Back at the UL

An eerily quiet Anderson Room on the first day back after lockdown. Slide for a better view.

I enjoyed reading Kate‘s post a few weeks ago about her journey back to the Pendlebury with its collection of learned plants. I’ve been back in the UL for about 2 months, part-time, working from home for the rest of the week. The pictures above were taken on my first day back in the Anderson Room. It was eerily quiet; even more startling was the view from the Juliet balcony at the end of the room looking over the reader car park, which is normally bustling. There was not a vehicle in sight, not even a bicycle.

So what’s it like back at the UL now? And what have the Music staff been up to?

[All information correct as of 24th September 2020. For updates see links at foot of post]

The UL has been opening various services gradually over the last few months. Click and Collect was very early in the process, closely followed by Scan and Deliver. Then by early August, the main Reading Room and the Rare Books Reading Room had bookable slots for readers. This means that readers can book to come in to look at non-borrowable material either from Special Collections (which includes the Music Department), or more recent non-borrowable material such as periodicals – useful, for example, if you want to look at a piece of music in an unbound periodical.

Information on all these services can be found here – Using the library.

Items are ordered in advance, and placed neatly on a numbered desk ready for the reader to start work. The bookable slots have proved to be popular, and it’s been great to see so many familiar faces back in the UL.

Most of the Music Team are on several rotas. I was the first of the team back in the UL, and was placed on the Enhanced Enquiries rota, along with Anna and Kate. We’ve been largely based in the Manuscripts reading room, which, for now, is a staff only area. The work’s interesting. We’ve continued to answer email enquiries, with the added bonus that we can now consult our material again, which makes enquiries so much easier, and less frustrating. There’s also the opportunity to have a Zoom meeting with a curator, if you wish.

I have scanned out of copyright music, and articles from eighteenth century music lexicons. Found correspondence and concert programmes in our archives to check dates. Had a particularly complex enquiry about the rights to a piece of music (still ongoing), and have guided readers through the new one way system, and up to the reading rooms. And of course some time has been spent fetching music for enquiries, bookable slots, and scanning.

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Lurking in the library…

Facilities Management have done wonderful work in navigating a one way system (mainly behind the scenes) through some of the more awkward staff areas. Cardboard social distancing people, similar to this one, have popped up around the UL. You will spot a few of them along the first floor corridors.

I was startled yesterday when I headed downstairs at the end of a busy day. As I pushed the staff exit door open, there was a person standing by the lift, I waited for them to move, and eventually realised that they were unlikely to move for me as they were cardboard. Laughing at myself, I chatted to one of our Building’s Services staff, who said he had been similarly spooked while locking up.

Readers, who have booked their slots in the reading rooms that are currently open, have had an unexpected surprise with a glimpse of the Milstein Room en route to their chosen reading room. This room is normally hidden from public view (although occasionally student inductions and Library Friends meetings take place there). For those who don’t know it, it’s a room that extends beyond the Exhibition Centre, and is generally used for staff meetings and training.

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Stuck in time…

Although Anna, Kate, and I are on the Enhanced Enquiries Rota, we’re still most definitely part of the music team; and I was lucky enough to be the first member of the Music staff to return to the Anderson Room. As you can imagine, the first day back was quite emotional. For a start virtually no-one had been in there since the UL locked down on March 20th. Our trusty calendar still bore the date on which the last reader left the Anderson Room (March 18th). I haven’t had the heart to change it yet, and think that we’ll probably leave it on its current date until the first reader returns to the room. It’s a symbol of what an extraordinary year 2020 has been.

I had a Zoom meeting the morning I got back into the Anderson Room with Kate, Susi, and Sarah. It was heart-warming for us after all the virtual meetings we had through lockdown to finally see one of us back again in the room we all love. I swept my phone around the room lingering on our departmental household gods, Alfredo Campoli and Sir Arthur Bliss, who had dressed appropriately for the occasion.

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Alfredo Campoli staying safe.

Then it was on to more serious work. Plans for opening the Anderson Room office to extra members of the Music team meant a bit of a desk move, so I spent a day moving desks around so that staff could more easily socially distance. If it hadn’t been such hard work, it would have had a comical side. The points for the computers and phones are built into some of the desks (a workman with a sense of humour had evidently designed them), so I had to climb through the shelving (and I am no elf!) in order to move things around. At one point IT support had to be called in as well. Trying to remember who climbed into which shelf, so that the correct person could be inserted without causing any social distancing faux pas was interesting, but we managed it, and got everybody moved to the right space.

Getting back into the building means that we can finally get around to processing the material that has arrived. Throughout lockdown when the building was closed, there were no deliveries. So, as you can imagine, there is a lot of material arriving now that was either sent back to the supplier during lockdown and is now returning, or was held by the publisher until deliveries resumed. Legal Deposit material is also starting to turn up.

As the first music parcels started to arrive again in early August, I had a frantic weekend, pushing through recently arrived invoices to beat the deadline of the new financial year. The Anderson Room Office has now opened to a limited number of staff (Justin is back part time), which means that we can process material as it comes in, enabling us to deal with invoices, and classify and process music related literature, so getting it on the shelf for you to click and collect if you wish, and we can also answer enquiries more fully and easily.

Invoices were hard work, but I also had fun hiding behind a mask while introducing some of my favourite parts of the collections. About once a month, in normal times, we have visitors to the Anderson Room, and I have missed showing them the items I love. There will be similar short films looking at favourites coming out over the next few months (keep watching our social media accounts – see below).

The Masked Librarian Presents

Sarah meanwhile arrived back in the building full time just after me. In fact, of all the Music team, she is the one who’s been back in the physical workspace the most. Her work is, in some ways, very different from normal. Based in the main Reading Room, she has been supervising readers there, along with processing bookings for the room, and making sure that everyone has the right material. She’s also the main person for music fetching and helping with on the spot music enquiries.

Kate and Anna are navigating their way between three rotas apiece, as they’re based both at the Pendlebury and the UL. It’s early days but between the two music departments, we’re able to be flexible, and know that we can virtually always find someone who can help cover if there’s a rota disaster.

UL plans, along with libraries throughout Cambridge (and indeed the world) are constantly evolving and changing. Most librarians are still working at least part time from home. Office space means that we can’t have everyone in together as we would pre-Covid. Opening times and staffing levels change. Many staff are currently not doing exactly the job that they were doing at the beginning of March 2020, many are learning new skills, and having to adapt whether they are back in the physical workspace, hybrid working, or working from home. It’s challenging, occasionally frustrating, sometimes exhilarating.

I’m very glad to be back in the UL again. I love the Anderson Room, and our collections; but I also realised during lockdown how much I liked and admired my team. The majority of the Anderson and Pendlebury teams, including volunteers Richard and Susi, met every week on Zoom (we continue to, although sometimes it can be tricky), we cheered each other up, sent virtual birthday cards, provided sympathy and advice, moaned about the same things, and laughed surprisingly often. I’m very proud to work with them, and I would like to say thank you.


Keep up to date with the latest news at the UL at

There’s also information about the Music Department at the UL and the Pendlebury library on our Facebook page –, and our Twitter accounts @MusiCb3t and @PendleburyLib.

You can also find lots of information about the Music Collections in our Music Libguide, and of course here on our blog.

Finally – you can always get hold of one of the Music team via email

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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1 Response to Back at the UL

  1. Pingback: A most peculiar year | MusiCB3 Blog

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