A place for everything… and everything (hopefully!) in its place: the wonderful role of UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant

As we look to recruit a new Graduate Trainee Library Assistant (closing date 25/08/2014) here is a quick introduction to the role and overview of my day to day activities…

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant


ook jacket exhibition I assisted with (Winter 2014)

Book jacket exhibition I assisted with (Winter 2014)

The role of GT here at UMASCS has been exciting and varied, packed with interesting projects and valuable opportunities for new experiences and training.  Below is a brief introductory overview of the requirements of this role.

My main tasks revolve around assisting the UMASCS library team and taking care of the day to day operations of the MERL and Special Collections libraries.  Each day is different as I complete a variety of tasks; I rarely spend a whole day sat at my desk.  There are certainly lots of tasks to keep on top of, but it is this variety that I have enjoyed most whilst working at Special Collections!

A place for everything…

Every day I make time to keep up with shelving, of books used by readers in the reading room, that have been returned to our closed access stores and of new books.  During University term time I will fetch books from the store that have been selected by the librarian and academics in the University for use in teaching (and await the later need to shelve them again!).  I will also assist readers and colleagues if they are having trouble finding books.

Reading Room

Our Reading Room

Our Reading Room

Here at UMASCS all members of the library and archive team contribute to the staffing of the reading room service.  The reading room is mainly run by the archives graduate trainee (the Reading Room Assistant) and as the library trainee, I am likely to do 1-2 half day shifts a week in the reading room.  Essentially this involves supervising readers in their use of collections, assisting readers with enquiries, fetching material from the store, registering new readers and coordinating enquiries on a wide range of topics from members of the public on the phone, in person or by email.

I also collect and compile a range of statistics which are then made available to the librarian, on usage on the reading room (using our events booking software) and rare book and open access book usage.  I often complete this task while on reading room duty.

Book processing

Doing some book repairs

Doing some book repairs

One of my more office based tasks is carrying out a range of different types book processing.  I label books catalogued by the library team, using our labelling making machine called the Kroy, and shelve them appropriately.  I have also been trained by our Conservation Manager to conduct book repairs, so I might spend half a day a week conducting small repairs, such as repairing pages and book jackets, replacing boards and cleaning books.  I also bib check books donated to the library, this involves checking new titles against our catalogue to see if they are already in stock here or at the main library.  I will assist the rare books cataloguer by beginning the cataloguing process by accessioning books, downloading records for new books from a database and editing those records before passing the item to the cataloguer.  Sometimes I classify books using the MERL library classification, or withdraw items from our accession registers which are no longer required.

Volunteers are a really important part of our work at UMASCS, I will often supervise and assist library volunteers and work experience students with their book processing tasks, such as labelling, bib checking and listing of uncatalogued collections.

Social media

At @UniRdg_SpecColl and Beckett, Books and Biscuits: University of Reading Special Collections we have a social media presence through Twitter and our WordPress blog, which I regularly contribute content to.  We are always looking to increase our output and impact by engaging with relevant events and trends.  Sometimes we do this in collaboration with our colleagues at MERL, I recently spent a purrfect afternoon searching our collections for images of cats to mark #Museums Cats day (see above and http://www.pinterest.com/UoRmerl/cats-in-the-stacks/).  On occasion I also do some web editing.

Alongside these duties I will also attend regular staff meetings, heartily partake in regular tea and cake breaks, assist with exhibitions, occasionally visit our off site store and spend time answering library enquiries forwarded to me from other colleagues.

So as you can see, life as a GT here at UMASCS is varied, exciting, interesting and a fantastic opportunity; the perfect grounding to pursue a career in Special Collections.  Please apply here if you’re interested in the GT position for 2014-2016.

‘The making of world literature in the 1920s and 1930s’ – don’t miss the last in the current Archives & Texts series!

Professor Daniel Göske, Christian Weiß (Universität Kassel), ‘Inside Narratives: What Archives Tell Us about the Making of World Literature in the 1920s and 1930s’

Marketing international modernism in the 1920s and 1930s was a complex business, not least because of different structures in the publishing world in the U.S., Britain and Europe. Daniel Göske and Christian Weiß will approach this intriguing problem of texts in transit (across borders, literary markets and languages) by looking at some of the often forgotten “middlemen” (and “-women”) of literature: publishers (and their wives), literary agents and, mainly, translators who sometimes acted on their own in making contacts with “their” authors. The focus of the talk will be on the early German reception of, among others, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, and it will draw on unpublished material held by Reading’s very special Special Collections.

Wednesday 19th March, 6pm, HumSS 127

All welcome!

You can learn more about the series co-organised by the Departments of English and Modern Languages on their blog.

“We met at a party” Professional Children’s Publishing and the lady editor’

This was the title of a recent seminar given as part of the English Departments’s latest Archives & Text series which I attended with volunteers Kaye Gough and Ann Livingstone. Kaye is involved in a multitude of volunteering activities with MERL and the Special Collections. In this post she gives us her thoughts on a fascinating and lively seminar discussing the role of women in children’s publishing.

This seminar was presented by Dr Lucy Pearson, Lecturer in Children’s Literature at the University of Newcastle, whose recent book ‘The Making of Modern Children’s Literature in Britain’ covers publishing and criticism in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  Lucy’s focus here was on the growing impact of the lady editor on published literature for children during the 1940’s to 1970’s and in particular that of Kaye Webb.

Kaye Webb image

In the early days many were viewed as ‘dessicated spinsters’; educated women working for pin money or in secretarial and administration roles helping to oil the wheels of the business, their actual contribution unrecognised. Then some professional women editors and authors, with prior media experience arrived on the scene such as Grace Hogarth and Eleanor Graham who began to introduce better quality children’s literature and to make a positive difference.  Despite the knowledge they brought to their positions and the impact they had, it is perhaps only in retrospect that their contribution to children’s publishing has been identified.  However, it was Kaye Webb, who implied that it was through social networking, ‘we met at a party’, that she obtained her job at Puffin.  In fact she was a talented woman who cleverly utilised her femininity and personality to achieve her aims.  Disguised underneath that facade there lurked a shrewd businesswoman with marketing flair who successfully launched the Puffin Club, introduced new authors and welcomed a whole generation of children to reading.

During this seminar, I reflected on how women’s job opportunities have improved since that time. When in the late 1960’s I joined the hotel  and travel industry there were no female sales managers, chefs or hotel managers and a secretarial or administrative role was generally the only way into the business. We were only expected to be support staff to the management i.e. Men! Educated to be either teachers and nurses or simply secretaries or dare I say – housewives!

We have been left a positive legacy in children’s publishing from the lady editors Lucy covered in her seminar. Some may have started out in positions beneath their competence or were not seen as serious contenders for a key role in publishing, despite their obvious qualifications and capabilities. However, once through the door, these women were to have a major impact in generating a new and more significant department within publishing as well as enriching children’s literature.

Kaye Gough (Volunteer)

Photograph of Kaye Webb reproduced with the permission of Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books. You can find out more about the Kaye Webb collection at Seven Stories here. BBC Radio 4 is running a second series of ‘Publishing lives‘ this week, aired at 13:45 each day. Kaye Webb was the subject of Monday’s programme and today we see Norah Smallwood in the spotlight. Smallwood rose from publisher’s secretary to board member at The Hogarth Press and Chatto & Windus. The archives of these publishing firms are held here in the Special Collections on deposit from Random House. Norah Smallwood’s letters can be found in among the files of editorial and business correspondence.


Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Guest post from Dr John Holmes, Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Reading, to celebrate Darwin Day: a global celebration of science and reason held on the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.

Three quarter length studio photo showing Darwin's characteristic large forehead and bushy eyebrows with deep set eyes, pug nose and mouth set in a determined look. He is bald on top, with dark hair and long side whiskers but no beard or moustache. His jacket is dark, with very wide lapels, and his trousers are a light check pattern. His shirt has an upright wing collar, and his cravat is tucked into his waistcoat which is a light fine checked pattern.

Charles Darwin

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Today is International Darwin Day, held every year to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin (he would be 205 today!). It is hard to exaggerate Darwin’s impact on science. In his seminal book On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin showed for the first time that all living things were related to one another in a great tree of life. For Darwin, the variety of life of earth depended on two main principles: descent with modification, and the struggle to survive. The result was natural selection, as those creatures which were best placed to survive and reproduce passed on their particular advantages to their descendants. As the conditions of life changed, so the populations of different species would inevitably evolve.

Darwin’s work became the foundation of biology and ecology as we know them today. But he also transformed how we think about ourselves. Darwin showed that we have no grounds to believe that we have a special place in nature. Our intelligence, our society, our love of beauty, even our morality, can all ultimately be traced back to natural selection. Darwin explained the origins of our humanity, but he did not explain it away. Scientists and scholars who think that, because we evolved, evolution can account for everything about us, from computer games to Jane Austen, are under an illusion. But Darwin did transform what it means to be human, stripping away our vanities and placing us firmly within the ecology of nature as a whole.

Because Darwin changed what it means to be human, he matters to the humanities almost as much as he does to the sciences. It is not just that On the Origin of Species is one of the most beautifully written and sustained arguments in English—a great book, in other words, in its own right. The novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, the science fiction of H. G. Wells, the plays of Strindberg and Shaw, all bear the imprint of Darwin’s work. In writing my own book Darwin’s Bards, I found that British and American poets too had been wrestling with the implications of the Darwinian condition for the last hundred and fifty years.

Origin of Species, title page, 1859

Origin of Species, title page, 1859

Darwin’s scientific research precipitated the most profound shift in our understanding of ourselves that has ever taken place. It is no surprise, then, that it transformed literature and culture too. To read more about how literature in particular has engaged with Darwin and Darwinism, click here. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in wishing the old man a very happy birthday!

Italy at War: New staircase hall exhibition

Italy at War

Italy at War

Our fascinating new ‘Italy at War’ exhibition is now in place in our staircase hall.  Archival material from the Special Collections of the University of Reading offer a captivating insight into life under Mussolini’s final Fascist state.

‘The University holds fascinating records relating to modern Italian history. This display will highlight the rare survivals of documents from the Repubblica di Salò – Mussolini’s final Fascist state that lasted from 1943 to 1945 – and the archive of Cecil Sprigge, Reuter’s chief correspondent in Italy from 1943 to 1946.’

Italy at War passport

Italy at War passport

Italy at war: a selection from the archives
Tuesday 11th February to 30th March

We apologise for any inconvenience caused by the delayed opening of this display
Staircase hall, MERL/Special Collections
Free, drop-in, normal museum opening times

Highlights from the University’s fascinating records relating to Italian history. 

New display at the University of Reading Library

Items from the Leo Cooper archive of military history publishing feature in a new display at the University of Reading Library. Leo Cooper, who died at the age of 79 in November 2013, gave his archive to the University and the collection of business, editorial and artwork files for his firm can now be consulted in the Reading Room at Special Collections.

In 1968, after thirteen years working for publishing houses Longmans, Andre Deutsch, and Hamish Hamilton, Leo Cooper established his own publishing business, Leo Cooper Ltd. Cooper had already established the Famous Regiments Series with Hamilton and he took this with him to start the new firm. Over the years the Leo Cooper imprint published hundreds of military themed books with titles that include Gunners, game and gardens, Hunters from the sky and Red spy at night. The imprint specialised in publishing regimental histories and memoirs of soliders, many recounting their experiences of the Second World War. Spy stories are amongst these and include The escaping habit; the story of Joseph Orna’s escape from a prisoner of war camp in Northern Italy followed by his 2000 mile journey to safety, dressed as a Benedictine monk.


Escaping Habit

Leo Cooper’s proudest publishing achievement, he said, was the publication of A history of the British cavalry 1816-1919. This was an eight volume series, published over 25 years and written by George Charles Henry Victor Paget, 7th Marquess of Anglesey, who, in correspondence with Cooper described the series as ‘my life’s work’. Twenty files of editorial correspondence, much between publisher and author, survive in the archive; these tell the story of the how the books came to be and how a friendship grew between Leo Cooper and the Marquess of Anglesey. Below is is one of the many postcards, a photograph of himself taken in Wales in 1950, sent by the Marquess to Cooper declining an invitation. “Wasn’t I pretty in ’50?!” he writes.

Marquess of Anglesey postcard

The display will be at the University library during February and March.





Stunning new book jacket exhibition in our staircase hall

Written by Claire Wooldridge

To celebrate the new year we have a vibrant new exhibition in our staircase hall.

Book jacket exhibition, staircase hall, Jan 2014

Book jacket exhibition, staircase hall, Jan 2014

The exhibition celebrates the wide variety of beautiful book jackets within our collections, through a selection of our most colourful favourites!  These examples are mainly drawn from our Children’s collection, Printing collection, Finzi collection and William St Clair collection.

There are also a couple of stars from other collections – one of my particular favourites is the Tallis’s history and description of the Crystal palace, and the Exhibition of the world’s industry in 1851 (John Tallis, 1852) which features the publisher’s original deep blue cloth binding, with gold edgings and extensive gilt decoration.  (Displayed in the upright cabinet, top right, seen below).

Book jacket exhibition, stair case hall, Jan 2014

Book jacket exhibition, stair case hall, Jan 2014

Particularly well represented are nineteenth century cloth bindings and twentieth century book jackets.  These include A Chum Worth Having published by Blackie and Son and The True Heart by Sylvia Warner (1929) with a dust jacket illustrated by Edward Bawden.


Warner, The True Heart, illus. EB, Finzi

Warner, The True Heart, illus. EB, Finzi

A Chum Worth Having, Blackie and Son, Childrens Collection

A Chum Worth Having, Blackie and Son, Childrens Collection














The upright case features a selection of delightfully designed twentieth century children’s annuals, such as School Yarns for Girls and The Boy’s Budget, serving as a wonderful, nostalgic insight into childhoods gone by.  The bottom level of the cabinet is carpeted with a selection of King Penguin books from our printing collection.  Published between 1939 and 1959 the titles in this individually illustrated series were the first books with hard and colour printed covers published by Penguin.

Similarly, two titles from our collection of the Britain in Pictures series are displayed (Orwell’s The English People and Lynd’s English Children).  With their strikingly coloured book jackets, this series was published by Harper Collins between 1941-1949 with the intention of producing morale boosting social histories whilst Britain was gripped by WW2.


Peril and Adventure, William St Clair collection

Peril and Adventure, William St Clair collection


So why not come and visit us and pick your favourite cover, in my opinion Peril and Adventure will take some beating!


MERL Seminar Series 2013: Women and the Countryside

Here at Special Collections, we’re linked to the collections and work of the Museum of English Rural Life. Our visitors may be interested in this year’s MERL Seminar Series, which focuses on women and the countryside. For further information, see the MERL Seminars page.


Looking for Lavinia: An American collector in 1930s Berkshire

Dr Bridget Yates, Independent Researcher, and Dr Ollie Douglas, Assistant Curator, Museum of English Rural Life

  • Tuesday 29 October
  • 4.30 to 6pm
  • Free
  • Register

DownsideDuring the 1930s, an American woman called Lavinia Smith formed a museum of ‘Old Village Life’ and ‘Bygones’ in her home in the English village of East Hendred. After her death the collection passed to the local Education Authority and eventually to MERL. With the generous support of the Arts Council England and with the help of our friends at Champs Chapel Museum and in the community where she lived and collected, MERL’s ‘Reading Connections’ project has begun to reveal for the first time how and why Lavinia Smith came to establish this collection.

To find out more about the collection at MERL, visit the Village Collections page of the Reading Connections project.


Lady Eve Balfour: farmer or Bright Young Thing?

Dr Erin Gill, Writer and Researcher

  • Tuesday 12th November
  • 4.30 to 6pm
  • Free
  • Register

Young Lady Eve BalfourOne of the first women to study agriculture at Reading, Eve Balfour farmed in East Suffolk during the interwar years. Today known as the founder of the Soil Association, in the 1920s and 1930s Eve combined farming with playing in a Jazz band, writing detective novels, and experimenting with Ouija boards. Was she a proper farmer? Or was she one of the era’s ‘Bright Young Things’ who played at farming? Dr Erin Gill’s doctoral thesis focuses on the career of Lady Eve Balfour and her contribution to the organic food and farming movement. She is involved in the AHRC-funded ‘Histories of Environmental Change’ network.

Visit Dr Erin Gill’s website.

Find out more about Lady Eve Balfour and the AHRC Environmental Histories network.



Redlands Road closure

MERL courtyardRedlands Road is currently closed for roadworks, but visitors to Special Collections and MERL can still get in by car.

Don’t worry about the ‘Redlands Rd closed’ and ‘RBH access only’ signs on London Rd – you CAN turn left onto Redlands Rd and access the MERL carpark without a problem. The closure is further up the road and only an issue if you are coming from the Shinfield/Whiteknights area.