Visit: Cambridge Central Library (feat. a personal life update)

Central from the outside. “Central Cambridge Library – Vue extérieure 3” by Marie D Martel is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On Thursday 12th January I visited the Cambridge Central Library along with all the other trainees from the Cambridge area. When I was a student, I volunteered once a week for two years in my local public library (lovely Fulford in York), so I’m no stranger to the public library life. In fact, it was that volunteering position which made me realise that I wanted to make a career out of libraries, so really I owe it everything. (Rachael, if you’re reading this – I miss you!)

The basic structure of the tour was a walk around each floor to have a nosey at what each contained. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • The children’s section on the ground floor – it was huge, jam-packed and brightly coloured, and therefore absolutely perfect. Our guide informed us that children’s services were amongst the most heavily sought after, and I think it’s fantastic that Cambridge does provide so well for children. It took me right back to doing story times on a Saturday morning in Fulford.
  • The BFI Mediatheque – the whole idea of these was new to me, so it was fun to experience one for the first time. We watched a film about Cambridge in the 1970s, and although not many of the streets were familiar to me, the other GTs who have been in Cambridge longer had a lot of fun playing detective.
  • The youth and adult support sections – I think it’s really important that libraries support the information needs of their communities in as many ways as possible, so I really liked how accessible and integrated these services were in the library.
  • My last highlight is a bit of fun – we got to see the book sorting machine in the room under the stairs! I’ve used the front-facing portion of one of these machines to return books at my university library, but I’d never seen the actual machine in action. It was HUGE – it pretty much filled the whole room. They are downsizing it soon, though, which will give them a lot more room.

The last part of the tour was focused on the Cambridgeshire Collection. To quote its own website:

Established in 1855 the Cambridgeshire Collection, based at Cambridge Central library, is a major, multi-media research library which provides a wide range and variety of resources on Cambridgeshire and its history.

It’s definitely (and appropriately) a blast from the past – they still have a paper card index! It contains over 60,000 items, including maps, newspapers, playbills, and telephone and street directories. We were also lucky enough to see behind the scenes, where the Local Studies Librarian showed us her all-time favourite archived item: a tiny jar of jam. I can’t remember the exact details of this story, but here is a rough approximation. Many years ago, a local jam-making factory was commissioned to provide miniature jars of jam to furnish a dollhouse for a young royal. They made extra bottles and kept some, and now one such jar lives (very carefully wrapped up) in the depths of the Cambridgeshire Collection. It really was an amazing and unique object to see.

The saddest part of our visit to the Cambridge Central Library was definitely finding out that the Local Studies Librarian is the only professionally qualified librarian left in a professional post, and even she only works part-time. The deprofessionalisation of public libraries is a subject close to most librarians’ hearts, and you can find some more writing on the subject here.

Personal life update: There’s not many people reading this who won’t already know this, but I’m recording it here for posterity anyway: I GOT INTO SHEFFIELD! My application was accepted on 22nd December 2016. I’ll be starting the MA Librarianship course, full time, in September 2017. Scary but exciting stuff!


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