in London – the Murphy Notebooks
    Museum of English Rural Life

    At this exhibition, which will focus on Beckett’s time in London between 1934 and 1935, Special Collection’s recently acquired notebooks for Beckett’s novel Murphy will be on display alongside a wide range of other material.

  • Thursday 2 October

    Beckett Archive workshop
    2-4pm, Museum of English Rural Life
    FREE. Please book in advance.

    Open to all, this free two-hour workshop will introduce the University’s Beckett archive to participants. It is open to any interested members of the public, but places must be booked in advance.

  • Friday 3 October

    Public lecture and drinks reception:
    Professor Dan Gunn – ‘Samuel Beckett through his letters’
    5.30pm, Minghella Building, Whiteknights Campus
    FREE. Please book in advance.

    Dan Gunn is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris, and editor of the Letters of Samuel Beckett.

  • Saturday 4 October

    The Beckett International Foundation Annual Research Seminar 2014.
    10am, Museum of English Rural Life
    £20 waged, £15 unwaged. Includes lunch and refreshments. Please book in advance.

    This day-long advanced seminar will explore some of the latest research in Beckett Studies.

For further details and booking please contact:

Workshop and/or Lecture: Conor Carville –

BIF Seminar: Mark Nixon –

Britain in Pictures: ‘The best sort of propaganda’

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant

Britain in Pictures, covers collage

Britain in Pictures, covers collage

The Britain in Pictures series (we’ve recently integrated our MERL and Printing Collection holdings into one collection) is a fascinating insight into British social history of the WW2 period.  These attractive, slim volumes were produced to be affordable and readable, with the ultimate aim of boosting morale and national pride by drawing attention to the elements of the national identity which made Britain Great.

Britain in Pictures, covers

Britain in Pictures, covers

Over one hundred titles were published in the 1940s, on a broad variety of topics which can be grouped into nine main subject areas: history, arts and crafts, literature, education and religion, science, medicine and engineering, society, topography, sport and natural history.  Thus the contents of the volumes ranges widely, with British Hills and Mountains (Peter Bicknell, number 116), The House of Commons (Martin Lindsay, number 117) and The British Theatre (Bernard Miles, number 118) sitting happily alongside one another.

Britain in Pictures, spines

Britain in Pictures, spines

Browsing the spines of the collection, the wide variety of authors of the volumes is truly astonishing.  The series features titles written by a broad range of British experts, some very much a part of the academic establishment, whilst others were far lesser known enthusiasts or non-professional writers.  Notable writers include, for example The British People (George Orwell, number 100), British Dramatists (Graham Greene, number 32), British Photographers (Cecil Beaton, number 71) and English Cities & Small Towns (John Betjeman, number 48).

The striking colours of the covers of the volumes are another remarkable feature of the series.  The use of block colours with simple illustration on the paper boards and dust jackets is very effective and makes for a very attractive looking series on the shelf!  The series also featured thousands of illustrations (in 126 books there were 1040 colour plates and 2869 black and white illustrations, Carney, p. 45) with each volume listing how many illustrations it contains on its title page.  Considering each volume was limited to a maximum of 48 pages, there was therefore a significant emphasis placed upon making the volumes as visually stimulating as possible.

Britain in Pictures, plates from Edward Lynam,British Maps and Mapmakers, 1944

Britain in Pictures, plates from Edward Lynam,British Maps and Mapmakers, 1944

The quote above, describing the Britain in Pictures series as the ‘best kind on propaganda’ (p. 28) comes from Michael Carney’s Britain in Pictures: A History and Bibliography (Werner Shaw: 1995).  This is an excellent authoritative and interesting guide to the series, certainly worth a look if you wish to find out more about the series.

Behind the scenes: Volunteering at Special Collections

Today’s post comes from Eleanor Wale, a former volunteer for our library team as well as in MERL. Eleanor’s volunteering stood her in good stead, and she is now the Library Graduate Trainee for Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Labelling Landscape Institute books

Labelling Landscape Institute books

Having been a volunteer at both the University of Reading’s Special Collections and the Museum of English Rural Life, I was fortunate to get a glimpse behind the scenes in heritage and information sectors. While the hands-on nature of being a tour guide at MERL engaged my enthusiasm for history, it was volunteering at Special Collections that appealed to my love of libraries and my passion for books. While volunteering back home at my local public library during my GCSEs and A Levels gave me experience in public libraries, it was learning of Library Graduate Trainee Schemes during a careers session provided by the University that spurred me to seek further library experience in academic or research libraries while studying for my history degree. This was how I began to volunteer at MERL and Special Collections.

I first answered the door once a week to visitors of Special Collections, so that the Reading Room desk remained manned, while transcribing a Longman Publisher’s ledger into an Excel spreadsheet, a task that was worked on by many volunteers. This was a pleasant and useful task – and as I have since discovered, anyone interested in working in libraries must be able to perform this type of task adeptly, without losing either enthusiasm or concentration! As this duty became redundant I was then asked to help with the re-indexing of the library cuttings. These have often been acquired from external sources. Despite not getting through as many as I had wished, re-indexing was a thoroughly enjoyable task. The process of indexing the cuttings under the library, not museum, system not only rationalised and explained the classification system used but also showed me various interesting and amusing clippings.

The last major task I helped with was the labelling of books from the Landscape Institute. Although hours of typing and cutting labels down to size might not be the most interesting task for some people, I personally enjoyed using the Kroy machine and exploring the classification system further; now working with the Library of Congress Classification system I have found that using a non-Dewey system at MERL and Special Collections was immensely useful!

During my final year of my degree I also worked in the University’s main library. Yet, having begun to work in Christ’s College Library Cambridge where I will begin my traineeship in September, it is certainly my volunteering experience at MERL and Special Collections that has confirmed my love of library work. Without a doubt the volunteering I have been fortunate enough to undertake at Special Collections gave me a wonderful insight into the workings of academic libraries, particularly where the collections are unusual and unique. I can only hope my traineeship at Christ’s will be as enjoyable a time as I had at MERL and Special Collections!