Open all hours

The famous Pendlebury revision chocolates. Help yourself!
By kind permission of Helen Snelling.

It’s been a strange month for everyone. For the Music Collections teams at the UL and the Pendlebury, in common with librarians across Cambridge, we’ve had to get used to new ways of working. Most of us have been working busily from home. Some are surrounded by family, others are on their own. Some are even in new surroundings having moved in with family or friends for the duration.

Technology sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. There are frustrations – you can’t just pop out into the Anderson Room or the Pendlebury to pick up that reference book that has the essential info you need (yes, readers, we share your pain!), but there are positives – We’ve all achieved so much more than we thought we could in a brief time. We’ve stayed connected with each other via the internet and phone, and generally, we’ve been able to do our job, and help our readers, albeit in a rather different situation than normal.

In no particular order, here’s an insight, in their own words, into what the Music Collections staff have been up to over the last month.


The first week of working from home was all about establishing routines and making connections with colleagues. It was crucial to make sure everyone was ok before starting to develop new ways of working together. Once we battled our way through the techy stuff – within the joint music teams access to IT varies widely – we could start focusing on content. The main task during the first weeks was focusing on extending access to eresources to support students through examinations. It was fantastic to have the joint music teams pull together to whizz through the various reading lists and help establish priorities and dealing with requests. I may start sounding like a broken record, but please do check last week’s blog and/or our Music LibGuide for links to additional resources.

On a personal level, working from home involves sharing wifi and various potential work spaces between three of us. We each have our laptops and phones, so our main challenge is to not overload the internet connection and to try to schedule online streaming events wisely. I prefer to think of it as a luxury problem – plenty of gear in the house as well as excellent company – to avoid frustration when everything goes pear-shaped. I have tried all potential workspaces, including the garden which at times has a better wifi connection than our study.


Our garden is tiny, but having lunch outside nibbling on a variety of home-made experiments based on what’s available from our pantry and veg boxes whilst trying to learn about bird song (getting ready to revisit lisitening to Messiaen) is actually rather nice.

Assisting in home schooling has taught me today that Word recognises supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


I’ve got a good set up in the sitting room at a table in the corner, but with a view out to the back garden (husband has bagged the desk in the study!)  Getting to grips with Teams, Zoom, Whatsapp calls etc, and enjoying the morning emojis on the Music Teams chat, usually involving drinking tea.  I’ve been working on checking reading lists for potential ebooks to purchase, learning and training fellow team members on Leganto (Reading Lists Online), dealing with email enquiries, keeping up-to-date with colleagues in the other libraries in the School of Arts and Humanities, and doing some finance work etc.


I’ve been listening to the lunchtime Matinee hour on Magic Radio/ from 1-2pm where they take you through the key songs and plot points on one musical every lunchtime… Today it was West Side Story!


Sadly I was unable to bring the Keller archive home with me so my work on that has had to be put on hold for the moment. However, that hasn’t stopped me doing something Keller-related as I can work gently on transcribing a selection of his programme notes which happily, had been scanned before the Great Shut Down. And of course, there’s always MusiCB3 to contribute to…watch this space!


Before we went into lockdown, I really started to enjoy listening to a particular band called Cattle Decapitation. I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to really get to know them by having my favourite album “Death Atlas” on repeat whilst doing my work at home.

I have a general routine to my days work, which at the beginning was checking the Pendlebury Reading List on iDiscover to see if we had any ebooks.

Every day at work a small group of us would take a tea break. We have kept up with this and at the same time every morning “the girls” get together with our tea and have a natter.  We all feel that it is important so we keep it going.

After tea I carry on with, currently: Checking Pen records on CML (Classical Music Library).


More checking, then finish.

Although the work seems repetitive at times, the Music team meetings, tea chats and of course my music gets me through the day.


Still doing about two mornings a week for the UL. 

Have started adding catalogue records for the Roberto Gerhard manuscripts 
based on cataloguing data created in the 1990’s and early 2000’s as additions to Derek Williams’ (former Head of Music at the UL) typed catalogue of the original deposit made in the 1970’s. These were done on a Word Perfect program which was converted to MS Word a good number of years ago. The file was still intact on the shared staff computer drive!

I have also updated the sound recording page of the Arthur Bliss Archive. There is more work I am expecting to do on that and the Gerhard Archive pages

Plenty to do in the allotment too at this time. And discovering new walks and cycle paths never before done in the 40 years I have lived in Cambridge!

There’s always something new to discover.


My working from home has involved lots of work on reading lists and checking for online resources, as well as some editing and updating of catalogue records. There are definite challenges from a technological point of view (my poor old laptop never expected this level of use!), but it has been great that the music team has found plenty of ways to keep in touch digitally. This really helps to maintain a sense of being around people at work as normal. There are some obvious pros of working from home of course, such as always being within easy reach of the teapot and the biscuit tin. I have started following the Couch to 5k running programme in an attempt to combat the effects of this…

I moved house just before the lockdown, so I have also been spending a lot of time unpacking and and trying to get things organised! The Thursday night 8 o’clock applause has provided a good opportunity for getting to know our new neighbours from afar. I’ve also been keeping myself occupied with baking (with my pre-existing flour supplies!), Zoom pub quizzes, and attempting to learn tap dancing from YouTube.


Robert is our most mysterious team member. He has been making regular appearances at team meetings, and has been working on Leganto, and checking e-resources.


When not engaged in vital work for the Pendlebury Library, he has been learning to crochet using yak’s wool, and is determined to complete the “Let’s all climb Everest challenge” by the end of lockdown. He scales his house daily, and has the tower of the UL in his sights post-lockdown. [At least this is what the blog editor would like to believe… MJ]


I’ve moved in with a friend for the duration of the Great Shut Down (as Susi so delightfully calls it). Like Anna, it’s involved communication over sharing of internet resources; especially vital for video calling. It’s been good to have the emotional support of a resourceful friend, who has spent time whipping up chocolate fondants, and painting library themed rocks.

During lockdown, I’ve learned some new things – I can now make borscht and cook a mean fillet steak, and discovered that experimenting with Team Meetings on two devices close to each other can produce a wonderful Dalek impersonation (oh, the joys of microphone feedback).

Mindfulness feels more important than usual. The hour’s daily exercise has become a moment to treasure, appreciating the sounds and sights around. Living in such unusual times seems to have sharpened the senses.


In other non-work related matters, I’ve almost finished reading the shorter version of the diary of Samuel Pepys. This was a joy for several reasons – working in the Pepys library was my first job in Cambridge, so anything Pepys related always brings back happy memories. Most important though was his own experience of a similar situation. Pepys lived through the plague in 1665-6, and then the Great Fire of London. I was struck reading the diary by the similarities to our own time:- the foolishness, and selfishness of some people, but the bravery of others, especially the healthcare workers of the day, the moments of joy and laughter, and the delight in family, and friends.

Pepys, of course, was able to meet his friends. Most of us can’t, at least not physically. I hope I never forget what a joy it was to see my other team members, when we had our first video meet, the week after the UL and Pendlebury closed. The week of closure had been such a difficult week for everyone, and it was a sign of normality, just to see each other again, check that everyone was alright, and then to have the usual library chat. Your work’s family are family too!

I’ve been doing a variety of tasks including keeping up with Music Collections Social Media – blogging or sorting out who’s blogging when, creating virtual Pendlebury and Anderson Room pages (do visit them, and leave a comment, we enjoy chatting), Tweeting and Facebooking.

Emails continue to come in and need answering. Generally so far we’ve been able to answer all the emails at least semi-successfully, though sadly some will have to wait to be fully answered until we can pluck a score from the shelves again.

I’ve also been keeping in touch regularly with the rest of the UL Music team, making sure that everyone’s ok, including those who don’t have access to the internet, and keeping them up to date with the latest library news. Regular Anderson Room readers will be glad to know that both Justin and Catherine are well, and miss their friends from the UL (both staff and readers).

As well as experimenting with various ways of meeting such as Zoom and Team Meetings, I’ve been investigating how to record and splice music tracks together at a distance. More on this anon (another reason to Watch This Space).

A lot of time has been spent, like Sarah, in checking lists. I’ve been checking the most borrowed music literature from the UL against e-resources to see what’s already available and what we might need to buy. The next task is to find a way to check out the most borrowed music scores – not as straightforward as it might seem, as most music is not on the online catalogue, but we should at least be able to find out which of more recent publications have been heavily used.

After some IT teething problems, I’m about to have a look at Leganto. At the UL, I rarely have the chance to see reading lists, so it will be fascinating to discover what’s currently a “must-read”.

The Music Team – Anna Pensaert, Helen Snelling, Susi Woodhouse, Sarah Chapman, Richard Andrewes, Kate Crane, Robert Leonard (as imagined by Margaret Jones), Margaret Jones.




About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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