You’d be hard pressed to find two more different libraries in terms of collection, purpose and building than the Parker and the Judge. The Parker is almost church-like – all vaulted ceilings, huge windows and sombre wooden bookcases – whilst the Judge is a modern, primary-coloured maze of floating staircases and eye strain. Visiting both in one afternoon is actually probably the best way to visit them, as it gives ample opportunity for comparison. As a GT, I use these visits as a way of narrowing down where I would like to work in the future and what areas I would like to explore further in my MA, and this visit was definitely useful in that respect.
One thing I have decided is that rare books librarianship is not the job for me. However, this didn’t stop me enjoying our visit to the Parker. It is one of Corpus Christi’s two libraries and is named after Matthew Parker, who somehow found the time to be an avid antiquarian and historian when he wasn’t busy being a master of Corpus, personal chaplain to Henry VIII and family or the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the Library’s greatest benefactor, bequeathing over 400 manuscripts in 1575, including the 6th century Gospels of St Augustine and the oldest manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
We started our visit with a historical introduction to the library from excitable Sub-Librarian Dr Alex Devine, who has some of the most impressive facial hair I have ever seen. He explained to us that Parker’s collection was put together with a specific purpose: after the English Reformation, Elizabeth I tasked him with proving that the English church was historically independent from Rome. His hard work has definitely paid off – 500 years later the Church of England is still going strong, and the size and beauty of his collection is making manuscript enthusiasts all over the globe very happy.
We then moved on to the terribly difficult task of admiring some of these manuscripts in the flesh. There was Thomas Becket’s favourite Psalter, which was probably with him when he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. There was a giant Bible from the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, which has the most beautiful multi-coloured illuminations and illustrations. My favourite things (and Miruna’s too) were the bestiaries, which are basically medieval guides to animals both real and imagined (it is not at all uncommon to see unicorns and dragons intermingled with bears and wolves). What I like so much about them is how little resemblance the illustrations bear to real life animals; the more I see of them, the more I become convinced that the monks who created them had never seen an actual animal in their lives. The BL has some great blog posts on bestiaries: they have written on dogs, elephants, beavers, and some fantastic imagined creatures, amongst others.
After this, we headed downstairs for a quick chat about palaeography and library school with library assistant Charlie. The reading room we sat in contained a healthy collection of reference material relating to manuscripts and that period of history, which seemed like a very sensible idea. It was also next to the safe where the most important and valuable manuscripts are kept, which we were allowed a brief peek into.
After a bit of a chat about library school and what to expect, we had a quick dabble in palaeography. I have to admit, I only knew what palaeography was because I used to live with a medieval history student (hi Aims!). When it came to actually giving it a go, however, I was pretty useless. Charlie (herself a medieval historian) was able to point with confidence to passages of text in one manuscript and say which ones had been written by different authors… me, not so much. Still, it was fun trying to decipher one style of the letter ‘G’ from another, and I learnt about some new things (such as the existence of the pleasingly named Caroline Miniscule).
After saying our thank yous and goodbyes to the staff at the Parker, we headed over to the Judge Business School (JBS) for the second half of our afternoon, which is located on the Old Addenbrooke’s site, near the Fitzwilliam Museum. I knew JBS was going to be a lot more modern than the Parker, but nothing could have prepared me for stepping inside. The interior is truly bonkers – and I loved it immediately. The JBS website explains the method behind the madness: the many balconies and other large break-out spaces were designed to encourage collaboration and networking between the students and staff. If you would like to (virtually) experience the gloriousness for yourself, there are virtual tours available here.
The collection at the JBS Information Centre is the total opposite of what we had seen at the Parker: they were keen to point out that the oldest book in their collection dates from 1954! Their emphasis is simple: modernity, efficiency, convenience. Their focus on these things was clearly visible on their shelves – for example, they have an extremely popular ‘wellness collection’, which contains light-hearted books such as ‘Adulthood is a Myth‘ for when studying all gets a bit too much. Next to this was a pop business/economics collection, providing an easier way in to some of the topics being taught by the School. There was also a really excellent DVD collection, which has an ingenious double purpose – because JBS only teaches postgraduate programmes, all of its students would be classed as ‘mature’, and many have children. The Information Centre therefore provides DVD players as well as the DVDs themselves, so that students can bring their children with them without worrying about how they will be entertained. I was really impressed by the attention to detail shown by the staff at JBS, as well as by how friendly and close-knit they were.
The big thing that the staff were extremely keen to show us was Bloomberg, a mind-blowingly expensive but unbelievably useful financial database. It’s so keenly guarded by its publisher that an academic licence only permits its use on dedicated terminals inside the Information Centre (with their own complicated keyboard), which we were generously permitted to have a go on. You can do all sorts – check out currency conversion rates, track cargo ships in real time – but my favourite was the part aptly (although unofficially) referred to as ‘Billionaire’s Ebay’. If I ever come into enough money to buy a private island off the coast of Connecticut (I am not making this up), I now know where to go.
The last part of the visit was a cold drink and a doughnut on the School’s terrace. Head Librarian Ange, UX Librarian Katie and Deputy Manager Andrew accompanied us for a chat about life as a Business Librarian. They seem to get a lot more free nights out from corporate reps than other librarians we’ve spoken to, but they also work really damn hard, offering services such as ‘Bloomberg Breakfasts’ (aka training on how to use the terminals) and a lot of 1-2-1 sessions focusing not just on library skills, but also on things like employability. Overall, I don’t think I could have been more impressed by the Information Centre and its staff, and it definitely cemented for me that my ideal workplace is somewhere modern, busy and innovative (bonus points if it’s housed in a building as unique as JBS!). Although I enjoyed having a glimpse at the medieval treasures housed at the Parker, rare books/manuscript librarianship is just not where my heart lies.