Day in the Pepys and Old Libraries

To continue our ‘behind the scenes’ blog posts series for National Libraries Day, Catherine Sutherland writes about working in the Pepys and Old Libraries:

Catherine Sutherland,

Deputy Librarian (Pepys Library and Special Collections)


‘I work with the Special Collections in Magdalene College, namely the Pepys Library and the Old Library, which are treated as two distinct collections. I also offer assistance to the College Archivist when needed.

The first task of the day is to sift through email enquiries. Many of these are about purchasing images of the special collections and asking permission to publish the images in books, journal articles, museum exhibition posters or in TV programmes. If we need new photographs taken of a particular item, I arrange for our freelance photographer to come in and take high-quality images of the page of the book requested.

We are currently involved in a few digitisation schemes, so I discuss these with the Pepys Librarian, Dr. Hughes, and the various institutions from all over the world that are collaborating with us, such as the National Gallery of Art in the United States for the ‘Map of Rome’ project. I have regular meetings with Dr. Hughes, and also with Annie (Deputy Librarian, College Library) and Sophie (Libraries Assistant and Invigilator) where we discuss what work we will be focusing on and what events are happening during the week.

Enquiries come from visiting scholars wishing to consult our special collections, so I will enter them into our diary system and prepare the manuscripts or books for consultation. I have had the opportunity to meet many interesting people from a wide range of subject specialisms coming to work on our material. Other enquiries may not necessarily require the person to make a special journey to Magdalene, but we can assist via email or telephone, pointing them in the right direction for their research.

I get the Pepys library ready for our public opening hours in the afternoon, answer any questions that visitors may have and ensure that the Pepys Library ‘shop’ is well stocked. Some visitors are very knowledgeable about Pepys already, so that keeps me on my toes! There is quite a lot of ‘crossover’ in my role with museum curatorship in areas such as enabling public access to view the collection, whilst ensuring the security and conservation of the collection is maintained.

One of the major projects I have started is the cataloguing of the Old Library and Pepys Library material, so that our bibliographical information is accessible via the University’s online library catalogues. The cataloguing of the rare books is academically challenging: one needs to have knowledge of historical printing and the major European languages including Latin. Palaeography skills are useful for reading inscriptions of former book owners, to establish the provenance of a particular item. The Old Library also contains modern material (mainly publications by or about Magdalene alumni) so this enables me to keep up my knowledge in cataloguing more recent publications. I aim to do a little bit of cataloguing every day and this work will hopefully increase awareness of the fantastic collection available here.

Another activity to increase awareness of the collection is to research and contribute to the libraries’ blog and social media accounts. As well as this being a chance for people to see inside books and manuscripts not usually on display, it gives me the opportunity to study a particular item in more depth and increases my knowledge about the collections.

Many people who visit during the public opening hours say how lucky I am to work in such a special library, and I can only agree! No day is the same here – I could have easily written twice the amount to include other elements of the role – but this would be a ‘typical’ day for me, which I hope provides some insight into special collections librarianship.’

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