Reading University Library & Collections Services joins RLUK

We are thrilled RLUK logoto announce that Reading’s University Library and Collections Services (ULCS) is now a member of RLUK (Research Libraries UK), an alliance of leading libraries in the UK.

The process to join was competitive, with an interview for shortlisted institutions. Four new members were selected:

  • University of Reading
  • University of Leicester
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • University of Sussex

University Librarian Julia Munro said, ‘We join an important and influential community that shapes the research library agenda into the future, and we hope to contribute to, and benefit from, RLUK-led initiatives and innovations for outstanding research support services and collections in a digital age.’

In a statement on their website, the Chair of RLUK John MacColl noted: ‘We were very impressed with the quality of the applications we received from libraries wishing to join RLUK. All four of our new member libraries were able to demonstrate their commitment to the values of RLUK, and we are sure that they will improve our existing organisation. They will bring new insights to the challenges we face both institutional and collective, delivering innovative research support services, and refreshing our approaches to the enduring task of building and caring for collections.’

The Directors of the Libraries from the four new members (John Tuck, Caroline Taylor, Julia Munro, and Kitty Inglis) confirmed that they were ‘thrilled to be joining the RLUK community, and look forward to working with colleagues from an exceptional group of institutions and contributing to the re-envisioning of the research library in a digital age.’

Yeats at 150

This Saturday 13th June is the 150th Anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats, with events taking place across the UK, Ireland and beyond. Here at Special Collections we thought we’d get out a few of our Yeats’ treasures and David, our Graduate Trainee Library Assistant, has written a piece introducing the man himself.

WB Yeats was one of the most significant poets of the twentieth century. His work has influenced many other authors and some of his most famous lines have been used as titles themselves, from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Born in 1865 in Dublin to a prominent Anglo-Irish family, his father, John Butler Yeats was a portrait painter, and his younger brother Jack is also best known as a painter today. As a young man he studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and it was during this time that he began to write poetry. After finishing his studies he committed to literature as a profession rather than art. A friendship with George William Russell led Yeats to become interested in mysticism and the occult and he joined the recently established Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1890. In the same year Yeats himself co-founded the Rhymers’ Club with Ernest Rhys which was primarily a dining club in London but also produced two books of poetry. Another formative experience was Yeats’ collaboration with Edwin Ellis on the first complete edition of the works of William Blake published in 1893. Special Collections holds the Ellis Collection which includes manuscripts of the work.

In the first half of his life, Yeats’ poetry was dominated by traditional Irish themes and inspired by his obsession with Maud Gonne, a fierce campaigner for Irish independence. Yeats proposed to her in 1891, 1899, 1900 and 1901 but she eventually married the republican Major John MacBride. His other major concern in this period was the development of the Irish Literary Society in London and the National Literary Society in Dublin, both founded in 1892. The following year, The Celtic Twilight was published, a collection of folk tales and stories that he had heard in Sligo and Galway which gave the movement another name, the Celtic Revival. This culminated in 1899 with the opening of the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin, where the first production was Yeats’ The Countess Cathleen dedicated to Gonne. However the use of English actors was unpopular and the project was superseded by the Irish National Theatre Society and the creation of the Abbey Theatre in 1904. This time the even more nationalistic Cathleen Ní Houlihan about the 1798 Rebellion was performed. Yeats’ sisters, Elizabeth and Lily, were also involved in the revival by founding the Dun Emer Press in 1902 which eventually became the Cuala Press; many titles of the Press’s books can be found in Special Collections.

The year 1916 can be seen as a turning point in Yeats’ personal life and literature. His friendship with Ezra Pound had introduced him to Japanese Noh plays and At the Hawk’s Well was Yeats’ first play in this style. Gonne’s husband MacBride was executed for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916 and Yeats proposed to Maud one last time while his poem Easter, 1916 reflected his ambiguous feelings towards the violence and heroism of the republicans. Yeats finally married in 1917, not to Maud (or even her daughter Iseult, who he proposed to as well) but to Georgie Hyde-Lees, 27 years his junior. The marriage was a success and Georgie’s interest in psychic automatic writing led to Yeats’ major work on the occult, A Vision in 1925. Yeats’ later poetry, while still influenced by mysticism and symbolism, became increasingly modernist and reflective in some of his most famous works such as The Second Coming and Sailing to Byzantium. By the 1920s Yeats’ had been internationally recognised with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 and had become politically active. He was an Irish senator from 1922 to 1928 where he argued passionately against making divorce illegal and was Chairman of the Commission on Coinage. Yeats’ last major editorial work was The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892-1935 and he died in 1939.

Volunteer’s Voice: Sophie

This week is Volunteers’ Week and we are celebrating the wonderful work done by our volunteers and thanking them for all the hours and effort they put into making the museum the best it can possibly be.

To showcase our brilliant volunteers every day this week we will be posting across our MERL and Special Collections social media, including blogs written by the volunteers themselves about what they do, why they volunteer and why they love it. Today we have Sophie, who volunteers with the MERL and Special Collections library team.

Sophie and Wizard of OzSince November, I have been working with Library Assistant Helen on various different collections and learning a lot through her willingness to answer questions and also her confidence to let me have a go on my own. I have been learning about lots of the different stages of book processing and it’s great to be able to see the books through from delivery to shelf.

There is a wide range of collections here and, with my love of theology and literature, I have found much that is very interesting. For the last few weeks I have been downloading and updating records for the Wizard of Oz collection which we are trying to get ready quickly as it’s already in use! I didn’t know that there were so many versions of the Wizard of Oz, some cheaply made with slightly creepy illustrations and others with beautifully drawn imaginative illustration, some pop-up, some film-oriented, and aimed at all different ages.

The wonderful thing about volunteering in Special Collections is the sheer diversity in the subjects it is possible to work on. Far from the famous and popular Wizard of Oz, I have also spent some time with the obscure life’s work of Anders Retzius whose beautiful, carefully written and drawn leather-bound book would interest those with a very specific focus on ‘myxine glutinosa’, or ‘hagfish’.

One of the Librarians, Liz, has also been giving short lessons on various elements of librarianship, the most recent being on the history of paper which was fascinating and informative, especially for those of us who were unaware of the mysteries of, for example, watermarks. For me, preparing to begin a Graduate Traineeship in Librarianship, working in Reading University’s Special Collections has given me a good introduction to the many facets of a complex career.

Rural Reads Plus Review: The Dig


Our latest review from Volunteer Coordinator Rob Davies

TheDigWe’ve just read The Dig by John Preston, and it had all the makings of a fast paced and taut novel with real historical characters. It is based on a true story set just weeks before the Second World War in the summer of 1939, and it involves one of the greatest archaeological finds in Britain and retells a true story. One of the members of book group stated that it is ‘a little gem’ which admittedly is contrary to my opinion of the book.

The story is split into different narratives from the perspective of three characters: ageing Mrs Pretty -the landowner who spurred the dig, local archaeologist Basil Brown and Peggy Piggot, wife of Stuart. Each narrative ignores the other characters, providing three distinctive perspectives on how this archaeological discovery deeply affected very different people.

Preston subtly places the story against the thunderous backdrop of the forthcoming Second World War; the looming war provides a drive for the excavations to be completed quickly. East Anglia, the site of the excavation, is close to the continent and the anticipated war – and the Great War is still within living memory.

Robert Pretty, son of Mrs Pretty, was a fantastic character whom Preston used to draw out the gentler characteristics of personalities – either opaque or harsh. Mrs Pretty worries about her son, concerned about the isolation of his life, but the arrival of archaeologists and local men from the village provides him with a focus. Robert also wraps up the story with a nice epilogue.

Quite a lot of our discussion was centred on archaeology and archaeology of the period. A couple of our members had experience of going on ‘digs’ and actually discovering a Roman coin! We discussed the excitement of ‘digging up the past’ but also the psychological impact of finding and owning archaeology.

The Sutton Hoo hoard is a wonderful trove to behold; you can see it at the British Museum any day of the week. Sutton Hoo also changed the perception that the dark ages were an age of cultural deprivation, where all Roman ideas were lost and the people of Britain reverted to a pre-Roman occupation period.

A majority of the group really enjoyed the book. I didn’t, but only very rarely do we read a book that we unanimously enjoy. For June we’re reading is All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. We’ll be meeting on Thursday 25 June – join us!