Oxford Cambridge College Librarians Conference 2015, 2 of 2

This is the second of two posts summarising my experience at the Oxford Cambridge College Librarians Conference 2015, which took place at Queen’s College, Oxford. You can read the first blog post here.

5) Equality of access: Oxford’s Common Framework Statement for supporting students with disabilities – Tessa Shaw (Queen’s College, Oxford)

This was a very enthusiastic and passionate talk about improving access for students at the University who have disabilities. To start were a few facts and figures:

  • In 2012/2013 there were 66,000 out of 985,300 students in receipt of Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)
  • In 2012/2013 there were 590 students at Oxford in receipt of DSA

Tessa explained that her drive to make changes to increase access was stimulated by a story from a student who was in a wheelchair and was offered no help by two fellow students to get back to college. The result of the need to increase access is the Common Framework Statement which took effect at the start of the 2014/2015 academic year. It includes a handbook which details essential and desirable action libraries should take to improve access covering staff training and awareness, information sharing and provision, physical service and access provision, and coordination. I found this talk inspirational and intend to go back to my library, look at the handbook and see how we can make improvements.

6) Open Cambridge: the Christ’s College perspective – Amelie Roper (Christ’s College, Cambridge)

Open Cambridge is a an annual event in September where the public are able to enter a number of locations like University colleges, museums and buildings, some of which are not normally open to the public. Oxford has a similar event called Open Doors. Special events are put on for people to attend too. Christ’s College has participated since the Open Cambridge programme began in 2010. They showcase special collections and tie it in with their exhibition programme. The weekend is run by library staff and volunteers during the hours of 10:00 – 15:00, Friday and Saturday (everyone wants a rest on the Sunday!). In 2014 they had 750 visitors which raised their profile, increased traffic to their website and social media profiles. Amelie explained that it takes careful planning and input of staff time. To prepare:

  • save the date of the next Open Cambridge
  • let key people in college know of the event and date
  • publicity
  • risk assessment
  • practical preparations

On the day:

  • put out signage
  • brief staff/volunteers
  • count visitors
  • take photos
  • monitor and adapt to situations
  • make people feel welcome

After the event:

  • publicise success
  • say ‘thank you’
  • follow up new contacts
  • reflect

Lessons learned:

  • create a planning document
  • share the workload
  • consider your audience
  • expect the unexpected (cue amusing story about someone entering the library drinking from a coconut)

The library I work at will be participating in Oxford Open Doors for the first time this year so this was a very useful talk which offered many points to consider.

7) Parker on the web – Steven Archer (Corpus Christi, Cambridge)

Corpus Christi Library, Cambridge, have a lot of medieval manuscripts in their Parker library, which came to the library in 1574. Their primary focus is care and security of the collection, availability, researchers, outreach and public access. They ended up carrying out a huge project to digitise the Parker collection, the first of its kind. The project required huge investment and funding and they were fortunate to receive £6 million from Stanford University, much appreciated as the college would not have been able to carry out the task alone.

Conservators were involved, there was special photography equipment, people to create a bibliography, a team that worked on manuscript description and another team to work on updates. There are semi-annual updates and corrections, the result of mistakes that have been noticed and the usual maintenance of digital material. The bibliography is being continually updated, essential when there are 220,000 images and 24 terabytes of data.

There are two levels of subscription:

  1. free to view with a basic page turner that is available to everyone
  2. subscription model for academic institutions, which costs $9,500

As part of the maintenance of the digital archive, there is planned a major ‘2.0’ release with significant improvements planned, one of which (if I understood correctly) is the ability for people (or researchers/academics) to paste an extract of a manuscript and provide a translation. If the same/similar translation is submitted three times it is taken as accurate.

Benefits of the project include:

  • less handling of material but greater exposure of it
  • benefits for readers – available all over the world
  • increase awareness = greater interest
  • results appear in web searches
  • easy to supply images because they are on file
  • a preservation copy is stored on the other side of the world

This talk showed me the amount of effort and funding that needs to go into such a project and that it isn’t a simple task. However, the benefits of digitising material were obvious.

8) The Wren Digital Library: enhancing the James catalogue – James Kirwan and Kristen Lamb (Trinity College, Cambridge)

Taken from the Trinity College Library webpage,

A hundred years ago M. R. James, the great cataloguer, medieval scholar, and author, published The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge: a Descriptive Catalogue … James’ Catalogue follows the arrangement of the manuscripts in the Wren library, with a volume for each of the three bays in which manuscripts are kept.

The Western Manuscripts Catalogue was digitised ten years ago. Since 2013, many of the manuscripts in that catalogue have been digitised are are available to search online. To begin with it was a very simple online catalogue but has since had its layout and appearance improved. Manuscripts can be zoomed in on, rotated and is touch screen friendly for mobile devices.

The library decided to digitise the collection in order to increase/improve accessibility and for preservation. They are, however, running out of server space and the project is not yet complete. They have to check back-ups regularly too. The hope for the future is to provide simplified titles, a glossary of terms and thumbnail galleries.

Digitising a collection isn’t enough to get people to look at it – you need to promote your work. The library does this by making sure they are on the Digitized Medieval Manuscripts blog, creating a YouTube video, signs, leaflets, and advertising the collection on their Facebook and Twitter profile and library blog.

Like the previous talk, this presentation showed the importance of digitising collections but also the hard work that needs to go into such a project and the promotion that needs to happen in order for people to find out about what is available and how they can access it. Social media and the web offers an excellent way to do this in addition to the traditional print and word of mouth approaches.


I had a great day at the conference and it was excellent to meet people from Cambridge and even people at Oxford college libraries I didn’t know. It was nice to be with a group of people who understood the challenges of working in a college library and fascinating to see the hard work that librarians are putting in to improve their services and help their library users.

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