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St John’s College Library Newsletter L

LENT 2019


The Library plays host to visitors from Hong Kong Universities On 5 February 2019 a party of academic staff, tutors and students from a range of Hong Kong (HK) Universities (The University of Hong Kong, The Education University of Hong Kong, and Baptist University) visited St John’s College. Their visit constituted part of a worldwide project of knowledge exchange looking at global best practice regarding two aspects of university life, namely: providing a rich student experience in College residence, and distinguishing the part played by IT in the provision of a first-class student residential experience. St John’s was approached by the Hong Kong Universities’ team to host a discussion forum on these themes through my connections with them as Academic Services Librarian. Participants in the forum included eighteen representatives of the HK Universities, led by Dr Sam Chu from the University of HK, while St John’s was represented by Dr Mark Nicholls, Librarian, Sue Rogers, IT Director, and two students – Caroline Soderman, a PhD student in Earth Science, and Benjamin Shing, a third-year student in HSPS. Following Sue Rogers’ presentation on the technology used by the College to ensure students’ secure connection of their personal devices, discussion turned to the St John’s students’ experiences

of College residence. The HK visitors were keen to hear their perspectives on College accommodation, including whether it was possible for them to live in for the full duration of their degrees, the basis on which College rooms are allocated, and whether students could keep occupancy of their rooms during vacations. A matter of comparative interest emerged when our students articulated the enthusiasm of many current Johnians to pursue extra-curricular activities outside, and in addition to, their main courses of study – such as membership of the JCR, sports clubs, and other societies. Our students emphasised that pursuit of these interests was purely self-motivated, which appeared to contrast with the HK experience, where students seem generally less enthusiastic to engage in activities outside their main study programmes. Discussion then focused on the roles of Directors of Studies and the College Nurse in enhancing students’ welfare. This seemed a fitting way to conclude the forum – College residential education having student welfare at its heart. A reminder that, while the College residential system may be ancient, it is tried and tested, and – still today – a most effective way to promote the personal development of students. Our HK visitors went away suitably impressed! Photos: Informal chat before discussion (left); HK visitors engaged in the discussion (right) Janet Chow Academic Services Librarian

Inaugural Cambridge Special Collections Dissertation Fair “You can learn about archives you may not have known exist!” This comment on a feedback form handed in at the inaugural Cambridge Special Collections Dissertation Fair on 2 November 2018 encapsulates our main reason for holding the Fair: to provide students with information on as many of Cambridge’s special collections as possible, in a friendly and non-intimidating way. Cambridge holds an extraordinary breadth and depth of archives and special collections across the Colleges, the University Library, Museums, Special Repositories and the County Archives Service. We knew that many students (and their supervisors) aren’t fully aware of what is on offer – or that they can make use of these rich resources. The event was organised by archivists from St John’s College, Churchill Archives Centre, Jesus College and the Department of Archives and Modern Manuscripts at the UL. This was a follow-on project from our successful Archive Research Skills Workshops (aka ‘Don’t let the cardigans put you off’) for both postgraduate and undergraduate students. The workshops provided us with useful information about the gap in knowledge around special collections and how to locate them. Representatives from over 20 collections ran stalls at the event in the Fisher Building, and more than 130 students came through the door (sadly we ran out of goody bags for all of them). We attracted undergraduates, including some Freshers, and postgraduates from across Cambridge University, Anglia Ruskin

University, and the Institute of Continuing Education. Attendees on average spent 20–30 minutes chatting to people on various stalls, even if the material wasn’t directly relevant to them. A good proportion looked carefully at most or all of the stalls. Their enthusiasm and interest showed us what a wonderful appetite there is for learning about archives and special collections. Eight academics gave up their time to attend the Fair, to answer general questions from students. The students seemed to relish the opportunity to talk to them and several told us that as a consequence of attending they felt encouraged and more confident in choosing a research topic. I want to pass on a gigantic vote of thanks to our academic colleagues. They were so supportive and enthusiastic, and made a huge contribution to the Fair’s success by spreading the word. Such was the success of the Fair that another has been planned. We also want to use several learning points to improve our visibility to potential users in Cambridge and beyond. Excitingly, we’re already hearing about an upsurge in numbers of students using the archives of participating institutions! The next Fair is scheduled to take place on 5 November 2019 at St John’s. If you’re interested in attending please contact the archivist ( Photos: Over 130 students attended the Dissertation Fair Tracy Deakin, Archivist and Sian Collins (UL)

New facilities Among the Library’s recent acquisitions is a smart board in the Library Seminar Room. It has a built-in data projector with a high-quality screen. Presentations are facilitated by connecting the smartboard (using wireless) to your laptop or iPad by downloading a ‘VIA’ app. Instructions on how to connect the smart board can be found on the wall next to the smart board.

At the request of the JCR, the Library has purchased six standing desk converters that can be found on selected desks – scattered across all floors. These standing desk converters enable one to switch from sitting to standing and vice versa in seconds. They are also portable, so you can move them around and use them anywhere in the Library. Janet Chow Academic Services Librarian

Current exhibitions Thinking Big: The Two Chapels of St John’s College This exhibition marks 150 years since the consecration of the new Chapel. It covers the history of the Chapel from the medieval buildings adapted for College use upon its foundation, through the religious turmoils of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the secular roles that the Chapel has played in College life throughout its history, the project to build a new Chapel, Scott's design for the building and its decoration, its consecration, and the consequences of building a new Chapel for the College then and now. The exhibition runs from 21 January to 18 April 2019, and is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays). Kathryn McKee, Special Collections Librarian

One Way or Another: Parallel Lives at St John's Founded in 1511, St John’s College has had its fair share of students. But how has being a student changed? Focusing on key points in a student’s time at St John’s, this exhibition seeks to highlight documents relevant to seven ordinary students, who would have applied, studied, and graduated as many others would have done. The exhibition is displayed in the School of Pythagoras Archive Centre, and is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10am to 3.45pm or by appointment at other times. To arrange an appointment please phone 01223 338631 or email Catherine Ascough, Library Assistant

DVD review With possibly the largest DVD collection of any College library in Cambridge, the AV Room holds something for everyone. Among the recent DVD acquisitions is the hauntingly beautiful Moonlight (2016), directed by Barry Jenkins. The film is adapted from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an autobiographical play written as part of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s application to study at Yale. Upon its release Moonlight received huge praise, winning three Oscars and Best Picture at the 2017 Golden Globes. The concept of the film is simple; much like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Moonlight is a coming-of-age biopic following a single character, through three parts, from childhood to adulthood. Aged 8, Chiron is bullied for being different and feels isolated living with his abusive mother. Over the course of the film Chiron develops a friendship with Blue, a local drug dealer whose home provides refuge. As a teenager Chiron starts to explore his sexuality with a

friend while developing a tough exterior, standing up to his bullies and to his mother. In his twenties, Chiron, unaccepting of his sexuality, shrouds himself in a masculinity which leads him down the path of drug dealing that he had tried to avoid; it seems he is destined to one route in life until he rekindles contact with his childhood friend. What is particularly remarkable about Moonlight is that it avoids the clichés of many films focussing on LGBT characters. Most notably, it explores a culture of masculinity that views being gay as a weakness, whilst also recognising the vulnerability and compassion that men quietly retain beyond childhood. This is poignantly marked by a scene in which Blue patiently teaches 8 year-old Chiron to swim, whilst explaining what being gay means. By reflecting on his own real experiences McCraney’s Moonlight has sensitively carved out a space for itself in a genre that often fails to recognise the distinct experience of black gay men, and as such is certainly worth a watch. Rowan Rush-Morgan Library Graduate Trainee

What more is there to 20th- and 21st-century Chinese literature than Xu Zhimo’s ‘Leaving Cambridge for the Second Time’ (1928), that pleasant, dreamy, and rather ordinary ‘Georgian’ poem (to speak of it in terms of English literary history), which Chinese schoolchildren have to learn by heart? Nowadays, prominent displays of Xu’s poems and accounts of his turbulent biography are everywhere in Cambridge bookshops, since ‘Leaving Cambridge’ is one of the principal reasons why the town has become a place of pilgrimage for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors who pass this way on their Grand Tour of the UK, that usually takes them on to York, Manchester (as in United, rather than City), and the Bicester Shopping Village near Oxford. St John’s Library offers at least two means of investigating the question posed above. One is The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature (2nd ed., 2007), a wide-ranging, but generally quite staid ‘academic’ compilation, objective in editorial tone, and including writing from Hong Kong and Taiwan. But my choice would be Yunte Huang’s passionately conceived Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature: Writings from the Mainland in the Long Twentieth Century (2016), ‘a search for the soul of modern China’, as he describes it in the introduction. As its title suggests, the geographical focus is more limited, but the selections are enlivened by the inclusion of some quite off-beat items beside the canonical writers and works of the period: who could resist titles like He Haiming’s ‘For the Love of Her Feet’, or Zhou Zuoren’s ‘Reading in the Lavatory’?

The title of Huang’s anthology is plainly intended to cock a snook at The Little Red Book of Chairman Mao, and makes the editor’s political commitment evident from the word go. He does however include some of Mao’s poems (tellingly juxtaposed to a series of spine-chilling nostrums from The Little Red Book itself) among a very short selection of items from the extremely repressive and often violent Revolutionary era from 1949 to 1976, during which a distressing number of gifted and imaginative writers represented in the first half of the anthology (1911 to 1949) were subjected to internal exile, ‘re-education’ under forced labour, torture, or worse, and their writings banned. Among them I particularly admired the extracts from Shen Congwen’s elegiac pastoral Border Town (1934), and was very struck by the searching explorations of feminine sensibility in Ding Ling’s Miss Sophia’s Diary (1928). Another plainly outstanding female writer of this era, Xiao Hong, is represented by a selection from Tales of Hulan River (1942), in which a laconic description of seasonal variations in an eternal quagmire that blocks a road in the centre of her town accumulates significant metaphorical weight, as an expression of deadening social conservatism, and the persistence of fatalism and superstition. Huang’s selections from the post-Mao era down to the present naturally showcase China’s two modern Nobel Laureates, Mo Yan and Goa Xingjian, as well they might, alongside other classics familiar in the West, such as Su Tong’s Raise the Red Lantern; but also included are more than a few radical pieces which suggest a very different picture of the contemporary Chinese literary scene from the one officially sanctioned by the CCP. The last item, for example, consists of the lyrics to Cui Jian’s rock number ‘Nothing to my Name’, famous for having been adopted as an anthem by the Tiananmen Square protestors in 1989. Its inclusion is one of a number of things unlikely to endear this book to the authorities in Beijing. Professor Richard Beadle Fellow in English

Find these books on the New Acquisitions display

For comments on this Issue, and contributions to future Issues, please contact Janet Chow. Email:; Tel: (3)38662.

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Library Newsletter Lent 2019  

Library Newsletter Lent 2019