The project to catalogue the 16th-century books in the Old Library is now complete! To celebrate the occasion I interviewed our two Rare Books Cataloguers, Adriana Celmare and Allen Purvis.
Our cataloguers have become familiar with some wonderful books. But they are much too polite to let on that they have also had to put up with some challenging conditions: chilly temperatures in the winter, low light levels on overcast days, attempting to decipher scrawled inscriptions and climbing up ladders to reach the highest bookshelves!
If you would like to find out what it is like to work with the special collections in Trinity Hall read on… The informal questions were designed give a personal impression from the people who count – the workers on the front line!
Here is the first interview with Adriana.
Q. What was your first impression of Trinity Hall?
A. I thought it looked very elegant and pretty! I particularly enjoyed the court leading to Latham Lawn with the beautiful terrace overlooking the river Cam and the two library buildings at each end.
Q. Out of all the books you catalogued which was your favourite book and why (it could be more than one book)?
A. It’s hard for me to pick out favourites when I’m cataloguing sixteenth century books because I think they are all so interesting in their own unique way! That being said, I do like nice bindings and I found quite a few of them here at Trinity Hall, ranging from panel-stamped bindings to gold-tooled armorial ones.
I also appreciate books with a rich provenance history and a perfect example of this was a collection of seven legal items bound together in a volume stamped with the arms of William Cecil, Lord Burghley and chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. One of the tracts was also inscribed by Thomas Cranmer, famous reformer and Archbishop of Canterbury, and another item had inscriptions by William Leson, Doctor of Law, and William Mowse, Master of Trinity Hall (1552-1553 and 1555-1559). Mowse probably acquired the volume sometime in the sixteenth century and he later donated it to the College alongside two hundred other legal works from his private collection.
Q. Has anything you have discovered during the project caught your imagination?
A. There were a lot of things that piqued my curiosity during this project, but I was particularly attracted to the story of the Old Library itself, its foundation and growth throughout centuries due to the generosity of the College’s members, former Masters, Fellows and alumni. With every inscription deciphered, binding identified or bookplate assigned, I felt like putting together pieces of a puzzle, in order to create a comprehensive picture of what the Old Library stands for at Trinity Hall.
Q. Is there anything during the project that has really challenged you or annoyed you?
A. Nothing really annoyed me, but as with any new cataloguing project, there were lots of things to be learned about various local practices, history of the owning institution, former owners and donors, etc. But these were all good challenges to have and I’ve enjoyed every minute of trying to overcome them.
Q. What do you like best about the Old Library?
A. I love the Old Library’s period charm, its unique original features and outstanding legal collections.
Q. Anything else?
A. Cataloguing sixteenth century books in the midst of the actual environment where they were housed for centuries is indeed a rare opportunity for anyone and it has certainly been a remarkable one for me as well.
Dominique says: It has been wonderful having two such talented cataloguers working on the 16th-century collections and we are lucky that they are now cataloguing the 17th-century books in the Old Library.
For Allen’s view of working in the Old Library, please keep an eye out for his interview in a later blog!