Slavonic item of the month : June 2014

The subject for June 2014 is Iurii Andropov, the Soviet head of state in the wake of Brezhnev’s death, who was born 100 years ago in June 1914.  When Andropov died nearly 70 years later, in February 1984, he had been in power for only 15 months. We look at two fictional works about him.

Cover of Iurii Teshkin's /Andropov i drugie/(Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849 )

Cover of Iurii Teshkin’s Andropov i drugie (Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849

Although Iurii Vladimirovich Andropov led the Soviet Union for only a short time, his was already a well-known name when he took power in late 1982.  He had been linked to the repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (Andropov was the Soviet ambassador to Hungary from 1953 to 1956) and to other international military interventions such as the putting down of the Prague Spring in February 1968.  By 1968, Andropov had become the head of the KGB, a position he was to hold for 15 years.

On the basis of Andropov’s pre-leadership career, then, he was seen as a Soviet hawk – and one with a KGB background to boot.  Stories from his leadership, though, suggest a possibly more liberal side.  A search for Andropov Gorbachev on our LibrarySearch+ catalogue of electronic resources, for example, comes up with a hit for a Guardian article from 1991 which reports a revelation by a government aide that Andropov saw the progressive Gorbachev as his successor and not the conservative Chernenko.

The uncertainty of what Andropov might have achieved had he not died so quickly after coming to power might, then, explain why two of the University Library’s holdings about Andropov are works of fiction.

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Modern Greek in the University Library

Cover of 'Thalassina eidyllia (1887-1891)' by Alexandros Papadiamantes (S706.d.94.14)

Cover of ‘Thalassina eidyllia (1887-1891)’ by Alexandros Papadiamantes (S706.d.94.14)

The University Library’s Modern Greek collection, which numbers over 13,000 items, is now represented on the Library’s language-specific webpages.  An introduction to the collection, with an explanation about transliteration and a guide to history and literature classmarks, has been put up on this page.  The text of that page is provided in this blog post.

The Modern Greek collection

The University Library has got over 13,000 items in Modern Greek in the electronic catalogue, stretching from the 16th century to the current day.  The 16th to 18th centuries are represented by over 400 books in total, and then the 19th century sees a leap up to over 1,000 items.  A greater leap still follows for the 20th century, with over 8,500.  The 21st century is so far represented by nearly 3,000 books.

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Dating Diderot acquisitions

Nowadays many library users of the University Library collections have the classmarks of the books and journals they wish to consult before they enter any Library building. In the main University Library the room at the top of the central stairs, which still contains the printed guardbook catalogue, is often deserted, but 40 years ago when the guardbook was the only place where readers could locate most material, the catalogue hall was a constant hubbub of activity. The guardbook catalogue still has an important function today, but only on the rare occasions when online data seems unclear or inconsistent, or there is reason to suspect an item has missed retrospective conversion and doesn’t appear on the computer.

Guardbook catalogues

Guardbook in the Catalogue Hall of the University Library

The printed guardbook does have other values, however, which the online catalogue cannot replicate. Anyone who is interested in the history of the Library’s collections can quickly make an initial assessment of when titles were acquired by running the eye over the individual guardbook entries. The colour of the paper and the varying styles of printing give lots of clues. As well as the classmark in the top left-hand corner of each slip, there is a printing number in the top right-hand corner, which usually incorporates in an abbreviated form the year in which the catalogue entry was produced. Continue reading

Individuality at a price: classification and Martin Luther

D. Martin Luthers Werke : kritische Gesamtausgabe.

D. Martin Luthers Werke : kritische Gesamtausgabe

No large academic library with significant holdings of open access
material would today ever invent its own classification scheme. Cambridge University Library’s individual and eccentric classification scheme, invented in the 1920s, has come to be viewed as a burden by the present generation of librarians. The British Library and the Bodleian, where most material is on closed access, don’t have to worry about classification at all. Most open access libraries in Britain and America will use either Dewey or Library of Congress. This means that just as they share cataloguing data, they can also share classification information. In the UL every time a title is added to the open shelves, we have to reinvent the wheel and classify from scratch, which limits our ability to streamline our processing of material. Continue reading