Hidden in the depths of the Sydney Jones Library, The University’s Special Collections and Archives boasts over two miles of archives along with manuscripts and printed books dating from the 12th Century to the modern day. The SPC&A even hold the largest collection of science fiction in the EU, and the archives include the original records of the University. Ranging across almost all subjects and topics imaginable, the collection has been growing for more than 130 years and there really is something for everyone. It is conveniently located in our own SJ, yet so many students have no idea it exists unless they visit with their tutorial groups.
The Special Collections and Archives is a truly captivating place to visit. Almost all of the books are available to view on request. Every student at the university is able to visit the collections whenever they like; all of the archives and collections can be found online using the library catalogue like you would for any other book you might be looking for. The only catch is you must book an appointment at least 24 hours in advance so the staff have time to fetch what you’re looking for and prepare it for you in the Reading Room. In the Reading Room you can take in your laptop or any pencils you like, but no drinks or inks are allowed – some of the collections are particularly precious and must be treated carefully. Apart from that, you can take as many pictures as you like. A trip to the collections is both a great way to see incredible historical documents and beautiful books, as well as an amazing opportunity to spruce up your essays; what tutor wouldn’t be impressed by the inclusion of an antique manuscript?
Some students are lucky enough to be invited along to the teaching room for a seminar or two. English modules which involve timetabled visits include Medieval Literature and Children’s Literature, with the opportunity to see first edition Children’s books like Winnie-the-Pooh, along with Medieval manuscripts from over 800 years ago. Many students are missing out on taking advantage of this. If you get the chance to visit before you graduate, you definitely won’t regret it!
I was lucky enough to undertake a SOTA300 work placement with the Special collections team and was able to see collections up close, and work on cataloguing the Literary Annuals. The Literary Annuals mostly dated from the 1820s-50s and were typically given as gifts to women, often at Christmas. I was responsible for recording the inscriptions in the annuals along with their binding and publication details. This was fascinating and I uncovered some interesting links between the annuals and Liverpool, as well as some famous previous owners. I put together a collection of the highlights of my findings in an exhibition which is currently on display on the ground floor, grove wing of the Sydney Jones library, just outside the SPC&A (in the glass cabinets). The exhibition is entitled ‘Behind the Scenes: Student Encounters with Special Collections and Archives’ and also includes the work of a previous SOTA300 music student who listed the James Wishart archive, as well as a section on the science fiction collection. The exhibition runs from February until April 2019 and I urge anyone (through shameless self-promotion) to take a look at the exhibition and get a further insight into some of the collections.
I hope you found this interesting and are planning your visit to the SPC&A as we speak! Additionally, if you’re an Arts student you should definitely consider taking a SOTA300 placement as part of your degree. This provides great experience and gives you an opportunity to be a part of things like this. There should be a placement in the Special Collections again, and this will prove truly enlightening to anyone who is interested.