33. Making Silent Stones Speak: Special Collections People

This week’s Object: Special Collections staff, who bring the collections to life for our users, giving voices to resources, stories and ideas that otherwise would not be heard.

John Brooker's presentation by Head of Library Services, Grace Hudson

Two Special Collections people: John Brooker and Head of Library Services, Grace Hudson, at John’s leaving do

I chose to cover this theme this week because our Special Collections Assistant, John Brooker left us on the 11th for pastures new.  John’s role includes the day by day clerical and technical essentials of running the department: looking after the Reading Room, monitoring collection conditions, dealing with enquiries, shelving and re-shelving, photography and photocopying and much much more.  We recently worked out his replacement will need to learn over 100 different skills!

My role as Special Collections Librarian is about making the most of our very limited resources e.g. which materials to collect, which to catalogue or conserve next, which fundraising opportunities to explore …  I spend a great deal of my time on exhibitions like this one, marketing and fundraising (if you’re interested in these things, here’s my librarianly blog.)

We also have a shifting and welcome population of project workers and colleagues.  I must particularly mention the role of our PaxCat Project Archivist, Helen Roberts, who made sense of the complex and chaotic records of peace campaigning groups (see Objects 11 and 24 for examples of what Helen was able to find out).

Alison Cullingford, Helen Roberts with Quaker Peace Studies Trust visitors, in Reading Room

Helen (second right) with visitors from Quaker Peace Studies Trust and me (first right)

We also could not do our work without the support of senior people at the University, of folk who have donated collections or funds, and of course of our users, who often know far more about collections than we do.

Without the input of all these people, the wonderful archives and rare books that you can enjoy in this exhibition would be in the state they were in when John and I first began work on them in 2000.  Randomly placed on shelves or in piles of boxes on the floor, dusty, unknown, hidden, half-understood at best, disorganised, mute, vulnerable … awaiting transformation.  Now they are among the University’s greatest treasures.    I am particularly grateful to John for his assistance with this work, and look forward to continuing to share the stories of these treasures with you.

Apple pudding cake

No piece about Special Collections staff is complete without a picture of a cake – here’s one I baked earlier

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