I got a booking from 11 am until 3pm at Cambridge University Library! After seven months away it was very good to be back. I had been hanging around outside for the past few weeks just to get access to the digital resources. In the good weather it was fine as I was largely on my own at the wooden benches searching away. However in the rain my computer suffered and so did I. I needed in out of the cold.
In the Library
Seven of us queued up at the foyer to get into the main reading room. It was like being at the British Library in that we needed to wear masks the whole time and books had to be pre-ordered. It didn’t feel like the Cambridge University Library as it was, as we couldn’t explore the open shelves. However, if I had brought something to eat I could go to a courtyard to consume it. Or to the tearoom, where tea could not be bought. I got round the open shelf issue by booking a table at the Electronic Legal Access machines. That way I could access new books I had not been able to get during Lockdown.
Work I aimed to do at Cambridge University Library
I worked on two pieces here. One was finishing off an essay on Mechanics’ Institutes, using research from trips to Ipswich, Sheffield, London and Glasgow. The essay is about the early years of Mechanics’ Institutes and their initial formation in Scotland. I’m delighted that it will be included in a collection of essays edited by Jon Mee and Matt Sangster examining Institutions as Networks. My other task was a talk I’m working on for the University of York, to be delivered on 21 October 2020. I’ll be talking about the steam engine that Percy Shelley attempted to make.
Did I get my two pieces done?
No. I did bits on each, taking some notes and inserting quotes here and there. Appropriately as I was in a Reading Room, I read. It was good to look up books I hadn’t been able to access during lockdown. I enjoyed reading Madeleine Callaghan’s brilliant new book The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley, and Paul Wickman’s excellent Blasphemy and Politics in Romantic Literature. Neither have much to do with what I was working on, but this was time well spent. I plan to book as many sessions as possible, although I really miss the open shelves. I’ll take what I can get when it comes to library space to work in and I’m keeping up my Friday slot at the British Library as well. I hope it continues as six months without library access didn’t do the Engineering Romanticism project, or me, any good.