We often get tour parties at the UL. Sometimes they’re here for a specific event – the Alumni Festival, or Open Cambridge perhaps. There are parties of sixth-formers looking around the university, music librarians on their Annual Study Weekend, enthusiasts from the University of the Third Age, and, of course, recent arrivals at the University. Most of these tours consist of a look around the main UL building, either a very general introduction, or in rather more detail if you’re going to be a UL regular; the tours principally involve an introduction to the building, it’s usually down to either Maps or Music to provide a pop-up exhibition of our “product”.
So, what do we usually include in “pop-up” displays? Any display will include some of the following treasures: A choirbook of Mass settings by Victoria (MR220.bb.55.6). Very rare, and beautifully printed in Rome in 1583 by one of the top music publishers of the day, Alessandro Gardano. Even over 400 years on, the beauty of the publishing shines through, and the Monty Python hands indicating where parts jump to on consecutive pages are much loved by everyone. Alongside this is usually one of our smallest books, a tiny French songbook from the early nineteenth century (MR290.e.80.9-11).
A copy of Arianna a Naxos with Haydn’s signature is often on display (MRA.290.75.52), and some lucky tourists will also get a glimpse of the composer’s breast-pin collected by Marion Scott. There will be photographs of the work involved when recording a film score, cue-sheets, and film-score manuscripts. Tourists love the glamour of the association with the movies even if they have never heard of the film itself. More rarely we may display some delicate Japanese music, the only copy of its kind in the western world.
There’s usually a selection of Victorian songs with their brightly illustrated covers. They’re also a useful case study demonstrating how our collections can be of use to non-musicians. Charley the bicycle pet, (A1879.888), for example, features one of the earliest illustrations of a bicycle in a UK publication.
We always display some recent acquisitions – a selection of literature and music, both academic and popular. This often raises a few eyebrows as you’ll find Shostakovich next to Black Sabbath for ukulele, or a thematic catalogue next to a Justin Bieber biography.
Finally we include a selection of audio cds. Audio material is not covered by the Legal Deposit Act in the same way as books, hence we don’t have large holdings of CDs, neither does the UL usually buy them (the Pendlebury is the place to go if you’re trying to find some listening material). However we are supplied with CDs if they either arrive with a book or a magazine, OR have an ISBN, OR were donated to us. The majority of CDs are either audio books, or language courses, and then there is the plain weird…..My favourites among the odder cds are a guide to painfree surgery (without anaesthetic!), and Encounters with Pan and the Elemental Kingdom – a CD about encountering the god Pan in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
The principal purpose of the tours is to engage visitors in our collections. We hope that they go away surprised, and perhaps a little amused, by the breadth of material housed here, and we hope that they thoroughly enjoy the experience too.