Further to the previous post – the writing on the postcards

Having charitably taken our retired head of department for a walk yesterday, I was rather taken aback when he showed his gratitude by saying that the saddest part of his 2020 Christmas had been the brevity of my blog post about the Russian Christmas cards. He then suggested that I hadn’t transcribed the writing not because I lacked the time but because I couldn’t read it.  Well, hats off to him for pressing the right buttons. Continue reading

Bolesław Prus : the September 2020 Slavonic item of the month

It is easy to tell that a cataloguer has struggled with a set when its classmark sequence comes out as 758:53.c.201.33(1a-1c,2a-2h,4c-4d,5a-5b,5e-5f,5i,6a-6b,7a-7c).  This was one of the last things I catalogued before lockdown, and provides the beginnings (and hopefully more!) of the Library’s fine new set of Bolesław Prus.

Buying a major new set of collected works has always been a big step, and that is of course even more the case now.  Significant new academic editions often come with a similarly significant price tag, and our budgets are under pressure as never before.  Added to this is the very topical question of whether an electronic copy (if available) should be preferred (to which the answer, no matter how much readers might prefer a physical book, generally needs to be yes at the moment, price differences permitting (ebooks are largely more expensive, sometimes unbelievably so)).

Bolesław Prus (the nom de plume of Aleksander Głowacki), 1847-1912, was a major and significant writer of prose, yet the UL had relatively scant holdings.  This new set is Pisma wszystkie (Complete works), which will run to dozens of volumes.  Until this acquisition, we had only a 6-volume Pisma wybrane (Selected works) from the early 1980s and an incomplete set of a 1940s Pisma (Works; we hold v. 1, 2, 4-9, 22, 23, 25…), alongside fewer than 30 publications of individual works in Prus’ original Polish or in English translation.  The new set, providing not only Prus’ complete works but also major academic commentaries, was too good an opportunity to miss – particularly with the ever-growing success of the Cambridge Polish Studies programme, which attracts more and more undergraduates and postgraduates.

Continue reading

Inspektor Mors and Mis Marpl : the May 2020 Slavonic item(s) of the month

Having initially wanted our lockdown-era posts to focus on e-available material only, I am now going one step yet further away myself by writing about books held by the UL neither electronically nor physically…  This post instead looks at Slavonic translations of British detective fiction I have picked up for myself over the years.  Getting used to reading in another language can take time, and I for one found that worrying about the plot as well as the words really held me up.  What I came to discover was that reading a familiar detective novel translated into the language took the pressure off, and it’s a trick I have stuck to ever since. Continue reading

Painting the nightmare of Auschwitz : the February 2020 Slavonic item of the month

This year will see many 75th anniversaries relating to the Second World War, and one of the most poignant – the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets – has already occurred, in late January.  We recently received an important addition to Cambridge’s significant holdings about the Holocaust and Auschwitz in particular, in the form of a catalogue of works by David Olere, Ten, który ocalał z Krematorium III (The one who survived Crematorium III), based on an exhibition held at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 2018-2019.

Olere, a French Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1943, was one of the very few Sonderkommandos to survive the war.  His artistic abilities, employed by Nazi personnel to illustrate letters home and produce other artwork, saved him from the regular killing of Sonderkommando generations.  Olere was in the death march from Auschwitz in January 1945 and was liberated only in May, in Ebensee.  He had spent nearly two years in Auschwitz, the witness of endless and appalling atrocities.  By the time he reached France and home, his “health was ruined and when he tried to recount to his wife the things he had seen, she was convinced that he had lost his mind” (from the catalogue; my emphasis).

Continue reading

S3-figures and the January 2020 Slavonic items of the month

The introduction to the 1945 ‘Select classes classification’

The University Library’s classification schemes can sometimes seem designed to hinder rather than aid the reader.  This post looks at some recent and lovely East European additions to the S3-figure class and briefly explains its history and current use.

In the past, the Library produced publications about specific classification schemes, chiefly for staff but apparently also for sale (many have prices printed on them!).  From my predecessor as head of department, David Lowe, I inherited a third edition of Select books classification, published in 1945 in a print run of 100 copies following a first edition in 1925 and a second very shortly thereafter in 1926.

The S3-figure class was designed for ‘select books’ which didn’t already fall into one of the other ‘select classes’ covered by the pamphlet.  Most commonly, a ‘select book’ was, and still is, something extensively illustrated or very heavy (archaeology books and art catalogues often tick both boxes) which the Library would want to provide access to only in a supervised reading room.  The class traditionally held only hardbacks but we now add sturdy paperbacks to the sequence too.  The S3-figure class was originally applied in combination with a simplified version of the open-shelf 3-figure scheme, so a book about Russian history which would count as ‘select’ would have been given a classmark starting with S586 (since 586 is the main Russian history class).  About 15 years ago, the decision was made to stop the subject classification of S3-figure books, and now the classmark is standardly S950 and otherwise reflects only size and date of publications with a running number (eg S950.c.201.1).  As is the case with many classes in the UL, then, readers need to use the subject headings in catalogue records to trace subjects for titles added to the S3-figure class since that time.  This post looks at three new additions to the class which relate to East European art. Continue reading