Discovering Tower Treasures

Photograph of Cambridge University Library tower courtesy of Claire Richards

What’s really housed in Cambridge University Library’s fabled 17 storey tower? Contrary to a popular notion among students, the tower is not packed with pornography (Neville Chamberlain did rather unfortunately refer to the tower as ‘this magnificent erection’) but you might be surprised to learn that it houses a remarkable collection of so called ‘ephemera’ (non academic material) including board games, recipes, Victorian toys, handbooks on poultry farming, colourful children’s books, pamphlets on palmistry and treatises on phrenology, all jostling for shelf space in this 1930s landmark of the city skyline.

I was lucky to be part of the Tower Project at the University Library, cataloguing online all items received under legal deposit by the library from 1800 to 1925. A collection that had up until then been accessible only by consulting small, handwritten, wedge shaped books which read from back to front, and were slotted into niches in a corridor wall, became discoverable through the library’s online catalogue by anyone around the world with an internet connection. 

I blogged about the books I was cataloguing for the Tower Project, and I’m still blogging about them now in the hope that they will amuse, intrigue and entertain.


  1. I’m so glad those ‘good old days’ in the Tower have not been forgotten. There was lots of entertainment in the lively posts collated and often written by this same familiar author, which probably ensured that no-one perished from the dust nor lost all sanity to the cataloguing. Welcome back !

  2. This brings back lovely memories of those cataloguing days. I’d love to see more blogs on the treasures from
    the tower please!

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