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08 July 2022

Three of our most fascinating collection items from around the world

The items in our collection and the expertise of our curators span the globe. This month, as many people’s minds turn to travel, we thought we’d shine a spotlight on some intriguing items suggested by our curators that originate from outside the UK.

Ethiopian amulets

Examples of amulet scrolla (BL Or.13228, above; BL Or.15594, below)

BL Or.15594

The peoples of Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, have worn these incredible amulet scrolls for thousands of years.

They are part of a rich magical literature of incantation, a striking and distinctive form of Ethiopian Christian material, meant to bring health, protect babies and ward off the evil eye.

Amulet scrolls, one with a protective cylindrical case. Ethiopia, 18th century (BL Or.12859)

BL Or.12859

Amulets are written on leather or metal, and kept protected either in leather cases, or as shown above, silver cases. Pictured is an amulet and ornate case from 18th century Ethiopia, which we hold in our Asian and African Collection. Hung up in the home or worn around the neck, this scroll contains prayers for undoing spells, with talismanic drawings giving effect to its powers: curing sickness, exorcising demons, and protecting those on long journeys.

Here's a look inside. This talisman depicts St. Michael chastising a demon.

Screenshot 2022-07-08 143635

BL Or.12895

The magical properties of these drawings lie in the hidden symbolism. Some we know, but others remain cryptic – this talisman of an eight-pointed star with a human face, for example, has no traceable roots.

Image of an eight-pointed star (BL Or.15594, detail)

BL Or.15594

Read more about Ethiopian amulets and incantations here.

The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn, Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre).

In Tallinn, Estonia, resides the Ukrainian-born Benedictine friar Anatoli Ljutjuk. In 2014, he created an unusual handmade book – a record and celebration of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group originating from the Carpathian Mountains.

We received one copy, while the remaining 34 were donated to other major libraries around the world. Inside are stored elements of Hutsul culture: poetry in the unique Hutsul dialect, pre-Second World War photographs of Hutsul families and dress, and even pressings of flora from the Carpathian Mountains.

Bride and groom page from book

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

The strings you see falling from the book tie postcards, designed by Anatoli, to its pages. These postcards were distributed in Hutsul villages, then sent back to Anatoli and the Ukrainian Cultural Centre complete with aspects of Hutsul life that the villagers wished to share.

For its creator, The Ark of Unique Cultures is a beautiful way of honouring an ethnic group whose traditions are in danger of being overwhelmed by the larger groups around it. Read more about the book here, and access a digitised copy available via the National Library of Estonia here.

1920s photographs of the Tanganyika Government Printer

This fantastic collection of photographs not only enhances our visual materials surrounding the former African state of Tanganyika, but also our documentation of printing technology in the early 20th century.

Photo 1403(3)

View of the Composing Room, where typesetting took place. Photo 1403(3)

Tanganyika, which merged with Zanzibar in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, established its Government Printer in Dar es Salaam following the First World War. This collection of 10 photographs shows office spaces, printing rooms and employees during the 1920s. The descendent of a former civil servant working at the press donated the images to the Library, though the photographer’s identity remains unknown.

Photo 1403(4)

Employee at Typesetting Machine. Photo 1403(4).

Under British colonial rule, the Government Printer published The Tanganyika Territory Gazette for over 40 years. Tanganyika became a sovereign nation in 1961, with the final edition of the paper being published in 1964 upon the formation of Tanzania. A list of the Government Printer’s publications from the 1940s onwards is available on Open Access in the Social Science Reading Room (OPL 967.8).

Independent printing presses played an important role in fuelling Tanganyika’s independence movement. Erica Fiah’s Swahili periodical Kwetu was one of these, circumventing restrictions imposed upon independent newspaper printing by the British administration.  

Read more about these photographs.

Of course it is impossible to select just three, so here's a few more international items that have are worth learning about (suggested by our curators):

Max Burt, Content Co-ordinator in the Digital Engagement Team

07 July 2022

Launching the Green Libraries Manifesto

Green Libraries Manifesto 1 (1) - clocktower-SMALLER
From climate crisis focused community workshops to imaginative and practical carbon saving initiatives, libraries are already engaged with tackling climate emergency and doing their bit in facilitating positive climate outcomes. Today at the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) annual conference, we saw the next stage in stepping up the shared effort of libraries to do more for our planet and for all of us, by launching the Green Libraries Manifesto.


At the launch of the Green Libraries Manifesto (left to right): Sarah Mears MBE, Programmes Manager, Libraries Connected; Maja Maricevic, British Library; Rabeea Arif, Projects and Programmes Manager, CILIP; Claire Buckley, Environment Sustainability Consultant, Julie's Bicycle; Sue Williamson MBE, Director, Libraries, Arts Council England.

By signing the Manifesto, libraries will commit to a set of common principles, which will enable us to have much greater impact by working together than we can on our own. As well as committing to building new partnerships, the principles emphasise the need for all libraries to put sustainability at the heart of their work and planning, to embrace innovation that will help them to change their current practices, and to grow and share knowledge. The Manifesto also emphasises the role of libraries in supporting young people, especially in supporting their role in providing environmental leadership in their schools, communities and workplaces.

The Manifesto is an initiative of the Green Libraries Partnership, started earlier this year by CILIP, Libraries Connected, Julie’s Bicycle and the British Library. The Partnership is also running a small Green Libraries Fund to support small-scale exploratory programmes within public libraries in England, and is conducting a survey that would broaden our understanding of the work already under way in the sector. 

Our own work on the Partnership has been inspired by activity across the Living Knowledge Network, including a workshop run with our Network partners to explore views and activity related to climate. From the festival of written word focusing on climate in Wakefield to the strategic and collaborative approach taken by Scottish libraries in the run up to the COP26, this workshop seeded the idea that we can do even more by sharing our ideas and resources. And it made us realise that our collective voice in supporting climate action will be stronger if we work together.

The Green Libraries Manifesto will provide a flexible cross-sector platform to inspire and help libraries to do more, in ways that are appropriate to their own means and local area. As the founding member and a signatory of the Manifesto, we are committed to working across the sector, including continuing to champion climate-related work within the Living Knowledge Network. We are also committed to reducing our own carbon emissions, empowering our staff to take action through our Staff Sustainability Group, and to involve all our users in researching, debating and contributing to positive climate action.

Maja Maricevic

Head of Higher Education and Science


28 June 2022

Library Lives: Susan Taylor, Glasgow

‘I love this quote from Andrew Carnegie: “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.  It is a never failing spring in the desert.”’

In this month’s celebration of librarians we’re back in Glasgow, this time with Susan Taylor, librarian in the Special Collections department of The Mitchell Library.

Susan Taylor
Susan Taylor

Tell us about your role

I manage collections of rare books and manuscripts, and our local and family history services, including handling enquiries and organising events.

Mitchell - North Street entrance 3664-071
The Mitchell Library, Glasgow

Where was your local library growing up?

When I was very young, I lived in the highest village in Scotland, Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway, where I learned about ‘The Society for Purchasing Books in Wanlockhead’, also known as Wanlockhead Miners’ Library.  It was established in 1756 and was the second-oldest subscription library in the country, with the original aim of the mine companies and owners being to encourage self-improvement and temperance in the local population. 

I did most of my growing up in Tain, Ross-shire, where I visited the Carnegie Library with my mother, my main concern being to insist that we got the maximum allocation of books every time!  I loved its shadowy, soothing atmosphere, and was fascinated by the brown index card system.  I remember that my 11-year-old brother was in love with the librarian.

Do you have a favourite item in your library’s collection?

My favourite collection is our full set of the Kelmscott Press by William Morris. It’s the care that’s gone into the look and feel of the books that attracts me. I am also a great fan of William Morris fabric designs.

NOTE OF FOUNDING THE KELMSCOTT PRESS 690467A note by William Morris on his aims in founding the Kelmscott Press, William Morris (1898) Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press. Accession Number: 690467.
©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections.

My favourite individual item is any manuscript because of the (usually) personal nature of it, and the naughty/nosy feeling I get from looking at someone else’s correspondence or early draft of a work of literature. I enjoy the tactile experience of holding them (when allowed). It’s the closest thing to time-travel. And handwriting is so expressive of emotions.

Burns ms. detail-Ye Banks & BraesDetail from holograph draft of Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon. Robert Burns (c. 1792). Accession Number: 1000833
©CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections.

What is your favourite, or the most unusual, query that you have helped someone with?

My favourite (both unusual and unexpected) queries relate to the many experiences of suffragettes and suffragists within the building – for example, Alice Paul, who spent the night on the roof of the building in August 1909; and Emmeline Pankhurst and her bodyguards practising ju-jitsu on the police in the so-called ‘Battle of Glasgow’ of March 1914.

The most niche item requested from the collection is probably the records of the Clydesdale Horse Society. (By the way, this was made up of humans.) Our oddest holding is perhaps the plaster cast model of the top of Robert Burns’ skull from our Robert Burns Collection. For those who might not be fond of his poetry, it conveys the humanity of the poet in a direct way. It is loved by children, particularly – far from being frightened, they are completely fascinated. 

Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?  

The new Birmingham (England) Library, and the ‘other’ Mitchell Library in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. 

The State Library of New South Wales. J Bar at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you weren’t a librarian, what would you be?

A genealogist, a detective or a forensic psychologist – someone who seeks and often finds connections between things and occasionally solves mysteries...

What one thing do you wish people knew about libraries which you suspect they don’t?

Being a librarian is not just about stamping – or even reading – books.  It’s about trying to connect a person to the right resources for them (whether within or without your own library) and introducing them to items of potential interest.

Favourite fictional librarian?

Mr Ambrose in Bob’s Burgers! Followed by Mr Hutchings in The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (in which the Queen becomes a voracious reader), which is about reading, writing and finding your voice. 

Book recommendation?

The novel I would recommend is The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, first published anonymously in 1824. I like the strangeness of it, with its double narrative and shifting time frames. It was also an inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson.

I would also recommend Heaven Knows Who (1960) by Christianna Brand. This is somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. She tells the story of an infamous Glasgow murder case and skilfully manages to include all the relevant trial facts whilst making a very easy-to-read, flowing narrative.  She was usually a children’s author (Nurse Matilda, which became Nanny McPhee) and she was the cousin of my favourite illustrator, Edward Ardizzone.

Both of these books I want to read again and again. I find different things in them each time.

Interview by Ellen Morgan.

We’re interviewing people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship. 

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with 

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.