20.15 Walking round the world mind

Anne Jarvis (Cambridge University Library).

Anne Jarvis has been University Librarian at Cambridge since 2009. She described the main University Library at Cambridge, a 1930’s Giles Gilbert Scott building which resembles his industrial architecture, other examples of which include Tate Modern and Liverpool Cathedral. The library includes a 12 floor tower and is quite stark looking.


As University Librarian Anne wanted to make the library more inviting. To soften the image an art work was installed at the front of the building, where cars had previously parked, consisting of stacks of books that can be rotated. It had the effect of creating a meeting place and point of interest and helps create a feeling of coming into a great building.

As it can be quite an intimidating building efforts have been made to make it more welcoming. Exhibitions are now signed more prominently and better use has been made of the entrance hall by introducing changing exhibitions and art work. Attempts are also made to engage with the general public, for example, picking up on the Tour de France as a theme.
The library is a legal deposit library and one of the largest open access collections in Europe. It is a beautiful library, though most of the space is taken up by bookstacks. Steps have been taken to give a feeling of space and provide a multitude of different areas. Fixed terminals were taken out of the catalogue room to create a meeting place; staff offices were taken out to create reading rooms with comfortable furniture; a beautiful iconic reading room has been created; and a lot of reference books now provided online. The same style has been retained throughout the interior to give flexibility in being able to move furniture around.

The unique selling point of Cambridge University Library is the breadth and depth of the physical collections and there is a move from collecting to ‘connecting’ in terms of the digital library. However, the power of the original is still very important. Transformation to the digital environment requires management, and preservation of the ‘born digital’ material. The library is working with other institutions, with an increased outward focus. The library now has a worldwide audience. It is a very different way of working with content.

Review by: Elaine Cooke, Manchester Metropolitan University



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