Library Services


Issue 33

Released Spring 2013.

Inside this issue


South Cloisters, early 20th century

Image: Photograph of the South Cloisters in the first half of 20th Century.


Libraries have traditionally worked in mysterious ways, but more recently we've been exploring different methods of revealing what we do, and in this season's newsletter we feature several paths of engagement. Tabitha Tuckett (who only joined us last year) writes about her seemingly endless whirl of activities. Then, there's our Ear Institute Library, who like many UCL Libraries nowadays, are on Twitter. Their tweets include links to a blog featuring their historical collections, so see one such story below. You can follow them and others via our various social media outlets. Otherwise, we have a report from our Poetry Store Librarian, news about our latest exhibition, the launch of a collaboration with the Wellcome Institute, and information on forthcoming space and building and projects. Good luck with exams and remember we're here to help.

Profile: Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian: Outreach and Promotion

Tabitha Tuckett

Conventionally, special collections are divided into archives and books; I curate books. Fortunately, UCL understands that one illuminates the other, so I also work on promotion across the materials in Special Collections.

Almost all parts of my job present the same challenge: to try to anticipate or reconstruct how other people might approach an item, and then to make sure it can be found and understood accordingly. It is an exercise of imagination that I enjoy whether applied to cataloguing or digitisation, retrieval or preservation, or, as in a recent outreach project, discussing an early treatise on language with a deaf community group whose first language was sign-language. It is never possible to anticipate everyone's reason for encountering the collections, but without our trying, the material risks remaining an institution's best kept secret.

One of the things that distinguish UCL's Special Collections is that cataloguing and collection management are considered fundamental to promoting a collection - you need to know what you have and how best to retrieve it before you can meaningfully promote it, whether digitally or physically - so half my job is devoted to back-room activities. Both painstaking and fun, these involve playing with barcodes, uniform titles, subject headings, collection names, shelf measurements, classmarks, digital surrogates, copy-specific notes, and anything else to hand in order to improve how efficiently our collections can be discovered. Current projects include the Dante, Euclid and London History Collections. With material in temporary storage while we await new accommodation, readers and staff cannot scan spine titles or browse collections for themselves, so the extent and flexibility of our online catalogue is all the more important.

The other half of my job consists of promoting the collections to students, researchers, and the public more widely. This year we taught in over 40 UCL classes, including first-year physics undergraduates seeing the first edition of Newton's Principia in their first week, and postgraduates on UCL's new Early Modern MA learning how to handle early books and spot forged Shakespeare manuscripts from our collections. Work with researchers includes exhibitions, festivals and conferences, and collaborations such as the public Dante readings to promote our under-researched collections.

A particularly rewarding part of this work is with groups who have not previously had contact either with universities or rare books and manuscripts. Being a very small department, we have far more project requests than we can work on, so one of my tasks is to prioritise and evaluate outreach activities. The Treasures From The East collaboration with the Wallace Collection brought all three audiences - student, researcher, and local community - together, and has led to unexpected exchanges of expertise: Special Collections made a previously unopened parchment available for the first time, and refugees and local women's groups created artwork inspired by the collections to exhibit in the Main Library and the Wallace Collection.

I feel lucky to be able to use much of my past experience in my current job. I began as an academic researcher and tutor in Classics, Philosophy and Renaissance Literature (with a retrospective conversion cataloguing job on the side), before taking a job as an editor on the Oxford English Dictionary. I must have had an excess of academia because I spent the next ten years as a musician. Through a music in hospitals project, I started working with researchers to look at ways of evaluating public-engagement activities, and with the Widening Participation Department of Newcastle University to establish public-engagement opportunities for students. After experience in archives, libraries and museums, I studied for the MA in Library Studies at UCL, and worked for the libraries of the Warburg Institute and Magdalen College, Oxford. During my first year working at UCL, I have been repeatedly awed by the treasures of its collections and the expertise and supportiveness of my colleagues.

by Tabitha Tuckett

Treating Deafness: Hannah Thatcher, William Wright, and the Danger of 'Thin Shoes'

Hannah Thatcher

From the RNID Library picture collection, we have this charming image of a young girl. The picture was presented to Pierre Gorman of the RNID Library by Mrs Selwyn Oxley on May 2nd 1963. The inscription on the engraving below reads:

Miss Hannah Thatcher, Born Deaf and Dumb, who at the Age of Eleven was presented to the late Queen on acquiring the sense of Hearing and the faculty of Speech under the surgical treatment of Wm. Wright Esq. Her Majestys Surgeon Aurist, Dedicated by Permission to His Royal Highness the Duke of York by his very grateful and devoted humble Servant, Robert Webster. Published April 10 1820 by R. Webster 3 Queens Row, Printer.

The name of the artist is faded away, and it looks as if the engraver was Robert Webster. You can read more about William Wright on the excellent website by our friend Jaipreet Virdi: From the Hands of Quacks.

The Ear Institute Library has a copy of Wright's 1829 book, On the Varieties of Deafness and Diseases of the Ear with Proposed Methods of Relieving Them. The book was presented 'with the author's compliments', we might speculate, to Charles Hawkins, House Surgeon, who gave it to St. George's Hospital Library in 1856. The book went on to the Royal Ear Hospital before ending up with us. It is fascinating to see the many lives of a book, and consider how such an ordinary object can pass through many hands and many lives.

Wright covers various causes of Deafness, and supposed or actual cures for hearing maladies, such as damp clothes (cause) or urine of a variety of animals (supposed cure). In the case of the latter Wright appears to be a sensible materialist, explaining a possible "mechanical" effect by reason of the liquid acting on wax. Of ear tickling , we learn "in China, it is said that this forms a species of luxurious enjoyment amongst the great".

Wright’s views on snuff

As for "Bethesda-Pool mineral water… see St. John, Chapter 5… recommended by a licenciate of the College of Physician, as a cure for deafnessin proof that the water was genuine, the angel of the Lord, he said, periodically troubled it in each individual bottle,-the same as we are told he used to trouble the pool. There were many persons who drank a considerable quantity of this water for a variety of complaints, until the shafts of ridicule spoiled the Doctor's trade in the article, by correcting the aberration of his patient's minds from the true standard of sanity. (see Plain Advice for the Deaf, p.167) After this, we must not be surprised if a portion of clay and water, said to be from Siloam's pool, were to be sold by some empiric, to cure blindness! (see St.John, Chap. 9) Or a pretended importation of casks of water from the River Jordan, to be made by some adventurer, and disposed at a high price, as a cure for leprosy! (see 2d Kings, Chap. 5) This is not so very unlikely, after the above example; and one much on a par with it, namely, the Quack who a few years ago advertised wild elephants' milk for sale, and gave a description of the manner in which his agents in Africa performed to operation of obtaining it.

Wright also points to the dangers of "thin shoes" - "Ladies frequently cause serious derangement of their own health, as well as diminution of the sense of hearing, by want of caution as to this part of their dress: damp, or cold applied to the feet of persons of delicate constitution, or who from habits of life are accustomed to warm rooms, or the use of a carriage, is extremely injurious, and sometimes even fatal."

Now didn't your grandmother say exactly that? You have been warned!

by H. Dominic W. Stiles

Budding Bards

UCL Library Services was pleased to be asked to take part in a poetry writing event recently with 140 children aged between 12 and 18 from schools around London, organised by Nick Shepley of UCL English, and coordinated by the UCL Outreach team, UCL Museums, UCL Special Collections, and the First Story literary charity. The students were divided into groups of 10-12, with each group, accompanied by a First Story writing tutor, visiting a different UCL venue, with the Main Library Flaxman Gallery and items from the Poetry Store Special Collection as one of the options on the programme. In coordination with Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian, Archivist Gill Furlong and Subject Librarian Liz Lawes selected items from the collection with the aim of inspiring the visiting students to write their own poetry. The Poetry Store is a collection of experimental poetry publications which UCL has been acquiring since the early 1960s and, because of its very visual nature, was thought to be the ideal stimulus for the students. The items were displayed in the Flaxman Gallery during the visit and the students were encouraged to interact with the collection and their surroundings. After the visit, the students took what they had learnt from the collections and the inspiring surroundings of the Flaxman Gallery into a writing workshop. Following which, they had the opportunity to perform the poems they had written as a result of the day to the entire group in an event in the Sir Ambrose Fleming Lecture Theatre. The event was an excellent opportunity for us to show off some of the more avant-garde and modern items in our Special Collections and we hope to have the opportunity to engage with the event in subsequent years. 

Budding Bards. Image copyright, First Story

To find out more about the Poetry Store at UCL Special Collections, see:

Image courtesy of First Story.

by Liz Lawes

Flaxman and his circle

Flaxman exhibition piece

The neoclassical sculptor John Flaxman RA (1755-1826) holds a special place quite literally at the heart of UCL, with the Flaxman Gallery under the Wilkins dome a permanent memorial to his art. The Gallery and Octagon below were substantially refurbished in 2012 and Flaxman's plaster models, including the central statue of St Michael Overcoming Satan newly placed on a glass plinth over the oculus, as well as drawings from his studio, are being celebrated in several events this year in association with UCL Art Museum.

Flaxman exhibition piece

The new exhibition in the Main Library, Flaxman and his circle, displays papers held by UCL Special Collections that document the story of the Gallery - how UCL came to be the recipient of such a significant collection of Flaxman's work and its survival, despite several alterations and some losses, through two World Wars. The exhibits also provide a context for Flaxman alongside many of his illustrious contemporaries. He counted William Blake amongst his friends, from the time they studied together at the Royal Academy, and here we exhibit a Blake engraving from Flaxman's The Iliad of Homer.

Another friend, Henry Crabb Robinson, was instrumental in bringing his legacy to UCL. Amongst his patrons were Josiah Wedgwood - Flaxman provided designs for his pottery - and William Hamilton, represented here by some of the wonderfully vivid colour plates from his remarkable Campi Phlegraei.

Flaxman exhibition piece

Flaxman travelled too, and amongst the Special Collections treasures displayed here is his Naples Journal, full of notes and drawings. Elsewhere a section of an Egyptian sarcophagus connects him with a former student, Joseph Bonomi, and another friend, Sir John Soane. Flaxman certainly moved in significant and influential circles.

The exhibition runs from February-December 2013 and can be viewed on the staircase and 1st floor of the Main Library and viewed online.

by Kate Cheney

Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics

UCL Special Collections is celebrating the launch of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics, the pilot phase of the Wellcome Digital Library project headed by the Wellcome Trust. This online resource for the history of genetics research includes more than 80,000 digital images from UCL, as well as digitised archives and books from the Wellcome Library and four other partner institutions. Launched on Monday 4th March 2013, it allows free, online access to important material created by the pioneers of modern genetics and includes the papers of twenty scientists and organisations. Additional features include an interactive timeline which uses selected images from the archives to illustrate key events in the history of genetics from Darwin to the present day.


"Bertillon System Card" featuring Francis Galton, 19 April 1893

UCL has contributed the digitised papers of J B S Haldane (1892-1964) and Lionel Sharples Penrose (1898-1972) who both spent a large proportion of their careers at UCL. With 38,000 images, the Haldane collection is the second largest of those contributed by external partners to Codebreakers. The next stage of the project at UCL is to digitise the archive of Sir Francis Galton FRS (1822-1911). Galton was a Victorian polymath who devoted his life to the study of diverse fields, including the physical and mental characteristics in man and animals, the influence of heredity, fingerprints, photography and personal identification, and meteorology. He was preoccupied with counting and measuring, and collected a huge amount of statistical data to support his research.

Although never a UCL professor, Galton worked closely with Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, and established the Eugenics Laboratory at UCL in 1907 with his friend Karl Pearson as its first director. On his death in 1911 Galton left UCL £45,000 to found the Galton Chair of Eugenics with Pearson as its first holder. In 1963 the Chair was renamed the Galton Chair of Human Genetics and the laboratory was renamed The Galton Laboratory of the Department of Human Genetics & Biometry thanks to the efforts of Lionel Penrose. Both were subsumed into the Department of Biology in 1996.

Composite photographs of criminals, c1880

The Galton archive has already been catalogued and includes working papers, family history records and correspondence. This diverse range of material is estimated at around 100,000 images in total, which will make UCL the biggest external contributor to the Codebreakers project.

Alphonse Bertillon was a Parisian police clerk who devised a system for recording information that could be used to identify people in police custody. This involved taking standardised photographs of the person's face in full and in profile as well as recording various measurements and distinguishing features. These were all noted on cards known as the "Bertillon System Cards". This card was made for Galton during his visit to Bertillon's laboratory in 1893.

Galton is known for his work to refine the technique of composite photography - where many photographs of individuals were superimposed onto the same photographic plate to produce a composite of several faces blended together. The aim of this was to create an image of a 'type' of face; the item above shows criminal types made from individual portraits of inmates at Millbank Prison.

Galton is credited with pioneering the scientific methodology for using fingerprints for forensic purposes, collecting and classifying around 8,000 samples of fingerprints. 

Fingerprint card, c1885

Image above: Fingerprint card, c1885

by Katy Makin

Buildings News

Cruciform Library

The Cruciform Hub will open in Spring 2014 with fantastic teaching and learning spaces including an innovative Library and Computer Cluster. Located at the heart of the UCL Medical School in Bloomsbury, in the lower ground floor of the Cruciform building, the Hub will be easily accessible for UCL students and staff, as well as NHS staff working at UCLH. A striking new staircase, designed by Burwell Deakins Architects, will lead users directly from the entrance foyer to the Hub.

Two exhibition walls in the Hub will showcase some of UCL Museums & Collections medical artefacts together with medical illustrations and documents from UCL Special Collections.

Cruciform Hub

In order to make way for the builders, the Cruciform Library, Computer Cluster and adjacent Seminar Rooms will move out of the Cruciform building temporarily in June 2013, and the Cruciform book and periodical collections will move into the Science Library. In order to enable the Cruciform decant, the Management collection, currently located adjacent to Medical Science Periodicals, will move to the Main Library until the Cruciform Hub opens. This will enable the Cruciform Library to be based in a dedicated space on the Science Library 2nd floor, with an adjacent office for the Cruciform staff. An added bonus will be a temporary Enquiry Desk to support. 

Cruciform Hub

Science Library Reading Rooms: Engineering (4th floor) & Chemistry/Physics/Maths (3rd floor)

Plans are afoot to refurbish two reading rooms in the Science Library this summer, to create a new social study area, and to improve the quality of and increase the number of quiet study seats. These works will happen in Summer 2013.

Research Grid and JBR

Research Grid

UCL Library Services opened the Research Grid in November 2012, as part of UCL Estates' Quick Wins 2012 Programme. It has proven immensely popular with many graduate students, and some of the feedback received has been very encouraging:

"It's fantastic!"
"It is wonderful."
"I'm very happy UCL has built this area, I'm sure myself and my colleagues will use it. I'm particularly in favour of the group workroom, which will be handy for collaboration meetings with other PhD students."

UCL Library Services continues to work with UCL Estates and the Graduate School to identify more space to further enhance provision for graduate students.


Meanwhile, as exam revision time approaches, the JBR is filling up with students working in groups, or individually on their laptops, in a more informal environment than the Main Library - although there is definitely a sense of purposeful study going on in the space. The comfortable seating in the outer area is particularly popular around lunchtime as a destination for lunch/coffee and a chat with friends. Numbers of students using the JBR have been rising steadily as students get used to being able to use the room during the daytime. Anecdotal feedback from the Library Service Assistants shows that students enjoy having the option of talking, and being able to consume food and drink in close proximity to the Library, where they can go for absolute quiet.

Further information:

by Ben Meunier