From reading rooms that smell of Rich Tea biscuits to practising calligraphy and visiting the fascinating Tutankhamun exhibition, the Library Lates at the Weston Library have been among the highlights of the first Michaelmas term working in Oxford for myself and previous and current trainees. The Library Lates took place in the evening between 7.00pm and 9.30pm and featured free talks, drop-in activities and exciting performances.
The first Library Late took place in October and showcased the delightful Sensational Books exhibition at the Weston. It began with a guided tour of the exhibition by one of the curators, who spoke about the aims of the exhibition: to highlight different ways in which readers engage and interact with books using senses such as sight, sound, taste, smell, touch and proprioception. Books on display included illuminated manuscripts, pop-up books, very large and very small books that need to be moved with extreme care, books made from fruit and vegetables, the ‘cheese book’ (a book kept permanently in a fridge and made entirely of cheese slices, as the name suggests!), along with many more interesting and unusual items.
I was very much intrigued by the collection of bottled scents available for visitors to smell. Each one captured the aroma of certain books in the Bodleian Library’s vast collection, or the smell of certain readings rooms. For instance, the Duke Humphreys Library, I can now testify, smells of Rich Tea biscuits.
Following the tour, we had the opportunity to engage with a number of activities set up in the Blackwell Hall. These included embossing our initials in a Gothic font, attempting calligraphy, speaking with members of Bodleian Conservation and learning a bit more about the work they do. Along with other trainees, I found myself gravitating towards the Guide Dogs and then the printing press, where we had the exciting opportunity to create our own little prints which we proudly took home. We also had the chance to choose and take home a flip book – artwork commissioned by Oxford for the Sensational Books exhibition .
As well as activities, there were also several short lectures that visitors were invited and encouraged to attend. Topics ranged from the creation of multisensory books to the use of smells to support children’s engagement with books and their stories, as well as unusual books (including a presentation on a book covered in mushroom spores!) and what this means for libraries and conservators.
Excavating the Egyptians:
The second Library Late took place in mid-November (100 years since Howard Carter and his team discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb) and celebrated the wonderful exhibition: Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive, which is still on at the Weston. A wide range of performances, presentations and activities awaited us in the Blackwell Hall. From watching screenings of an artist’s work, listening to analyses of Carter’s diaries, writing our names in hieroglyphs, playing ancient Egyptian board games in the Weston café, to being inspired by images of the golden Shrine to Nekhbet in order to create and emboss our own foil decorations, we trainees had an enjoyable and entertaining evening at the Weston.
I highly recommend visiting the wonderful (and free) Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive exhibition, which is running until the 5th of February next year. Items on display include photographs and annotated drawings of the archaeological discoveries made during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb, as well as pages from the diary Carter kept in 1922. Nearer to the end of the exhibition there was a short video which used records from archives to show what the tomb must have looked like originally in 1922 when it was first discovered.