Visit to Trinity College Library, Cambridge

On a gloriously sunny Saturday a group of trainees ventured to the Other Place to meet with our Cambridge counterparts and have a nose around their libraries. After a lovely cup of tea, our first visit was to Trinity College, where Harriet Hale, the current trainee, showed us round.

Trinity is the largest of the Cambridge colleges, founded by Henry VIII in 1546. Two existing colleges were combined to form Trinity: Michaelhouse (in existence since 1324) and King’s Hall (originally established by Edward II in 1317). It is stunningly beautiful – if I had been a student there, I’m not sure I would have ever managed to get much work done because I’d have been too busy gazing around in a gormless fashion!

The Wren Library (image from Trinity College Cambridge website:

The library can be found on two sides of one of the courts. The Wren Library is situated above the colonnades where Sir Isaac Newton (a member of the college) is said to have conducted experiments on the nature of echoes – quite a claim to fame. It was also interesting to hear how the colonnades were used as a hospital for wounded soldiers in World War 1 – we even got to see some photos showing the rows of beds along the corridors, with the courts simply blocked off by a temporary wall.

We headed first to the working library, which is spread over the Reading Room and Lower Library. Stocking books for all undergrad courses, it was full of hard-working students getting ready for Finals. All loans are issued at the desk by humans, and they have a large team of librarians to keep on top of this. As well as books and journals, there is a large selection of DVDs available to borrow, and it certainly seemed to be a very busy and popular library. We had a quick peek down in the Stacks as well, which were lovely and clean (something I’m not used to), and contained some rather unusual holdings: a collection of skeletons and even a couple of brains that students can borrow!

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)
(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

We then moved on to the ridiculously impressive Wren Library. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren (who also designed much of the furniture within the library), it was completed in 1695, and is simply stunning. It contains the manuscripts and early printed books that made up the collection in 1820, along with other special collections, such as medieval manuscripts, a large section of Sir Isaac Newton’s own library and much more! On display was a First Folio, a beautiful map, some fascinating notebooks belonging to Newton, and A. A. Milne’s manuscript for Winnie The Pooh. A very grand stained glass window at one end depicts the presentation of Newton to George III (with Francis Bacon looking on approvingly) and there is a rather fabulous marble sculpture of Byron, another alumni, created by Thorvaldsen and originally intended for Westminster Abbey. However, due to his tendency towards scandalous behaviour, the Abbey refused to accept the statue and so he now gazes down on hard-working students and tourists alike. No sign of his pet bear though…

(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)
(Image taken by Lucy Woolhouse)

I really enjoyed the tour of Trinity’s libraries: it was great to see a beautiful example of a special collections library sitting alongside a bustling, working college library. I really liked the way the two were accessible to the college members, and how open the Wren was to non-University visitors – sharing a resource like that sets such a great example. The Union Library is of interest to a great many people from outside the Union, and I am always pleased when people are excited to come and visit it – fostering interest in any kind of library has got to be a good thing in the current climate!

Many thanks to Harriet and her colleagues for letting us invade.

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