‘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.

Nancy Astor: Reading and Parliamentary Archives collaborate on exciting new project

Special Collections are delighted to have been supporting this collaborative project, which celebrates the parliamentary career of Nancy Astor. We have been working closely with Dr Jacqui Turner in the History Department and with the Parliamentary Archives.

Viscountess_Astor (1)

Nancy Astor, sketch by John Singer Sargent, 1923. From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Viscountess_Astor.jpg

A new leaflet has been produced to accompany the project.

Look out for more Astor news in 2016 as we continue to explore the archives of this amazing political family.

Display of annotated rare books at ‘Books in unexpected places’ event

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

While writing in books is generally discouraged, annotations and marginalia in books can offer valuable insights into the impact of books in their contemporary and later contexts. As part of the ‘Books in unexpected places’ event taking place at Special Collections this coming Saturday, a display of annotated rare books will offer a glimpse into the private relationship and interaction between reader and text where the distinction between ‘book’ and ‘manuscript’ becomes blurred and mass-produced texts become unique artefacts.

The display, entitled ‘Unexpected insights’, will be available to view in the Special Collections reading room throughout the ‘Books in unexpected places’ event on Saturday 21 November, and will give visitors the opportunity to closely examine a number of examples of annotated books dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, including some of our incunabula, or early printed books.

Book provenance and marks of ownership are among the most fascinating features of rare books, and looking for examples to include for this exhibition has been a very interesting experience for both me and my job share colleague, Erika Delbecque. Among the gems that we have selected for this display are a seventeenth-century gardening manual with practical hints added by a former owner [see image below], and a 1640 edition of the works of Ben Jonson, which has been censored by a previous owner who crossed out all oaths and references to faith in several plays.


Countrymans recreation

Annotated pages from ‘The country-mans recreation’ (London, 1640) – RESERVE 634.


The exhibits have been selected from a wide range of the rare book collections held in Special Collections, and are just a small selection of the many examples of annotated texts that we hold in the collections.

The ‘Books in unexpected places’ event is part of the Being Human festival 2015, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, and is a one day event exploring the idea of the book by thinking about writing in the past, how books were used and the books we find in unexpected places. Join us for a fascinating series of short talks, discussions and displays at the Museum of Rural Life/Special Collections on Saturday 21 November, 11.00am – 4.00pm.

You’ll find a full programme for the event here.

While admission to the event is free, places are limited so make sure to book in advance.

To see more examples of marks of ownership on rare books from our collections, including fine examples of bookplates, armorial bindings and ownership inscriptions, look out for ‘Ex libris : marks of ownership in rare books’, one of our forthcoming exhibitions which will be on display in the Special Collections staircase hall from 4 April – 1 July 2016.

Books in Unexpected Places

Join us for a fascinating series of short talks, discussions and displays at the Museum of English Rural Life on Saturday 21 November, 11.00am – 4.00pm.

As part of the Being Human festival 2015, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, this one day event aims to explore the idea of the book by thinking about writing in the past, how books were used and the books we find in unexpected places.


John Lewis Printing Collection – Group XI 2 Education

Talks will cover a range of topics, from books in burials, to philosophy in trenches and books as art; with researchers explaining how everyday books such as diaries and sketchbooks may reveal unexpected ideas and perspectives, or challenge conventional views.


John Lewis Printing Collection – Group XI 2 Education

We will also be hosting a public workshop inviting participants to share their own reflections on books in the workplace and have a fun, interactive session for children to create a book within a hidden place!

You’ll find a full programme for the event here.

While admission to the event is free, places are limited so make sure to book in advance.

1915-2015: The Great War remembered – Special Collections Service Seminar Series

An interesting a timely new seminar series offered by the Special Collections Service begins here tomorrow, 1-2 pm in our Conference Room.  This series of lunchtime seminars looks back at the events of 100 years ago, and the many ways in which we seek to preserve the memory of the First World War.  To book or for more information, please follow this link.

Trooper Potts

Trooper Potts memorial statue


Further details:

  • Tuesdays in November 2015
  • 1.00 – 2.00pm
  • Conference room, Museum of English Rural Life
  • Free admission
  • Places are limited. To book a place, email merlevents@reading.ac.uk or call 0118 378 8660

Programmed talks:

Commemorating Gallipoli – The HMS M.33 Project

3 November HMS

M.33 is a unique survivor. Launched in May 1915 she is the sole remaining British veteran of that year’s bloody Gallipoli Campaign and the only British warship from the First World War that will be open to the public during the centenary year. In this seminar Dr Matthew Sheldon from the National Museum of the Royal Navy will introduce the story of this remarkable ship, and discuss the challenges of conserving it.

Trooper Potts VC: memories of Gallipoli

10 November

As we approach Armistice Day, we take a look at Reading’s most celebrated participant in the Great War, Fred Potts: October 2015 will see the unveiling of a memorial to him in the town, following a popular campaign. Brigadier Tony Verey QVRM TD DL and Captain Andrew French, Curators of the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum, will join Richard Bennett, Chairman of the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust to discuss Potts’s life and the experiences of his comrades at Gallipoli. They will also explain about the design and construction of the memorial and the educational work they have undertaken.

A University at War: some new discoveries

17 November

In 2013 the University of Reading began a project to find out more about the people behind the names on its war memorial and in its memorial book. This research, undertaken by volunteers, has already led to some fascinating and surprising discoveries. In this seminar archive volunteer Jeremy Jones will discuss what he has learnt, in conversation with University Archivist Guy Baxter.

For more information or to book please contact: merlevents@reading.ac.uk

Rip Roaring Reading Room News: Full opening from Monday 28 September 2015

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

Great news everyone! We have extended our Reading Room opening hours. Up until now, although you have been able to visit our wonderful Reading Room Monday-Friday, 9-5, we have operated a restricted service on a Monday. This meant that, on a Monday, we opened later (10am) and we were unable to retrieve material from our store.

But we are delighted to say that from (and including) Monday 28 September – our Reading Room will be ready for your visit and fully accessible, open and with staff making trips to the store to retrieve material throughout the day:

Every Monday to Friday – 9am to 5pm!

Our last retrieval from the store is at 4.15pm and we collect all closed access material in at 4.45pm.

(Allowing for a brief hiatus in retrievals from the store while our Reading Room staff take a hard earned lunch break between 1-2pm)

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

So why not pay us a visit?  You can find more information on using our Reading Room here.  If you have any queries or would like to order up material in advance, you can contact us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk.

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.’

‘Come to the Farm’ exhibition now at Special Collections

Visit to the Farm, MERL Library Pamphlet Collection

Visit to the Farm, MERL Library Pamphlet Collection

Just a quick reminder you can now view our fabulous exhibition – ‘Come to the farm : children’s books on farming‘ – in the Staircase Hall at Special Collections.


Timothy's Book of Farming, Children's Collection, Children's Collection

Timothy’s Book of Farming, Children’s Collection, Children’s Collection

Fun at the Farm, Ladybird

Fun at the Farm, Ladybird














This exhibition is a celebration of books on farms and farming for children selected from the Children’s Collection, part of the University of Reading rare book collections, and the library of the Museum of English Rural Life.

The exhibits range from an early nineteenth century book on farming and ‘rural economy’ for children to a twentieth century pop-up book of a Victorian farmhouse. The exhibition also features a selection of Ladybird books on farms and farming from our Ladybird collections.

The exhibition will be on display at the University Library from 9 February until 17 May 2015, and then on display at the Special Collections Service from 18 May until 17 July 2015.

And don’t forget – May is National Share a Story Month