Visit to Magdalene College

The following was originally published by graduate trainee librarian Hannah Brookes on her blog HBrookesLibraryLife. We thank Hannah for kindly allowing us to repost it here.

I was given an excellent tour of the Magdalene College Libraries (@magdlibs), I was able to visit the Old Library, the College Library and The Pepys Library, a privilege that I had quite literally only daydreamed of. Shortly before finishing at University I had taken to trawling through Twitter or the Internet, enviously looking at jobs or places that I would one day love to be in; quite by chance Pepys Library at Magdalene was the subject of one such day of wistful imagining. As with most daydreams, the particulars of the ‘how, why, when’ hadn’t cropped up and I was content just scrolling through the pictures of this beautiful place of the libraries at Magdalene.

So it was to no surprise that upon arriving at the Porter’s Lodge I was having vivid flashbacks to that day spent by the tired, unsure, hopeful, undergraduate version of me, wishing that one day I would be as lucky to find a career that would bring me in contact with a place even half as awe-inspiring as Magdalene. This past couple of months have already been triggering ‘pinch me’ moments almost daily but this particular visit was different.

I was met initially by Annie Gleeson, the Deputy Librarian of the College Library, who took me up to the entrance to the Pepys Library. I was introduced firstly to Catherine Sutherland, the Deputy Librarian for the Pepys Library and Special Collections. And boy, was it special. The Pepys Library struck me as personal, even the stand alone cabinets holding the books had a history. They had been commissioned to a ship carpenter and had personal touches that were reminiscent of use aboard a ship; they could be dismantled and the cabinet lower display fronts slid rather than swung, suited to the functions of aboard a ship. The books were ordered by size to be aesthetically pleasing by Pepys’ demands. To add to the personal touch further, the books documented in a volume called ‘Supellex Literari Samuelis Pepys’ which has details of the modifications he made to his collection.

I was told about the stipulations of Pepys’ will: his collection was given to Magdalene College for as long as they took care of it and did not add or detract from the collection.

I was then taken to visit the Old Library and given a tour by Sophie Connor the Libraries Assistant. The collection in there was wonderful, with some very interesting collections that had a specific affiliation to the college. The cataloguing system is currently paper bound and on a card catalogue with a partial online presence which is currently in the middle of being completed slowly but surely, because as you can imagine, it is a pretty big task! I would encourage any student of Magdalene to visit the Old Library if they can. Getting to know the history behind the college, there is no better place to start than the documentation held in those walls.

I then went to Annie Gleeson. She showed me around the College Library, a wonderful building with plenty of character to spare. There is no disabled access around the library which I can see would be a potential problem. Although, saying that, the building was just too wonderful to criticise; sloping ceilings, low beams, nooks, crannies and tiny corridors, I felt I was in a Dickens novel.

While I was there, Annie gave me some insight on the workings of the Cambridge colleges; being a non-Cambridge student I found it a very complex world to step into.

An exciting revelation of the day was the new building for the library. The plans looked amazing. The building is hoped to be completed in 3-4 years and is being built on-site, close by to the current building. As the College collection expanded and more space was needed for students, an increasing number of the rooms were commandeered from their function as Fellow’s rooms for use as part of the library.

With the plans for the building being made, Annie has started to look into the possibilities of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for the new library. The main motivations behind investigating RFID are to streamline stock management and self-service. The current library operates on a trust basis with no security system, and this is valued by both students and staff. With security not being the main priority, the question ‘can we have RFID without security gates’ is being considered. The library committee, Fellow librarians and students have all had (and continue to have) input into the design process for the new library, so between the inspiring co-operation of the library staff, Fellows, committee and students, the new building should work to all the individual uses, hopes and expectations.

Annie is looking for information on RFID and so if there is light to shed on anything that I have said then commenting would be welcomed or tweeting @magdlibs.

I would like to thank Annie Gleeson, Catherine Sutherland and Sophie Connor for such a comprehensive and wonderful visit!

By Hannah Brookes, Graduate Trainee Librarian at the Schlumberger Gould Research Center

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