Thursday, 29 July 2010

Day in the Life: broad-brush approach

My 'Day in the Life' posts so far have been all about specifics.  Today I'll take the broader view and tell you a little about what a Hoyle Project Associate is, and why she does what she does.

Fred Hoyle's childhood telescope on display in the Old Library
Fred Hoyle's telescope
Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was an astrophysicist, science fiction writer, Munro-bagger, frequent correspondent with The Times, Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy, radio star, and controversialist.  He invented the phrase 'Big Bang' although he didn't believe in the theory, wrote the soon-to-be-republished novel The Black Cloud (and much more including co-writing the BBC TV sci-fi series A for Andromeda), and suggested that life on earth might have been seeded from space.

He was a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and after his death, his family donated his collection of personal papers, books, and some artefacts to the existing special collections of the College Library, which include medieval manuscripts, early printed books, collections of personal papers and a range of artefacts.  The Hoyle Collection is immense, the largest in the library, and covers all aspects of Hoyle's life and work.

Any collection (be it books, papers, objects, images, webpages or anything else) is no good to anyone unless 1) someone knows what's in it, and 2) people can access it.  These, to my mind, are the fundamental principals of librarianship: catalogue (i.e. work out what you've got) and make available (i.e. let people at it!).

So the basic aim of the Hoyle Project is to catalogue the Hoyle Collection.  Eventually the catalogue will be made publically available on Janus (the Cambridge University archives catalogue), and through nationwide tools such as the Archives Hub and the National Register of Archives.  In the mean time, there's a summary listing on the Library website.

But cataloguing is just the start.  The Hoyle Project aims to make the Hoyle Collection, and the Library collections more widely, known to as many people as possible, and to increase knowledge of Hoyle, astronomy, the history of science, and the Library.
Cambridge Science Festival visitors in St John's College Library (photo by wumpus on Flickr)
This means opening the Library door as often as we can manage:
My daily work is therefore a mixture of cataloguing, events planning, resource building, photography, web editing, exhibition curating, caption writing and enquiry answering.  Thrown in is some everyday special collections work staffing the reading room where researchers consult books and papers, which involves fetching items from the shelves and storage areas, supervising researchers to make sure they treat everything with respect, answering queries about the collections, and providing information about reproduction rights.

The work is definitely challenging, but also immensely rewarding.  There's nothing like the thrill of bringing to science or history to life by using some of the wonderful documents and books that I'm lucky enough to work with.

The Hoyle Project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, St John's College, and the Friends of the Center for the History of Physics, American Institute of Physics.


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