Rare photos of the UL's birth discovered

More than 200 previously unknown photographs of the University Library under construction in the 1930s have been found.

Three albums, created by contemporary library staff members and a consulting engineer Burnard Green, were uncovered by chief library assistant Liam Sims in the Rare Books section of the UL. Research was being undertaken on the library’s history.

They depict the three year project, and the scale of the undertaking – including the rehousing of a monumental amount of books.

One of the staff members, Robert George Pilgrim, took over a hundred images of the construction alone. The movement of books and the activities of the workers were among the subjects.

Sims, quoted in the BBC, said “These volumes are so special because they document a very important part of the UL's history.

"They are a window on to a very different but significant time for the library."

Cambridge's previous library was deemed too small in the 1920s: the shelving for books had reached 20 miles. Work began soon afterwards. When finally finished, the current UL was opened on the 22 October 1934 by King George V, who called it a “workshop of new knowledge and a storehouse of seasoned wisdom”.

The copyright library, sometimes a maze for the uninitiated, now holds 8 million items, stored in 93 miles of shelves.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary, the University Library will be displaying the albums, alongside other related material, in the Library Entrance Hall exhibition cases. The pages of each album will be turned regularly to allow visitors to see as many images as possible. The Entrance Hall is open to any member of the public, Monday - Friday 09.00-19.00 and Saturday 09.00-16.45. The exhibition will run from 10 November 2014 for four weeks.

All images reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library; modern UL image courtesy of Steve Cadman.

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