Basking in the Long Room: The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin

As someone who studies and researches library space, I could not pass the opportunity to visit Trinity College Dublin. Ireland’s oldest university is home to the famous Old Library ‘Long Room’, a space that is the epitome of a traditional library. What better space could I find to absorb and reflect upon the sheer wonder of the library. Certainly a great fit considering my doctoral thesis:

I’m not quite sure there are words to fully capture the majesty of the Long Room. Those infamous all-wooden bookshelves that frame beautiful windows at a 90 degree angle. Shelves that run from floor to (mezzanine) ceiling, crammed fully with books. In the same way that I discussed the Library as synonymous with books, knowledge and learning in my thesis, the Long Room is perhaps the ultimate symbol of it. It is the epitome of knowledge and learning. In this space, there is little sign of the comforts and technologies we associate with a modern library space. It is a space where the book is king.

“And it’s Ireland’s front room because every visiting head of state comes here.”

Helen Shenton, Trinity’s Library Director

My visit in pictures

The Long Room Restoration

Of course, for anyone who has recently visited the Long Room, you will note that most of the books have been decanted (see above). I’d missed this news – and the absence of the books did remove some of the impact of this room. But it is all with good reason. The books within this room are of immense value – some of them priceless. The 2019 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral served as a warning for the need to preserve such assets as the Long Room. As framed in the New York Times, the Long Room, as an Irish national treasure, was overdue restoration. All is not lost for tourists like me – they did leave a few bays of books which still give an excellent impression of what the room looked like.

So what does restoration mean? To safeguard the books for future generations, all books have been removed from the Long Room, cleaned, digitised and safely stowed in a climate-controlled facility off campus. As the space also has no modern fire suppression and is largely made of wood, it was at high risk of fire. While this is unthinkable, Notre Dame demonstrated a stark reality. The risks also went beyond fire, with the room not possessing the appropriate environmental controls to preserve the delicate books. The lack of environmental controls also brings risks from damp, pollution and mould.

The Long Room experience

A photo of Lee Fallin in the Long Room. He smiles as rows of books are behind him and the bust of Milton.

Visiting the Long Room feels a bit like being in a movie set. Serving as the backdrop and inspiration for movies and books alike, it was surreal being there in person. I’d forgotten about the busts that adorned the ends of each bookshelf row. It sounds silly, but is was still really odd being in such a famous space – and to see the reality of it. It isn’t just something from movies and films – it is a real space you can visit and immerse yourself in.

The big surprise for me (again – I hadn’t well researched my visit!) was to see our planet just hanging at the end of the room. I’d seen similar displays in my home city of Hull, hanging in Hull Minister. But I’d expected that when I went into the space. In the Long Room, it was sublime. The juxtaposition of dark wooden shelves to bring planet was striking. A beautiful contrast, and what better way to present such a display. Take it in for yourself:

The beautiful wooden roof and shelves of the Long Room are the host cite for an inflatable replica of the earth.

My decade working for the Library in 100 photos

Today was my final day working for the Library at the University of Hull (#NewJob). This draws to a close what has been a whole decade of my life. Since starting at the Library, I’ve met the love of my life, and we’ve married and adopted three children. I’ve completed a PG Cert in eLearning, a Doctorate in Education and almost finished my PG Cert in Academic Practice. I have worked with thousands of students, hundreds of colleagues and made friends for life. I’ve had three job titles and worked in three different offices. I’ve gained recognition with Advance HE, Microsoft and ALDinHE. Suffice it to say – I’m leaving as a very different person from when I started.

To mark the decade, I’ve selected 100 photos from my 10 years of work. These mark random little moments on the journey – and an awful lot of them include food. Looking back, it’s been great to see those little moments. It’s also been nice to recall some big milestones in the University’s history – looking back on when the Queen visited to open the Allam Medical Centre or all of the involvement with Hull City of Culture 2017. It’s nice to see some of these memories surface too.

The journey starts with a photograph of my first desk – and ends with the cleared-out space that marks my last desk. Hope you enjoy the 100 photos.

It will be interesting to see what photos I collect over the next decade (and what those roles involve!). Over the years, the volume of photos I have taken has certainly increased! It will be interesting to see if that trend continues. If so – it’s going to be a lot harder to sort the next 10 years out!

Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on the transition to my new job!

The University Library Emerges

Britain’s two oldest universities prove good examples of the first university libraries. The University of Oxford’s first library emerged in 1320 as part of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). This continues to represent the link between early academic libraries and religion as discussed above. It was not until 1488 that this was replaced with the Duke Humfrey’s  Library and even then, it was housed in the second storey of the Divinity School (Pugh, 2000). This library was named after the Duke for his generous donation of 281 manuscripts (Summit, 2008; Bodleian Libraries, 2016). This early academic library was not the most hospitable place. The room was poorly lit, functionally furnished and all of the books were secured with chains (Pugh, 2000). What follows is a reflection on such spaces and what they would be like to study in.

The lone scholar sat on a hard bench in the poorly lit room. He was using one of the lecterns which were all set at a right angle to the windows. The light this provided varied with the sun and once again he found himself straining to see the hand-written pages in the dim light. The library was not heated so the cold had begun to sink into his aching bones. The uncomfortable furniture of the library was not helping the matter.

He was studying from a large manuscript that was, like all other materials firmly chained to the desk. This was of course to ensure the books were kept save but would not allow him to move the volume to somewhere with more light. He should not complain. No, he would not complain. Access to these precious leather-bound volumes was a real privilege, a luxury courtesy of his membership of the university. Still, it was with some surprise that he realised he was still the only student in the room. The same as the previous day.

While the library presented a valuable resource, it was not the most welcoming place. In fact to anyone not interested in the collection this library was awful. No natural light. No heating. The constant vigilance from the scholars charged with the protection of the books. Everything was make of hard, dark wood and nothing was comfortable. This was not a space that was used by many.

Based on (Pugh, 2000; Bodleian Libraries, 2016)

Duke Humfrey’s Library only lasted 60 years and was purged in 1550 as part of the attempt to clear the English church of all references to Catholicism, it was rescued in 1598 by and offer from Thomas Bodley (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). He pledged to refurbish the university library and procure books for it (Philip, 1983; Pugh, 2000). This was amid the rise of libraries across Europe, with some scholars arguing that this was the “age of the libraries” as it was at this point the focus moved form library as collection to the library as a specific space (Summit, 2008:11). Unsurprisingly Bodley’s offer was quickly accepted by the Vice-Chancellor of the university (Philip, 1983).

Roman Kirillov (CC BY-SA 3.0) – WikiCommons

Bodley’s refurbishments made to the library included the installation of new shelves, chains and locks, with the work completed by mid-1600 (Philip, 1983), enabling Bodley to focus on procurement of books. Much of the initial collection resulted from donations of money and books, demonstrating the importance of philanthropy in the development of such libraries.  The new library opened in 1602 (Bodleian Libraries, 2016; Taylor et al., 2016). To assert the importance of preservation, this new library required readers to take the following ‘Bodleian oath’ before being allowed access:

“You promise and solemnly engage before God… that whenever you shall enter the public library of the University, you will frame your mind to study in modesty and silent, you will use the books and other furniture in such manner that they may last as long as possible. Also that you will [not] steal, change, make erasures, deform, tear, cut, write notes in, interline, wilfully spoilt, obliterate, defile, or in any other way retrench, ill-use, wear away or deteriorate and book or books, nor authorised any other person to do the like.”  (Clapinson, 2006 reproduced in Pettegree, 2015:80-81)

This oath is an interesting insight into the importance of preservation. Over twelve words are used to identify every possible form of damage a book could undertake to ensure the reader swears against it and a version of this oath is still in use today (Goodall & Britten, 2012).  Pettegree (2015) notes that previously, libraries had been places for discussion and it was this oath that introduced the new emphasis on silence. According to Pettegree (2015: 81) it is here that the “long decent into silence” began.

Since then the library has developed over subsequent years, spanning several buildings/libraries, becoming a library of legal deposit and an internationally regarded institution (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). Gained in 1610, the status of legal deposit allowed the library to receive any published volume in the United Kingdom that it requests and this status remains today (Bodleian Libraries, 2016; British Library, 2017).

There is a similar story at the University of Cambridge University of Cambridge (2016), where in the 1300s the university stored its books in chests within the university treasury, with the university building its first library around 1410. Similar to Oxford, Cambridge suffered book purges, but later grew from strength to strength, becoming a library of legal deposit and world renowned library (University of Cambridge, 2016). For both libraries, this growth was slow, especially as heating and artificial lighting were not widely available until 1800-1900.

The problems and purges of the sixteenth century were more troublesome than the brief history above suggests. First, the growth of printed books allowed scholars to easily create their own up-to-date collections of books, often more relevant that the books donated to the university libraries (Pettegree, 2015). The greater challenge perhaps was reflected in the purges hinted at above. As the conflicts between Catholicism and Evangelicals grew, library spaces found the themselves subject to the will of whichever faction was in power (Pettegree, 2015). This led to regular searches for anything deemed heretical or forbidden so such materials could be destroyed. This led to the eventual closures of both libraries in the middle of the sixteenth century, even including the disposal of the books and furniture at Oxford.

Academic libraries have a 700-year history due to these universities and this very brief history has demonstrated that crisis, redevelopment and reconceptualization is something libraries have had to deal with for hundreds of years. It is important however to reflect on what these libraries were like as spaces. There is some evidence that suggests the library customs of Oxford and Cambridge Universities directly followed monastic customs (Mullinger, 1907-21). This would in particular regard the preservation of books and their protections. As suggested in the histories above, as spaces they were not particular hospitable. The early libraries of these two universities defined the very first academic libraries.



Bodleian Libraries (2016) History of the Bodleian. Available online: [Accessed 14/04/2016].

British Library (2017) Introduction to Legal Deposit. Available online: [Accessed.

Goodall, H. & Britten, N. (2012) Bodleian Library considers lending books after 410 years, Telegraph.2012 [Online]. Available online:, [Accessed 15/06/2017].

Mullinger, J. B. (1907-21) The Foundation of Libraries, in Ward, A. W. & Waller, A. R. (eds), English Prose And Poetry Sir Thomas North To Michael Drayton. The Cambridge History Of English And American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pettegree, A. (2015) The Renaissance Library and the Challenge of Print, in Crawford, A. (ed), The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 72-90.

Philip, I. (1983) The Bodleian Library in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Pugh, S. (2000) The Problem of Light in Duke Humfrey’s Library. The Paper Conservator, 24(1), 13-25.

Summit, J. (2008) Memory`s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern EnglandUniversity Of Chicago Press.

Taylor, S., Whitfield, M. & Barson, S. (2016) The English Public Library 1850-1939. Available online: [Accessed 14/04/2017].

University of Cambridge (2016) History of Cambridge University Library. Available online: [Accessed 14/04/2017].

Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries (Northern Collaboration 2017)

Today I attended my first Northern Collaboration Conference, with the added pleasure of delivering a workshop with Mike Ewen. This conference had the added bonus of being relevant for both work purposes and for my EdD research. The conference theme, Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries certainly aligned across work and research interests, with a good mix of educational technology thrown into the mix.

Digital transformation is a very topical theme for academic libraries, with the conference website presenting the following definition Brian Solis

“the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

In the library context, this definition really highlights the role of technology and related business models in the engagement of students throughout their student journey. This of course is very topical, and something my thesis touched on in guise of space. The conference theme and its constituent parts were really well brought together and contextualised in the closing keynote from Anne Horn (Director of Library Services, University of Sheffield). Anne highlighted how libraries are embodying such digital transformation(s) through:

  • service enhancement
  • energising our teaching
  • enriching library spaces
  • developing staff digital capabilities
  • utilising new digital processes, channels and platforms
  • pioneering new technology.

In her keynote, I particularly enjoyed the speculation on new technological megatrends and their potential impact on the library sector. With augmented reality, the internet of things, automation, robotics, personal assistants, big data, data visualisation, artificial intelligence, information exchange, makerspaces and wearables all featuring in the discussion. It could certainly be an interesting future for libraries. A great deal of this will depend what technological hypes settle into the mainstream edtech.

I think one thing we can be confident in, is that libraries will be still here (or, at least for some time yet!). Anne gave an interesting angle to the argument. As often said, there was conjecture that libraries would die as paper books and journals diminished in a world of eBooks and eReaders. This did not happen – and will not happen anytime soon. It was here that Anne’s argument got interesting. We are in a world where Uber can be a global leader in taxi transport provision – yet it does not own a single car. Airbnb is a leading hotelier without owning a single premises. So it has to be suggested. Can libraries not continue to exist in a world where they may not own the content (particularly with the vast quantity available freely on the internet)? This begs the question “What is worth owning… the platform or the underlying asset” (Schwab, 2017). Libraries are perhaps another industry that presents a platform more powerful than the assets it provides access to.

I strongly believe that as long as libraries continue to provide compelling services and spaces (both physical and online), they will always have a popular and needed platform, even if it does not directly own informational assets.

I will leave my conference discussion here for now. I would just like to add that I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel sessions that I attended throughout the day from the University of York, Sheffield Hallam, University of Bolton, Open University and University of Sheffield. All were very thought provoking and I believe they will feed into my wider digital literacy and general skills provision work, particularly online. Thanks to the organisers for a wonderful conference.

p.s. Mike and I intend to collaborate on a blog soon to review our session in a bit more detail.