George Steiner bequest

Professor George Steiner’s donation

I was recently delighted to catalogue and add to our collections a number of rare German philosophy and literature titles. These rather special books came from the library of the eminent literary scholar, the late Professor George Steiner who sadly died earlier this year. Numerous obituaries have been published outlining his career and achievements. George Steiner had finally settled in Cambridge after a long career which took him from the University of Chicago to Harvard, Oxford, Princeton and Geneva. Living in Cambridge he became a regular user of the University Library and it was his wish that some of the most precious volumes of his library should come eventually to the University Library.

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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

On the one true faith : the December 2019 [Old Church] Slavonic item of the month

The opening page of the book, complete with woodcut and ornamental lettering.

Earlier this year, the Friends of the National Libraries generously funded the purchase by the University Library of a 1648 book called Kniga o vere edinoi istinnoi pravoslavnoi [Book on the one true Orthodox faith].  The volume, bought from a major dealer, had latterly been part of the Macclesfield library at Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire.

This exceptionally rare book of Orthodox liturgy and theology in Old Church Slavonic is an exciting addition to the collection of early Slavonic books found across collegiate Cambridge.  Much of the content is is derived from the earlier writings of Zakhariia Kopystens’kyi, Archimandrite of the Kyivo-Pechers’ka Monastery.  The book, printed by Stefan Boniface (Stefan Vonifat’ev), a prominent protopope, was published in febrile times for the Russian Orthodox Church. Within only a few years, the great Raskol (schism) occurred, triggered by the official church’s re-alignment of practices with their Greek roots, a schism which saw the emergence of the Old Believers movement.  The fact that this book, which contains a synthesis emerging out of the encounter between Orthodoxy and Latin (Jesuit) education in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, appeared just as this restoration of practices rooted in the Greek tradition was gaining speed might explain why so few copies remain.  Ours is one of only six recorded copies worldwide. Continue reading

Jujutsu for the Swiss

Working on a donated collection of books can sometimes be a repetitive task – as collectors usually focus on one theme in particular, donations may consist of hundreds of books studying the same subject from slightly different angles. Occasionally though, we come across something entirely unexpected and sometimes amusing. I had such a moment a few days ago when I discovered, among the collection of art books donated by Professor Jean Michel Massing, a 1906 illustrated Swiss manual of jujutsu. The Japanese martial art is here shown performed by two portly, mustachioed, middle-aged European men who have somehow decided that a three-piece suit with bow tie was the best outfit for this kind of activity. It makes for some amazing pictures :

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Ohrid churches in print and in person : the October 2019 Slavonic items of the month

In Collections and Academic Liaison, we work with many donations of books which add significantly to the University Library’s collections.  While they chiefly inspire research amongst readers, they sometimes also inspire holidays amongst librarians.  Thanks to Professor Nigel Morgan’s collection of books about North Macedonian churches, I spent an extraordinary week in Ohrid this autumn.

Sveti Jovan Kaneo, overlooking Lake Ohrid

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